Is 4 a lucky number?

We have been successfully using the blog, wiki and podcast tools developed by Learning Objects for many years at Durham. Currently we are still using version 3 of the Campus Pack tools, fully integrated into duo (our Blackboard Learn server). A new version (Campus Pack 4), hosted by Learning Objects (but which still integrates with duo)  has been released. More information about it can be found on the Learning Objects website. Members of the LTT will be working with members of the blog and wiki special interest groups in Durham to evaluate this upgrade and plan an implementation timetable.  Of particular interest is their reference to forthcoming support for mobile devices.

If you are a blog, podcast or wiki user (or would like to be) then check out the link and let us know what you think!


TurnitinUK and GradeMark

I recently attended a presentation by TurnitinUK to hear what new functions are in the pipeline. This autumn there will be a grammar and spell checker for instructors and the identification of ‘Translation plagiarism’ is planned for early 2012.

Cath Ellis from Huddersfield University gave a presentation about her implementation of GradeMark.  She outlined the advantages to staff and students, the formation of an institutional policy and work flow and showed some of the uses of the diagnostic tools in GradeMark to identify poor performance and areas of difficulty.

View her presentation in Prezi below.


Sharing Notes

This morning staff from the LTT attended a webinar about the latest offering from McGraw-Hill – GradeGuru. This is something they see as an “academic social network”. Students can sign-up (either individually, or via an integration with their host institution) and share notes, sketches, their own learning aids. Sharing can be restricted to just their friends, with other students on their course, extended to any student in their institution, or globally. The content is rated by other students, providing informal peer feedback. This also earns them a series of reward points, and one of a series of status badges, ranging from humble “member” to “guru”, depending on their use of the site. We explored potential concerns about copyright issues, plagiarism and access for all students – e.g. those using screen-readers. Currently most of the content is delivered through a flash interface, so it will not be accessible to iPad users, something they are working to remedy.

There are also a range of learning tools (a citation manager a bit like the excellent zotero) and an iPad app for managing your studies – described to us as a “Calorie-Counter App for Study”! Whilst Durham has not signed up for this (at least not yet – and there is a significant charge for this) it is interesting to note that it has already been used by over 100 students, who have posted over 700 notes. Members of the LTT would be very interested to hear from anyone who has used the service – do email us via the IT Service Desk.

More information can be found on the grade guru website ( or by watching this video:


Errors for Offsite Users

Sadly yesterday afternoon (Tuesday the 15th) and again this afternoon (Wednesday the 16th) users from outside the Durham University network will have noticed that duo pages were taking longer and longer to load, to the point at which it just becomes unusable and your browser probably times out (gives up waiting). The actual duo services remain running and anyone within the network can still access duo without any problem.

This seems to be because of a generic network problem across the University causing packets to be lost (i.e. data is not always getting from one end of a connection to the other). This is hitting duo hard because the pages take quite a lot of data to create (determining what content you should see, which tabs, the information on your list of courses, etc.) – that is the “cost” of a tailored personal portal. Some of the data is only requested after the main page has loaded, using ajax (a series of calls for data that update parts of the page on your browser, using javascript). If data is being lost between your browser and the server, then these calls are made again, again and again. :-( You may also notice delays downloading files from external sites.

To be honest we have not yet been able to track down the precise cause, and colleagues in the ITS are looking at firewall rules, network load and everything else that they think could be causing this problem.  We know this is a bad time for access trouble (is there ever a good time?) with a lot of students trying to submit work using duo. We are sorry about this and strongly advise you to come into Durham or Queen’s Campus and submit the work from within the University network, or contact your Department for advice.

We will post again when we have more news.


Social networking as a university teaching tool

Each month members of the LTT meet to discuss a journal article in a session imaginatively titled “Journal Club”. We’ve decided to start sharing the articles we are looking at in case anyone finds it useful. Today’s paper is:

Martini A & Cinque M. (2011) “Social networking as a university teaching tool: what are the benefits of using Ning?” Journal of e-Learning and Knowledge Society 7(1) pp 67-77

The paper is a case study where students use Ning and Moodle to construct learning networks.


The Colour of Spring

To show our support for Durham students raising funds for Marie Curie Cancer Care this week, we are joining their “Turn Durham Yellow” campaign and have (with the support of the Communications Office) changed the branding for students once they have logged into duo. Staff relax, you are spared this onslaught of Daffodil Yellow!