Friday, 18 July 2014

MOLE Content Categorized Course Composition

Image of Chapter 1 photographed from a book
Representation of Content (CC0)

When creating a course for delivery via a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), in our case Blackboard Learn (MOLE), there are a number of approaches you could consider taking. If you want to align with a particular theory or model for teaching then you have the flexibility within the VLE environment to enable your particular requirements.

Blackboard highlights five categories of course structures you can use as a fundamental base for creating courses, organizing content, sharing knowledge, and building communities. The categories focus on:

  •  Activity
  •  Communication
  • Content
  • Systems
  • Time
I want to draw out some areas in these categories that might be of particular interest. Firstly I’ll concentrate on the idea of Content based courses.


By Lecture
In MOLE, you can ask your students to read your lectures, listen to a voice recording, view slide presentation, etc. You can add extra value to your lectures with videos or screencasts that you create or link to external multimedia sources. This course structure works well for large introductory courses where lectures are the primary delivery method.

By Chapter
The By Chapter course structure organizes your course following the chapters in the required textbook and can work well for some subjects.

By Module or Element
A module or element is an independent unit or lesson. They can be self-contained allowing students to access them in any order, thus they can be used for self-paced courses.

By Unit
The unit-based course structure organizes content into large, distinct sections. Each of these units would have a separate link from the course menu. You could allow students to follow a predefined order or select units in an order of their own choosing. This approach might work successfully for subjects with specific historical time periods, several distinct or conflicting models of thought, etc.

Tools & their uses

Primary Content Structuring
Content will be published in the content area. This will provide students with an easy-to-navigate and familiar environment; you can create folders for each lecture, chapter, element, or unit. By including similar content, for example objectives, readings, instructions, assignments, and your lectures in varying formats you provide consistency whilst sparking interest. If elements of your course are larger topics, create a folder for each element, with folders inside to break up content by unit or week. Provide students with a similar layout in each folder to help them navigate and find information easily. Create a Resources content area to share additional material. This allows interested students to access more, relevant material.

A Discussion Forum can be used to help your student with their learning in a number of ways. You can use it for formal assignments. This could be via weekly questions that you set on the topics recently covered. Forums can also be used for informal scaffolding through student-student and student-lecturer interactions; they are able to ask questions and other students can answer them with lecturer intervention if required. Lecturers can also pose reflective questions about particular topics to promote conversations and discussions. These could be used to draw out the most salient points for a topic.

There is also the Blackboard Mobile Learn app available (Android and iOS) for free to our students and staff, which can be used seamlessly with Discussion Forums, Blogs and Journal tools within Blackboard. This allows tutors the flexibility to engage students in class with questions and topics that they want covered.

To enable collaborative working to happen amongst your students you can create a link to the wikis tool. Here students can generate content relating to the particular lecture, element, or unit. You can envisage getting the students to create reading summaries and further readings to share with the cohort, links to other relevant material, topic questions that they can research, and so forth. You can observe the contribution made by each student as the changes are tracked. This allows you to monitor engagement with the process as well as the generated end product.

For smaller collaborative workspaces it is useful to create Groups so smaller numbers of students can work together. The composition and size of groups can be changed during the course. Tools can also be varied.

Blogs can be used to give the students ‘thinking space’ related to each lecture or book chapter. You could set specific questions for the students to answer in their blog post. Alternatively you might let them react freeform to your material. A wider conversation can develop if you allow students to comment on one another’s posts.

For each tool used you can make the menu item link more descriptive of the functioning of the tool that you are using rather than just using the name of that tool.


Possible Linking Names
Personal Reflection; Thought Space; My Weekly Notes
Discussion Forum
Any Questions; Q&A; Discuss; Conversation
Collaborate; Development Space
Small Workspace; Group Working; Study Group

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

The man who informs the world

Vintage Library Poster (Public Domain)

Last month I wrote a post about Dr Mark Graham and his Four Thought presentation in which he highlighted some of the biases in online information. I heard a brief news item in the small hours this morning which talked about Sverker Johansson, from Sweden who has written a reported 2.7 million articles for Wikipedia, something like eight percent of the entire total on Wikipedia content. Many of these articles are what are known as ‘stubs’ created using a computer programme written by Sverker called "Lsjbot".

In the video, taken from the Wall Street Journal article, Sverker makes the point about Wikipedia contributors not being a cross-section of global society, parallelling the points made by Mark Graham previously.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

App Swap Breakfast - Changing Landscapes Webinar

I was lucky enough to be invited to contribute to a UCISA (Universities and Colleges Information Systems Association) webinar last week focusing on the growing interest in App Swap Breakfasts which we have started at The University of Sheffield. I'd come across the idea after presenting at the UCISA conference Changing Landscapes back in January at The Edge in Sheffield. I'd seen an inspiring presentation by Fiona MacNeill, Beth Hewitt and Joyce Webber from the University of Brighton talking about initiative. The event was run by UCISA and was a continuation of their Changing Landscapes, hosted by Jane Hetherington and featured reflections from myself, Fiona, Joe Telles from the University of Salford about our own App Swap Breakfasts.
The recording of the webinar can be viewed/listened to here:

Webinar recording -
Fiona MacNeill et al's presentation from the Changing Landscapes can be viewed here:


UCISA Case Study Slides: App Swap Breakfasts: Pedagogy, Mobile Devices and Learning Discourse over Breakfast from Fiona MacNeill

In addition I was invited to give a presentation to University of Sheffield staff as part of CiCS LeTS Snap, App & Tap lunchtime series to help colleagues get more from their mobile devices. I ran a session on tools to help staff and students carry out research on the go and looked at Mendeley, Evernote, Harvard Reference, CLA search amongst other useful tools. The slides are below, and I will be looking to turn this into a future ScHARR Bite Size event.

Future dates for the remaining Snap, App & Tap can be viewed below and signed up for via the University's Learning Managament System.

Weds 3rd September: The Collaborative Classroom: This session will give you a taste of how mobile devices can be used collaboratively and/or interactively in a classroom setting. You will get the chance to experience a lesson learning something which may be new to you and seeing how it feels to be a student using these technologies. The session will cover some / all of the following - synchronous use of Google docs, Nearpod, Feedback tools such as Poll anywhere, Socrative, Google moderator and Blackboard mobile.

Weds 10th Sep: Reading on your mobile device - a good idea? There are differences in the way that we read electronic texts and paper-based texts. There are also differences between reading on a computer screen and on a mobile device. How do these differences affect our experience, our work and our students? What are the advantages and disadvantages? The session will look at which options are available for reading on a mobile device, what advantages there are, what the options are for annotating and sharing reading, how the screen size affects our ability to read, accessibility / disability and reading on screen. 

Weds 17th September: Keeping a diary, journal or reflective log on a mobile device. A mobile device can be the perfect tool for a journal, diary or reflective log as it is often with you wherever you go. This session looks at the tools available for keeping your notes and how they can be exploited for academic purposes. It covers the apps available for diaries, journals and reflective logs, how notes can be moved from one place to another and tools available to transform your notes into valuable data.

Weds 24th September: See Hear! You or your students can create audio-visual resources on your mobile devices. This session will cover the reasons why we may use audio-visual resources and look a various tools that are available such as iMovie, Explain Everything, voice recorder.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Is your student's essay being sold?

With the ready availability of so much electronic data, there is a great deal of talk about ‘plagiarism’. This is defined by The University of Sheffield’s Student Union as “…the use of unfair means. This means that the work you have submitted is not your own but someone else’s. It is cheating and means the University cannot assess your abilities properly.” (Sheffield University Student Union, 2014)

Students receive an email twice a year from the University, informing them of the need to be vigilant and honest in the way they prepare and present their work – and the potential outcomes if they fail to behave in an expected way.

Most departments at the University are now using specialist software and compulsory e-submission of assignments as a means to assist with the detection of plagiarism and most students are concerned about how to reference the work of others’ correctly.
In some cases, students could resort to the use an ‘online plagiarism checker’. There are many of these websites available – some of which email students directly - and at first appearances, they may be a useful tool. But, as with many ‘free’ online tools, students need to exercise caution.

Sadly, there are some online companies, which seek to cash in on this concern. For example, there are companies who will offer a free plagiarism scan; what may not be so clear is that they could be selling a student’s work nine months after it has been submitted for scanning. Students are offered a ‘plagiarism checker’. There is no such thing as software that can check for plagiarism – the best any software can do is to highlight matches in the text, which can then be investigated further by an academic.

There is a way to avoid this at The University of Sheffield. All  departments and tutors have access to Turnitin and can set up an area in MOLE for tutors to allow a student to submit a ‘draft assignment’. The student can see their own originality report and, with support, learn to understand what it means and develop their citation skills. This can be provided free of charge for the student by the University and all work submitted to Turnitin stays with Turnitin.
'Students who submit papers to Turnitin retain the copyright to the work they created. A copy of submitted papers is retained in a Turnitin database archive to be compared with future submissions—a practice that helps protect and strengthen copyright ownership.'

Students can also get support with their academic writing from 301- the Student Skills and Development Centre- and the Information Commons. So, please make students aware of the dangers of the free online services and endeavor to provide a place where students can develop their skills and check their own work.

In any case where you suspect that a student has plagiarized or not used their own work, please read the following guidance:

Sheffield University Students’ Union (accessed May 2014), Plagiarism. Retrieved from

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Videos as infonuggets

Gold Nugget, No known copyright restrictions
I’ve been spending some travelling time thinking about engagement of students with video content. I have written previously about accessing educational videos on mobile devices during such time. But one drawback I have found is the dropping out of the mobile signal during a 20 minute video. Then I got to thinking, is this really the sort of video length to be watching when accessing via a mobile on the move? If you are on the bus, train or tube for half an hour then maybe. If you’re a student and have five or 10 minutes to kill walking across campus, or waiting for a lecture to start then probably not. Also, I’m personally finding that five minute chunks of video makes the content really accessible.

I thought back to the GALT Event in March and TED-Ed introduced by Mel Lindley. I’ve started watching (or rather listening to and semi-watching) these ‘bite-sized’ ‘info-nuggets’ and I’m liking them. Maybe it’s just the way I am, but I find it a really useful information access process. I’m often wanting to follow up (and do when I have time later) on the material I’ve just seen or heard. So in that respect it is certainly working for me.

Considering this approach I was reminded of the concept of microfilms that I read about in Sept 2013 that is very popular in Asia. These are very short films that people watch on their mobile phones whilst commuting. There is a whole industry of creative people developing around this concept. The barriers to entering the production side of microfilms is also very low. Maybe we’ll see more educational microfilms being created. Possibly this is something to try getting students involved in.

What are your thoughts? How do you like to access information on the move? What is the ideal length of an information video? Leave us a comment.

Microfilm Links:

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Sharing your Google Docs and Presentations with /preview

Google Docs has many 'hidden tricks' that can help with your productivity, collaboration, and presentation. The aim of these short tips is to reveal such tricks to enhance the learning and teaching experience. I also intend to produce and share a set of 'short tip' documents.

Publish with /preview

By default, the URL you see for a Google Doc ends in /edit. This is the ‘edit view’ of that document, whether you have provided editing rights or not. If you just want someone to read your shared document without editing or commenting then send the link with /preview replacing /edit at the end of the URL. This provides a read-only version to the recipient, which loads faster without distracting menus and buttons, and has pagination.

Doc with /edit in the URL.
Doc with /preview in the URL.

Monday, 16 June 2014

MOLE Update

We are pleased to announce that we are moving to a brand new service delivery model for MOLE.

Rather than being hosted on our own servers at the University, MOLE will be hosted by its suppliers, Blackboard, on their servers in Amsterdam.

All content will be migrated across by CiCS working closely with Blackboard, and staff and students will notice no difference in the user experience.

One key difference however, is that in our new service model, Blackboard will provide 24/7 support and maintenance for the running of MOLE. This means that if their monitoring equipment detects poor performance or unusually high utilisation at any time of the day, they will immediately channel additional resource where it is needed so the user experience in Sheffield does not deteriorate. We expect that this will avoid a repeat of the MOLE performance problems we experienced at the start of this academic year.

With this new service delivery model we are hopeful that MOLE will meet the needs of our academic colleagues and their students. The Learning Technologies team in CiCS will now be able to focus their efforts on supporting academics to use the features of MOLE to produce innovative and engaging online content to provide our students with the best learning experience possible.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Serendipitous route to Milq & beyond

I enjoy the world of serendipitous discovery of technology for learning and teaching uses. I looked over the recent Twitter email telling me things that I might be interested in. One was a Tweet from Mashable about Milq.

Milq instantly struck me as an interesting concept. It’s a user-driven curation system that potentially could help you organize the web. Launched in April after a year of beta it appeared as one of Apple’s Best New Apps.

A Milq user poses a question, and this constitutes a Bead. Others respond by posting videos and audio clips.

I can see the possibilities for education of a community of users offering up useful material. This is a way of tapping into what others, interested in the same topic, are finding informative. It’s a way of dipping your head into the information stream without it being ripped off, or at least developing your own tributary. I can see parallels with a curation community developed in Diigo for example, but it seems more dynamic. Also it feels like a more intuitive way to follow items that might appear via Google+.

On using Milq, I immediately started looking for examples of Education curations. First I found the CHANGING LEARNING? bead.

Screen shot of changing learning bead
Screenshot of 'Changing Learning?' bead from Milq

Then I tried the search function. That led me to Paul Anderson’s ‘Classroom Game Design’ at TEDxBozeman video where he talks about engaging students using a gaming approach to the classroom. Paul also talks about the need to allow failure to enable learning and growth to happen. This links in nicely with my previous post about #safefail.

Milq definitely looks like one to watch. I like serendipity.

Article Links:
Milq tag search #education

Friday, 6 June 2014

App Swap Breakfast #2 Curation Tools

The second App Swap Breakfast (ASB) took place with CiCS and looked at curation tools. As with the first ASB there was a good turn out with lively discussion that looked a few more issues relating to the use of apps and smart devices in the University. One issue that had arisen before the second ASB was that of presenting apps on a big screen. Many staff had experience of presenting slides and Web tours using their tablets and smartphones remotely using such as Haikudeck and Nearpod amongst others. Actually projecting apps onto a screen is not so straightforward but luckily a kind soul in our Corporate Information and Computing Services sourced us a cable for our iPads in time. It raised another of many questions, what cables, projectors and other infracture does an organisation need to do this fluently? Does it need cables given we are increasingly able to present wirelessly? For our session to get the apps on screen we did need a cable, but another question had arisen in my mind. How can we screencast and capture apps, especially when trying to demo them? Recently Apple announced that this will be possible on their new Yosemite OS, although early tests showed it was still not perfect for capturing apps. Even sites like Techcrunch and their tech reviews still often have a person holding the phone or tablet whilst showing the app to camera, but hopefully that will all change. That said, this approach is not all bad.

At the ASB Daniel Villalba Algas from the Department of Politics explained how he used Evernote to capture everything from meeting notes to useful Web links. Evernote is a simple note taking application that is available in a range of different devices, it is even available on the University's managed desktop.

Daniel explained to the group and writes below that he uses Evernote to take quick and simple notes that he later uses to produce more complex documents. Daniel listed some of the key benefits of the app:
  • It allows you to record one hour of sound for note so if you are going to a meeting or conference you can record the sound while you are taking your notes. Daniel said that he was aware of his department’s students using it to record lectures while they are taking notes.
  • You can also attach images to a note if it is easier than typing.
  • With all these systems it is useful if you can sort and manage your notes and in Evernote you can create notebooks, tags or even link a note to a specific location so it makes it very easy to find the notes that you are looking for even by using geographical information.
  • Comments are stored in the cloud so you can always have access to them regardless of the device that you are using.

I looked at two tools I have championed for the last few years that help teach students and staff how to organise and manage their research papers.


Mendeley is a social reference management tool that has its own alternative metric for measuring scholarly papers. The application is available across most platforms as official and unofficial versions, with a desktop and Web version being the mainstay of the software. The mobile version sits in between both versions in terms of functionality and usage.  For any student or researcher working on the go and in possession of a tablet the app allows them to save new references and attached PDFs with the option to read them. Unlike the desktop version there is no option to annotate or highlight the PDFs, but nevertheless it is a useful reader. Users can tag references and access their references and papers within their groups.

The app is free and has an official iOS version, whilst there are unofficial Android versions, Mendeley say they are working on an official version. There is also a version for the Amazon Kindle which allows you to read papers in your Mendeley database.

The next tool I looked at was Readability which is more of a PDF reader than anything. The real value from Readability is by using it on your Web browser as it allows users to turn webpage articles into clean looking PDF type articles that you can read offline on your tablet device. Readability is able to turn a website from the one below into the pdf below that. It is a great way to stockpile interesting articles you may discover browsing the Web or Twitter and turn them into a reading list.

Before Readability


Claire Beecroft talked about two apps she uses to create and discover materials as part of her teaching. Claire captures below what it is she likes about these two apps; firstly the micro-podcasting tool AudioBoo and the journal browsing app Browzine.


Audioboo appswap - Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

Audioboo is an app for Android and iOS and can also be used via a browser. Its free. You can record up to 10 mins of audio and embed the results in a neat little player in MOLE (Blackboard). Great for distance/blended learning, i.e: introducing a module, LO’s or a discussion topic, or for setting assignments or doing topical things related to current affairs.


Browzine is an app that allows you to ‘browze’ the e-journals at your institution. It links to the Uni’s e-journal subscriptions and allows you to browse broad subject categories for journal titles, then more specific sub-categories. Nice for current awareness and a more serendipitous approach to search. Reminds me of the old days of directories like Yahoo.

The third App Swap Breakfast will focus on sound and vision and will hopefully take place in July

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Divided We Fall?

Photograph of Divided Highway Signpost
Divided Highway by Steve Snodgrass  (CC BY 2.0)
I’m often reminded about how lucky I am living in the UK. One reason being the thought provoking content that is frequently available on BBC Radio 4. Four Thought is one such programme. It consists of a series of 15 minutes talks where speakers introduce their thoughts about ideas and interests affecting society.

The speaker on one recent programme was Dr Mark Graham. He presented some insights into the geographical information divides that exist across the planet. For example, did you know that the USA and UK together publish more scientific journals than the rest of the world combined? Or that 80 percent of registered internet domains are to people in Europe and North America, with only two percent to people in Africa? Mark points out that 10 years ago only about 10 percent of the world’s population was online, whereas now something like three billion people or over 40 percent of the world’s population is online. Even so there is still vast information inequalities.

Mark gave examples from Wikipedia. He says that

“The vast majority of articles come from Europe and America and the vast majority of articles are about Europe and America.”

“There are more articles written about Antarctica … than most countries in Africa …”

With regard to languages

“More articles are written in Finnish (spoken by five million people) than Arabic (spoken by 280 million people).”

And with regard to gender, Mark says that the guess is that fewer than 15 percent of Wikipedia editors are female. This can lead to a gender bias in the discussion of subjects. [Aside: Only today research has emerged about the unconscious gender bias of hurricane names leading to increased fatalities. (Refer to )]

Our digital tools are amplifying the already most visible, most prominent examples. As educators and students we need to be aware of this and try to remember these biases and also what has been left out. We particularly need to remember where information originates as the MOOC phenomenon takes hold.

To listen to the full BBC Radio 4 Four Thought visit
or watch Mark’s TEDx Talk

See my set of Diigo links to Dr Mark Graham

The Four Thought website is available
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