Thursday, 17 April 2014

NUI Galway Blackboard Collaborate April Series

CELT is delighted to invite you to participant in the NUI Galway Blackboard Collaborate April Showcase presentation series.

About the April Showcase Series

The series will feature live online presentations from NUI Galway colleagues who have utilised Blackboard Collaborate live meeting rooms to engage with their students during this academic year.

The presentations will address pedagogical, practical and logistical considerations when engaging in live synchronous teaching and learning sessions, and will offer useful advice and recommendations to colleagues interested in adopting this approach in their own practice.

These presentations will be of interest to colleagues currently using, intending to use, or wish to have an awareness of the potential of the Blackboard Collaborate platform to support live online teaching and learning.

About Blackboard Collaborate at NUI Galway

Blackboard Collaborate provides a real-time bridge to geographically distributed students and staff through online meeting rooms which can be used in a variety of ways (e.g. webinars, online tutorials, student project work, project meetings and facilitating expert presentations with live Q and A sessions).  Blackboard Collaborate sessions can be recorded for archiving and reviewing purposes.

Blackboard Collaborate is integrated into the Blackboard Learn VLE platform at NUI Galway. Meeting rooms can be created by all Blackboard instructors from within their modules for student access. It is also possible to request that the creation of non-Blackboard based meeting rooms for wider institutional or external collaboration (e.g. for international project teams) from CELT.

NUI Galway is the only higher education institution in Ireland that has invested in campus-wide access to Blackboard Collaborate for all students and staff.

The April Showcase Schedule

Using Blackboard Collaborate with Nursing & Midwifery Post-Graduate Students
Presenter            Siobhan Smyth, School of Nursing and Midwifery
Date                   Tuesday 22 April 1:00 – 2:00

Using Blackboard Collaborate in Online Italian Courses
Presenter            Laura McLoughlin, Italian Studies; Schools of Languages, Literatures and Cultures
Date                   Wednesday 23 April 1:00 – 2:00

Using Blackboard Collaborate with Advanced Language Learners
Presenters            Dorothy Ní Uigín & Éamon Ó Cofaigh, Acadamh na hOllscolaíochta Gaeilge
Date                   Tuesday 29 April 1:00 – 2:00

Implementing Blackboard Collaborate at NUI Galway: 2013-14 Review, Supports and Future Plans
Presenter            Paul Gormley, Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT)
Date                   Wednesday 30 April 1:00 – 2:00

Booking Your Place

Please sign-up to your preferred presentations via the following Google form:


Accessing the Presentation Meeting Room

All presentations will be delivered via a Blackboard Collaborate live meeting room. Please click on the following link (or paste it into your browser address box) to access the meeting room:

Preparing for Your Session

We advise that you access the meeting room 10 minutes before the official start time in order to check your audio set-up. You can do this by selecting the Blackboard Collaborate Tools menu > Audio > Audio Wizard

Technical Support

If you have any difficulties please email before the start time of your session.

Blackboard Collaborate Information and Resources at NUI Galway

Please access the CELT Blackboard resource site for further information, videos, walkthrough guides and case studies at:

We look forward to your presence at the Blackboard Collaborate April Showcase series.


Sunday, 9 March 2014

On being a woman in technology

Flowers for Internation Women's Day
Flowers for International Women's Day
Yesterday was International Women's Day and there was a plethora of blog posts and twitter messages identifying various inspirational women. Twenty five years ago I would have found this unnecessary, demeaning even. But now, with a pre-teenage daughter about to enter secondary school, with her whole life ahead of her, I'm increasingly concerned about the world that she is about to encounter.

I grew up with just one sister, no brothers. We were never told that there were career paths not open to us. We both ended up taking Computer Science degrees and both continue to work in technology. I went to an all-girls convent school. I took Honours Maths and Physics, because I liked them. Originally I wanted to be an accountant (like my dad) or an actuary. But then I got the CS bug, and decided that's what I wanted to do. I graduated in 1990, one of 8 girls in a class of 34 computer scientists - that's almost 25% female. I took a joint honours degree in Maths and Computer Science; of four of us to graduate with this degree, 2 were female.

When I started lecturing computer science, the first group to graduate (in 1999) had five women out of 13 (almost 40%). For the first few years, as class sizes increased, the ratio of female students remained around 35%. But then something happened. Jump forward to the final year class of 2009, the last undergraduate CS class I taught, when there was not one female in the group.

Twenty five years ago, I thought Women in Technology was an unnecessary movement and wanted nothing to do with it. Today, it's a recognised problem. Catherine Cronin has written a much more informed article about the issue. There are various articles about why we need more women in technology. We also hear that women entering the field are likely to face a difficult culture. I think it's also true to say that many women who work in technology, like myself, are bewildered by the situation. Mounia Lalmas, who did her Phd at the same time as me, in the early 1990s, and who is a brilliant computer scientist, wrote about this recently. Perhaps Mounia's post, more than any other, has inspired me to write this today.

One suggestion that keeps coming up is that young women need more (female) role models. Like Catherine Cronin (in the article mentioned above), I don't subscribe to this as the solution.

I note that many recommendations focus on role models and mentoring for girls. I believe such initiatives are powerful and necessary, but by no means sufficient in effecting the level of change that is required. - Catherine Cronin

I had no female role models. I adored and feared (in equal measure) my Maths teacher at school (Mrs Kelly), but I never wanted to be her. As an undergraduate, I had no female lecturers in either Maths or Computing. The first time I encountered a female academic in CS was after I had started my PhD. And, as Mounia writes "why do I want to be like somebody else?"

I was certainly inspired and influenced by various people, male and female, and I was lucky as an undergraduate and postgraduate student to have people who encouraged and supported me. I never noticed a gender imbalance; although clearly it did exist, it just wasn't an issue. I'd like to subscribe to Mounia's conclusions:

 listen to advices and recommendations, and decide what is RIGHT for you. Change what YOU think should change while remaining you. Take responsibility. And enjoy being you. - Mounia Lalmas

But ultimately, I do believe that there is a culture problem. I find it hard to accept that this exists in 2014, but evidence suggests that the situation is getting worse, and I fear for my daughter's future. And here is my problem with role models: no woman should have to be a role model for her gender. I don't want to push my daughter, who is clever, sociable, sassy and very much her own person, into a STEM career, just to make up the numbers.

I had a conversation last week with a bright young postgrad student. She started out, in college in the US, as a Maths student, the only female in her class. After some time, she realised that she would prefer to major in English Literature. She felt guilty in making that change, because she felt she was letting down her whole gender. It took a strong woman to choose Maths in the first place, and an even stronger woman to give it up.

So, here's to all the strong women out there - you know who you are.


Wednesday, 29 January 2014

BYOD4L: Communicating

Day two of BYOD4L mini course, and I'm still here, though a little late to blog about it. The theme was communicating and we had a very intense twitter chat on that topic.

The first task, which I completed over lunchtime on my iPad, was to

create a representation of yourself as a communicator in your private and professional life

The directions suggested that I find a free app that would help me with this. Some mind-mapping apps were suggested, but eventually I decided that iBrainstorm looked fairly easy. This is what I came up with.

Me, as a communicator
Me, as a communicator
Interestingly, in retrospect, I focused on me (as a communicator) rather than focusing on the tools that I use - though some are mentioned.

I also chose to reveal an aspect of my personality, that I am an introvert. This was actually the first thing I pinned to the board, because I feel that it does define the way that I prefer and choose to communicate.

The Videos
I did look at both video scenarios. I reflected a little on them, but I'm not going to write anything here, because I felt that both student and teacher needed to establish some connections (theme of day 1) before they could worry about communicating.

The twitter chat was more interesting to me. The first question was about what does communication mean to you, and my response was about listening. This turned into a conversation about lurking and the value of lurking. Somebody asked if shy people are also shy online, and I responded that I am shy, but not so much online. A number of others admitted the same thing.

Chrissi Nerantzi (@chrissinerantzi) asked me "what helps you open up online?" and "what helped you make the first step?". I've been thinking about this for a little while. My answer is not straightforward, but is relevant to the topic of Communicating. Here goes:

People are different.And they have their own preferred ways of communicating. I don't mind chatting with people on a topic that I know - but don't ask me to make small talk. I hate the telephone. I dislike large meetings. Going to an event (conference, meeting, party) full of people I don't know is a nightmare. But online communication is fine. Email is no problem.

When I first started teaching online, 10 years ago, I realised that I quite liked discussion boards as a discussion tool. I felt that everybody had the opportunity to say their piece, unlike in a meeting. Some people may choose not to participate, and it's difficult to tell the lurkers from those who are absent. But the platform suited me.

Blogging took a while. I started with short pieces of information, but doing a lot more reflection now. It's a personal thing, but I get a great buzz when somebody comments and it might result in a conversation.

I've written previously about my identity on twitter. I still find it the most useful tool in my own professional development, and I try to share that with others.

More recently, I'm very positive about the possibilities of online collaboration tools, I regularly participate in webinars, and have presented talks by webinar. Today I had a meeting using Collaborate, and realise that I'm much happier using the chatbox than the mic.

But that's all just about my preferences. We each have our own individual preferences about how we choose to communicate. Sometimes we are forced to use tools/platforms that we don't like, and sometimes we force ourselves to use tools that we don't like - I do attend conferences full of people that I don't know (I've never minded presenting at them - strangely).

So, keeping in mind that people have their own preferences, how can we encourage them to make better use of online or mobile devices? I think all we can do is demonstrate good practice, show them the value, help them to try (in a supported environment), share our own enthusiasm. But we can't force people to use a tool they don't like or aren't comfortable with, if there is an alternative (there are lots of alternatives to the telephone, luckily, most of the time).

Monday, 27 January 2014

BYOD4L: Connecting

This week I am dipping into the open bite-size course BYOD4L: Bring Your Own Device for Learning.

I can't promise that I'll keep up, especially since the History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education MOOC also starts today. But since it's only over 5 days, I might just manage.

The first topic is that of Connecting. There was quite a bit of connecting on the twitter chat this evening, under the hashtag #BYOD4Lchat. It was fast and furious.

But, back to the task at hand. I watched both videos embedded on the Resources page and decided to reflect on the second one, from the point of view of the teacher.

This is a scenario with which I am familiar, since I work in supporting teaching staff in their use of technology. A constant refrain is "I haven't got time", which, to be fair, is usually true.

Academics are, increasingly, very busy with many demands on their time. To start using a new technology (device, app, system, tool) for teaching, they need to be convinced of its value, the return on  investment. It's only worth investing the time and effort if you can guarantee results - some benefit to the teacher and/or an improvement in the learning of the students.

When it comes to connecting, academics do this all the time in research. They connect and form research groups and clusters, they go to research meetings and conferences, they write joint papers. But many teaching staff don't feel the need to do this for their teaching practice. They just don't see the value in it.

When encouraging staff to use twitter, I often suggest that they start following people from their own research area or discipline, and any professional/research bodies or journals that are of interest. This can be a good hook to get them started.

Most teaching staff do want to connect with their students, but they may not yet have realised how mobile devices and apps can facilitate that. Perhaps that's the hook we need to use?


Thursday, 23 January 2014

Plumbing, Pedagogy, Policy, Personalised Learning and ePortfolios

Calman Learning Centre, Durham
Calman Learning Centre, Durham
Earlier this month I attended (and presented at) the Durham Blackboard Users' Conference. This was my fourth time to attend the conference, which is always a very valuable event, particularly at the start of the new year. This year's event was no exception. Quite apart from the excellent keynotes (Patrick Carmichael and Robin Goodfellow) and the varied programme, this also gives me a chance to catch up with a very open and sharing community of learning technologists, teachers and administrators with common issues and challenges.

It's now about 2 weeks since the conference and I've had a chance to let some ideas and thoughts settle. Rather than being a conference report, I'd just like to write down some of my reflections arising from the event. Apologies for the long post, it has taken me a few days to bring the threads together.

An archive of the tweets from the event is available on storify.

UntitledOne of the first things that I noticed on arriving at the Calman Building, before the Mobile User Group meeting, was a notice on the back of the toilet doors, politely advising people on how to use the facilities. My first thought was that I wished somebody would put something similar in the toilets at NUIG. But then I wondered how we have arrived at a state in society where such a notice is considered necessary? Surely these recommendations are well known! And if people (staff, students) in a university don't know how to use the toilets, how can we expect them to use the VLE?

Perhaps inspired by this notice, Elaine Tan (@ElaineRTan) in her final session asked if eLearning technologies should be like a toilet - functioning, clean and accessible, but not in your face? I would agree that many supporting IT systems should be like this, for example registration, fees, expenses, records etc. Elaine's question arose however in the context of a study of incoming student expectations around the use of technology in their learning, and the realisation that they weren't particularly looking for the latest bright, shiny tools.

When it comes to the use of social media, as Robin Goodfellow noted in his keynoted, students will not take kindly to attempts to redesign social learning practices already in existence informally.

I think this is a reminder to us all that we absolutely have to stop focusing on the technology, and finding ways to implement it in (or outside) the classroom. But rather than delegating technology to the status of plumbing, we have to remember to always focus on the pedagogy and start from there.

Technology and Pedagogy
 In a previous blog post, as part of my reflections on #edcmooc, I argued that technology does not change education. But, the introduction of a technology can sometimes have the effect of causing us to rethink our pedagogies. A simple example can be seen in the use of classroom response systems, or clickers. These are often introduced simply to engage students, but can cause a lecturer to think about how they integrating the clickers into their teaching, eventually even considering using peer instruction as an approach.

Sometimes the introduction of technology can expose poor pedagogy, as in the project described by Andy Raistrick (@AJRaistrick) in his presentation ePortfolios for Learner Engagement, Feedback, Plagiarism Detection and Electronic Marking. Although presented as an unsuccessful project, in fact the overall result was very positive. The complicated ePortfolio system was abandoned, when it was realised that that there were some basic underlying problems with the assessment design - a very good outcome. Andy's presentation was a highlight of the conference for me.

Robin Goodfellow's personal learning
Robin Goodfellow, in his keynote, also spoke about a failed ePortfolio project, which he described as a "triumph of design over need". This was in the context of his own personal learning journey and highlights again how failure can be a very effective learning experience.

There was a lot of talk about ePortfolios at the event, and tools to support these. But I think we're asking the wrong questions. Unlike blogs or wikis, which are particular technical tools, an ePortfolio can be different things to different people, in different contexts. Is the ePortfolio about the product or the the process? What is the purpose: to collate and archive, to reflect, to document, to get a job? I think the best presentation I've seen on ePortfolios was from student teachers at #GREAT13. This put the pedagogical considerations at the heart of the discussion. The technology is secondary.

Personalised Learning and Policy
One of the conference themes was personalised learning, which was interpreted in different ways by different speakers. But there was also a lot of talk about policies for technology use, which makes me wonder about personalised teaching.

It would appear that there are many academics who are incapable of using or making decisions around the use of technology in their teaching. We heard about lecturers who cannot set up their own assignments in a VLE, can't make rational decisions about assessment deadlines, or the results of a Turnitin report. And so it becomes necessary to make policies about threshold standards for VLE courses, online assessment design and submission practices, required use of tools, compulsory training etc. Once a policy is in place, as pointed out by Bryony Bramer and James Leahy, it then becomes necessary to describe the exceptions to the policy (because there always are exceptions).

I've written before on my thoughts on threshold standards for Blackboard courses, and how they are the invention of the Innovation Prevention Department. Here's why I don't think we should be making policies around how the VLE is used:
  • I see a Blackboard course as an extension of the classroom/lecture theatre, where the teacher and students can decide how they want to use it to best support teaching, learning and assessment activities. A lot of the time, they don't use it very well. But maybe they can learn from their mistakes, rather than being told how to use it.
  • Policies are problematic anyway. There are always exceptions. And when a policy is in place, somebody has to police it. That's a position of oversight that I don't want to be in.
  • Why not just provide sets of recommendations, examples of good practice, and a rationale for why it's not a great idea to have a submission deadline of midnight on a Friday night?
  • Most importantly, by removing the authority for teachers to make these decisions about assessment and to organise their courses themselves, we are also shifting responsibilities. Some academics will resent this (and they are often the people we want as champions) while others will quite happily abdicate that responsibility. As a result, the technology we want to promote becomes associated with administration rather than with teaching.
A simple example of my last point - at NUI Galway we create new, empty Blackboard courses each year for each module taught. Instructors have access to their new (empty) modules and to their old modules. We do not copy content from one year to the next for them. Why?  Because it is up to the lecturer to consciously make the decision to use exactly the same materials (and hence to perform a course copy), or reuse some materials, or to start with a blank slate.

As always, the Durham Blackboard Users' Conference was a splendid event. It was a great opportunity to network and provoked a lot of thought at the start of the year. Many thanks to Julie Mulvey, Malcolm Murry and everybody involved in the organisation.

Some other reflections from the conference:
ePortfolios, Digital Literacies and the Role of Data  (Matt Cornock)
Reflections on the Life of i (Sue Watling)
Durham Blackboard Users Event 2014 (Graeme Boxwell)
Durham (14th) Blackboard Users Conference 2014 – “Life of i”(Ashley Wright)

Monday, 6 January 2014

What I learned in 2013

Shortly before Christmas, I followed a #edchatie twitter chat. This twitter chat, for Irish educators, takes place every Monday evening. While I am aware of it, I don't normally participate, because 1) the time doesn't suit me, 2) active participants are mostly from primary or secondary education, with minimal HE discussion, 3) although I have an interest in primary and secondary education as a parent, I haven't felt encouraged to engage from that perspective. However, I do like to drop in from time to time.

On this occasion, I introduced myself as usual, and said that I would be mostly lurking. I got an immediate response from @fboss, the convenor, who suggested that I should try to participate, and I agreed that I would. The topic on the evening was #whatilearntin2013. The stream was full of positive reflections on the year.

Maybe it was the time of year, end of semester blues, a particularly challenging year, or maybe I was just a bit down, but I could not think of a single positive thing to contribute. I was full of cynical thoughts, reflecting on the state of Irish education - cutbacks at all levels, reduced staffing and resources, teachers on strike, children being let down, students fighting against possible reintroduction of fees, increased workloads for HE staff (academic and admin)...

I kept quiet!

Over the Christmas break, this negativity has bothered me and I realise that I need to start back to work with a much more positive outlook. To start, I want to reflect on some things I did learn in 2013, and some of the more positive experiences.

For me, 2013 was the year of learning about, and from, MOOCs. I hadn't paid much attention to them before, but in 2013 they were hard to ignore.

Almost exactly one year ago, at the 13th Durham Blackboard Users' Conference, I heard Jeremy Knox speak about cMOOCs and xMOOCs, and talking about the Edinburgh MOOC on E-Learning and Digital Cultures, offered through Coursera and starting at the end of January. I decided that I would sign up. The Edinburgh MOOC, #edcmooc, was the first one I signed up to, and the only one I have completed. Others I have dipped into, and some I have not started at all. But hey, that's the nature of MOOCs, right?

I also read a lot about MOOCs, mainly through commentators such as: Audrey Watters, Martin Weller, Mike Caulfield, George Siemens among others. I am certainly no expert, but at least I can hold my own in a conversation about MOOCs (and anybody who knows me will know that I don't do spoofing).

I have learned that creating and offering a MOOC is a lot of work and resource intensive. But I probably already knew that, from a background of online course development and teaching.

Open Badges
The second new area for me was that of Open Badges. I was aware of the work, in particular, of Doug Belshaw with the Mozilla Foundation, but 2013 was the year that I started to learn a little more. I signed up for the Open Badges MOOC, and even earned my first badge, but I didn't get beyond the first couple of weeks. I did learn a lot from Cathy Davidson, co-rounder of HASTAC who gave a fantastic interview as part of one of the MOOC webinars. Cathy will be giving a webinar as part of our Coimbra Group Series this month. Follow @iainmacl for details.

This is an area that I am still pondering and trying to work through.

One experience that I am quite happy with was the introduction of digital badges to the module I co-ordinate on Learning Technologies, using the Blackboard Achievements Tool. Part of the assessment for this module is to demonstrate a set of technical competencies: create a podcast, produce a video, construct a Prezi, etc. this year I awarded an open badge for each competency demonstrated, and I think it added a little motivation (to achieve the badge), competition, and fun.

Other Achievements
Of course, every experience in 2013 has contributed to my learning, and it's good to look back and acknowledge some of the highlights of the year. Among these are:

Looking Forward
So now I feel that I can look forward to 2014 and all the things I'm going to learn. I look forward to learning from my colleagues in CELT and NUIG, old and new. I also look forward to learning from and with you, my PLN.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Turning Technologies User Conference, Dublin 2013

On Monday 4th November, I headed up to Dublin to attend the Turning Technologies User Conference at Trinity College Dublin. Although we are not a customer of Turning Technologies, we do have some significant experience with the use of Personal Response Systems, or clickers, which I've blogged about before. We have a large number of clickers made by eInstruction, which was recently bought over by Turning Technologies, so I was interested to see where the technology is heading.

Opening Keynote: Eric Mazur

The conference also gave me the opportunity to hear Eric Mazur speak. I've been aware of Mazur's work with clickers and peer learning for some time; his YouTube video Confessions of a Converted Lecturer is a joy to watch. His polished performance yesterday was an excellent demonstration of the techniques he promotes.

Although he was speaking to the converted (he didn't need to convince anybody of the need for more active forms of learning), Mazur kept us engaged and really eager to find out the solution to the thermal expansion problem he set.

Some of the main points I noted:
  • A clicker is not just a polling tool, it's an engagement tool. Mazur does not recommend using it for tracking attendance or giving marks for the right answers. This might have the effect of getting the students into the classroom physically, but what you really want is their minds.
  • We learn by practicing; we teach by telling. Why are we surprised that this is a problem?
  • Lectures focus on information transfer. When lecturing, we tend to focus on what is being taught, not how we are teaching. We tend to simply replicate how we were taught.
  • In the average lecture, there is hardly any interaction. What, therefore, do we lose by simply recording the best performers and putting it on the web? In fact, there is much to gain, because the student can hit the pause button, and have time to think.
  • Education has to be more than information transfer. To have the ability to transfer what you know from one context to another, is the real essence of education.
Mazur then went on to describe and demonstrate how he uses clickers to support peer instruction. He described the curse of knowledge - the more expert you are in a subject, the harder it is to explain to a learner. Peer discussion works because the students are explaining a concept they have only just understood, and they know the possible misconceptions.With peer discussion, students become emotionally involved in the process (of working out a problem) and not just the right answer.

Keynote: Mark Taylor

The second keynote was from Mark Taylor, President of Taylor Programs. Dr Taylor is from Arkansas and, as he reminded us during his keynote, is an expert, speaker and consultant on the topic of Generation NeXt. During the next hour, he gave us a condensed version of what is usually a half day workshop on the topic of today's digital learners.

Initially, I wasn't sure if MarkTaylor was for real, or if he was a parody of a motivational speaker. In fact, he turned out to be completely genuine, and an engaging speaker. Some of his arguments were a little over-simplified, but this could be down to the fact that he was trying to get through a lot of material in a short space of time. From initial astonishment, I warmed to his techniques (including his bell of absolute silence).

Dr Taylor's starting point is that "traditional academic practice don't work like it used to", although I'm not sure that the traditional lecture ever did work. Colleges and Universities are getting blamed (by employers) because "we had them last"!

Today's students are from Generation NeXt: the era of the wanted, precious, protected child, who has grown up in a child-centric household. The child who gets trophies for "just showing up". As described in Time magazine, these are the Twixters, children who can't or won't (or aren't let) grow up; the Me Me Me Generation, who are responsibility averse.

And, apparently, this is all down to Reactionary Parenting - parenting in reaction to the way we were parented. Because of our parenting style, today's students have no respect for authority; they have a strong sense of consumerism and entitlement; effort is seen as indicating a lack of talent; they overrate their own skills and are given record high grades for decreasing effort. Because we offer options and choices, our children are less likely to persist, resulting in retention problems.

To be completely honest, I don't think I was the only person in the room who recognised some of these traits in myself, as a parent. And it did make me feel quite uncomfortable.

But, there was a positive message, ultimately.

Using the example of Minecraft, Mark Taylor pointed out that children from Generation NeXt frequently watch YouTube videos while playing the game, thus learning new techniques and skills. They are actively seeking out learning on their own. We need to learn from this more about how to engage and motivate our students.

At this point, unfortunately, Dr Taylor ran out of time. But he did finish with the advice: Don't talk to the student, talk to the professional you want them to become.

Parallel Sessions

After lunch, I sat in on three sessions given by practitioners.

David Robinson, from Queens University Belfast, described the evolution of clicker use at QUB. From an initial successful pilot with 108 clickers and 2 receivers in 2005, they now have over 200 trained users, with popularity increasing. Schools have bought their own systems, for purposes ranging from interactivity/engagement to module evaluation. Particular issues David discussed include staff training, which they got right, and distribution models, which they initially got very wrong.

Will Moindrot, from Manchester University, spoke about his experience using ResponseWare, an over-web solution allowing students use their own mobile devices to vote. These can be used in tandem with clickers, as a hybrid solution. He found that students liked using their own devices, and ResponseWare was easier to support than clickers, but wifi needs to be ubiquitous and reliable.

The last session I attended was given by Javier Horta, from the University of Massachusetts Lowell. Javier described his use of the NXT device for high stakes exams in large classes, as an alternative to bubble sheets.
The advantage of using the NXT device is that it allows more question types than MCQs - multiple answer questions, numerical answers, true/false questions and short text answers.  Students are given a paper question sheet and they submit their answers using the device, which they have to sign-in to. The grading happens immediately, and there is no need for large computer labs. The small size of the screen minimises a student's ability to observe a neighbour's entries.

Javier gave some good examples and advice on creating suitable exams. My impression is that the technology isn't quite there yet - for text answers, for example, there is a bit of manual manipulation of results to account for common mis-spellings. But I can see this approach being very useful for certain groups of students.

Final thoughts

With lots of other work going on here in Galway in the last year, I haven't had my head in the clicker space for a while, so it was good to revisit and find out about new developments. It is interesting to see the different groups looking at mobile apps for clickers, and I'm also watching Blackboard Labs' Polls tool, which is available for free in a beta version at (see Steve Bentley's recent review).

As a user conference, I felt that there wasn't much opportunity to meet the user community on the day. There were plenty of scheduled talks, and room for questions, but very little time for chatting with other attendees. There was no list of participants available, which makes it difficult to follow up with people afterwards. I recognised very few people at the conference, which is unusual for an ed tech event in Ireland. So, I'm wondering who all the attendees were.

Following from this, I was surprised that there were no speakers from Irish higher education at all. There was one speaker from QUB, and four from other UK institutions. Why were none of the Irish champions included in the speaker list? Any why, out of 12 speakers, was there only one female?

The tweets from the event, using the hashtag #ttucdublin, have been collected together in this storify.

Related Posts

The clicker experience at NUIG: student feedback
The clicker experience at NUIG: Issues and concerns for staff

Friday, 13 September 2013

Welcome to the #CEL263 class of 2013

Today I am looking forward to the start of our popular module on Learning Technologies, CEL263.

This module forms part of our PostGraduate Diploma in Academic Practice, but can also be taken by academic staff as a stand-alone module. This year is the sixth time that it will be run, and we have an eclectic line-up of participants from across the university. I know it's going to be fun.

The module is run as a series of 7 workshops, each on a different topic. While we explore lots of different technologies, the focus is on how the technologies can be used in a meaningful way to support teaching and learning activities. We always have a great mix of people, from technophobes to technophiles, and we all learn from each other. Our aim is to move each person out of their comfort zone, to try something new in a supported environment.

As well as the face-2-face workshops, the module is supported by a Blackboard course, with resources and activities, as well as recordings of each workshop. I've spent the last few days building up the course area ready for the new group, and the picture above is a screenshot  from a little webcam recording using the Kaltura building block. It's a great way to have a quick, personal message in your Blackboard course, adding a bit of interest for students.

This afternoon's workshop will include introductions (participants and the CELT team), some course information, tea/coffee and biscuits. Then we'll jump into looking at how social media can be used to support teaching and learning in HE. We'll have a guest speaker talking about how she has been using Facebook and LinkedIn with students, and then we'll have some fun with Twitter. We'll be using the hashtag #cel263 throughout the duration of the module (and beyond), so please join in the conversation.

Related Posts:  
Learning Technologies Symposium 2013
Welcome to the #CEL263 class of 2012
Assessing the impact of our CEL263 module
CEL263 Learning Technologies Symposium 2012

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

The Case for Digital Textbooks

My son will be 14 next month. He starts his second year at secondary school on Friday. He'll do his first state examination, the Junior Certificate, in summer 2015.

Pictured is a selection of just some of the textbooks he is required to have. This is about 60% of the total set, not counting copybooks, homework journal etc. This lot alone weighs more than 10 kilos.

Luckily, his school runs a book loan scheme, so we've only had to pay a fraction of the total cost of these books. So, I'm not complaining about the cost.

My son gets quite a lot of homework. Each evening he has homework for between 6 and 8 of his subjects. That means he is carrying at least one textbook and one copybook per subject home in his bag. Some mornings last year I could not physically lift his schoolbag. He's a little bit taller than me, but fairly skinny. I watch him staggering down the road to the bus stop with a heavy weight on his back.

David Hopkins wrote last week about digital textbooks and how we are not yet at the point where digital textbooks can be embraced. But surely there must be a better way?

Monday, 22 July 2013

Explore Technology: #GREAT13 student conference

Earlier this month I was very pleased to give a keynote at the #GREAT13 student conference. The event was organised by 2nd year students of the Michigan State University's (MSU) MA in Educational Technology. One cohort of this programme is the Overseas Summer Cohort, which came to NUI Galway this year. The programme is aimed at primary and secondary teachers from all over the world, who come together to learn and to share their experiences, creating an international community.

The conference organisation, planning and implementation as a requirement for a Technology and Leadership course. Over just two weeks, the students have to act as a team to identify and invite keynote speakers, create a conference schedule, design a website, consider social media and conference promotion to the local community. Apart from the keynote speakers, the sessions themselves are prepared and delivered by the students, so they also have to put a lot of work into preparation and presentation. On the day, they are responsible for registration, technical support, delivering their own workshops, recording activities, opening and closing sessions. Wow - that's a lot of work.

In the run-up to the event, some of the activity was captured using Storify.

On the day, Dr Tony Hall (pictured) gave the opening keynote, describing some grand challenges for education; in particular looking at storytelling and narrative in education.

During the first parallel session I sat in on two workshops led by Emily Mullins, Jillian McSweeney, and Bobbi Jo Staley. The first of these, on Student E-Portfolios, was a comprehensive overview of the area, with some important considerations of issues and approaches. The second workshop, on Digital Citizenship, was particularly impressive in terms of approaches to teaching school children to be good digital citizens. Both workshops were well-prepared and contained plenty of useful information and resources.

I have to admit to skipping the third parallel session while I got ready for my own keynote. I spoke about some of the initiatives at NUIG involving the use of video to support teaching and learning. I really enjoyed the experience of speaking to an enthusiastic, experienced and informed group.

The highlights of the day were captured, again using Storify, through tweets, photos and video. The whole 2nd year MAET group is to be congratulated for the success that was GREAT13.

Finally, I'd like to thank Jess, Desi and Laura for their invitation to be part of this event. I look forward to connecting with you all in the future as part of my PLN.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Social Media at #celt13

Earlier this month we had our annual Galway Symposium on Higher Education, entitled "Thinking Differently" - New Curricula, New Skills in Higher Education.

Although the conference theme itself is not technology-focused, we did make use of technology to support and enhance the conference experience.


Back in March, we agreed the twitter hashtag for the conference and I used Martin Hawksey's excellent Twitter Archiving Google Spreadsheet to start archiving all tweets using the hashtag.

About 2 weeks before the conference itself, I enlisted the help of a twitter team, targeting people that I knew would be at the conference and giving them advice on how to keep the backchannel going. This meant that we had an active twitter stream before, during and after the conference, with about 850 tweets currently in the archive.

The Archive Tool produces a complete archive and TagsExplorer, which lets you explore the connections between the people who are tweeting. 

From this we can see that Helen Crump (@crumphelen) wins the award for Top Conversationalist.

The award for Top Tweeter, however, goes to Iain Mac Labhrainn (@iainmacl)

Streaming and Recording of Keynotes 

During the conference, we had some excellent speakers, including: Prof. Marijk van der Wende, Amsterdam University College; Dr. Camille Kandiko, King's College London; Dr. Vicky Gunn, University of Glasgow; Dr. Alastair Robertson, Abertay University; and Prof. Derek Raine, University of Leicester. Their presentations were all streamed, the link being broadcast regularly on Twitter. Recordings of the keynotes are all available, via the Kaltura platform, on the conference website.

Conference Photos

Finally, I'd like to mention the excellent work done by Blaneth and Margaret on taking images from the conference and putting them into this very nice little animation using animoto:

All of these technologies facilitate us to archive the conference in different ways, allowing the conversations to continue. Hopefully this blogpost will further support the discussion.


Thursday, 6 June 2013

UL Learning and Teaching Day

I was very pleased to be asked to speak at the Faculty of Science and Engineering 4th annual Learning and Teaching Day, which took place at the University of Limerick last week. The focus of the event, organised by Hussain Mahdi and Michael English, was on Technology Enhanced Teaching and Learning.

My own presentation, which had the title Trends in Technology Enhance Teaching and Learning, is embedded below. While developing it, I realised that 20 minutes was too short for me to cover a multitude of trends, so I decided to focus on video in teaching and learning, and the opportunities for video to play a part in content production, delivery, supporting of student learning and assessment. I mentioned a number of video initiatives by NUIG staff, including Conor O'Byrne, Oliver Ryan, Bryan McCabe, Ger Fleming, Susan Folan, John Breslin and John Murray, as well as Anne Wiseman from GMIT.

What I enjoyed about the day, though, was the opportunity to hear from a group of practitioners at a sister institution who have been trying new things in their teaching, and conversing with a group of academics who are committed to improving the experience for their students.

Summary of the Event

After an introduction by Hussain Mahdi, UL Vice President Academic & Registrar Prof Paul McCutcheon opened the event. He congratulated the organisers on making this a regular event, embedded in the academic calendar for the faculty. He expressed his hope that the materials from the event would be disseminated to other faculties within UL, so that the conversation can continue on a larger scale.

Following my own presentation, Angelica Risquez from the Teaching and Learning Centre at UL spoke about Students' Experience of Using a VLE. She reported on the work of a national project looking at VLE usage across a number of Irish institutions. In general, Irish students find a VLE useful for content distribution, announcements, course documentation and assignment submission; but don't appear to be using more interactive features such as social media tools, discussions boards, quizzes etc. The study has not found any correlation between VLE used (Blackboard, Moodle, Sakai) and student satisfaction levels. Students want increased usage of the VLE by their lecturers. They find that the VLE gives them good access to their lecturers, but doesn't facilitate improved communication with peers. According to student reports, the availability of course materials on the VLE does not impact attendance at lectures.

Hussein Mahdi responded to Angelica's presentation noting that students expectations are that lecture materials will be provided on the VLE.  But he noted that there are other administrative and pedagogical benefits to TEL.

"Try not to be seduced by technology for its own sake. It is essential that you have a considered reason for using it"

The morning proceeded with a number of talks from academic staff in the Faculty of Science and Engineering.

Jeremy Robinson talked about two technologies that he is using in his teaching of Mechanical, Aeronautical and Biomedical Engineering: wireless presenting using a tablet and multiple choice software QCM Direct. The first he demonstrated very ably during his presentation. I had the impression that Jeremy enjoys dabbling with technology, but he's not convinced yet of the academic value of his efforts (which are substantial).

Dermot Shinners Kennedy, who teaches first year programming in the department of Computer Science and Information Systems (CSIS), gave an engaging talk about the need to focus on the students and their learning needs, rather than on the technology. In fact, this became the theme for the day.

After a short coffee break, Keelin Leahy of the department of Design and Manufacturing Technology described how she has been flipping the classroom in her course on 3D CAD Modelling. In response to student requests that they wanted more hands-on, practical work, she decided this year to swap lecture time for more practice time. Using Camtasia with embedded quizzes (to check understanding) she prepared an number of videos for students to review before class, allowing a more active and collaborative learning environment. Videos were all less than 10 minutes in length. Keelin found a small to medium effect on outcomes, and students responded well to the new format. Students learned how to think about the subject matter, and Keelin learned more about what topics caused most confusion.

Next to speak was Gabriela Avram, also from CSIS, who spoke about online student portfolios. These are being used in an undergraduate programme in Digital Media Design to support assessment, reflection, deep learning and job-seeking activities. First year students are encouraged to document whatever work they are doing (course related or external). In second year, they begin to reflect on the content in the portfolio and make decisions about what they want to include and why. The online portfolios are used by potential employers in the 3rd year placement aspect of the course, and students further build on the portfolios while on placement. In final year students refine their portfolios while they actively seek employment.

Having tried a variety of platforms for the portfolios, the students are now advised to simply use a Wordpress site, and some training on Wordpress is provided. Students have also used blogger or weebly for their portfolios.

Ross Higgins  spoke about his experiences with podcasting (in fact vodcasting) in a final year Civil Engineering module. This arrangement was to support a particular issue, where the department did not have a lecturer to deliver the module. An external expert was identified to deliver one face to face lecture per week, and the second lecture each week was provided using voice over powerpoint, brought together using Articulate. These were provided within the VLE and students were motivated to review the videos which contained content necessary for a project. The students liked the videos which provided them with the opportunity for self-paced learning and a good revision tool.

Another CSIS lecturer, Patrick Healy, described the development of handin - a system that supports the submission and efficient administration of student programming assignments. He is also developing a system called inspector, a GradeMark-like system used for visual inspection and grading of code.

The final speaker of the day was Con Hussey from Civil Engineering, who brought along a bag of tools including a small axe, a block of wood, a stone and some sticks. He spoke eloquently, without the use of a visual presentation, on the theme of unplugging from the matrix. His warnings about the world of technology were reminiscent of the article The Human Touch by Monke. He argues that we all need to unplug from a world of illusion, delusion and collusion, which prevent us from thinking. Real thinking, according to Con, is the work of brain and hand together. He proposed that the most creative act is to "do nothing"; noting that doing nothing is not the same as standing still.

As he spoke, I just wished that his presentation was being recorded, so that I could go back and review again later.

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to the Faculty of Science and Engineering Learning and Teaching Day, and thank my hosts Hussain and Michael. It is very positive to see these kinds of events, where staff have time and space to discuss teaching and learning issues.