Monday, 16 November 2015

The Jisc pilot group on Electronic Management of Assessment (EMA)

I was kindly invited by Jisc to their EMA pilot group in Central London on the 27th October, in a building set just a smidge back from the river Thames.

Photo Credit: zell0ss CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The aims of this meeting were (to quote the agenda!):

  • To evaluate and improve the alpha version of the self-assessment tool
  • To evaluate the generic process model and agree how to present the model and system requirements
  •  To agree actions for pilot institutions and support from Jisc 
  • To share updates on related projects/activities 
We began with each Institution giving an overview of where they are in terms of their Institution level EMA Journey. At Sheffield we now have fairly widespread use of EMA and it has been driven at “grassroots” level by departments looking to achieve a consistent, efficient and modern assessment experience for students. This departmental drive means that, although there are common EMA themes (e.g. anonymous and double blind marking), departments can tailor the technologies to their departmental processes. Our two main technologies that deliver EMA are Blackboard and Turnitin.

We then split into two groups to discuss an EMA self - assessment tool. This tool, which comprised a series of radio button multiple choice questions, was split into a number of different sections or themes. These themes were titled: Strategy/Policy, Curriculum data, Processes and working practices, culture and the student experience. Once the form was filled in the answers would score you into 5 different levels from Exploring to Pioneering.

My group felt that the form should be made available at Institution level but also as a separate or tailored form for Faculty and/or Departmental distribution. We thought it would be of the most use if there were some kind of user “dashboard” which would allow you to control the kinds of questions that would be displayed.

Finally we reviewed a workflow model for assessment and feedback that has gone through a number of iterations already. There was a split between views on the level of detail that should be presented. On the one hand you might want a lot of detail in order to fully capture the variety of processes that Institutions have. On the other keeping it at a high level would avoid it being too complex and therefore difficult to use.

Finally we were given some updates on the related projects including the proposed feedback hub. I then had to depart quickly in order to catch my train. It was great to hear from other Institutions on how they are progressing with EMA as well as having an early look at some of the great work Jisc is doing to help us on our way!

 For more information on EMA have a look at the Jisc EMA blog

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Free course on Measuring and Valuing Health (PROMS and QALYs)

The University of Sheffield has developed a number of Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) over the last 2 years, delivered via the FutureLearn platform. These free to take online courses are varied and draw on expertise from academic and research staff at the University. Courses are varied and have included: 'Discovering Dentisry' and 'Crime, Justice and Society', you can see a complete list of courses that the University has delivered here: 

Back due to popular demand, the School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR) will be re-running their 3 week free MOOC on Measuring and Valuing Health on the 23rd November 2015.

If you missed it last time, you can sign up to it now. There will be lots of great interactive learning and the chance to debate some of the key issues with experts in the field.

This free online course will introduce you to health outcomes and explain how they can be measured and valued, to make more informed decisions about where to spend our limited healthcare budgets.

The time commitment is approximately 3 hours per week. The content is divided into small bite sized pieces that can be done at your leisure to fit around other commitments.

Watch the trailer, find further details and sign up here

Or have a sneak peek at this video which shows you what is covered in week 1
We hope to see you on the course

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

5 Must-Have Peripherals for your Tablet Device

There are an increasing array of mobile apps and technologies that learning technologists, teachers and academics can use within the institution. Added to that are a growing number of peripherals that can be employed to make teaching and content production an easier process. In this blog post we look at five that you should take note of. The five pieces of tech below are not necessarily the best ones for each task, but are ones I have employed personally with my iPad. There may be cheaper and better options available out there should you wish to explore further.

Be louder
CC BY NC ND 2.0 Gibbyll
All too often when going out to present or deliver teaching you can find the room facilities non-functional. There may be no sound coming from the speakers attached to the teaching lectern, or just no speakers at all. One way round this is to have your own set of speakers with you. Naturally you do not want to be carrying around a big heavy 4kw sound system, so need something small and lightweight. One alternative is the X-mini speakers series
There are various models and all allow users to chain link multiple ones together to increase the sound output. Many give an output in the region of 2kw, which can be built upon with more speakers. For a small to mid-sized seminar lecture room they give enough audio to ensure you won’t be put off playing videos in your class ever again. You can get a pair of good quality x-mini speakers for about £15.

Stand Tall
When trying to capture any content, whether it be yourself in front of your tablet camera, or using it as a reading device you are often limited as to where you can prop your device. Even doing something like relaying your teaching over the web using Twitter video conferencing tools like Periscope or Meerkat it can be quite tough. This can be negated by buying a tablet stand, which looks not too dissimilar from your typical music stand. The Ezi-Tech Music Stand Mount, priced around the £30 mark is a good one which works with Apple and Samsung devices. It allows the user to free up their hands to hold a paper, or maintains a consistency when trying to record a piece to camera, whether that be video or just audio.

Be Heard
Tablets have come on a long way from the first wave of smart devices from a few years ago. One thing they have improved on is audio capture and recording, yet there is always room for improvement. Often sound can be the most important aspect of a digital artefact, as users may want to only hear what you are saying rather than watch. Content can be stripped down to a podcast, so good quality audio is essential. Using a USB microphone can help improve on your audio capture and can give a richness of sound when it lacks. A good series of microphones is the Rode USB, which comes with a tripod stand and pop shield. It works with Windows and Mac OS and connects, as you would suspect from its name, via USB. It is important to note that iPad users would require an Apple adaptor cable for the USB which costs about £25 The mic, which is powered by the tablet device, costs somewhere in the region of £100 upwards

Project Yourself
CC BY 2.0 Paul Hudson
If you use the likes of Google Slides, Haiku Deck and Nearpod to present then it should make sense to use your tablet device to deliver them from. Just because you have a tablet device, and not a laptop, does not mean you cannot use your own little bit ot tech to deliver your slides. For Apple devices with the miniport you can use it to connect to a VGA device like a projector, which costs about £30 Android users can hardwire connect to projectors by using a mini HDMI to HDMI cable if the projector supports it. Obviously there are an increasing number of ways to mirror and connect devices to big screens without the need for cabling, but not everyone has access to that just yet.

Be Seen
CC BY 2.0 Dave Taylor
A useful technology with real potential that has appeared in the last year or so is Swivl. The little round, flat Swivl robot allows your teaching and presentations to be captured and shared live as it follows you around the room while you present. By wearing a small dongle that picks up on your voice, the device hosts your tablet device allowing it to capture your teaching and either record it or deliver it to elsewhere remotely. Swivl costs somewhere in the region of £450, so is not so cheap. Nethertheless, if you do a lot of teaching, flip your classroom or have online learners and want to maximise your output, it could be a worthwhile investment. Regardless of how fast you try and move the Swivl does a really good job of trying to keep up.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

TELFest 2015 Leaderboard

During September 2015's TELFest (a week long festival consisting of workshops, discussions and drop-in sessions related to Technology Enhanced Learning) we introduced a leaderboard to enhance participation throughout the event, and to encourage the use social media to share experiences amongst colleagues that were unable to attend. Having experienced the leaderboard at the UCISA Spotlight on Capabilities Conference in June, I was interested in using it to introduce ideas related to Gamification, and bring an extra element of fun, to TELFest. The leaderboard is generated by a website called, which automatically calculates the scores for tweets that contain a specific hashtag, and, following some pointers from Fiona MacNeil who had set it up for the UCISA event, I set up a leaderboard for TELFest. Given the aims behind using the leaderboard, I decided that points should be primarily awarded for tweeting with the #TELFest hashtag and there were additional points for attending drop in sessions and tweeting TELfie’s (TELfest selfies). Below is a breakdown of the points that could be earned:

Tweets with the #TELFest hashtag
1 point
Being Mentioned by someone else
2 points
Having your  #TELFest Posts Retweeted
3 points
Tweeting a TELFie with the hashtag  #TELFest (TELFest, Selfie)
3 points
Attending a drop in session
5 points

Each day we saw the top tweeters changing positions and there was healthy competition amongst TELFest participants.  

To keep tweeters motivated, automated tweets were sent out every evening, informing them of their position on the leaderboard.

Twitter activity increased significantly compared to September 2014, there was a tenfold increase in the overall number tweets, a tripling of the number of tweeters and, on the Friday, TELFest trended in the Sheffield area, meaning that it was promoted to local users on the main twitter interface.

An additional benefit of promoting the use of Twitter through the leaderboard was that it helped to capture the variety of views and opinions shared by participants during the event. We were then able to use the tweets to create daily blog posts summarising these discussions using Storify, allowing us to produce a record of the day’s events for participants to look back on and to give some insight into the discussions for those unable to attend.

While the leaderboard was highlighted during the Gamification session as an example of a method to encourage participation and motivate learners, it is hard to say whether, in this case, the leaderboard led to an objective increase in Twitter usage. Early feedback indicates that its’ introduction did motivate some people to tweet more than they might ordinarily, yet others stated that they were unaware of the board. Another reason why the increase in the use of Twitter at TELFest this year cannot be solely attributed to the leaderboard is that we integrated Twitter directly into some of the workshops. It is however clear that the leaderboard did not appear to influence the number of colleagues attending drop-in sessions.

We closed the board on Friday at 12pm and as a token gesture awarded chocolate medal to colleagues that were top of the board - congratulations to Gary, Nik and Maria.

Final Leaderboard

Friday, 24 July 2015

Taming the grade centre with colour

One of those “why didn't I know you could do that” moments that I thought was worth sharing. This is where I find out that I'm the only blackboard user who didn't know about it but here goes anyway.

At the recent North England Blackboard User Group Meeting (NEBUG) there was a really useful presentation from Adam Elce (North Notts college) showcasing the blackboard templates and VLE audit framework they use. His presentation may be worth another blog post in itself but he casually threw in the fact that you can colour code student scores in the grade centre.

Now I've always found the grade centre in blackboard to be an unwieldy beast at the best of times…. very powerful but unwieldy.

In our Legal Practice course we make extensive use of MCQs but the default grade centre just displays numbers that could be out of any total, the quizzes may vary from 3 questions up to 30. A quick visit to the” manage” tab in the gradebook, drop down to “grading colour code” tick the box to enable colour coding then just build your own criteria and colour scheme.

It just so happen in this one we have gone for purple for very high scores, the reds are less than 50% (a fail), dark blues are in progress and various shades represent the grade ranges in between. This was a 30 second job to set up, .

Now the whole grade centre becomes a lot more useful as you can easily see a student’s progress across the quizzes without having to remember what each score was out off. You can of course toggle colour on and off if it all gets a bit too much.

Gareth Bramley, University Teacher on our LPC course writes "the colour coding can usefully be adapted so that it highlights various grade boundaries, and the colours make it a lot easier to assess how the students enrolled on the module have performed in each quiz"

Hope this is useful if you didn't already know about it. Next time I’ll be delving more into reporting from the gradebook and quiz analysis tools.


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