Wednesday, 16 January 2019

The 19th Durham Blackboard Users Conference

In what has become something of a time honoured tradition for me, I pretty much started 2019 by attending the Durham Blackboard conference (#durbbu). This is my 7th year and it is always a great way to get back in to the swing of things after the Christmas and New Year break. It's always good to meet up with old faces and get to know some new ones and this year the conference was completely sold out. This year, the theme was Fail, Fad or Future.

The conference itself is spread over three days, the first of which is a half day of pre-conference sessions. This year I joined the Blackboard Ally usergroup session to get a deep hands on with this really useful tool. Ally makes available various different accessible formats for content in a VLE like MOLE and it's a tool I've really wanted to be able to put into action for a couple of years now. It's continued to develop and we got the chance to try out a brand new feature at this session. It was a great way to kick off the conference. That evening we continued the discussions (some of them even work related!) over a very nice curry.

Day one of the full conference began, as ever, with introductions from Durham's Malcolm Murray and then the opening keynote this year was from the OU's Rosie Jones talking about play. She soon had all of us engaged in lots of activity, including making farm animal sounds 😄

Then it was off into the parallel streams, and the line up for me on day one was:

  • It’s All About the Base (Navigation) - Northumbria University’s Move to Blackboard Ultra
    Kristen McCartney-Bulmer, Lee Hall & Harriet Walshaw - Northumbria University
    This session was about Northumbroia's move to the new Blackboard Ultra platform and talked about the challenges and positive outcomes from the move.
  • The future starts today, not tomorrow
    Neil Cocklin – Aston University
    This presentation explored the range of approaches that Aston has developed for supporting staff in Technology Enhanced Learning development and took a look at attitudes of staff towards how this provision has made a difference to them.
  • Fail, Fad or Flexible Friends? The impact of Online Submission, Feedback and Grading on the Marker Experience
    Emma Mayhew, Madeleine Davies & Vicki Holmes – University of Reading
    This session outlined the results of an extensive survey of staff undertaken in three large schools within the University of Reading, following adoption of institution wide online submission, feedback and grading during 2017-2018.
  • Blackboard The Ultra experience for Learn
    Ashley Wright & Richard Gibbons - Blackboard
    This last session of the day took a look at the new Ultra experience for Blackboard Learn (the VLE MOLE runs on) and gave us a live demo of some brand new features.
I'm really bad at darts! (photo by Ross Parker)
Mixed in that day was some breaks and lunch, which is always a good time to get to talk to people and this is always really useful time to make the most of. 

The evening was spent continuing the conversations at the conference dinner, as ever, held in the wonderful grand hall in the castle, followed by a few drinks in the castle bar and a very bad, but funny, international (England, Scotland and The Netherlands were represented) game of darts 🤣

Day two kicked off with the keynote from Blackboard's Chief Portfolio Officer Kathy Vieira and Chief Product Officer Tim Tomlinson. Picking up the theme of the conference and also introducing some playful elements with some audience participation paddles, they took us through their views on the fads, fails and futures surrounding EdTech.

The day's parallel streams were:
  • The Big Blackboard Pub Quiz
    Katie Piatt, eLearning Manager – University of Brighton
    We had a whole lot of fun in this team game workshop that tested our knowledge of Blackboard Learn. I wasn't on the winning team!
  • An Allied comparison of Ally
    Claire Gardener (Derby), Kristen McCartney-Bulmer (Northumbria), Maria Papaefthimiou (Reading) & Susi Peacock (Queen Margaret)
    This was a collaborative presentation from four universities who have all recently implemented Ally. Individually, they explained their approaches, challenges, opportunities and goals. 
  • Open Badges in an Academic Context
    Graeme Redshaw-Boxwell & Patrick Rosenkranz – Newcastle University
    This presentation guided us the through the process of running a badges project in the School of Psychology, the different badges created, the software used, and the evaluation of the project including student opinion on digital credentialing.
Away from the parallel session on this second day I took the chance to chat with some of the suppliers at the conference and had the annual Blackboard Usergroup leaders meeting, which is always useful for us to come together and share some of the things we've been doing with the groups across Europe over the last 12 months.

And that was it. Another great conference that gave me some really good things to think about. Already looking forward to next years!

Monday, 7 January 2019

PebblePad Users' Meeting, December 2018

Before Christmas, we held a meeting for users of eportfolio and assessment tool PebblePad at the University.

I started proceedings with some recent updates, discussing PebblePad's new improved table functions, which allow for more advanced reporting of hours and points; the University's switching on of Turnitin within PebblePad, allowing for originality reports of student submissions; and giving previews of some work that has been undertaken using PebblePad recently on both Apprenticeships and Programme-Level eportfolios.

Debbie Holmes from PebblePad gave an overview of the product's roadmap, which showed a number of features scheduled future updates. These included improvements of ATLAS, that will change its look inline with Pebble+, and allow for easier navigation between learners' work, as well as a dashboard function giving a range of statistics about learners' progress.

The meeting ended with presentations on how PebblePad is being used in various departments, with Yuki Kittaka (School of East Asian Studies), Paula Goodale (Information School) and Gareth Bramley and Gareth Braid (School of Law) giving examples of how Workbooks are being used in their respective practices.

PebblePad is a product that continues to improve and has great benefits for authentic assessment, and if anyone is interested in finding out more please get in touch at, Alternatively see for details of how to book face-to-face Digital Learning advice slots.

Pete Mella

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Playful Learning Conference

Earlier this month I attended the Playful Learning Conference in Manchester. The idea of the conference is around how play can be used in a learning and teaching context.

The first day opened with a keynote from Katie Piatt from the University of Brighton. She used a series of approaches to engage the large audience including an emoji quiz, design your own beer mat based on your favourite game and a competitive game on Kahoot. Each row of the lecture theatre were teamed together.

Some of the session highlights from the three days were:

Student Created Serious Games - Sandie Elsom and Marguerite Westacott, University of the Sunshine coast

This session looked at a range of serious games created by staff and students at the institution including a real world game that focussed on new students getting familiar with services on campus by undertaking a self guided tour using QR codes. There were also games created by students including Bound by Blood, an award winning interactive narrative game which tells a story around a homeless person who requires sanity products (warning some of the issues raised in this can be distressing) and Full of life, a platform game which educates children about the five stages of grief

*Full of life was created using software called Construct 2 and Bound by Blood was created using Twine

A completely Inconspicuous and Normal Human Playtest

This session involved the use of a presenterless presentation taking on the character of a deceased pirate, by somebody controlling it remotely in the room. This made for an engaging session packed with humour and activities to get people up, completing challenges that were set by the pirate character.

The effectiveness of game based learning - Simon Grey
This session looked at how effective game based learning is when developing a new skill. We were given a maths coding task to complete at the beginning of the session. The idea then was to play a card game which uses these principles to see if after playing the game your ability to work out the maths code was easier. The consensus was that it did make it easier to complete.
And the Survey says - Using gamification and active learning to enhance didactic lectures - Tom Jolley
This was the session I presented around the use of the game show Family Fortunes (coined Faculty Fortunes) to present data from two sets of users (staff and students) and see where misconceptions arise from the answers each group give.

Libopoly: Explore playful learning’s place in staff training and development - Steve Gray, Cheryl Coverney and Hilary Johnson (Open University)

This session used the concept of the board game monopoly to introduce new staff to working in the library and learn about some of the usual tasks and terminology associated with the job in a fun and engaging way. The idea was that each area represented a module and the money was represented by time.

Overall it was an interesting conference which showed the scale of people's creativity and gave some interesting insights into how people use playful approaches in their Learning, Teaching and Assessment at different institutions. 

More information about sessions can be found here and find out the going on's from the conference on twitter with the hastag #playlearn18.

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

TELFest 2018 - What we did differently

Between 25 - 28 June 2018 we ran our 5th Technology Enhanced Learning Festival, TELFest. Every year we do things differently or introduce some new ideas and here is a summary of some of those things as well as some highlights of the event.

TELFest was opened up to an external audience

Traditionally TELFest has been exclusive to staff at the University of Sheffield and a select number of invited individuals.  This year we opened up most of the festival to external institutions, with the exception of the Monday which was more 'hands-on' or University of Sheffield focused. We were delighted to have over 80 attendees from other institutions, attracting an international audience as far as Cairo and China.


A parallel of sessions were livestreamed throughout the event using livestream, which we chose because it enabled chat functionality with no login restrictions. Each livestreamed session had an online moderator who facilitated discussion amongst our online audience and ensured that questions were asked to presenters. Throughout TELFest we had over 550 unique viewers from over 50 countries. It was great to see the positive feedback we were getting from people who were unable to attend.
Tweets about the TELFest Livestream
You can catchup on these sessions via the TELFest website and here is a direct link to the list of recordings:

Have I got TEL news for you

Keeping up with our game show keynote theme (in previous years we have had Faculty Fortunes, Room 101 and the CrysTEL maze), this years game show was based on Have I got News for You? The session took a competitive quiz-based look at some hot topics in technology-enhanced learning, hosted by Professor Wyn Morgan, VP for Education and featuring a panel of contestants from around the University.

As well as being highly entertaining, the sessions encouraged debate amongst both our teams and our audience, exploring topical issues in the TEL domain.

Best of the Festival

TELFest was jam packed with excellent and varied presentations and workshops throughout, with the festival closing with a keynote on Tightrope Walkers: Social Media, Equity, and Educational Practice by Dave Webster, Head of Learning & Teaching Innovation at The University of Gloucestershire (catchup here). A special mention must also go to our sessions voted 'best of the festival':
  • Tuesday Puzzling It Out, Helen Whitehead and Liz Cable, University of Nottingham / Leeds Trinity University
  • Wednesday Live-editing The Past, Charles West, University of Sheffield (Catch Up)
  • Thursday Using breaks to boost student creativity, Dermot Breslin, University of Sheffield (Catch Up)


To promote networking throughout the festival, each delegate pack included postcards and stickers and delegates were asked to add their self-identifying stickers of choice to their lanyards to spot like-minded delegates. Below are some of the post cards that had AR built into them.



We were delighted to receive sponsorship for this year's TELFest with the support of our suppliers and sponsors: Turnitin, Kaltura, Blackboard, PebblePad and Echo 360. Their support and support from the University of Sheffield meant that we were able to keep the event free to an external audience. Thanks to Blackboard we also let us pilot Transact, their new product which enabled us to track attendance. Delegates were able to 'tap' in to a session using their new contactless technology. This very reliable technology enabled us to identify those that attended sessions helping us to elimiate our paper based system.

A big thank you to all of our organisers, presenters, delegates and sponsors, who after 5 years continue to make TELFest an ever increasingly valuable and vibrant event.

Thursday, 5 July 2018

Exploring Student Engagement with Learning Technologies - A reflection from TELFest

Last week at TELFest myself and Farzana ran a session on how analytics data can be used to understand more about how students are engaging with online tools we use.

We explored what data was available in some of the core systems we use at the university and encouraged discussion around:

  • How it would work in peoples contexts
  • What was useful about the systems 
  • What they felt was missing

To support this I created a series of infographics using Piktochart. For anybody interested in creating infographics I found the creation progress to be really straightforward.

Click on any of the infographics below to see a larger view of what is available in that product.



Some of the points raised in the session were:
  • The confusion flagging in Encore (Echo 360) is a great tool but it would be good if the tool automatically prompted an email to alert the instructor confusion had been flagged.
  • There were some comments that the data that comes out particularly in MOLE can be a little overwhelming. Being able to pinpoint a particular piece of content would be better.
  • The group felt we need to be mindful about the use of analytics to not create a culture of over-auditing or making students feel they were under surveillance.
  • A point raised that analytics looks at the where and what people accessed but doesn't always tackle the why.
The session was a thought provoking one which concluded that whilst there is a lot we can do with the data from the systems, we use there is still a way to go to make it readily meaningful. The tools should be quick and simple to use and the data should be easy to digest.

Thanks to everybody that attended the session and we will ensure any feedback goes back to the relevant suppliers.

Monday, 14 May 2018

TELFest 2018 - Open for registration

TELFest 2018 is now open for registration.

Taking place between 25th-28th June, the University of Sheffield's festival of Technology Enhanced Learning is in its 5th year, and welcoming delegates from external institutions for the first time.

The 25th June sees a skills day, for University of Sheffield staff to learn more about the various systems available to them, closing with workshops on Blackboard's forthcoming Ally tool for accessibility, and the online content tool Xerte. This is followed by the full conference, open to internal and external delegates, from 26th-28th.

We have a packed and exciting lineup this year, with highlights including:

  • Keynote speaker David Webster (University of Gloucestershire) on 'Tightrope Walkers: Social Media, Equity, and Educational Practice'.
  • Have I Got TEL News For You, presented by our resident TELFest gameshow host Professor Wyn Morgan.
  • Sessions highlighting the playful side of teaching and learning, with workshops on Digital Storytelling, educational Escape Rooms, and Creative Play.
  • Introductions to the Diamond Building's VR Suite and Student-run Makerspace.
  • As always, the Innovation Corner exhibition to end proceedings.
This is as well as sessions on flipped learning, e-portfolios, online assessment, TEL's role in student mental health, VLE frameworks, active learning, creative commons, virtual reality, lecture recording, course design, webinars, feedback, creative media, video sharing, accessibility, learning analytics, students as creators, educational apps, social media, online exams, student engagement, ethics and more!

We hope you can join us! For the full agenda, and to register, see

Friday, 4 May 2018

White Rose Learning Technologists's Forum 11th April 2018

Event Report WRLTF 11th April 2018

On wednesday 11th April we were very pleased to welcome the White Rose Learning Technologists’ Forum back the University of Sheffield, for a specially themed meeting looking at the use of video in learning and teaching. We had an excellent turnout, with colleagues from every HE institution in the region attending, as well as those from the regional health service, and our corporate members.

We are very happy to have recordings of all the sessions, which we have made available, so I will just mention a few points that really stood out to me on the day. All videos are available via our Digital Media Hub, and presentations are available either as attachments from the URLs provided, or linked from the text description in the case of those done as Google Presentations.

All videos can be seen together here:

Scaling up and new opportunities with the Kaltura Digital Media Hub - Graham McElearney, The University of Sheffield

I was fortunate to open the session, presenting a summary of a large scale project I’ve been leading on, to scope and implement a new media hosting system. Like many universities, our requirements for delivering video have matured along with the technologies over the last 15 years. This had resulted  in us having  a fragmented collection of technologies in place, which we  wanted to consolidate for our current and future needs.

As part of our implementation we conducted a series of pilots with specific colleagues around the Institution. This enabled us to test some key functionality of the system, but also led to some unexpected benefits.

One of our key requirements was to enable student submission of videos they create for assessments. We have struggled with this for several years, having employed a number of inadequate work arounds. Using the Kaltura Building Block in Blackboard, students are now able to submit their work directly into the VLE. Not only is this a more robust and secure system than some of the other workarounds we tried, it also means that the work is in the VLE ecosystem and can then be graded electronically. This led to our second key finding - the Kaltura platform has an associated content creation tool, CaptureSpace, which allows the creation of screencasts and webcam recordings, and is accessible from anywhere within the VLE. This has now enabled a number of colleagues to use this for creating audio, video and screencast feedback in different disciplines. The idea of creating rich media feedback has been around for quite some time, but it has always seemed to be logistically challenging - not so much in terms of creating the media, but in managing the process of returning the feedback to the students in an effective manner.

A third unexpected benefit we’ve relied with Kaltura has been the ability to create video quizzes. These are videos that pause at certain point and pose MCQ questions to the students. These can be purely formative or can be linked to the Grade Centre in Blackboard. This new feature has been trialled in a number of departments so far, most notably Geography, who are using it for pre-lab briefing and testing with level 1 students. It’s early days with this feature but we can see many applications for it. A fourth benefit we are seeing across campus is the use of CaptureSpace to produce flipped learning content, and this was the topic of our final session, discussed below.

Video and presentation available at

Video to support learning and teaching at The University of York - Wayne Britcliffe, The University of York

Next up up was Wayne Britcliffe from the University of York, who presented on the use of video across the Institution, and in a range of different contexts.

One of the key ways that colleagues in York used video was to help prepare students for laboratory classes. I think this is a classic use for video that is relevant for many Institutions - we often face the problem that our student cohorts have vastly outgrown the lab facilities we have, often built decades before to accommodate a fraction of the number of students. We can’t just dispense with lab teaching, but we do need to make it more effective. Providing essential briefing on say equipment use, health and safety etc, can really help to make the time spent in the lab more effective, and can also help compensate for a variety in previous experience that ours students may have. Labs supported were in chemistry, biology and archaeology, and the videos themselves were created by students. Using the resource of talented students in this manner seems like an excellent way of getting high quality videos made within reasonable cost - the latter of which can be areal barrier to using media in teaching.

Another key use of video was to support flipped learning, and Wayne showed us examples from Computer Science and Economics. Wayne reported that lecturers found this a satisfying experience, but one challenge they found was how to make the best use of the face to face time, after the students had watched the pre-class videos. This seems like a very important issue for us as learning technologists - we possibly naturally focus on both the means of producing the video content, and how we deliver this to the students - perhaps now we should be focusing more attention to what activities take place in class.

A final example of Wayne’s work at York addresses another challenge we certainly face here in Sheffield, which is how to record lectures for mathematically based subjects who traditionally make extensive use of a black/whiteboard for writing out mathematical notation. Conventional lecture recording solutions presume an approach based around the use of a “PowerPoint” type presentation as being at the core of a lecture, although for many maths-based disciplines, this is unsuitable. York now have two rooms in which the have cameras that are linked to pressure pads built into the lecture theatre floor, which enables the cameras to follow the lecturers writing as they traverse the often large blackboards used in these subjects - something we shall certainly investigate here as there is much demand for this solution.

Video and presentation available at

Using video to enhance music education  - Ruth Clark and Mark Rogers, Leeds College of Music

Our third presentation was from Ruth Clarke and Mark from Leeds College of Music (LCM). They too presented a range of approaches used across the College, but it was interesting to see how the were used in a rather more specialised environment of a music college.

LCM are using Panopto to great effect, and have licensed the software recorder for all 1200 staff and students across the College, which means video creation is truly accessible to all. One interesting aspect of their niche us of the Panopto system was their requirement for very high quality audio - this is something that we might not normally consider for conventional lecture recording system, which is designed for speech, screen capture and occasionally video capture. However for music this is critical, and so LCM and Panopto worked hard to make sure this was of a high enough quality and could respond to a full range of frequencies and dynamics as found in a wide range of musical styles.

One key application of video, over and above lecture recordings, was once again to provide information in advance of lectures. With  a higher proportion of learners with dyslexia than average, students respond very well to these when provided in video or audio format. Screencast recording hare also extensively used, to teach aspects of music writing a production software. Some of these software packages have quite intricate workflows and so these also provide standardised guidance on best practices for these. This is particularly important with music software, as there is a huge proliferation of this kind of content publicly available o(e.g., on YouTube), but with no guarantee that the approaches demonstrated are the correct or best ways of working.

In a final example from LCM, students use their access to the recording tools in Panopto to enable them to record a wide range of activities that enable them to reflect on their own performance. In addition they’re able to gather evidence from their community music projects and placements, which helps to solve a range of logistics and safeguarding issues.

Video and presentation available at

Assessing student media assignments - Rob Pashley, The University of Sheffield

Our fourth talk was from my colleague Rob Pashley in our Creative Media Team (CMT) here at Sheffield. The CMT’s function is dedicated to providing media production skills to students. The majority of this is embedded within academic modules, in which students create videos as a different form of assessment from a conventional essay, exam or presentation. We know from evaluations conducted over a substantial period of time that encouraging students to create videos about their academic disciplines is a fantastic way for them to develop their own subject knowledge. This activity is supported via practical workshops that enable a a standardisation of skills training, similar to that discussed by our colleagues from Leeds, above, and is further enabled by having an equipment loan service (cameras, microphones etc), and by providing access to the necessary editing and post production facilities required to produce a finished video.

None of our students are media production students as such, and so this presents something of a challenge, in terms of how we assess their work. It would not be appropriate to judge the students too much on their technical craft skills in the way that we might with media production students, and so we need to find other meaningful ways of doing this. This is still a work in progress for us, and it’s something we’ve been looking at in various forms for sometime, going back to work we started with the Media Enhanced Learning Special Interest Group back in 2008.

If not assessing production skills per se, we can ask questions such as how well does the video present the topic under consideration, and how well do the students use the media format to explain concepts or elicit other responses from the viewer.

Another key way of assessing the work is via a reflective statement by the students - but on what should they reflect? One key area is to ask them to articulate why they have produced their videos the way they have. So what sorts of choices and decisions did they make about how they presented their chosen topics, or how they interpreted certain scenes, when looking at more literary/creative works. At the heart of this, I think we also need to ask the students how they think that engaging in a creative task has helped build their own subject knowledge, and whether there is anything specifically different about working in a creative medium such as video that enables them to build new understanding about their subject that they otherwise wouldn't have.

This is very exciting work and also very important, as doubts over how to access this work can present  a barrier to more academic colleagues from choosing to use this exciting form of assessment with the  students.

Video and presentation available at
A flipped-classroom math module for molecular biology students - Dr Rebecca Barnes, The University of Sheffield

Our final presentation of the session came from Rebecca Barnes, another Sheffield colleague from our department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology. Rebecca presented some work she had been doing, running a level one module aimed at reducing maths anxiety for biology students. Maths anxiety is a well documented problem for many students, and can cause real stress and hamper performance in subjects such as biology, where maths may not be at the heart of the topic, but is nonetheless a key enabler for many practical activities in this discipline.

Rebecca produced a series of over 90 screencast videos for students to use. These are designed to be watched by the students outside of class time, and this enables students to work at their own pace and importantly, on their own, without the fear of their peers seeing their  lack of confidence and competence. More generally I think this is a good lesson for level one students in terms of taking a bit more ownership and control of their own learning that they may have been used to at school.

Rebecca deliberately recorded hand written screencasts using a stylus in Onenote, as she felt that this dicated a sufficiently slow pace for students to be able to keep up without being rushed. Crucially she also drew attention to the fact that when recording flipped learning materials, it is really important to stay enthusiastic and up beat throughout them, which can be a challenge if you are spending a whole day recording them. Leaving plenty of time to create the recordings was one of her key recommendations. Rebecca also flagged up the issue of finding the most effective use of the face to face time as being an area in which she was keen to develop.

Video and presentation available at

Discussion and next meeting:

We spent some time at the end of the meeting reflecting on the afternoon's presentations. It seemed like a well balanced programme, ranging from broader Institutional strategies and practices, but also focusing on some module specific practices and the knotty issue of assessing video work by students. There seem to be some convergence of practice now, such as providing video content to supplement lab classes, and producing flipped learning materials. Supporting student generated media content is of ever increasing importance as more and more we recognise the value of harnessing students’ creativity here.

We also explored a number of issues and barriers to wider adoption. There were some familiar candidates here, such as inconsistent infrastructure to enable staff to record their own media, including not having access to recording equipment, and an absence of a comprehensive hosting and delivery platform to support this type of activity. As ever, access to staff expertise to advise, train and produce materials was also cited as a problem for many.

As is often the case, it appears the solutions to these could be met with with further investment by our Institutions, but as Nick Jeans (SERO Consulting Sheffield) pointed out, in order to obtain this we need to be able to really demonstrate the effectiveness of TEL to our senior managers.

This led neatly onto our very final business of the day - the next meeting. We hope that this will take place in Leeds in the early part of July - exact time and venue TBC. However we have set the theme, and following on from the above, we are going to look at “Measuring the effectiveness of technology enhanced learning” and we welcome applications from colleagues to present at this. If you are interested in doing a session here, please email

Friday, 13 April 2018

Blackboard Teaching and Learning Conference 2018

I've just got back from this year's Blackboard Teaching and Learning conference (#BbTLC18). It's always a good conference, and this year it was right on our doorstep in Manchester, which is great because it's not a lot of travelling, but it does take away the opportunity to visit an institution for the first time which I always enjoy. As ever, it had a packed agenda and the presentations were very good. I've presented at the last two conferences, and this year I was sharing that with Farzana. More about that shortly. With such a full schedule, I'm just going to take a quick run through the days and briefly mention the sessions I attended.

The conference started for me on Tuesday afternoon (Monday was the academic adoption day that Simon attended, and the DevCon for those with a more technical role than me). First up was the Opening keynote from Volker Hirsch which was a fascinating dive into data and what it means to us.

Me and Farzana just about to start
Our presentation was in the first parallel sessions track straight after, which I think is the best time to be given. We were talking about the changes we’ve made over the last year, and how the student voice drove that. The room was packed, with people carrying chairs in with a few minutes to go and we had too many questions for the time at the end. It’s always good to get a response like that, and many people came up to us after giving us positive feedback, which was very welcome.

The theme of the rest of the day for me was exam orientated. I've presented about our online exams previously, and I like to keep up with what other are doing, so I went along next to see Chris Moore from UWE talk about how he'd introduced final year open book essay based exams in his teaching. Then it was off to hear Claire Iving from Newcastle talk about their online exam approach, which is very similar to ours in many ways.

The afternoon finished with the Blackboard keynote speak, with senior Bb leaders talking about their vision for the company. It was also good to hear them acknowledge some things that hadn't gone to plan, in this case the change from Crocodoc to Box View.

As I'm the usergroup leader for NEBUG, I got to spend the evening with other usergroup leaders from Europe and Blackboard people, which is a great chance to hear more about what they are doing in their groups, meet some face to face for the first time and catch up with those I've known for a while, and also to meet some senior Blackboard staff including the CEO Bill Ballhaus and CPO Tim Tomlinson.

Wednesday kicked off with the Blackboard product keynote, which gives a good insight into what is coming to all the products we use. My first pick of the sessions was Malcolm Murray from Durham talking about a gamified course they had done. He's written a extra bit of code to create a really good interface to a standard course that has improved student engagement. Next up was a quick 20 min introduction to ReadSpeaker from Sandra Stevenson-Revill at Derby, which looks an interested tool for all users to allow course content to be read to them. Next was Lisa Fishburn from Newcastle talking about how to deal with a course that hasn't been refreshed for about 10 years - how do you go about dealing with 1500+ folders worth of content! I also won a Kinder egg from Lisa as well 😁 The last session of the morning was another quick 20 min session by Tamsyn Smith and Matt Diprose from Southampton about their VLE awards.

I had the pleasure of spending time with Luca Bordogna from Bocconi University in Milan over lunch. He had seen my presentation there last year and wanted to talk some more about what we were doing with online exams and assessment. After lunch, I opted to miss the panel discussion and instead spend time with Jan Thomson and Neil Carroll from UCLan, talking to them about how I manage a lot of the back end admin side of running Blackboard Learn. I find these times at conferences the most valuable, sharing knowledge with colleagues from other institutions. I finished the day in another Sandra Stevenson-Revill session, taking a look at some of the extra features that Derby have created to make things work more easily.

The evening was a chance to spend time over dinner with a group of people from a number of institutions, and get to know some I'd not met before.

The final day of the conference (Thursday in case you've lost track) started for me with Bobbi Moore from Reading talking about the online course for staff development they've created to support their users. Next up was Joe Currie from QM Edinburgh talking about their move to the new Blackboard SaaS platform, something that is of particular interest to me currently. The penultimate session for me was listening to David Pike from Bedfordshire talking about how they exploring and quantifying TEL usage and how that can focus approaches that support the TEF. This years conference concluded for me with Peter Rayment from Cardiff talking about how they have used Eesysoft to produce focused support for their users, and generate course usage data for staff to access.

Fun in the party photo booth
Lots of really good thought provoking presentations, great feedback on our session, and quality time spent talking to lots of people have made this years TLC a very good one, and the final night party is the perfect way to finish things off - to have a bit of fun with some new colleagues and friends.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Digifest 2018 highlights

I've just got back from a trip to Birmingham for Jisc's Digifest 2018, two days of ed-tech talk and exhibitions at the International Conference Centre.

The conference started with an impressive demonstration of the Janet Network, with a live orchestra on stage joined virtually by a projected video stream of an accompanying trio in Edinburgh. Jisc chief executive Paul Feldman opened proceedings, before introducing National Union of Students president Shakira Martin. Shakira gave an impassioned call-to-arms on how technology should remove barriers for students, but not be seen as a replacement for face-to-face studies, and ended with the message that we need an education system that's adaptable and flexible for all students, no matter their background.

In the first session I attended, ALT's Maren Deepwell spoke of development of CMALT, which included two new pathways being piloted for new career staff and managers, and emphasis on the scheme mapping onto other professional qualifications such as UKPSF. She was joined by Edinburgh's Susan Greig, who spoke of a 'Zumba class' approach to CMALT, that is peer support (and peer pressure) to complete CMALT in small cohorts.

This was followed by a session by Jonathan Rhodes, Gemma Wilton and Elnora Marston of Wolverhampton, who gave details of their SEDA- and HEA-accredited courses, 'Learning to Tutor Online' and 'Digital Transformations'. It was emphasised that these courses, delivered on the university's VLE, would give teachers a vital experience of being a student which would influence their own practice - as pointed out: "You can't learn to swim by watching YouTube videos".

A lightning session by Sarah Fielding and Anna Ruff of the University of Southampton gave details of their institution's VLE award schemes, which sounded like an excellent way to reward staff for creating quality learning materials online. The system allows students to nominate courses they feel have been excellent in their online delivery, and staff to nominate themselves for courses they are particularly proud of.

Jisc's Chris Thomson and Sheffield Hallam's Liz Austen delivered a great workshop on 'Going dragon-hunting' - using digital storytelling in higher education. Liz told of how getting students to use Adobe Spark to tell their stories visually allowed the voices of "hard-to-reach" groups of learners to be heard.

Paul Waterworth of Calderdale College gave a talk on TEL's role in supporting students with mental health difficulties. While acknowledging technology such as social media can have a negative impact on mental health, and screen use can lead to insomnia, technology has a role to play in helping students. This includes apps for help for anxiety, such as Elefriends and Anxious Minds, mindfulness apps such as Calm, Wellmind and Happier, and mental health awareness apps such as PTSD Coach and RCPsych.

Jisc's Andy McGregor led a session introducing the 'Co-design Playdeck', a set of cards (inspired by Brian Eno's Oblique Strategies cards) that give strategies for collaborative innovation. The cards give a series of techniques for understanding, imagining and building a project, and provides a simple way to break down the practicalities and process of making an idea into a reality. A really useful tool - the printable 'Playbook' version can be found here.

Sadly I missed the final keynote, which was a talk on VR/AR in medical education by Shafi Ahmed, but the Twitter responses suggest I missed out on a great presentation!

A great couple of days in Birmingham, with some great examples of digital innovation in the sector.

Pete Mella.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

TELFest 2018 - It's on its way!

It doesn't seem long since the last one, but plans are well afoot for TELFest 2018, which will be running between 25th-28th June.

2017 saw our biggest and most successful TELFest yet, which was recognised as a key factor in the TEL Team's award of Learning Technologist Team of the year at the Association for Learning Technology's 2017 conference.

This year we're building on this success, opening TELFest out widely to delegates and participants from other HE institutions for the first time. In another change, we will be running the festival over three days, preceded by a pre-conference practical skills day for University of Sheffield staff. There will be the usual mix of workshops, case studies, panel discussions, debates and exhibitions, with some more unusual sessions planned that we're keeping under wraps for now!

The call for submissions is now open, and we'd love to hear your ideas. Please also share widely with colleagues - from the University of Sheffield or further afield - if you think they may be interested. For details of how to submit, and more information about TELFest, please see the TELFest Website.


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