Embracing the potential of digital exams

Horizons in STEM Higher Education has become a summer fixture for many science academics. In keeping with many 2020 events, this year’s conference switched to an online format. The first plenary lecture was Digital Exams: Transforming Assessment by Professor Mariann Rand-Weaver from Brunel University.

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This was a really inspiring session, demonstrating the opportunities that are presented by actively moving examinations from a traditional paper-based format to using digital platforms.

Brunel has been moving to digital exams over the past few years (i.e. not just in response to recent pandemic), partly motivated by asking themselves why exams were almost the only time we ever ask students to hand write anything these days. Additionally, a switch to provision of computers is already a typical “reasonable adjustment” on accessibility grounds, so why not level the playing field by allowing this for all?

There are a range of benefits. For the markers it is easier to read typed scripts. The answers are often better structured, as the students can move around the text to the relevant point. There are also administration benefits – e.g. less paper , less manual handling, more streamlined processes. Continue reading

Introducing: “Getting Started With BoB”

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented focus on the value of online teaching resources. Regular readers of this blog will be aware that I am a long-standing enthusiast for a variety of digital tools for University education. In particular, I have been a champion for “BoB”, sometimes known as Box of Broadcasts. This tremendous collection of more than 2 million copyright-cleared TV and radio recordings for educational use has never quite achieved the levels of awareness and acclaim that i deserves.

Following a recent presentation about use of BoB for final year dissertations, I was invited to write a one-page “How to” guide. This is something I will certainly do in the near future. However, that invitation galvanised me into doing something I had thought about for a while, namely producing some introductory videos on using BoB. I have therefore made an initial set of four videos under the title Getting Started with BoB. The videos, available on my YouTube channel are:

  1. Unlocking the potential of TV and radio broadcasts in education looks at logging in, and offers a quick tour around the main features of BoB, including the interactive programme guide.
  2. Using the search tool does pretty much what it says on the tin. Use of a search tool may seem pretty self-explanatory, but there are one or two specifics of searching in BoB that I felt would benefit from clearer explanation.
  3. Making clips one of the great features of BoB is the ability to pick out the extract that is most important for your teaching, learning or research. This video shows how to do that.
  4. Adding clips to your playlists finally (in this first set of videos) an introduction to the “playlist” facility within BoB – helping you, and others, find those nuggets of gold again next time you need them.

 

UPDATE: It turns out there are also a set of official BoB “how to” videos available via this link. The two sets have slightly different emphases and are complementary.

7 things I learnt from running my first Collaborate session

collaborate logoYesterday I ran my first session using the Blackboard Collaborate Ultra tool (hereafter Collaborate). Here I share some initial reflections on the the experience. I should point out that I hadn’t read any “How to” guides in advance, so I can offer no promises that what follows has any originality.

  1. Collaborate is a good tool. Running any teaching that relies on technology always runs the risk of being fraught. However, I came away from the session with a sense that we’d all shared a really worthwhile hour or so together.
  2. Students will drift in and out of the session (and not by design). A slight caveat to the first point, not so much Collaborate itself, but the fact that online sessions in general are partially dependent on the Wifi capability of the students. At various points students “left” the meeting only to return a few moments later. Helpfully Collaborate logs the number of times someone has been in the meeting, so congratulations to the student who fought with her limited signal and came back to the session nine times.
  3. Upload any material you are going to share as a PDF not a PowerPoint file. I was glad that a colleague and I had logged in to check the system before the session as my the formatting on my PowerPoint slides was bastardised by the tool. The PDF worked fine (but bear in mind you will lose any animations that you had – so if you want a sequential “reveal” (eg posing a question before revealing the answers) then this will need to be on different slides.
  4. Using the chat window for interactivity works really well. I was keen that the session was not a lecture from me, it was to be – as far as possible – a tutorial with input from the other participants. There is a “raise hands” feature for someone to indicate that they want to offer an oral answer, but we found that the chat feature worked rather more smoothly. We actually had contributions from several of the students, but I can envisage that you need to be careful, as with any face-to-face tutorial that you don’t allow any one person to dominate (may need a sensitively phrased “Fred, please give someone else a chance to answer the next one”) or making sure that everyone is actively involved (eg by targeting questions to named students).
  5. Having a moderator/co-tutor is really valuable. We had one member of staff monitoring the chat stream (and coordinating the “breakout rooms”, see points 6) whilst I led the discussion. I managed to keep a reasonable track of the comments, but she was able to add encouraging responses there, and occasionally interrupt if there was something I’d clearly missed.
  6. Breaking out into smaller groups for Q&A allowed more people to speak up. Having praised the chatbox feed as a feature, it is also good to give participants the opportunity to verbalise and questions. We subdivided the meeting into groups of about 10 participants. Clearly if you are going to do this, you need to have multiple tutors present so they can be shared across the groups.
  7. Arrive early, but give some advance thought to your “small talk”. I know there are two schools of thought about how you start an online meeting – for example some people advocate intentional use of the “waiting room” in Zoom to bring everyone into the meeting at the same time. I elected to arrive early and had some fairly natural greetings conversations with other early arrivals. However, these tended to be repeated by co-tutors and other staff arriving later. So [and I’m still ruminating on the rights and wrongs of this], if there are going to be several staff present, it may be worth deciding in advance who might pick up different areas of conversation . Clearly this won’t be quite so spontaneous, but it does avoid four people asking Miriam where she’s from.

Analysis of Broadcast Science as a Capstone Project

For a number of years I have been offering final year projects for undergraduate bioscientists at Leicester in which they examine the science (and sometimes the ethics) of broadcast media coverage on a topic of their choosing. The key tools that facilitate this work are Learning on Screen’s archive of screened media BoB (sometimes called Box of Broadcasts) and the related Television and Radio Index for Learning and Teaching (TRILT). I was delighted on many levels to be invited to give a presentation on Analysis of Broadcast Science as a Capstone Project for the second #DryLabsRealScience network. Slides here.

Firstly, I think the #DryLabsRealScience initiative is a brilliant example of grassroots collaboration across different institutions at a time of unprecedented change [it would be great if University top brass were pulling together in the same manner, but I digress]. Here are academics helping each other to help their present and future students have the most valuable university experience possible, regardless of whether or not social distancing measures restrict some aspects of traditional teaching.

Secondly, I’m always delighted to talk about the potential of BoB and TRILT as resources for both teaching, and I suggest, research in a University context. These are fabulous tools and they really deserve be more widely known and used across many disciplines in the UK HE sector.

Finally, the invitation was a chance to pull together some of my thinking on this type of project – it will hopefully prove the catalyst to finally write up this work in a more formal way. Systematic analysis of print media (using tools such as Nexis and Factiva) is a well-established research model in many disciplines and BoB now offers the scope to conduct similar studies on a boundaried collection of TV and Radio resources.

Using lecture capture tools for uses *other than* recording lectures (1): Taxonomy of applications

Back in 2018 my colleague Matt Mobbs from the Leicester Learning Institute and I undertook a project to identify innovative uses of our institutional lecture capture (LC) system, in our case Panopto.

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An outline of the variety of Pedagogies Involving Capture Technology at the University of Leicester (in 2018). The uses are discussed more fully in the text.

Universities around the world have invested huge amounts in both the software and associated hardware to facilitate the recording of lectures, which can subsequently be made available for student to watch asynchronously. A whole conversation already exists around best practice in use of the LC systems for this primary function.  In this project, however, we were more interested in innovative uses of the technology over and above the standard recording of large venue, and largely didactic, teaching; we wanted to know about Pedagogy Involving Capture Technology (PICT) beyond the classroom. With the help of our research assistant Gemma Mitchell (now University of York), we carried out a series of interviews with staff at the University of Leicester to find existing examples of good practice, with a view to producing a guide for the benefit of the wider community. Continue reading

12 Things I learned from the “From Emergency Remote Teaching to Effective Online Teaching” webinar

AdvanceHEOn April 28th AdvanceHE hosted another in their series of online webinar run in response to the Covid19 pandemic. The focus of the session was on differentiating between the unanticipated switch to online teaching and assessment that Universities have had to adapt to in recent weeks, and the development of more thought-through digital learning once the dust has settled.

The session had three presentations. First up was a recorded talk by Dr Torrey Trust (@torreytrust) from University of Massachusetts (Amherst) on The Difference Between Emergency Remote Teaching and Quality Online Instruction. This was followed by Dr Eva Wong from Hong Kong Baptist University sharing, in particular, some insights learned the earlier experience of a sudden campus closure, triggered by the social and political unrest of 2019. Finally, Prof Dave White (@daveowhite) Head of Digital Learning at University of the Arts, London.

Rather than taking you blow-by-blow through each of the talks, I’d like to pick out some highlights and reflections drawn from across the whole session. Continue reading

Biology in Broadcast Media

Back at the start of the lockdown, I noted that it would be a good time for University staff and students to make more use of various online resources, notably the Box of Broadcasts archive of TV and radio programmes (more than 2 million in total). I was therefore delighted to respond to a request from Learning on Screen to curate the Biology section of a new teaching resources collection they are developing.

boblistI have started by the new list by including a variety of programmes which I had previously identified as part of the Biology On The Box project, Over time I will add more news items and other classic documentaries. Of course if you have any suggestions or requests for inclusion then do please let me know. Similarly, I know that they are seeking academics willing to curate collection for different disciplines so, if you think that might be you, do get in touch with Learning on Screen directly.

[Note: the link in the above screengrab is not live. If you would like to access the playlist, click here.]

UPDATE (24th April): rather than start a fresh post on this theme, I add here that Learning on Screen made a promotional video about the playlist (see https://vimeo.com/407951233) and they also asked me to host a two-hour “takeover” of their Twitter account. I have make the latter thread into a PDF file, which can be accessed via this link.

 

What is marking for?

Alongside novel challenges in the delivery and assessment of higher education, the current health crisis is causing some older issue in pedagogy to bubble back to the surface. One of these is the tension between between marking and feedback.

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Most academics, I suspect, have had the demoralising experience of finding boxes of carefully annotated work sitting uncollected in the administration office long after any interested parties will have picked up their work. Even with the switch of many assignments online (over several years, not just this week) you can see that the feedback feature hasn’t even been opened by many students in a given cohort (and you cannot tell the extent to which those who have clicked on it actually engaged with the comments).

I have been reminded of this by the impact of COVID-19 on existing plans. My first year students have recently written an essay under exam conditions. This is their first taste of an assessment format they will encounter much more frequently over the next couple of years. Yes, I know this is anachronistic, and yes we have made significant strides towards diversification of assessment, but it remains the fact that at present essay-writing in a time-limited setting remains a skill they will need to develop. My belief in the importance of this task as part of the student’s training was a significant factor in my heavy-hearted decision not to participate in the recent strike (but that is conversation for a different day). Continue reading

New…not New

QAA4I discovered relatively recently that a fourth edition of the QAA’s Subject Benchmark Statement for Biosciences was released in October 2019. Professionally I owe a lot to the existence of the QAA Benchmark statements. It was the first version, published in 2002, that placed strong emphasis on all graduates from Bioscience programmes having an awareness of the societal and ethical implications of developments within their discipline. This led the Subject Centre of the Learning and Teaching Support Network (as it then was; halcyon days) to set up the Special Interest Group in Teaching Ethics to Bioscience Students. Three of us applied for the advertised role to head up the SIG. The folks at the Subject Centre had the prescience to suggest we shared the role, and so was born  fruitful collaborations that have outlived the LTSN and even the HEA into which it was subsequently folded.

Continue reading

Can students be mistaken about the efficacy of teaching?

At the November meeting of our Bioscience Pedagogic Research group I led a discussion of the recent paper “Measuring actual learning versus feeling of learning in response to being actively engaged in the classroom“. The study, published in the prestigious journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was led by Louis Deslauriers and was conducted on Physical Sciences programs at Harvard University.

Slides from my summary of the paper can be seen here

The principal take-home message from the study was that students learned more from active teaching sessions, despite feeling that they had gained more from passive lectures. It was a “cross-over study” (all participants experienced both teaching methods, but on different topics) and all had the same hand-outs and slides, in either the ‘active’ or the ‘passive’ sessions. As the authors point out “The crucial difference between the two groups was whether students were told directly how to solve each problem or were asked to try to solve the problems themselves in small groups before being given the solution” (p19252). Continue reading