Ros Walker

…learning, education, disability and stuff

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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Best student response systems

In my role as a Learning Technologist, I have just produced two articles, which discuss student response systems. The articles were compiled from my own knowledge, research and experience (Post 1) and from the ALT discussion forum (Post 2).

The first blog post these looked at the functions of student response systems and what to consider.

The second blog post looked at the systems available (as mentioned by other learning techs on the ALT forum) and their merits.

Written August 2014.

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Lecture Capture with Echo 360

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:

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MELSIG – Smart Devices for Learning

You can see my work blog on this at:

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Thank you!

Liz Bennett

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

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Using Turnitin- a Student view

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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:

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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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Why do we have to be ‘outstanding’?

How many truly ‘outstanding’ days have you had in your life? The day you got your ‘A’ level results? The day you first flew in a plane? The day you got married or your child was born? I know that I can think of a few which really stand out.

How many truly ‘outstanding’ lessons did you have at school? Again, I can think of a handful. There was a project with Mrs Crowson when I was in Year 5 where we planned and built a pond in school. There was a lesson when I was in Year 11 where we had to plot a coup (Mrs Naish) and a lesson in Year 12 where I was asked ‘Is a tree poetry?’ And I think that’s about it.

How many days a year are you ‘outstanding’? In my case, it would be two or three. Most days I just do my work and look after my family and on some days, sadly, I’m just a downright waste of space!

And yet our schools are being asked to deliver ‘outstanding’ experiences day-on-day and week-on-week.

If we look at some dictionary definitions of ‘outstanding’, it means ‘standing out among others of its kind; prominent, noticeable.
superior to others of its kind;’ (  This, in turn, means that not every lesson can be ‘outstanding’ as then one lesson would not stand out from another.

I have been interested to see the increased number of calls for OFSTED to do away with the ‘outstanding’ grade. (See here – March 2014) In the schools that I was working in, many schools had ‘becoming outstanding’ as a stated aim, but my question would be, “Can we just be ‘good’ or ‘good enough’?”

Becoming a parent was a big shock to me a few years ago (and still is, if I’m honest!), and it was a revelation to me when someone told me that I didn’t have to be a perfect mother, I just had to be ‘good enough’. If we are honest, a lot of life is about being ‘good enough’, it is about doing the best we can, about making the most of the experiences we have. Sometimes, it is about learning how to deal with difficulties and do things we do not want to do.

If schools seek to be ‘outstanding’, then is this presenting a realistic view of the world that they will enter. Where do we learn to ‘be good enough’ if we are told that you have to be ‘outstanding’ all the time?

I am not for one moment suggesting that schools shouldn’t try to do better and that children shouldn’t work hard – but I worry about a culture which sets unattainable targets. I have seen too many great teachers go by the wayside in the last few years – colleagues and friends who worked hard, who were good human-beings, who were decent people and who really dedicated themselves to their work and the children, but who ultimately could not be ‘outstanding’ for 5 lessons a day.

So, should be expect our schools to be ‘outstanding’? Well, occasionally, yes! But not every day of the year and not every person every day. Let’s learn to be ‘good enough’, let’s learn to find pleasure in mundanity and look forward to those occasional ‘outstanding’ moments.



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