Category Archives: Uncategorized
Accessibility in Third level education – the scale of the problem
AHEAD do some amazing work within the third level sector to create inclusive environments in education and employment for people with disabilities but a recent report from them drove home the scale of the problem that we are facing in third level
The most recent figures show 6.6% of the total student population in higher education registered with disability support services. That figure is brilliant yet alarming at the same time. It is brilliant because it represents a huge growth over the last 20 years. Before now those potential students would not get to higher education, they would struggle to complete second level and would be strongly discouraged about going on to third level even if they did get to complete second level. Having this level of growth in such a short space of time is a huge credit to the work that is going on at primary and second level, supporting those students and helping them achieve their potential through education. The knock on effect this support has on the families of those students is phenomenal and the importance of that cannot be overstatement. But the scary element of that 6.6% is that it only is a fraction of the real figure. The real figure is hidden because not all students choose to register with the services and some students may still not even realize that they a difficulty. For a variety of reasons they may not yet have received a diagnosis yet and as a result cannot avail of the services on offer. To give you a rough indication when AHEAD completed an anonymous survey with students 12% of respondents disclosed a disability.
Let’s break that down with some simple examples – most classes in higher education would have at least 50 in a class – that is 6 students with a disability in most classes. 300 students in a class is not unusual and that equates to 36 students. If a lecturer does not by default implement inclusive practices in their teaching they are excluding those students, at the very least they are putting them at a disadvantage.
To make things a little more challenging not all disabilities are visible as a matter of fact very few are for a lecturer, particularly if they have large class sizes. As a result lecturers sometimes think – none of my students have a disability. Just based on the basic math’s outlined above there is somebody in every class that needs support.
My final point is in relation to the consequence of not having the support: – the most obvious consequence is students will struggle and potential fail their exams which can lead to drop in confidence and self esteem and an increase in pressure on the students. This can be more serious for people with a disability than those without a disability – looking at one particular disability Attention Deficit HyperActivity Disorder (ADHD) a study of nearly 22,000 Canadian adults found that the suicide rate for those with ADHD was nearly five times higher than those without ADHD.
So to conclude, in advance of the updated National Access Plan for education which is due for release in the coming days, the scale of the problem is much bigger than most people realize. It is not just the problem of the disability services in an institution – it is the problem of everyone in an institution.
Assignment Planner – Increasing student success and being more inclusive at the same time
Recently I had the pleasure of presenting at the Ireland UK MoodleMoot to share news about a Moodle plugin that we have developed to promote inclusivity with respect to assignments. The recording below gives all of the details along with a quick demo but in a quick summary this plugin enables students to create a structured plan for completing the assignment.
I would really be interested to hear your views on the plugin and welcome suggestions for improvements.
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?
#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
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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 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.
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.
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 Nicol, Prof 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
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.
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!