Wednesday, 25 March 2015

When is a MOLE Exam Not an Exam?

Photo on a CC license by Marie Coleman via flickr
When it's ajar?
If only it was so simple!

This blog post follows on from my last one that talked about our new MOLE Exams procedure developed by the Exams Team and us.

One of the difficulties that we face here is making the decision about how to classify a MOLE test as an 'exam'. It is very common to use MOLE tests throughout a module's teaching as a core part of the learning materials. Often they are formative tests, there to build and consolidate a student's knowledge, but they are also used summatively to test levels of understanding, and can contribute to the final grade that the student will receive for that module. Sometimes, these summative tests can appear to be very exam-like; they will take place in a room at a fixed time with someone watching over the proceedings to ensure fair play. In this scenario, should this be an exam? Well if we take a look at the University regulations, they say that 'an exam is summative work under invigilated conditions in line with the general regulations as to examinations’.

So does the 'test' to be taken in MOLE qualify by this definition? It it does, then it's an exam, and so the MOLE exam procedures apply. This is good, because suddenly you have access to all that support for booking venues, invigilators and the myriad other things that need to be dealt with for an exam.

So, if your 'test' fails this exam, erm, test, does that mean the MOLE exam procedures don't apply? Well the answer to that is yes and no. Take no first; they don't apply because the Exams Team won't handle the administration of the exam, so rooms, invigilators, and the other stuff, remain the responsibility of the department. No also applies, to a degree, to the specific exam technical support we offer (for example we can't guarantee being able to get someone to the room as quickly as we would for an exam), however, the TEL Team can, and will, still be able to support these higher stake tests, providing we receive the following information with as much notice as possible:
  • When is the test happening?
  • Where is it happening?
  • How many students are taking it?
  • Which MOLE course is it in?
  • Which test is being used?
  • Do you want to use the LockDown Browser? *
If we have this information, we can do our best to ensure that it runs smoothly on the day and should any problems arise will do our best to resolve them.

So when is a MOLE exam not an exam? When it's a higher stake test!


 * We hope the LockDown Browser will be ready to use for the next exams session, however we have no firm date for this yet.

Monday, 23 March 2015

App Swap Breakfast #4 Video and Audio Apps

The latest App Swap Breakfast (ASB) this week at yet another venue, our fourth in as many sessions. This time round we focused on apps and technology relating to video and audio recording, capture and playback. The event returned to a more informal setting and agenda from the previous one that was held at the University TELFest event back in January.

We hosted the ASB in the View Deli Cafe which overlooks large parts of Sheffield and gave colleagues the opportunity to grab a coffee and pastry whilst discovering new apps and technology tips.

We started with Pete Mella from the Technology Enhanced Learning Team who gave a presentation on the collection of useful Adobe Apps. Pete showcased the brilliant Adobe Voice animation tool with a live demo to show how easy it is to get good quality results. Pete showed the 20 or so colleagues in attendance what can be achieved on an iPad (as these apps are only available on IOS sadly) with very little effort. Pete has already blogged about Adobe Voice here and I was especially grateful for Pete showing this tool at the third ASB in January. It was a tool that I had heard about from colleagues but had not tried, seeing Pete’s demo sold it to me. As a result I have used the app to create over 40 short animations titled Research Hacks, which are designed to help researchers use technologies and find smarter ways to work. The collection of videos can be viewed here.

We then had a demo from my colleague Claire Beecroft who showcased a tablet device tripod that we had purchased for ourselves. The tripod cost £20 from Amazon and can be used in a variety of settings from being a camera stand to a autocue for reading text. The one that we have is the iStabilizer tabMount Tripod Adapter available from here. Claire talked about the ease of using such a small, lightweight device and the benefits of using it when all too often people fumble about trying to hold them when recording content.
I gave a presentation on a few tools that had been around for a while but were nonetheless still very useful for staff and students. Firstly I showcased the YouTube Capture app that allows users to record directly from their tablet device and upload straight to YouTube. In addition I showed another tool, that despite not being free, but is worth having in your collection as a teacher or student with Explain Everything - Formerly Explain a Website. This allows users to capture any website and screencast it, the recording will capture the user zooming in and changing pages as well as add their own notes and annotation. Jesrine Clarke-Darrington from the Faculty of Medicine, Health and Dentistry shown how students were using this app to annotate and draw on medical diagrams to explain a problem or intervention. As with many of these apps, you often find that if you cannot devise a good use for them someone else is, and Jesrine proved that very well.

I then showed a tool that was getting much publicity at the moment called Meerkat App. This app allows users to broadcast live or schedule one later to their Twitter followers. A url is created in your Twitter timeline and you can then broadcast live to who sees it, or at least is given an advance link. The tool has much potential and already some major stars are using it for impromptu broadcasts to their fans. The app could be used to broadcast live events and talks to Twitter followers for those who do not have the means to do this within their departments.

David Read gave us an excellent demo of the Swivl robotic platform for learning his department has purchased. The robot hosts a tablet device which can they track the movement of a speaker via a dongle they carry based on their voice. The robot tracks the person through 360% whilst the table can be set up to record the presenter as well. Thankfully my colleagues in ScHARR have now purchased one of these which will be interesting to use. David also talked about two apps/extensions he uses to annotate video. The first one, developed by The University of Minnesota is called Video Ant which allows users to add descriptive and analytical text along the timeline of a video recording. We also discussed which again allows users to annoate videos and save these notes directly into Google Drive.

Graham McElearney discussed the option of using the University’s iTunes U platform to create and store podcasts. At present, iTunes U is all too often seen as a video only platform, yet there are plenty of options for uploading audio versions. There are even occasions where a video and audio version can be uploaded, therefore giving more opportunity to listen to the audio recording whilst travelling.

Claire Beecroft talked about her extensive use of AudioBoom (previously known as AudioBoo) to capture short audio  commentary by herself. Claire uses the app to record audio feedback for students as well as creating segments and audio introductions for modules and lectures. By doing this Claire is able to add an extra dimension to her feedback and interaction with students that goes way beyond that of text.

The latest App Swap Breakfast was a great deal of fun and hopefully attendees took something useful from it. We certainly covered a lot of tech and at times it felt like an episode of The Gadget Show, which is no bad thing. Certainly a big positive for the future of App Swap Breakfast was the number of attendees, the quality of talks and the venue. Certainly the plans will be to run future App Swap Breakfasts at The View Deli from now on. The next App Swap Breakfast is likely to take place in June and will look at the topic of infrastructure and legacy. Without sounding all Olympics 2012 about it, the session will be a platform to discuss how an institution like Sheffield addresses issues like support and purchasing of mobile devices of apps. About how we deal with security and privacy and how do colleagues manage a good work/life balance of using tools that increasingly creep into our private life. Obviously we will look and share apps relating to these issues whilst we sip coffee, looking of the city of Sheffield. What’s not to like?
Apps covered in this App Swap Breakfast

Thursday, 12 March 2015

MOLE Exams - A New Process

Me presenting the new process
Over the last six months, I have been working on a new MOLE Exams process with Jo Hardy, the Exams Team leader in Students Services. Jo and her team are responsible for arranging and running all the exams held at the University, but until recently MOLE exams were not part of this normal process. This has now changed, and we now have MOLE exams fully integrated into the standard exams process.

We ran a pilot with the Faculty of Engineering MOLE exams last year to assess how we could integrate these properly, and then used the outcomes of the trial to develop a complete process that allows both our teams to provide full support from the very beginning right through to the end of the exam process. Although MOLE exams are handled in the same way as a standard paper based exam, the preparation and delivery is obviously very different, so we have developed this new end to end process to ensure that the details in these differences are understood, which makes everything run much more smoothly for everyone involved.

In simple terms, the exam request from the department is made to the Exams Team. If the department has never run an exam before then the Exams Team will put them in contact with us for pedagogical and technical support around building the MOLE test that will be used for the exam. If the department is experienced, then they simply need to build the test in MOLE and wait for the confirmation for the exam schedule, then let us know. We will deploy the test in the course ensuring the configuration of the settings are correct. This means that the Chief Invigilator running the exam on the day does not get any unexpected surprises in the room the exam is being held. Any changes that need to be made to the test after this has happened must be confirmed with us, to ensure that it hasn't altered any of the settings, as this can causes issues on the day.

On the day of the exam, we offer full support but we no longer routinely attend the room, as MOLE is much more robust and we find we are not needed in the room most of the time now. The Chief Invigilators have a direct line to us for support, and we can be in the room in a few minutes if we are unable to resolve the problem over the phone. We trialled this new process during the last exams period in February, and we found it to be a success. We expected some things to require adjustment and we are reviewing those at the moment and will update the process accordingly.

We are also continuing to look at developing the whole area of MOLE exams further. Although there have been no real issues with security and unfair means in these exams, we are looking at introducing a lockdown browser to improve these aspects of the exam on the day. More information will be coming on this very soon.

Overall, the new process is working well. More information about it can be found on the Exams Team web pages (requires a UoS login), and we delivered the first on a short series of sessions to go over this in greater detail and answer any questions people have. The next session will be scheduled soon, and information on that will be available as soon as we know more details.

Clearly we don't have unlimited capacity for the number of students sitting an exam on the day as room space is always a key factor, but  we are saying that if you are interested don't let this put you off,  get it touch and we will help.


Monday, 9 February 2015

White Rose Learning Technologists' Forum 28th January 2015

White Rose Learning Technologists' Forum 28th January 2015

On January 28th we were very fortunate to host the most recent meeting of the White Rose Learning Technologists' Forum, here at the The University of Sheffield. This was the eighth meeting since the group's inauguration on 2011, and was attended by approximately 40 delegates from across the Yorkshire and Humberside region.

Most of the meetings we have held in the last four years have been comprised of presentations from our members, normally focusing on work they have been doing at their member institutions. For this meeting we decided to try something a bit different - a recent survey of our members suggested that some of our meetings should be based around specific themes, as well as allowing our members to showcase our work. The survey generated a list of themes we will pursue over the coming meetings, and for this one we decided to look at Learner Analytics - I suspect like many of us, I know I  an awareness of the existence of analytics, had seen the field discussed in various Horizon Reports, and had some very loose preconceptions of what they were, but no real understanding beyond this. To this end we were very lucky to have Martin Hawksey, Chief Innovation, Community and Technology Officer, from the Association for Learning Technology, who led the majority of the session with a fascinating worksop and presentation that gave us an overview of this seemingly huge discipline.

Martin Hawksey presenting to the group - image courtesy of Danny Monaghan

Rather than paraphrase Martin's presentation here, he has very kindly allowed us to create a screencast recording of the session, available here

Martin has also written an article reflecting on his talk for the LT Newsletter, here

Some of the key messages for me from the session were that it is a huge field, and one that draws from a number of complementary disciplines. Like any field that involves complex analytical procedures, there is always a need to be cautious of not losing sight of the real questions we are trying to address, and that these questions have their root in theory - so there really is no theory-neutral analytical technique - an approach that for me was very reminiscent of my studies on the use of Geographical Information Systems and archaeology. Even the very process of putting data onto a graph or map has its own underlying theoretical assumptions.

After a whirlwind tour of some of the underlying concepts behind analytics - including drawing attention to some important ethical dimensions - Martin introduced us to some very practical applications of analytics we could use for ourselves. Martin has himself done much work on looking at he analysis of Twitter usage. In addition to those 140 characters we know and love, Tweets leave many other footprints in terms of associated metadata which allow them to be analysed. Martin has produced some freely usable tools, based around some clever Apps Scripting in Google spreadsheets. In fact one of our colleagues in the team here, Pete Mella, has been able to put this to good use already, by analysing Tweets generated by students at our two recent Achieve More events - where students come together for large cross faculty  interdisciplinary research projects.

After demonstrating some other tools, Martin wrapped up his fantastic presentation by bringing us back to some fundamental questions - what sort of learners are we trying to analyse, and what are we really trying to understand?

Patrick Lynch conducted another presentation after the break, in which he looked at some application of analytics he's been involved in at Hull, and the Aprero open source projects on analytics. Patrick's work has focused on starting to look at data from VLE usage - and in particular to start trying top understand how analytics might be used to inform learning designs - something that would have wide interest to many of us. Patrick showed us the importance of understanding the link between students behaviour and his analytics data, and how for example a student who prints off all the course material at the beginning of the course to read from paper, may superficially appear not to be engaging with the course, on the face of the data alone.

By analysing the data himself and using i nightly dump of data from the VLE, Patrick is able to have effectively live information, which is always up to date. The datasets he obtains are very large - with over 14.5 million records, and Patrick has used a combination of tools to analyse this, including Excel, and also the powerful Tableau analytics software - the latter f which can be run as a free trial before purchase. Their guiding principle throughout this has been to tray and produce visualisations that will ultimately be helpful to students themselves.

Our final presentation came from Jamie Lepiorz, who presented a short "thunderstorm" style presentation on the Zooscope project, from the School of English at tHe University of Sheffield. The Zooscope is an online database of film reviews, written by students, focusing on the portrayal of animals in cinema. It follows the success of the award winning All About Linguistics module, and develops the students' skills by giving them the opportunity to contribute to an authentic online resource that can be used by their peers.

The idea of the "thunderstorm" style presentation is one borrowed from our  experiences running the Media Enhanced Learning Special Interest Group events. The idea is to give people an opportunity to give a very short (seven minutes or less) talk that enables them to showcase their work, and for our colleagues to find out what each other is up to. We are hoping to carry on using this format, alongside our more substantial themed events.

We hope that this new blended approach to our events will work well for our members - having a specific theme gives us a real focus to the meeting and will hopefully enable members to attend events that can address needs that they can still define for themselves. 

If you wish to get involved with the White Rose Learning Technologists' Forum, you can join subscribe to our mailing list:

We have also just set up  a Google+ Community page  at the link below:

Date of next meeting - 21st April at York St John

We have also created a Google Form to select the theme for our next session - if you wish to come to our next meeting and want to have a say in what theme we choose, please fill in the form below:

We look forward to seeing you at future meetings!

Monday, 19 January 2015

Introducing the TELHub

Last week we launched the TELHub - the TEL team's new web resource. This includes both user guides and information about all the services which TEL support, and a number of case studies from colleagues around the University of innovative and exciting ways they're using technology in their work.

These case studies highlight some of the brilliant work that's going on around campus, where technology is being used in a variety of ways. To just pick out a few, this includes Sam Marsh, on the successful way he has helped implement flipped classrooms in Maths & Statistics; Claire Beecroft, on the use of the free Go!Animate tool to create role plays in medical education; Jeremy Craven, on the use of tablet technology to capture hand-writing in science lectures; Gary Wood on the award-winning AllAboutLinguistics website, where students were tasked with creating a real-world website in replacement of a traditional website; and Andrea Fox on how MOLE has been used to deliver course materials to distance learners in Nursing & Midwifery.

We will be growing the TELHub, and welcome all suggestions for further Case Studies. If you, or colleagues, are doing interesting work with technology in learning and teaching, and would like to be interviewed (whether on camera or not), please get in touch at

Friday, 16 January 2015

Winter TELFest - Day Three

Sorry for the late report this time - I was busy at a PebblePad training day in Birmingham yesterday - but here are the highlights of the closing day of another successful TELFest.

The day began with an App Swap Breakfast, hosted by Andy Tattersall of ScHARR and Graham McElearney of CiCS. This saw colleagues sharing a wide range of mobile apps that they use in Learning & Teaching, fortified by a selection of Danish pastries. This revealed a host of apps that people are using, including organisation apps such as WunderlistTrello and Ideas Catylist, collaboration tools such as Skitch, and media creation tools such as YouTube Capture, Adobe Voice and Voice Recorder HD. The session ended with Andy giving 12 Apps we really should be using in 2015 (many of which also feature in this post from the ScHARR Library blog).

This was followed by a double-header of Turnitin Training by Zafer Ali, with the first session covering the basics of setting up assignments, and the second looking at marking on the iPad using the Turnitin app.

Next, the lunchtime session looked at different ways colleagues have used mobile technology to enhance learning and teaching. Bob Johnston and Graham McElearney began, telling of the development of mobile systems for field work in Archaeology. Beginning in 2006, developing for PDA technology, this work was rendered more or less obsolete with the launch of smartphones, with the same video material now delivered to students' own devices such as iPads via iTunesU for offline viewing, and same devices running GIS and other data collection software. One important tip was to consider the use of whatever system is used with students, to ensure the skills are relevant once they have graduated.

This was followed by a short talk by Nik Reeves-McLaren, of Material Science and Engineering, who told of his use of LectureTools. Inspired by theories of why traditional face-to-face lectures are often an inadequate teaching format, Nik used the system in two new modules, to allow students to interact with the lecture. This was done by allowing the lecturer to pose questions and polls, as well as providing a system for questions and flags of confusion to be asked electronically. Feedback from students was generally positive, with students giving indication they found it enhanced their enjoyment, and would like to see its use expanded. Nik was followed by the School of Law's Claire McGourlay, who was using LectureTools in a similar way, and reiterated the positive feedback from students.

The festival ended with Pete Mella and James Slack giving a talk on the uses for Lecture Recording and Personal Capture, using the University's MyEcho system. The talk gave a practical demonstration of how the software is used, discussion of different ways it can be used, and an exploration of some of the concerns of its use, such as lecture attendance.

And that's it for another festival! Thanks to all delegates and speakers, and we hope everyone enjoyed it as much as we did. Keep your eyes on our newly-launched TELHub for announcements for what's coming up at the next TELFest, later in the year, as well as case studies, how-to guides and much more.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Winter TELFest - Day Two

Yesterday saw the second day of the three day Winter TELFest. The day started with some hands-on sessions, with introductions to the e-portfolio system PebblePad, led by Zafer Ali, and using Google Sites in learning and teaching, led by Graham McElearney ad Neil Everill.

The lunchtime session was on Making MOOCs Work for you. Dr Marie Kinsey, the University's Academic Lead on MOOCs, introduced the concept of Massive Open Online Courses, and a panel consisting of colleagues who have worked on recent projects, consisting of Dr Chris Stoke (Dentistry), Pamela Hafekost (Library), Dr Katherine Stevens (School of Health and Related Research), and Dr Adam Smith (English). All told of their experiences of devising, creating and delivering MOOCs for the University.

The panel talked through the very different MOOCs they've worked, on topics as diverse as Careers skills, Country House literature, Dentistry and measuring health. All panelists emphasised the enjoyment they had experienced as teachers, delivering their courses to thousands of users, with some interesting observations. Adam, who was a mentor on the Literature of the Country House MOOC, was surprised to see how students were as hungry for participation, and an insight into the University, as they were the content of the course. Pamela, who led the Careers Service mini-MOOCs giving interview and application skills, was impressed by how learners were both enthusiastic, and supportive and kind to other participants. Chris, leader of Discovering Dentistry, one of the University's first MOOCs, said he is now seeing UCAS applications from students who undertook the cause and were inspired to apply for a full degree.

Katherine, one of the most recent academics to be involved in MOOCs, emphasised how much she has enjoyed the process, and that academics do not need technical skills to launch their own MOOCs, with a dedicated central team that works to bring ideas to fruition. All emphasised that the innovation is not through the technology itself, which is using systems that have been around for a while, but its way of enabling this kind of teaching on such a large scale. Katherine described this as "making us think differently about how we see teaching", with Adam seeing MOOCs not as a form that will replace traditional teaching, but a "entirely new genre of interactive broadcasting". There was talk of MOOCs improving how we create e-learning material for all students, with Chris mentioning materials created for the Dentistry MOOC are being repurposed for traditional students in the forthcoming AchieveMore faculty-wide challenge.

The flexibility of how MOOCs are being used around the world was also discussed, with one notable example being a school in Bangkok where all students are undertaking the University of Sheffield Careers Service MOOC. The benefits of undertaking MOOCs seemed clear, using it to disseminate research, increase the profile of the University among a diverse range of people, and change the way we look at online learning. The panel closed with a prediction of where MOOCs are going, with a general consensus that whether we still call them MOOCs or not, they will become a normal, everyday part of the educational landscape.

Tuesday's TELFest ended with a session on getting started on Twitter, led by Farzana Latif. In this session, delegates explored the use of Twitter in their own context, identifying ways they can make the most of this dynamic teaching tool both inside and outside the classroom.

Another great day at TELFest, today sees the final day with a packed schedule. See here for more details.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Winter TELFest - Day One

Yesterday saw the launch of 2015's Winter TELFest, an "mini" three day festival following from the success of the CiCS Technology Enhanced Learning Team's festival of technology in learning that took place in September 2014.

The day started with an Introduction to MOLE by Zafer Ali, giving the basics of the University's Virtual Learning Environment. This was followed by a packed session, delivered by Danny Monaghan and Pete Mella, exploring how to make Exemplary MOLE Courses. This included such topics as improving course structure, using assessment, and adding rich media. Danny introduced Blackboard's Exemplary Course Programme, giving future plans to create an institutional peer review system to share good practice in creating MOLE courses.

This was followed by the lunchtime launch event, introduced by Patrice Panella and officially launched by Pro-Vice Chancellor for Learning & Teachning, Prof Ann Peat. Prof Peat highlighted the importance of changing alongside students in a rapidly changing world, and talked of future strategic plans, including the University's Digital Learning Group, which includes MOOCs and iTunesU.

The theme of lunchtime's presentations was sharing practice. The first speaker was Prof Alistair Warren of the Faculty of Science, discussing the recent project his faculty undertook as part of the AchieveMore. Led by his colleague Luke Wilson, this saw the entire faculty's first year cohort - some 1,400 students - engaging in reflecting practice around a groupwork assignment. The assignment was geared around helping new students transition from school to University, building on a variety of learning skills.

The sheer number of students led to a significant challenge, and it was identified that the reflection had to be collected electronically. PebblePad was chosen as the ideal system, with its emphasis on reflection, accessibility and MOLE integration, and ease of managing and reporting on submissions. This proved to be a very effective tool which worked without any major problems, although useful feedback was given in ways the system could be improved for this kind of project.

Next up was Gary Wood, of University of Sheffield Enterprise, talking about the student-generated AllAboutLinguistics website he led as part of his former role in the Department of Linguistics. This was a student project identifying a real need - not only to introduce first year students to the varied topics surrounding Linguistics, but to create a real-world resource that would fulfil a knowledge gap in A Level students on what Linguistics actually entails.

Gary used Google Sites to create the website, which was intuitive and easy to use for students, without any coding skills necessary. Using page-level permissions, the site was set up students could see, and get inspiration from, other groups' pages, but only edit their own. Students were encouraged to incorporate a wide range of multimedia in the site, using a range of technologies including YouTube, Dipity, Hot Potatoes, Soundcloud and Screenr.

The project proved very successful and popular with students, who appreciated the authentic experience of creating a website for a real purpose. As one student told Gary, they found it more worthwhile than creating an essay that will "sit in a drawer gathering dust". It was great to see how engaged students were in this project, and the positive impact it had on the School's web presence. Gary left with an inspirational quote: "“Empower students with tools, opportunity & freedom, trust them, and they’ll show you how awesome they can be”.

Finally the Department of Hispanic Studies' Dr Rhian Davies gave a talk on the Adaptation & Transformation module she created with Claire Allam of LeTS, which was launched to help engage students studying Spanish literature. Quoting a student who described studying literature as "torture", the module sees students studying works by Galdos, Rivas and Lorca, using video as a creative medium to bring this works to life in a modern setting. This has seen students interpret the source material in surprising and innovative ways, with one work used to explore topics as diverse as same sex marriage and immigration.

The module allows students to collaborate on literature study, with feedback clearly showing this allows for greater understanding. Aside from that students find it fun, and are deeply proud of the work they create. One student invited all her family and neighbours round to watch her group's video - would anyone have shared a traditional essay in the same way?

The final session of the day was Danny Monaghan on Blackboard's new features, that came in with the 2014 upgrade of MOLE. This includes anonymous and delegated marking, a new group management tool, and lots and enhancements of existing features.

As well as this, TEL staff were on hand for drop-in sessions, and there were great networking opportunities throughout the day.

A great start to the festival, with two days to go! For more details see here.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Augmented Planet - Augmented Reality Conference

On 17th November I attended Augmented Planet's fifth conference, this year held at Google Campus, London (  The conference focused on all things Augmented Reality and there were presentations from hardware (Optinvent, Vuzix) and software providers (Wikitude),  thought leaders and pioneers (Ken Blakeslee) as well as examples of practice in Education (University of Sheffield, Leeds College of Music, Bart's Health).

I have had an interest in Augmented Reality (AR)  for the last few years, when I was initially inspired by the potential it offered to engage learners and support both situational and active learning. In my previous role at City University London, I received funding from JISC to run a project that involved embedding the use of AR into the curriculum with health students. This included augmenting a clinical skills learning laboratory and developing an augmented public health walk. You can find out more about this project here: If you are new to AR and are not too sure what it is, the video proposal for the project should give you a bit more insight:

As part of the conference I was invited to organise a session focusing on the applications of Augmented Reality in Education. I began the session by providing an overview of AR projects taking place within the sector, placing a particular emphasis of the projects taking place at the University of Sheffield (view slideshare), I also invited the following speakers to talk about the exciting projects that they have been working on:
A big theme at Augmented Planet was wearables and smart glasses (such as Google Glass - this year 10 new smart glasses have launched). There was less emphasis on using AR with mobile devices, which has often been the case in previous AR conferences that I have attended. A recent report by Ori Inbar (co-founder of Augmented predicts that the Smart Glasses market will soar towards 1 billion shipments near the end of the decade. The report also highlights the different headsets that currently exist and who the current market leaders are.

There were a number of comments that:
  • Wearables need to look better.  Smart glasses were described as being 'stuck in a paradigm prison. No matter how hard we [hardware providers] try, people still end up looking like cyborgs.'
  • We are in the ‘trough of disillusionment' (as highlighted by Gartner's hype cycle). With references made to mocking campaigns such as the kick-starter project Faux Glass and articles referring to the demise of Google Glass (e.g. Has Google Glass Shattered Already?, The end nigh for Google Glass)
  • There were conflicting opinions as to whether the technology was quiet there and lot of ideas about how it will get better
  • Privacy issues, safety and  appropriate use of glass (e.g. using Glass in the toilet)
  • Before they were even available AR headsets provoked a backlash, with some bars banning them and the formation of the ‘Stop the Cyborgs' campaign. David Wood (slideshare) spoke passionately about the divide that technology can create between the rich and the poor, the need to expect a hostile reception towards wearable devices and the importance of addressing these issues early on.
One of my favourite talks was from Shafi Ahmed, Cancer Keyhole Surgeon and Associate Dean at Bart's who talked about his use of Google Glass (Glass) to live stream surgery. Whilst the primary aim was to enhance student learning as part of the curriculum, they also made the stream available to everyone globally. Here are some points that Shafi made:
  • The use of Glass captured the imagination of the public that were able to watch the feed
  • Attracted people around the globe (132 countries and 1100 cities) and promoted the teaching taking place at Bart's (there was lots of media coverage)
  • Twitter  hashtag #glasssurgery was used
  • Shafi was able to verbally respond to questions that were displayed on Google Glass during surgery
  • Infrastructure, sound quality, video quality were all OK
  • Battery life quite poor
  • There are no issues with confidentiality if the patient is happy to be filmed. Shafi is currently creating guidelines with the department of health to support other hospitals wishing to engage in similar activities
  • Universally students liked the use of Glass
  • Students have been a key part of this project and upcoming projects include the use of Glass to develop surgical skills.
All in all a great event and some useful insights, especially since there is a growing interest around the possibilities that AR might offer here at the University of Sheffield.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Exploring play in Second Life

Well I did it - I completed a MOOC!

Exploring Play: The Importance of Play in Everyday Life was created by colleagues across various departments of The University of Sheffield, and launched on the FutureLearn platform. It was a really interesting seven weeks, looking at play in a range of contexts, from children to adults, and its role in everyday life. There was much of interest to those of us who work in Learning Technology, including explorations of gamification, augmented reality, and virtual worlds such as Second Life. I learnt much which will stay with me and hopefully influence some of the ways I work and learn.

It was the Second Life segment that perhaps piqued my interest the most, as I've always been a bit of a SL skeptic, seeing it as not much more than a big complicated chatroom for people to create fantasty personas and flirt with strangers. I'd also, wrongly, dismissed SL as something that had died out years ago; the next big thing that never really happened.

This section of the MOOC was led by the Information School's Sheila Webber (and her SL alter-ego Sheila Yoshikawa), demonstrating the iSchool's rather lovely Second Life island. Other examples showed some great work where students have been taught chemistry in SL labs with great results; elderly Parkinson's patients have used it as cognative therapy; it has been used to create an enabling forum for Second Lifers who are disabled in the "real world"; and situations in which the virtual world gives a feeling of community to distance learners.

For the first time in many years I was inspired to have a dabble with Second Life (previous attempts were just to check that, no, my creaking graphics card couldn't really handle it), first creating myself an avatar. This I made to look like myself - bespectacled, slightly paunchy and with a rather fetching striped jumper (I didn't do a lot of interaction with others, but I did get a passing comment: "Where's Waldo got old!"). It was a surprise to enter a world where I was surrounded almost exclusively by gorgeous women, chiseled hunks, and fantastical creatures. Perhaps this shows I'm comfortable in my own skin, and don't need a fantasy avatar, but I fear it just shows a distinct lack of imagination!

One of my first stops was the University of Sheffield's iSchool island, feeling something of a trespasser as I wandered round it alone on a Sunday afternoon. Even though set out as an idyllic Japanese-style island, it still impressively managed to feel like part of the UoS, in little things like the use of the University fonts and signage. The remnants of fascinating-looking projects were all around - they must have been great to see being actioned in real time.

Elsewhere I explored a few more educational resources, including a museum of Communism, and a space travel museum. I started to realise that Second Life isn't just an immersive, goal-less game, but a parallel Internet, which is navigated by individual avatars, not a text-based web browser, and where webpages are constructed on pretty, shimmering islands, not a blank white page. Yes a lot of these "pages" are chatrooms, but there's a wealth of information and educational resources out there too.

I don't think I'll become a Second Life "resident" - one life is enough for me! But it's great to see this virtual world is still so active, and that educators are using it in innovative ways.

Pete M


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