1. Operational issues

1a. An understanding of the constraints and benefits of different technologies

Screencasting

Screencasts (recordings of computer screens, often with voice narration) allow complex ideas to be presented visually and technical processes to be demonstrated. Similarly, I often refer to screencasts for my own ad-hoc training needs, utilising software walkthroughs on YouTube. For academic staff, the potential to create just-in-time learning resources, recorded lectures for flipped classroom or video feedback through screencasting, generates a need for clear guidance about which software is most appropriate. In my former role, I reviewed three approaches: supported software as part of institutional lecture capture provision, a paid-for programme, and a free online service. This comparison is captured in a blog post (since updated by colleagues) and a comparison table.

Reflection

The table captures many of the technical constraints of screencasting, including user digital capabilities, but there is also the consideration of accessibility of screencasts. Whilst I have mentioned captions in the blog post, in terms of visual content, accessibility for disabled students needs to be adjusted for intended learning outcomes. For example, instead of captions some content may need visual descriptions or enlarged graphics for visually impaired users. Similarly, supporting guidance such as pausing, rewinding and full-screen modes could be provided for learners who require longer time to read content on screen. In addition to the actual video content, the benefits and constraints of the delivery platform must also be considered. For example, YouTube provides excellent captioning options but does not provide a way to upload alternative representations of the content; VLEs allow contextual documents and directive tasks to support engagement with the video; lecture capture platforms have note-making features linked to video timings.

In my current role, use of third-party platforms is more tightly restricted under our information security policies (ISO 27001). Non-public information or personal data (for example, email notifications) may be inadvertently captured with screencasting tools, and with recordings made by online tools being sent to servers outside the scope of data protection regulations, there is increased risk. As such I encourage (and only use myself) offline tools, such as Camtasia and Apple QuickTime for the Mac, over online equivalents. This means there is a greater technical hurdle for colleagues to learn how to create screencasts, but  in addition to security, the quality of output will be much higher too.

Synchronous online learning

In my former role I was the lead contact for webinars. To support my own understanding and that of colleagues, I explored the pedagogic models for using synchronous online tools.

Whilst these models made it easier to translate the potential of webinars to campus-based courses, the use of Collaborate was still most strongly used within distance learning programmes. For some of the straightforward face-to-face teaching use cases, for example bringing in external expertise remotely into the classroom, other software which had less of a learning curve (for both educator and external contributor) such as Skype was preferable. However, the interactions between student and external expert would then be limited; webinar platforms would have permitted informal feedback via comments and emojis for instance.

To explore potential benefits and constraints of Blackboard Collaborate for blended learning I delivered a workshop at the Durham Blackboard Users’ Conference. As a result of the workshop, I collated the ideas from participants and presented these online.

Reflection

Collaborate offers particular strengths in supporting interaction with students at a distance (either distance learning, or as suggested in an example from the workshop, remote participation across campus). However, for on-campus courses, other learning tools such as Facebook, Twitter and indeed face-to-face interactions, offer the immediacy and connectivity within a more familiar context than Collaborate’s environment. It’s clear from exploring the use cases that Collaborate is only used for specific activities, and is unlikely to act as an informal learning space by students. As a synchronous online activity, webinars do act as motivators for focusing attention at a particular point in time, and so could be beneficial for CPD (as seen in uses by ALT, HEA and other professional organisations).

In my current role, Adobe Connect is the webinar software available. The capabilities are very similar to Blackboard Collaborate, and the potential here is for connecting teachers across wider geographic areas. As with all webinar platforms, complex user interfaces and technical capabilities of facilitators and participants remain significant barriers to the adoption of this technology (Yates, 2014). For our CPD leaders, I needed to explain how Adobe Connect fits in with other forms of online synchronous multimedia delivery. This helps justify why features within dedicated webinar platforms are better able to support collaboration, discussion and participatory learning, compared to other channels.

Reference

  • Yates, J. (2014) Synchronous online CPD: empirical support for the value of webinars in career settings, British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, 42(3), 245-260.

1b. Technical knowledge and ability in the use of learning technology

Multimedia

I have created the following learning resources which demonstrate the range of technical skill used in my current and former role. Each represents a decision over quality and time, using a mixture of technologies to achieve a level of output suitable to the audience.

  • Q&A videos with course educators or high-profile guests. Recorded using a webcam or via Skype, separate high-quality audio recorder and back-up microphone, then synched and edited using Adobe Premiere Pro with PowerPoint slide graphics. Audio is the most important component here, so is recorded with redundancy. The graphics are a visual reference to questions, connecting with individual learners and clarifying the topic being discussed, so a simple PowerPoint template is used for all Q&A recordings.
  • Practical demonstration recorded using a DSLR camera, lighting, separate audio, synched and edited using Adobe Premiere Pro. A DSLR camera is used to capture the detail of the practical technique which is key to the learning through this video.
  • Interviews with teachers as part of a CPD course for teachers, lighting, lapel mic, within teachers’ settings to present authentic voice and experience for learners.
  • Lecture capture student guidance videos created using PowerPoint animations and edited in Camtasia. Presenting research outputs in an approachable way for students. PowerPoint was sufficient to make a reasonably engaging narrated presentation in limited time. Music was sourced from CCmixter under a Creative Commons license as no budget was available for royalty free music.
  • Technical training videos on creative media for student projects, created with Camtasia to highlight key interface elements. This focuses viewer’s attention on sometimes complex or cluttered user interfaces.

Data processing

With MOOCs, large data sets require manipulation in order to interpret learner behaviour. This is important in my current role for both supporting and improving the learner experience, and for reporting against key performance indicators. As an example, anonymised participation data is provided for each course across four .csv (comma separated values) files. One approach is to use Excel and vlookup formula to combine this data. However, this takes time, can introduce manual errors and made the data unreliable for reporting purposes. I wrote a Python script to process the data and produce the key reporting figures required by funders and course teams. I use the script output data to quickly plot graphs in Excel of learner retention and identify aspects of the course design that work well or may be improved, inferred from the patterns of engagement shown in the graphs..

Reflection

As my career progresses, my technical skill has become less important in terms of fulfilling the duties of my role. This is a common issue as practitioners move into senior roles. I have not prioritised some of the back-end development skills I previously used in my university roles, though basic programming has still been useful in my current role as demonstrated above. I had not used Python before, but due to its free availability and increased presence for small-scale development which meant ample support was available online, I chose that language for data processing. Whilst this work could have been allocated to a consultant, being able to learn the language and tailor the output as my thinking about how to process the data evolved was more efficient in the long run.

I continue to maintain my content development skills, particularly in multimedia which forms a significant part of MOOC development. Whilst in a more senior role I may not need to produce content itself, I will still need an awareness of what is possible either to direct content production or advise colleagues on how to produce the best resource and learning experience with the technology they are using. I feel this instils a confidence in others and a confidence in my own decisions about the choice of technology for specific learning needs, which without practising technical skills would diminish. In light of this, the next area of technical skill I hope to develop will be in the application of H5P packages for bite-size online CPD.

c) Supporting the deployment of learning technologies

Digital assessment rollout

Declaration: This example has been adapted from my FHEA Application.

In my former role, for the Department of Environment I supported administrative staff in the implementation of a digital assessment submission, handling and marking workflow, with technical guidance for markers. As feedback came from academic staff through the year I advised on stricter workflows as I became aware of technical constraints that impacted assessment of learning for the range of assessments in this interdisciplinary department. In particular, document formatting was often an issue, particularly in Word documents when viewed cross platform and cross devices, such as iPads.

For example, posters reflecting students’ knowledge and understanding, are also assessed for capacity to communicate ideas, requiring markers to have accurate digital representations of posters; reports that include graphical representations of data and subsequent analyses required the markers to have robust cross-platform reproduction of the diagrams. My revised guidance, now part of a wider advice for other departments, connects the format of submission with considerations at the marking and feedback stage.

Reflection

Through supporting this roll-out and becoming more familiar with discipline needs, I have a greater appreciation of how specific assignment types allow for assessment of different learning objectives. I now appreciate the need for understanding intended marking approaches early on in assessment design in order to communicate submission requirements to students. As with all technology-enhanced learning projects, even if a process appears to be administrative, there will be a need to involve academic staff and students to fully appreciate the constraints on deploying technology.

Video tutorials for in-class technology

My videos on using in-class technology were designed to raise the profile of the supported lecture capture hardware for hand-written or non-digital sources, 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 or hardware configuration.

Reflection

When devising this approach, I didn’t consider fully the needs of lecturers. 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. 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, though may be challenging at first to implement across the many devices and constraints of large cohort lectures.

Another consideration is whether video demonstration was the best medium to support staff in use of this technology. When providing training for a new automated video-camera option for lecture capture, I instead 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 skills, face-to-face training still has a key role to play.

Next: Core Area 2. Teaching, learning, assessment

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