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Digital Education team blog


Ideas and reflections from UCL's Digital Education team


Jisc Learning and Teaching Experts Group, June 2015

By Mira Vogel, on 23 June 2015

Originally comprising project fundholders from the E-Learning Programme and now more open, Jisc convenes the Learning and Teaching Experts Group three times a year. This meeting – the 35th – had sessions on the student experience, leadership, and students as partners, all with a digital focus.

Helen Beetham introduced a new NUS benchmarking tool for the student digital experience (not yet released, but see their existing benchmarking tools), and further work on a digital capabilities framework for staff. Each table critiqued one of eleven areas of the tool, and contributed ideas to a twelfth on ‘Digital Wellbeing’.

There followed a series of shorter presentations including two senior managers describing their respective institution’s digital strategy and approach to supporting digital leadership, along with staff at Reading College who presented on their use of Google, their ethos of ‘pass it on’ for digital know-how, and how staff can indicate that they are happy to be observed (by hanging a green or red coat hanger on the door of their teaching room – paradoxically and unsurprisingly the green one was redundant because everybody got the message and used it).  In case anybody remained unconvinced that there is any urgency to this, Neil Witt (another senior participant) tweeted a recent House of Lords report, Make or Break. The UK’s Digital Future [pdf]. He thinks that for institutions to build digital capabilities will require an HR strategy.

During lunch I talked with Ron Mitchell about Xerte the open source suite for authoring interactive digital content, and made a note to ask for a pilot installation. I failed to find the roof garden (consulting the floor guide later, it’s close to the bottom of the building) and fretted about a very large fish in a very small tank on reception. Then came a session on cultures of partnership with a panel of students and student-facing roles. Like the previous session, this was full of tantalising ideas like staff being able to choose a student or staff colleague to observe their teaching, and Dan Derricot from Lincoln University starting to think of student engagement as a ladder where the course evaluation form is lower than, say, creating new opportunities. Partnership culture depends on visibility; at first staff need to take a lot of initiative but as students see other students’ work, they are more likely to step forward with ideas of their own. Eric Stoller tweeted this interesting-looking paper theorising student involvement. Jisc has a network of Change Agents and (separately) there is a new journal of Educational Innovation, Partnership and Change with a call for papers.

Finally the members showcase. I attended Lina Petrakieva’s session on assessing students’ digital stories at Glasgow Caledonian. They had to deliberate about similar things to us, namely whether to require the students to use a common platform (they did) and whether to change the assessment criteria in recognition of the new modes of expression (they did). I caught the end of a talk from the Lisette Toetenel at the Open University about setting up a network to share designs for learning.

Participants used the Twitter hashtag #JiscExperts15 mostly to amplify the event but with a few conversations sparking – including this one on helping champions and when James Kieft (a runner up for last year’s Learning Technologist of the Year) from Reading College dropped the bombshell / reminded us that they’d turned off their Moodle in 2014 and moved to Google applications. This set quite a few people off – not for reasons of rent-seeking and fear of change though I’m sure we all need to check for that, but business models, orientation, and the risk of abruptly-retired services. It also gave other people a frisson of liberation). I should reassure (?) at this point that there are no plans to turn off UCL Moodle. Then somebody asked what the purpose of learning technologists would be in the VLEless future but the session ended before another round of “What is a learning technologist today?” could get underway. Sometimes I think of these (what we’re currently calling) digital education professional services roles as midwife, sometimes I think of them as more specialised educational design roles in waiting until the ‘digital’ becomes more taken-for-granted. As long as education isn’t served up pre-programmed or decided centrally, the roles are likely to endure in some evolving form.

Thanks to Jisc and all contributors for a stimulating day.




What do students really use?

By Fiona Strawbridge, on 20 November 2011

Did you know that current graduates can expect to have between 5 and 9 different professions by time they are 42? If I heard correctly this is what has been predicted from the growth of the knowledge-based economy and emergence of new professions.   This means that in addition to having strong IT skills, our graduates also need to be highly digitally and information literate and to be able to ‘knit together’ their use of institution and external – often cloud-based – technologies into a coherent learning experience. This was the theme of a thought-provoking presentation on a JISC-funded student digital literacies project by Helen Beetham (independent consultant) and Neil Witt (Plymouth Uni) given at the SEDA conference last week.

The project involved student focus groups which looked into students’ real study habits and strategies – for instance how – and how much – they really use and depend on Wikipedia, Google, the e-library etc. Students were asked to do a ‘technolog

Technology card sort choices

Technolgy card sort

y card sort’ – they were given cards with different technologies on them and asked work in pairs to group them according their usefulness for study.  Then – and this was the revealing part – they had to say which five could be taken away. And then to sacrifice three more. The facilitators were as interested in the dilemmas and arguments the students were having about their choices as in the choices themselves – these conversations gave a lot of insight into the students’ learning strategies.

The outcomes?

  • The bare essentials were – Google, Google Scholar (“it’s more up to date than the library”), online journals and Athens
  • Valued – lecture notes, textbooks, the VLE, Metalib (i.e. official course resources); Google books; Citation software and e-portfolios (both were highly valued by those who used them)
  • Background use included – Assignment criteria, module overview, own use of capture media – photos of what they’ve done

One interesting observation was that ‘game changing’ technologies – portfolios was given as an example – had almost always been introduced to them in class by tutors. This is counter to the common assumption that the game changers are the gadgets in students’ pockets.

JISC have a toolkit of resources for institutions to run similar studies – maybe worth considering at UCL…

Effective Assessment in a Digital Age

By Jessica Gramp, on 9 February 2011

On February 3rd practitioners from universities in and around the region met in Birmingham to discuss how technology can be used to promote effective learning by looking at good practice in assessment and feedback.

The workshops were based around the principles from the Effective Assessment in a Digital Age: A guide to technology-enhanced assessment and feedback publication.

Some of the ideas that emerged from the workshop activities are summarised here:

  • Set an assessment where group members contribute to a forum as they collect research towards a final outcome
  • Set an assessment where individuals produce a poster illustrating the information they have sourced in their research.
  • Set formative assessment for complex questions that the majority of students are likely to fail towards the beginning of a course, so they become familiar with learning from their mistakes in a safe and productive way.
  • Review students’ answers to assessments to see which questions many students got wrong and support them in understanding why and how to reach the correct answer.
  • Develop formative assessments that reveal hints to the correct answer and allow students to have another go if they get it wrong initially and when they do get it right (or wrong a number of times) explain the correct answer in detail.
  • Use text matching technology to produce free-text, short-answer questions, rather than the commonly used multiple choice question type. Note: To do this effectively can take time and requires large quantities of real student answers to mark accurately, so may only be viable to large cohorts of students.
  • Use various assessment methods to cater for different learning styles, engage students and allow those who have strengths in some areas to take advantage of these.
  • Assess frequently throughout the term to allow tutors to evaluate students’ progress and steer them in the right direction if they begin to go off track before the final submission. This also allows tutors to distribute the time they spend providing feedback and marking across the term, rather than the marking and feedback process being concentrated at the end.

The output from the workshops and other useful materials are available here: http://bit.ly/jiscassess

Media and Learning 2010

By Clive Young, on 29 November 2010

I was at the Media and Learning conference in Brussels last week. The conference is a new spin off of the MEDEA Awards, a competition now in its third year that recognises and rewards excellence in video and media in education. The conference attracted over 250 delegates with a good representation from the UK. JISC Digital Media and JISC Legal were there talking about UK video collections and the legal aspects of lecture capture (known in the rest of Europe as ‘weblectures’).  Blogger Helen Keegan of the University of Salford gave an inspiring keynote on ‘learning ecosystems’, the transformation of ‘passive’ video into a medium for active communication and creation. This was certainly a theme of the conference and other keynotes including Ozge Karaoglu from Turkey (pictured) showcased some stunning work achieved by primary and secondary children across Europe. The main MEDEA award was fittingly won by BBC News for their BBC News School Report which gives 11-14 year-old students in the UK the chance to make their own news reports for a real audience.

Free Online Screencasting Tools

By Clive Young, on 17 September 2010

An increasingly common tool for teaching, training, presentation and demonstration is the use of video capture of computer screen activity, usually accompanied by voice-over narrative. When delivered to users as a digital video file, this is known collectively as screencasting.

Free Online Screencasting Tools is a recently-published guide from JISC Digital Media covering the many new applications you can use including ScreenToaster, Screencast-o-Matic and Screenr but not Jing, one of my favourites.

For a more  in-depth guide to the complete screencasting workflow, take a look at the JISC advice document Screencasting Workflow, or for a quick introduction to screen capture read Introducing Screen Capture Software.

Effective Assessment in a Digital Age

By Clive Young, on 13 September 2010

The new JISC guide Effective Assessment in a Digital Age has just been published. Assessment lies at the heart of the learning experience and this guide draws together recent JISC reports and case studies to explore the relationship between technology-enhanced assessment and feedback practices and meaningful, well-supported learning experiences. Effective Assessment in a Digital Age complements the excellent  Effective Practice in a Digital Age, the 2009 JISC guide to learning and teaching with technology, and Effective practice with e-Assessment (JISC 2007) by focusing on the potential enhancement to assessment and feedback practices offered by both purpose-designed and more familiar technologies.