Monday, 5 December 2016

New PebblePad collaboration tool

A regular problem people have come across with PebblePad was when two or more lecturers wanted to work on the same Workbook or other Resource. Unless all parties were working using the same departmental account (which isn't always possible or desirable to do), there was no easy way to do this.

Today (5th December) a new feature has launched in v5 which allows collaborative items - both Resources and Assets - to be shared. To do this share the item in the normal way ('I want to...' > 'Share' > 'With People') and ensure the 'Collaboration' box is ticked (as in the screenshot left). The other user will get a notification it has been shared via email, and will be able to make their own additions and changes. If another user is editing at the time, it will be locked until the other user logs out or times out.

This also solves the problem of when staff members leave and their PebblePad accounts will no longer be accessible - they just need to ensure they share the material with colleagues to collaborate on before they leave (although it may still be advisable to have the material accessible from a departmental account, rather than just individual accounts). It also allows for students to collaborate on Portfolios or other Assets.

This is another much called-for new feature in PebblePad which shows they're listening to feedback, and demonstrates v5's agility in being able to deliver improvements to the system that were never implemented in v3. If you give collaborations a go please get in touch and let us know how you get on.


Friday, 18 November 2016

Google forms update - file uploads & answer suggestions

If you have used Google Forms recently you will notice a couple of new features have arrived.

The first one is the ability for people completing the form to be able to attach a file using the new File Upload option. Simply select this as a question type to allow people completing the form to upload a file.

Screen Shot 2016-11-14 at 13.59.56.png

In the tool you can limit the size of the file uploaded (the highest is 10GB) and limit to particular file types if you want to. The person completing the form will see a prompt to add a file.

Screen Shot 2016-11-14 at 14.09.10.png

To access the collected files, go to Google Drive and you will see a folder created, named “name of form” (file responses). Each file upload question has its own subfolder and inside is the files, which handily collects the name of the person completing the form in the file title. You can then share the folder with anybody that needs access.

The second feature which has arrived is around Google form questions and offering suggestions on the answer. For example if you start a question “What day of the week…” forms will bring up answer suggestions for the days of the week and give you the option to add these in. If you ask a particular question it will try and anticipate which answer type you will need. E.g. If you start a question “On a scale…” it will change the question type to linear scale.

See a couple of examples of this below.

Screen Shot 2016-11-14 at 14.20.18.png
Days of the week prepopulated (2).gif
Linear scale answer option automatically selected

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Sat on fjord, surrounded by Björks...

Harpa Concert Hall, Reykjavik
So I hadn't even been in Iceland for 48 hours, and I was already sat on fjord, surrounded by Björks.

No, I hadn't been snacking on a bad batch of fermented shark, I was at the Harpa Concert Hall in Reykjavik, at Björk Digital, an installation of virtual reality videos of songs from Björk's 'Vulnicura' album. These ranged from pleasant 360° video of Icelandic beauty spots, to trippy CGI explosions of colour and surreal imagery, to one disturbing excursion inside Björk's mouth.

The exhibition showed how VR can be used to create an immersive trip inside landscapes, both real and computer generated, and how an experimental and creative mind can utilise this technology effectively to evoke a wide range of emotions. While it showed some of VR's great strengths, it also showed its weaknesses - current headsets can still have a level of slight discomfort (especially for glasses-wearers) that can drag you out of the immersive experience somewhat, and parts of the exhibition that were conventional screen-based HD video showed up that while modern VR is impressive, it has some way to go in resolution. But taking all into account, it was a captivating look at how VR can be used to transport the wearer into beautiful, evocative and even disturbing places.

Although very different of course, it reminded me of how recently the same technology was used by colleagues at Festival of The Mind to show the Virtual Hole In the Road, showing the iconic Sheffield landmark to both nostalgic locals and those who never got chance to see it. VR gives people the power to travel through time, through space, and into the minds of others - which is a particularly fascinating when it's the bonkers minds of artists like Björk.

Monday, 14 November 2016

Horizon Scanning - Enabling more effective STEM Assessment

We receive feedback from certain parts of the university, that despite the fact that the MOLE test engine is extremely powerful and useful for both formative and summative (including formal exams) the question types don't allow for more varied assessment for STEM Courses.

Following some research that we conducted - we found a product called Maple TA. On further examination this software allows for questions to be created that would require the students to answer if some of these formats
  • Mathematical Free Response
  • Adaptive Questions
  • Graph Sketching
  • Free Body Diagrams
  • Gradeable Math Apps
  • Numeric response with margin-of-error

At the moment we are looking at its possible uses, and will be contacting several departments to get their opinion as to how useful this software would be. If you would like to be able to do more advanced STEM assessment, and would like to contribute to the analysis of this for the institution, please contact myself (Simon Warwick)

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

TEL - It's not just MOLE & Turnitin

Although we are responsible for perhaps the most visible of all the digital resources at the University, the VLE, in the TEL team we do like to work with our academic colleagues on a whole variety of projects. 

With the recent launch of the new Learning & Teaching Strategy at Sheffield, it's crucial that we understand how digital learning can help us to realise the aims of the strategy. To help share some of our work in this area, we have made a video that highlights some of the developments over the past 12 months. 

Some of the projects may be quite familiar to many of you already, like TELFest. Newer developments, such as rolling out Adobe Connect across campus, or installing tablet computers in labs will be of interest to those colleagues experimenting with new methods of delivery. 

The video also details the very latest projects the team are working on, such as rolling out a new Digital Media Hosting service across the University - we will be able to provide more details about this soon.

We're always exploring and applying new approaches to digital learning in the TEL Team, and we will continue to share updates via this blog. 

If you would like more details on anything in the video, please contact

Friday, 4 November 2016

Turnitin Feedback Studio

Earlier in the year, Turnitin released an update to their feedback tool which brought about a change to the look and feel and added a couple of new features.

We plan to turn on this update on in MOLE in January prior to semester 2.

Some of the changes it will bring includes:
  • Improved navigation, bringing together the originality reports and feedback tool. The combination of these is called Feedback Studio.
  • More formatting options for the comments tool. Now includes bold, italic, underline and hyperlinks.
  • Easier to add annotations to the assignment. Clicking directly on the page will show the different annotation types available. You previously had to toggle between the comment types.
For more information on these changes please see the overview of changes.

You can also try out a demo of Feedback Studio.

If you have any questions please contact

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Digital commons session - Lecture capture

UPDATE: We now have materials to support this session which can be found here. This includes the cards, which can be printed as needed, some instructions and the supporting slides. Any questions or feedback please let us know. We'd also be keen to know how the session went if you decide to run it.

As part of the Digital Commons session around lecture capture, following on from informative morning panel, Pete Mella and I facilitated a session around the benefits and concerns of lecture capture.

The aim of the session was to consider some of the points raised from the panel session, discuss these in teams and decide which were the most prominent points.

For this session we put participants into small groups and gave each table to pack of cards. These were coloured red and green.  


Red = Statements which were considered a concern around the use of lecture capture
Green = Statements which were seen as a benefit of lecture capture

In the activity we asked for each team to come up with the card that had the most important point  for each colour and have one backup, in case of duplication amongst teams. We also provided a blank “wildcard” which they could complete if they felt the issue wasn’t covered in the existing deck.

After a short discussion we brought the group back together to discuss our thoughts.

Some of the issues that were considered most prevalent were:

Confidentiality (wildcard)
This concern was to do with how and where students may access lecture capture materials. Some of our courses contain particularly sensitive data which students could potentially show to a wider audience either knowingly or unknowingly (e.g. playing the recording in a public place).

This is indeed a valid concern and advice given was to be assured that the video is only available inside the MOLE course by default, with downloads disabled. You have the ability to pause the recording, so the session could be amended slightly to bring together the parts that needed not to be recorded.

Ultimately though it was agreed that not every session is right for lecture recording and some instances it is sensible not to record. Though in most instances minor ordering amendments can allow the session to recorded without affecting the quality of the lecture.

Technical issues
One issue which still concerns people is whether the technology will work on the day and will sessions be recorded successfully. Whilst there have been some instances of failed recordings identified, the service has been going well given its growth this academic year. It was highlighted that many of these issues are being resolved and staff were reminded that if they do identify any issues to contact either the AV or CiCS Helpdesk to help issues to be resolved more quickly.

As with all synchronous technology supported activities, ensuring you have a plan B in place where possible is good practice. This could be making lecture slides available on MOLE and providing any supporting material you can give to students. The system we have in place requires almost no intervention from the tutor and the only setup required is to turn on the microphone.

Disabled students
The use of lecture capture was seen to be a huge benefit to students with a wide range of disabilities, and the benefits ranged from not needing to take verbatim notes to being able to access materials if a student is unable to attend in person.

International students
For international students where for many English is a second language, lecture capture can be used to positive effect, giving students another opportunity to view the lecture.

You are able to add subtitles/transcripts to help support the recording too, which was seen as something that could help both international and students with disabilities.

As part of the session we produced a series of slides looking at each topic and some of the research underpinning these, which you can find below.

We then passed over to Dan Courtney and James Slack who gave an overview of the system and gave people an opportunity to ask any questions about the technology supporting lecture capture.

If you have any questions about the session or are interested in running it in your area please contact

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

The annual three week ‘Manic’ Period

Obviously the beginning of any new academic year is a very busy time for the majority of us and the TEL help desk is certainly no exception. Each year, the three week period comprising of ‘Freshers’ week and the following two, are by far our busiest. ‘Manic’ is the word I always use.

The ‘Supportworks’ enquiry system which we use, records the volume of traffic we handle and the last five years totals for this period are as follows:

2016-17 - 677
2015-16 - 613
2014-15 - 741
2013-14 - 747
2012-13 - 786

This year as in every year, nearly half (45%) of all the enquiries during this three week period are from folk (staff and students) asking to be given access to their particular MOLE courses.

For students in particular, these requests are mostly unnecessary as the MOLE system is populated with student enrolments automatically by electronic transfer from the University's main student registration system.  Once the choice of courses is completed on their main registration record, student’s MOLE accounts are automatically updated (the process runs four times each day) and the list of courses shown on their MOLE homepage then changes to reflect this.

Today’s students live in a world where they are used to things happening instantaneously (in an IT sense anyway) and having completed their registration process, if they cannot see their courses in MOLE straight away they tend to assume something has gone wrong.  We manage to answer the vast majority of enquiries the same day as they are received and in most cases in the interim period of the enquiry being sent and us reading it, we usually find that the above automated system has done its job and the student has been given access to their courses. We simply then just need to reply happily confirming this.

Of course no system is 100% perfect and there are times when we have to step in to manually add a student to a course, but thankfully this is not very often in comparison.

Staff are not added to courses automatically unless the same course ran last year and they were a part of it, in which case they are automatically enrolled in this year’s course too.

New or existing staff, requiring access to a particular course for the first time always have to be added manually. We can do this and staff already having the role of Instructor in a course can add other staff to that same course.

Sometimes individual staff members don’t realise they are not added automatically to new courses and they contact us in a panic because they need to prepare material for the first teaching session to be held shortly, only to find they don’t have access to the course.

Sometimes a teaching department’s Administration/Clerical teams send us long lists of staff that need adding to courses. We also receive quite a lot of requests asking us to merge two or more courses together in MOLE. Obviously we don’t mind doing this but ideally it would be better for everyone concerned if we could receive these enrolment lists and merger requests earlier in the summer (courses are usually created in July and even earlier in some cases).

Add to the mix the usual everyday requests for assistance in how to do something, Turnitin queries, technical problems etc and it all adds up to a ‘Manic’ three weeks - but guess what? ...I love it!!!

Monday, 17 October 2016

Teaching Copyright and Creative Commons (featuring the Selfie Monkey)

Last week I led a short presentation for students in the Theatre Department, alongside colleagues Steve McIndoe and Kate Grigson from the Library, about copyright considerations to take into account when using others' materials in recorded theatre productions.

It's easy to spend sessions like this dwelling on the restrictions and getting bogged down in legal minutiae, and making copyright sound boring, overly pedantic and restrictive. While going over some of the necessary basics of copyright law, the main point of this session was to give an understanding of why protecting your artistic work is important, and to give students information about using Creative Commons material that allows them the create work that they can be confident about sharing widely without legal snags. If the work they produce at university has sound copyright thought behind it they can use it as a showreel or share it via social media, reaching new audiences and showing future employers they have the knowledge and attention to detail to use others' work with care and legal consideration (which gives them a head start on many graduates entering the creative industries).

Some good discussion was had in the session. We spent some time examining The Verve's infamous use of an uncleared sample of a Rolling Stones cover on their song Bittersweet Symphony, leading to the band losing all royalties, awards and artistic control from their biggest hit to Jagger, Richards and their publishers. We also discussed the 'selfie monkey' and who owned the copyright of the above image - the photographer who owned and set up the camera, or the monkey who took the picture (it's no-one - the monkey took the picture, but animals aren't covered by copyright law - but the photographer is challenging this!).

Hopefully the students found the session useful, and it gave them some grounding to think about these issues as they progress through their studies. As creators themselves they should know their own rights, and respect the rights of others, but perhaps as importantly know the ways Creative Commons plugs them into a rich source of material to remix and adapt creatively and legally. Teaching about copyright and IP issues, rather than being dry and draconian, can be a liberating way to allow students to work with and repurpose material, adding to their digital and information literacies, and creating more engaged digital citizens.

Pete Mella


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