The University of Northampton will become only the fourth UK university to host a Hydra Immersive Learning Suite in the very near future. A control room, three syndicate rooms and plenary room in the Naseby building at Park Campus will allow agencies in Northamptonshire to engage in a range of scenario-based training activities.
The Hydra foundation is a community of users from all around the world who share resources across a range of subjects – from counter-terrorism to child protection (see the Hydra Foundation site for examples). The system is ideal for developing and evaluating multi-agency procedures in a realistic but safe environment.
Teams are presented with a range of audio and video based material during a session and are required to record their decisions as the exercise progresses. The control room can monitor the activity of each team and vary the material they receive accordingly. At appropriate points, a subject expert can review decisions with the participants in a plenary session.
There is a licencing requirement which restricts the use of the suite to exercises which involve at least one emergency service, but this should not be seen as an onerous restriction. The development of innovative multi-disciplinary training at the University is an exciting prospect.
The JISC 2012 paper on Extending the learning environment provides information which assists in informing the review process of VLEs.
Earlier in 2012, Northampton went through a VLE review process and the notes and links below may be of interest to institutions which are going through a similar process. I have sub-titled this post ‘Caviar or Red Herring’ as the process may be seen as either a quality opportunity to ensure that you have the best product (the Caviar) or an opportunity to spend significant time comparing products with very similar functionality (the Red Herring) – you may not be sure which you have until you get to the end of the process…..and could end up with a mix of the two !
** Please note that the review below was conducted early in 2012 – all products mentioned were reviewed at that time and have changed significantly since in terms of functionality and version. **
We started the review process with a number of key principles:
- The institution is committed to reviewing its virtual learning environment to ensure suitability for purpose and cost effectiveness.
- Any change must enhance the student experience. Staff and students should evaluate the options and be involved in the change decision. Dedicated and nominated staff within the Schools should be allowed time to review the options with the support of their Dean.
- The change process can be disruptive for staff and students due to the migration needed. This can be mitigated though recruitment of dedicated staff to support the process.
- Whether we maintain the current platform under the current VLE or move to an alternative platform, the review is an opportunity for staff to fully engage with all students and University stakeholders.
- Material and structure should be reviewed and improved where possible. Templates and support will be provided and staff will engage with these. Additional long term support will need to be considered.
- All platforms under the VLE should be externally hosted at present to provide maximum uptime.
[The decision to go hosted with the current VLE (Blackboard] was made in 2007 based on the need for high level system availability which could not be guaranteed with internal hosting. This decision was based on Northampton’s internal culture and infrastructure. It was decided at the time of the VLE review that the system should be maintained as a hosted operation]
As part of the process we were aware that several other institutions had conducted VLE reviews in the past year and contacted these to obtain a copy of their findings – some were more open than others (for obvious reasons).
This brief report is a summary of the six VLE reviews which we were able to obtain.
Reviews were instigated by either / and:
- Issues caused with current internal hosting
- An impending significant upgrade to the current system
- A perception that a move will save money
Four of the six will continue to use Blackboard; one is moving to Moodle on cost grounds; ** are considering moving to Moodle.
Uptime is considered a key issue for all reviews and most are considering, or have already moved to hosted option regardless of the product chosen.
Functionality reviews have tried to compare the latest features of each system and there is an inevitable cross over between them. Analysis of the reviews seems to indicate that Blackboard currently has a more intuitive structure ‘out of the box’. Flexible designs may be achieved in Moodle.
All reviews have noted that there is a ‘transition cost’ which pushes up the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). Moodle options necessitate the need for a developer (or team) in house to make best use of the system and customise the interface.
The majority of academic staff within the reviews noted no pedagogical advantage in moving from Blackboard to Moodle and felt that any such a change would present a significant risk to the current status of the University’s core business and its likely future development. Retraining would be needed in any transition.
** noted that staff development and training needs were often overlooked, or severely underestimated in transitions. They had migrated to Moodle as a perceived cost saving.
- The TCO of any migration is fully costed
- Staff and students need to be fully consulted in current and future needs
- Regardless of the option chosen – staff need to be fully supported and encouraged to make best use of it. Some current poor student reviews within the current VLE were prompted by poor academic engagement with the system rather than any lack of functionality.
- The review process must review the latest available version of each VLE.
- Considering the current IT infrastructure, we need to maintain a hosted solution regardless of the option selected.
The final report which was presented to the University Executive Group summarised the 4 month review process. Please note that some confidential details have been removed for obvious reasons.
The decision to remain with Blackboard for a further three years was based on a wide range of factors and not just the basic cost. The TCO which included price, cultural issues and migration meant that the decision was the best for Northampton at that time. I’m fully aware that other institutions will conduct reviews which will be conducted within a completely culture and with different needs which will lead them down a different path. We will be looking for a formal review again in 2014/15 – let’s hope that this is a ‘Caviar’ experience.
For further details on the review process please contact Rob Howe
The summary of the 2013 Mobile Survey has now been published and we are really grateful to the 936 respondents who took their time to complete this. As part of the survey, we gave staff and students the opportunity to add comments and make suggestions about the University’s mobile provision and specifically about developments which needed to be made.
iNorthampton is now made up of two key components which were previously bundled into a single app. The main iNorthampton download is available for both Android and Apple users – other devices (e.g. Blackberry) should make use of the pure web version as indicated on the January 2013 blog posting.
The link to NILE from iNorthampton will prompt the download of Blackboard Mobile Learn (this is also available as a separate download for Blackberry, Apple and Android).
Some respondents had noted issues with downloading iNorthampton onto their devices – these people should contact the Learntech team (LTSupport@northampton.ac.uk) for assistance. A few Android users noted concern over the permissions which were requested during download. The nature of the Android device requires these permissions in order for the app to run. A full list of the Android permissions and the reason for them has been made available.
The survey results indicate the continued growth of Apple and Android device usage. Blackberry users have declined over the three years of the survey and other devices have only negligible growth at the present time. The web based versions of iNorthampton complement the app for those that are unable to download this onto their device.
iPad users have requested a dedicated version of iNorthampton which complements the NILE (Blackboard Learn) download – this is planned for release later in 2013.
The University has increased wireless coverage over Park and Avenue and is providing a number of new services to enhance this area. Eduroam is being phased in and will allow staff and students to be able to log onto the network at Northampton for long periods of time whilst moving around the site. It is already available to any Northampton staff and students who visit other Eduroam enabled sites. Just connect to Eduroam wireless from your mobile device and enter your Northampton username (in the format firstname.lastname@example.org) and password (which is normally used to log in to Northampton machines). It is anticipated to make this available at Park and Avenue shortly.
Extra Functionality requested
“Please can we have notifications from NILE when new announcements are being posted?”
This is now available within the Blackboard Mobile Learn download for Android and Apple devices – these users should ensure they have the latest download in order to receive this functionality.
“Can we get additional links to bus timetables, email, virtual desktop and other University services?”
Northamptonshire County Council have their own app (called NCC) for Android and iPhone, which was developed by staff here at the University. This already has live bus timetables, so we’d recommend you use this if you can. They also supply a text service to send bus times to your mobile.
We took the decision not to include email, as smartphones already include a tool to integrate this. We will be providing more guidance on how to setup email on devices in the Autumn release of iNorthampton.
Virtual desktop work is currently in development and will integrate this into iNorthampton as soon as it is released.
Where possible we will include links to University Services, but we will be maintaining a balance between iNorthampton just being full of links to the main University site and actually displaying data within the app itself.
“Please could we have more maps and opening times on iNorthampton?”
Currently the release includes maps for Park and Avenue campus. Maps are one of the reasons for the large size of the app as they are fully downloaded to be able to run offline. We are investigating alternative formats of maps and are currently looking at including town centre maps as part of the core download.
We hope to include opening times and (ideally) links to the restaurant menus in the summer release of iNorthampton.
“Could we have more use of texting for institutional messages?”
Northampton are currently investigating text messages through NILE this will be phased in during summer 2013.
If you would have any other comments on iNorthampton then please mail LTSupport@northampton.ac.uk
Introduction and Overview
Transition Out (TO?) was a six month intensive investigation (Jan – June 2012) funded as part of the URB@N project looking at how students want to use (or are already using) technology which will assist as they look towards completing their course and moving into employment or other future opportunities. This could be any type of technology ranging from mobile devices, social networking and cloud services. Students may not realise that the activities they are doing will assist with their transitions – they might be actively collaborating with peers (Ellison et al, 2007), using time management or planning tools, or generally enhancing their skills and experience using a range of technology. The work builds from the LLIDA (JISC, 2009) and SLiDA (JISC, 2010) investigation of supporting learners in a digital age.
Key Results (n=214)
5 Key Messages For Students
From the data which has been gathered so far, teams which support students (e.g. Careers and Library) will be able to refine their support, engagement and provision. Those involved in the development and running of courses will be provided with further guidance and support to consider how development of the digital literacy of the cohort will impact on their ability to gain future opportunities on leaving. Provision should be integrated into the student experience rather than being seen as a bolt-on.
PDF of presentation made at Employer Engagement in a Digital Age – 4th July 2012 (University of Greenwich)
Ellison, N. B., Steinfield, C., Lampe, C. (2007), The Benefits of Facebook “Friends:” Social Capital and College Students’ Use of Online Social Network Sites. Available from: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1083-6101.2007.00367.x/full [Accessed 30th March, 2012]
JISC (2009), Learning Literacies in a Digital Age [online]. Available from: http://www.jisc.ac.uk/whatwedo/projects/elearningllida.aspx [Accessed 30th March, 2012]
JISC (2009), Study of how UK FE and HE institutions are supporting effective learners in a digital age [online]. Available from: http://www.jisc.ac.uk/whatwedo/programmes/elearning/slida.aspx [Accessed 30th March, 2012]
Rossi, N. (2011), Social Networking: Professional standards and boundaries must be maintained when you are online. Available from: http://www.nmc-uk.org/Documents/NMC-Review/NMCReview_issue4.pdf Page 8. [Accessed 30th March, 2012].
Rob Howe and Penelope Stanton
Following our successful bid to the Leadership Foundation, under the Changing the Learning Landscape scheme, Professor Megan Quentin-Baxter from Newcastle University visited Northampton on 17 January, where she held meeting with a range of colleagues interested in the Open Northampton project.
She delivered an introductory session on open educational resources (OER) and open educational practices (OEP), attended by 25 representatives from our staff and students.
As a result of consultation with various groups during the session, Megan collated some of the collective thoughts around what are some of the key terms with reference to OERs and OEPs; Some of the dreams and nightmares; and some of the enablers and barriers.
Megan will compile a structured plan to develop and enhance staff and students’ digital literacies in relation to open educational resources and associated practices, both as users and contributors.
Megan’s next visits will be a one-day workshop on OER and OEP to be held in MY120 (Avenue Campus) on 28 January, and then another one on 12 February at Sunley . We invite colleagues to consider attending these sessions. Please let Professor A Armellini (email@example.com) know if you are attending so adequate catering arrangements can be made.
We look forward to working with you on Open Northampton.
The Open Northampton project aims to put the university on the global map of open educational resources (OER) and develop appropriate open practices in curriculum design and delivery. Approval by UET was obtained and work has begun on a number of fronts. A bid was secured from the Leadership Foundation, which will provide the university with consultancy time led by Professor Megan Quentin-Baxter of Newcastle University. Megan is well known in the field of OER. She and Tim Seale of the Open University will be running sessions on various aspects of open practices at Northampton. Their contribution will be valuable to get the Open Northampton project off the ground, and to raise awareness of OER across the university.
Sessions will be held on 17 and 28 January, 12 and 20 February, 5 and 20 March. We would very much encourage colleagues to participate in these sessions. For further details, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
NILE is now integrated into the learning and teaching process at The University of Northampton and we need to ensure that it is being used effectively by staff in order to provide a quality student experience.
In January 2012, a framework was produced which covers the minimum standards which are expected on a NILE site. This was taken to University SEC on 1st March, 2012 and subsequently used as the basis for the new NILE templates which were developed for the 2012/13 academic year. As indicated by the communication sent out on 11th September, 2012, NILE sites will be reviewed against the checklist in the first instance to identify the range of content available to students.
The review, based on a series of standard questions, will feedback information to the module leaders regarding content which should be added to the site along with any action which is required to remove old material; duplicated menu buttons; or other items which may cause confusion to students.
The outputs of the review of NILE sites will be used to inform further planning regarding the use of modules guides and whether they are still required.
Initially the quality team will focus on a sample of modules from each School in discussion with the associate deans. However it is anticipated that all sites will eventually be checked. If there are any items which need clarification (such as which site is currently being used) then tutors may be contacted. A 5 minute rule has been implemented in that if material is not found within 5 minutes of looking for it then it will be classed as not present on the site.
This review will ensure that sites are meeting the foundation level of quality in the first instance. Further discussions are in progress to refine the content required to meet higher levels of standard.
The developmental work around the quality of NILE sites will enable the University to ‘develop systematic approaches to the use of the virtual learning environment across the University in the interests of parity of student learning opportunities’, a recommendation from the last QAA Institutional Audit in June 2009.
Should you require further information on this work then please contact either Lee Jones (x3001) or Rob Howe (x2483)
Since 2010, a group (QNIG) representing key parts of the University has been working to develop closer links between the student record system (QLS) and NILE.
There are 3 main phases of QLS NILE Integration Group (QNIG):
- Username, password and email address synchronisation
- Module synchronisation
- Grading synchronisation
Phase 1 was completed in July 2011 and now means that usernames, passwords and email addresses on NILE will be the same as used for all other central systems.
Phases 2 and 3 are linked in that we need to ensure that modules in NILE are named in the same way as they are in QLS. Once this is completed then we will be able to automatically enrol students onto modules. Phase 2 is focused on module coding and automatic enrolment of students and this will be completed for summer 2012. Phase 3 is linked to the SaGE project and will be working during 2012/2013 to begin the process of investigating grade transfer from NILE into the student record system.
Phase 2 represents a change for many staff in that NILE courses/modules will no longer be reused each year for a new cohort. Instead a new shell will be setup for new cohorts – meaning that the old cohort will still retain access to previous content. The shell will be based on either the Module or Course template depending on the site status in QLS. The full process is shown on the image below:
[Click on the image below to see full screen]
- Allows for automatic enrolment of students onto the correct module and assessment areas
- The student only sees their own module site.
- Allows for assessment variations (e.g. submission dates) between different groups/sessions
- Keeps the assessment details for each session clearly separated
- Tutors able to communicate with clearly defined cohorts
- A new site will be created each year to allow for clear separation of each group and the retention of data.
- Reduced number of assignment submission points links within a single area
- Anticipated future ability to extract grades directly from the Grade Centre and transfer these to the student record system.
For further discussion on this process then please contact Rob.Howe@northampton.ac.uk
Please note: this post is focused on iOS (Apple) devices, as the nature of this operating system can make transfer of files more difficult than it is on other platforms, e.g. Android. That’s not to say though that you couldn’t also use WebDAV with an Android device.
What is WebDAV?
WebDAV (or Web Distributed Authoring and Versioning) is a technology that allows you read and write access to a shared folder on a server. Basically, it means that you can download files, read them, change them and upload them again (although it can also do lots of other clever things with files too).
Using WebDAV with staff shared (Novell) drives
Ever wondered how you can get to the files on your shared drive via your iPad? Here’s how.
- Get the WebDAV Nav app. It’s free.
- In your iPad browser (probably Safari), go to http://www.northampton.ac.uk/netstorage. Log in.
- Tap on the little notepad icon, next to the logout (open door) button. The web address (URL) of the page you are viewing will change slightly.
- Select and copy the URL.
- Go into the WebDAV Nav app, and click the ‘plus’ icon at the top right of the screen.
- Give the location a name, e.g. ’School Shared Drive’, and paste in the URL in the Server URL field. Add in your username and password. On the next screen you should see your shared drive folders.
Ok, so you now you can get at the files you had stored there. But what if you want to upload something?
Well, lots of apps have a ‘Send to WebDAV’ option built in. In Pages, for example, when you have a document open you can go to ‘Share and Print’ in the settings (top right), and choose ‘Copy to WebDAV’. The iWork apps (Pages, Numbers, Keynote) will transfer these files directly for you. The first time you do this, you will need to enter the server information, exactly as you did above. After that, this information will be stored for you (unless you choose to Sign Out each time).
Some other apps, like iAnnotate for PDF, will give you an ‘Open In’ option, but then don’t allow you to enter the server address within the app. In this case, the upload is a two part process. Choosing the WebDAV option from the sharing menu here will copy the file to local storage on the iPad.
You then need to go back to the WebDAV Nav app, navigate to the folder where you want to upload the file, and then click the hard drive icon at the bottom right of the screen to pick up the file and upload it.
Using WebDAV with NILE
It’s also possible to use WebDAV to upload files from your iPad into NILE. If you have the iNorthampton and/or Blackboard Mobile Learn apps, you will already know that you can add new text-based content items in to module sites (as long as you have instructor access). However, on Apple devices, the ‘Attachments’ button currently only allows you to pick up image files, from the camera or photo library. WebDAV will allow you to get different types of files in to NILE from your iPad, although you may still need to do some fine tuning on how you present these files to students, using a standard web browser (from a desktop or laptop computer). Here’s how.
In your module site on NILE, go to the Control Panel and click on the double right arrow button next to the ‘Files’ heading. You should see the file storage area for that site, where all of the attached files are kept. At the top right, click on the ‘Setup Web Folder’ button.
Copy the Web address that is highlighted on the next screen – you can use this as you did with the server address details in the steps above. Any files uploaded using this link will appear in the Files area of this course on NILE. Unfortunately this doesn’t let you display the files in a content area for the students to view, but it does mean that the file is transferred into NILE ready to be used. When you log in from your desktop or laptop, you can create an item, and choose the file from the course Files area.
Hints and tips for using WebDAV with NILE:
Each module will have its own URL. If you’re using the WebDAV Nav app to upload files, you might want to set up each of your NILE sites, so that you can add files into the right courses. However if the files you are uploading are mostly from iWork apps, which transfer files directly, then you may prefer to choose one module on NILE that you want to use as a storage point for uploads, to save you having to sign out and re-enter a different URL every time you want to upload something to a different course. Once the file is in NILE, you can create the content item or link in that course, and then use the ‘Move’ function (from the dropdown menu) to pick which module site you want to move it to.
Being able to add your own notes to PDF files can be really useful, whether they are lecture notes you want to add your own thoughts to, documents or journal articles you have downloaded for your own research, or student or collaborative papers that you need to feed back on. There are many different options available for this. Here are a few we found.
iOS (Apple) apps
neu.Annotate is a free app that will allow you to open a PDF file (e.g. from email, the web or a cloud storage service like Dropbox), and annotate it using typed text or freehand annotation in a range of colours, as well as adding shapes, stamps and images. You can even add whole new pages, and annotate those too. The annotations are saved as part of the PDF, which can then be sent out by email or saved back to Dropbox.
iAnnotate PDF is an advanced tool with lots of options, including the usual highlighting and annotation. It can be set up to sync with Dropbox, but also has it’s own sync tool, called Aji PDF service, that allows you to set up a live link to a folder directly on your PC or Mac. This allows you to batch download original files, and then batch upload your annotated versions.
There is also an iAnnotate Lite version of this app for Android.
GoodReader is an app that can handle many different types of files. It’s really a file management tool, that allows you to access PDFs, Office and iWork files, images, video and even archived web pages on your iOS device. It can collect together files from a range of sources, including Google docs, Dropbox and iCloud, and let you read, organise, annotate (PDF and txt only) and re-upload them. It’s pretty complicated, as apps go, but if your files are a bit all over the place, this might be a good one for you. The PDF annotation here is kind of a bonus.
Again, there are a number of options available. Features vary, but all of the following will allow you to mark up, type on and highlight PDFs, as well as fill in PDF forms. In order of price at time of writing:
- ezPDF Reader includes text-to-speech and the ability to view audio and video files if they are embedded in the PDF. It also has a plugin to integrate with Google docs.
- Repligo Reader allows you to annotate and send PDF files via email, Bluetooth, Dropbox and Evernote.
- qPDF also allows you to send files via Bluetooth and sync files in Dropbox.
A note on workflows
If you’re planning to annotate a number of files, it’s worth thinking through how you will transfer these to and from the device. Many of the apps listed above will allow you to download files from (and sometimes upload or sync them to) cloud storage services, like Dropbox or Google docs. This saves having to attach individual files to email, but these services also have their own limitations.
We recommend, particularly when working with documents relating to student assessment, that you transfer the files directly between your device and a University computer wherever possible, rather than using a third party cloud storage solution. You may be able to do this wirelessly, using WebDAV or FTP, otherwise you may need to connect your device to the computer. With an iOS device, you can transfer annotated files via the iTunes software for all of the apps mentioned above. If you have an Android device, you may be able to connect it via USB as you would a memory stick, and batch transfer your files.
If you’d like any help on the above, don’t forget you can always contact the LT team.
With thanks to Dr. James Xue, Lecturer in Computing, for the iAnnotate recommendation.
Disclaimer: these posts aim to recommend functionality, not particular products or services. The app world changes fast, and any third party app may not be available forever. Always make sure you have a back-up option.
Tag cloudacademic skills accessibility Android Arts assessment blogs browsers CAIeRO collaboration digital voice recorder distance learning e-portfolios eBooks Education feedback Flipcam GradeMark Health induction iNorthampton international iPad learner's experience lecture capture MALT mobile NBS NILE NorthantsBLT OERs Panopto plagiarism Powerpoint presentations Quality reflection SaGE Science & Technology Skype Social Science Sticky sites transition Turnitin video wikis
- No public Twitter messages.