Digital Education team blog
  • We support Staff and Students using technology to enhance education at UCL.

    Here you'll find updates on institutional developments, projects we're involved in, updates on educational technology, events, case studies and personal experiences (or views!).

  • Subscribe to the Digital Education blog

  • Meta

  • Tags

  • A A A

    Archive for the 'External Learning Technology events' Category

    Are we using technology effectively to support student employability?

    By Stephen Rowett, on 19 January 2016

    Employability is something of the elephant in the room in higher education. We dream of students enthralled at learning new knowledge, making discoveries of their own as they develop their curiosity and strengthening their identities as they work with others.

    For many of course, the reality is that they are undertaking their programme of study to get a good ‘job’ at the end. I use quotation marks because the nature of the ‘job’ may be wide and varied: it might be traditional employed work; self-employment; voluntary work; portfolio working; or a combination of these.

    Jisc Technology for Employability report

    Jisc has been exploring the role that digital technologies, and the digital literacies needed to use them effectively, can play in developing employability. Peter Chatterton and Geoff Rebbeck have recently produced a detailed report on the topic on behalf of Jisc. They argue that technology is often woefully underexploited when it comes to giving students the opportunity to develop their professional skills and that both staff and student skill development will be necessary to close this gap.

    An introduction to the report is available or you can download the full report from the Jisc website. A webinar summarising the report will be held on 25 January 2016, with free registration.

    Mahara Hui UK 2015

    By Domi C Sinclair, on 12 November 2015

    Earlier this week I attended the Mahara Hui UK 2015 which took place down in Southampton between the 9th and 10th November 2015. Mahara Hui UK is the title of the official UK Mahara conference – Mahara being the software that is used for MyPortfolio at UCL. To honour Mahara’s New Zealand roots the conference is referred to as a ‘Hui’, which is a Maori term for a social gathering or assembly. The conference is held annually in different locations around the UK and features a variety of talks and workshops on all aspects of Mahara.
    There is also a lot of Twitter activity during the conference and you can review post with the hash-tag #maharauk15 to see what people were tweeting.
    As with most conferences, there were some key themes that seemed to emerge and repeat over the 2 days of the conference. The key themes were learner control and learning versus studying. Let me explain these in more detail. The first subject, of learner control, seems like a natural topic of conversation for an online portfolio tool, and it has a few strands. Firstly there is the tension and apprehension that can occur for both tutors and students in allowing them (the learner) to have complete control over their content and use of the MyPortfolio system. This can often mean increased freedom of expression, and a change in dynamic to give the student ownership of their work. This tension seems to occur more for first year undergraduate students, and can be an important part of the transition from the FE mindset to a HE one. The second strand of this discussion of learner control is more what can happen when you move past the apprehension and successfully hand over the reins. Once this dynamic shift occurs we can start to explore the benefits of huetagogy (self directed learning). As well as having immediate benefits this approach can help set students up to be successful life learners – particularly useful if they decide to continue a passion for academia/ knowledge as a researcher.
    As for the second main theme, learning versus studying, this also comes back to the concept of huetagogy in many ways. It is about allowing students to undertake tasks and activities (which could be assessed) that encourage them to learn, perhaps through practical application, rather than simply studying by memorising the necessary information to pass tests. Learning involves engagement with the subject matter and is likely to be perceived as more fun and enjoyable – as well as installing retained knowledge into the learners mind. Online portfolio tools, such as MyPortfolio can be really useful in facilitating this, either by being the vessel on which the learning occurs, or by acting as a portfolio to collect and curate examples and evidence of learning – which may include videos of practical techniques being performed correctly, in lab selfies or copies of artefacts produced. Curation was another important topic. It is important to teach students how to curate work, so that the portfolio does not become a scrapbook of ‘everything’ but is a thoughtfully selected collection of examples of work/ evidence that has value and demonstrates the best of the students abilities.
    There were many examples of use of Mahara (MyPortfolio), a number of which seemed to focus on transferring a traditional paper portfolio, which may be bulky and heavy to carry around, into the electronic system. Two examples of this that were presented were from Colin Bright, a lecturer in Social Work at Southampton Solent University and Jaye Ryan, a lecturer on a nursing course at Birmingham City University.
    Finally, another benefit of the conference was the ability to hear about new features in both the latest version of Mahara (MyPortfolio) version 15.10 (which UCL will be upgrading to later this month) and the next version, planned for April 2016 – version 16.04.
    New features for Mahara 15.10 include:
    • Responsive design – so that it works on all devices
    • An edit button on each group homepage – so that it is no longer necessary to go into the pages section and edit from there
    • Group journals – rather than journals being unique to individual portfolios
    • Next and previous buttons in collections
    • A drop down menu for collections, which replaces the tab navigation

    More developments are planned for version 16.04, although at the moment nothing is confirmed and these are just idea. Some of the ideas include:

    • The ability to have a single page in multiple collections
    • Combining the page & collection interface (to make it simpler to use)
    • A revamp of  navigation – this would aim to make it simpler to find different functions/ sections
    • The inclusion of CSS for HTML export – this would mean that exported pages/ collections would retain their theme and look the same as they do online
    • Quicker editing of pages

    There is also a planned revamp of the mobile app MaharaDroid to make it work on multiple platforms including Android, iOS and Windows phones. This is planned for release in April 2016 and will see a rename of the product (to match the multiple platform capabilities).

    Two and a half days into the future

    By Clive Young, on 6 November 2015

    Can you see the UCL logo in this video?

    Like it or not, many of the trends, technologies and issues in learning technology often drift eastwards across the Atlantic, so it is useful to attend a US conference occasionally to hear the emerging debates.

    EDUCAUSE is by far the biggest US conference of IT in education, last week attracting seven thousand IT, library and learning tech professionals to a very rainy Indianapolis. Popular topics were cybersecurity, the cloud, digital libraries, organisational change and generally managing an ever more disintegrated IT environment. Learning technologies were also well represented.

    It is certainly not true that US universities are universally “ahead” of UK and European counterparts in educational IT. Many of the issues arising were depressingly/comfortingly familiar but in a few areas there were interesting differences, reminding me of the famous William Gibson quote, “the future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed“.

    A striking example was learning analytics, the monitoring of student performance, attendance and so on. In the UK collection of such data, the focus of a large Jisc project, is generally seen as benign. Some US universities however are much further down this path, trying to link performance to lecture attendance, library use, time spent in the VLE and so on. This data can be used to trigger interventions from tutors, but some questions had already arisen as to reductionism and even ethics of “profiling” students in this way. The fundamental question raised was who is this monitoring actually for; the student to improve study practices or the institution to reduce dropout statistics?

    Not surprisingly several sessions attempted to identify key future trends. Number one was growing US student debt, commonly described as a “crisis”. One response may be a refocusing on competency-based education, short vocational for-credit courses from both new and traditional providers. Promoted as more affordable and career-friendly, credit accumulation enables flexible study paths (often online) and timeframes. The traditional three/four year residential degree was described as “over-engineered”, i.e. too long, too expensive, too unfocused, for increasing numbers of cost-sensitive, more consumer-minded students. The growth of “sub-degree education” and alternative HE-level providers is becoming more noticeable in the UK, too.

    Whether this leads to the long-predicted decoupling of study paths and accreditation remains to be seen. In this new diverse environment universities, while still maintaining their elite status for the moment, were now “not the only game in town” and maybe not the automatic choice for a future generation of aspirational students.

    Meanwhile on traditional US campuses the student demographic was subtly remixing. Students were on average older, more culturally diverse and ever more demanding of student services. Wellbeing and psychological support were becoming critical components of learning. Universities, we were told,  should take adult non-traditional learners far more seriously. I heard a frequent critique of the US trend of over-investing in glossy, expensive residential campuses at the expense of building a more agile, future-proofed and hybrid infrastructures. Distance education, it was claimed, would soon become the delivery norm in US higher education.

    As mentioned above the pervasive connectivity of modern student life presents a major challenge to conventional IT services and roles as well as to academic colleagues who often struggle to accommodate the impact of technical changes, and often associated changes in discipline practices, into traditional programmes.

    Maker culture” inspired by consumer-level 3D printers, coding schools and the “internet of things” should continue to impact across the curriculum, with libraries possibly playing a major role in providing maker spaces and opportunities for self-publishing. Optimists felt all this may produce the “next-generation workforce” ready for high-tech and distributed advanced manufacturing enterprises, where creativity and design will be as important as traditional attributes

    It may be a bumpy ride, though. One EDUCAUSE keynote was MIT futurologist Andrew McAfee who predicted a rapid growth in machine intelligence as the effect of Moore’s law kicked in to mainstream computing. His thesis was that in many areas machines would soon be able to make better predictions and decisions than experts, and the market are already demanding that they do.

    Postscript: If this futurology seems  a bit far-fetched back here in London, note a Guardian article this week; Robot doctors and lawyers? It’s a change we should embrace. But don’t worry, a recent BBC Tech article Will a robot take your job? reassured us that we Higher Education teaching professionals have only a 3% likelihood of automation!

    Turnitin UK User Group – October 2015

    By Domi C Sinclair, on 30 October 2015

    Last week I attended the annual Turnitin UK User Group, which this time was hosted in Westminster, London. The user group gave me (and by extension E-Learning Environments/ UCL) an opportunity to ask questions directly to Turnitin and to learn more about up-coming developments to the system.
    A focus of the day was the large amount of restructuring and staff changes Turnitin have gone through over the last year. This means they have now created a dedicated team for Moodle and have moved to an agile product development framework called Scrum. Hopefully this will mean that any required bug fixes or feature changes can be carried out much more quickly than in the past (when they were using the Waterfall framework), however only time shall tell. They were also keen to emphasise that the huge scale of the changes is still sinking in and it could take a bit more time for them to fully adjust.
    What’s new?
    One of the much anticipated features that has been added to Turnitin version 2 (V2) is the ability to email non-submitters. This means that even in anonymous marking mode, you can easily email a reminder to all students who have not submitted.
    Unfortunately it looks like it will still be a while until the highly requested ability to carry out double blind marking is available. Turnitin currently estimate it won’t be available until 2017. Apparently this is due to very localised demand for such a feature, with the UK & Australia being the only places that require it. As Turnitin is a global service they often have to dedicate their resources to enhancements that will benefit all of their customers. At least it is still in their plans, and we will continue to pressure them to make the feature available as soon as possible.
    Accuracy was mentioned as one of the companies key priorities, which you would hope it would be as they market themselves as a ‘plagiarism detection’ service. In light of this they are working to expand and improve their database, which student submissions are matched against. Currently the database includes:
    • 57 billion web pages
    • 143 million STM journals
    • 570 million essays
    • 26 million students

    They are aiming to improve this with a new deeper crawler called ‘Walker’, which not only goes deeper into webpages and documents but also has the ability to crawl Java script links.

    Turnitin Next
     
    After the version 1 and version 2 plugins will come Turnitin Next, which should offer a better experience for both staff and students. UCL are signed up to the beta programme so that we (ELE) can get our hands on this new product first and make sure that it is suitable for use with the rest the UCL community before releasing it live on Moodle. As we start to learn more about this new product and review it within the team we will be sure to keep you all updated.
    The new integration leads to a re-vamped document viewer and grading interface that looks in, the promotional videos, like it will be a lot easier to use. Everything is controlled by a single side panel, rather than having to switch between tabs as in the current document viewer. This new viewer also includes features such as:
    • Formatting for bubble comments
    • Context menu when adding an in-line comment
    • Rubrics represented as sliders
    • Thumbnail view to navigate document
    What else?
    Some of the other items on Turnitin’s tentative roadmap (which they stressed is subject to change) are:
    • Non integer grades – estimated to arrive in  Q3 2016
    • Individual extensions – estimated to arrive in Q1/2 2016

    They also said that they were planning to launch a research project into how group work might be facilitated in Turnitin. As this is only at the very initial stages I would caution it will be a while until anything is produced (if ever depending on the outcome of the research). For group submissions I would still recommend Moodle assignments, you can find out more about how this works in the UCL Moodle Resource Centre wiki.

    When UCL students edit Wikipedia

    By Mira Vogel, on 15 April 2015

    A presentation by Rocío Baños Pinero (Deputy Director, Centre for Translation Studies), Raya Sharbain (Year 2 undergraduate, Management Science and Innovation) and  Mira Vogel (E-Learning Environments) for the UCL Teaching and Learning Conference, 2015. Here’s the abstract, presentation graphics embedded below and in case you can’t see that, a PDF version of those.

    See also the UCL Women’s Health Translatathon write-up.

    MUGSE 3 – London, RVC

    By Domi C Sinclair, on 17 March 2015

    The third meeting of MUGSE (Mahara User Group for Southern England) took place on Friday 6th March, at the Royal Veterinary College in London. Mahara is the software that at UCL we refer to as MyPortfolio, our flexible e-portfolio system.

    The user group meeting had a mix of experiences in Mahara, as well as a mix of learning technology professionals and academics. The group was also lucky enough to have Don Christie from Catalyst in attendance. Catalyst are the company who are responsible for the Mahara project, and they look after the core code and carry out updates.

    The session began with a group round table, with everyone having the chance to contribute problems or question and then the rest of the group offering solutions or answers based on their own experiences. After this there were a series of presentations, including help files and case studies from Roger Emery and Sam Taylor at Southampton Solent University, a look at the April Mahara upgrade from Don Christie and finally Domi Sinclair (me) talking briefly about the importance of getting involved in the Mahara community. If you would like more details about this user group please read the article from Digi Domi and follow MUGSE on Twitter @mugseUK.