Category Archives: elearning

Submitting work – or why Google Classroom is not yet fit for Higher Education

Using paper it was always clear when students gave their work to their Teacher/Lecturer, it was physically handed over.  When online submission started the virtual world imitated the real one students attached their files to a submission point and when they clicked submit they could no longer change the files.

Things have moved on – both in what’s technically possible and in the kind of assessment that people are happy to attempt online.  This week I have helped a couple of people who were doing some sort of peer assessment online (one formative the other summative), this makes the transfer of control or possession of the submitted files more problematic as they need to stop being accessible to one student (group of students) and become accessible to another to mark the work.

Of course with Cloud tools you have the ability to share a piece of work so it is under the control of several people at the same time (which was a benefit for the peer group assessment) but this opens up the possibility of people editing after the submission deadline.

Now we have peer assessment tools in Blackboard, and Assignment submission tools, we have Google apps, and wiki’s (both inside and outside  the Blackboard course) so we have a wide choice of solutions.

Turns out for this kind of process the best thing is to ask at each stage who can see/edit the work and who “Owns” it.  Then you simply select the tools that provide what you want.

If you are interested – for the Group essay that is peer marked and then the marking is marked by a lecturer we planned this route.

  • Initial collaborative creation – Google Doc (owned by work group)
  • Submitted group work – downloaded to word and submitted to the Group Assignment tool on Blackboard (owned by Lecturer)
  • Peer Marking – Lecturer extract all files from the grade centre and uploads them to Lecturers Google Drive.  Shares each file with marking group with comment rights only (owned by Lecturer, marking group can see/edit)
  • Final Marking – Lecturer downloads to word the commented files and attached them as feedback to the original groups submission (optionally with additional staff marking on original script) together with their grade for doing the work.  Also attaches files to marking group in the “Peer” column together with the grade they get for doing the marking (owned by Lecturer, marking group can see, working group can see)

Why wouldn’t Google Classroom have been easier?  Well mainly because when you provide grades in Classroom the file immediately becomes editable to the original student again(the working group in my example).  So students can edit their work after they have received a grade – which is fine for some formative work but completely the opposite of the HE model of retention of summative work “here is the work exactly as you submitted it”

creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-SA ) flickr photo shared by msabba

A Peer Review Market

The last month has been really busy and I realise I haven’t written a Blog post as I have had no free time in the evenings.  So I am going to share one thing I did end up creating over a couple of nights.

It was originally a work idea that got more complicated and I ended up working on it in my own time because it was fun and I wouldn’t have the time to do it in work.

So the original idea was to get students to put in drafts of their work for peer review and for other students to agree to review them and provide feedback.  One of my colleagues Dr Phil Langton came up with the idea of a “Peer Review Market”, the reason for this was he has previously done peer marking with his students and although they have generally got a lot out of it a number of them have been very unhappy with the marks counting towards their grade if the marker wasn’t always as good as they could be (any of you who have done peer marking on a MOOC will know that marking quality can vary a lot and some markers can give marks you might consider unfair…).

However with no incentive to look at peers work some people wouldn’t bother and so some wouldn’t get the benefit of having comments and feedback on their work.  The solution was a “Peer Review Market” where each student could post work for review, other students could volunteer to review it and the whole thing would run on a points system where you got marks for any reviewing you did and it cost you points to get your work reviewed.

Tomates anciennes.jpg

Tomates anciennes” by User:PopolonOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

It seemed fairly straightforward, so I made a couple of google forms that fed a google sheet and told Phil who dropped into my office to discuss.  As it stood it worked but it would be easy to “game” the system, there was no option to be anonymous and hey wouldn’t it be good if it could email students when people had marked their work.

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Finishing #OcTEL and Gliddon’s Law

So we are in the last week of #OcTEL mooc and I am reflecting on what I have learnt, I started out with my “Big Question“, I looked at changing the ways I teach, the use of “Teaching Machines”, the ways people learn, making online materials and I thought about why EdTech projects fail.

So returning to my question “What could learning be – if we embrace technology?”  I think it could be different, it could be better, it could be many things including lots of things that teachers did not expect.  Though we may make models of things that work there will never be a single model much in the way that every brain is unique.

Which brings me nicely to something that the reading I have been doing and a few other things have merged together to make…

Gliddon’s Law -“The interaction of any Technology with Education is more complicated than you expect, even when you take into account Gliddon’s law”

Now I obviously owe a debt to Hofstadter’s Law and Ben Goldacre’s “I think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that …“, I should also credit the work my colleagues put in by saying “But what about…” whenever I make sweeping statements about EdTech.

India - Hyderabad - 149 - electricity grid (3921003774)

#Octel Why projects fail

Running to catch up I had some thoughts about last weeks #OcTEL, there was an interesting paper looking at some of the project that had failed and drawing 6 critical success factors for mobile web projects.

  1. The pedagogical integration of the technology into the course and assessment.
  2. Lecturer modelling of the pedagogical use of the tools.
  3. Creating a supportive learning community.
  4. Appropriate choice of mobile devices and web 2.0 social software.
  5. The need for technological and pedagogical support for matching the unique affordances of mobile web 2.0 with social constructivist learning paradigms.
  6. Creating sustained interaction that explicitly scaffolds the development of ontological shifts, that is the reconceptualisation of what it means to teach and learn within social constructivist paradigms, both for the lecturers and the students. The use of a structured and sustained intentional community of practice around each project was found to facilitate these ontological shifts.

Now we were meant to look back at one of our projects and use this to evaluate the key failures and successes of the project.  I didnt do this!

Instead I looked at the 6 factors and thought, I think I can do better than that or at least explain it in a way that is easier to understand.  A year or so back I developed “Gliddon’s Hierarchy of Technology Enhanced Learning”

You can work your way up the levels in this and use it to determine what the potential risks are to your project (just add them to your risk matrix as you consider them).

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Better quality videos

So one of my colleagues has got another job, and I have inherited a room full of audio/video kit.  Which is great because I enjoy messing about with video and there is enough kit to produce some fairly professional content.

Here is a quick video I shot to test the set up when we were planning on taking a few “talking head” interviews with students.  It contrasts nicely to the phone head shots I have previously done.

If I get time over the summer I will start experimenting with different shots, backgrounds and the lights (I have spots and a light box – as well as the light bouncing/diffuser covers) and I want to see what type of sound quality the different mikes provide.

Should we create content?

3 things came together recently that made me think about the creation of materials for student learning

  1. My current institution has been looking at various content creation tools to replace the functions we used to get with Wimba Create (it uses word to create simple web packages – and it is no longer supported as the company no longer exists)
  2. The last institution I worked for has just closed down its excellent content creation team due to the “current financial climate”
  3. I was looking at a really interesting job that looked at eLearning as having 3 main areas; support, pedagogic enhancement, content creation

So I wondered, I spend a fair amount of time talking about the advantages of social media and the transition of teachers from “sage on the stage” to “guide on the side” and connectivist learning and Dave Cormier’s rhizomatic learning and how in the internet age we are about students as the co-creators of learning.  If this is all true then does it imply that we shouldn’t spending time making materials, we should instead spend that time interacting with our students?

In theory the best learning experience is when we are working one to one or in small groups with someone who is an expert in the field we are learning (see scaffolding and Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development).  This does of course rely on the expert being able to express themselves clearly, understanding how to build on prior knowledge and being able to identify where a learner is going wrong.  This recent research from the British Journal of Educational Technology shows this is also true when working online.

The first problem is its not scalable, we cant afford to provide every student with constant one to one support from an expert throughout their academic life.  So although this should form part of a students learning experience it can not be their whole learning experience.

The second problem is that unplanned and unstructured learning is not always the most effective use of time (I know a vast amount about eLearning and if you spent 30 minutes with me you would certainly learn something, but its a big field so if I had time to prepare and knew the area of interest you would learn both more and more relevant things).  So staff need to spend time considering what they are going to teach and it makes sense to use content to provide a structure to this.

Regarding the decision of finding or making content – I wrote about this before (Finding Content, Making Content)

So as with most things the answer is complicated, most learning will require at least some content, the more time spent on the content (either finding it or making) the better it is likely to be, however we are often limited by time and money.

So we should make content but we should consider

  • What the cost/benefit ratio is (time spent making)/(time used X number of users)
  • Is it sufficiently “better” than existing materials to justify creating
  • Is it based on good pedagogy
  • Does it encourage students to interact
  • Will it improve the teachers teaching
  • Can it be reused (in bits or in full)
  • Can it be easily updated

If we do make content like this then is should not only improve teaching and learning but it could also encourage all connectivist learning I mentioned earlier.

One final thing, learning technologists are often better and faster at making more advanced online content than academics.  So assuming similar rates of pay it is a sensible financial decision for the institution to get a learning technologist to work with the academic to create content and this is also an opportunity to use the LTs pedagogic knowledge to help ensure that the finished product is effective and properly used by the academic (but that is a whole other post)

Jewellery hammers (1)

Mobile and Social are the obvious next steps in education – but are we doing this?

I was watching Steve Wheelers video on How will we learn tomorrow? and one of the things he said leapt out at me.  In the past 10 years the major trend affecting education was every student having a smart phone and being on social media, and this has the potential to enable lots of social learning opportunities. (I have paraphrased massively).

Now this makes sense to me, the fact that we all have access to the internet whenever we need and can also connect with and share thoughts with our friends/colleagues/classmates at any time is a complete transformation compared with how the world was 10 years ago (and even more compared to 20 years ago).

My question then is are educational institutions engaging with this?

I just wrote what I thought we should be telling all students but my institution is not recommending anything yet.  A quick Google search of social media tips/advice for students pulls article after article telling them what not to do (drunk pictures etc) and a few more advanced telling them about cultivating a professional profile to help get jobs, but using social for learning?  Pretty much nothing.

How about mobile  well students are definitely using their mobiles but are we providing courses designed for them or encouraging them to use them for education?

Where mobile is used in the classroom it can generate newspaper headlines as in this one found by +James Clay  but as he subtlety points out in his post, the teacher is doing what James was recommending people do 10 years ago.

Some educators such as +Laura Gibbs are encouraging their students to go social, sharing their work and dancing across the digital spaces.  The problem then comes when the students take a different class – Laura’s institution locks the instructors into Desire2Learn and offers no social spaces.

At my own institution, we have recently added a support forum to all engineering courses. Because our VLE has a mobile app this does allow students use mobiles to post and be notified.  Ok so its discussion forums and not true social as its limited to a individual classes, but its a good precursor and because its faculty wide it does mean that when our staff get G+ (all our students have it and I have high hopes of staff getting it by summer) it should be possible to persuade a few staff to try social.

So to answer my own question – individuals certainly are, but education as a whole really isnt.

My next question is – do we just wait and hope that education adopts these trends or is there something we can do to speed up the process?

By Cartmanland (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By Cartmanland (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

(the old argument of students not having access is pretty much over with smartphones available on tariffs as low as £10 a month)

Recommendations for students

Danger Educators

I have recently been thinking about the advice that should be given to students about what they should be doing with technology.  I am thinking about advice to all students (not just online students but face2face as well) something we could put on our VLE that would be useful to our entire student body.  This is my first rough draft – feel free to suggest anything I might have missed


Technology is a key part of the modern world and you will not be surprised to find that it will be a key part of your studies.  Each degree is different and so it is not easy to give advice on how to interact with the online parts of your particular course that is applicable to everyone, however here are some of the things that we feel the digital scholar should be

Hardworking – yes we know you are going to work hard while you are here but you also need to be certain that you are working online enough, the data from a number of universities around the world shows a clear (if faint) trend between number of times logging onto the VLE and degree grade.  At a minimum you should try to log on twice per lecture once before to get materials in advance and once after a lecture to get notes and handouts. You might also be interested to know there is a clear trend between books/journals taken out from the library and degree grade (Hard working students do well – who knew!)

Reflective – you are going to learn a vast amount while you are here, and reflecting on what you have learnt dramatically increases the amount you will retain.  One of the best ways to do this is to create a blog and post regularly about what you are learning, you will also find that it helps your understanding as when you write it out for your blog audience you will find yourself explaining the subject and one of the best ways to learn something is to explain it to someone else.

This post on “5 reasons your students should blog” gives some more reasons, I feel point 5 is particularly important – by the time you leave this University if your name is Googled it should point to a positive digital footprint containing your thoughtful comments on your chosen field.

Collaborative – one of the most useful resources that you will have during your time at this University is your classmates.  A group of intelligent people who are learning approximately the same thing as you at around the same time, you should be discussing what you are learning with them.  Using social media it is very easy to keep in touch with them and share your ideas and thoughts.

You can use Facebook etc but it is probably worth keeping a divide between your recreational and academic lives so we would recommend that you try G+ to form your academic learning network (not least because at our University you all have Gmail and so can join G+ with one click and have an integrated experience).

You can use this to share your blog posts and to share any interesting articles you find about the topics on your course (you should be spending time reading around your subject – when you find something useful, share it).  If a number of your classmates start sharing then you should get a steady stream of useful reading, you should also consider looking outside your peer group for other students or subject experts that you can follow – see this article on Using social media to advance your academic research goals for more ideas in this area.

Connected – your phone/laptop/tablet has access to the internet (at Uni you get free wifi access), this gives you access to all human knowledge (as well as access to your course) and it allows you to work anywhere (taking notes, pictures watching videos etc).  You should aim to have at least one internet enabled device with you at all times as this will allow you to engage with your subject at any time.  You will also find that in a lot of lectures having access to the internet allows you to more deeply engage with the lesson (such as using the Backchannel) although do try not to get distracted!

You will also find that our Blackboard has a mobile app so you can access and engage with your courses using your mobile.