1. Operational issues

CMALT Guidance

Core area 1: Operational issues

Candidates should demonstrate both their understanding and use of learning technology. “Use” might include the use of technology to enhance learning and teaching, the development, adoption or deployment of technology to support teaching, training or learning.

a) An understanding of the constraints and benefits of different technologies.

b) Technical knowledge and ability in the user of learning technology.

c) Supporting the deployment of learning technologies.

Full guidance [PDF]

Original submission

a) An understanding of the constraints and benefits of different technology

Particularly for the Online Masters programmes, I am conscious of the variety of challenges students face, such as intermittent or slow internet, lack of access to the latest computer hardware, and varied technical skills.

When developing an online lectures series to address a particularly complex theme in an engaging way (recording PowerPoint slides with narration), it was important to create a good quality learning resource, which could also be accessed on unreliable internet connections. I chose a Flash video format, which has very low bandwidth and is a freely available in-browser players. In choosing Flash, I reduced the risk of technical barriers such as operating system requirements, user security privileges on work computers, and users’ unfamiliarity with new software as it didn’t require a standalone programme such as QuickTime.

For the online lectures, drawing on advice from staff in the Department of Health Sciences, I also presented the material in text format: a PDF of slides with a transcript of narration. The PDF option also suits low bandwidth internet users, students who wish to work on a print-out of material, and those using screen-reader software. This method is appropriate too for students working in busy offices without the facilities to play back audio/video media on their computer.

In a different part of my role, I have suggested and implemented several third-party additions to address specific needs in the way the Online Masters team wished to use Moodle. Whilst there are benefits to the student experience of the VLE, the constraints I have in this particular task focus on sustainability, mainly around how the technology is supported by less technical members of the Online Masters team after my fixed-term appointment ends. In light of this, I write thorough documentation and ensure that more complex additions to the VLE do not have a negative impact on the student experience should a time come when they were not longer viable and removed (e.g. due to technical knowledge required and the cost of maintaining code for upgrades).

b) Technical knowledge and ability in the use of learning technology

I have extended several pieces of Moodle code using PHP and developed a custom Moodle theme in CSS. I am also responsible for documenting and maintaining any customisations to Moodle used by the Online Masters team. This documentation is essential during upgrades where a definitive record of non-standard components needs to be checked for compatibility. In addition to re-coding third-party customisations for upgrades (such as an anonymous assignment submission tool with email receipts, and a way for students to export the email addresses of their group members), I have made minor modifications to the Moodle code to facilitate easy navigation and change certain default functions to conform to privacy rules.

I am confident in using image, audio and video editing software to a professional standard, through my degree course training and extensive experience in student media and societies. I have used my editing skills in the creation of marketing videos and teaching materials for the Online Masters programmes, in the form of graphics and online lectures. My technical ability with multimedia adds to the professional appearance of the Online Masters programmes as a whole, which is important when marketing the programmes to large public-sector institutions.

c) Supporting the deployment of learning technologies.

As part of my wider Department role, I led on writing a Department VLE Strategy Document, as required by the central University VLE team who provided the template. The strategies were first discussed within the Department ICT group and influenced by staff and student surveys previously conducted by the group. The document outlines how the Department will embrace the use of technology to support face-to-face learning. In my role as Department VLE Coordinator, it is my responsibility to facilitate the Departments VLE strategy.

Part of this role is to deliver one-on-one training to academics and administrative staff to enable and empower them to use the VLE. Each member of academic staff follows a training pattern outlined by the central University team, which I have adapted as necessary for individuals, focusing primarily on what they wish to achieve (e.g. uploading lecture slides). By making the training relevant to the individual, I introduce technology in a non-overwhelming way, which I can then build upon over time. My approach is to establish underlying principles first, before concerning staff with specific technology. The staff I have worked with have been very responsive to this approach, encouraging others to participate in VLE training and technology enhanced learning.

Portfolio update

Obviously Flash has since lost its significance as a content format, with browsers being able to play h.264 natively with HTML5. An interesting reversal of the constraints and benefits identified in my original portfolio. In my update I am also been able to demonstrate technical ability with reference to learning and teaching approaches, rather than web development. Finally, in supporting the deployment of learning technologies, my updated guidance, policy and staff briefings on lecture capture show how I tailor support for different audiences.

a) Benefits and constraints: Screen-casting software and synchronous collaboration

In updating this section I would draw upon my review of screen-casting software and my analysis of the learning opportunities of synchronous online collaboration using Blackboard Collaborate.

Further discussion, evidence and reflection on Blackboard Collaborate in Portfolio Review: Overview of CPD activities.

b) Technical ability: Video tutorials and institutional systems management

The Accessibility Mini-Lecture [YouTube] demonstrates how I have conveyed my technical knowledge of appropriate guidelines into key messages that students and staff developing web resources can understand. The video content distils the industry standard WCAG 2.0 guidelines for creating accessible web resources into bite-sized chunks of most relevance to students and staff creating learning resources and basic web content. I did this by removing abstract content and technical terms, replacing with specific examples relevant to the intended viewers context (e.g. WCAG 1.1.1 “Non-text Content: All non-text content that is presented to the user has a text alternative that serves the equivalent purpose.”

When I original wrote accessibility guidance, colleagues and students found it difficult to translate the technical detail to their particular use cases. As a result, I provided specific example of applying alternative text to an image using the VLE and WordPress (3mins into video)). I adopted the mini-lecture approach as this allowed students on my social media workshop programme to watch the video prior to completing a quiz as part of my flipped classroom learning design, and then review the video again during the course of their project when pulling together their online campaign. This form of video is designed to be followed-up in class, therefore is of a reasonable length for students to watch in one go, undertake an activity and identify knowledge gaps. Other forms of video require distilling information in a more condensed way, particularly training videos.

In the Studying with Lecture Capture [YouTube] video I used PowerPoint slide transitions and animations as a quick way to put the video together to emphasise key points. Whilst I could have used Adobe After Effects, there is always a time-effort cost to creation of such videos. It was more important at the point the video was created to get the content out there for students to evaluate, than develop high resolution animations. What I have not compromised on is the audio quality, as the sound component conveys the detail of the video (and on a more subjective level conveys its quality as a resource). Using something as simple as PowerPoint with Camtasia for screen-capture I’ve created high-quality resources that aim to engage the viewer. Furthermore, the transferability of this approach has meant I’ve been able to share the original PowerPoint file with colleagues to show how easy it is to create narrated presentations that don’t look like traditional bullet-point lecture slides. I have also added closed captions to all my videos, enabling viewers with hearing impairments, those perhaps viewing in shared spaces or without headphones to access the video content. I create these by transcribing the video, as I found automated captioning to be unreliable.

In terms of institutional systems management, as service manager for the lecture capture system I regularly have to liaise with suppliers, internal and external IT developers and AV technicians. My degree studies have provided me with a working understanding of programming languages and audio-visual hardware, so I am able to bridge both thinking of the pedagogic advantages of system functionality with their technical feasibility and potential capability. As one example, migrating from one lecture capture platform to another, I was responsible for managing the whole process including developing the approach for ensuring recordings were still available to staff and students within VLE module sites. I arranged data export from our original hosting provider, importing to our new system and checking processes. From the end-user perspective, students and staff just require the content to be available to enable them to enable them to learn and deliver teaching. Students use captures to supplement their notes, allowing them to recap key parts of a lecture or to reinterpret course content. Crucial behind my approach is to avoid technology being a barrier to learning or teaching, therefore having a user interface change or captures to be unavailable would be detrimental to the ease of accessing learning resources. The lecture capture system change guidance video [YouTube] I created shows how I have kept the messages for lecturers to what they need to know, rather than including all the technical detail of the migration process.

My technical ability is further demonstrated through the resources linked in subsequent portfolio update sections.

c) Supporting deployment: In-class technology for lecture capture

The videos on using in-class technology [YouTube] with the lecture capture system to create video learning resources were designed to raise the profile of the supported hardware, currently under-utilised by teaching staff. In creating these videos I mixed live action, showing how the technology is used in person, with screencasts of the software. The three videos are divided up to address different ways the technology could be used. My approach to these videos was to make them transferable as possible to other technologies, so lecturers could use the principles instead of following step-by-step instructions for using a specific software (see Replay Revision Tips [YouTube] for students which adopts a more instructional approach).

Reflecting on the creation of these videos, they may not have addressed one of the aims which was to encourage adoption of document cameras during class. The reticence to use the document camera, as one example, instead of the old OHP is partly down to lack of familiarity with the technology, but also down to the fluidity and performance element of the lecture. When speaking to lecturers, they demonstrated how they could refer to OHP slides flexibly during a lecture, whilst still having digital projection slides on screen, rather than having to switch between the two sources. The flow of the lecture, for both the lecturer in terms of performance and the students in showing connections between different visuals aids, was supported by using the OHP. At this time, I’m not sure how I can offer the flexibility OHPs provide without having second projectors in rooms. One option could be to harness ‘Bring Your Own Device’ approaches, with a shared document (for example Google Docs) open on all devices which can be referred to throughout.

Another consideration is whether video was the best medium to support staff in use of this technology. For demonstrating a new automated video-camera option for lecture capture, I arranged a face-to-face demonstration that was attended by lecturers interested in this technology or who were teaching in the supported video capture room. During the training, lecturers were engaged and asking questions, with a chance to actually use the functionality of the system in the room and see it in action. For hardware-based training, I think face-to-face training still has a key role to play.

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