Ros Walker

…learning, education, technology and stuff

Synonyms: easy, simple, straightforward

Academic writing can be a challenge! The language used sometimes feels so far-removed from what we speak, and if you have never had wide exposure to a range of texts, then finding those elusive, new words can be hard work.

Enter Word’s synonyms tool.

You probably never knew that it was there, because it hides away in the Review toolbar, or on a right-click menu.

Let’s have a go:

Researchers will look at several methods to solve this problem.

‘Look at’ is a phrasal verb (made up of two parts) and is not very elegant in this context. We tend to use a lot of phrasal verbs in speech, but there are often more sophisticated words that we can use. This is where a Thesauraus comes in useful. Originally, the word ‘Thesaurus’ came from Greek (θησαυρός (thēsaurós)) meaning a ‘storehouse’ or ‘treasure’ and what it contains nowadays is the richness of our language. English typically has several words that can all be used with the same or very similar meaning. (Roget’s Thesaurus, the most famous edition, was originally compiled in 1805 and published in 1852. It has never been out of print!)

So, let’s look at how Word can make my sentence sound better.

I am going to highlight and right-click over ‘look at’ and see what it offers:


Now, let’s review the sentence:

Researchers will explore several methods to solve this problem.

Researchers will investigate several methods to solve this problem.

Both sound much more ‘academic’ than ‘look at’.

If we do not have any options within the drop-down list, we can go right down to the word ‘Thesaurus’. This opens up a full thesaurus at the side of the page. This even pronounces words for you, and let’s you move through a series of words and definitions. (If you intend to use this regularly, it is also worth installing the dictionary.)

So, no more bland, insipid, weak, plain, flat language! Get using the Synonym selector and brighten things up!

PS – If you find you like synonyms, have a play with


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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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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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