Category Archives: Teaching & Learning

TTP Conference review

I was asked to write a short reflection for the University “Talking of Teaching” blog about the Teaching Transformation Project conference that took place last month. That’s now been published, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to repost it here! The record of tweets from the day can be found on my previous post.

The TTP conference was a great opportunity to hear from like-minded colleagues and there’s certainly not enough room for me to mention everything that I found useful! However, there were many messages from Professor MacDonald’s keynote talk and workshop that resonated with me. The need for student to see the big picture and not think in terms of modules as discrete and unrelated units is definitely something we’ve struggled with for a long time and haven’t yet found a satisfactory answer to, so it was reassuring (although perhaps disappointing) to hear that this is a common problem.

One of the other things that seemed to strike a chord with many of us was his observation that “coffee-bar conversations” were often more productive than formally arranged meetings or conferences. However, how easy it is to have these informal meetings depends a lot on the structure and locations of Schools; groups in our School are split over several locations with many different coffee bars and several additional common rooms, so the chances of bumping into someone who can help on an ad-hoc basis are relatively small.

In much the same way as we need to encourage students to see the big picture, perhaps as staff we also need to break through the artificial boundaries of Schools and Faculties, to see the bigger picture of how we can help each other. The conference was a great example of how this can happen and how we can use technology to facilitate these interactions. The informal nature of the tweets flying backwards and forwards between sessions led to me making a lot more connections than I would have done normally, particularly with colleagues from different Faculties. One of these tweets suggested the possibility of setting up University-wide informal learning lunches and I really hope that this is followed up. I know of at least one School doing this already and our workshop group had proposed this as a suggestion for our own School to implement, but a University-wide series would allow staff to see that big picture and make use of the expertise across disciplines. The strong feeling I was left with at the end of the conference was one of connections and communication. The first step will be implementing this at School level, but I hope to see more of these “coffee-bar conversations” springing up across the University sometime very soon.

TTP Conference

Yesterday was the conference for the Teaching Transformation Project at the University of Nottingham. It was a great day and really nice to hear lots of engaging discussion from colleagues involved in and passionate about teaching.

A more full report will follow once I’ve written it, but until then, the Storify record of the Tweets exchanged on the day is also on this site. I was going to include it within this post, but there were obviously more Tweets than I thought there were and it’s fairly long!

Lessons learned…

One of the things I love doing is to attend sessions run by other people. It’s great to hear what others are doing, as well as seeing how they deliver things. It often results in me adding things to my list of things to think about or implement, and today was no different.

I spent my lunch break today listening to David Eddy talking about his experience in using PebblePad to deliver a MOOC in Enhancing Prostate Cancer Care, from Sheffield Hallam University.

Things that occur to me:

1. It’s not just us that have problems with Adobe Connect, but it was a useful reminder of how participants feel! There were several points at which the audio dropped out, inevitably followed by the feeling of “is it my connection or is it them?”. We need to ensure that there is regular interaction between presenters and participants within a webinar so that presenters know immediately when there are problems, and other participants can see that it’s not just them having issues. It was also a useful reminder of some of the tips for webinars that came up from the MELSIG event – maybe having an audio/music intro playing would help reassure people about their audio settings as they log in and stop people worrying about whether there are things being said that they can’t hear.

2. There were some really interesting teaching approaches that were discussed. These include “Webinar Wednesday” “Tweetchat Thursday”, “Final word Friday”, as well as “Article of the Week”.

Orientation weeks are important, but only ~30% of the participants completed the orientation activity initially in Week 0; this echoes some of the problems that we have; how do we get people to realise that these are important to complete?

“Final Word Friday” used Answer Garden to get feedback from participants about how the week had gone for them. Could I use this in my module, perhaps to get feedback by topic rather than every week? (“Feedback Friday?”) The answers can be exported to Wordle or Tagxedo so they can be used elsewhere.

I love the idea of “Article of the Week” – we should definitely consider this to get some of the modules more interactive.

PebblePad looked like a really interesting platform to use for delivery of teaching materials; it’s not something I’ve looked at before, but I’ll be adding it to that mythical list! Now all I have to do is find the hours to work through everything…


As part of my preparations for a talk I’m giving next week at London Metropolitan University, I thought it was about time I had another look around for screencasting tools. There’s always a danger of sticking with what you know, just because it’s familiar and because of a lack of time to look for new options. I’ve tried a few different packages in the past, and we’ve generally used Debut Screen Capture from NCH Software to produce all our recordings for the distance-learning courses. We also tried Camtasia, which is great but much more expensive than Debut! Debut is great for general screencasting, or for recording from a webcam, but doesn’t appear to support a “picture-in-picture” options where you can have both. Having looked at some of the ones of the lists shown below, I wonder whether this is something I should be exploring further.

It appears that many, many people have done reviews of their favourite packages, so I’m not going to repeat that here. Instead, here are some links to their reviews:

I also found some useful tips for the practicalities of creating screencasts – I really wish I’d read these before starting!

I’m also playing around with Prezi at the moment, with a view to recording an associated soundtrack and voiceover, then capturing the whole thing with a screencasting tool. Let’s see how that works – I’m planning to submit it as part of one of my MSc assignments, so I really ought to start working on it!

A great day for MELSIG

Last week the University of Nottingham hosted a meeting for MELSIG (the UK Media-enhanced learning special interest group) covering “Creative Lecture Capture, Webinars and Screencasting“. The MELSIG meetings are always productive, with a real buzz that you only get when you’re with a group of like-minded enthusiasts. It makes a real change and I wish it happened more often.

It was also nice to be the first person to present, with the initial session showcasing what we’re doing here at Nottingham. Slides are available to look at here, and presentations from the rest of the day are also available on the MELSIG event page.

I had some great conversations with a variety of people (and even got my teaching poster retweeted!), so I’m looking forward to following up on a few of the connections that were made.

Did you miss me?

Oh dear.  My plan for making more regular blog posts appears not to be working as well I’d hoped. I can’t believe how quickly time has gone since I last posted. In my defense (and it is only a weak defense), things have been somewhat busy. That’s my feeble excuse, and I’m sticking to it for now.

Since returning to work full-time in September, I’ve taught 3 modules on the campus MSc, one module for the distance-learners, completed my first module as a student on the MSc Blended and Online Education, as well as starting the Certificate in Leadership and Management from the ILM. I’ve also got 2 PhD students who’ve just submitted a thesis each, so I’ve been reading those as well. <breathe>

Yep, things have been hectic, but that seems to be normal these days! As well as fitting in all the work-related shenanigans, Scarlett is one already. How did that go so quickly? There are some days it’s really hard, but I just have to keep telling myself that it’ll be good for her to see a strong female role model. Not easy when she’s poorly and all I want to do is stay at home and cuddle her all day, but she’s got Daddy cuddles for that instead, so it’s certainly not like she misses out. Maybe I do, but she doesn’t.

Anyway, let’s not dwell on that. I really well try to update this more regularly, especially since the current module on the MSc BOE is looking at blogging! Tomorrow the University of Nottingham is hosting the next MELSIG event, so I really ought to go and run through my presentation one more time, just to be sure…

I am not a number, I am a free man!

Well, a free woman anyway. I did have the full quote from The Prisoner repeated back to me early this morning, but I’d only had half a cup of coffee by then, so it hasn’t stuck in my head. So what’s prompted this post and my mutterings about not being a number? Well, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m starting the MSc in Online and Blended Education this September and I’m really quite excited about it (and somewhat nervous about how I’m going to fit it all in). As well as being an integral part of my continuing development, it’s also been really interesting to experience things from a student’s point of view again, as it’s been a few (!) years since that last happened. It’s also been interesting to have some validation for things that I’ve been trying to instigate in my job for the last few years, and that’s what this post is really about. How do we treat our students and are there ways we can improve?

  1. A friendly point of contact really helps. Before finally deciding to do the course I spoke (via twitter and on the phone) to a few different people who were involved in the MSc, and their friendly encouragement really did make a difference (thanks @elearningcolin@smythkrs and Fiona Smart!) We need to make sure that students feel like the people involved with the course actually care whether or not they enrol. Course Directors should be passionate about their role – that enthusiasm really does come across to students!
  2.  This friendly contact needs to be continued through all University channels. The email that prompted this blog post was one I got from a central University department, which started “Dear Student”. If you have my email address in a database then you also have my name. Mail merges are not difficult, and definitely lead to a better feeling than I had when reading a very impersonal message. I know they’re automated, but it’s not hard to improve them just that little bit. Having said that, when I looked at this a couple of years ago I was amazed that Microsoft wouldn’t do email mail merges and allow you to attach files to the email – seems bonkers to me. Luckily we found a very reasonably priced plugin that worked (not from Microsoft!), so that solved the problem.
  3. What happens in Week 1? How much time am I going to need? What will I need to know? All questions that have flicked through my mind. It’s the same whether it’s a distance or campus-based course – people want to know what’s going to happen. We’ve tried to let our students know as soon as things are finalised (because things always change at the last minute!), but this is another way in which the channels of communication need to stay open.

I know all of these things are common, and likely shared by most institutions and students. I guess it was just nice to realise that the things I’ve been campaigning for at work based on my intuition (and experience from many years ago) would be the things that did and would make my own recent experience as a student that little bit more enjoyable.

Ask a busy person…

I’ve been told by several different people on different occasions that I’m addicted to learning. Now I don’t think this is a bad thing, but I do acknowledge that sometimes it does lead to me taking on perhaps a bit more than I should. So, on the verge of going back to work after 7 months of maternity leave, as well as preparing for all my teaching that starts in September, what did I decide to do? A Masters course. Yes, the MSc in Blended and Online Education. Starting in September, which is possibly my busiest time of year. Oh, and I’ve also enrolled on the APPLE course (Academics’ and Administrators’ Professional, Personal and Leadership Experience), which also starts at the same time.

So not only do I have to adjust to going back to work after being at home with Scarlett, I also have to get to grips with two new programmes whilst teaching 3 modules in Semester 1.

Ah well, you know what they say – if you want something doing, ask a busy person… :-)

The end of #ocTel

OK, so real life intervened and for the final 2 weeks of ocTEL I wasn’t able to participate as fully as I wanted to. I managed to pull in the webinars and did do some reading and thinking, but not as much writing and reflecting as I wanted to. However, overall this has been an excellent experience and given me some great ideas about where to go next.

Immediate things on my radar are to start developing my portfolio for CMALT. I know I’ve got to get started on this, because life suddenly gets busier in September, having registered for an MSc as well as doing all my teaching (see separate blog post for more ramblings on this). I also came across some specific technologies that I want to start using this year, so I need to get those embedded into my plans over August. Lots to do, and never enough time to do it all!

Huge thanks to all of the team at ocTEL – it was an excellent course and one which I’d definitely recommend to people!

#ocTEL Week 4 – Supporting learners through assessment and feedback using TEL

This week’s “do one thing” is to discuss my experience or expectations of e-assessment and e-feedback to support student learning.

Despite some early exploration of computed-aided assessments (MCQ etc) a few years ago, I haven’t really continued using it for summative assessments. There were a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, our institution changed the software used for delivering these assessments. Whilst this is often a necessity, as software is revised, or licence agreements are changed, it does provide practical issues for the user. Personally, I found the software that we’ve moved to doesn’t allow me to catalogue or store the questions in a meaningful way, so keeping track of what questions are in the bank is quite difficult. This, coupled with the fact that the student numbers on the course are low anyway (MSc students, so small groups), meant I felt more comfortable going back to paper-based assessment. This felt like a step backwards to me (especially given my interest in all things techy!), but it was a step I felt at the time was best for my students. Obviously I think I’d feel differently if I was dealing with large undergraduate classes, and the software is being used very successfully with our medical course. It’s certainly on my list to explore again at some point, but as with many things, it’s finding the time to dedicate to it so I can do it properly.

However, having said all that, I do continue to use technology to provide formative assessment in my modules, one example of which I’ll cover here.

Why did/would you choose a particular type of e-assessment? Describe why you think it is effective and how it can help deepen knowledge and understanding.

The first module on the MSc contains a set of 3 short practical sessions. The students are given the notes in advance, and need to calculate the volumes of reagents needed for the experiment. When I first ran these sessions, much of the lab time was spent sorting out misunderstandings in these calculations. This in turn seemed to lead to a rushed atmosphere, where students appeared to feel that they didn’t have enough time to do the experiments (when in reality there was plenty), which in turn led to more mistakes. Something had to be done! So what did I introduce? Well, I’ve made much more use of Moodle over the past couple of years, providing resources to help them understand the lab sessions in advance. This includes 2 aspects where I think the technology has helped me address the issues I was seeing in the practical sessions.

  1. Short quizzes (MCQ, matching, true/false questions) – these have to be completed by the day before the lab session. They are purely formative and can be taken as many times as the student wants. Automatic feedback is provided for each question, with pointers to where the student can revisit information to help their understanding. This provides a quick way for students to check how much of the information they’ve understood, whilst also providing experience of the type of questions they’re likely to find in the final exam (always appreciated!).
  1. Submission of the answers to the calculations prior to the lab session. The worksheets that the students have already been given are provided in electronic format in Moodle – students complete these by the day before the lab session and submit them via Moodle. I can then review them, add feedback comments to the document and send it back to them. I currently do this via email, but also plan to explore whether providing feedback via Moodle would have any benefit.

I think this approach has several benefits, but the main one is that it allows the students to check their understanding before they’ve even set foot in the lab. Being able to correct any misunderstandings before the session makes it more relaxed, meaning students can then concentrate purely on the practical side of the session, obtaining a better understanding of the experiment rather than rushing through it. Common misunderstandings can also be revisited at the start of the session so that everyone is clear on where they occurred; I also think this helps reassure the students that everyone else was making similar mistakes as well!

In your experience, what type of approach creates an environment conducive to self-directed learning, peer support and collaborative learning? How might technology help?

With these courses I aim to foster an environment where students are comfortable helping each other and asking me for help or clarification when there’s something they don’t understand. This is obviously easier with low numbers compared to a large undergraduate class which presents different issues. For postgraduates we’re aiming to develop their independent study skills, but this doesn’t mean just letting them get on with it. Many need additional guidance on how to do this, especially students from overseas who may be used to a very different way of studying in their undergraduate degree. Some of these cultural issues also mean that students can be reluctant to ask me for help, preferring instead to approach their peers. This can be useful, but I also need to ensure that all of this support doesn’t land on the other students. Providing group tasks which I oversee, or online tasks such as the one described, seems to get over some of these hurdles as there’s an impression of being slightly removed – the students don’t actually have to admit face-to-face that they don’t understand. Obviously I’d like them to be able to do this, and this is something I work on developing as the course progresses. However, for the first module, this use of technology seems to work at addressing this issue, as well as improving the initial problems which were identified. There’s also some collaborative learning going on, as I know that students often work together on the calculations before submitting them to me. I do encourage this, as having to explain something to someone else often means a deeper understanding.

What opportunities and challenges does this approach present to tutors?

I think this approach has provided a great opportunity for me to address common misunderstandings and problems prior to the lab sessions, which can be intimidating for those with limited practical experience when they start the course. It also encourages students to self-assess right from the start of the course, which is something I wanted to instill.

There aren’t too many challenges now, certainly not big ones. Obviously there was some setting up in the beginning (eg writing the quiz questions and appropriate feedback) and I’d like to add to these in the future. There is a commitment every week for me to assess the worksheets which are submitted, but this isn’t huge with the small numbers on an MSc course. If numbers increased, I’d probably look at some form of auto-marking for this (numerical questions are fairly easy to mark automatically), which would then allow me to highlight the wrong answers and provide specific feedback for these areas. I guess a challenge for rolling this out further (as with so many things) is getting other staff to see the benefits. For now, I’m happy that I’m helping my students and I’ll continue to explore ways that I can build on what I’ve already done.