Learning Technology jottings at Goldsmiths

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Archive for June 2009

British universities must become much more radical with technology, or sink into obscurity

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A salutory warning received by email from JISC:

“British universities will lose their leading international standing unless they become much more radical in their use of new technology, a JISC commissioned report says today.

British universities occupy four of the top ten world rankings and the UK is one of the top destinations for international students. But the Edgeless University, conducted by Demos on behalf JISC, suggests that a slowness to adopt new models of learning will damage this competitive edge.

The research showed that the recession has put universities under intense pressure as threats to funding combine with increasing demand. A wave of applicants is expected to hit universities this summer as record numbers of unemployed young people seek to ‘study out’ the recession.

The report says that online and social media could help universities meet these demands by reaching a greater number of students and improving the quality of research and teaching. Online and DIY learning can create ‘edgeless universities’ where information, skills and research are accessible far beyond the campus walls.

Malcolm Read OBE, Executive Secretary for JISC, which supported the research, said: ‘The UK is a leading force in the delivery of higher education and its universities and colleges have been punching well above their weight for some time.

Safeguarding this reputation means we have to fight harder to stay ahead of developments in online learning and social media, and embracing the Web 2.0 world.

‘This is a great opportunity for UK universities and colleges to open up and make learning more accessible to students who would not traditionally stay on in education. ‘Edgeless universities’ can transform the way the UK delivers, shares and uses the wealth and quality of information its institutions own.’

The report also calls for universities to acknowledge the impact of the internet by making academic research freely available online. Author of the report, Peter Bradwell, said: ‘The internet and social networks mean that universities are now just one part of the world of learning and research. This means we need their support and expertise more than ever. Just as the music industry may have found the answer to declining CD sales with Spotify, universities must embrace online knowledge sharing and stake a claim in the online market for information.’

The report makes a series of recommendations for opening up university education, including making all research accessible to the public. It says teaching should be placed on a more even footing with research in career progression and status and teaching which uses new technology rewarded.

Read the full report www.jisc.ac.uk/edge09

Read more about Demos here www.demos.co.uk


Written by Mira Vogel

June 23, 2009 at 16:59

Posted in change, research, technologies

Tagged with ,

Demonstrating our PRS system at a departmental Away-Day

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In 15 minutes I had, I thought I could show JISC’s 5 minute case-study video from Strathclyde, meanwhile distribute some unallocated clickers to the 40 participants and then move to a series of survey questions about:

  • Engagement of students in lectures
  • What most interested them about the PRS
  • Plus an MCQ about what GLEU stands for (to demonstrate correct answer).

I wouldn’t show them a grid of responses, or allocate identities to the clickers on a roster, but I would show a barchart of stats after each question.

The questions (approximately):

  1. Do you feel that students are engaged during your lectures?
    • Always
    • Usually
    • Sometimes
    • Rarely
    • I’m not prepared to answer that question!
  2. What aspect of PRS most interests you?
    • Diagnostic formative assessment at intervals during lectures to check understanding.
    • To keep students critically engaged throughout lectures
    • Opinion polls
    • As a stimulus for group discussion
    • Another aspect – ask me
  3. What does ‘GLEU’ stand for?
    • A number of options
    • Goldsmiths Learning Enhancement Unit [CORRECT]

I set up early – other presenters were going to switch between my laptop and another presenter’s mac – went away and came back.

A number of issues came up, outline below with some possible resolutions:

  1. The first survey question the barchart was empty. The  IR receptor was no longer responding to port check – it wasn’t communicating the clicks to the software. Since I was the last session of a long morning, there was little float time. I had checked this in the morning but I think maybe the receiver was disconnected while I was away. This should have been OK – systems should be robust enough to cope with this kind of thing – but ours is not the newest. After a number of attempted remedies, I restarted. This worked. A few people were interested enough to come back from lunch and have a look. So, if you are sharing kit, do a port-check before starting the presentation. And if there’s a problem, try restarting first. And I need to check we have the most recent driver installed, so that disconnecting doesn’t flummox the whole thing.
  2. Some participants wanted the feedback that they had clicked, and what response they had chosen. I had decided not to show the grid because it obscures some of the slide. It is possible to arrange the slide so that the grid can be positioned alongside. Or it is possible to make the questions available (for reference) on a different screen or in a different way. I think confirmation of choice might only be important if the clickers were allocated to individual students, and the responses counted towards something. But AP did mention that he gets students in class to write down their responses, because otherwise with more complicated questions they often forget what they initially responded. There is feedback of how many people have responded, which can be seen in the top row of PRS controls
  3. JM has used clickers as a student at the University of Colorado, where they were a compulsory purchase and used in summative assessment which took place during lectures (5-10% of final mark), and to register attendance. This was very motivating, students did the reading and turned up for sessions.Collect some research evidence on effects on a) engagement b) pre-session reading c) attendance d) other uses.
  4. To issue each student with their own (loaned) registered clicker, or not? If the principle concern is to keep students engaged, then maybe it is enough to do things anonymously. However, it may be helpful for students to think about the correct answer, or the other options, in relation to what their answer was. If they are being used for assessment, then each clicker could be allocated by student number. This would preserve anonymity and allow a single gradebook to be presented to all. Is there a Moodle plugin to make Interwrite talk to the learn.gold gradebook?
  5. Distributing and collecting the clickers. The best scenario is that they are issued to students at the beginning of the year, perhaps via the library. But if they cannot be issued, or there aren’t enough to go round, then perhaps it could be workable to delegate handing them out and collecting them each session, or to get students to replace them in the case themselves. Some thought is needed to streamline this. It is impossible (and probably unnecessary?)  to store the clickers in number order. But it’s likely that a few will be lost each time unless there is some way to count them in and out.  So I think that distributing and collecting them each time will be a challenge.
  6. Battery changes. There need to be some spare clickers handy, and some spare batteries too, during sessions. If we are not longterm-issuing clickers to individual students, and if there’s to be a bulk battery change, I think that students / users can do this (with batteries we supply). It’s not possible to use rechargeables on an institutional scale, but we can recycle with BatteryBack. The batteries last a long time.
  7. The kit is heavy and bulky. Departmental laptops can have the software, and it can be installed on teaching pool room machines. Loaning the clickers out longterm to individual students is the most convenient option but otherwise we can make them available in bulk in a carry-case and allow some to be kept in a department along with the IR receiver(s).

I think it would be ideal if a tutor for a given course piloted PRS, and let us know what the opportunities and issues are. We would offer solid support for a pilot like this.

Written by Mira Vogel

June 18, 2009 at 14:59

Posted in assessment, PRS, psychology

Notes on our Interwrite Public Response System (PRS aka ‘clickers’)

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Goldsmiths has a public response system with something like (before my time) 200 handsets. It’s straightforward to set up and can be used to:

  • Keep students critically engaged throughout a lecture
  • Check students’ understanding at intervals (i.e. diagnostic formative assessment)
  • Poll opinion
  • Stimulate discussion

See it in action – 5 minute video from Strathclyde University, and more on the vendor’s site.

Written by Mira Vogel

June 16, 2009 at 17:29

Posted in teaching, technologies

Tagged with

Twitter and the ayatollahs

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All eyes on Andrew Sullivan, un-pigeon-hole-able author and activist, reporting the Iranian and election and its aftermath via his Twitter account, DailyDish.

He’s collected his tweets (up till June 16) at his spot on The Atlantic website, including from early:

“Mssg from Twitter: Our…partners at NTT America recognize the role Twitter is currently playing as an important communication tool in Iran.”

Use of the #nomaintenance tag persuaded Twitter not to shut down for maintenance yesterday. They are running Twitter for the Iranian democrats.

The scales have fallen from Sullivan’s eyes:

“I have to say my skepticism about this new medium has now disappeared. Without it, one wonders if all this could have happened. A reader notes a few facts:

Ahmadinejad’s and Khamenei’s websites were taken down yesterday – I saw the latter go down within a couple of minutes because of a DDOS attack organised via Twitter. @StopAhmadi is a good source for tweets on this. The other important use of Twitter has been distribution of proxy addresses via Twitter. This would be how most video and pictures of today’s rally have gotten out.

Technology has not just made the world more dangerous; it has also enabled freedom to keep one small step in front of tyranny and lies.”

Will the ayatollahs now close Twitter in Iran?

Note to self:

“Please remember that this is about the future of the Iranian people. While it might be exciting to get caught up in the flow of participating in a new meme, do not lose sight of what this is really about.”

How to support Iranian twitterers.

Update: scholars of the Iranian and Arabic blogospheres write in the Washington Post – Reading Twitter in Tehran? Why the real revolution is on the streets – and offline.

“Paradoxically, the “freedom to scream” online may actually assist authoritarian regimes by serving as a political release valve of sorts. If dissent is channeled into cyberspace, it can keep protesters off the streets and help state security forces track political activism and new online voices. As Egyptian democracy activist Saad Ibrahim said last week during a discussion at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, this appears to be part of a long tradition for governments in the Middle East, especially in Egypt, where dissent is channeled into universities and allowed to thrive there, as long as it does not escape the university walls.

With so many individuals overcoming government efforts to block online communication, particularly via Twitter, it is notable that the Iranian government has not shut down Internet access completely. Similarly, as we discovered in our recent study of the Arabic blogosphere, the Egyptian government tolerates extensive blogging by the Muslim Brotherhood while outlawing its other activities. The Chinese often ease the harshest of their Internet regulations over time. And the military junta in Burma didn’t keep the Net down for long. Ultimately, almost all such regimes choose to leave the Internet more open than closed, then move to regulate specific activities that they deem worrisome.

After all, it appears that people living under authoritarian regimes such as the one in Iran are as addicted to the Internet as the rest of us are. Even though states push back, they can’t keep the Internet down for long without serious blowback from their citizens. Iranian officials have the power to shutter the Internet just as they once clamped down on reformist newspapers, but they may be more concerned now about any move that pushes those watching — or blogging or tweeting — from the sidelines into the throngs of protesters already in the streets”

See also this from the Berkman Institute of Internet and Society on shutting the blogosphere.

And Patrick Meier, also at Harvard, who understands this stuff and is updating his piece on how to communicate securely in repressive environments.

I hope colleagues understand now that ‘techies’ are not to be maligned – well, not simply for being techies, anyway.

Reading Twitter in Tehran?

Why the real revolution is on the streets — and offline.

Written by Mira Vogel

June 16, 2009 at 09:58

Giving feedback to students by audio and screen capture

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As frequently mentioned on this blog, students across the sector perceive grave shortcomings when it comes to feedback. Alongside this, there is near-total consensus that assessments and assignments should always be formative even where they are summative. So, any new intervention which could improve the way feedback is given is worth consideration.

Yesterday at the London School of Economics’ Teaching Day, I was lucky enough to attend the session on ‘Talking to your students using audio feedback’, led by Steve Bond and Matt Lingard.

The abstract for the session:

Talking to your students using audio feedback

This seminar will present examples of use of audio feedback from universities around the UK. Participants will have the opportunity to discuss in small groups how they might use these techniques in their own teaching. It will also provide practical advice on how to get started with the use of audio.

This revived an idea brewing for a while, which was to try this at Goldsmiths.

Why audio feedback?

  • Sounds Good project based at Leeds Uni found that of 1,200 students, 90% preferred audio
  • It was the personal aspect which was most appreciated – the nuance and warmth of tone. The feedback was felt to be generally richer. This is very promising for larger cohorts where feelings of impersonality can prevail.
  • Also appreciated was the increase in feedback – it is possible for staff to give more in the same amount of time because you speak quicker than you write.


  • It’s very straightforward to do this on a desktop or laptop. Sometimes there is a decent integrated microphone on your machine, or you can use an inexpensive one e.g. on an existing web conferencing headset. CELT can lend you a mic if you need one. The software is free.
  • Tutors say that it takes about 12 goes to hone and optimise the process, but after that it’s quick and easy
  • Because the humanity of the feedback is one of the things that’s valued, there is no need to script what you are going to say – some brief notes are sufficient and umms and ahs are not a problem
  • Because context is often important, Steve and Matt had hit on Jing, a free screen capture tool. This has the added benefit of the tutor being able to talk to the piece of work they have marked, and to use gestures or highlights as well as speaking. It is possible to scroll through the work on-screen and talk through bit by bit, in context.
  • The feedback is saved as a file and can be uploaded to each student’s private space in learn.gold’s Assignment tool.

Any caveats?

  • Of course
  • Not all students can hear – a few may need or prefer text feedback
  • If you are one of those tutors who is fortunate enough to have time to give ample written feedback, and to discuss this with students, then audio / screen capture feedback may well feel like a step back. It’s more relevant for tutors who can’t.
  • The feedback is not searchable or easily skimmable in the way that text feedback is. Depending on how long your feedback is, this may or may not be a problem. You could provide your outline plan to the student, and on it make a note of the timings of when you started talking about a given section.

Find out more

Worth investigating further? Contact Mira or John at celt@gold.ac.uk.

Written by Mira Vogel

June 10, 2009 at 11:21

Posted in assessment, audio

What do students value in their teacher?

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Yesterday the London School of Economics had its first annual Teaching Day. It was an impressive and very worth-while event (maximum credit to Athina Chatzigavriil, who planned and coordinated it and also to the Teaching and Learning Centre (TLC – cute) and the Centre for Learning Technology. I was lucky to be there – I hadn’t realised that other than me it would be an entirely internal affair. For this I have Sonja’s chutzpah to thank (Sonja will be working there from July).

There were two plenary sessions, four break-out sessions, a civilised 15 minutes between each, various stands and poster presentations over lunch, and a wine reception on the top floor of the law building at which the 2008/9 Teaching Excellence Awards were presented.

LSE’s Teaching Excellence Awards are a student union initiative funded by the Teaching and Learning Centre. Nominees can be anybody employed by the LSE to teach over 20 hours that academic year. Nominations involved 7 students completing a nomination pack (linked from the bottom of the page above). There has been a high degree of motivation to nominate tutors, fluctuating somewhat depending on the effectiveness of the publicity. A student panel weighs up the submissions.

The head of the TLC told me that the warmth of the nomination statements was remarkable, and Athina had had the bright idea to have the day’s final plenary presented by five students, each of whom had nominated a teacher. It was actually very moving to hear them – here are my notes from that session. Sadly, I don’t have a list of the names, so some I can’t link to.

Uli (Ulrike Theuerkauf I think – Economics and Government)

  • Pre-class prep. Clear slides. Understanding of obscure points – footnotes of the reading material. Rx reading. Ability to justify reading choices with respect to key aspects.
  • Clear and varied delivery methods. Group work, brainstorming. Simulation. Structured discussion.
  • Ensuring focus on a course with a huge range of time and geo-location. Teasing out of key themes; anticipating where these might be lost
  • Availability – reliable in office hours and approachable outside them; flexible
  • Feedback on written work extended to paragraphs.
  • Solid exam support
  • Extra stuff: extra class in week 5 Michaelmas term; passion for the course; gained respect and accommodation of the students – goodwill

PG Programme in Economic History – Tim Leunig

  • Enthralling story-teller; quick witted; comedic; articulate; interesting;
  • Good judge of audience – adapts a lecture to the audience; a tweaker; responsive; sensitive
  • Excellent structuring of the programme: keeps smaller classes; divide into rotating groups of 3 or 4; present a topic question each week as well as coordinating as a team and gaining experience presenting – v. motivating; followed by Q&A, then breakout sessions for discussion. Then Tim would tied everything together for the final 20 minutes. Format was conducive to preparations for exams. Everybody felt very confident. They had been active in preparation throughout the year. Proctor said he’d never seen a group of students so relaxed before.
  • Mock exam with thorough feedback and follow-up email with further feedback.

Masters in Human Rights – John Gledhill

  • Gave students the impression that teaching was his first priority – that he cared about them
  • Passionate
  • Very well-structured classes, reminders about reading lists prior to each class, including thought-provoking questions to make reading more interactive, and the sessions themselves more stimulating.
  • Adaptive and flexible to student needs. If students were shy, he broke the group into smaller groups to ensure that they were included
  • Synthesised theoretical work with the real-world to keep the subject alive and relevant to the ongoing debates and struggles in human rights.
  • Feedback was thoughtful, in-depth and concrete.
  • He was approachable, engaged, interested, cared about students’ interest in the subject
  • Arranged extra-curricular stuff like video nights, which communicated that the subject was important.
  • Left student with a deeper critical understanding, and the tools and skills for analysis in the subject

UG Accounting – Annette (I can’t find her)

  • Annette brought out students’ personality. You didn’t feel shy. You could try out bizarre ideas. She had a good sense of humour.
  • All the most crucial information about the industry and adjacent industries. Real-life cases to stop you getting lost in numbers.
  • Comfort in the classroom made presenting more fruitful.
  • You felt like you had a personal relationship with her, even in a single hour a week.
  • She was reassuring – you felt that she was there to support you through the pressure, and you could make a fresh start.

Denisa Kostovicova – From Empire to Globalisation

  • An atmosphere of respect, enthusiasm and academic discovery. You looked forward to coming to class every week.
  • As LSE students, we thrive on structure and feedback. We make strategic decisions about which seminars to prepare for. Denisa achieved a place in our priorities through positive reinforcement
  • We posted questions we had about the readings. Denisa made sure that our questions had a response. We knew somebody was listening, and that they cared. You are desperate for feedback and attention from your tutors, and Denisa went above and beyond. She would send email feedback about what we could improve on – to have that sense of engagement from your tutor was a huge benefit
  • She brought a sense of discovery and interest to class which I didn’t always feel with my other seminars.
  • You had the sense that Denisa thought we might say something interesting and relevant. She was listening hard from what we were saying. Sometimes she would praise us, and that would make us hungry for more praise.
  • She knew our names, and she used this to structure the class and organise the discussion. We were not all the same. We listened to our peers. Those of us who were shy had a chance to participate – everybody was encouraged to respond and to listen respectfully.

These were only five of the many nominations.

Written by Mira Vogel

June 10, 2009 at 10:11

Posted in teaching

Recording an audio presentation – quick and dirty (but good enough)

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There’s a general feeling in the podcasting community (even trailblazers like Oxford) that good-enough is good enough. Production perfectionism for its own sake is not going to win a lecturer or institution any extra points. It’s the design and relevance of the recording that counts.

A member of staff contacted me at short notice to sort out recording a lecture. With the above in mind, we went together to the room in which she would be recording, armed with:

  • Laptop with Audacity, the free audio recording and editing software
  • Unfamiliar Olympus digital voice recorder (precursor to this one) borrowed from the Media Equipment Centre
  • A handheld mic, plus fuzzy (aka windshield), ditto
  • A video conferencing headset (earphones and backup mic)

Then we experimented, me at the back of the room scraping my chair and coughing to provide background noice.

  • First with the voice recorder round the the presenter’s neck, but there was way too much rustling
  • Then with the handheld mic – turned out we’d been lent the wrong lead, so we ruled that out for the minute
  • Then simply holding the recorder – this worked very well, quality-wise.

The recorder has integrated USB connection so we easily downloaded the test to the laptop. It was in WMA format, so we imported it to Audacity (after a straightforward install of the relevant libraries), and exported it to mp3, with metadata, and from hard-drive to the VLE.

It was very straightforward.

To know:

  • The original amplitude was a little high and there was clipping – you can’t see this until it goes into Audacity, so it’s just something to know – make a note of the volume and adjust accordingly. Not critical though.
  • Let the students know a) a recording is ongoing and b) to keep superfluous noise to a minimum
  • A headset mic would be ideal for hands-free presentation
  • The presenter should take their mobile phone far away or turn it off – it can interfere with the recording.
  • On this digital voice recorder model
    • Turn the recorder off before exposing the USB connection
    • To pause, press record; press record again to resume

Written by Mira Vogel

June 3, 2009 at 17:05

Posted in podcasting