Online and Digital Learning

Capture things visually and they’ll have an impact

Writing on a blackboard

Two lessons: the most important page of your VLE site is the first one; never underestimate the usefulness of a camera. Pretty much common sense, right? Here’s how these lessons worked in practice for me.

The most basic in-class technology

The blackboard or whiteboard is a fundamental in most teaching spaces. Standing the test of time for the ease in which text, squiggly lines and smiley faces may be drawn on demand unconstrained by the boundaries of software or the torment of trying to freehand draw using a mouse.

However, whilst I prefer to have a decent slide deck instead of writing everything on the board by hand, I do use blackboards, whiteboards and flip chart paper to harvest audience/student contributions and cluster them visually.

By the way, if you just need to collect a list of contributions you can embed an editable text box within your PowerPoint slides (and it looks really slick). Take a look at this YouTube video by innovativetech to find out more.

In my recent run of the Social Media for Social Policy course I had two points of audience interaction: first to explain what they wanted to get out of the course and second to think about how the audience for their campaigns could be segmented. I took a photo of both chalkboards and posted them to the VLE site for the course.


Ensuring that students were getting something meaningful out of the course was important, particularly as it was an optional, extra-curricular activity. Hence, having a reminder of why they signed up I hoped perhaps had a motivational effect.

Understanding your audience is one of the fundamentals of a social media campaign. At every stage of the students’ projects I question them on their segmentation, so I am keen to emphasise at every opportunity these ideas.

In both cases, the photo was added to the first page of the supporting online space on the VLE. This may have had the effect I desired, albeit not consciously planned. Whilst I don’t have concrete evidence, one student did comment in the course evaluation that in respect of the first session the only thing they remembered was the work on the blackboard: “It might because I will see it every time I go to VLE.” Reinforcement by repeat exposure.

First page importance

The problem is, if we are to really take advantage of the first page of a course site on a VLE, we need to make it a) visual and b) relevant to the students. Certainly, one of the things I would want to add to a first page for a taught module would be the learning outcomes and a short overall aim. However, I’m conscious that a stream of text will not be easily absorbed or have the same impact as a graphic. Even then, a graphic that students have only seen online may not perhaps have the same impact as something that was created as part of a teaching session. In creating a diagram or visual representation of a particular topic in the session as part of a collaborative exercise, when students view it again on the VLE there is a resonance with their own experience.

Capturing in class activity

You may be aware that I’m now championing lecture capture at my institution, and actually if you use the technique shown in the YouTube linked above that could be recorded as part of lecture capture systems that record the screen. However, most systems do not capture blackboards or flipcharts well. In these cases, use a good camera. You never know, your mobile phone may have one decent enough to work in your lecture rooms. If you have trouble getting images off your mobile phone, one of the quickest ways is to email the photo as an attachment to yourself.

Once you have the image you will no doubt need to resize it and perhaps crop it. You can use a free online tool for this, for example:

Alternatively, if you have Corel Paint Shop Pro I have a video tutorial which covers cropping and resizing  available on YouTube. If you a member of University of York staff, you can also view my video tutorial on how to make the first page of your VLE module site a little more presentable:

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