Ros Walker

…learning, education, technology and stuff

Mapping your University Course

Arriving at University can be totally overwhelming, with a huge amount of information to take in very quickly. One thing that can help is having a clear overview of what your course looks like. It’s important for the way you organise your studies and can be really helpful in guiding how your set up your digital resources, like folders on your computer.  This is also useful at the start of each University year. It is likely that you will be taking a number of modules and mapping these, with some key information about each one, can give you a visual reference point to help you understand your course.

You could begin with something really simple like this- just the title of your course and the modules that you are taking:

18_01_2018 13_51 Office Lens (003)

You may want to do a slightly more detailed one, which could involve looking at information like a Module Handbook, which is often given to you or stored in your VLE (UniLearn at Huddersfield University). These booklets are sometimes neglected, but looking at them at the start of the course will give you a real clear idea of what you will be doing, what is expected from you and many of your key dates.

handdrawn map of course v2

It took about 2 hours to pull out all this information, but it means that you know exactly where you are in your course. It is useful to cross-reference the dates straight onto a calendar or into your mobile phone calendar if you can.

You can then take this further if you want with software like MindView 7.

My Course BA Youth and Community Work

A map like this is ideal to print off and keep on your study wall, or on the front of a file. You can do more detailed ones for each module if you want. This does then help you with setting up your electronic filing system as well:

Folders for modules

With a folder for each module, you should keep all those documents in order. And, you can always add sub-folders inside each one – like:

  • Lecture notes
  • Assignments
  • Reading
  • Seminars

Hope this helps with your organisation and if you need any support with your file management or with MindView, and you are at Huddersfield University, you can contact me through HudStudy.

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Making your PowerPoints accessible to visually-impaired users

I think it is fair to say that PowerPoint is still a major part of teaching in Higher Education. Most lectures centre around a presentation, which has been prepared in advance on PowerPoint.

It is also widely known that many students find it useful, if not essential, to download these PowerPoints before the lecture so that they can prepare themselves for what they may hear – checking out unknown vocabulary, refreshing their knowledge of already-known topics that underlie the lecture or just making copies ready on their laptops or on paper for notes to be taken.

All well and good. Except, it’s not quite that simple for visually impaired students.

PowerPoint presentations can be empty for students who rely on screen-readers, if the content has not been added properly.

Let me explain.

PowerPoint can’t add things that are in text boxes to the outline view, which is what visually-impaired users rely on, because it can be read out loud to them from the computer.

This first image shows a PowerPoint presentation (yes, I know the content is basic, but stick with me!)

My cat_1

If I go to View > Outline View – this is what I see in an inaccessible version – and this is what a blind/visually-impaired student relies on.

My cat_2

If you go to View > Outline View in an accessible version – this is what you see – something that can be read easily with a screen-reader. It hasn’t taken any ‘extra’ work – it’s just used PowerPoint as it is meant to be used.

My cat_3

So, how do we do it? 

The key is DO NOT USE TEXT-BOXES. Use the layouts that PowerPoint gives you when you add a new slide. Although it may look like a text box, these are actually ‘content’ boxes and are included in Outline View. So, go to New Slide and add the layout that you want. Only type within those boxes. If you want to check your PowerPoint for accessibility, go to File > Check for Issues (which is a box under the Info heading) and then choose Check Accessibility. It will highlight any immediate problems.

You should also add ALT text to any images or graphs that you use. This article explains how to do that.


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Digital Accessibility

Last November, I took a course with FutureLearn on Digital Accessibility. It was a fantastic course – so good that I repeated it in February 2017.

You can read my review of it at the Association for Learning Technology’s blog.

A Review of the Digital Accessibility FutureLearn course.

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Sonocent and NoteTalker

Yesterday, I attended a day organised by the University of Derby’s Assessment Centre, where we had the chance to look at two pieces of software designed to help with note-taking. Both systems had some similarities. They both work on a mobile device, tablet or laptop in a lecture theatre, and to work well, both recommend an additional directional microphone to capture the lecturer’s voice. I was using an iPhone 7 and actually managed to get a good quality recording using the built-in microphone for Sonocent, but I was in the front row with only a few other people in the room. Both also offered a back-up battery charger pack so that the mobile devices could be recharged during the day. The one from NoteTalker was like a thick credit-card. The Sonocent was a bit chunkier. Both pieces of software can be recommended as part of DSA when the software meets the needs of the students. They can also be purchased  by individuals.

Sonocent was the first of these. In this system, you can colourcode the audio timeline as you are listening, import the presentation slides, add pictures by using the camera on the device and type text.  When I returned to the office, I downloaded and installed the software in less than 5 minutes and was really impressed with the clean interface and the way that the lecture had been ‘chunked’ for me. I was able to transfer the file I had recorded very quickly via Google drive. I then added additional notes, web links, images and finally, if I wanted print out my final version of my notes, giving a very ‘clean’ summary of the lecture. I still haven’t explored all the desktop version has, but it had enough that I could get to grips with it quickly.
Priced at £49.99 for an annual licence (or £149.99 for a perpetual licence.) Nov 2016.

Note-Talker was the second of the presentations.  The app was very easy to install on my phone. The audio quality was noticeably poorer and would have benefited from a directional microphone. You can vary the quality of the capture, but increasing this and changing it to CD quality resulted in the sound capture being like a gabbling alien. The software was very similar but in striking yellow, black and white colours. On this software, I was able to add photos taken with my device, and bookmarks. I could click during the talk, and add a named bookmark. Unfortunately, I wasn’t easily able to transfer off the files that I had recorded- it offered One drive and Dropbox, but I use Google Drive. So, I thought I would just record another file into the desktop version of the software. This failed twice. Had it worked, I would have been able to chunk up my lecture, and a feature not available in Sonocent is the Maths keyboard, allowing me to add equations. I did wonder how valuable this was, when I can use the built-in maths keyboard in Word and then take a snapshot to add to the lecture notes. For me, this software was garish and a bit ‘clunky’ – and the difficulties of installing and running the desktop version have put me off.

On leaving the sessions, our opinions were split with some preferring Sonocent and some Notetalker. Having tested them further, my personal preference would be Sonocent, but of course, we have to look primarily at the needs of our students.

I do have one big question, which relates to both pieces of software. At the University of Huddersfield, we have just introduced lecture capture. This means that students already have a good quality recording of the lecture. I am not sure what additional benefit the note-taking apps give in relation to making the audio recordings. Our students can now review, bookmark and add notes alongside the lecture, although the output from the Sonocent desktop software is superior in quality to that offered at present by the lecture capture software, but it did strike me that a student could take a slide set from a lecture, add Notes into the Notes section, whilst watching the video that had been lecture captured.

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Fancy a brew?

This is a real quickie, but I just had to share it. I’ve been doing quite a bit of work in primary schools recently and this came up on my Facebook today. It’s definitely right in our neck of the woods – and I’m impressed that the child recognised three sounds in this word.



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MELSIG – Smart Devices for Learning

You can see my work blog on this at:

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Learning to be peer-reviewed

Having recently completed my Masters, and contemplating the possibility of an academic career, I realised that I needed some publications to my name, something more than the book chapters, book reviews and blog that I occasionally write. My thesis had more than enough material to create an article and my tutor pointed me in the direction of a worthy, international, peer-reviewed journal (Research in Learning Technology). More blood, sweat and a considerable number of tears and I had 5,000 words which I considered to be worthy of publication. I sent it off and waited…..and waited….and waited….(this was worse than waiting for exam results)….and eventually, I got an email. It told me that my publication had been accepted, subject to a few changes. I would hear within a week what the changes should be. Three weeks later, another email. It began in a promising way, congratulating me on the acceptance of my article and then the peer reviews followed. I had to read the email three times. I had been reviewed by two people. One seemed to love it and one seemed to hate it. The one who loved it mentioned the ‘in-depth analytical discussion’ and recommended the paper ‘without reservation’. Hurrah! The second, on the other hand, said it was ‘overall a weak critique of current literature, lazy referencing and weak analysis of the collated data.’ The reviewer did not recommend it.

I went for a walk.

Oh, how those words hurt. This was drawn from my Masters dissertation, which had passed and awarded me an MSc. When I went back to look, there were some errors in the referencing but I had been writing this at 11pm after putting two small children to bed and doing the housework. (S)he wasn’t to know this. Nor does it excuse it, but it wasn’t ‘lazy referencing’ – it was ‘tired out, inexperienced referencing’. The literature review had been adequate for my Masters and fully accepted by the other reviewer. I had missed some international research, but mine had been a UK study and I had been advised at an early stage not to look too widely internationally as cultural variations meant the literature may not have been transferable. I was prepared to look again at the analysis, but this had already been presented at two conferences and well-received – and the other reviewer was happy with it.

How could two reviewers have such different perspectives? It was also difficult to know where to go for support. The journal editor did not reply to emails. My University course had finished, but my tutor was brilliant and did support me. I have made changes to the article – and I hope that it will now be accepted, but the process has been far more arduous and emotionally challenging than I had envisaged. The word ‘lazy’ is still living in my head, even though I know deep-down I am anything but!

The article was published in September 2013 and can be viewed here:

“I don’t think I would be where I am right now.” Pupil perspectives on using mobile devices for learning.

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The Five Pillars of Mobile Learning

Today, I would like to put forward a model for the introduction of mobile learning. This is partly based on my research, and partly based on wide reading of blogs, articles about mobile learning and anecdotal evidence from conferences and speaking to those involved.

My model is based on 5 pillars, which stand together to support the school’s vision. The school needs to have an overall vision. The vision will be supported by 5 key areas. There may be more, and I’m open to debate and persuasion, but these are the key ones that I have identified.

5 pillars of mobile learning












Each of these will be discussed in significantly more detail in later blog posts, but I will just discuss each briefly now:

Technical infrastructure: The school needs to have adequate (and ideally better than just adequate) wireless access and  sufficient broadband. The best comment I have heard about technical infrstructure was from Mark Howell (Meru Networks). He said that teachers and pupils don’t care about wireless – they just want it to work. It should be like a tap – turn it on and the water flows.

Appropriate Hardware and Management – Big decision time. Which devices will you use, how will they be supplied, managed and maintained?

Appropriate software and apps – A device is nothing in itself except a lump of metal and plastic. It is what you use on it (see previous post on ‘Which apps should I buy?’)and then the way that …..

Teacher skills and understanding – help pupils to make the most of the opportunities the device afford.

Over time, you will build and develop ‘pupil skills and understanding’, so that they become better at independent learning, use creativity in their work and learn to communicate and collaborate effectively.

These headings are in the order I have given for a particular reason. Without the infrastructure, there is no point having the devices. I have heard about a school that had devices with no internet connection, but as pupils list their number one resource as being the Internet, it does seem rather pointless to cut off that channel.

Pupils and teachers can not use the devices unless they are available and managed.

If you were to make a Gantt chart to plan for your introduction of a mobile learning strategy, there would be some overlay between the categories. In the best case scenarios I am seeing at the moment, teachers are getting the devices and becoming familiar with them ahead of the introduction for pupils. It depends whether you want to wade in at the shallow end with armbands on and learn to swim slowly, or jump in at the deep end, make a big splash and then risk that someone may drown in the process.

I do have a hypothetical example of a school where things did not go well. It may be a real school, but it serves to illustrate how the Five Pillars approach works:

5 pillars of mobile learning_broken











In this school, the Senior Management decided to allow Bring your Own Device. They consulted with parents and governors as part of the vision and they sent out a list to parents of which devices would be appropriate. Pupils arrived in school and proudly displayed the devices (which now could be on their desks instead of in their bags). In fact, 70% had already had devices anyway, so surely it made sense to allow their use. However, the teachers had not really been consulted. Some thought it was a good idea and some didn’t, but there was inconsistent use in lessons. Also, the technical department hadn’t really been consulted properly. The school already had wifi – but not sufficient coverage to manage 1100 new devices. The pupil devices kept losing the internet; pupils played games and messaged each other when they got bored in lessons; parents began to complain. The school felt it couldn’t go back on the decision now it had been made – and ended up with a big ‘salvage’ job, trying to create a proper vision to implement.

A later blog post looks at a new, more advanced model which we evolved for use with schools.



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Presenting in the digital age

I was fortunate enough to speak at the BETT show a couple of weeks ago. I did have prior experience of speaking in this large, busy, international forum – but a few years ago. Since my last appearance, the world has gone thoroughly digital. Being an Educational Technology forum, it seemed that most of the audience had a Smart phone. Details of my talk had been flagged a few times on Twitter by my facilitator, who had been appointed by NAACE, the hosts for the event. My talk was entitled ‘Should pupils be allowed mobile devices in the classrom?‘ and it examined what 14-16 year olds are saying about the technology they use.

At the start, the hash-tag (#) for the talk was announced and I saw several people get their mobile phones ready. At one point whilst I was speaking, I thought someone was asking a question, and then realised they just had their mobile phone above everyone’s heads to take a photograph of one of my slides. Towards the end, the facilitator began to ask some of the questions that had been coming in on the Twitter feed.

Overall, I found the experience very exciting. Some people have contacted me on Twitter since the talk and asked further questions. It was rather disconcerting to see the cameras at first, but I quicky realised it just meant that people were interested. I think I felt a little uneasy as this was the first time I had shown my research data and I realised that without my ‘publishing’ it, the data was now ‘out there’ – where exactly, I had no idea as BETT is an open forum and anyone can walk in off the street. A couple of the ‘photographers’ have been extremely professional and contacted me for permission to use my work in a wider forum, and I am grateful for that.

Afterwards, reading the Twitter feed, made me feel that the audience had been fully engaged. I was very interested to see which ‘headlines’ they had picked out of the 45-minutes I was speaking. It gave me some pointers as to which areas to develop for future work as well.


If you are planning to speak and you know your audience will have access to mobile technology, you should consider the following:

1) Give a hastag for your talk at the start, maybe highlighting it on your first slide.

2) Make sure you have a facilitator who can monitor your twitter feed. It is impossible to do this and speak at the same time, so very useful if someone else can filter the messages.

3) Be aware that your slides may be photographed. If you don’t want your information going any further than the presentation room, issue a ‘No cameras’ message at the start of your talk. Otherwise, be aware that your slide could be on the Internet (without your name attached to it) in a matter of seconds. And, even if you ask for no cameras, there are no guarantees that no photos will be taken.

4) Review the tweets after the session: Interesting way to get feedback from your audience.

5) Put your talk on your blog? I have already been asked several times why my talk is not yet on my blog – and the simple fact is that I am unsure as to modern protocol. I used videos of pupils -and I don’t have their permission to be on the Internet, so I want to use transcripts instead. If I publish online, I think I rule out the possibility of the work being accepted by a journal at a later stage. Finally, and the real truth of the matter – I am writing it up for my Masters dissertation and most of my time is being spent on the dissertation. The talk for BETT was my early analysis and I would like whatever I publish finally to be the finished article…

So, apologies if you have come here looking for my BETT talk – you’ll just have to settle for my advice on presenting in the digital age instead for today.

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A humiliating climbdown?

stash-1-506c57f6608a6Well, the education establishment has greeted Gove’s news of the abandonment of the English Baccalaureate with delight. And, I’m not surprised. I’m not surprised it has been abandonned, nor am I surprised about the delight with which the news was greeted today.  The plans were always ill-conceived, reactionary and would not have been implemented within the timescale set. Labour hailed the news as a ‘humiliating climbdown’. What an extraordinary phrase to use. How about ‘a good piece of common sense thinking at last’?

It was on the 17th September that the announcement of the E-Bacc arrived and as more and more details have been revealed, the condemnation has grown. Michael Rosen in his ‘Letter from a curious parent’ ( puts forward an argument that the government sees failure is a necessary part of our society.

There was a part of the E-Bacc proposal which did seem to make sense: choosing just 1 exam board for each subject. When I was at school, it was well known that the ‘bright’ kids sat the Cambridge board, whereas those who were less likely to succeed sat ‘London’. I remember thinking it odd even then that we all ended up with an ‘O’ level although we had done quite different work for it. Surely if we are all running the same race, we should have the same course and the same end-point. It seems strange that there can be different courses, run over different terrains, all ending at the same point. But that does assume that one is looking at all the runners as being equal………

I was part of a very small number of people who sat ‘O’ levels and GCSEs. Most of my qualifications are ‘O’ levels, but I did sit one GCSE. It was in German in my lower sixth year. What was interesting was that I had sat French the year before. I got an ‘A’ in my French. When I sat the German exams, I felt my language was nowhere near the level of my French and mentally awarded myself a ‘C’ grade. When the results came out, I was surprised to find that I had obtained another ‘A’. In the selective school I was in, many of the pupils got ‘straight As’. Nowadays, in the same school, many of the pupils get straight A*s. It certainly felt as if there was a ‘grade slip’ – what was previously a B became an A, a C became a B etc.

Then I became a teacher. I quickly came to  realise that the GCSE was a very different beast to the ‘O’ level. It tested different skills. Whilst most of my eduacation had been about learning and regurgitating large amounts of material, the GCSE actually asked pupils  to do something with the information. I actually became fond of the GCSE in some ways because I could see practical applications. As a modern languages teacher, my rote-learning of ‘The little boy is soaked to the skin’ in French had been of little use when I went to work in a pizza restaurant in Paris. The GCSE would have stood me in far better stead.

A final examination places immense stress on pupils – and is a very unrealistic part of the world that we now live in. For my ‘A’ levels (in 1989), I had to write several 3-hour papers. I still have a strange lump on one finger from the pressure of my pen on that finger. And yet, I have never again had to write with that intensity or by hand since I left school. In fact, I can scarcely remember the last time I had to write by hand. My work now is all on a computer, tablet or phone.

Gove has said today that the GCSE must have ‘fewer bite-sized and overly structured questions and a reduced role for coursework’. This takes us backwards rather than forwards. In the research work I am doing, pupils are using mobile devices (whether allowed in school or not) to complete much of their work. Many pupils are telling me that they use videos or audio to record their work; they enjoy problem-solving; they thrive on collaborative learning. Where does this all fit in with the notion of a single, end-of-course exam?

  • Why can’t exams be done on computers, so pupils can draft and redraft their work?
  • Could pupils answer questions orally or submit video evidence for their exam? (I have done for my Masters.)
  • Why can’t pupils make use of the Internet during an examination?
  • Why can’t teacher assessment make up part of the final grade? Teachers have a far better knowledge of their pupils’ abilities than any examiner.

Do we want to educate our pupils for the future? For a digital world of work, where even those in manual trades now find they use technology all the time? For a world where people work together as a part of a team, even one that is dispersed nationally or globally?

I would love to see some schools have the courage to pull out of the exam system, to educate children to be the best they can be and not to just jump through artificial, outdated hoops. I wonder which colleges and universities would have the nerve to accept young people who had been educated but who had not taken exams? Pupils who could be interviewed and assessed by their digital portfolio and recommendations from their teachers?

Until Gove starts to look at the world that our pupils live in and the world they will be entering and assesses whether they are ready for that, then I will still have to award Gove and the coalition an F grade: F for Fail.

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