Travelogue – Reflections on ePortfolios in Professional Development event

Measuring the distance travelled is a phrase that is often associated with the use of portfolios in education. In many ways my attendance at the Pebblepad “ePortfolio in Professional Development event at Sheffield Hallam was a little like time travel. I have traveled some distance but I’m also travelling back, way back, back into time.  My first role at LJMU in 2006 was to support the wide scale implementation of the Blackboard ePortfolio tool to support student Personal Development Planning and assessment. ePortfolios haven’t enjoyed the same uptake as VLEs within Higher Education and tend to be described as ‘troublesome knowledge’.  Even the term ePortfolio isn’t widely agreed upon and PebblePad no longer use it to describe their product, preferring instead Personal Learning Space. That said,  many Higher Education Institutions now require, broadly speaking, some process or tool to evidence staff and student progression. So it is with many hats on I attended this event. Part of my current role is to look after the upgrade to Pebbleppad V5 this summer, so I was keen to hear more about how this area of learning developed. In particular, how Pebblepad could potentially be used to support HEA Fellowship application and Professional Development Review.

While the topic was familiar, the environment for the day certainly wasn’t. Andrew Middleton introduced us to their SCALE UP room and how this environment would shape the activities for the day, but also connected the space to Pebblepad’s online learning space. SCALE UP stands for Student-Centered Active Learning Environment for Upside Down pedagogy. I was unfamiliar with the term but recognised the flipped classroom approach. SHU and neighbours NTU have invested in this approach as it supports the flipped classroom methodology, and student as partner approaches, encouraging more active group working in a technologically rich environment.  The aim is to remove passivity in the classroom and engage in higher domain learning accordance with the Bloom’s Taxonomy approach. Lectures are replaced by problem solving and enquiry based activities carried out in strategically-assigned groups.

The event was hosted in a large room and was divided into 7 round tables which could comfortably sit 9 staff or students. Each table has a laptop to capture work on that was connected to the LCD displays surround the room. Also in the middle of the table was range of power sockets and USB inputs for power-hungry working. Each table also had a 6 foot portable white board which Andrew stated was an integral part of the approach. He also suggested that the set up afforded structure and flexibility to the teaching experience, and the fluidity to remove the hierarchy of one central speaker but devolve it into the “spotlight” groups. This layout supported the structure of the day. Short presentations from experts, round table discussions, writing up ideas and feeding back to the group. I really enjoyed the social element of this approach, as well as white-boarding ideas and sharing. If I’m being a little critical (and selfish!) I would have liked to have the opportunity to do that with all the speakers for the day, as there were so many interesting topics.

ePortfolios in Professional Development

I was fortunate to spend the most time in a group with Dr Karen Ford at University of Sheffield. She detailed the work done at the institution over the past few years in using Pebblepad to support flexible pathways to HEA recognition. With the help of Pete Mella from the TEL team, they created self-contained workbooks for each of the different routes to recognition. The workbooks act like mini websites packed full of contextual information to help the applicant submit statements at the appropriate level. The workbook acted as a scaffold to allow individuals to provide evidence that allow them to meet the UKPSF criteria. Pebbelpad also doubles as an area where individuals can store evidence, reflections and artefacts privately, before electing to share or add them to the application. These methods were backed up by face-to- face explorer events, mentoring and successful writing clinics throughout the year. She commented that the new version of Pebblepad has made the process and usability much easier. The technology, support and tailored design process has been a success. Over the past two years there has been increase in applications across the board, including a significant rise in SFHEA applicants – from 6 to over 100.

Here is a link to Karen’s presentation. Pebblepad have collated  all the other presentations from the day on their website.


“It won’t take too long” – eLU presentation on developing online learning

Recently, Liverpool’s Hope University got in contact with Glenn Godenho, an academic in Egyptology at the University of Liverpool, to ask him if he would deliver a CPD presentation about online / blended learning courses. Glenn was happy to take up the offer and quickly extended the invitation to me to help bring the holistic message of eLearning to his session. I have worked closely with Glenn over the last few years to develop and deliver a MOOC through the Future Learn platform,  as well as a designing a series of Continuing Education courses. We felt our experience had dealt specifically with the tensions of translating traditional forms of teaching face-to-face into the ever changing online environment, tackling the popular ‘It won’t take too long’ attitude, that can creep around such developments.

Our message was simple – don’t let content dictate how an online course should be designed and delivered. It seems obvious, but you will be surprised how even the most adept users of technology in teaching easily fall into this trap. I’ve known countless academics that try to convert their subject expertise into online course content only to be faced with more questions and troubleshooting issues, particularly issues about the deeper design and pedagogical structure of their course. In the digital domain this is not an easy task but it’s an important stage to understand, within the framework of an institution.


I always point staff to the TPACK model of education. TPACK is a model that states the need for equilibrium between content-knowledge, pedagogical-knowledge and technological-knowledge. The centre of that model is an environment that is ripe for online learning to take place. The principles behind the model seem straight-forward enough when designing courses in practice I really notice how each of these features needs to work together.


Overall the session was an exposition of our thinking and the developments of guidance materials that enable online course delivery to be more streamlined within the institutional processes of UoL. Hope University are not currently producing MOOCs but they have a good awareness of the pedagogical tensions within traditional modes of teaching. It’ll be interesting to see how they develop over the years ahead. They certainly have some great facilities, including their flexible learning laboratory (which won an AV industry award last year and you can read a case study with more detail here) designed for collaboration in several group areas with screen sharing technology to pass group material to the numerous displays inside the space.

img_20170202_125512 img_20170202_125518






We hope to visit Hope again at some point. Networks in Higher Education become more valuable as we tread more on new ground, whether that be in the online classroom or within carefully crafted learning spaces like this one.


Philip Walker | Learning Technologist

The eLearning Network meets again!


The first eLearning Network meeting of the new academic year continued the traditions of last years gatherings: an encouraging and engaged interest group; sharing and discussion of practice from all areas of the University; a look at new services and software applications in development; standing-room only! Increasingly people are also staying on after the main meeting to continue the discussions sparked in the room and to catch up with colleagues from other schools and departments, which is another real strength of this network. Join us! Here’s a flavour of what we covered this time.

Lu Mello and Pete Alston – supporting internships and placements

Whilst this was the final presentation of the meeting it was a great example of what the network meetings do so well, sharing practice and exchanging ideas around how technologies can be deployed and their value in different learning and teaching contexts. Lu discussed how, working with Pete Alston, they had looked in Life Sciences to PebblePad as a way of a) more effectively managing the administration of the ever-increasing number of their students on one year placements or six-week internships abroad and in the UK, and b) more importantly they were looking to formalise and improve the quality of the reflective report writing and associated evidence-gathering required of the students.

With smaller numbers in previous years much of the administrative and student reporting and reflection on placements and internships had been handled through emails. This was leading to too much variety in the reports and sometimes poor reflection, and email was not a strong evidence-gathering tool. PebblePad offered a means by which to build a far more structured environment for the students which demanded quality reflection on the skills they are learning. PebblePad also formalised deadlines for students reporting and the feedback they could expect. Students really valued the system as they felt looked-after whilst away from campus but Pebblepad by itself was not enough and a good deal of preparatory work with the students and the staff was needed. All of this contributed to students feeling very positive with high engagement in the process, every single student completing their reflective reporting every week within the context of other close support mechanisms from Skye calls and emails to site visits.

Gordon Sandison – Library Copyright Guidance – Digitisation

Gordon, the University library’s licensing manager, started off this term’s session with news of a just-published online resource from the library on copyright (and click here for the Information for teachers page which includes VITAL and lecture capture advice). This is very searchable, thorough and includes advice on many aspects of copyright, with extensive help on digital resources, including lecture capture.

Gordon also highlighted that the library’s new digitisation service has been formally launched. If you have a journal article or extract from a text that you want to include on VITAL for example, and if it doesn’t exist electronically in the library, then rather than scanning this yourself and going through the CLA process to make sure it clears our copyright requirements, simply ask the library to do this for you and include it on your Reading List @ Liverpool list. There’s plenty of guidance on the digitisation service here, it will save you a lot of time so please do use it.

Duncan Brown and Alan Brown – a view of VOTA polling app

Classroom polling technologies have been high up on many people’s teaching wishlists for a long time. There are lots of services out there from older-style clickers to web-based systems like Poll Everywhere but nothing is currently provided by the University centrally so schools and departments have been purchasing and subscribing to services as needed. Encouragingly Duncan and Alan from CSD gave us a look at and a try out of a beta version of a polling application, VOTA, currently in development. The project has come out of the team’s interest in exploring the potential of HTML5 websockets so is more of a technology-led than a learning and teaching led development at the moment. Once it’s ready, and further features will include embedding live polls into PowerPoint slides, it will be made available as a simple polling tool that will scale up to use for large cohorts so will be a fantastic entry-level tool for someone to try out this kind of technology in their learning and teaching. Given that there are other more sophisticated polling tools that exist there are no plans to develop VOTA beyond the simple tool we saw in the session. However there was a lot of interest in the prospect of a centrally-available polling system and the discussion in the room was around whether the basic system could be developed in time to do something different to that which Poll Everywhere etc could do and model some different interactions that would be directly relevant to Liverpool staff. A very positive discussion and there is exciting potential here.

Duncan Brown – Stream Capture feedback

Duncan has been the lead developer of our Stream Capture system and we had an informal discussion with him around its development which was an excellent opportunity to feed back on our experiences to date and have an influence on the direction in which the system is being built. An extremely useful tip worth sharing here on how the Stream Capture settings are managed (recording preferences, save to drive etc.) is that your account settings follow you around rather than you needing to reset them whenever you are in a different room.

That’s a very quick round-up and we hope that it persuades you to come along, so we look forward to seeing you at the next meeting which will be on Thursday 28th January 2016 and you can book here nearer the time. We also hope to hear from you and what you would like bring along so if you want to join the mailing list and be notified when the booking opens please contact the eLearning Unit.


Introducing Stream Capture


The University of Liverpool’s home-grown system for session/lecture and screen capture was officially launched at this year’s Learning and Teaching 2015 conference by its developer Duncan Brown, who has been working on the system and its partner streaming media service for a couple of years. Hats off, rounds of applause and all things congratulatory to him and the rest of the team in our Computer Services Department, this is a huge achievement. An institutional system for screen and session capture has been high on many teaching staff’s wishlists and it’s fantastic to now have this in place.

The eLearning Unit ran a couple of sessions in July on the learning and teaching applications of Stream Capture along with a chance to try the kit out first-hand (see below for details of when this session runs again). Staff have been highly enthused by how simple the system is to use and by the possibilities for their own practice, from creating short, explanatory, online resources at a desktop to recording full lectures, principally audio and slides, for students to revisit key moments and to help with exam revision, all of which can then be included directly in VITAL module pages.

Creating a screen capture

A few staff have been using Stream as a part of the development, testing and trialling process and we’ll post some examples of these over the coming academic year. In the meantime, the eLearning Unit are putting on a couple of sessions at the very start of term (Wednesday 23rd and Wednesday 30th September 2015) where we look at what you can do with Stream Capture, have a go at the system, and discuss related issues, bookable at the CLL page here. We’ll be also be making the resources from this session available to all staff through a VITAL module in the new academic year. For the nuts and bolts of using Stream Capture either as a desktop or a lecture capture system, CSD’s guidance pages here are also an excellent place to start.

There is a lot of discussion and work going on around policy, copyright and deployment of the system across the institution and we’ll post on these next academic year, but for now you are strongly encouraged to have a go with Stream Capture and see its potential for your own learning and teaching.


Flipped classroom, or ‘meddlers in the middle’ – event by Professor Lynne Hunt,

a photo of Professor Lynne Hunt, University of Queensland, Australia
Professor Lynne Hunt, University of Southern Queensland, Australia

Professor Lynne Hunt led us through the concept of flipped classrooms via a flipped workshop. She argued that the ‘flipped classroom’ concept is not new but a “neat way of convincing colleagues to focus on student learning, not the teaching”.

In Professor Hunt’s definition, ‘flipped classroom’ refers to the “provision of tailored online resources and learning activities to facilitate student preparation for classroom study time focused on application and consolidation. It represents a move away from standard lectures and tutorials and a move towards scaffolded learning experiences based on activities, workshops, or mediated online discussion.

A helpful image of The Flipped Classroom, by the University of Texas at Austin
A helpful image of The Flipped Classroom, by the University of Texas at Austin

It is not so much a new idea – private study has always been used as preparation for interactive discussion and analysis in class – as a useful summary concept that combines pedagogy and learning technologies in ways that extend to large numbers of students, opportunities for deep learning through application and consolidation. It fosters pedagogy ahead of technology”.

In the true spirit of a flipped classroom, Professor Hunt asked us to form groups and discuss and provide answers to questions such as:

  • strengths and weaknesses of the flipped classroom;
  • potential application of the flipped classroom;
  • goals for and barriers of the introduction of flipped classrooms at Liverpool.

Strengths of benefits are active learning and engagement from students. Student (and staff) expectations as to the learning, are major potential barriers (such as the pre-session video resource by Sankey/Goh demonstrated). Other potential barriers included upfront resource investment, the need for a departmental or institutional approach rather than that of lone enthusiasts.

We are aware that we have a range of really good case studies of staff using flipped classroom-type approaches at the University of Liverpool – can you please add any examples that you or your colleagues are doing at Liverpool (or beyond)?

Tünde Varga-Atkins (eLearning Unit)

Resources / Links

See Lynne Hunt’s textbook, University Teaching in Focus




VITAL Summer Upgrade 2013

This summer’s upgrade to VITAL has seen quite a number of new features and improvements to some long-standing facilities, so no waffle – straight to details! (Full details on each in the main body of the blog).

  • A new Text Editor – which includes LaTeX notation support.
  • My Blackboard – top level menu with quick access to module calendars, notifications, Retention Centre alerts, discussion board posts and personal settings.
  • New Test settings – specify extra time etc for groups of students – specify what feedback should appear and when.
  • Item Analysis for tests – reports on discrimination, difficulty, graded attempts, average score, standard deviation and standard error.
  • New ‘Retention Centre’ – flags up potential problems such as students not having accessed a module for a number of days, missed due dates etc.
  • A new-look Discussion Board – much greater clarity and usability over the previous version.
  • A new Calendar tool – includes iCal export facility (no import though).

You can also now use Turnitin GradeMark on your iPad with a new free app which includes an offline facility. There is an FAQ in VITAL Self Service with details of how to use it at UoL and a blog post will follow.

The new Text Editor

A completely new editor means an end to sporadic problems with formatting text for content items. Watch the film below for a quick look.

The new editor is more fully-featured so that more sophisticated formatting of text and table layouts can be created. A ‘Full Screen’ option lets you work with the text editor fully expanded on screen. There is maths formula editing functionality built-in through the WIRIS maths editor (with some support for direct LaTeX notation). HTML and CSS editing options are also available.

My Blackboard – Global Navigation menu

A new top-level information panel for staff and students to get a cross-modular view of Grades (students only), Calendars, Discussion Board Posts, Notifications and Retention Centre alerts (staff only) as well as to access VITAL Self Service and to change some personal settings in VITAL. It is accessed from the icon in the upper-right of the VITAL page.


A complete guide to this is available to this feature in VITAL Self Service, though the FAQs section (type in ‘My Blackboard’).

New Test settings

  • Time extensions for specific students (as well as date availability, force completion, auto-submit and number of attempts settings).
  • Offer feedback at a) test completion and new b) a specified date after the test completion. Fine-tune what kinds of feedback is seen at which point.
  • Automated regrading for problem questions (update all grades when a problem question is identified and discounted from a test).
  • Close tests at a timer limit or allow tests continue. Allow tests to be taken after due dates.
  • Creating tests – workflow improvements – insert a new question anywhere, ‘submit and create a new question’ feature.
  • New algorithm for negative marking – specify deductions for specific MCQ answers for example.
  • Fill-in-the-blank question type – now allows ‘pattern matching’ and ‘contains’ for answers.

Item Analysis for test results

Generate and store test result reports on question discrimination, difficulty, graded attempts, average score, standard deviation and standard error. Watch this quick video for a good overview of how it works.

New Retention Centre

This feature replaces the Early Warning System and is a useful way of monitoring for potential problems with students not engaging with modules, not submitting assignments, missing test due dates etc. Watch the film below for a quick overview.

There is no set-up to do to start using this tool straightaway but you can also make your own ‘rules’ to trigger alerts for conditions that you set. As well as checking key data about students who are highlighted by the system you can keep an eye on activity levels in Blackboard blogs, wikis and journals that you set up in the module. Find the Retention Centre in a module in the Control Panel, under the Evaluation submenu or on the new ‘My Blackboard’ window.

Redesigned Discussion Board

A visual re-design makes the Discussion Board much more intuitive to navigate through the threads of discussions. All posts are now found on one page, instructor posts are highlighted, replies are created directly in position and a new optional ‘Post First’ feature requires students to post to a forum before they can see the other students’ posts. Below is an image of the redesigned layout.


New Calendar tool

The calendar tool is rebuilt and includes the following improvements:

  • choose from daily, weekly, monthly views of the calendar
  • select individual, module and institutional views of the calendar
  • colour-code your calendar eventsVITAL
  • calendar data can be exported as an iCal feed, to your Outlook calendar for instance
  • assignment due dates are automatically added to the calendar
  • due dates can be modified from the Calendar
  • recurring events can be entered

That’s a whistle-stop tour of some of the main, new features in this upgrade. If you would like to find out about some of the other upgrade features or have a query about something new in VITAL that you have seen and is not described here then please do get in touch with the eLearning Unit.

Augmented Reality

Imagine hovering your smartphone camera display over a poster on a wall and seeing a video appear on screen related to the content of the poster. Augmented reality (AR) works in this way. See the video below for an example. It merges content created virtually (videos, images, animations, graphics) with real world environments. This virtual content is layered over a real-life object, whether that is a picture, a person or even a building, the options are endless. Viewed through the camera display on a smartphone or tablet device, these AR ‘overlays’ can be triggered by a GPS location, a sound, or through the recognition of an image (usually a photograph, graphical display, painting or poster). This is dependent on the application used but if content is synchronised, using an AR app, then content can ‘overlay’ information, for example, onto a famous landmark, or help someone to navigate around an a city area.

Newspapers, magazines and advertising agencies have already made use of AR. I’ve seen one app used to animate logos and text displays in the headlines of newspapers. It is fun seeing an advertisement in a newspaper come to life as an animation, however, this use of AR appears, in my opinion, rather gimmicky and the ‘fun’ effect was one that quickly waned. In terms of using two forms of media together, I think that comes down to preference. Certainly in my own experience I’m unlikely to use my phone or tablet for AR purposes whilst simultaneously reading a newspaper. AR in the context of entertainment will inevitably face practical questions as to why audiences should use AR in conjunction with other firmly established forms of media. Will the technological development of AR echo the anticipated rise and now more recent fall of the 3D TV? I do believe AR has a place that, once identified, will integrate it into certain elements of everyday practice. My hope is that this practice includes education and the interactivity found in learning environments.

AR in Education

It’s hard to know where to start when choosing an app to work with AR. A brief search through the Google Play and online App stores reveals an explosion of AR apps all focusing on different types augmented experiences. This ranges from live virtual views of someone’s location, using map software, to producing music using a hand-drawn piano layout.

After trying a lot of different AR apps, I came across Aurasma. Aurasma is a smart device app that was demonstrated by Judy Bloxham at the e-Assessment Association hosted by Manchester Metropolitan University in November 2012. Judy’s involvement in an AR project, supported by JISC and their RSC Northwest Network, is powered by Aurasma and has utilised AR for the purposes of enhancing educational content. The project compiled a series of posters that aided formative assessment and became interactive when students used the Aurasma app alongside them. This helped students to engage in a reflective thinking process drawing upon some of the key principles they had covered in their learning of the subject. Using AR and interactive content like this can also provide an ideal entry point for a learning activity to begin – with options to break down content into a series of options that students can choose to follow.

A good example is outlined in the poster below (provided by Judy Bloxham), allowing the user has to use Aurasma to interact with a series of buttons and videos to see which is the correct shelf for storing raw meat in the fridge.

fridge[Link to the original website for this poster:]

You can use Aurasma’s image recognition tool and see how this poster can trigger interactive learning content. This can be tested on a computer screen or using a printed version of one of the posters linked below. There are two ways to do this depending on the smart device that you are using. Some instructions are outlined below.

Android devices:

1. Visit the Google Play store to search and download Aurasma
2. Open Aurasma and press the ‘A’  icon at the bottom of the screen
3. This takes you to the Explore section. Press the magnifying glass at the bottom of the screen to go to the Search page.
4. Type in RSC Northwest to find the RSC Northwest Channel. Click the image and then click the ‘Following’ button on the next screen.
5. Now press the bracket icon [ ] on the bottom line to return to the camera view. Then view over one of the posters below.

Apple devices:

1. You can download Aurasma in the same way as above (for the Android devices) and follow the options to connect to the RSC Northwest channel.
2. Alternatively, search RSC Northwest in the App Store and install it to your Apple device.
3. Use the camera view and hover one of the posters below. Make sure the whole of the poster is displayed on your smart device.


[Link to the original website for this poster:]


[Link to the original website for this poster:]

These are examples of how an image can trigger an Aurasma ‘aura’. Open one of the PDF files to full screen and hover your smartphone device over the image. If the app has joined the channel correctly the image should trigger the interactive ‘aura’ content. Do let us know in the comment box below about your experiences using this app.

To read more about the use of AR used in education then visit the following sites below. These were recommended by Judy Bloxham, who I would like to thank on behalf of the eLearning Unit here at the University of Liverpool, for allowing us permission to make use of the above posters, demonstrating the use of Augmented Reality in education. Her work in raising awareness about the potential benefits of AR in education is ongoing and well worth following. Below are some further links related to the information above and to other AR projects, if you would like to delve further.

Guardian Blog Post –

Scarlet Project –

cARe Project

Living Learning: Plumbing from Kendal College

written by Phil Walker