Category Archives: VLE Advanced

Good research – poor conclusions

Recently there have been a number of research papers and articles looking at the affects of using laptops in a lecture setting

And there has been a lot of online discussion about them (this G+ post encouraged me to complete my blog entry  )

Now the research itself is good and can be summarised as
If you are sitting taking notes while someone talks at you with slides

  • on average students using laptops to take notes will retain less than students who take notes on paper
  • Students who use their laptop for something else during the lecture will retain less and on average the students around them will also retain less (distracted by what they see on your screen)

The problem is not the research but what people decide to do because of it, they take a deep breath and (often reluctantly) decide they have to ban laptops in their classroom.  Often these people are not luddites (the most famous example was Clay Shirkey who I deeply respect but in this case I feel made the wrong decision)

Some suggestions are more helpful and start to look at considering how you might make the device more useful and less of a distraction

I made a suggestion on social media that a simple solution is to record the lectures so that they are not a one time event and so students that do become distracted can revisit and notes can be written at a time and place that suits them.  Its not a bad solution but it is treating the symptoms not the cause.

So lets look in more detail at the lecture, this is a tried and trusted method for getting information from the mind of someone who knows it (the lecturer) into the minds of someone(s) who dont (the students), they tend to be multiples of an hour (or 1/2 hour) long because that makes it easier to timetable, the students sit in rows with a teacher at the front because that is the physical layout of the room.

An alternative to the lecture was the book but it is unlikely to contain exactly what you wish to teach the students and it was not cost effective for each individual member of staff to write and publish a book for each of their classes.

But now we are in the internet age and things change.  There are now multiple easily accessible sources for information, lecturers can curate it (or get their students to curate it) or create it (text, video, infographics etc).  The valuable face to face time can be used for something that doesn’t require students to pay attention for an hour (interestingly I thought our attention span was 15 minutes – I was wrong and found some nice ideas about what you can do to help)

Lets flip the class, do the problems, discussions, thinking when all the smart people are in the same room.  The content transmission can be before the class when everyone gets as long (or as short) as they need to absorb it.  Sure you might still talk at the students in the lecture theatre but it will be in shorter bursts as part of a varied experience. That hour long long lecture performance? it wont vanish but should become a rare occurrence and when it does happen it should be so good that all of your students hang on every word.

Do I think the lecture is dead?  No, a lot of institutions have Lecturers that teach in lecture theatres, and on the timetable it says “lecture” – there is a lot of inertia to overcome.  Also there will always be a place for the occasional lecture (have a look at these )  but I do think there will be a move away from them although it may take 5-10 years for them to become rare.

And to round up – its not just laptops see this post for an idea on the effects of smartphones and some sensible advice on what to do about it

And of course its only a matter of time before we start to get the first “Wearables are a distraction from lectures” articles – unless we do something about…… the Lectures.

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

Supporting collaborative learning through technology

Part of my job is providing training sessions for academic staff and one I deliver is “Supporting collaborative learning through technology”

This works well face to face but I also want it available online. So……

First have a think about what collaboration is, use this document to write down

  • What you think collaborative learning is
  • What collaborative activities your students do as part of your class.
  • What ideas you have for an online collaborative task

In the F2F class we would now have a discussion about the following points (you may like to think of short answers as it will help you later on)

  • what it is you want your students to do collaboratively
  • how long it will take (effort and time)
  • what (if any) marks are associated with it
  • how the students will be organised

Working Together Teamwork Puzzle ConceptNow it is fairly common when asking your students to do collaborative work to split up into groups, most VLEs have some form of group functionality.  My VLE is Blackboard and the instructions on creating groups can be found on Blackboard help here.  If you have lots of students you may want to use the Batch Groups Tool.

Using the instructions (find them for your own VLE if you are not using Blackboard) create a group and put you and one student into that group.  You should see a lot of tools available for that group as tick boxes below the group description – leave them all ticked for now and finish making the group.

In a little aside we are going to look at why the internet and some of the tools associated with it make collaborating so much easier now (and yes a lot of you should already know this – the video is 6 years old)

At this point we are going to have a look at the tools available inside the VLE and these are Discussion Boards, Blogs and Wikis.  In Blackboard (and in most VLEs) these tools allow students to post a chunk of html using a WYSIWYG editor so they can add text, pictures, video, flash etc – pretty much anything you can do on the internet.  The key difference in these tools is in how they layout these “posts”

Discussion Board – someone posts (Question), others reply and their replies (Answers) are posted below the first post.   Over time you build up a list of initial posts (Questions) and clicking on a question will show you it and all the replies (Answers) to it.

Blog – someone posts, others can comment on the post.  Each new post stands alone, posts appear down the screen starting with the most recent and going down to the oldest post.  Students often respond to a previous post by making a brand new one of their own (maybe with a link to the first post if it is a fair way down the list).

Wiki – someone posts, this creates a new page.  You can create as many pages as you want and link them together.  Students can edit any post/page and so work together to create the pages.  You can also make comments on pages.

I think the first 2 are very similar and are used for talking about the collaboration (with discussion boards being more formal/organised).  Wikis by contrast allow students to actually work on something together.  At this point you want to consider what tools your students need (and they may need more than 1!) and if they are going to have them for a group or for the whole class.

Beyond the VLE

Now most of this is looking at Google tools (because my Uni has GAFE) but you can do similar things with Microsoft SkyDrive.

You can share & collaborate on all google drive files, you already used a Doc at the start of this session – how about this article on presentations? (has a nice video tutorial at the bottom – I used the instructions on the video to embed my presentation below)

There are also lots of other types of files you can share and collaborate on – lets go to drive – click “Create” and then “connect more apps”.  As you will see there is a lot to chose from, what I particularly like is if you add an app to your drive, share a file of that type with someone else – when they open it, it automatically asks if they want to add that app to their drive.

Students can share with email address OR share “anyone with link” – can put links in the “Group Blog/discussion board” that you gave them in the VLE.

In the session we would have a discussion about the ownership and retention of evidence of work
You need to consider that when you use things outside of your VLE (ie the google tools), the person that creates them tends to have ownership and this person is often the student. This means the students can continue modifying and improving whatever has been created.
You do need to think about what you are going to keep as evidence and how you are going to get it (example google sites – you cant download the websites that are created in it)

For the adventurous

There is google sites – make your own webpage (and collaborate doing it)
Youtube – make and share videos, comment on them (can use some of the Blackboard options (blog/disscussion etc) to allow students to link/embed in the course
And for the really brave Google+ (which has Hangouts!)
Finally although its a secondary school class check out this blog post for more Googly ideas

If you do use G+ 
My Uni does not (yet) provide staff with the ability to get g+ from their work email.
The alternative is to setup a G+ from your personal gmail (this has the advantage that you can take your network of contacts with you if/when you move jobs)
To get yourself to a flying start you may want to read this (its more about how to get the most out of G+ personally rather than for teaching but you will find it helpful (and your students might too))

Followup and Consultation

Of course, if this was my face to face class you would be now have an outline of what you were going to do (based on the various discussions), I would book a follow up session where I pop’d into your office to look at what you had setup and to discuss any problems and the next stages.  Of course I cant do that on the blog (but if you work where I do feel free to ring me) however if you are doing collaboration with your students and want some advice then add a comment and I will see what I can do for you.


Teaching using a VLE #8 Differentiate

Most VLEs will allow you to do some form of differentiation – I always think of it as “You can see this if….”

In the VLE i support (Blackboard) it is called “Adaptive Release” (snappy name huh!) and allows you to show things to students based on

  • Any grade in the course (also includes the option to show if student has attempted that assessment)
  • Membership of groups (or you can add individual students)
  • Date limiting – so only seen at a particular time
  • Have reviewed some other item in course (and ticked a button to say they have reviewed it)

You can also combine all of the above in both AND and OR options (so if in a Group AND got over 90% – can see) vs (if in a group -can see OR if got over 90% – can see).

Reds Split (5933742210)

Now the most basic use is the weekly multiple choice test – low score = extra explaining materials, high score = extra stretching materials.  Which is ok as far as it goes but not that imaginative.

One I like using is to have “If you have reviewed this weeks materials AND its before Wednesday” = provide some extra optional work

Another is a variation on the “Just in time teaching” method where I get students to post a private response (either use a journal or a test with “text answer”) about the subject I am going to be teaching at least 40hours before class.  I then read through the responses – adding anyone who appears to not grasp the subject to a group as I go.  I then make introductory materials and maybe a video available to this group.  That way when class starts I know that everyone is aware of the basics, but I haven’t wasted the time of those who already knew the basics.  The class can then jump straight into an engagement with the main subject.

Interestingly I struggled to find any research into the effects of online differentiation (1 hour on Google scholar and I found nothing relevant) so this might be an area to investigate if you plan to do this with your class.  Of course if you know of any research please drop a link in the comments section 🙂

A Google search of “effect of differentiation on student test scores” found some interesting research but nothing that directly relates to the use of VLEs to provide differentiated materials.


Teaching using a VLE #7 Let the students drive!

After a couple of years of teaching you will probably find that your VLE course space is done, tidy and complete and needs only occasional updating by you…..  I am afraid that this means it is time to let go, give up control and let the students drive the learning – worse this will mean lots of hard work for you.

Tc tacoma 4On the plus side – if you do this right your students will learn more, study harder and probably think you are a fantastic teacher!

So how do we do it?  First lets get the tools out of the way, it doesn’t particularly matter what you use or how it works (although it should work fairly reliably! – see Gliddon’s Heiracy of TEL) but here are some categories

Sharing information – rss feeds, twitter hashtags, social bookmarking etc.  These are ways in which your students can say “Hey I found this” and share it with the group.  This is entry level co-creation.

Sharing thoughts – twitter, social networks, blogs, video blogs.  This is the next level up students can share not just things they have found but their thoughts and reflections on them and the course/topics

Co-creating – wikis, google docs, any online tool that allows multiple editors.  At this point the students are making things together, each persons thoughts and edits,  adding to/changing/refining/building on the thoughts of each other

So there are lots of these tools available, your vle will have some and you should be able to link out to more.  The question is not particularly about the tools, what you need to do is look over your course and think of places where students could contribute, think about what kind of contributions they might be, think about how that enhances their learning.  Then select a tool that is a good fit for what you want to achieve.

Start with just one or two areas – a small project or a small defined goal are good starting points.  If it works well start opening up more of your course to student contributions.

Research – I always try to tie what I say to research, but in this case I am going to open up the blog post to contributions from others – if you can find any research that covers the benefits (or lack of benefits) of letting the students be co-creators of knowledge then please post below.

To get you started here are the results of a search I did on google scholar.