Digital Tools Workshop

Last week, Nick Pearce, James Bisset and myself ran a workshop looking at the use of digital tools with a group of Part Time and Distance PGRS. This was part of larger summer school run by CAROD for part time and distance PhD students.

We kicked off the session with a consideration of the practice of corresponding and sharing as a longstanding and integral part of academic practice. Two examples cited were Darwin and Wallace who exchanged many letters during their lifetimes. The practice of using digital tools we argued was far from being a recent innovation, a well established part of academic life. The only difference the speed and visibility of such communications that was offered by these new tools.

During the session, the PGRs were able to establish an online profile and start to build their personal networks. We took a detailed look at twitter and some of the considerations of using the platform.



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First week in LTT

I have been seconded to the LTT for 16 weeks starting 18 May 2015. The aim of this is to hopefully learn new skills and have a better understanding of how DUO works. I would expect to be able to return with more knowledge that I can share with my colleagues. This outcome would result in users receiving a faster response to any queries as these could be fixed at first line instead of being passed on to the LTT.

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Kaltura Analysis

Over the past year, we’ve been having a ‘soft launch’ Kaltura. A streaming media platform that allows users to upload content to the VLE and share this in various ways. It’s a project that is ongoing and we’ve had a number of people trial this as well as adopt it quietly as part of their own practice.

Given that the system has been in place as part of a pilot for some time and now as a service, I thought I’d spend some time looking at the statistics that this platform offers.

We have 1614 items of content on offer and since implementing this system, 1590:11:38 minutes of footage has been viewed, our average drop off rate as a university is 44% meaning that for most of our videos viewers are not making it half way through before moving on. Having a quick look to see how this compares to other industry standard figures, it seems about right, there’s a bit of discussion as to how this is measure (length of video etc.). This year  we’ve had 780 items of content uploaded (since January (!) a massive increase this year) the drop off rate for this content is 51%. This may be indicative of people now finding their stride with the system, finding which content works and fewer people uploading “test” or training files.

Other points to note is that viewers are overwhelmingly accessing video content on their desktops. At this point we’re not really sure as to why this would be, but initial conversations as part of the student partnership project we ran last year of how they ‘use computers for serious work’ may indicate how they understand and engage with these files. This may change in the future with the launch of duo mobile but yet still remains to be seen.

A quick analysis of the files on the system shows that certain files have well over 200 views but with most files sitting around 20. Of the files that were viewed most highly all of these belonged to modern languages, suggesting that this format of technology enhanced learning support for students is particularly valuable in language learning. What may be worth further exploration is why certain files are privileged over others by students as all patterns of engagement are not consistent amongst resources.

For me thinking about the work I’ve done over the last few months, what has been fascinating to explore is the sheer variety of application for video to support learning that are being explored by users – reflective teaching practices, capturing seminars, rough and ready lecture capture, ERA licensed material, re purposing of existing footage, student use of video, both for assessment and skills development, animations, research communication, students remixing video for learning activities and even birdwatching!

One point to note though is that the videos on this server are for a targeted audience- by this I mean that any viewer will not just be browsing in the same way that they would youtube to surface the content. Therefore I think we have a lot to learn about  how students engage with and use videos as part of their studies. There is a lot to learn in the work we’re undertaking and a lot more to understand about the role and impact of this particular delivery of video in teaching and learning.


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3 Rivers Teaching and Learning Conference 2015

Sunderland University Campus

Sunderland University Campus

On Friday I went to the 3 Rivers Learning and Teaching Conference. This year it was hosted at Sunderland’s Sir Tom Cowie campus, a riverside location with some incredible learning spaces. The theme of this year’s event was ‘Student Engagement’. This topic has been the subject of a number of conferences I’ve been to lately and so I was interested to see how this would translate into the more regional focus of this event.

There were a wide variety of presentations given throughout the day some with students and some focusing on the work that colleagues have undertaken engaging students. What was interesting of the overall conference was the wide interpretation of the term ‘Engagement’. Some interpreting this in terms of a quantifiable measure of how students’ interest in how engaged with their subject, other presenters focused instead on ‘engagement’ as meaning a broader intrinsic motivation to make the most of their university experience.

One of highlights from the sessions that I attended explored the use of digital storytelling by students. This session was delivered by staff and students from Sunderland who had used an e-portfolio to create a reflective space for students. The students who presented had taken hugely different approaches in how they had undertaken this task, one making use of video, images, drawings and colour; the other had taken a more text based approach yet included audio recordings of him talking through some incidences that he wanted to reflect on. I found this to be a good method of allowing students a way of reflecting in a way that worked for them and created a personal space for this to happen.

A separate interesting presentation was given exploring what Intellectual Stimulation was and how it differed from engagement. It led to a lively debate in the room on the subtle differences between the two terms and the relationship to ‘Academic challenge’.

A personal highlight for me was a very thoughtful presentation given Chris Corkish from Northumbria, who had created a series of fictional stories as way of engaging students in nursing education. These stories were than annotated both by him and his students, this process was done simply by using Word. The use of stories in education is a powerful way of getting students to think differently and more deeply about a subject, or in Chris’s case encourages students to develop empathy for their service users. He finished his presentation by posing the question of whether this approach would work well in a non vocational environment.

Design Thinking

Design Thinking

Susan Orr touched upon this wide interpretation in her opening keynote but framed this within the context of disciplinary specific pedagogies. Her keynote explored the use of active and self directed learning in arts education where she implored students to ‘claim an education’ (Rich, 1977).  By this she meant that students need to be engaged and should find rather than listen to explanations. Her talk covered a range of approaches used in arts education, including problem based and inquiry based learning to foster creativity as well as ‘design thinking’. Design thinking being a way that students work through problems, ideas and find solutions.

Susan’s final comments on student engagement proved insightful suggesting that we “Keep the conversation complicated” when it came to ceding power to students. It was something that is necessary in order to form functioning partnerships however careful negotiation needs to take place to ensure that this is meaningful and useful to all involved.

In keeping with the theme of the day, there was a student panel chaired by Paul Taylor. The students were drawn from across all the universities represented, from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines. The conversation from this panel covered a range of topics including; simple questions regarding what students really want in a lecture (the answer by the way was unanimously for lecturers to be passionate about their subject) to their thoughts about social media as a method of engagement, to how they perceived themselves as representative of the general student population. What struck me was even within this small group of students the wide range of answers with some very contrasting opinions. For me it really underscored the idea that students are not an homogenous group, there really isn’t an individual who represents all students, and that it’s very easy (and at times convenient) to think in these terms and forget about diversity.


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Exploring Open Educational Resources

Yesterday I ran a workshop about OERs at Van Mildert College, which is part of the University’s Centre for Academic and Researcher Development series.

Thanks to Dr Bex Lewis, It was captured via storify, making this post very easy to write :-) For people who like to start at the beginning, you should navigate to the end of the story and view the tweets in reverse order!

I will be uploading the slides to SlideShare shortly!

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Students as Partners: HEA workshop

On Wednesday last week I attended the HEA event in York looking at students as partners.

The event aimed to look at various aspects of engaging and engaging with students regarding determining and inputting into their own learning experiences.


Mike’s keynote set a challenging tone for the rest of the day, prompting some real reflection on the extent to which we as individuals, professionals and institutions truly engage with students. Moving from a transactional response of “You said, We did’ to an ongoing and meaningful dialogue regarding the experience of learning and being part of the co-creation of knowledge with students. Mike also cited Mick Healey’s work cited as an example of universities being research led and pointed out that students have an important part to play in this process.

Abbi Flint echoed the challenging tone established by Mike and prompted a highly interactive workshop putting our practice of student participation, engagement and participation further under scrutiny. She was able to provide more details of the partnership learning communities and prompted us to reflect on to what extent the projects we as participants adhered to the principles of true student engagement.

partnership learning communities

Partnership Learning Communities: A conceptual model for students as partners in learning and teaching in higher education (Healey, Flint and Harrington 2014)

Abbi also presented the framework for student partnerships and suggested that locating activities according to the model was a useful exercise in determining, who, how and in what  we involved our students.

One interesting point to note from Abbi’s talk was the idea of empowerment. The group in which I had a smaller discussion, had the interesting idea the principles of student engagement were empowering for staff as well as providing opportunities to question and clarify the student voice. The ideas and principles of student partnerships didn’t necessarily mean a complete doing away with the distinction in roles between staff and students but it did mean that education wasn’t something ‘done to’ students. There was an interesting exercise that Abbi started off her session with, asking us to place ourselves along a line according to our beliefs regarding the extent appropriateness of students as partners in various scenarios. One being that student should have a say in determining their learning within modules and two being that both partners were equal. An interesting discussion then occurred from contrasting views provided by opposite sides of the room that covered professional standards and student expectations of education.

Over lunch I was able to contrast experiences of student involved projects with the other participants. Some others were engaging in such projects each bearing a different terminology and at times contrasting approach; from partners, co-producers, voice all were represented- some fully engaged and some still dipping a tentative toe in the water.

One thing that did strike me and in which I was slightly disappointed was a lack of student presence and voice at the even itself organised by the HEA. If there was a presence it was a low profile and for me did not demonstrate any active partnerships with students. I felt that the conversation was at times rather one-sided, potentially idealistic and perhaps the absence of students demonstrated some of the difficulties of undertaking student led projects (scheduling, inclusion, areas of involvement and potentially exclusion). The ethos behind student partnerships and engagement is one that is worthy, beneficial and with evolving eduction environments, agendas and requirements it strikes me as necessary. However I’m concerned that its something that we are discussing at length agreeing is a great idea in principle but doing little about.

Whilst some quotes presented by the facilitators did illustrate the benefits reported by students in undertaking student partnerships I felt the message would have been more convincing if they had been invited to share in the day and discussions. I still found the day incredibly useful but felt that the lack of student involvement did somewhat undermine the message that was trying to be conveyed.

Putting my concerns aside, the final session of the day was delivered by Jenni Carr, who explored the idea of students as researchers. Jenni’s session was interesting and involved participation and exploration of current practices in involving students in research as partners. The aim of the strand was to highlight the benefits both to staff and students of involving students in the research process and how this enhances the learning experience for students. There were some fantastic ideas shared by other participants including asking students to create a fully economic costed research proposal in their second year to undertake in their third year. The idea of this was to prepare students to become researchers and expose them to the realities of undertaking real world problems. This proposal is created by interacting with staff, both technical and academic and administrative and includes gaining ethical clearance. Other ideas looked at developing ‘Wicked’ problems for students based upon a real world scenario. The session was useful in highlighting some of the problems and issues that have been encountered by institutions undertaking this approach such as ethical clearance problems, health and safety and the distinction between the staff role in research and the student role in research. Ultimately though the session aimed at moving the view of teaching and learning towards a research orientated and based experience in which knowledge is constructed, re-imagined and discovered collaboratively between staff and students as a learning experience for all.

To illustrate this point Jenni presented a fantastic quote from Freire (1986) at the start of the session with which I’ll finish this blog post. The quote from Pedagogy of the Oppressed for me underlined the importance of and link between learning, teaching and research and how including students and their viewpoints, input and experience, in this process can be beneficial for all.

“For apart from inquiry, apart from the praxis individuals cannot be truly human. Knowledge only emerges through invention and reinvention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world and with each other.”

Freire, P. (1968) Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Continuous Press, New York



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DL forum – Thanks!

Thanks to everyone who attended the distance learning forum today. We had great representation from everyone across the departments and some great discussion about existing practices, ideas for development and suggestions on how best to provide support.

We’re currently in the process of writing up the notes from this event and will have these ready for circulation shortly!

A picture of Distance Learning

A picture of Durham Distance Learning

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Distance Learning: Have your say

We’re holding what we’re terming a ‘Distance Learning Forum‘ on the 6th of November as a staff development event.

online learning

The aim of the event is to undertake a fact finding mission about distance learning as well as promoting the practice of those already undertaking distance learning activities. What we’d really like from the event is a clearer picture of what staff are thinking about distance learning, perhaps are already doing and explore  their ideas of what they’d like to do in the future. We’re also inviting student representation along to provide the voice of our online learners.

So if you’re a member of Durham University (sorry this one’s internal only!) come along and have your say.

Full details of the event

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Dealing with the free rider or “Campus Slacker”

There’s an interesting article in the THE today by Jack Grove, highlighting research around a strategy to deal with free riders in group work - something that as the LTT, we frequently get asked about. To this effort we’ve tried; looking at the history of wikis, self evaluation questionnaires and are currently exploring other web based tools to support review of group work. Therefore it was with interest that I saw this article outlining research conducted at the University of Valencia by Miguel Arevalillo-Herráez  and wondered if this would be an effective way of dealing with this problem head on.

The method outlined is simple ‘…students were offered the chance to gain a higher mark for their group assignment if they managed to raise the grade scored by the weakest student in individual tests on the same subject’.

The results put forward by Arvealillo-Herráez (2014) in suggest the method was highly successful in encouraging peer support and learning. In the original article (apologies if you’re off campus) he concludes suggesting that ‘We believe that reactive methods should be given a greater relevance, and these should be supported by motivational techniques as opposed to punishment’ (530).

It’s a very interesting suggestion, using a motivation technique that utilises peer support and cooperative learning in a very effective way.

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