We’re all in the same boat – so why not share? – reflections from Mahoodle 2017

We’re all in the same boat – so why not share? We are all understaffed and under funded. We all want the best learning experience for our students. We all are juggling numerous projects it doesn’t make sense to me that we are all doing it independently of one another.

This belief was driven home to me at the end of last week. Friday 20th October Cambridge University hosted the first Mahoodle conference in the UK – where educators that were interested in Moodle (the learning management system) and Mahara (ePortfolio platform) presented on various developments/projects that they were involved in involving one or both platforms. While I always welcome events like this for the opportunity to network with colleagues from other institutions, I was particularly looking forward to this one; We got to present the final stages of the AAIM project. This project was a result of a collaboration between University of Sussex and Dublin City University. More details are available on the project website but in a nutshell the goal was to improve the analytic reporting within Mahara.

We are delighted to announce that as of yesterday, the reporting capability developed as a result of this project are now in core Mahara.

We are now going to release as many of our Mahara plugins as we can to the community and will work with Catalyst (the company behind Mahara) to get as much of these developments into core so everyone can benefit.

Following our tremendously successful experience working with Sussex we are looking for more Mahara projects that we can collaborate on. If you have any ideas or up for being involved in collaboration please contact myself (@glynnmark) or David Walker from Sussex (@drdjwalker)

 

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Erasmus funding for Academic Integrity

I am delighted to announce that a consortium involving DCU led by Ilia State University in Georgia have been successful with our application for Erasmus funding for our project on Academic Integrity. The core objective of the project is to enhance the quality of teaching and learning processes that are based on the principles of academic integrity, supported by policies, mechanisms and tools that help prevent and detect cases of plagiarism in higher education institutions in Georgia. The three year project will involve the design of workshops and resources targeted at both staff and students and involves collaborating with 16 other partners from UK, Austria, Sweden and numerous institutions throughout Georgia.  

All resources resulting from this project will be made available openly under creative commons licence. Updates will be posted here and also on the website created specifically for this project (details to follow shortly)

The real legacy of the Y1 Feedback project

A huge congratulations to the Y1 Feeback team in the final event of their National Forum funded project. I would strongly recommend to anyone teaching in higher education to visit to their project website.   Although targeted at first years, the learnings from this project are applicable to everyone.The two year long project culminated with a symposium last Friday, an excellent event with distinguished keynote speakers such as Prof David Carless,  Prof David NicolProf Tansey Jessop and Dr Naomi Winstone.

I enjoyed each presentation with key takeaways for me from each one, with Naomi’s work on exporting assignment feedback to a students eportfolio being a standout takeaway for me personally. But aside from the aforementioned excellent speakers another element of this symposium was particular satisfying. It was, what  I believe will be the real legacy of this project, the diversity of speakers from across the partner institutions. It was not just the case of the usual suspects representing their institution but a mixture of new and experienced lecturers from a variety of disciplines presenting their work. The   National Forum projects have definitely raised the scholarship of teaching and learning across the sector but the Y1 Feedback in my opinion has lead the way in this respect in a very sustainable manner.

While the video below shows my personal contribution to this project, it is only one small piece of the jigsaw that made up this project. A huge congratulations to Lisa O’Regan and the project team. For more information visit http://www.y1feedback.ie

Should we measure class attendance in higher education?

Everyday in school, primary or post primary the teacher called the role, at least in my school anyway. I see the logic behind this and understand the reasoning but higher education is different, we’re dealing with adults so at least it should be different. So should we measure class attendance and if we do should we value it?

 

Without meaning to sound too much like a politician, my answer to the question is –  it depends! It depends on the situation and it is definitely not something to be measured in isolation.

The two following examples are typical scenarios in higher education.

In a laboratory session for a scientist or a clinical skills session for nurses for example, yes absolutely attendance is crucial as attendance should be compulsory. The thoughts that a chemistry student could graduate without ever attending a laboratory practical should not be possible. I am aware of several courses where at least in theory that is possible. In courses where there is no individual failed element i.e. the student can fail the continuous assessment but do well in the final paper and scrape through with an overall pass for the course because the final result is weighted heavily in favour of the final paper. I’m not here to discuss bad course design and poorly constructed course learning outcomes, we’ll leave that for another post. However  let’s just take this example of lab attendance to explain the “value” of measuring attendance. If we measured lab attendance we can set a requirement like a student must attend 80% of the lab sessions. We therefore must measure attendance to determine if each student meets this requirement to progress. This raises the question – do we value attendance or do we value knowledge/ability to perform that lab activity? Or do we value both? What if a student misses the lab but writes up the lab report illustrating their knowledge of the topic? Should they get marks for this, should course design allow this? Before answering this question – let’s flip this on it’s head – what if a student attends the lab but fails to demonstrate the knowledge/ability in the lab report? How do these two fictitious students compare in your opinion – who deserves to pass?

Moving away from this type of scenario to a typical lecture – should we take attendance? should we value attendance? Technology can make collecting attendance easier but just because we can measure it does that mean that we should value it? In today’s world information is plentiful – it is not limited to within the four walls of a classroom. Instead of focussing on classroom attendance, should we not be focussing on our lecturers –  asking them to produce quality learning resources e.g. small short videos. We should be encouraging them to “flip the classroom”. Therefore engaging the students when they are in the classroom, moving away from the “lecture” to a discussion type situation. There are plenty of examples where flipping the classroom engages the students and this will lead to better attendance.

It is widely accepted from the literature that engaging students  will lead to better student attainment. This is what we should value, therefore this is what we should measure – not attendance in a lecture.

So I go back to my opening statement with regards to should we be measuring attendance – “it depends”. I return to my mantra “we should measure what we value, not value what we measure”.

Learning Analytics ….. measure what you value

Learning analytics is not a new term for higher education. In fact as far back as 2010 Learning analytics was mentioned in the NMC Horizons report. Last year I had the privilege of attending the LAK conference in Edinburgh in Scotland which is a very established international network of people researching learning analytics. So learning analytics is far from new. But, in my experience,  until recently the conversations around student data and learning analytics were limited to a few people within institutions. However in recent months it is a term that is gathering a lot of interest in the every day conversations within higher education institutions. More and more people are seeing the potential and in some cases even realising the benefits of learning analytics. Dr Bart Rientes, Prof Shane Dawson and Prof Dragan Gasevic are people that I follow with great interest. Each of them leading the way in their respective fields, researching different aspects of learning analytics.The National Forum for Teaching & Learning, an organisation supporting T&L in higher education in Ireland has recently launched a project to raise the awareness of Learning Analytics so all of the indicators are that this is an area that is here to stay and will only get bigger in the years to come.

Personally speaking I got involved in learning analytics in DCU nearly 3 years ago examining if there was a correlation between a students engagement with the VLE and their success rates in the module. As you can expect, there is a very strong correlation. But we took it one step forward, using historical data we built algorithms to predict a students success based on their current interactions and we gave this information back to students with the hope of it improving completion rates. More information can be found here. Without spoiling the surprise, while the project was a success this project only gave one piece of the jigsaw.

puzzle_pieces_-student-success

Several different initiatives emerged following the findings from this project. Each one giving a different piece of the jigsaw.The next series of posts will outline the various learning analytics projects that we have conducted in DCU.

In conclusion learning analytics has proven to be a powerful tool that can help improve the learning experience of the student in so many ways but each bit of data is only one piece of the jigsaw.  My word of caution that I would give to anyone interested in learning analytics  is measure what you value, don’t value what you measure!

Guiding people around Moodle

Learning any new software can be difficult at the best of times but if you are not  a “digital native” even an apparently simple system can be a huge obstacle. This is most certainly the case with Moodle. If you can’t use it, it won’t matter how good it is, it just won’t be used. In my opinion Moodle has an added complication that as it is an open source product designed by many people to suit a large array of needs it may not always be as simple as you would like it to be.

To tackle this issue we commissioned the development of a plugin for Moodle that gives users a guided tour around each page when they arrive on it for the first time. The guides can be for students or teachers and the plugin is designed in such a way to allow generic tours to be used on any type of course page, no matter how it is laid out or what blocks you have included on your course page.
It has great potential for student orientation with Moodle and also potentially removing a fear for staff if they want to try out new features on Moodle

Hopefully you will find this plugin useful

https://moodle.org/plugins/stats.php?plugin=local_usertours

Here is a short presentation which I gave to staff recently – hopefully explains it a little better.

FYI “Loop” mentioned in this video is the name of our Moodle instance.
Please pass this post onto anyone that you feel would be interested.

Making Assignments better for everyone

Anybody involved in teaching recognizes the benefits of assessment within their courses but equally they curse assessments at the same. Trying to get that balance right over providing enough assessment versus over (or under) assessment; giving detailed feedback versus prompt feedback; offering flexibility yet at the same minimizing opportunity for plagiarism. In DCU we have made several improvements to core Moodle to  help improve the Assignment process for everyone involved. Some of these improvements are listed below, with each one discussed in detail in future blog posts

Assignment Calendar

Every staff member and student has a Google Apps for Education account (GAFE). We now have linked Google Calendar with Moodle assignment.If a student has an assignment in Moodle, an “event” is created in their Google calendar. This event contains the assignment title, deadline date, brief description and link directly to the assignment on their Moodle page. This information is dynamic in so far as if a lecturer makes changes to their assignment on Moodle, the students Google Calendar is updated.

Moodle tours

Sitting beside every lecturer to explain how to create a quiz in Moodle is just not practical. In addition to creating a suite of instructional videos and user guides we have created a virtual assistant on Moodle. Essentially when a user comes onto a new page in Moodle they are given a “tour” of the page. This tour guides them through key points/blocks on the page with an explanation associated with every point. These tours can be created for every page and every feature on Moodle, we have just decided assessment based features of Loop. This “tours” plugin is available to the Moodle community (https://moodle.org/plugins/local_usertours), all we ask in return is that if you create any tour, that you are willing to share it back to the community via https://moodle.net/mod/data/view.php?id=17

Reminder block

If students have not submitted an assignment Moodle now emails them reminders. A lecturer can choose how many reminders students get in advance of and after the deadline

Relative grade

A student is now presented with their relative grade i.e. how they have performed in a particular assignment relative to their colleagues: are they above or below average, are the close to the lowest or the highest grade

Sub course

You may have centralised course material e.g. a course on citation and referencing that you want your students to complete as part of your course. Now lecturers can link out to that “other course” via a sub course link. When student click this link they are automatically enrolled in this course and all of the grades from the “other course” are passed back to your course gradebook

 

 

Who Owns My Lectures? An Exploration of Academic Ownership in the Digital Age

We had a really interesting “hot topic” session recently where Dr Tom Farrelly was our guest speaker for the session the title of which “Who Owns My Lectures? An Exploration of Academic Ownership in the Digital Age”

Does the institution or the individual lecturer own the material? It was what I would consider a very healthy discussion and I only wish more lecturers came along on the day to join in. We had lecturers, learning designers, academic developers and management with responsibilities for digital learning in the audience. While we did not come to a resolution on the day, like all of these hot topic sessions the power is in the follow on discussions.

It was through one of these discussions where an interesting TED talk  “Embrace the remix” was shared . This talk from Kirby Ferguson to me clarifies that the material we create, the notes we create, the presentations of our knowledge are built on the foundation of other work, books we have read, videos we have watched and discussions that we’ve had.

After watching this video the argument in my opinion changes to  – do I have rights over my “performance” of the lecture, like an artist has rights over their art? This question in my opinion is easier to answer – No. If you are paid by your institution to produce the lecture material you do not have rights over it. After all does an actor get paid everything time a film in which they are in is shown. They don’t, they got paid to act the scene, when Star Wars the movie was re-released in the 90’s did the entire cast get paid a second time. I know that there are some exceptions where some actors have particular contracts, but they are the exception not the rule. In a time where it is easy to record a lecture and replay it several times, should the lecturer get paid each time? Actors can make or break a film, just like lecturers can make or break an academic programme. But it is not just the actors, it is the script writers, the set designers, the producers, the directors. It is the entire team working for the studio. In todays’ digital era it is no longer just the lecturer that is involved in the production of learning material, it is the learning technologists, the curriculum design team and all the stakeholders working for the institution.

There are so many different variants of the scenario it is nearly impossible to give a definitive answer but I will say this – the conversation is very timely and one worth having. We should have it sooner rather than later because as technology advances and becomes more ubiquitous it will potentially become more of an issue if not addressed.

What is your opinion? What is the situation in your institution?

For more on NIDL events please visit http://dcu.ie/nidl/events/external.shtml

Articulate Roadtrip 2015

“Two of the biggest Articulate Guru’s in the business providing a free day long workshop – and would DCU be interested in being a partner when they come to Dublin as part of their road trip?”

To paraphrase from one of my favourite films, it was an offer that I could not refuse.

In 2014 at the inaugural event in DCU, I had the pleasure of hosting Dave Anderson, this time the ante was increased, Tom Kulhman joined Dave on stage for a day long workshop for people interested in using Articulate software. With over 150 participants in attendance, it is evidence that the Articulate community in growing from strength to strength in Ireland. This event was another initiative that strengthens DCU’s relationship with Articulate and it’s community of users. In addition to informative workshops containing very practical tips, we got a sneak preview of how Articulate is improving the viewing of their published content on mobile devices and also their general roadmap for the future. All I can say is exciting times ahead.

We are already looking towards 2016 and what more we can do with the Articulate team and welcome continued conversation with Articulate users in the community – https://community.articulate.com

One conference , through two different lenses – part 2

As promised yesterday this is the follow up to my post on the ECEL 2015 conference. On this occasion I am reflecting on the conference through a different lense – looking at it as someone who organises conferences:
It always of interest to me how others do it – what do they do better than me and what ideas can I take back and implement in my next conference. But I also find it valuable to identify good bits that I do that they don’t. I find it somewhat reassuring and rewarding to an extent. I don’t mean that in a big headed way – it is just good to know that you are doing something right.

Pre conference:
The conference website was a great help, despite not being the most aesthetically pleasing – it contained all of the information that was required and it was relatively easy to find it. The correspondence from the organisers was also quite good, with a slight negative being sometimes there was just too much information in their emails but if I’m being honest that is probably me being a little picky. One of the things that I feel would improve the site was a little intro video from each of the mini-track chairs – explaining what their track was going to be about – essentially a little promo video. If they were really ambitious each speaker could post a video like this for their talks – easily done with todays technology

They also had pre-conference workshops – I find these incredibly useful especially if you have people travelling a long distance – it is easier to justify travelling a long way for 3 days instead of two. It also gives you an extra day to network. The downside of course is taking that extra day away from the “day job”. There were two workshops both of which proved valuable to me, for different reasons but definitely worth my while.

During the conference
There were a lot of positives about this conference; most of the talks were very good, the food was fabulous (they had a great gluten free selection), the various stream rooms were all very close to one another. The vast majority of the speakers kept to time and in general the conference ran exactly as scheduled. The conference dinner was amazing – we ate in Hatfield palace, the home of Elizabeth I, and the food was most certainly fit for royalty. A negative though would be the lack of a social element to the conference. I feel the organisers missed an opportunity here – the dinner finished at 10 and with most of the participants staying in one of two hotels, it would have been easy to put on the timetable that participants can network in the hotel bar after dinner. Even by reserving a space in the bar and doing nothing else, it may encourage networking.

The biggest frustration was the poor quality of wifi. If I was the organisers I would be asking the venue for a refund because the quality and reliability for a purpose built conference centre was very poor. Several of the presenters needed the internet to facilitate audience participation and the poor wifi simply prevented that. Luckily enough those who needed videos from Youtube or content from Prezi had back up plans but for an eLearning conference reliable wifi is an absolute must. In my opinion it seriously reduced the amount of conference traffic on twitter as well. As a conference organiser my heart went out to the conference team as all of the hard work that they had put into place was overshadowed by technical problems beyond their control. Rather than end a blog post on a bad note I want to mention two more positives; They had a big screen in the main coffee area which displayed comments, tweets and conference notifications – a really nice idea and something which I will implement in future conferences they had a notice board with the photos and names of all of the presenters displayed by the registration desk – a simple but effective tool to facilitate networking.

All in all I would like to congratulate the organisers on a job well done and I look forward to Prague next year 🙂

All in all I would like to congratulate the organisers on a job well done