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One conference , through two different lenses – part 1

Reflections from the conference ECEL 2015, hosted in the University of Hatfield, Hertsforshire.

Nearly every time, any conference that I attend, I curse the conference in the lead up to it. For the simple reason taking time away from the “day job” to attend them is so inconvenient. But in the majority of cases and I glad to say including this one, I come back from the conference glad that I have taken the time to attend. Conferences like these are really important professional development opportunities in my opinion. I’m firmly believe that every manager should facilitate their staff to attend them, and I’m glad to say my manager is very supportive in this respect.

Looking at this conference through two different lenses – a conference organiser and also a conference participant and a manager. This post will concentrate on the latter, a subequent post tomorrow will look at the conference through the lense of a conference organiser.

As a participant, the conference website had all the necessary information and the staff when contacted were fairly quick getting back to you. So inital impressions were very positive and it laid out the path for a promising conference. The venue was a bit awkward to get to and it was split over two venues; pre-conference workshops in the university and the conference itself in a purpose built venue 15 minute walk away in an industrial estate. The university was lovely and very modern – it had a great feel to it and I would have loved if we were there for the three days. The second venue, though nice was very isolated and most certainly did not have the “presence” of a university campus. My talk was on the first day of the conference and I feel that it is always good to speak on the first day because that leaves ample time for networking. The presentation was well received with a lot of positive comments coming both during the presentation and throughout the rest of the conference  in various discussions. One or two suggestions for improvements but mostly they were comments of admiration for the work and on more than one occasion Blackboard users saying they would love to change to Moodle. Although this work is essentially platform agnostic because we have access to the core database the raw data is ours to play with and we have no need to involve a big commerical company to do the work on our behalf – hence the VLE envy.

The inevitable questions did arise about ethics but once I explained the student centred approach that we have in place there was no issue. As an improvement for next time I will include more of the ethics information up front. Plus it was great to have the website ( for the project as a reference guide for the presentation and I look forward to monitoring the traffic for the site over the next few days :). Making a project website was not something I have done in the past but it is definitely something I will do in future  for all projects.

I’ve uploaded the slides on slideshare and included all additional slides that I had prepared in order to answer potential questions after the presentation

The most rewarding part of the conference though was to see the experience of my colleagues. From a managers view point it was great to see @clare_gormley excel during her presentation with @dyagetme. Both gave an excellent presentation on the use of wearable cameras. Their presentation was very well articulated and as a team their presentation styles complemented one another very well. Their presentation generated a lot of positive comments. This was very reassuring to me personally because of the management style that I aim to implement. Where possible I try give my team freedom to work on projects of their choosing once they are aligned with the unit’s overall strategic objectives. The professionalism of both their research and their presentation help vindicate my approach. They led this project from the start and not only did they see it through to completion, this work has spawned other similar projects in other schools and programmes. I have no doubt that they will take on board all of the comments given to them today and take this project to the next level. The slides below will give you an insight into their work.

In conclusion I believe that our unit and indeed DCU was potrayed in a very positive light over the last few days. Yesterday was evidence (as if I needed any) that both of Clare and Patrick have grown in their roles since arriving in DCU and that we’re lucky to have them on board.

The next post will look at the conference through a different lens – looking at as a conference organiser

Sharing Scripts for integration

One of the most refreshing features within Higher Education for me is our willingness to collaborate and share with our counterparts in other higher education institutions. Following an excellent time at the DCU Summit several participants have created a community of practice and agreed to share scripts that they have developed integrating Google Apps with other IT systems e.g. Moodle and / or student record systems.

Our first initiative as a Community is to set up a hangout where we will each give a short presentation ( 4 minutes max) on script that we have developed. If you are interested in joining this community and/or coming along to our hangout online please tweet me via @glynnmark

PaperPile – a referencing system that works within Google Docs

More and more recently I find myself using Google Docs instead of MS Word. The collaborative features far outweigh the limited functionality that it brings relative to MS Word. But when it comes to writing papers (up until now) I have always went back to the old reliable, using either the plugins from RefWorks or EndNote to help with my referencing. Today at the DCU Summit I was introduced to PaperPile. I’m very impressed and look forward to testing it out over the next few weeks for my 30 day free trial. Then I will start the haggling with the vendors for consortium based pricing. The video below gives a nice introduction to Paperpile but if you need more information contact them on I’d be very surprised if you are not impressed.

Relative Assessment grade – another form of feedback

A student receives their grades from each assignment along with their feedback. However unless the lecturer posts a list of student grades publicly the student has no idea how they have performed within the class.

We provided a report in Moodle that is visible to the student. The report is available for each module and presents the student with each of the grades for the various assignments within a module

screenshot from Moodle report

Figure 1: My “relative grade” report

Figure 1 displays grades for 4 different assignments within a particular module for one student. The figures on the left are the grades achieved, the figures on the right are the relative grade. This relative grade is based on a calculation known as the z score.

A Z-Score is a statistical measurement of a score’s relationship to the mean in a group of scores. A Z-score of 0 means the score is the same as the mean i.e. they are average in the class. A Z-score can also be positive or negative, indicating whether it is above or below the mean and by how many standard deviations. If they achieve the lowest grade they will achieve -3 and if they achieve the highest grade their Z-score will be +3. You will note from the results displayed in figure 1 that this student is consistently below average as their Z-score values are all less than zero. You will also note from that the second assignment has a grade of 56 and a Z-score of -0.99 and the fourth assignment, even though achieving a higher grade (59) was actually a poorer result when compared to his classmates (Z-score of -1.66)

How can the Z-score be useful to staff
As a lecturer you can get an overview of your students’ performance across several assignments through the Z-score
As a student’s tutor or course coordinator you can get an overview as to how a student is doing across several modules as displayed in figure 2 for student John Lennon

a lecturers view of z scores for a student

Figure 2: a Z score displaying a student’ performance across all of their modules

Figure 2: a Z score displaying a student’ performance across all of their modules

Z-Scores to assist with student retention
A potential project in the future will be integration of the Z-score with the student CRM. So if the student has, for example, 2 or more Z-scores in a programme below -1 a flag can be raised to identify that student as a being at risk of non-completion. A simple intervention could be activated by automatically emailing the student from the course coordinator inviting them to a meeting or simply checking in with the student to ensure everything is alright.

Points to note about the z score

If a Z-Score….

Has a value of 0, it is equal to the group mean.
Is positive, it is above the group mean.
Is negative, it is below the group mean.
Is equal to +1, it is 1 Standard Deviation above the mean.
Is equal to +2, it is 2 Standard Deviations above the mean.
Is equal to -1, it is 1 Standard Deviation below the mean
Is equal to -2, it is 2 Standard Deviations below the mean
Z-Scores are not perfect, they are only meant as a visual indicator of a student’s performance

For more information on a z score please refer to:

eAssessment conference : Using Padlet with a large audience

Yesterday I had the privilege of providing one of the keynote presentations at the eAssessment conference in Scotland

This presentation started with an introduction to Learning analytics, followed by a critical eye on using learning analytics on VLE engagement data. The guts of the talk  however outlined how the data related to assessments collected from three different projects within DCU and then analysed with the aim of improving the student learning experience. Each project has two common threads; making life easier for the lecturer and improving the experience of the student.

The response from the audience was very positive and afterwards I received a lot of positive comments about our modifications to Moodle and how we have used them to capture data on assessments and how we follow up on the data with specific student interventions. More details will follow in the coming weeks on the various Moodle modifications but in the meantime I just want to share my thoughts on yesterdays experience.

It was my second time attending this conference and will certainly not be my last. Organised by Kenji Lamb, David Walker  and the rest of the team at Dundee University this conference is free to attend thanks to the sponsorship from a wide variety of stakeholders in eAssessment. With close to 300 participants the event offers a great opportunity to learn new things and meet new people. From my perspective I had big shoes to fill because the keynotes from last year were the amazing Catherine Cronin and Helen Keegan so I much admit I was a little daunted when I initially got the invite.

I hope to write a paper over the coming weeks on the content of my presentation so this post will instead concentrate on my reflection of the engaging with the audience. I decided to introduce the use of to help engage the audience. I must admit what sounded good in theory didn’t go as well as I wanted in practice. The main benefit that I got from using Padlet was I got more than 30 audience members asking questions or making comments on Padlet. This is something that I feel would not have happened if I just asked people to raise their hand if they had a question. I only realised this morning the additional benefit, I now have a record of all of the questions/comments made during the question, which I now can follow up at my leisure -

There were two main drawbacks both of which with the benefit of hindsight could be easily fixed:

  1. There were several comments posted where people obviously made mistakes, typing only their name with no comment or posting unfinished sentences. So the next time that I use Padlet I will spend more time providing instructions in advance.
  2. The second drawback was that as the participants were all posting comments simultaneously, a lot of comments overlapped one another making it difficult for me to refer to during the presentation. Next time I will just ask for a volunteer in the audience to rearrange the comments every few minutes so they are easy to read.

It was an interesting experiment that I will repeat in the future and one that I only realise now how useful it was.



Moodle Course Design Best Practices

I have just had the pleasure of reviewing the book Moodle Course Design Best Practices by  Susan Smith Nash (@elearningqueen) and Michelle Moore (@michelledmoore) . The book is an easy read and flows very well. The authors have a nice blend of teaching tips combined with technical know how. Broken down over 8 chapters the book starts with an introduction to good teaching design, leaving the technology aside. This in my opinion is what distinguishes it from the majority of books that I have read on Moodle. You can instantly tell that the authors have a pedagogical background and that remains evident throughout the entire book. To that end I would recommend this textbook to anybody that is relatively new to both teaching and new to Moodle. For the more experienced teacher you will still get  a benefit from this book but the first  few chapters will just be revision that you will likely skip over. The structure of the book lends itself very nicely to picking up and dropping down. What I mean is that you don’t have to read it from cover to cover. You can pick it and look at chapters specifically relevant to you at that moment in time – another appealing factor for me. I won’t go through the layout chapter by chapter as you can get that sort of information on Amazon but the meat of this book that will have the widest audience is Chapters 4- 8 with the last four chapters in particular breaking down the content into different types of courses, best practice for self paced independent study, cohort based course, student centred courses and communities of practice. Despite being a self confessed Moodle evangelist (as well as other learning technologies) I still always promote leading with pedagogy first then technology – a trait that is evident throughout this book. So if you have a spare €20 pop over to Amazon and get yourself this bargain.

Concentrate on Feedback instead on Grades

“I got 74, what did you get?”

“How come Mary got more marks than I did?”

These are typical comments that would be familiar to many teachers. In my experience when students receive marks for an assignment they see the mark and pay little or no attention to the feedback provided. Encouraging students to concentrate on feedback instead on grades can be quite challenging.

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#octel MOOC

Introduction & My “Big question”

I’ve enrolled in ALT MOOC with the first challenge being the management of the onslaught of mails, posts and tweets from my enthusiastic classmates. Literally over the last few days 100’s of my virtual classmates have addressed the first activity in the course by introducing themselves and posting their “big question” relative to the course. So heres my contribution to the deluge of information:


Keeping my introduction brief. I work for Dublin City University, where I head up the Learning Innovation Unit (LIU). I would imagine so many people on this course are in a similar position to myself, loads to do and not enough time to do it in. The role of the LIU is to support learning innovation throughout the university so as you can expect we get calls from every corner of the college. It is great role and I’m very fortunate to have a great team, albeit far too small team. We are constantly looking for opportunities to establish collaboration with other third level institutions and as such this is a personal goal that I have for this course. Two technologies that we are interested in collaborative projects would be the use of Moodle in HE and the use of Google sites and Blogger for e-portfolios. . My Twitter id is @glynnmark and for more of a personal background please feel free to visit my linkedin profile –


My big question is very simple how do I engage staff in the use of technology to enhance learning? I have staff with a wide range of abilities and interests when it comes to technology – how do cater for such a diverse audience, how do I measure the success of my team and our work programme. I’m very open to hearing the experiences of others with this and would welcome advice from all corners



How do I weight assignments in Moodle?

Most teachers give their students more than one assignment throughout the year, the hassle for the teacher is not only the keeping track of all of the grades for the assignments, but some assignments may be worth more than others. Moodle will allow a teacher to grade every assignment out of 100 (because this is something students are familiar with) and Moodle will do all of the calculations in the background working out the individual marks for each assignment and combining them all together once Moodle weights all of the assignments accordingly and presents a total mark to the teacher and the student. The video below illustrates how this can be done

Backing up your Moodle courses

Not all of us are blessed with very supportive IT staff. So I would always recommend that staff using Moodle “back up” their courses on a regular basis, just to avoid a nightmare scenario of loosing all of your course work because of some IT glitch.  I’m not doubting the integrity of your Moodle hosting service but I always feel it is better to be safe than sorry. Here is a quick demo on how to back up a course on Moodle 2

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