Posts by: rachelm

In this case study, Louise Atkinson, Research Teaching Assistant in NBS, discusses how she has developed a NILE Organisation for her personal tutees for consistent non-academic communication.  Using it as a pilot during academic session 13-14, she further shares how she would like to develop this approach and use it with other staff within her School.

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CAIeRO Workshop logoPersonally I love the CAIeRO (module redesign) process. It’s creative, innovative and definitely challenging at times, but most of all it’s fun. My favourite part of the day is storyboarding the module – aligning Learning Outcomes with (new) assessments and then looking at how learners are to engage with appropriate content in order to deepen their learning and apply their knowledge and understanding.

Having an ‘outsider’ to your module can be crucial to the level of creativity and innovation that results. As a former FE tutor, and AL for the Business School I have experienced first hand many of the difficulties of trying to deliver engaging content and being so focussed on ensuring that the core content is covered that I couldn’t see the wood for the trees. Being able to take a step back and view what you are doing from an outsiders perspective, often that of a fictional learner, can therefore bring a number of benefits.

As an example, I was involved in a recent CAIeRO with the School of Health, working on three modules to be delivered fully online. We reached the storyboard phase and the tutor and I were looking at what the module was covering and thinking about how to translate a face-to-face course into an online one. To begin with, the tutor was replicating his F2F module, whilst simultaneously regaling me with stories of student feedback and complaints. “Why am I studying statistics?” and “Why am I studying maths on a health course?!” were two common phrases. It wasn’t that there was anything fundamentally wrong with the module content. There were core concepts that needed to be covered. Creating an agreed glossary was one, and understanding the governmental policy in this particular area was another. And so on, until week 12 when the tutor explained that at this point the students have to apply all their knowledge acquired to date in order to respond to a disease outbreak.

As the ‘outsider’ my instant response to this was … “Now I’m interested. But it’s taken three months of doing this boring stuff to get there!” So my suggestion was to turn his module on its head and put the students into groups in week 1 and then give them the disease outbreak scenario. Their role during the remainder of the module would be the drafting of a suitable response to the outbreak. On the way they would have to get to grips with statistics, appropriate terminology and even governmental policy, but this time, they would have an interesting hook upon which to hang it.

But what are the benefits for students? Well, here are my top five (in no particular order):

  1. the course should still be constructively aligned;
  2. students have a guided pathway through core components of the module but are free to explore those components in an order of their choice;
  3. keeping the same case study for all groups means that each group has to make a specific choice in terms of the preventative strategy adopted – this will increase opportunities for challenge and justification from the remainder of the cohort;
  4. increased student engagement – the module introduces a real-life scenario and asks them to find a real solution; and
  5. it potentially enhances their employability skills – learning how to do this in an academic environment is good preparation for the sorts of careers these students typically pursue.

OK, so what’s the big deal you might ask? I mean, it’s great for those students, but there are thousands more on this campus. It’s an approach that I have used in other schools and in vastly different subject areas to good effect. Sharing good practice when it comes to module redesign is important and is something that we share as a team through regular team meetings or through this blog. I have also shared the story at a staff development session in NBS.  In my new role as a Learning Designer, I am working more across Schools and, together with my colleagues am seeking to make these creative approaches more visible. As a student, I would want my modules to capture my interest and require me to actively engage with content, whilst preparing me for the real world. Hopefully, full and willing engaging with the CAIeRO process, putting aside your preconceptions and a mindset of ‘this is how I teach this module’ will see more creative ideas such as this become more widespread throughout our institution.

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Liam Fassam, Lecturer in Operations Management in NBS, has recently been using the Socrative student response system as part of a deliberate effort to increase learner engagement with the subject and provide formative feedback . Liam made a conscious decision to use the platform rather than the Socrative app to ensure an easy and quick in-class response. From an initial trial of this software, he has since begun using it on a weekly basis, having found the process so simple and straightforward that the time it takes him to pre-load up to 20 questions for use at the start of a session is down to around 10 minutes.

Initially looking for technology that could be used in the classroom in a way that he believed would be aligned to the demands of modern students, Liam has benefited more widely from this approach as he can obtain weekly analytics that enables him to evaluate student progress and build up a clearer picture over time. Conducting the quiz in groups provides a level of safety for students who may feel unsure as to their understanding or who are uncomfortable with the idea of identifying themselves on an individual basis. This also overcomes any potential accessibility issues within the classes. The group aspect has also given rise to some healthy in-class competition which he likens to a ‘football league’ feeling where groups are vying to be top of the league.

In addition to the MCQ approach, Liam also uses Socrative on an ad-hoc basis to get a feel for student opinion on a related topic.  Where a show of hands around a controversial topic might not produce as accurate a response as he might have hoped for, the anonymity of the Socrative approach serves to overcome fears of potential exclusion or isolation on the basis of ‘non-PC’ answers.

So, what’s the catch?  Well, at the moment Liam has experienced no technological glitches or difficulties, but that may be because he has only used it on-campus in Northampton where students have access to digital technology and a strong wifi connection. He would like to introduce its use off-campus, engaging his online learners around the world, but is aware that they may well experience bandwidth issues.  Another plan is to look at ways of embedding it into NILE.

His advice for those who are interested in trying this out? Just do it! And if you do, be consistent because once you start, your students won’t want you to stop! In short, is a really good tool for subject-matter validation and Liam was genuinely surprised at the level of learner engagement and acceptance.

So if you are looking for a quick polling tool that makes use of devices already owned and brought to class by your learners, then why not give this a try?

Image showing the NILE suite categories

Have you ever wanted to do something in NILE, but been unsure which tool to use or how to do it? If so, then this breakdown of the core technologies that comprise NILE may be of help!

The core NILE functionality has been broken down into five main categories:

  • content
  • collaboration
  • assessment
  • information
  • management

Depending on the task in hand, have a look at the appropriate column and see which tools and applications may be relevant. Each category is mapped to the UKPSF to assist tutors in the process of submitting an HEA Fellowship application.

Sources of Help: There are three main ways in which tutors can get help with using these tools:

  1. Attend the ‘official’ LearnTech training sessions
  2. Access our detailed help guides and resources via the NEW Help tab in NILE
  3. Contact your dedicated school Learning Technologist for 1:1 support.

We hope you find this useful. If you think anything is missing, please let us know:

Last December, Economics Lecturer at NBS, Dr Kevin Deane, took the unusual step of abandoning 4 weeks of his timetabled lecture programme and replacing it with a group exercise culminating in an academic poster exhibition (see this blog posting for more details!)

The exhibition was a real success, particularly for a first-time event, as evidenced by the comments from the students and other NBS staff who attended the exhibition.  That said, Kevin has some definite changes and improvements he would introduce next time around.  But, in these days of NSS scores and working to improve the student experience, the big question to be answered is … what did the students think?

Generally, their reflections mirrored those of Kevin himself.  Apart from an appreciation of the refreshments (!) the following comments are worth mentioning in response to the question of what was good about the task:

  • One student responded by saying that the good thing was the “big range of information exchanged and displayed, very insightful. Food was good, getting tutors and guests involved.”
  • Another enjoyed the fact that they didn’t have the pressure of an assessed assignment.
  • “People did them relatively well. Rewards were good incentive”.
  • Another student commented that it “was a great insight into a variety of economists.  It provided me with a better understanding of these economists and their philosophies.”

There were some technical hitches on the day of the exhibition itself.  In particular, Kevin had been expecting the room to be ready when he and his students arrived, but an error in communication meant that an hour was lost having to set up the exhibition boards.  This did have a significant knock-on effect for students as the first hour of the session was lost.  This had been scheduled for a student-student presentation of each of the posters, which would have provided the primary opportunity for students to learn about those other economists being studied by their peers.

The following student comments on what could be done differently/better mirror Kevin’s own reflections.  Specifically, the students were keen that copies of the other posters were circulated – something Kevin had already planned to do.  This is of particular importance pedagogically – where students are creating and generating module content which forms one jigsaw piece of the whole picture, ensuring that each student has access to the full and final picture is essential.  Another comment was that it was rightly considered unfair that some students were asked to produce posters on economists that had already been studied in class whereas others were starting from scratch.  Looking ahead, Kevin would ensure this didn’t happen again and recognises that it was purely circumstantial, arising from the decision to move away from lecturing to the poster exhibition after the lectures had begun. In itself, this was engendered by student feedback indicating that the lecture approach to this topic was dry and uninteresting.

One final comment worth addressing directly was that students considered the poster to be “too much extra, [it was] not part of our course.”  This feedback reflected a failure to appreciate that this poster wasn’t actually ‘extra’ work per se, rather a change in the way the module content was being taught. In future, Kevin would draw attention to the fact that the requirements of producing a poster are no more onerous in terms of the expected study time than indicated in the module spec: 4 students per group x 3 hours per week of independent study x 3 weeks = 36 student study hours per poster.

Other negative comments included the following:

  • It was a lot of work, for no obvious reward in terms of assessment.
  •  Lack of assessment meant no incentive to produce high quality.
  • Doing a poster on one subject was limiting.
  • Some people didn’t even go.

Having allowed time for both his personal and the students reflections, the following changes would, Kevin believes, improve the exercise next time around:

  • Ensuring that the dedicated time for student-student presentations is preserved to ensure that all students receive the benefit of the work done by other groups and learn about all the economists studied in the module
  • Explicitly recognise the focus that students place on assessment and grades and therefore turn the task into the first assessment for the module and run it earlier in the academic year when students were not under pressure to complete assessment tasks for other modules
  • Ensure that the key points are captured in a summary ‘timeline’ lecture that places them all in context.

Probably the biggest objection he has to overcome is the idea that this task placed an additional burden on students and this really boils down to managing their expectations more explicitly. A clearer explanation and on-going reminder that the poster itself should be the final product of 36 student study hours (9 per student) would go a long way to removing this objection and engendering in students the realisation that this level of work and time investment is, ultimately, what they are at University for!

What do you do when you have a very dry topic to teach and the snores from the lecture theatre are drowning out your words?

Kevin Deane, a new Lecturer in International Development in NBS, faced exactly that problem, some 5-6 weeks into the term. Feedback from the students was clear – “we are bored by this and we are not engaging”. It was time for a radical rethink.

Kevin and I spent about two hours batting ideas back and forth over how to help his class see how the opinions of these long dead men could be relevant to them as 21st century students of economics. I had made a choice not to lecture a group of postgraduate students during a three hour session but instead to spend that face-to-face time on the application rather than the acquisition of knowledge. Could a similar approach be utilised in this context?

The answer came in the form of an academic poster exhibition with each group producing a poster on a different economist which they had to present at an exhibition at the end of term to fellow students and staff within NBS. They also had to explore the relevance of each economist – did they agree with their theories; were their opinions wrong?  This had the effect of ensuring a higher level of participation than might otherwise have been the case, given that the poster was not being assessed.

The subsequent 4 weeks of lectures were therefore abandoned and the time allocated to group work on the posters. In spite of some initial discontent Kevin made it clear to the students that this was simply a different approach to teaching and that the students would still be expected to attend and participate. Success was also encouraged by ensuring that students had weekly interim goals and deadlines to work to.

At the exhibition, it was evident that the students I spoke to had engaged with the material and enjoyed finding out about their allocated economist. They had also grasped the concept of what an academic poster was about!  A number of staff from NBS were present to ask questions and to help Kevin judge the best poster(s) – three prizes were awarded in the end.

On reflection, Kevin will definitely repeat this approach for this module, but will add an element of assessment to further increase participation and engagement. To read more about the what’s, why’s and wherefore’s, please read his case study – Kevin Deane – Histor.

For now though, this process of resuscitating the wrong opinions of dead men shows that the theories really do live on.

Monday saw the second iteration of the App Cafe – a new drop-in lunchtime session in the Tpod, run by the Learning Technology team and looking at how we can use apps in the learning and teaching context.  This week’s starters included a second look using Dropbox for Cloud storage and some syncing issues, but the main course was a meaty demonstration of the new Turnitin app for iPad.

The most difficult thing that anyone will find with this app is the initial syncing of NILE modules to the iPad, but that is only because it involves an additional step in the SaGE workflow.

Syncing involves generating a class code which is possible using your desktop pc / laptop from within one of the Turnitin papers on the module you are marking.  Simply click on the ‘new’ iPad icon at the bottom left of the screen and then Generate  code.  Once you have the 16-letter code you need to enter it into the app.  You don’t need to login with your Turnitin username as most staff don’t have one of this (it isn’t your NILE login!)  The code will link that module to your iPad and then you are ready to go.

If you are used to using an iPad then this app is very intuitive – so intuitive that we don’t think you need a help guide on it!  Just have a go and see how you get on.  The functionality is better than that on a pc as you can take full advantage of iPad features like touch screen technology to add or create a quick mark, Siri to enter the text both for existing and new Quick Marks, longer in-text comments or the full text comment at the end.  Voice comments as found in the desktop version of Turnitin are still possible but obviously Siri makes using voice much quicker and easier in the standard QM/text comments as well.  So even typing may be a thing of the past!

One other major advantage of the app is that once you have downloaded the papers you can mark offline.  So no more paying for wi-fi so that you can do your marking when on holiday, or when abroad working as International Flying Faculty!  Simply sync, download, mark and then re-sync when you next have a (free) signal.

Roshni Khatri, Senior Lecturer in Occupation Therapy, has been using the app for a while now and has this to say about it:

“The Turnitin App gives me the flexibility to mark where and when I want to without the need for a WIFI connection. The user friendly interface allows me to give feedback, use comments, rubrics and sync grades without any fuss.  Makes marking easier but enables tutors to continue giving high quality feedback!”

The Turnitin iPad app is honestly the best thing since sliced bread – and you won’t find that on the menu at the App Cafe!

The App Cafe is on the 1st Monday of every month, from 1-2 in the TPod, Park Library.  Next meeting: 6th January 2014.  Bring your lunch and your mobile device (this isn’t just about iPads you know!)  We will provide coffee and tea.

The inaugural meeting of LUNAR@LLS (LUNchtime Academic Reading) took place on Friday 25th October.  As someone who has only been to social reading groups before, I was pleasantly surprised at how easy the conversations and discussions flowed in this more academic context and how emotional I found myself getting about some of the points that were discussed!  (Yes, weird I know!)

For staff who weren’t there (but who are nevertheless interested in what we discussed), here is a short summary of the key points …

The three papers were Chapters 3, 9 and 13 of Oblinger, D. G. (2006) Learning Spaces (available as a free e-book):

  • Chapter 3. Seriously Cool Places: The Future of Learning-Centered Built Environments by William Dittoe  (View: HTML | PDF)
  •  Chapter 9. Trends in Learning Space Design by Malcolm Brown and Phillip D. Long (View: HTML | PDF)
  •  Chapter 13. Assessing Learning Spaces by Sawyer Hunley and Molly Schaller (View: HTML | PDF)

Dittoe’s paper followed a hypothetical scenario where student living and learning environments were seamlessly entwined.  While initially the idea of turning up to a day of learning ‘experiences’ in your slippers (and presumably your onesie!) initially sounded quite attractive, there were feelings of being cocooned and isolated away from the real world.  However, the flexible and creative use of spaces, offering quiet reflection, social involvement and social learning, active engagement with learning materials and the presence of tutors in the learning (as opposed to teaching) environment suggest an environment vastly different to that currently experienced in most HE settings.  The author cited Kuh’s key features for this type of learning space as being a space that encourages student-tutor interaction and one which permits a high degree of effort on academic tasks.

Brown and Long considered trends in learning space design, adopting a constructivist approach that focusses on the whole campus as a potential learning space and where the focus on the learner provides an environment for people that fundamentally changes current approaches to teaching and learning.  Their three main trends were: (1) Design based on learning principles resulting in intentional support for social and active learning strategies; (2) Emphasis on human-centred design; and (3) an increasing ownership of diverse devices that enrich learning.  With my learning technology hat on, the discussion in both these chapters on device agnosticism and the fact that although the technology will change between now and our move to Waterside, the way in which we learn won’t, mirrors the discussions that we have been having as a team in recent months.

The focus on the learner requires a fundamental shift however from a teacher-centric, pedagogical approach to teaching and the delivery of information that may well be better obtained elsewhere, to a learner-centred approach that encourages individuals to take increased ownership of their own learning journey and where the tutor is but one tool among many that the learner can draw upon in order to further and deepen their own learning.  It presupposes a collaboration between architecture and technology and the provision of a seamless, robust IT infrastructure and also requires that classroom spaces are built with a defined client base in mind in order to prevent the development of spaces that meet no-one’s needs optimally.

Hunley and Schaller adopted an assessment-based approach to the topic of learning spaces, comparing both formal and informal learning in terms of environment, time, structure and content, as well as looking at the interaction between people and their environments.  They assessed the need for learning spaces by the level of student engagement.  Academic engagement was shown to be enhanced where the environment is comfortable, open flexible and appealing and decreased in more formal settings.  They concluded that a balanced approach between the two was still required and that the key was good assessment design of learning spaces with the enhancement of student learning being the ultimate goal.

So … having briefly summarised the papers, what did we actually talk about?

Not surprisingly, our discussions did focus considerably on the implications of the move to Waterside where there will be around 40% less space.  There was a strong recognition of what has been achieved in the library as it currently is, with lots of different learning spaces and this idea of a learning commons (hopefully still called a Library) remaining at the heart of the new campus, with learning taking on a more social aspect and becoming more informal.

Probably the single most important strand was around the extent to which there would need to be a culture change for academic staff around space, its use and ownership, the corollary being a considerable change in pedagogy.  In this regard, a recent article that I read by Thomas Cochrane and Vickel Narayan from AUT University in Auckland, New Zealand, had some interesting insights particularly in considering how staff transform their role, moving from a heavily pedagogical approach, through andragogy, to heutagogy (student-directed learning).  This requires lecturers to undergo a reconceptualization of their role and to take advantage of the mobility offered by the various Web 2.0 tools (including Twitter, blogs, wikis and Skype etc).  For more on this article, please read my (first ever) blog posting!

The implications of this change do need to be considered as soon as possible, and steps taken sooner rather than later to enable staff to grow into this new approach, providing them with the confidence to learn new approaches and to try things out because, ultimately, space really does matter to people.

If you would like to come along to LUNAR, it is held on the last Friday of every month* from 1-2pm in the Tpod in the Library at Park.  You can bring your lunch and tea and coffee is provided.

Suggestions for papers to read prior to the next meeting on Friday 29th November are still needed.  We would like to explore topics of interest for each of the teams within LLS so if you have some ideas of hot topics (even if you don’t have any actual papers to read) please let me know.

*December’s meeting will be on Friday 20th as we will all be on holiday on the 27th!

Hope to see you there!


Providing Mobile Access to Learning and Teaching

The Learning Technology team are pleased to announce a new monthly lunchtime event for all staff at the University of Northampton.

With more and more people accessing the internet via mobile devices, The App Cafe provides an opportunity to look at the implications of mobile devices and apps in HE and how we can better use them in learning and teaching. This first App Cafe will look at the top five essentials for going mobile and consider some different apps that you can start to use easily in a learning and teaching context.

We want to hear from you. This is a participative ‘by you, for you’ event with an opportunity each month to share the apps you already use in the classroom with fellow staff across all disciplines.

With take-aways like ‘Your 5-a-month’ (top apps for learning and teaching), coffee and even cake, this is one lunchtime event in LLS you shouldn’t miss.

First Monday of the month, starting 4th November 2013 | 1-2pm | in the TPod, Park Library

Book your place by signing up today:

We hope to see you there!

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Business School lecturer Maggie Anderson is a recent convert to the benefits of using Discussion Boards in NILE to increase her efficiency by vastly reducing the amount of email traffic she receives from students about module related issues, particularly where there is a large student cohort.  During a CAIeRO session Maggie commented on the difficulties of repeat email traffic.  Her case study reflects on the successes of introducing a Frequently Asked Questions forum and how she has adopted this approach more widely in other modules.  She also reflects on the wider pedagogical benefits she observed as a result.  Read her case study to find out more!