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Digital Education team blog


Ideas and reflections from UCL's Digital Education team


TLN – Digital Stories and Why buttons go bad

By Matt Jenner, on 28 March 2011

Dominic Furniss and Rachel Benedyk explained in this weeks Teaching and Learning Network how their use of Digital Stories have been used with their HCI students during induction week.

What is a Digital Story?
Pictures + audio + narrative = digital story

Think of a narrated set of images, but with the potential to demonstrate a high level of understanding of a topic mixed in with a visual and narrative forms to explain a topic or concept. A digital story is designed to show this and Dominic and Rachel’s students did this brilliantly.

After taking part in a session at another university, Dominic wanted to bring the idea of Digital Stories to UCL. He realised they can be used as a short exercise with students and can be a very effective learning tool. Creating a digital story brings out many transferable skills such as emphasising students working together, communicating a message and synthesising their understanding.

The HCI students worked in groups to create a digital story in a half-day workshop. Set during induction week and working in groups the students did not yet know one another, nor did they know at what level to be aiming for. Each group shared their creation in a class-wide presentation session. After this the groups were asked to peer review each submission which proved a useful exercise for gaining skills in marking and criticising each other’s work. In addition, the feedback from the students gave a multifaceted view on group work, settling in and understanding the context. The teaching staff noted during the year that the students were more tuned into the subject and willing to work in groups – however this would need deeper research to ascertain how linked it may have been to this induction exercise.

Value in creation
Something Dominic and Rachel hadn’t envisaged was the quality of the digital stories created. One excellent example is below, entitled Why buttons go bad, which shows clearly how students fresh to UCL have arrived at good academic pace:

This video has since been used by UCL TV and on the UCLIC website for public engagement across the campus and beyond.

The idea of creating a Digital Story is so simple that it may pass you by, but their application can be widely-adopted. Think replacing a conference poster, a summary of what your students have learned during the year or the outline of a proposed paper. Creating a story takes only half a day, and if you’re interested the LTSS or Dominic and Rachel would be very happy to talk to you about it some more.

More information on the TLN programme page for this event.

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TLN – Round the lighthouse and back in time for …Casablanca! – Using feature films in the classroom – Melvyn Stokes

By Matt Jenner, on 7 March 2011

This week the Teaching and Learning Network are lucky to have Melvin Stokes who talked about using feature films in the classroon.

Melvyn begins by introducing the history of american cinema, including newsreal shots of black protesters being hit by american enforceMelvyn Stokesments with a water canon or Thomas Canby in the early 1900’s. After this, technical developments made the feature film possible. The first major feature films were on 4, 5 and 6 reals. In addition were developments in editing and special effects. Cinema attendance soared in the 20, 30 and 40’s as telling stories on the screen.

But the question is, how can this be introduced into teaching?

Melvyn uses a pre film text to read which also acts as an introduction to the film itself and questions such as how does [the film] shed lights on the cultural issues in which the context it will be introduced?

Melvyn then goes onto show us clips and how they were influential to American cinema and perhaps revolutionised a way of thinking into the audiences that went to go and watch them. He shows clips from, The Birth of a Nation, So Red the Rose, The Searchers, Hester Street, The Grapes of Wrath and finally Casablanca.

Popcorn!It’s well worth noting that we had more popcorn than we were able to eat, next time we hope you can come along too.

More information on the TLN programme page for this event.

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TLN – Jenny Marie & Pam Houston – Supporting personal tutors in supporting key skills

By Matt Jenner, on 16 February 2011

Today’s Teaching and Learning Network presenters are Jenny Marie from CALT and Pam Houston from the Division of Biosciences and they were talking about the key skills programme and personal tutors. This included information for those at UCL for key skills and in particular, how Life Sciences are using the personal tutorial system to help develop key skills and visa versa.

Why would we develop key skills?

Jennie Marie presentingJenny Marie starts by introducing key skills. In a recent session between the LTSS and academics, key skills came out top for academics in terms of the institutional priorities. Key skills underlines so much at UCL, including the transition process into the institution and recording the skills a student has obtained when they leave. A student’s academic life also flows into their employability and life skills.

In addition, some great resources are around to help out, Skills4Work, a Moodle course, MyPortfolio, Key Skills Grid and the Key Skills Website which pulls all these resources together and provides more general information and links to other sites and resources. Links below.

Student key skills is managed all within Portico, if a personal tutor logs in they can view their student’s profiles, history and reports. Students must produce evidence for a key skill and some are using MyPortfolio as a blogging tool and to upload evidence for their tutor to view.

Pam Houston – Biosciences tutorial scheme

Pam houston - presentingPre-transition programme they made their own mentoring scheme, but since the transitions programme was running they have supported and recruited mentors to settle new starters into the university. There is one second / third year mentor for eight first year students, most of whom have had some mentoring experience before.

The students had a personal tutor but as students can take modules from all over the faculty, picking a tutor is not that obvious or clear. By implementing the new tutoring system the students received a much more structured tutoring programme. This included a platform for key skills awareness and training which was married with an established a link with their personal tutor, which stayed the same throughout the years of study. This helped the employability of the student as the tutor could write a better statement about the student and make them more employable.

Biosciences wanted to identify student skills and find some common skills development for the department. The also wanted some materials customised for the department, so they seemed more relevant. They ended up grouping key skills into four sections, academic, self management, communication and interpersonal. This was conducted over a ten week period which covered essay writing, invigilated essay writing, feedback on the essay, key skills development, Turnitin submission, feedback on their submission, the Originality Report produced and how to critique a scientific paper. The module was branded as PHOL1001. It was noted as a not very expensive course to run after the first initial setup.

The outcomes included students being were more engaged and found they could prove where their obtained their key skills from UCL. From a tutor’s perspective; they got to know their students a lot better and as their student’s employability shot up, the number of letters of recommendation came down.


More information on the TLN programme page for this event.

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Teaching and Learning Network (TLN) – Ben Hanson and Remote Labs

By Matt Jenner, on 2 December 2010

This week’s TLN had Ben Hanson presenting his work on laboratories which are separated by a physical distance and operated from afar.

Ben shows his work which he started while he was working at Leeds University. When he came to UCL he left behind a lab which was designed to work from anywhere. To test his theory, he can control his lab kit from another location, setup up experiments and watch the results as they come in and he does this with UCL students.

The outcome of the experiments are sent back via video, students can watch the video and see what happened. The experimental data is passed back for further analysis. Most of the supportive teaching is conducted with a lecture before the experiments are performed.Data from all the experiments are stored on a server and can be shared in a collaborative way.

Why this differs from a traditional hands on lab?

* Accessibility – this widens participation to groups and individuals who may not be able to attend physically.
* There is some setup cost but once the kit is running there is minimal running cost. This means the kit can be located offsite and/or access can be opened (or possibly be sold) to others. Although for now access is cost free.
* Other universities contribution to the community aspect of this, bath Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield, UCL.
* Users are added to a queue so large groups are scheduled and effectively wait in line for their turn.
* There are minimal time constraints in using the system, so students can be in an environment which allows them more time and flexibility in running these tests and perhaps having more chances to grasp a point.

The system can provide formative feedback from the system which they can then use to learn from, reflection upon and possibility have another go.

Collaboration and communication

Human interaction between the students and the system. How do the students work in groups? They have virtual lab groups.

Using the tool to help with professional communication skills. Students don’t have much of a chance during their education, even at a higher level, so with this in mind Ben has added virtual lab groups. Students use an instant messenger or email to work within a virtual lab group and they work on a lab experiment together. The group data is then fed back to class data so an emergent result can be build on the students input. With this you can also see common mistakes from individuals/groups and then explain how this happens and what to look out for.

Used the learning pods in the Roberts front cafe and were asked to create a frequency response from a vibrating beam, the kit is in the basement of the building. They are asking students to understand a resonant behaviour. The students will only collect a small amount of data each,but collectively (all the groups added together) the students pool their data and build a larger dataset via Moodle and Etherpad.

There were some problems with student’s use of language (International issues and some language was inappropriate)

There was a generally postive student feedback and a high level of engagement. It’s worth considering that students were paid a small amount of money to be a part of the study and worked out of class hours on this. Remote labs can help break the confidence barrier for the kind of person who tags onto the know-alls and are not brave enough to want to break their barrier of anxiety.

Next steps

  • Can this be used internationally?
  • Improve online communication skills.

Missed it?

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