In May 2014, I attended a conference in London on Echo360, the software (and hardware) solution that The University of Sheffield uses for lecture capture. It was a great conference and you can read about my experiences here:
Dr.Liz Bennett (Senior Lecturer, School of Education), Lisa Ward (Head of the Teaching & Learning Institute) & Ros Walker (MSc Graduate)
Last night, I was lucky enough to attend the ‘Thank you’ awards at Huddersfield University. Shortly after completing my Masters last year (in E-learning and Multimedia), I received an email telling me about the Thank You awards. There were three categories: Assessment & Feedback, Inspirational Teaching and Student Support. My first dilemma was which category to choose – my tutor, Dr Liz Bennett, could easily have fitted into any of them! However, I singled out the Assessment and Feedback category. There were three key points I wanted to make. The first was about how well she had responded to emails. Working at a distance on this blended learning course, it was easy to feel isolated. However, I never did, as Liz answered all my emails promptly, even the most stupid of questions! The second point related to the assessments that she set us, that allowed us to use a variety of formats for our work. I submitted various multimedia pieces alongside my written work. In some ways this was actually more work than writing an essay would have been, but it was far more enjoyable and allowed me to be creative and explore new ideas. Work I submitted included video from a webinar, screencasts, logs of tweets and PowerPoint presentations. (You can see one example on my blog here.) The third point was how my tutor had gone beyond what was required of her in helping to support me with a proposal for a conference paper (5,000 words), which was accepted and led to my first peer-reviewed article, and a conference presentation, based on my Masters research. I have already written about the way that she used Turnitin, which was also exemplary. (See link here.)
I was invited to the evening, having made the nomination, as my tutor was a finalist. She took home an award as Runner Up in the category – 2nd overall in the whole University for feedback and assessment. I was so proud of her and delighted to have been able to nominate her work for this award.
The nomination was submitted last year and it did not include the fact that, based on the work Liz did with me and others, I applied for and was offered my current post at the University of Sheffield. I am now working on Turnitin and I was able to discuss at interview my experience of using this as a student and it is a real honour that I am able to take this work forward and use it in a genuine context.
I have to also mention the fantastic evening overall. It was so uplifting to hear the praise for so many tutors at Huddersfield University. So many happy, smiling faces. A few tears. A lot of lives changed, improved, taking people beyond what they thought possible in their lives or out of difficult situations. Thank you to all who were involved in organising it and thank you for the invitation.
Thank you, again, Dr Bennett, and well done on your well-deserved award.
“God gave you a gift of 84,600 seconds today. Have you used one of them to say thank you?”
― William Arthur Ward
Having recently started with the Learning Technologies team in CICS at the University of Sheffield, I have had chance to reflect on my experiences of using Turnitin as a student. learning student. Turnitin is a piece of software that allows students to submit their work electronically. Tutors can view an ‘originality report’ which matches text in the assignment with text on the Internet and they can then annotate and feedback the assignment to the student, with a grade and audio comments if required.
On the Masters course I undertook at the University of Huddersfield I completed 6 modules and for all of them our work had to be submitted via Turnitin. It never even crossed my mind that this was ‘strange’ or ‘different’ – it was just the way that we were asked to do things and we did it. There were several things that really stood out to me:
- I could submit my work from wherever I was working at the point that I was ready. Once complete, I just logged on to the VLE and clicked on the ‘Assignment’ tab and then followed the step-by-step upload process. I got a reassuring email telling me that the work had been submitted . As a working mother, the ability to send work in from home at 1am was a real benefit.
- The first piece of work I got back was a bit of a surprise. As I logged on to check my grade, what I found was that the essay had been annotated all the way through with bright comments, suggestions and references to follow up. I felt like the tutor had taken a lot of care to check my work thoroughly and I was genuinely interested in her comments. At the end of the assignment was an audio comment. “Hello Ros, thank you so much for all your hard work in this essay….”it began. I was ‘gobsmacked’! I had a really personal comment with a warm tone of voice and a summary of the main points that were good and what needed addressing in my assignment. Working at a distance and feeling ‘remote’ occasionally, this was a real bonus.
- In later pieces of work, as they became more complex, we had the option to ‘pre-submit’. This was the chance to send in a draft of our work to get comments about the direction and what we needed to do to meet the criteria for the assignment. It prevented students from going off on the wrong tangent and provided a basis for any discussion with the tutor.
- On most of our assignments, we had the chance to submit work which was ‘multimedia-based’. I did this in the form of videos, blog posts, a website and PowerPoint presentations. In order for these to be part of our assignment, I placed them on the web (or cloud) and linked to them from my assignment. At the time, you could only load Word documents into Turnitin (and that has now changed), but I was still able to submit multimedia work. I really valued the chance to illustrate my ‘essay’ work with more creative evidence and variety in the presentation of my work.
- One thing that is interesting for me to note now is that I never looked at the ‘Originality Report’ which detects matching text. Having looked back, I can see that it was made available to me, but there was nothing that needed investigating in it and the tutor never raised it with me, so I hadn’t looked at it at all. If it had been made explicit that we should view it, then I would have done so. In my case, I had several years of writing experience and was already familiar with academic referencing, so developing my writing was not mentioned. I was almost surprised to discover it as a feature when I started planning for training sessions in my new job!
So, in summary, as a student, the main benefits for me were convenience, enhanced contact with my tutor, the chance to receive formative feedback and personalised comments- both written and oral.
(This was also published on the blog for the Learning Technologies Team at the University of Sheffield: http://learningtechnologiesteam.blogspot.co.uk/)
Last week I was lucky enough to visit the Yammer offices in London. Yammer describes itself as ‘the leading enterprise social network’. In simplified terms, it works a bit like Facebook for Professionals (although it does have much greater functionality). The offices were light, airy, felt dynamic, the desks were adorned with Macs and the reception area featured fun photos of the staff and some visitors. It was the sort of place which makes you want to engage with whatever it is offering immediately.
I had arranged my appointment to discuss how we could run Yammer across several schools. It has never made sense to me that teachers in our schools all constantly ‘reinvent the wheel’ and are burdened by the workload that entails. It also seems a shame that some brilliant educational initiatives are only shared in a limited way. I know this is the same across many educational organisations, Local Authorities, University departments – even single schools on split sites will find it hard to meet and collaborate.
With so many teachers now familiar with Facebook, using Yammer seemed like an easy step to collaboration. Had a great lesson? Tell others about it on Yammer. Got a great worksheet? Share it on Yammer. Seen an interesting link online? Tell others about it on Yammer….etc.
Last term, I launched Yammer with some of our subject groups, the usual suspects: English, Maths, Science. I also included MFL and Music, as subjects which I knew had tried to work together. I had a list of who the Heads of Department were and asked them if they would like to join, sent them an invitation and waited for the exciting discussion…..it never happened.
When I arrived at the Yammer offices, I had a list of all the reasons I felt it wasn’t working and after an hour of discussion, I came to realise that there was only one reason it wasn’t working. Openness. I had set up closed networks and invited Heads of Department. As busy people, they may not be the right people to involve themselves in online activity. However, the grass roots teachers may well have a need and a desire to share. It did not take long for Yammer to convince me that my groups should not be ‘closed’ and ‘by invitation’ but open and available for all to see.
I have long wondered if the essentially artificial ‘subject’ groupings that we have at Secondary level in education are actually detrimental our ability to deliver ‘joined up’ teaching. However much we talk about ‘cross-curricular’ work, it is rare to see it happening in school. Pupils move from 40minutes of Maths to 40 minutes of Science to 40minutes of Modern Languages with seemingly little connection between them. In the same way, in the years I have spent training, teachers want ‘Ideas for Maths’, ‘Ideas for Science’ or ‘Ideas for MFL’.
So, back to openness. If I were to set up a group for MFL, a group for English and a group for Maths, the chances are that the teachers of those subjects would be the ones who joined, but anyone could join. School leaders could dip in and see what was happening in the groups. Anyone could create a group. Anyone, from a Headteacher to the school caretaker could participate in any group created. Pupils could create groups; pupils could participate in groups. Imagine if your Year 8 pupils started participating in your English teachers group and your Year 11s started to write for your Science Teachers group? You could have a group about BYOD / Mobile learning and have a really open exchange of views and ideas.
I love the theory. I relish the idea of a place where ideas can move, develop, grow collaboratively, but I also appreciate the huge mindshift which will have to take place for this to happen. We are used to belonging to ‘closed’ groups. Our lives evolve around closed groups: our family, our school, our church, our company. We are defined by the units to which we belong and we probably value the fences because they make us comfortable and unthreatened. Do we want new ideas when our old ones have served us well? Maybe we prefer to work on our own rather than collaborate? Do other people just muddy the waters and confuse things for us?
What does it take to be Open? It is a question that only you and your organisation can answer, but it is a debate that we need to have. Now we have the potential to work in extended, open units, we need to learn how to collaborate, share, grow and develop.
In researching this blog entry, I was fascinated to see that openness is a really hot topic, so much so that TED ran a conference on it last year: http://conferences.ted.com/TEDGlobal2012/program/
I will leave you with an exuberant video on openness by Jason Silva for TED Global.