The Department of Engineering within the School of Science and Technology offers a unique course in non-destructive testing both at a foundation and bachelor degree levels. Since its inception, the course has been delivered in distance learning mode to accommodate the cohort of students who are interested in the course. They usually work in full time jobs in different parts of the world. Moreover, their jobs involve travelling to remote places for long periods of time at short notice.
While the provision of learning packages has been facilitated and organised through NILE (the University’s Virtual Learning Environment), the assessment posed a number of challenges in terms of quality and rigour. This is evident from the high portion of students who achieve grades exceeding A-. One may argue that this is a testament to our quality of tuition of this course. However, it is difficult to reconcile these results with the assessment conditions where students are offered six weeks or more to answer a set of questions in an open book style and without the usual exam type time constraint. Furthermore, the external examiners have often expressed a concern about the distribution of grades. Professional accreditation bodies such the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) would not accredit a course where standard type exams do not represent a large proportion of the assessment.
Our aim and that of the accreditation institutions is to ascertain that a student with a mere pass is able to function as an engineer and the assessment should reflect that. In order to address this issue, we have sought to harness the capabilities of NILE to improve the quality of our assessment for distance learning students. We created assessments that include a range of question types from formulae to essays to cater for students with different skills. We also generated the same question with a different set of numerical values for each student using regular expression on NILE. Despite our best efforts, this has not resulted in a distribution of grades that is representative of students with different capabilities, albeit, there is a marked improvement. On a close inspection though, the essay type questions seem to produce a range of grades from a simple pass to distinction.
We have then generated a case study in non-destructive testing and invited students to submit an academic report discussing their approaches to the problem. In order to make the problems more interesting and thought provoking, we suggested using non-destructive testing methods that are non-standard and ask students to use their creative minds to make it work. We expect the distribution of the overall grades to change as a result of these changes. Thus far, it has proved to be instructive for students and lecturers alike. We intend to solicit some feedback from the current cohort of students to learn about their experience.
For more information about this assessment, please contact Dr. Abdeldjalil Bennecer, Senior Lecturer in Engineering (Abdeldjalil.Bennecer@northampton.ac.uk) or Professor Phil Picton, Professor of Engineering (Phil.Picton@northampton.ac.uk)
This case study is taken from the Institute of Learning and Teaching’s 2015 publication ‘Outside the Box Assessment and Feedback Practices’, available from the University’s Assessment and Feedback portal.
NILE sites will be sampled by the Quality and Partnerships team from 1st August 2015 in readiness for QAA so it is important that sites comply with the baseline standards which were approved at University Student Experience Committee on 16th June, 2015. In addition, there are a number of common problems that could have a negative impact on student experience and generate avoidable requests for assistance from you and other teams supporting students.
LearnTech have been asked to provide some simple guidance on preparing your 2015/16 NILE sites to ensure they meet foundation level at the very least.
We have managed to condense the main points down to one page, which you can download here. Following these simple guidelines should help to save time once teaching begins.
A number of old themes are being retired in MyPad in June and have already been replaced with a new set of responsive designs that will work well on mobile devices. If you use a MyPad site for teaching or personal use it is worth checking whether you are using old themes (you will be prompted when you log in) and updating them or just consider one of the new themes to freshen up your site and make it smartphone friendly.
The NILE External Resources Site (NILEX), which lists free applications you can use to create content for use in NILE, has undergone such an update and continues to expand – there are now over 50 resources covered. Latest posts include Canva (an online graphics and infographics creator) and AppSheet (which creates free IOS and Android data-driven apps using Google Spreadsheets).
NILE sites have been, and continue to be, created for the 15/16 academic year for modules and programmes. We have changed the way that we roll out the sites, and are trialling automatically copying in content from last year’s site (with a matching site ID). There are a few exclusions to this which are mainly postgraduate modules. This is because the content that is copied is a snapshot of the 14/15 site at the time of copying . Therefore, for example, if we take a copy of the Spring NILE site last year into the Spring session for this year we could be taking content that is no longer used. It is more appropriate to wait and perform the copy from the Standard or Autumn cohort. This will need to be organised/managed manually.
Accessing and working on your 15/16 Sites
You can add sites to your NILE account by using the Manage My NILE Sites box on the Sites & Organisations tab, or get in touch with the NILE Administrator (Rachel McCart) to request the site is added to your account.
Your Learning Technologist (LT) will be in touch through Subject Leaders to organise workshop sessions where groups and individuals can attend and work on their sites to get them ready for the new year. Your LT will be in the session to help with any queries and provide guidance.
Submit your work
In performing the copies we had to choose to copy all the content or none. Unfortunately there is not a way for us to choose to exclude the ‘Submit your work’ area so we had to bring in that content too. As many of you may be aware this means that Turnitin submission links (Blackboard assignments are fine) will break, and therefore need to be removed from the 15/16 site (please DO NOT remove them from the 14/15 site), and new ones need to be created for assignments in the 15/16 year.
The NILE administrator (Rachel McCart) is working her way through performing this task on the new sites, but as I’m sure you can appreciate this is a lot for one person to do so it is taking some time. If you would like to expedite this process you can do it yourself. If you would like some guidance then check out the help tab on NILE and follow the link to Preparing your NILE site for the next academic year. Please just let Rachel know if you have done it, and which site(s) you’ve done it on so she can exclude them from her list.
What you will see in the new sites
You will notice that the content that has been copied in appears at the bottom of the left menu. You can click and drag this around to re-order it.
You will also notice that ‘Module materials’ has become ‘Module activities’, and ‘Assessments’ has become ‘Assessment information’. This is to move NILE sites in line with CAIeRO practice, and make it clearer to staff and students about what to expect when they click the link.
The QAA audit is due to start at the beginning of August therefore your Sites need to be ready by the end of July: this is when a 10% sample of the 15/16 sites will be performed. For more details about the audit please get in touch with your Embedded Quality Officer.
As always, if you have any questions or comments, please comment on this post or email us at email@example.com
Q: How do you eat an elephant?
A: One bite at a time!
The move to Waterside can seem as if it isn’t really that long away, given all that you may feel you have to do inbetween now and then. Wondering where to start can also seem daunting and the mountain of work that you see ahead of you can be so huge that you can’t even see the summit, let alone work out a route to the top.
In supporting staff to get to grips with the course redesign implications that are predicated on a number of guiding principles about how learning and teaching will look, the Learning Design team came across a really useful set of blog posts by Tony Bates, a Canadian Research Associate who is also President and CEO of Tony Bates Associates Ltd and who, according to their website are “a private company specializing in consultancy and training in the planning and management of e-learning and distance education.”
The blog posts were written to help people understand and implement a series of practical steps to help deliver quality in their online learning materials. While I don’t wish to duplicate the posts here, I thought it might be helpful to summarise some of the key points in an attempt to help you to start thinking about how you might begin to eat your own elephant, or climb that mountain. I found some obvious points in the posts, some practical and straightforward suggestions and some real gems. There are also some questions and exercises to get you started along the road to redesigning your own modules.
I should also preface this post with the reminders that, as an institution, we are definitely NOT going fully online but will be exploring ways to enhance our learning and teaching using technology and that the precise nature of each blended module is for staff teams to determine.
The Nine Steps are as follows (each link will take you straight to the original post)
- Step 1: Decide how you want to teach online
- Step 2: Decide on what kind of online course
- Step 3: Work in a Team
- Step 4: Build on existing resources
- Step 5: Master the technology
- Step 6: Set appropriate learning goals
- Step 7: Design course structure and learning activities
- Step 8: Communicate, communicate, communicate
- Step 9: Evaluate and innovate
This step highlights the importance of rethinking the way you teach when you go online and redesigning the teaching to meet the needs of your online learners given that their needs may differ because of the specific learning context. The gem in this post is the emphasis on asking you to consider your basic teaching philosophy – what is your role and how would you like to tackle some of the limitations of classroom teaching and renew your overall approach to teaching? As Bates himself says: “It may not mean doing everything online, but focussing the campus experience on what can only be done on campus.”
- your teaching philosophy (see step 1)
- the kind of students you are trying to reach (or will have to teach)
- the requirements of the subject discipline
- the resources available to you
A number of subject groups and disciplines are already starting to explore what the current direction of travel for learning and teaching at Northampton might look like for them and developing models and suggestions for how to redesign their modules and programmes within a broader set of principles. It is useful to note that while Bates experience suggests that “almost anything can be effectively taught online, given enough time and money” (emphasis added), the reality is that resources are finite and that it is therefore imperative to work out what could and should be taught face-to-face and what could and should be taught online, remembering that we are still going to be primarily a campus-based institution. He begins the process by differentiating between the teaching of content and the teaching or development of skills and provides a useful example of how this might look in practice.
The gem here is his consideration of how to make best use of the various resources available to you including time (the most precious resource of all), your learning technology support staff (always glad to help), your VLE (NILE) and your colleagues.
Online learning is different to classroom teaching and as a result will require staff to learn some new skills. You are unlikely to have all your F2F learning materials in a suitable format for online learning. This post considers how the team of staff around you can help you to move from where you are, to where you want to get to given that “particular attention has to be paid to providing appropriate online activities for students, and to structuring content in ways that facilitate learning in an asynchronous online environment”. Working in a team can also, of course, help with managing the workload, and with getting quickly to a high quality online standard, as well as being a way to save some of your time.
As one Deputy Dean said at a recent School Learning and Teaching Development Day: “Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater!”
This can include repurposing your own content, but also drawing on existing online resources (TED talks, The Khan Academy, iTunesU) as well as ‘raw’ content that you can use as the basis for developing learning activities and he argues that ‘only in the areas where you have unique, original research that is not yet published, or where you have your own ‘spin’ on content, is it really necessary to create ‘content’ from scratch”.
The hidden gem? Distinguishing between using existing resources that “do not transfer well to an online learning environment (such as a 50 minute recorded lecture), and using materials already specifically developed for online teaching”. He suggests that you “take the time to be properly training in how to use [NILE]“, recognising that a 2-hour investment now can save you hours of time later on.
That’s it really – come to some training on the tools that you would like to use and know more about! This includes learning about their strengths and weaknesses so that you know that you have selected the right tool for the job, but also have a clearer idea about how they might work in practice or how to avoid some of the pitfalls. There are plenty of tools out there, but selecting the right tool is an instructional or pedagogical issue that requires you to be clear on what it is that you are trying to achieve.
Bates’ gem (from my perspective) is his no-nonsense approach to engaging with central training and development initiatives. Here are a few that might help:
- The CLEO (Collaborative Learning Experiences Online) workshop that forms part of our C@N-DO staff development programme is a good way of putting yourself in the shoes of the online learning and experiencing first hand some of the obstacles that online learners face, in order to prevent your own students facing similar issues.
- NILE training (around specific pedagogical purposes) is provided by the Learning Technology team and in addition to regular scheduled training, can also be tailored to suit the purposes of your subject team or discipline. Please just ask!
- Spend a little time each year looking at any of the new features added to NILE during the year (Check out the Learntech Blog for updates).
Finally in this step is a discussion around why simply recording your lectures is not the best way to go. Definitely worth the time to read through his reasons, if this is something you were considering.
In short, should the learning goals (outcomes) for online/blended learning be the same as, or different to the same module delivered in a fully face-to-face mode? The key differentiator is that while the goals may well remain the same, the method may change. He also raises the question as to whether additional learning outcomes need to be considered in terms of the development of 21st century learning skills (in particular, learning the skills to ‘manage knowledge’ long after they graduate).
The link between learning outcomes and assessment is also explored here as is the way in which assessment drives student behaviour. He concludes by saying that “[b]ecause the internet is such a large force in our lives, we need to be sure that we are making the most of its potential in our teaching, even if that means changing somewhat what and how we teach”.
After an initial exploration between ‘strong’ and ‘loose’ online learning structures, Bates identifies the three main determinates of teaching structure as being:
- the organisational requirements of the institution;
- the preferred philosophy of teaching of the instructor; and
- the instructor’s perception of the needs of the students.
In the light of recent discussions here around what is meant by ‘contact’ hours (see this Definitions paper produced recently by the University’s Institute of Learning and Teaching), he identifies problems with this approach whilst simultaneously recognising that this is, nevertheless, the standard measuring unit for face-to-face teaching. One reason he highlights in particular is that it measures input, not output. Bates is also keen to ensure parity between online and face-to-face learning in terms of ensuring quality at Validation.
He discusses the time input as well as the structure of modules and how existing face-to-face structures mean we can already be some way down the path on module design, with the important proviso that it is important to ensure that content moved online is suitable for online learning. This is where the Learning Design team can help you to make decisions around what to teach or what to leave out, given that making some work optional means it should not be assessed and that if it is not assessed, students will quickly learn to avoid doing it.
This step concludes with a look at how to design student activities. This is typically something that would be covered during the second day of a CAIeRO curriculum redesign workshop, but anyone who has participated in any part of the C@N-DO programme will already have come into contact with some of these online learning activities / e-tivities. Some good points for consideration here though.
This steps explores the vital importance of ongoing, continuing communication between the tutor and the online learners, that is more than simply seeing them in class on a weekly basis. Maintaining tutor presence in the online environment is a “critical factor for online student success and satisfaction”, helping students recognise that their online contributions are just as much a part of their learning experience as the face-to-face components.
Creating a compelling online learning environment is possible but requires deliberate planning and conscientious design. It must also be done in such a way as to control the instructor’s workload. Bates has a number of ‘top tips’ for setting and managing student expectations online and emphasises that tutors should also adhere to these themselves. Like in the CLEO, he suggests starting with a small task in the first week that enables the guidelines to be applied, with the tutor paying particular attention to this activity. As he rightly points out …
students who do not respond to set activities in the first week are at high risk of non-completion. I always follow up with a phone call or e-mail to non-respondents in this first week, and ensure that each student is following the guidelines … What I’m doing is making my presence felt. Students know that I am following what they do from the outset.
There is a discussion here around the benefits and disadvantages of both synchronous and asynchronous communication – the decision again being based on pedagogical need. There is also a list of tips for how to manage online discussions for you to read an inwardly digest and a consideration of how cultural factors can impact on participation.
We ask our students to do it all the time – let’s make sure we apply the same principles to our own learning and teaching development and complete our own reflective cycle. Bates has a series of questions to guide any evaluation of teaching (not just online teaching), linking it back to Step 1 where he defines what we mean in terms of ‘quality’ in online learning. This doesn’t have to be a hugely onerous task – we already have ways of answering some of the questions (e.g. student grades, student participation rates in online activities (track number of views), assignments, Evasys questionnaires etc).
Then consider what it is that you need to do differently next time, in this ongoing, iterative process of Quality Enhancement.
Hopefully you will have the opportunity to explore some of these blog postings as you begin to think about how to get ready for Waterside, even if you don’t agree with everything that Bates says!
As Learning Designers, my colleagues Rob, Julie and myself are always looking for ways to help staff with the transition to Waterside and in (re-)designing their modules and programmes to take account of new ways of learning and teaching. To this end, there are a number of posts here on the flipped classroom, or on de-mystifying the CAIeRO for example, that aim to take away some of the apprehensions that we know exist.
What does teaching mean to you?
Another recent initiative has been a series of activities designed to help staff begin the process of reconceptualising how they teach and articulating their individual teaching style. In the midst of discussions around whether or not we are going to be a fully-online University (definitely ‘not’), or what the ‘new model’ for learning and teaching is going to be (the decision is for you and your team to determine- within certain parameters), it is easy to lose sight of the value of what staff do each and every day in the classroom – our face-to-face contact time (for an understanding of what we mean by ‘contact time’, including face-to-face and online, click here – sign in required). Through conversations with ILT generally and Shirley Bennett, our Head of Academic Practice, we hope to help our staff identify what it is that they value about their face-to-face contact time, and then use technology to help them do more of what they value in the classroom. In starting from this perspective, the aim is to conceptualise technology as an enabler, of excellence in learning and teaching rather than a driver.
In response to the question What do you value about your face-to-face teaching? staff have produced some interesting and sometimes unexpected visual metaphors that will be the subject of a later blog. The workshop/Away Day was also used to set a challenge around learning and teaching innovations through reflectiong on past innovations (to you) and sharing ideas with colleagues.
A 21st Century Learning and Teaching SWOT Analysis
Our Institute for Learning and Teaching have recently produced a short video that many staff may have already seen, showing the general direction of travel for the 2015-2020 learning and teaching plan. It is important to stress that this model is only one approach – if you have an alternative that is more appropriate to your teaching style and your discipline, then there is no reason for you not to explore how that might look in practice.
The key part of this arrow is the second stage – learning activities that help students to make sense of the content. These can be either online or face-to-face depending on tutors’ individual pedagogy and subject discipline. What works for one subject, might be wholly unsuitable for another – and this is why we are keen to help staff articulate their pedagogical preferences and continue the process of enhancing their own practice and, as a result, the student experience, rather than simply focussing on the latest piece of technology. As a way in to exploring some of these issues, we facilitated a ’21st Century Learning and Teaching SWOT Analysis’. By 21st century learning and teaching, we mean looking at how we prepare our students for employment in the 21st century, where technology is ubiquitous and constantly evolving, and how we use technology ourselves to enhance our learning and teaching. Identifying individual strengths and weaknesses concerning technology-enhanced learning, and highlighting some of the opportunities and threats these new ways of learning and teaching bring helped staff to begin the process of development and provides indicators of individual training needs.
Determining your blend
We also began the process of looking at how to determine what must be taught face-to-face (content or skills) and what could be taught online. Really, this is about thinking what you want your ‘blend’ to look like and builds on the earlier notions of using technology to enable you to do more of what you value in the classroom. Expressing this in terms of what and how students are learning and not solely in terms of what the tutor is teaching can be tricky but we have activities that can help with this. We can also help you to begin to see how this might look in NILE.
Many course teams and individuals have been engaging in various forms of blended learning within their practice for a long time. Determining how you might need to develop your own practices is not something that you need to do in isolation – as Learning Designers, we are here to help and there is also your School Learning Technologist you can draw on, as well as your colleagues.
Packing your Suitcase for Waterside
The day concluded with asking to staff to select what they would need to pack in their suitcases in order to get them from where they are today to where they have identified that they would like to be. This tongue-in-cheek exercise involved selecting from a collection of icons and images of things that you might take on holiday and can include, but is not limited to the following: a bucket and spade (to help you build something new); your Kindle to read while sun-bathing on the beach (mobile content creation and delivery); paracetamol (to help get rid of your headache); lifeguard and buoyancy aid (peer support, learn tech training etc); towel to reserve your (deck)chair (desk) and so on.
On a more serious note, the underlying premise is to identify your training needs, and other ways in which staff can take steps to ‘get ready for Waterside’ and look at what you might do to respond to the challenges of 21st century learning and teaching or the implementation of Changemaker in the Curriculum.
If you or your subject team would like us to facilitate any or all of these activities at an upcoming Staff Development session or Away Day, or to help you design your teaching to enable you to do more of what you value, please email LD@northampton.ac.uk. You know where we are!
Well, perhaps one useful place to start is with the following blog from John Spencer: Eight Free Photo Sites that Require No Attribution. It’s definitely a good place to start with ensuring that you have the appropriate permission to use the images that you have found on NILE, or in your slides.
P.S. The rest of his blog is pretty good too – worth signing up for as he sends out some useful tips and tricks for in the classroom and although generally directed at school teachers, I’ve picked up a few good ideas along the way – including this one
Dr Terry Tudor, Senior Lecturer in Waste Management, introduced structured online learning activities (e-tivities) into his Masters modules after attending a CAIeRO for individuals course development workshop. Read the case study to see how these activities have helped to link his distance learning students with his learners on campus – and also helped them to improve their writing skills.
The report for this year’s mobile survey has now been published where we look at the way that mobile devices, apps and interactions are used and carried out at Northampton. There were 322 respondents who took the opportunity to let us know their thoughts on the University’s mobile provision and any developments that they would like to see.
The report provides a brief summary of the main findings of the survey, including an overview of technology ownership among staff and students, trends in mobile use, facilities on campus (WiFi etc), and feedback on the iNorthampton app (which you can find in the App Store, Play Store and on the web).
You can read the report here: Mobile Survey report 2014/15 (PDF, 1024KB)
Karl Flowers, Senior Lecturer, Institute for Creative Leather Technology assesses his students through presentations and has often found that it is difficult to schedule face-to-face time slots where all the required parties can make it. Allowing his students to independently record their presentations and submit them through NILE’s video streaming tool, Kaltura, overcomes scheduling issues, enables more use of technology for the students and enables sharing good practice between year groups.
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