E-Learning Environments team blog
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    We support Staff and Students using technology to enhance teaching & learning.

    Here you'll find updates on developments at UCL, links & events as well as case studies and personal experiences. Let us know if you have any ideas you want to share!

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    Archive for the 'General Learning Technology' Category

    This time it’s personal

    By Clive Young, on 16 March 2015


    There is no doubt that blended and online learning developments, including Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), are beginning to have an impact on how some universities think about their business model. The Online and Blended Learning Solutions seminar last week was a timely guide through this post-MOOC space.

    Rajay Naik, from the Open University reminded us that the MOOC hype is unlikely to dent the ever-growing demand for on-campus study. What it does though is broaden our horizons and encourage thinking beyond traditional student markets and teaching methods. Some – and one could set the OU is an example – see MOOCs partly as a marketing tool to ‘funnel’ students to fee-paying courses. Others scent a lucrative market in offering targeted MOOC-influenced CPD courses to companies and professionals. A few consider the MOOC format as a way – maybe the only way – of addressing the world’s mass-scale education needs in areas such as health and primary teaching.

    One challenge is to bring the best of the on-campus experience to these remote audiences. He felt this was about how to provide tutor time, as he put it “access to minds”. We should therefore imagine “not distance learning but personal learning”. The OU has one approach to this, the army of Associate Lecturers (of which I am one) providing those academic “touch points”. Another speaker, described how academic contact could work even in a MOOC environment, by weekly feedback videos and forum intervention but it required strong commitment and motivation.

    UCL’s Prof. Diana Laurillard unpacked the implications of these disruptions for university cultures. It was hard for academics just to keep up with rapid developments in their own research areas, not surprisingly time was limited to explore new learning designs. Her message was that we should “treat academics as if they know what they are doing” but they need models, tools and support to help them navigate and contribute to these initiatives. Teachers urgently require environments that will help both skills updating but also sharing and developing ideas in collaboration – indeed not unlike the process of research scholarship!

    An interesting debate then arose from this about how universities should organise themselves to meet these disruptive changes. Should we set up specialist units or attempt mainstream cultural transformation? Neither model was considered ideal, but the feeling was that integration should be the priority; any innovations needed to be diffused into mainstream teaching (maybe via a funded process) “pull-through” from mainstream teaching should also enrich innovation. My own feeling is that while pioneers will always require additional support, developing a two-tier model may delay important mainstream transitions, for example technical upgrading, and risk student (and maybe staff) dissatisfaction by privileging a small group of off-campus participants.

    Prof. Helen O’Suillvan described how online medical programme had been successfully developed at the University of Liverpool with partners Laureate who provide student, marketing and outreach support. Another potentially disruptive aspect in the post-MOOC world therefore is clearly the arrival of new players and potential partners. MOOCs themselves were enabled (and driven) by partnership with external platform providers such as Coursera. For much the same reasons of global impact mentioned above, commercial companies, accrediting bodies, professional organisations, government initiatives, broadcasters, charities, NGOs and publishers are all likely to begin to crowd into this area, either working with or competing against traditional universities.

    The challenge of embodying and replicating (at least partly) the “traditional strengths” of the campus-based student experience was seen as a huge challenge as this very experience – although sometimes hazily defined- was integral to the student, staff and institutional identity.

    However we also discussed how online learning could progress well beyond “replicating” the campus experience and encourage a move from “content-based learning to process-involved learning”. We were reminded that our traditional campus-based students already operated in the electronic world. Online environments can support encourage deeper and reflective “double loop learning”, socially constructed knowledge creation and digital fluency for our campus-based learners, too.

    Image: via www.haikudeck.com

    Need to convert wav files to mp3?

    By Jessica Gramp, on 16 March 2015

    How easy is this? Install LameDrop for Windows and you just drag and drop your wav files onto the LameDrop interface (see that tiny white square in the screenshot below – that’s it!) and it converts them instantly. No settings to worry about and the files appear in the same folder as the originals. Easy peasy! So now I can concentrate on pulling together media for use in my online courses.


    You can download LameDrop from: http://rarewares.org/mp3-lamedrop.php


    apple If you have a Mac you can use iTunes to convert your audio files using these instructions.

    UCL Arena Digital – you can still join us for Week 2!

    By Clive Young, on 9 March 2015


    Over 200 UCL colleagues have already joined UCL Arena Digital, our free online course to help improve Moodle skills and enhance your online/blended learning.

    We are in Week 2 but you are still welcome to join.

    The course is fully online and will take only 2-3 hours of your week. The course is made up of three Units. Each unit will last 2 weeks and there will be breaks in between Units. Each fortnight will end with a live online webinar where you can share your experiences with your colleagues on the course.

    The course is designed so you can take all three Units, or simply pop in for the Units that especially interest you.

    • Unit 1: multimedia – the current one – find out how to create and embed media and interactive tools in Moodle to enliven the online environment for your students.
    • Unit 2: communication – discover ways of using tools inside and outside of Moodle you can use to communicate with students and support their collaboration with each other.
    • Unit 3: assessment and feedback – explore ways of using the online environment to create new kinds of assessment and give feedback to students.

    Unit 1 started last week and will continue to Thursday 12 March, when we will conclude with a webinar.

    Even if you missed last week there is still time to get involved and all the materials will also be available afterwards.

    You can enrol at https://moodle.ucl.ac.uk/course/view.php?id=29477

    Log on using your UCL username and password

    Unit 2 will launch in early April 2015 – look out for further announcements.

    Meet Jess, Jack, Stuart & Heather – realistic voices for free* download

    By Jessica Gramp, on 3 March 2015

    I have recently started listening to my books and papers, rather than reading them. This frees me up to do other things while I listen, such as cook, take a bath or do some tidying up. It also gives my eyes a well needed break from staring at a computer screen or paper.

    As part of an online e-learning course I am helping to develop, I am using the TechDis Jess voice to provide audio files of the commentary, as an alternative to reading. I have had to tweak some of the text – for example, UCL needs to be written with spaces between each letter in order for Jess to pronounce each letter individually and I needed to add a hyphen to CMALT (C-MALT) for it to be pronounced correctly. But for the most part I can leave the text much as it is typed. I then run it through a free, open source software called Balabolka to produce an audio file that participants on the course can download and listen to.

    TechDis Jess and other UK voices (including Scottish and Welsh options) are available from www.jisctechdis.ac.uk/techdis/technologymatters/voices.

    Balabolka is available from: www.cross-plus-a.com/balabolka.htm.

    Listen to a sample:

    Listen on SoundCloud…

    *Staff and learners studying at England’s UK and FE institutions can download the voices free of charge and those at Scottish and Welsh institutions can download local voices.

    Teaching and Learning with Forums

    By Jessica Gramp, on 2 March 2015

    Discussion enables students to aquire and check their ideas, as well as promote deep-learning by allowing students to build upon and challenge each other’s ideas (Weimer 2011).  If you want to use online discussions in your own course, the first question you should ask yourself is “What do you want the discussion to achieve?“.

    You might consider using discussion to allow students to share and collaborate about:

    • Expectations and experiences
    • Individual tasks
    • Group tasks, using the discussion as a collaborative constructive workspace

    Or you may use discussion forums to enable:

    • Questions and answers (how often will you respond?)
    • Reflection
    • A social space

    Whatever the purpose, you should use clear signposting, outline ground rules (personal conduct, language, spelling and grammar) and make a warm and welcoming initial post. When setting up a new discussion forum it is advisable to set it to auto-subscription so your initial welcome post is emailed to everyone enrolled on the Moodle course, but staff and students have the option to unsubscribe if they choose to.

    Moderating an online discussions involves a number of roles in which you will:

    • Control
    • Facilitate
    • Encourage
    • Prompt
    • Challenge
    • Regulate

    Some practical tips for moderating discussions online include:

    • Keep discussions focused on a specific task;
    • Ease people in to using discussion forums with an icebreaker – such as asking each participant to introduce themselves to the group;
    • Large numbers of small e-tivities work better than one or two daunting ones;
    • The e-moderator sets the environment and tone – make it welcoming and model good online behaviour;
    • Small interventions go a long way in providing support;
    • Encourage people to discuss rather than giving them the answers straight away;
    • E-moderators need to spend more time initially to support participants and get the discussions started, however, over time the group becomes more self-sufficient.

    Here are some example welcome posts that can help you to get started with forums:

    Expectations and experiences:
    ‘Describe your expectations of this module, your experiences of this subject in the past, and whether or not you are looking forward to the work to follow. If you have any early questions, post them here and I’ll give a reply.’

    Individual task:
    ‘Think of a film that you have recently watched. Based on the criteria you have seen in the lectures, comment on the roles and development of the characters, and their interplay with the dialogue and staging. Reply with your thoughts (perhaps 300-400 words) in this discussion before the next lecture.’

    Group task:
    ‘You will be assigned into groups of four people, each with a private discussion forum. You are asked to produce a requirements specification (no more than 10 pages) for a software system to manage patient records and appointments at a doctor’s surgery. Use the discussion to collaborate as you produce your document, and submit it at the end of the term in the usual way.’

    Questions and answers:
    ‘This discussion board is for you to ask questions about the module or the work that we are covering. I will check the discussion on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons and will respond to your posts at those times. If a number of people are having difficulty with the same area, then I will arrange additional workshop sessions, details of these will be posted in this discussion.’

    ‘Many of you will have used hardware or software packages with pupils with special needs. Choose one, and reflect on how you used it, what worked well, what could be improved, and whether you would recommend it to others. Also comment on how your skills developed as a result, and any recommendations you would make to others using the same software.’

    Social forum:
    ‘This discussion forum is set up to allow you to talk socially to other students on the module. Discussion of work is permitted, but not posting of answers to questions or any attempts at plagiarism. I won’t be responding directly to your posts, but I will pop in occasionally. We will keep a log of all the messages posted, so be polite and constructive in what you say.’

    If you are a UCL staff member and want to discuss your use of discussion forums with someone please contact the UCL E-Learning Environments (ELE) team.

    Useful resources for finding out more about using discussion are the books E-moderating : the key to teaching and learning online and E-tivities : the key to active online learning, both of which are available from the UCL Library.

    Authors: Steve Rowett and Jessica Gramp

    2015 Horizon Report – what are the six key trends in E-Learning?

    By Clive Young, on 17 February 2015

    nmc_itunesu.HR2015-170x170Every year the NMC Horizon Report examines emerging technologies for their potential impact on and use in teaching, learning, and ‘creative inquiry’ within the environment of higher education. The report, downloadable in PDF, is compiled by an international body of experts and provides a useful checklist trends, challenges and technologies in the field and provides a useful benchmark of what is most talked about at the moment.

    The key trends identified in the in the short term are

    • Increasing use of blended learning
    • Redesigning learning spaces

    Longer term trends are: growing focus on measuring learning, proliferation of open learning resources, advancing cultures of change and innovation and increasing cross-institution collaboration.

    Key ‘solvable’ challenges are

    • Blending formal and informal learning
    • Improving digital literacy

    More difficult challenges are; personalising learning, teaching complex thinking and the ‘wicked’ ones are competing models of education and the old chestnut, rewarding teaching.

    The important developments in educational technology they identify are in the short term are

    • Bring your own device (BYOD)
    • Flipped classroom – same as last year

    Longer-term innovations are; makerspaces, wearable technology, adaptive learning technologies and the ‘Internet of Things’.

    As usual there are useful commentaries and links throughout. Encouraging that many of these ideas are already being implemented, trialed and discussed here at UCL.