Category Archives: collaboration

eLearning Showcase at NTU

Back at the end of March I was lucky enough to chair one of the sessions at NTU’s eLearning showcase. The session I covered looked at two different areas. Jane Challinor presented on ‘Adventures wtih students on the world wide web: eLearning tools beyond the VLE’ and Maria Kontogianni presented ‘On Using twitter for learning’.

Both presentations were enjoyable and gave staff some key insights into using different technologies for enhancing learning and teaching.

Jane’s presentation looked at introducing students to working online collaboratively using wiki’s to help them analyse the leadership skills of film or TV characters and to prepare a final online presentation. To help her build student’s confidence in the activity that she set, Jane based the activity around Gilly Salmon’s 5 stage model for developing e-tivities (see explaining what she did to support students at each stage of the process.  Her evaluation found that student’s confidence in using web based tools for learning had grown by the end of the activity including an better understanding of using blogs for reflection purposes. Jane’s presentation can be found on slideshare at Beyond the VLE.

Maria’s presentation looked how she used Twitter with Psychology  students to engage in fortnightly debating sessions. Students were given clear instructions about how to setup their twitter accounts and then Maria would email them topic materials. The twitter debate is timetabled as student are expected to join the debate wherever they are physically.

Maria evaluated the student’s experiences of contributing to a twitter debate compared to face to face interaction within the group and the general trend was that student felt more able to contribute and found it more enjoyable with perhaps the most startling jump in the amount of pre-reading students did before the debates.  If you’re interested in more details about Maria’s work in this area you can find more at her blog.

Both presentations were really good examples of the use of technologies other than Virtual Learning Environments such as NOW, NTU’s VLE.

What was also interesting was to see how students engagement with the online activities really developed and took off as they got more involved with the activity with the technology employed really taking second place to the task at hand.


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Quick Test of Google Drive

So with announcement of Google Drive out this week, I wandered over and pretty quickly got my account set-up.
As usual with Google this was a quick and painless process and while there are some differences with the present display of Google docs they’re not that different to be disorientating.

Because one of the benefits of enabling Google Drive has been the ability to sync with my various devices, I downloaded the PC app. Here I learnt a valuable lesson in my organisation (or lack thereof) of my Google doc account.

I’ve had an Google doc account from the days when it was originally Writely (yes, been mucking around for that long) but while collections have been around for sometime, I hadn’t done as much housekeeping as perhaps I should have done.

The nice thing about Google drive is that, if you choose Advanced set-up,  you can choose the collections which you wish to sync but it also syncs everything that you’ve got at the top level and not organised into collections. My google accounts mixes work and home stuff, so a quick pause of the sync process was necessary while I did some of that housekeeping that I’d been neglecting – including those original docs I wrote to test Writely!

With everything now properly organised I could confidently just select the relevant collections that I wanted to sync with my PC. In this case, it was my work collection. I find using Google docs for collaborative work with my colleagues really handy but am conscious that this work belongs to my employer and that they would rightfully be  worried if they couldn’t have access to it. Google drive creates a folder in the My Documents area and presents the collections as folders.  Inside the folders are, in effect, links to the Google docs I have in my Google Docs account. Double clicking on a relevant doc opened it directly in Chrome.

A quick trial of downloading a google doc didn’t download it directly into the relevant Google Drive folder on my PC. This might be a nice enhancement for future.

To help with working offline you need to follow the instructions at:

This involves enabling Offline Docs (Beta of course) and ensuring you have Chrome installed as well Chrome Docs web app. This allows you to view your sync’d docs with offline in Chrome though you can’t edit Google docs only words, pdf docs that you have uploaded.

In terms of allowing offline access to the relevant docs for my institution I did a quick check of un-installing the PC app to see what happens, i.e. should I ever leave the institution and not want to potentially leave access to all my Google docs. The app uninstalls without any prompt about the implications for your documents. It also required me to close Chrome and Outlook.

Once uninstalled the Google drive folder remains with lost links to my google docs and not surprisingly the offline mode will only work with the PC Google drive app installed.

I like Google drive. Personally, I find the presentation online slightly neater than the standard Google docs view. Tying up the download of a Google doc to a sync’d drive would be really useful, as at present this would be the only way to ensure a local copy for my employer is available other passing ownership to another member of staff.

With 5GB to play around with that’s plenty for the time being. Privacy and cloud service issues aside, this gives me a quick easy and efficient way to get at my docs online and offline. Better local back-up options for docs generated in the cloud (to cover some of those privacy issues and loss of service issues) would be great long term but as this is still a very early beta product for Google, I look forward to seeing what comes later.

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JISC Online Conference Day 1 – Part 2

There were several other presentations throughout the rest of the day.

Bill Rammell keynote: Tensions in collaboration in a changing landscape outlined the current position that the HE sector found itself in in relation to the Higher Education white paper.  Some of the key challenges outlined were

  • Pressure on budgets
  • Greater competition
  • Students expectations
  • Contestability

which are probably the things every university senior management team are exercising their minds over.  Bill discussed the current challenge of encouraging students to consider going to university despite the new fees system (see Plymouth’s promotional video )

In looking at the challenges facing HEI’s, Bill argued that there will still be a need for collaboration within the HE sector. I would concur but would argue that as status/brand is one of the key marketing points of institutions, the decsion about who to collaborate with will be more carefully debated.

Bill then went onto to look at digital literacy strategies and it was interesting when polled, that most participants didn’t know whether there was a strategy or not and, of those that did, the majority stated that their institutions didn’t have a strategy.

Bill’s conclusion to the challenges ahead for HE was that rather than consider students as consumers we need to treat them as partners (Certainly some of the later presentations by Uni of Exeter showed some good example of this in practice). I’m certainly happy to look at how, with a student-centred approach, we can enable this partnership and try and avoid the consumerist approach to education. I’m not convinced that these students’ parents, trying to fund the rest of their offspring’s higher education, will be so willing to take a partnership approach.

Following from Bill keynote, giving a bit more inspiration that staying in HE is worthwhile, was the presentation from University of Winchester and Bath Spa on ‘An evidence-based model to enhance programme-wide assessment using technology’ featuring the work of the TESTA project and the FASTECH project.

The projects highlighted case studies where the teams had gone in and look closely at why assessment practices within the programmes weren’t working as well as they should. The presenters described some scenarios where contrary to expectations students efforts with assessments was patchy. In this particular instance it was due to the bunching of summative assessments across the modules of the programme.

In another example, it was due to the feedback being given back to students 4 weeks after the assessment leading to it being too late for to be of any use for students and a wasted effort for staff.

There was some interesting discussion going on in this talk and it was interesting to hear some of the key elements regarding the principles of assessment being discussed in very practical terms, such as

  • A variety of assessments can be a bad thing if not sequenced properly
  • Tacit standards for feedback can be unhelpful for students
  • Need to be aware of technologies being used in module silos rather than across programmes
  • A lack of feed forward in assessment
  • Staff need to understand what feedback is as well as students.

Coupled with this were discussions regarding students recognition and use of feedback when given and consideration of how institutional practices can make it difficult in terms of providing feedback. There was a lot of discussion in the chat regarding external examiners and their acceptance of audio or video feedback.

A key question that came out of this discussion was ‘if we know from the evidence that feedback works really well in aiding learning, why as a sector are we still not getting it to work?’

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Thinking about #Change11

I’ve had a bit of catching up to do recently due to other matters taking precedent but I’ve finally got some time to try and articulate why I want to be involved in #change11 and what I hope to get out of it. These come down to a few things

  • Better understanding of connectivism – I’d like to really engage with a course delivered with this as an underlying principle and experience this style of course for myself
  • Engagement in online course, get a real student experience – I work within the Higher Education sector but it’s been a while since I’ve really been a student for any length of time. It will be good to remind myself what being a student again is all about. There are differences between engaging in a course like this and my day to day role of leading a team that offers staff development courses about the use of learning technologies.
  • Opportunity to update knowledge and skills – I’ve been away on maternity leave for a year. Twitter and a few blog posts have kept me engaged at some level but it’s time to develop a deeper level of knowledge in some areas.
  • Chance to enlarge network – I have to take a deep breath with this one. It’s something I find a challenge to do but I sure that it’ll pay off.
  • Challenge myself – I have come to understand that learning technologists rather  enjoy change. We wouldn’t be doing this type of role if we didn’t. Hence part of that involves delving into things that are new and perhaps initially a bit daunting.

So how will I measure my engagement with this course?

  • One blog post at least every other week
  • Leaving at least two constructive comments on other MOOC members contributions every other week
  • Engaging in one other activity each month.

This may sound a little light in terms of engagement. I think at this stage I would rather be a little under-engaged than try and set myself up with too high a goal and feel disappointed that I didn’t meet up to my own expectations.

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Wikis in Education

Came across this reference to Wikis in Education thanks to Alan Levine’s CogDogBlog

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