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Ideas and reflections from UCL's Digital Education team


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New assessment and feedback guides from Jisc

By Clive Young, on 28 January 2014

jisc-logo-206Four short guides on technology-enhanced approaches to assessment and feedback are now available from Jisc. Jisc – formerly JISC (!) – supports the use of ICT in learning, teaching, research and administration in UK post-16 and higher education. One of its activities is to run projects and produce guidance on a range of learning technology related issues.

This latest set looks particualrly interesting and practical. The guides “are built on the experiences, approaches and lessons learned from our recent work with over 30 institutions in UK further and higher education exploring a range of new approaches to assessment and feedback“.

The four key themes covered are:

Also available is a summary report of Jisc  recent work in this area: ‘Supporting assessment and feedback practice with technology: from tinkering to transformation’.


The rise and rise of screencasts

By Clive Young, on 16 June 2013

screencast_001Over the last few years we have seen a remarkable growth in the use of screencasts at UCL. A ‘screencast’ is simply a dynamic video recording of live computer screen activity. Unlike a screenshot, which is basically a static image, screencasts capture video sequences of clicks and screen changes often enhanced with an audio explanation. The audio can be captured ‘live’ or added on later.

The method was first popularised in the 90s via the Windows tool ScreenCam (formerly Lotus ScreenCam) designed for software demonstrations and tutorials. Like all modern screencast tools, ScreenCam allowed various visual effects such as zooming, highlighting and labelling to be added. Its main advantage was ease-of-use, requiring no knowledge of video editing and soon became widely used by teachers as a way of converting of PowerPoint presentations to short movies in the the Adobe Flash format.

In the last decade there has been an rapid growth of screencasting tools, some downloadable like ScreenCam to a PC, Mac or mobile device but many others now recording directly to the cloud so that they can be published via social media. UCL’s institutional system Echo360 (Lecturecast) includes a screencast facility as part of its lecture capture tools, allowing academics to create short videos without needing a live lecture setup. This has provided a logical ‘next step’ for colleagues inspired to move beyond conventional lecture capture, and many use cloud-based services such as YouTube and Vimeo in addition to publishing via the lecture capture system.

Such recordings are currently being used at UCL in a number of ways, for example:

  • To ‘flip‘  lectures – i.e. pre-record a lecture, publish this material along with an associated feedback channel e.g a Moodle forum or the Lecturecast systems inbuilt discussion facilities and  use  face-to-face time to clarify and discuss issues picked up through student feedback.
  • To produce supplementary materials to live lectures.
  • To record  talks introducing and contextualising areas of study – e.g. talks to students that help to inform choices regarding their direction of study.
  • The production of materials for distance learning.

In an earlier blog post I reviewed Davis and Hardman’s 2012 report on how short Echo 360 screencasts (up to 10 minutes) could supplement ‘conventional’ teaching such as lectures and labs. They found a number of uses, contextualisation (associated with ‘flipping’), assessment preparation and cohort-level feedback. The approach seemed to be time-saving,  students were happy with the  ‘rough and ready’ production values of scfreencasts and the project identified some difference in marks when students used the the contextualisation screencasts.

How can you get started? For UCL academic staff with an account on the Lecturecast service the EchoCapture Personal installer can be quickly downloaded for Mac OS X and Windows 32 systems. Recordings are easy to make and edit and can then be uploaded directly to the Echo System Server (ESS) where they can, like recordings made in LectureCast equipped theatre spaces, be made available as streamed and downloadable versions.

Other screencasting tools: For those happy to go ‘off-piste’ there are lots of screencasting tools out there, e.g. 18 Free Screencasting tools to Create Video Tutorials Some of the more common ones seem to be Camstudio, Jing, Screentoaster, Screenr and Screencast O matic. Screencasting iPads is much less easy but Screencasting Smackdown – Videos in the Classroom  lists several tools. For example the Explain Everything  app provides a useful recordable whiteboard used by several UCL colleages for freehand drawing of diagrams and equations.

Tips and tricks: Although technically simple, good screencasting needs just a little forethought. A sensible general introduction is is Screencasting 101 – Fundamentals of Screencastin. As a follow up I rather like an amusing 10′ video by Dan Nunez, The 10ish Commandments of Screencasting.- the first of Dan’s Commandments is Hide the Goods! For a more educational focus try Quick start guide to flipping your classroom using screencasting or lecture videos . Screencasting Variety Showcase is a highly recommended recorded JISC conference session on the possibilities of screencasting by Phil Ackroyd (City College Norwich). Finally JISClegal podcasts about Recording Lectures and Screencasts  is a practical ‘how to’ also covering some of the legal, technical and accessibility issues.

For lots more information on lecture capture innovation visit my Scoop.it site REC:all (recording and augmenting lectures for learning).

Image by Manuela Hoffman http://www.flickr.com/photos/pixelgraphix/153725264

Golden OULDI

By Clive Young, on 5 March 2013

OUcoursemapConverting conventional face-to-face teaching to online distance learning formats has long been recognised as a dauntingly challenging task for academics and learning technologists alike.  The classroom and the computer environment are both complex, subtle and surprisingly hard to describe, so translating from one mode into the another very different one is fraught with pitfalls, especially for academics with little experience of online course formats.

As UCL moves inexorably towards more blended and distance forms of delivery, these hard issues are coming up for us, too. Colleagues in departments are keen to develop distance learning modules and programmes but need a lot of personal input from ELE and CALT to guide them. We recognise this is hardly scalable so ELE is piloting checklists to help UCL, timings, contingency, developers identify critical initial questions around market analysis, finances resourcing, staffing, learner profiles, assessment, editing, copyright and so on.

We are now thinking about tools to help learning design itself and the stereotype question is; “What would the Open University do?”. Although the OU is very different organisation to UCL addressing an hugely different clientele, they actually face similar issues. At an OU event last week I came across their current course planning tools, which are actually based on an open JISC project called OULDI (Open University Learning Design Initiative). The two tools I saw in action were the Activity Profile and the Module Map.

The Activity Profile is a spreadsheet designed to provide an insight of what kind of learning actually goes on inside a course, identified by different types of learning activities; Assimilative, Finding and handling information, Communication, Productive, Experiential, Interactive/ Adaptive, Assessment. Each activity is associated with familiar Bloom-style ‘process outcomes’ or action verbs i.e. learners will collaborate/engage/explore etc.  The developers are asked to allocate study hours in the face-to-face course against each activity against each activity type. The results often show a skew towards Assimilative activities (e.g. Read, Watch, Listen, Think about, Access, Observe, Review). This is designed to generate discussion about what type of balance developers want in the online course, bearing in mind the online format requires active and preferably visible engagement with the course.

The Course (or Module) Map gives another perspective, an ‘at a glance’ view of the course or module across four dimensions (see illustration), and is more analogous to some of the materials now being developed by ELE. It captures a brief textual overview of the course activities in terms of the types of learning experience the learner will have, how they will communicate and collaborate with tutor and peers, as well as the guidance and support provided and the nature of any assessment.

The point of these tools is not to be prescriptive but to stimulate discussion and accurate description of the module so leading ultimately to more ‘aspirational’ designs which make better use of the online environment. I hope we will be able to build some aspects of OULDI into our own learning design processes.

One final OULDI tool I thought intriguing was the set of printed Course Features Card Sort. This comprises around 45 printable cards to help module teams decide on and describe their course. I expressed some cynicism about giving academic colleagues such materials but was assured that once their own scepticism was overcome, lecturers found the prompts to be useful to capture the intangible ‘feel ‘of a course. If anyone out there wants to try these out, I would be very happy to facilitate!

33 digital skills for 21st century teachers

By Clive Young, on 15 June 2012

As UCL’s project The Digital Department evolves, we are beginning to think about not only the digital literacies required by our teaching administrators (TAs) but what digital abilities are now required by all staff to enable the technological change agenda of the institution.

We have already revealed the 40+ applications that UCL administrators use in our The Digital Department – Workshop at 2012 AUA Conference and we are actively considering how skills could be developed.

I have been wondering though what a specific teaching and learning list might look like, and some kind soul has recently had a go with The 33 Digital Skills Every 21st Century Teacher should Have.

So what are they?

1- Create and edit  digital audio
2- Use Social bookmarking to share resources with and between learners
3- Use blogs and wikis to create online platforms for students
4- Exploit digital images for classroom use
5- Use video content to engage students
6- Use infographics to visually stimulate students
7- Use social networking sites to connect with colleagues and grow professionally
8- Create and deliver asynchronous presentations and training sessions
9- Compile a digital e-portfolio for their own development
10- Have a knowledge about online security
11- be able to detect plagiarized works in students assignments
12- Create screen capture videos and tutorials
13- Curate web content for classroom learning
14- Use and provide students with task management tools to organize their work and plan their learning
15- Use polling software to create a real-time survey in class
16- Understand issues related to copyright and fair use of online materials
17- Exploit  computer games for pedagogical purposes
18- Use digital assessment tools to create quizzes
19- Use of collaborative tools for text construction and editing
20- Find and evaluate authentic web based content
21- Use of mobile devices like tablets
22- Identify online resources that are safe for students browsing
23- Use digital tools for time management purposes
24- Learn about the different ways to use YouTube in your classroom
25- Use note taking tools to share interesting content with your students
26- Annotate web pages and highlight parts of text to share with your class
27- Use of online graphic organizers and printables
28- Use of online sticky notes to capture interesting ideas
29- Use of screen casting tools to create and share tutorials
30- Exploit group text messaging tools for collaborative project work
31- Conduct an effective search query with the minimum time possible
32- Conduct a research paper using digital tools
33- Use file sharing tools to share docs and files with students online

The original blog post explains each category and links to resources. You could argue with some and a few might be less important in HE,  but most look sensible. We could also add a few UCL-specific ones  such as Moodle tools, Turnitin, Lecturecast, MyPortfolio etc.

Like the TAs list is unlikely that any individual would  – or indeed would want to – use all 33, but both lists together taken point to a rather formidable need for personal and/or institutional development.

Image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gorbould/3949071167/

Pedagogical Soup remix

By Matt Jenner, on 14 June 2012

Pedagogical soup remix

Donald Clark, former CEO of Epic Group Plc, a leading company in the e-learning market now blogs, tweets and the first time I met him stood up for an hour about why noone should lecture him. Over the past few months he posted 52 blog posts on influential people in the world of learning theory. This post is the short, crude, not-enough version, the soup mix of his hard efforts. Why post it? Because E-Learning Environments read, talk, enact and remix this stuff all day long, or at least try to. By posting it, it enables us to get hit right in the brain and gives us a chance to try and pass it on, even if it’s just a little, to you.


Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Confucius, Jesus, Mohammed, Ignatius, Calvin, Locke, Rousseau, Wollstonecraft, James, Dewey, Marx, Gramsci, Althusser, Habermas, Piaget, Vygotsky, Bruner, Pavlov, Thorndike, Skinner, Bandura, Freud, Erikson, Rogers, Montessori, Steiner, Freire, Illich, White, Black & Wiliam, Ebbinghaus, Miller, Atkinson & Shiffrin, Baddeley, Tulving, Kandel, Mager, Gagne, Kolb, Bloom, Maslow, Seligman, Bandle, Fleming, Honey & Mumford, Eysenck, Gardner & a dash of Kirkpatrick


Take them all, try not to think too hard and make your own mind up.

There’s so much, I picked one quote from each article, if you want more it’s all Donald’s work, he deserves the praise, critisism and enjoyment in full, links are all his work, this post is mearly an index.

“the teacher should be an intellectual midwife to people’s own thoughts is his great educational principle”

3 Rs – “The educational system should also be designed to determine the abilities of individuals and training provided to apply to the strengths of their abilities”

“As a proponent of the Greek ideal of an all-round education he recommended a balance of activities that train both mind and body, including debate, music, science and philosophy, combined with physical development and training.”

“He did not admire a totally passive form of learning and encouraged students to be active learners but did see respect for teachers as important, along with manners and decorum.”

“Given the hold religion had on educational institutions until relatively recently, especially Universities, it is hardly surprising that the sermon transmogrified into the ‘lecture’, which to this day, remains the main pedagogic technique in Higher education.”

“Koran means ‘to recite’ and the text was originally meant to be read aloud. It has been argued that this has led to a dependence on rote learning.”

“The curriculum, however, aimed to ‘form’ and not just ‘inform’ character through analysis”

“the traits of the preacher were to become that of the teacher”

“recommends educational methods that focus on example and practice, rather than the teaching of information and principles”

“It is the learner that matters and the learner who develops in a natural fashion, not shaped by teachers but growing in response to opportunities for development”

“she is firmly against single-sex schools. It is important that both girls and boys learn from and about each other for a harmonious society”

“The learner must listen, but then take notes, experiment, write essays, measure, consult and apply”

“he was keen to break down the boundaries of school, seeing them as a community within a community or an ‘embryonic society’”

“Marx believed that our very consciousness, as well as our theorising and institutions, were the result of basic economic structures, education is seen as the result of existing class structures”

“opened the door for a more enlightened view of education and change, counter to the brutality of anti-intellectualism of Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot.”

“Althusser saw education as the means by which the class system perpetuates itself, stratifying people into workers, the petty bourgeoisie and capitalists”

“Education, for Habermas should not simply fill up the recipients with the current canon but promote participation”

“What’s worrying is the fact that this Piagean view of child development, based on ‘ages and stages’ is still widely believed, despite being quite wrong”

“the strength of Vygotsky’s learning theory stands or falls on his social constructivism, the idea that learning is fundamentally a socially mediated and constructed activity”

“He thought that different processes were used by learners in problem solving and that these vary from person to person and that social interaction lay at the root of good learning.”

“physiological response to external stimuli (Conditioned reflexes) was to shape the study of learning for most of the early and middle 20th century”

“focus on rewards, punishment and repeated practice was to dominate behaviourist psychology, and research into learning, for decades”

“Learning, for Skinner was the ability of an organism to learn to operate in its environment (operant conditioning)”

“Bandura has often been seen as a bridge between behaviourism and cognitive psychology as he moves us beyond classical and operant conditioning, claiming that we also learn by observation”

“The main aim of all education is to teach the child to control its instincts.”

“He expanded Freud’s childhood developmental theory, well beyond the first few years of life, into a lifelong development theory of identity, with an emphasis on the adolescent ‘identity crisis’ and the role of the ego”

“Influenced by Dewey, he emphasised the relationship between learner and facilitator”

“she sees the need to let children develop naturally with a strong emphasis on individualised learning. This is based on her belief that a child learns best when left to make their own choices within given constraints.”

“Education, for Steiner, is not so much teaching, or even learning, as a process of spiritual development defined within Steiner’s ‘Anthroposophy'”

“Education, for Freire, is not separate from politics and like many social educational theorists he takes the Marxist position that there is no neutral position on either knowledge or education, everything has a social context”

“Most people acquire most of their knowledge outside of school. Most learning happens casually, and even most intentional learning is not the result of programmed instruction. Most learning is, in fact, a by-product of some other activity defined as work or leisure.”

“White uses a concept that combines the needs of learner but also links directly to the needs of a democratic society. That concept is autonomy.”

Black and Wiliam
“The classroom is the ‘black box’ and they attempt to change teaching with clear advice on ‘formative assessment’. This is the powerful lever, they claim, that unlocks potential through good teaching.”

“The distinction between short and long-term memory was made, and it became clear that successful learning had to push knowledge from short to long-term memory ”

“‘The magic number 7 plus and minus 2’ (1956) which focused attention (literally) on a problem that plagues teaching and learning, the danger of ‘cognitive overload’”

Atkinson and Shiffrin
“Memory is a necessary condition for learning, yet not enough teachers, lecturers and instructors know even the basic psychology of memory”

“Baddeley looked specifically at ‘encoding’. to unpack what he called ‘working memory’ to replace the previous, simpler ‘short-term’ memory model”

“ncoding is perhaps the one area of memory theory that has the most direct impact on learning, as understanding encoding can led to both better teaching and better learning. ”

“Learning, for Kandel, is the ability to acquire new ideas from experience and retain them as memories (a simple fact often overlooked)”

“His aim was to produce a more rigorous and precise approach to the design of learning experiences based on competences and assessment that relate to defined learning or performance objectives.”

“he developed his five categories of learning and a universal method for instruction defined in his nine instructional steps.”

“We may, for example, be able to do something but not express it in abstract terms. In the end, however, learning is formed through real experience, where one’s ideas are put to the test. Feedback then shapes the learning so that performance improves.”

“known for his hugely influential classification of learning behaviours and provided concrete measures for identifying different levels of learning”

“he stripped learning and training back to a hierarchy of basic human needs and desires, in an attempt to understand what motivates people to learn.”

“The well-being of the person and learner has been brought into the equation, with sensitivity around positive traits and the teaching of social and emotional skills beyond the academic curriculum”

“It would seem that the training world is sometimes happy buying and selling cleverly marketed classroom ‘performance’ products that are, in fact, pseudoscience.”

“Despite reports funded but Government, academic institutions and professional psychologists, decrying learning styles theory, and VAK in particular, it persists across the learning world, promulgated by poor teacher training and ‘train the trainer’ courses”

Honey and Mumford
“The learner is asked to complete an expensive, copyrighted questionnaire that diagnoses their learning style by asking what the learner does in the real workplace. Their learning style is then used to identify weaknesses that need building”

“he put forward the proposition that intelligence had a hereditary component and was not wholly, socially determined”

“Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences is opposed to the idea of intelligence being a single measurable attribute. His is a direct attack on the practice of psychometric tests and behaviourism, relying more on genetic, instinctual and evolutionary arguments to build a picture of the mind”

“he proposed a standard approach to the evaluation of training that became a de facto standard”

End note

Since reading Donald’s epic blogging I’ve wanted to comment on his findings, but sadly this is all that’s come of it for public dissemination. His work is only poorly quoted here, he deserves all the respect, thanks and credit for the above. If anything, it’s butchery. But if you’re here, reading, then maybe it’s not all so bad after all.

Plenty of fodder to work with in there; much more out there…


The 100 best online learning tools

By Matt Jenner, on 17 November 2011

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past ten (twenty?) years, you’ll notice there’s been an exponential growth in the number of websites. Their capabilities are often only matched by the imagination of those who use them. Youtube, for example, could be considered a place for videos of kittens and penguins or of leading figures of our time presenting themselves to the world, for free. When education sets sight on one of these, they can get quickly flipped into a tool for learning, and there’s so many sites out there, it makes for such a large amount of choice.

So here enters the annual top 100 tools for learning, chosen by crowd-sourcing to nominate the tools they use for teaching and learning online. The list is curated by Jane Hart from the Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies (C4LPT). 531 learning professionals worldwide submitted their top 10 tools and which then creates the top 100 list.

The top 10 tools in 2011 are:

  1. Twitter
  2. YouTube
  3. GoogleDocs
  4. Skype
  5. WordPress
  6. Dropbox
  7. Prezi
  8. Moodle
  9. Slideshare
  10. EDU Glogster
So which do you use? Maybe you’re looking at the Top 100, maybe you don’t even know what they all are. That’s OK, trying to use all of them would get messy. But there’s a lot out there, maybe it’s time to investigate why Twitter was voted the best online learning tool? Or why Moodle is number 8!
ps. you can follow us on Twitter (@UCL_LTSS), if you want to…