Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Durham Blackboard Users Conference 2017

Last week was the annual Durham Blackboard Users Conference, and once again I was lucky enough to be able to attend. As it’s a conference organised by and for users, it is always a very useful and productive event and over the last few years I have brought back so many great ideas to build on.

My turn at the usergroup
Photo by Maria Tannant
On the day before the conference there are a number of parallel workshops running, and I attended
the Blackboard Mobile User Group meeting, which was both a face-to-face and video conference meeting as there were users attending from Europe as well as those unable to get to Durham. The user groups are set up and run by users (I set up and run the North England Group) so this is a chance to really engage in what other institutions are doing round the country, both in HE and FE. We got the chance to share what we are currently doing with mobile apps and Blackboard apps (MOLE runs on Blackboard Learn) and it was comforting to find out that we are all in pretty much the same place at the moment, as this gives us the chance to share and build on practice and influence the direction of app development as a whole community.

Malcolm Murray opens the conference
Photo by Paul Durston
Day one of the conference kicked off with a welcome from Durham and the usual humorous introduction to the conference theme (always decided by delegates at the end of the previous conference) from Malcolm Murray. This year the theme was Ticked Off: Towards Better Assessment and Feedback. The opening keynote was from Dr Susie Schofield of the University of Dundee, who runs the largest MMEd course in the world, largely online and delved in to translating evidence-based principles into improving feedback practices. Following on from that were sessions from Chris Slack of Leeds University who was returning with a follow on from last year regarding their implementation of the Enterprise Survey Tool. This showed real time and cost savings from moving these from alternative survey methods to the Blackboard Learn tool. The afternoon covered sessions from Content Collection usage from Derby University and an interesting delve into the world of gamification from Malcolm Murray of Durham. The day wrapped up with a look at the new accessibility tool that Blackboard have released called Ally, which looks a very powerful app that can convert content on the fly to a number differing accessible formats.

Day two started with a keynote from Alan Masson from Blackboard, discussing their take on assessment and feedback and how they are developing their approach to support us in this area. We also go to meet Phill Miller from Blackboard, who had some rather refreshing things to say about the company, the way things had developed over the last few years and how he wants to drive the company away from ‘Truthiness’. The rest of day two covered the ASR Database access (for those of us who are system admins) from John Langford of Edge Hill University and a meeting of the UK Usergroup Leaders, which is a regular meeting at Durham as most of us are usually there. This is one of the many examples of the excellent community network I have the pleasure of being part of, and something that brings many benefits to us. My last session of the conference was taking a look at Numbas, which is a maths assessment tool developed by the University of Newcastle. This was very timely for me, as we have recently been looking at how we can improve the difficulties of handling maths in an online environment. It was very useful to get to speak to Chris from Newcastle as we have actually started to consider this for testing. Having seen it and spoken to them, I hope we can get this in to testing soon as it’s looks very good indeed.

Of course, around all these sessions is the chance to meet people, both new faces and old friends and colleagues, and get a chance to talk about the issues we are facing, the ideas we have and the things we would like. I took the chance to talk to several people about how they are using Kaltura, as we are now embarking on that journey, and th support we have there if needed we certainly help us as we progress with this. We get to have a drink and some good food too, of course :) This is the most powerful part of any conference, particularly this one and it’s something that will continue to help us develop in to the future. It was, as ever, a very good conference.
First night networking - often the best place to learn stuff
Photo courtesy of Fraser McLeish

Monday, 9 January 2017

Getting Creative With Science

‘Science is not finished until it is communicated’ 

- Sir Mark Jeremy Walport, Government Chief Scientific Advisor

Dr Millie Mockford from Animal and Plant Sciences believes that effective communication is essential for a wide range of careers, and that it is a fundamental responsibility for scientists.

This passion has resulted in an innovative Level 2 module called Talking the Talk: Getting Science onto Film, that has immersed her students into a previously unknown world of storyboards, cutaways and 'two shots'. 

The Digital Academic Content Team in CiCS had the opportunity to speak to Millie and her colleagues involved in this module - you can find out more about it in the video below:

Students were given the task of creating a short film suitable for a general audience (think The One Show!) to explain how an aspect of modern biological research is relevant to them personally. Not an easy task, especially considering this had to be done in a week. There was no scope for a David Attenborough – esque 6 month shoot here.

During the week long course, students had practical advice from Matt Pitts Tucker, (a graduate from the department and now a freelance Producer / Director), training from the University of Sheffield Enterprise Academy, a visit from Mike Dilger and editing workshops from the Creative Media Team in The Diamond. 

Alongside all of this, students were researching, planning and scripting their videos, arranging interviews with contributors, scouting locations, filming in and around Sheffield, searching for appropriately licensed images & music, and editing together the finished videos. 

"To see the students being curious, and expressing their creativity through a new medium, that's fantastic" - Prof Mike Siva-Jothy, Head of Animal & Plant Sciences

The students worked closely with the Creative Media Team in the Diamond during the production phase of the week. The team has a whole range of camera equipment available for hire, and provided an editing workshop, as well as ongoing support with the post production. The Creative Media Team is an invaluable resource for this kind of project, and their services are freely available for all students across the university.

"I think I'll look back at this module as being one of the highlights of my university career" - Student from the module

The finished films, along with some videos that explore the key themes of the course are available on iTunesU.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Changes and Improvements to Adobe Connect in MOLE

Following feedback from users we fed back to the company that designed the integration for MOLE, and worked with them to improve both the speed and functionality of the product.

We have now implemented this new integration which means the following;

All sites should create a new Course Meeting Room

This will be the hub for all future sessions.

Once you have created this hub (including custom URL) you can then create multiple sessions by clicking Manage Sessions underneath the room name. All the permissions will be set by the room so you can just add a session, and users will be added to any new sessions you schedule.

I have created some new help guides that can be found here http://www.sheffield.ac.uk/cics/adobe-connect/sessioncreation

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

New tool to help create a banner in MOLE

Example MOLE banner
Within MOLE you can personalise your page by adding a banner to it. 

Creating a banner can be an unfamiliar task to some who haven’t had too much experience of editing images.

We’ve simplified this process by providing a banner creation tool in the MOLE help guides. This allows you to choose an image and easily drop it into the banner space. When you save the image it will be the appropriate size for a MOLE banner.

Pixabay is a good source for copyright free images.

The MOLE help pages also provides more information on adding a banner in MOLE.

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

ezgif.com-crop (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 tel@sheffield.ac.uk

Friday, 4 November 2016

Turnitin Feedback Studio

Update: Given early semester two is a busier assessment period we have decided to hold off on this update til the summer 2017.

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.

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 tel@sheffield.ac.uk


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