Giving students choice of assignment to improve academic integrity

Following on from my last post where I listed the factors that comprise academic integrity – the pressure, the opportunity to cheat and the rationalisation that students may have to cheat; I suggest that we can reduce opportunity and rationalisation by giving students choice with their assessment. You can start off simple by using something like the Moodle Choice tool to allow them to choose their topic. In the video below the wonderful Mary Cooch explains how the “choice” tool works.

As Mary expertly explains there are numerous options open to staff when using the choice tool. Let’s just imagine that you have a class of 30 students, you can give them 5 topics to choose from. You can limit the number of students that can choose each option and you make the results anonymous. This means that students immediately have a limited number of colleagues that they can copy from as they are doing different topics. Furthermore they have an opportunity to choose their preferred topic which should increase “student ownership” which is a great approach to reduce any rationalisation that students may have to cheat. As an added bonus for the lecturer, you don’t have to correct 30 essays all on the same topic.

Another element of choice that you provide to students which will help reduce rationalisation to cheat is to allow students to choose their mode of assessment i.e. some can write an essay, others can record a podcast or do a video. Just as much as the previous example this increases student ownership. If you decide to combine the two suggestions together you reduce the chance of plagiarism even further because even if students A and B have the same topic they may choose different modes of delivery therefore it is harder to copy off one another.

Just as a word of warning though – too much choice can be a bit overwhelming to students so be careful to not go to the extreme and offer too much choice. What other ways do you think you could offer choice to students to help reduce rationalisation and opportunity to cheat?

Prevention is better than cure – when it comes to catching plagiarism

It is better to remove the opportunity to plagiarise rather than have an assignment that presents the opportunity for students to plagiarise

The keynote from the founder of Moodle, Martin Dougiamas at this years Ireland and UK Moodle Moot provided several examples how online services and products can be used to produce assignments that will not be detected by the standard text matching services that we have all grown to rely on. With these advances in technology and the ubiquitous access to information through the internet plagiarism and academic integrity is a huge concern for education institutions. We all need to work together to reduce the factors that comprise academic integrity – the pressure, the opportunity to cheat and the rationalisation that students may have to cheat. It is a multifaceted problem and therefore requires a multifaceted set of solutions. For the purpose of this blog post I’m going to concentrate on one of those solutions – the design of assessments.

While there have been tremendous advances in text matching software like Ouriginal and TurnItIn in recent years – it is really a case of “the horse has already bolted” to coin an old phrase. If the gate was never open in the first place the horse would never have escaped. If the assignment was designed with Academic Integrity in mind it makes it more difficult for the student to plagiarise. I’m not saying impossible , just more difficult. Remember assessment design is only part of the solution.

 As part of an Erasmus project we have had the opportunity to work with partners in Georgia, Austria, Sweden and the UK to help academics design the opportunity for plagiarism out of assignments.

One of the outputs from this project was the “12 Principles of Academic Integrity” in relation to design of assessments.

  1. Set consistently high academic integrity standards which values university, programme and student/graduate reputation
  2. Provide detailed information direction on how students might avoid breaches of academic integrity and ensure consistency across a programme team
  3. Regularly update and edit assessments and programme assessment strategies.
  4. Use marking criteria and rubrics to reward positive behaviours associated with academic integrity;
  5. Design assessments that motivate and challenge students to do the work themselves;
  6. Ensure assessments are authentic, current and relevant;
  7. Adopt a scaffolded approach to assessments for learning with feedback points throughout the assessment process;
  8. Consider assessment briefs that have open-ended solutions or more than one solution
  9. Design in elements for students to record their individual pathways of thinking demonstrating students own work
  10. Design assessments which allow learners to prepare personalised assessments (either individually or group based)
  11. Build in a form of questioning or presentation/viva type defence component
  12. Co-design assessments or elements of assessment with students;

These principles are derived following a comprehensive review of the literature which focussed on two main questions:

  • What approaches to assessment design are used to promote or maintain academic integrity?
  • What recommendations are being made on using assessment design to support academic integrity?

Over the next few weeks I will share examples how an educator may through using a variety of learning technologies integrate these principles into their assessment design. For now I will leave you short interview with Professor Phil Newton. Phil is the Director of Learning and Teaching, having oversight of all taught programmes within the Swansea University Medical School. His research interest is in the area of Evidence-based Education, particularly Academic Integrity. I had the pleasure of interviewing Phil a while back and want to share his words of wisdom again.

Do course templates really work?

A few years ago we introduced a template for our Moodle course pages to help ensure that our courses meet minimum standards with regards to course design – specifically universal design for learning. We had numerous features within this template and we wanted to examine the courses to see how many courses actually used the templates; rolling out the template is not a problem as we can roll them out as adminstrators and we can also easily customise the template for each course category.

Once each of the course pages are created using these templates the lecturer needs to edit the content provided through the template. For example our template provides a picture and the staff member is encourage to swap this picture with a photo of themselves. Similarly we put in a generic email address (teacher@dcu.ie) and encourage a lecturer to replace it with their own email address. Through ad hoc visits to course pages we realised quite a few lecturers were not inserting their own pictures or email addresses. We have over 2400 course pages so manually checking every page is not practical. So with the help of Catalyst IT we developed a report to analyse all of the course pages. Because we have set up a category for each faculty and a sub category for each school in that category we can do reports on this basis. A sample of the report is visible in the screenshot below:

The next steps are to adopt the report to analyse additional parts of the template in the same way. Furthermore at the same time of enhancing the report we will provide CPD to staff to emphasise the importance of taking the time to swap/replace key parts of the template with information specific to their course pages.

For those interested here is the code that we used and as ever any suggestions for improvement would be very welcome :

SELECT
categories.name category,
courses.shortname ‘course (short)’,
CONCAT(‘‘, courses.fullname, ‘‘) course,
CASE
WHEN FROM_BASE64(configdata) LIKE ‘%teacher@dcu.ie%’ THEN ‘X’ ELSE ‘OK’
END email,
CASE
WHEN FROM_BASE64(configdata) LIKE ‘%Avatar|%20pixabay.png%’ ESCAPE ‘|’ THEN ‘X’ ELSE ‘OK’
END avatar,
CASE
WHEN pos.visible=0 THEN ‘HIDDEN’ ELSE ‘VISIBLE’
END visible,
teachers.teacher
FROM prefix_block_instances blocks
LEFT JOIN prefix_block_positions pos ON blocks.id=pos.blockinstanceid
LEFT JOIN prefix_context instances ON blocks.parentcontextid = instances.id
LEFT JOIN prefix_course courses ON instances.instanceid = courses.id
LEFT JOIN prefix_course_categories categories ON courses.category = categories.id
LEFT JOIN (
SELECT
GROUP_CONCAT(
DISTINCT(users.email)
SEPARATOR ‘, ‘
) teacher,
courses.id courseid
FROM prefix_role_assignments assign
JOIN prefix_role roles ON roles.id = assign.roleid
JOIN prefix_context context ON assign.contextid = context.id
JOIN prefix_course courses ON context.instanceid = courses.id
JOIN prefix_user users ON assign.userid = users.id
WHERE roles.shortname = ‘editingteacher’
AND context.contextlevel = 50
GROUP BY courseid
) teachers ON courses.id = teachers.courseid
WHERE blockname = ‘html’
%%FILTER_SUBCATEGORIES:categories.path%%
AND (
FROM_BASE64(configdata) LIKE ‘%Avatar|%20pixabay.png%’ ESCAPE ‘|’
OR FROM_BASE64(configdata) LIKE ‘%teacher@dcu.ie%’
)
ORDER BY categories.name, courses.fullname

#Moodle Board is now Available

Earlier in the year there was a lot of interest in the plugin that we were building for Moodle that will provide the option for students and staff to contribute their posts on an “ideas board”, similar to commercial platforms such as Trello, Padlet and Lino where a student can add some text, link, image or YouTube video.

I’m delighted to share the news that Moodle Board is now available on the Brickfield Github and on the Moodle.org Plugin Database

Following feedback received on the initial post we have added some key features to help improve the plugin. In addition to all of the features mentioned in the original post, we have added the ability to upload a background image, to allow students and staff to rate posts (and the posts can be sorted based on their ratings) and students can be restricted from adding to the board after a particular date. 

I’d like to express huge thanks to both Athlone Institute of Technology (AIT) and University College London (UCL) for supporting the development of this plugin and Brickfield Education Labs for their stewardship of the development and maintenance of the project. This project is a great example of an inter institutional collaboration which created sustainable impact through open source development that will increase student engagement.


5 uses of #Moodle Board to engage students

  1. Introductions / Icebreakers

The most basic of them all – Ask your students to introduce themselves, provide a few lines of text, post a picture or a weblink to their portfolio page Something simple to get students engaged

  1. Muddy points / Exit tickets

There are a variety of names for this approach but regardless of what you call it, asking students to post a note at the end of the class can be very helpful. Whether you are asking them if they had any “muddy points” (aspects of the class that they do not fully understand) or whether just asking for general feedback. Engaging the students in this way can help improve the learning experience for the student as well as to help the lecturer reflect on their teaching.

Using the “restrict access” feature of moodle a teacher can set up numerous boards at once but release them when required.

  1. Crowdsourcing content

Post a link to a journal article and include a few lines of an introduction or post a youtube video or link to a website. Either way co-creating  content relative to your module with your students is a very effective way to engage your students

  1. Zoom whiteboard

The Zoom whiteboard is a great tool when using breakout rooms. Students can use the whiteboards to share thoughts and reflections as a group. However sharing the whiteboard content with the rest of the class once the breakout rooms are over is not that easy.  Now a teacher using Moodle Board can create a board for each breakout group. These boards can then be shared with the entire class or be kept private for each group using the standard Moodle features

  1. SWOC analysis

Strengths, weakness, opportunity and challenge analysis is a technique used to identify the external and internal factors that play a part in whether a business venture or project can reach its objectives. Whether students are doing a project individually or as a group a Moodle Boards can be used to create a SWOC analysis. Like the example above using the groups and grouping feature of Moodle allows the teacher to create a separate board for each group in one quick step by simply creating one Board activity and then choosing “separate groups” in the settings. 

For more details on Moodle”board” please visit How to Add a post-it Board to your Moodle course

How to add a Post it Board to your Moodle course

Student engagement has always been a popular subject and there are numerous methods to facilitate that engagement. For every method of engagement there are probably ten times as many tools and software packages available for people to use for engagement.  Each tool claiming to be better the rest or offering an exclusive functionality when compared to its rivals. Recent responses from the from DCU staff to the National Index survey highlight that our staff use a wide array of these tools.

While each one of these tools may be brilliant, it is not practical to have a licence for every one and the free versions always come with a hidden price – either limited functionality or poor data protection (in the majority of cases both). So instead of choosing one specific platform and paying an annual licence we have decided to develop Moodle “Board”.

Board provides the capability for a student to post a “note on a board” anonymously, emulating a real life equivalent of writing a note on a “post-it” on a wall, or whiteboard.

Lecturers can categorise the posts by creating different “columns” on the board for students to place their note on. Board works just as well on mobiles as it does on laptops. Feedback from our staff focus group was very positive and I look forward to hearing from student focus in the coming weeks.

Comparison to commercial platforms

Similar to most platforms users of Moodle “board” can post text, links, videos and images. However because this is built in Moodle  we have “restrict access”, “completion activity” and “grouping” capabilities which are available in a lot of core Moodle features but not available in these commercial platforms. As the board is an activity within a course, posts are restricted to students in that course as opposed to just having a url publicly available. 

Furthermore while the post appears anonymous on the surface a lecturer has the ability to export the content to a CSV file and link the usernames to the “posts” within the CSV file. 

We don’t have it perfect and have listed a few enhancements for future developments and would welcome further suggestions from you.

Features/Capabilities to be added after beta testing subject to funding:

  1. Ability for a teacher to reorganize the posts by dragging them from one column to another
  2. Ability to set activity completion e.g. student must add X amount of notes to the board
  3. Pin one or more posts by teacher – Pinned post goes to top.
  4. Ability to “star” a post
  5. Ability to reorganize posts based on “stars” (currently only available by date of posting)
  6. Have a date & time for “post by” which stops students adding entries
  7. Lock an individual column
  8. Ability to access the board and post to the board even if the user does not have a moodle account

Timeline

The plugin will be available for DCU staff in January 2021 and released to the Moodle community via the plugin database at the same time

Developed by: 

Learning Technology Services, Brickfield Education Labs

Commissioned by: 

Dublin City University as part of our wider approach to the pivot online following the Covid19 pandemic (additional funding was provided by the National Forum through the EASTDOL project, led by DCU)

Does an increase flexibility of our courses result in reduced accessibility?

In the last 20 years there has been a nearly six fold increase with students in higher education declaring disabilities, equating to over 14000 students in 2019. It is also worth noting that this number is just the students that declare a disability, I am confident that there are many more throughout the sector.  For every “visible” disability e.g. someone in a wheelchair or a blind student there are many “invisible” disabilities such as dyslexia, autism and ADHD. Therefore as lecturers we will never know if we have students with disabilities in our class making the adoption of a “Universal Design for Learning” (UDL) approach more vital than ever. While we encourage lecturers to expand access and increase flexibility by moving towards a more blended provision of their courses – are they adhering to the principles of Universal Design. They are specialists in their respective disciplines and not necessarily web developers or accessibility experts. This post outlines how we assessed the accessibility of the course pages on our VLE (Moodle).

Figure 1: Number of students with disabilities in higher education

Last week I had the pleasure of presenting at the ALT (Association for Learning Technology)  annual conference. I co-presented Gavin Henrick from Brickfield Education Labs describing the  research conducted to evaluate the accessibility of course pages within our virtual learning environment.  This presentation described how, using existing open source libraries, we built a reporting tool to define which checks were carried out, how they were carried out, how this data was stored and reported on at module, programme, and faculty level. As the report is available at these various levels, a lecturer can self evaluate their own course pages and staff developers can identify the training and support that may be needed across an entire faculty.

A subset of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines was chosen for this study. These guidelines created by the World Wide Web consortium are a series of guidelines for improving web accessibility. Twelve separate modules within a programme were analysed for such checks as: are web links and images used on the courses accessible? Are headings within long passages of text used appropriately? The results while promising did highlight there is still room for improvement. 

Figure 2 – Course checks per page

Figure 2 illustrates the results from one course in particular, illustrating that 5% of the images on this course have no alt text, 10% have issues with poor layout and 8% have poorly displayed links to other webpages.  Figure 3 provides an alternative breakdown of the results illustrating what feature of the VLE is throwing up the most issues. For example we can clearly see on this particular course that the majority of the issues on this course are related to the Moodle “book”

Figure 3 – analysis of checks per moodle feature

These are just two of the reports that are available with several more available both at a course and a programme level. We look forward to providing an update on the next stage of this research at the World Conference for Online Learning in Dublin later this year.

References

 

World wide web consortium web accessibility initiative. 2008. Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). [Online]. [2 April 2019]. Available from: https://www.w3.org/WAI/standards-guidelines/wcag/

 

Data on students in Irish Higher Education with Disabilities, 2018: Available from: https://www.ahead.ie/datacentre18-yearonyear

How we got the #Moodle community to make it easy for us to provide audio feedback to our students

Following our move from the text matching service TurnItIn to a rival product Urkund, the most common complaint that we received was the loss of “Feedback Studio” feature of TurnItIn and in particular the ability to easily provide audio feedback to students. Following consultation with our contacts in the Moodle community we concluded that having the ability to provide audio feedback directly to students directly through Moodle would be a very valuable addition to the core Moodle capabilities.

 

In Moodle 3.5 a new feature was added into core Moodle to provide webRTC audio and video recording into the atto editor (See https://tracker.moodle.org/browse/MDL-60848 ). This was initially written by Blindside Networks who work on the Bigbluebutton open source conferencing tool and contributed to the plugin database.

.

We found relevant tickets on the issue on the Moodle tracker system and commented along with others that it was essential to have this also work in providing assignment feedback. We also encouraged members of the community to comment on and vote for this item if they thought it would be worthwhile.

 

Power of the community

Moodle HQ responded as you would expect and agreed to examine the potential of adding audio feedback into core. I’m delighted to report that 12 months later, thanks to the team in HQ we have a “patch” enabling us to provide audio feedback to students on their assignments for our Moodle 3.5 instance and audio feedback will be available as part of core for Moodle 3.6. See https://tracker.moodle.org/browse/MDL-27520

The video below illustrates how simple it now is to provide feedback directly through Moodle

This development is yet another example of the benefit of Open Source and the awesome Moodle community. I firmly believe that it would take significantly more time and persuasion to convince a commercial LMS provider to not only take on board users feedback but make significant changes to core product in such a short space of time. The community were able to investigate the code themselves, provide suggestions to Moodle HQ developers and troubleshoot problems as they arose. Of course that it not to mention that this significant enhancement is available at no extra cost to the end users once adopted into core.

 

Addressing the challenge of a programme view of assessment

On so many occasions assessment across a programme can be disconnected. More often that not lecturer “A” doesn’t talk to lecturer “B” to discuss their assessments to identify opportunity for collaboration or at the very least avoid poor scheduling of assignments. Even in circumstances where discussion does take place it normally relies on one individual such as the programme coordinator to instigate conversations with each of the individual lecturers and collate assessment information for the student handbook. In addition to the additional workload created for the coordinator this handbook information can very quickly go out of date if an individual lecturer decides that they need to change their assessment for their module.

To help address this we have built a report in Moodle that works on a course page level and is accessible by the teacher associated with the course. This report uses the core ability of Moodle to tag courses in the course page settings. Each programme has a unique code which we use as a Moodle tag for each year e.g. “science1” for BSc in Science first year, “science 2” for BSc in Science for second year etc. Then Moodle pulls all of the assignments from each of the modules assigned that tag.

The following example may help illustrate how it works

A student studying in first year science studies three modules Chemistry 101, Physics 101 and Biology 101. The plugin that we have developed first adds the tag “science1” to each of the modules. Then any teacher on the aforementioned modules can generate the report through the reports feature on the administration block on their course page. The report pulls all of the assignments in each of the modules and presents them in several formats.

A bar chart with the number of assignments across the next 12 weeks, presented on weekly basis.

graphical representation of assessment calendar

 

A list of each assignment, their opening date and closing date, the assignment description, whether it is a group assignment or not and what module the assignment is from.

The assignment description is available by rolling your mouse over the assignment title. The data is also available to download in a CSV or xls spreadsheet format.

Following an evaluation of this report with our staff we intend to make further enhancements to the report and then release it to the Moodle community.

Making audio feedback easy in Moodle – the joys of Open Source Software

Following our move from the text matching service TurnItIn to a rival product Urkund, the most common complaint that we received was the loss of “Feedback Studio” feature of TurnItIn and in particular the ability to easily provide audio feedback to students. Following consultation with the Moodle community we concluded that having the ability to provide audio feedback directly to students directly through Moodle would be a very valuable addition to the core Moodle capabilities. We raise a ticket on the Moodle tracker and proceeded to encourage members of the community to comment on and vote for this tracker item if they thought it would be worthwhile.

Power of the people

The Moodle community spoke and Moodle HQ responded as you would expect and agreed to examine the potential of adding audio feedback into core. I’m delighted to report that 12 months later, thanks to the team in HQ we have a “patch” enabling us to provide audio feedback to students on their assignments for our Moodle 3.5 instance and audio feedback will be available as part of core for Moodle 3.6.

This development is yet another example of the benefit of Open Source. I firmly believe that it would take significantly more time and persuasion to convince a commercial LMS provider to not only take on board users feedback but make significant changes to core product in such a short space of time. The community were able to investigate the code themselves, provide suggestions to Moodle HQ developers and troubleshoot problems as they arose. Of course that it not to mention that this significant enhancement is available at no extra cost to the end users once adopted into core.