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:



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

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: http://learningtechnologiesteam.blogspot.co.uk/)

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.


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;’ (www.thefreedictionary.com)  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.



Which mobile tools do pupils really use?

This blog post is based on the research I have been doing over the last year for my Masters dissertation (and explains the long gap since my last blog post!)

I was researching ‘Pupil perspectives on mobile learning’ and worked with two schools – one where all pupils had a mobile device supplied by the school Academy M) and a second where mobile devices were not allowed (Academy A). I asked all pupils whether they used mobile devices to help with their learning. From those who replied ‘yes’, I went on to ask them (via a questionnaire) which features of their mobile devices they used to support their learning.

what do pupils use

(Data collected December 2012)

The Internet was the most widely used tool. When asked about this, the most frequent response was that it was used for ‘research’. For most pupils, this meant that they would ‘google’ something and then read the results. However, there was little understanding of how to verify any findings or examine sources. The Internet was also used to access resources such as ‘You Tube’, the school ‘VLE’ (Virtual Learning Environment) and even email (via webmail), so it is difficult to classify as it serves many purposes.

The camera was used to take photographs of classroom activities (such as Science experiments), the board (when the teacher had written things that the pupils did not have time to copy down or when their homework was written on it), items outside the classroom that the pupils wanted to use in school projects, and photographs or videos of other pupils when they were learning (e.g. drama / sport).

Email was used to communicate with other pupils and with teachers. Pupils at the Mobile Academy communicated regularly with their teachers and often outside school hours. Teachers said that this had helped them to build relationships with the pupils and pupils said that it supported their homework.

You Tube / Videos: Many of the pupils surveyed and subsequently interviewed talked about how they use video for learning – some to the exclusion of reading or because they find reading hard. You Tube would often be the first port of call in researching a new topic, ahead of reading or searching the internet for text-based articles.

Apps: Pupils actually found it hard to define an ‘app’. For them, everything on their mobile devices was an ‘app’, whether it was the email app, the you tube app, the browser app or a specific learning app. Subject-specific learning apps did not feature heavily in the things used by pupils to help learning. They could all name generic apps, such as Keynote, Safari and Pages, but no one was able to give me the name of an app that had helped them to learn something in a subject area.

VLE / iTunesU: The focus here was on structures that the schools used to support learning. iTUnesU was quite heavily used by pupils at Academy M as their lessons and homework were structured around iTUnesU files. The VLE at the other school (Academy A) was not specifically promoted for use on mobile devices.

Alarm Clock: Most pupils used their devices as alarm clocks. Most did not have another alarm. This tells us 2 things – 1) they have their devices in their bedrooms overnight and 2) they use the devices for organisational purposes.

E-reader: Pupils at Academy M were doing a lot of their reading on their devices. They were encouraged to use iBooks and many found the search facilities available in e-books enhanced their ability to study a text. This had not been explicitly discussed at Academy A and pupils were not, in general, making use of their own devices for reading.

Calendar: Most pupils only use their mobile devices as a calendar, with few maintaining a paper diary. One pupil said that he did all his organising on it and the fact that he was not allowed to use it in school was ‘weird’.

Podcasts: Used by pupils at Academy M but little used by those at Academy A. Pupils do enjoy making their own and sharing with friends rather than using commercial ones, although they will search for and download podcasts that are directly relevant to their schoolwork.

Text Messages: Pupils love to text and using either their phones or iMessage, they are regularly in contact by text, and not just about social things – they are also using it to organise learning events with their peers. Checking on homework, arranging to meet to work together or asking questions are a normal part of pupils’ lives.

Telephone: Most of the pupils at Academy A were using devices which were their mobile phones. They used them for phone calls, but also creatively, making use of Skype or Facetime to share homework that they could show whilst discussing it. Pupils at Academy M did not have a phone facility on their devices and also did not contact each other much in the evenings. This was probably cultural rather than related to the devices.

Social Networking: Again, a divide between the schools. Pupils at Academy A used a lot of social networking. They also experienced more problems with bullying. However, they did also use the social networks constructively for learning. Pupils at Academy M did not have a culture of social networking and tended to stick to email for communication with peers.

Record sound: The ability to record sound was a features that pupils were using for music and language-learning. Although not used widely, it was mentioned by pupils at both schools. Pupils were keen on the idea of creating their own content.

Based on the data collected, I have organised the tools that pupils use into the following groups:

student mobile tools

What is striking is the diversity of activities, which can be carried out using a single device. Not even 5 years ago, we would have had to carry or use several devices to carry out the same tasks. Whilst this provides a fantastic opportunity for learning activities, it also carries with it the risk of distraction. This research only looked at learning, so I have not adding ‘social games’ onto the chart. Overall, when asked, 70% of pupils at BOTH schools felt that using mobile devices in the classroom would be beneficial. The 30% who did not think it would be a good idea said that the devices would be distracting and would not help them to learn.

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.




opennessLast 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.

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.