VLE minimum standards evaluation – looking around

This second post to stem from our VITAL Baseline evaluation work this year tells some of the story about looking outwards to the sector for policy seeking to understand best-practice around minimum standards for VLEs.

As a part of our original work developing the VITAL baseline the working group thought it would be useful to see what, if anything, was happening with VLE minimum standards across the HE sector at that point in time. With a pressing timescale and clear directive that a) we had to have a standard and b) of what it should consist this time round, the most we could look at was who had some kind of minimum standard or expectation for their VLE and what was in it, so get some simple benchmarks and reassure ourselves that we hadn’t missed anything that we could include whilst we had this opportunity to shape our own set of standards at the development stage. As a low-cost way (for us) of gathering some rough and ready data a call went out to the ALT mailing list asking people to contribute to a Google Sheet to say whether their institution had any kind of minimum standard or expectation, or were looking to develop one, and what was in it. As a group we didn’t engage at any further level with this work (although one of us, Peter Reed, wrote up and presented some of his own analysis of the original data at a few conferences and usergroups for which you can find an entry point to here). I had always hoped to return to this work with some questions I had about the sector-wide landscape as a part of any evaluation and that what I learnt from this exercise would also inform any recommendations we would make for future development of the standard. The main areas I want now to examine are:

  • In terms of the original data gathered we should re-examine what we can understand from this. I was anxious about how crowdsourced data stands up and what the implications were of this approach for an evaluation so would like to review this methodology in some detail as well. 
  • I wondered what results we would get if we more closely defined the group(s) of institutions against which we wanted to benchmark and actively approach these. I felt at the time that the original data might encourage a view that minimum standards policies were a standard feature of the topography of Technology Enhanced Learning strategies and policies in HEIs and I wanted to test this. 
  • Then as well as asking who has a standard and what is in it the more interesting questions would include why one exists for that institution, how is its rationale contextualised (e.g. is this linked to a learning and teaching strategy?), what kinds of processes were involved in its development, is it compulsory and has any evaluation taken place?
  • For those institutions who don’t have one, what is the story, if there is one, here?
  • Beyond approaching institutions we would look at any literature, conference proceedings, blog posts and mailing list discussions around minimum standards as a part of the evaluation work more generally but specifically for this information about why institutions do or do not have a VLE baseline.

In picking this work up again for our Baseline evaluation project I thought an obvious although simplistic initial sampling strategy would be to survey the rest of the Russell group which would make for a manageable, quick desk-based web-search. I looked for what could be discovered from the websites of the Russell Group institutions for any indication of an institutional VLE standard in place and what further detail was available publicly. A first-glance review found that in December 2015:

  • Six definitely have an institutional standard with compulsory/required/expected elements.
  • Three offer institutionally recommended good practice guidance.
  • Fourteen seemed to have no institutional standard requirement or expectation.
  • For one institution I couldn’t find any detail one way or another.

I’ve collated a list with details of what each standard or recommendation above consists but one immediate thought on the above is that there might well be standards at faculty or school/departmental level where there is no institutional requirement. It would be useful to uncover this information as my own feeling is that handing over standards to more local levels is probably the way to move in the future, which we’ll discuss in a later post on any recommendations that emerge from our evaluation work. 

Also immediately what we would want to do next is to contact institutions directly and try to confirm whether what we have found accurately reflects their situation and to get a little more detail on the whys and hows as listed above in this post (and we’ll also first need to look into ethical approval around this if we are intending to publish our results) and if there might be more local standards that aren’t found on central websites and I’ll make this list available when it is as complete as possible.

Another question this simple snapshot of Russell Group institutions raises for me is whether Liverpool is leading in this area, as we appear to be in the minority here, or alternatively whether we were late-arrivers to the debate around minimum standards and have taken a different direction to the majority? Obviously the snapshot view is unconfirmed and looking at a bigger group of institutions would give better data but as I began to discuss in the first Baseline evaluation post we want to look at the evidence used that informed the decision to make this one of the first initiatives to comprise our institutional TEL strategy to assess its strengths and its limits. Does this snapshot view tell a contrasting story to that of other sources of evidence used to develop TEL strategy and the Baseline originally? Are there any similarities between Liverpool and the other Russell group institutions that have a standard in place? I’d be interested to discover the extent to which minimum standards policies feature in Technology Enhanced Learning strategies and policies in HEIs when measured in a larger sample group. Thinking further about the sample group I wondered whether we should follow this 2014 UCISA report and look at all pre-92 institutions for a greater mix of institution types and with time post-92 institutions. More work but valuable for developing our understanding.

In a similar fashion to that of the original Baseline development representing an opportunity to look at some of the internal evidence of the ways in which the VLE is being used within the institution, this outward-looking work also offered the opportunity to richly inform our thinking and strategic approach by looking to the sector and the experience and evidence here. We want to assess the extent these sources of evidence were exploited in the original development and how they could be in the future as part of our recommendations for any future institutional TEL initiatives.

As an almost tangential sign-off, when thinking about what I’d write for this post I realised that I have been using the terms ‘benchmark’ and ‘benchmarking’ unthinkingly. Then I panicked, what are they and why would you want to do this? This panic didn’t last long as found this useful-looking JISC resource what is benchmarking? If anyone knows more about this guide we’d appreciate your thoughts and advice but I think I am going to use it for writing up this sector scene-setting aspect of our evaluation work.


eLU Winter School 2016

Update: an additional Stream Capture session has been scheduled in the Winter School week.

11th – 15th January 2016 – 7 sessions planned – full information and booking at the CLL Booking Website here.

Nellie, the classroom computer of the future (BBC Tomorrow’s World http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0154hns)

The schedule for our 2016 Winter School is finalised and ready to book with the following sessions available. Please note there are now two Stream Capture sessions running due to the high levels of interest in this workhop. Each title is a clickable link to full details and booking page.

  • Mon 11th Jan 2-4pm – Wikis for collaborative group work – Looking at the Campus Pack wiki tool and its uses for groupwork
  • Tues 12th Jan 2- 4pm – Stream Capture for screencasting, lecture capture and podcasting – key concepts, practical considerations, examples and case studies, and how Stream Capture can be used in this context
  • Weds 13th Jan 10-11:30amVITAL Essentials – Entry-level guide to using VITAL also covering the VITAL Baseline, copyright and accessibility
  • Weds 13th Jan 2-4pmAn introduction to Technology Enhanced Learning – Introduces the technologies we have available centrally at Liverpool, their applications for learning and teaching, and highlights policy, strategy and guidelines relating to TEL. The session asks you to reflect on your practice with and understanding of learning technology within the context of your own discipline and some suggested learning technology frameworks.
  • Thurs 14th Jan 10-11amOne hour GradeMark – Short practical session on using this grading and feedback tool in Turnitin
  • Thurs 14th Jan 2-4pmTurnitin assignments and Originality Reports – How originality reports are produced and how to read them.
  • NEW, ADDITIONAL SESSION: Fri 15th Jan 10am-12pmStream Capture for screencasting, lecture capture and podcasting – key concepts, practical considerations, examples and case studies, and how Stream Capture can be used in this context

As well as these scheduled sessions, we will be happy to run these or other workshops for schools, departments and faculties on many aspects of e-learning and learning enhanced technology by request. Please do approach us about any of your e-learning/VITAL training needs.

Studio Wednesdays

Please also remember our ask-us-anything ‘Studio Wednesday’ drop-in session, running every Wednesday afternoon between 1:30pm and 5pm. Full details on this drop-in are available here.

VITAL Baseline support

Remember that the VITAL module ‘VITAL Baseline and guidance’ includes full online support on meeting the VITAL Baseline.

LUSID is retiring

After 17 years of service the LUSID system is to be discontinued. Most users of LUSID have already moved to alternative online systems and if you were planning to use LUSID this academic year you will not be able to access LUSID directly as from Thursday 1st October 2015. You will need to be supported to move to another system and we would ask that you contact the eLearning Unit in CLL or CSD Service Desk as soon as possible to arrange this.

The final switch-off date is scheduled for Friday 19th December 2015. If you need to access or retrieve any of the data that is held in LUSID then please contact CSD Servicedesk for advice well before the December switch off date.

MOOCs: A Learning Curve

Finalising our MOOCs feels like adding the last touches to a new home before settling into the new neighbourhood. Here at the eLearning Unit, over the last three months, we’ve been developing two MOOCs for the FutureLearn platform, ready to go live in September. This blog post is a summary of some of the things we’ve learnt on our MOOC creation journey-of-discovery. The University of Liverpool will have its first taste of running two Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), sitting alongside a range of other online course opportunities that have been created and designed by Universities throughout the UK and abroad. It’s the first of six MOOCs altogether and we’ll be progressing soon to start work with more academics, to design and develop more MOOC courses. We really want to hear your experiences of creating MOOCs. Please comment below.

leahmoocadvertA learning curve

MOOC development has been a significant Petermoocadvertlearning curve for us, especially when balancing the design and structure of course materials (lasting six weeks) alongside time restraints and technological drawbacks commonplace in the content development of any online course. That said, MOOCs tend to be multimedia intensive and the time heavy task of putting together a series of videos flagged the need for careful preparation. Certainly the fine tuning of video footage can be laborious, so we’ve featured this in our longer term MOOC development plans, building a more streamlined approach to our multimedia production workflow. This includes working closely with the academic lead of the MOOC, scripting out and story-boarding any video ideas to make sure they fit the flow of the course. We’ve realised that putting this time aside will allow us greater control when deciding which content should be filmed footage, in the form of videos, compared with content that should be displayed in a different formats (eg. images, text, audio).

Filming Dr Leah Ridgway n the High Power Lab

Taking time out, to plan, informed our decision making processes for content production and gave us the chance to integrate an important element to our courses – a sense of pace and the opportunity for reflection. We felt this pedagogical structure gives participants the chance to digest key bits of learning before moving through each section. This can be tricky to do. We had to constantly take a step back to view the bigger picture of the six week course whilst remembering that every resource created would be accessed online by an audience that does not necessarily have any direct access to the academic lead (as in traditional face-to-face learning). We find that we are in a constant process of assessing and re-assessing the interaction between course content and the learning objectives.

At the outset, engaging with MOOC creation in the eLearning Unit utilised skills we currently use in developing the online Continuing Professional Development (CPD), with a few obvious differences. Rather than using our familiar VLE Blackboard environment, we were using the clean cut FutureLearn platform. Rather than a small audience, we are facing a massive audience. It’s not so straightforward and despite the approach to MOOC production being largely similar to online CPD, the scale is bigger and the workload a lot heavier. Equally, with MOOCs being seen as part-marketing tools for institutions, issues surrounding branding were important to address. This led to the consideration of filming locations and getting away from simply filming a series of face-to-face lectures. The potential for a massive international audience had to be considered throughout, ensuring we painted a picture of campus life and the institution.

Core MOOC team: Rob Lindsay, Phil Walker & Matt O' Rourke with academic lead Dr Leah Ridgway.
Core MOOC team: Rob Lindsay, Phil Walker & Matt O’ Rourke with academic lead Dr Leah Ridgway.

To date, we’ve produced content from Professor Peter Kinderman’s ‘Psychology and Mental Health‘ course and Dr Leah Ridgway’s ‘Electrify‘ (an introduction to electrical engineering). Both MOOCs have a distinctive style that suits the approach of the academics involved. There’s always a big balancing act going on. First and foremost we were maintaining production whilst also fine tuning the educational experience. The core MOOC team is made up of three people. We’ve managed to draw on the wider expertise within the eLearning Unit to help with course design and web development. This has allowed us to enhance elements of the MOOC and integrate many of the face-to-face approaches used by the academic leads. The ‘Psychology and Mental Health’ is a good example, where we’ve worked with an expert Javasript web coder, building into the MOOC an interactive participant survey.

This blog has touched mainly on the multimedia elements of content creation. There’s much to learn however, specifically in terms of pedagogical design for MOOCs. Have you any experience to share on MOOCs and pedgagogy? Tell us about it in the comment boxes below. After all, the collaborative element between institutions and individuals, as well as the sharing of your ‘how-to’ for MOOC design, can only aid understanding of where all this is going. The learning curve continues!

Written by Philip K Walker

Winter School Sessions 2014

The eLearning Unit Winter School: 8th – 17th January 2014 – 10 sessions planned – full information and booking at the Booking Website here.

The eLearning Unit is pleased to announce the schedule for 2014’s e-learning winter school. As well as the usual introductory workshops for academic and administrative staff, we will be running more advanced sessions for staff already familiar with VITAL as listed below. There is a new session this year on information and digital literacies, what these are in your disciplinary context and how they are important for student learning. There is also a new session on running webinars and online classrooms with Adobe Connect (recently upgraded at the University of Liverpool). We’ll be looking at polling technologies like PollEverywhere, TextWall and Socrative in the session ‘Using technology to support classroom interaction with students’. ‘VITAL Plus’ is another relatively new session where we will explore the lesser-known and utilised tools and facilities in VITAL, along with some tips and tricks for working with VITAL.

  • Weds 8th Jan (am) – VITAL introduction for administrators
  • Weds 8th Jan (pm) – An Introduction to Technology-Enhanced Learning using VITAL
  • Thurs 9th Jan (pm) – Turnitin assignments and Originality Reports
  • Fri 10th Jan (pm) – Wikis, Blogs and Journals
  • Mon 13th Jan (am) – Running webinars and online classrooms with Adobe Connect
  • Mon 13th Jan (pm) – What are information and digital literacies?
  • Tues 14th Jan (pm) – VITAL Plus
  • Weds 15th Jan (am) – Using technology to support classroom interaction with students
  • Thurs 16th Jan – (pm) – Mini-session 1 – Using Xerte to create accessible, online content
  • Fri 17th Jan (am) – Mini-session 2 – Creating online CPD within the University

Full information and booking at the CLL booking page here.

As well as these scheduled sessions, we will be happy to run these or other workshops for schools, departments and faculties on many aspects of e-learning and learning enhanced technology by request. Please do approach us about any of your e-learning/VITAL training needs.

Studio Wednesdays

Please also remember our ask-us-anything ‘Studio Wednesday’ drop-in session, running every Wednesday afternoon between 1:30pm and 5pm. Full details on this drop-in are available here.

3 words: Congratulations, Dr Prescott!

This is a big congratulatory blog post to our Head of the eLearning Unit, Dr Debbie Prescott, who successfully defended her thesis on “Influential factors in the adoption and implementation of educational technology at the University of Liverpool“ on Monday 28th  Oct 2013, graduating from Lancaster University’s Doctoral Programme in E-Research and Technology Enhanced Learning. Debbie was supervised by Dr Gale Parchoma and her examiners were Prof Mark Stiles and Dr Julie-Ann Sime.

Educational Development and eLearning Unit congratulate Dr Debbie Prescott on getting Ph.inishe.D.

You can also glimpse at the celebratory, post-viva champagne photo at Lancaster’s website, and below are a few congratulatory quotes from colleagues (please feel to add yours in the comments box):

Dr Anne Qualter, Director of Academic Development and Lifelong Learning, Head of the Centre for Lifelong Learning, “I am really proud of Debbie’s achievement and of the whole team who were so generous in supporting her – well done.”

Dr Ian Willis, Head of Educational Development, “Many congratulations to Debbie, it’s a real achievement to complete a PhD and at the same time be so involved with key developments in e-learning across the university. I really appreciated Debbie’s willingness to share the different stages of the whole process, I think we all learnt from it.”

From Jaye McIsaac, Educational Development, “Your PhD is a really interesting study that demonstrates the value of educational research informing and supporting institutional practice and policy.  Congratulations Debbie.”

Tünde Varga-Atkins, eLearning Unit, “Having witnessed your enthusiasm and sheer amount of work that you put in to get this amazing achievement is inspiring. You are a good role model to follow! 🙂 ”

Well done, can’t help but say it again, Doctor Prescott,  from all of us at eLU and Eddev!

Visions of a 3D Eye – Creating resource alternatives

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Our digital age of smart devices and online connectivity is providing new opportunities in the production and consumption of educational resources. Smart devices make these educational resources available from almost any location. It is no surprise that there is increased interest in the possibilities that digital content can offer learners (we’ve already seen the on-going interest in MOOCs and Open Educational Resources). The challenge for staff can often be where to start and how to produce content in a way that is applicable to students and their learning.

A recent joint project between the eLearning Unit and Orthoptics arose from an academic’s desire to enhance her educational resources. The eLearning Unit were able to provide some support and this led to the production of a series of 3D eye animations.

The aim was to present a dynamic, interactive cross sectional view of the eye to give both students and patients an insight into a fully functioning human eye and reveal the muscular movements that we don’t normally see. This work built upon traditional paper based 2D images of the eye – resources that were limited in terms of giving a complete ‘overall’ picture of how the eye functioned. Also,  students don’t always have immediate access to the bulky plastic 3D eye models, but now have the opportunity to study the workings of the eye in digital format. Not only is this resource innovative for the student experience but it provides staff with flexibility when deciding which educational eye resource is most appropriate for a particular group of students.

3d eye modelTo give you a flavour on how this project came about the perspectives of three of the people involved have been compiled. These are taken from the people who worked closely on the project with the 3D graphic designer.

Anna O Connor, Lead Academic on the project

“After attending a session on animations at the 2012 Learning and Teaching Conference  I was excited about the possibility of developing some eye animations for Orthoptics. Students can struggle to envisage eye structures and eye movement disorders based on 2D images, and animations seemed like the perfect solution. I was put in touch with Scott earlier this year and straight away he took on board what we wanted, and developed some amazing resources – way beyond what I thought was possible. Sometimes it was a challenge for me to explain things to a person with no prior eye knowledge making me think about every aspect of an eye movement in minute detail, but Scott got to grips with the complex terminology and was patient with us when we wanted things to be exactly right.

The range of animations that Scott Dingwall developed is fantastic. They are very detailed and we will be incorporating them into the teaching at the university, but also clinical tutors at hospitals all around the UK can use them to support student’s learning. As we have made them freely available, they could also be used to illustrate eye movement disorders to patients and a range of medical professionals all around the world. The first animations were released in time for the first ever World Orthoptic Day so we Tweeted the link which was then retweeted by orthoptists all over the world!

Everyone in the Directorate of Orthoptics and Vision Science would just like to say a huge thank you to Scott for developing this amazing resource, and also the eLearning Unit for all their help facilitating this project and creating the webpages.”

Paul Duvall – Learning Technologist

“Working with Dr Anna O’Connor from Orthoptics on a number of projects (see Eye on the future) it became obvious that one element missing in the directorate’s teaching, which could make a significant impact on the student experience, was the lack of high quality animations showing eye movements. Orthoptics staff and students use static images and animations, produced in packages such as PowerPoint, to replicate eye movements and the potential impacts on movement when certain eye conditions were present. Although this gave some indication of the motion involved Anna was not satisfied with the learning resources available for this essential area of the Orthoptics curriculum.

The eLearning Unit took up the challenge to assist in this matter, through the effective use of technology. Scott Dingwall had previously worked with the Victoria Gallery and Museum Liverpool, producing a superb 3D animation of a hippo skull in a publicity project. This came to our attention and we put the development expertise and talent that Scott possesses together with the detailed academic knowledge of eye movements in Orthoptics and a new project became a possibility. We are now delighted to announce that, through a web interface designed by the webteam within the eLearning Unit, a full range of eye movement animations are now available for students. We hope this satisfies the demand and the necessity for these animations and presents another good example of technology enhanced learning at the University of Liverpool.”

Stuart Feltham, eLearning Unit – Webteam Manager

“I became involved in the project fairly late on. The fantastic animations needed to be presented on the web in a way that was easy to use and understand whilst providing accurate information about what you were seeing. Paul, Scott and I met with Anna to discuss options and decided that a simple resource that could be used for a multitude of situations was the best approach. We therefore developed a resource that was intuitive and simple; bringing together Scott’s animations, Anna’s knowledge and integrating them with the newly created video streaming service from the University (Stream ) to provide a resource that is easy to use, attractive and available across a range of desktop and mobile platforms to allow use in a lecture, as a post lecture resource or even at a patient’s bedside on a tablet device. The result was the Positions and Movement of the Eyes web resource.”

Do check out the website and see the resource at the following link – also feel free to leave comments and feedback: http://www.liv.ac.uk/elearning/orthoptics-project/

Post written by: Philip Walker, Anna O Connor, Paul Duvall, Stuart Feltham