Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Uni Learning Techs Forum

Photograph of University of Sheffield Learning Technologists meeting and discussing
Learning Technologists' Forum

The Learning Technologists' Forum was held on Friday 9 May in the Arts Tower. There were over 20 attendees from across the University at what proved to be a packed agenda.

Farzana began the proceedings making initial introductions and everyone introduced themselves.

MOLE Update

Danny Monaghan presented the new updates for MOLE (Blackboard). Some of the issues with the service had been resolved my end of 2013 making it more reliable. Encouragingly, MOLE service statistics are showing a year on year increase and there is noticeable increases particularly in the use of Turnitin for student submissions. We are now investigating the possibility of going Blackboard hosted as an institution.

In the next couple of months we should be able to publish a road plan of where the service is going. There is a guide in production that Danny will be circulating to Learning Techs soon. Additionally, we are working with the CiCS Communication Team to produce MOLE videos. These will be in place by the start of next term.

Danny give out warning and advice about the upcoming three week busy period of course rollovers and software installation updates. The rollover will take place from 7 to 18 July. Courses are considered read-only during this period. Departments will  be informed when this has taken place. Various tests and checks are required during this period to ensure that the rollover has proceeded successfully. This is a technical process from the CiCS end. However, we can’t check the content. When told that courses have been rolled, please look over them to ensure that all the content is there and correct. DON’T LEAVE TO THE DAY BEFORE TEACHING. If any error has occurred during the process there needs to be time prior to teaching to rectify this.

MOLE system upgrade will be taking place between Friday 18 and Wednesday 23 July. Upgrades take place annually for various reasons, including bug fixes, speed and stability improvements, and to introduce new features. These can be significant feature enhancements, for example anonymous and parallel marking; this feature has been specifically designed for the European market. Danny has seen a demonstration of this, but not had hands on yet.

Anyone interested in testing new features, please let Danny know. Actual courses are the proper test for this so help us out. Email Danny if you are interested. Information will be circulated through MOLE Contacts and the MOLE Google Group.


Mark Morley presented the work he has been doing with Xerte. A discussion has been taking place on the Learning Techs’ Google+ discussion group, initiated by Paul Jinks. This discussion showed that Xerte was something that several Learning Techs across the University have previously considered or wanted to have a look at, given the time.

Mark gave a brief explanation of what Xerte is. Put simply, it is a toolkit for producing eLearning objects. It is template driven to enable easy, intuitive production of pedagogically sound learning objects without the technology being too much of a hurdle. It was developed by the University of Nottingham and has been around since 2008.

The templates allow a range of different page types to be created, these include:
  • Text
  • Rich Media - Graphics, Video, Audio, Slideshows, etc.
  • Interactivity

A more comprehensive breakdown of the available page types is available online.

Significantly, the latest version of Xerte is now HTML5 compliant. This means that it is using open standards. This enables learning objects to be created and subsequently accessed from a broad range of devices and browsers. Though it should be noted that not everything that could be produced in the Flash version can be produced in HTML5, yet. To demonstrate the HTML5 compliance, Mark showed an example on a mobile phone that only allows open standards to operate, and the learning object worked fine. It also demonstrated the look, feel, and usability on mobile devices of the produced learning objects.

Mark provided some background about why he was looking at Xerte. Initially, this was related to Open and Online Educational Resource (OER) creation. This would enable greater sharing across departments, faculties and at the university level. More recently he has been looking at the possibility of re-purposing FutureLearn  MOOC content using Xerte.

Mark had installed a standalone server on his PC for testing and was also using the JISC TechDIS Xerte Sandpit for testing with a view to setting up a full install on a University server for further testing.

Also highlighted was an example of how Xerte had been used by the University of the West of Scotland for Inquiry-based Learning where students created shareable learning objects. And this also showed how JISC Regional Support Centre (RSC) Scotland seems to be having a push on promoting the use of Xerte.

There was a little time for discussion. Jesrine Clarke-Darrington has used Xerte previously.
Several people at the University are using Articulate, which is also now HTML5 compliant. Ian Loasby is using it in Law. Lecturers create content themselves and currently Ian uploads it but he will be getting them to do it in the future.


Zafer Ali presented Pebblepad to the Forum. We have had Pebblepad at the University for about two years and anyone in the university who has a valid account can use it. CiCS has recently taken it over as a centrally supported service. Pebblepad is very flexible in its use and can do many thing, though this can be a problem sometimes as it can cause confusion. It allows students to create a portfolio, reflect on work, share their own work with anyone they choose whether they are internal to the organisation or external.  

It is now integrated into the MUSE Portal. This summer it will also be integrated into MOLE. This will allow set up in a courses so the students can click a link to take them straight into Pebblepad.

There are standard templates (forms) within PebblePad for all users to use to help them reflect on anything. Additionally, there are also other tools within PebblePad which allow users to make an online CV, Portfolio and Blog. There is also an asset store where the user can store any digital items. Items can be shared with others, for example with their instructor or external moderator. These templates can be used to replicate what otherwise could be created in a Word document, Excel sheet, Google Form.

Pebblepad is mobile compatible. So if students need to make reflections when they are out and about or on placement then they can do it on their mobile device.

Pebblepad can also be used for professional development. Currently, there aren’t plans for this as an institutional initiative, though individuals can use it for CPD recording. This is useful for continued reflections and review at the time of SRDS.

The data isn’t tied into the system. Students can retain their account once they have finished their studies and it is free for a year, then a paid for service. You can also export data as pdf, etc. It’s possible to create a portfolio as a google searchable webpage. There is fine grained access rights to this that enables sharing by someone for a short period of time and rescinding of rights at any time.

There will be some training sessions run by CiCS in the summer, which will be advertised.


Maria Mawson and Rachel Collier-Wilson from the Library came to talk about the StarPlus service. It has been established as a library catalogue and discovery tool for a couple of years. Everyone has their own individual ‘eshelf’ within StarPlus. This allows notes, reflections or information to be recorded by the learner.

For collaborative learning and sharing there is a Facebook ‘Like’ button. Reviews are visible to other users. And it is possible to add tags for different resources. This has been used by Gary Wood, work for which Farzana Latif added the ability to create tag clouds.

Promoting the StarPlus service and features has been done via blogs and Twitter. It would be good to get the message circulated more widely. There is a tutorial about using StarPlus in the Library Information Schools Course section on the web.

What’s coming up in StarPlus? Single sign-in is on the way. Implementing the new version of the underlying software for StarPlus, this will be coming in July. The landing page will be made easier and clearer to allow more intuitive access to using the database.

There are citation and permalinks options. For the former there a different citation styles available and the latter enables information to be pointed to more easily.

During the discussions section, it was pointed out that to publicize the collaborative work further there could be some examples from work done in CILASS that might parallel the usage of tagging and the sharing of resources in StarPlus.

There was also a question asked about whether StarPlus could incorporate digital learning objects into the catalogue for integration. This could potentially be a possibility in the future.


Graham McElearney came to showcase some of the work that has been done on the iTunesU project as Learning Techs might be the first point of contact for people who want to participate.

Apple say iTunesU is the largest open educational resource in the world.

Graham highlighted reasons why the University might be interested in making material available via the service, e.g. having a responsibility to share knowledge.

What is the difference the between iTunesU, YouTube and MOOCs?
YouTube might be considered more amorphous, and less structured than the categorized iTunesU and therefore much harder to access content of interest. Additionally, YouTube can get blocked in some countries.

MOOCs are very structured, usually formed into a weekly, structured programme running for a set duration with some element of self-assessment during or at the end of the programme. iTunesU is more about accessing the content as-and-when it is most convenient for the end consumer, and without any time restrictions. The videos created for the University’s Discovering Dentistry MOOC has now been made available via iTunesU.

iTunesU gives us an opportunity to take the fantastic diversity of the University and showcase it in a digital form.

Graham showed three examples of material that has been made available via the service:
  • Work by Anthony Rossiter in Engineering
  • Archaeology fieldwork
  • Animal Behaviour Tim Birkhead

Colleagues at the forum were asked if they had got or knew other colleagues with any resources that might be useful for inclusion. The main proviso for content is that it is legal and adheres with copyright law.

There was time for a quick discussion in groups of attendees to generate ideas for inclusion to the service.

Mobile Learning

James Goldingay then introduced the Turnitin iPad App to show the advantages it could bring to academic colleagues. Some of these include

  • Marking Off-line - you don’t have to be connected to the Internet whilst marking
  • Flexibility - everyone marks in their own certain way - you can choose where you want to mark
  • Speed - The method with which you transition between student papers (swiping the screen) is potentially quicker than using the mouse on the desktop version
  • Access - Switch on the iPad, access the App and you're ready to mark, no need to wait for an operating system to load

James showed the Forum how the App looked. Turnitin have now introduced a 4 digit passcode to the App to prevent other users from accessing Turnitin assignments; should the iPad  be left unattended. He also emphasized the importance of selecting “Turnitin UK”, and “integrated LMS”, on setting up the App this allows it  to link with the VLE (MOLE).

When using the marking within the App there are icon driven options.

  • QM is the ‘QuickMark’ facility - a set of commonly used marking terms
  • There is a free text input (and if you have an iPad with Siri then you can use an audio comment facility via this option). Claire Beecroft from ScHARR has used this audio option for marking; it proves quicker than using the onscreen keyboard of an iPad.
  • Can highlight text and the free text box will be anchored. Highlighting can be in different colours.
  • Also can write directly onto the piece with the text option.

The ‘Graph’ icon in the top righthand corner of the screen gives the originality report in real time. You can mark whilst the Originality report highlights are active.

The ‘Blue pencil’ icon allows a general audio and text comment for the entire piece of work.

At the top left of this screen you can return a grade. In addition, if you have a Rubric (marking criteria) attached to the assignment you can also use this to help assist in calculating the score. Students will also be able to see this Rubric.

Feedback from the use of the App has been positive.

Limitations (at the time of writing):

  • No PeerMark support
  • No Grading Form
  • Grade Anything
  • Link comments to rubrics
  • No Android support
  • Grade anything or grade nothing

There will be a full training session  given on July 1st  for the Turnitin App.

Additionally, a series of mobile learning sessions are planned for over summer 2014. The themes range from: using MOLE, conducting research, assessment and feedback, reading on your Mobile device… These sessions will be publicized on the LMS

Finally James reported back on the first “App swap” meeting held on the 25th April. He reported that as this was a first meeting, there was first discussion as to how this forum should move forward. It was agreed that there should be a future focus on some choice apps, following a show and tell format.

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