Digital Champions HEA pilot: supporting Year 1 students with academic transition

A pilot project entitled “Supporting transition with peer-assisted learning and digital stories” funded by the HEA, has been running this year at the University of Liverpool’s Management School. Two digital stories from the third-year Digital Champions are now available on writing assignments, which can be used as useful resources for first-year students.

Story 1. Digital Champions: From one book to fifty citations:  Tips on effective assignment writing
Story 2. Digital Champions: Breaking the 2:1 (or 2:2) barrier for writing assignments (Parts 1-5):

A bit more about the Digital Champions project and its progress

The project, based on a peer-assisted learning model, aims to support the transition of first-year students in their academic study and employ them with skills that would benefit them beyond graduation. So far we have engaged 4 third-year students, Emily, Laura, Adam and Bradley,  to run  drop-ins for first-year students on making their academic study easier. The above digital stories were created by the students that summarise their tips for first years in academic writing.

What next: we will evaluate the pilot for wider adoption and also investigate students’ perspectives on micro-certification, such as OpenBadges, as a way of recognising their skill development. We aim to present this project with a poster at the HEA Social Sciences Conference 2014, which this year is on the theme of ‘Teaching Forward: The future of social sciences’. We have also been discussing links with other institutional peer-assisted learning initiatives, and naturally, certification of Digital Champions may link to developments around HEAR (Higher Education Achievement Report). Similar peer-assisted learning projects with a digital angle have run successfully at other universities, e.g. see the ePioneers programme at Oxford Brookes.

For more information: contact Tünde Varga-Atkins at University of Liverpool.


Digital Champions: Laura Cash, Emily Evans, Adam Byrne, Bradley Griffin
Project team:

  • eLearning Unit: Tunde Varga-Atkins (co-lead)
  • Academic lead: Simon Snowden, ULMS (academic lead)
  • Library: Emma Thompson (co-lead), Beryl Stanley
  • Multimedia: Dave Hocker


Full house at the HEA seminar on ‘Devising, creating two-staged online tests’

Last Monday (14th May), had you popped in to the Taylor room in the Sydney Jones Library, the room was buzzing with colleagues attending a seminar funded by the HEA on online tests. The idea of the seminar came from Susanne Voelkel, who together with the eLearning Unit and Educational Development, organised the day’s events. Delegates from all over the country, as far as The University of Glamorgan, came to take part in a packed day, listening to the experiences of our staff who utilise online tests in their teaching.

Group discussion at the HEA seminar
Group discussion at the HEA seminar

Opening the day was Ruth Mewis, HEA, who talked about the changes to the HEA structure and the funding opportunities that university staff can tap into such as the conference travel fund.

There was so much expertise in the room which made the next activity, where delegates shared their experiences and questions about online tests, really useful.

Dr Susanne Voelkel, School of Life Sciences, University of Liverpool speaking about her learning journey with online tests

Dr Susanne Voelkel, School of Life Sciences, University of Liverpool speaking about her learning journey with online tests

What followed was the much-awaited session by Dr Susanne Voelkel, School of Life Sciences, who had the idea for the seminar. Susanne has developed a two-staged approach using online tests to solve the problem of feedback in large classes.

As Dr Neil Ringan, Manchester Metropolitan University, described Susanne’s and the following session by Dr Sue Fowell,  School of Medicine, on writing MCQs, it was

“excellent to see some concrete examples of the ways in which academic staff are implementing the well-known link between formative and summative assessment to enhance the student learning experience.  There is much research to indicate that students only see the full value of formative assessment and the associated feedback (or rather feed forward) when it is explicitly linked to summative assessment.  The session from Sue [Fowell] reminding delegates of the critical importance of designing good MCQs, whether for online use or not, was an excellent sense check that the technology should be seen as the enabler for good pedagogy, and not the end in itself.”

Using SMS response in Sue Fowell's session on writing good MCQs
Using SMS response in Dr Sue Fowell’s session on writing good multiple choice questions

After the usual lively lunch with plenty of networking, delegates were given a hands-on session demonstrating Susanne’s two-staged approach. Participants were able to see the online tests on the computers, the way adaptive release is used, the question types and the kinds of feedback Susanne is giving.

As another delegate summarised: “Having no prior experience of setting multiple choice assessments this workshop has given me the knowledge to be confident introducing computer-based multiple choice tests to handle our large cohort of students in an effective way.” (Dr Leah Ridgway, University of Liverpool)

Dr Lu Mello, School of Life Sciences, University of Liverpool sharing her experiences about podcasts and online tests

Keeping up the dynamisim of the day, Dr Lu Mello, School of Life Sciences, demonstrated the second case study on online tests, solving the problem of student diversity in a postgraduate cohort. Lu makes use of online tests in combination with pre-class screen captures/podcasts to bring students to the same level before her practical sessions start.

As Dr Matt Murphy (University of Liverpool) added:

“This really was an excellent event that opened my eyes to the expertise across the University, and more importantly sparked several ideas for my own teaching.   I plan to use Lu’s approach of pre-class podcasting to frame the lecture content, set the material in context, and make connections to prior learning.  This will surely improve student engagement and thereby enhance learning. I hope the podcasts might help create a sense of personal contact between lecturer and student; something important but difficult to achieve in my very large classes.”

All the sessions generated good discussions around the approaches discussed and the issues of online testing. In addition to TextWall, we also used PollEverywhere to stimulate and share discussions during the sessions, which worked well.

The national event was a brilliant opportunity for staff to share the innovative approaches they are using in their teaching. One of them is already planning another seminar for next year! Big thanks to Jade Jones, our event administrator, to make everything run smoothly on the day! If you were interested in sharing your teaching approach, look out for calls for thematic of discipline-specific seminars at the HE Academy. As facilitators, we are still buzzing from the day —

Tünde & Nick
eLearning Unit

Report on the Heads of e-Learning Forum meeting 7th March 2012

I attended the HeLF (Heads of eLearning Forum) meeting on 7th March at Glasgow Caledonian University (who came to the rescue and provided a venue after a fire at the original location of University of Strathclyde meant we couldn’t meet there). HeLF is a national group with representation from 120 Higher Education institutions.

The focus of the meeting was on ‘Driving External Change‘ and contributes to HeLF’s theme for 2011/12 on Leading our institutions through change: change in external and internal environments. How do we work with students and get their involvement?

The meeting began with a presentation by Professor Phillipa Levy who is the Deputy Chief Executive (Academic) of the Higher Education Academy. Prof Levy described their new Strategic Plan, how they are focusing on putting students at the centre as ‘producers’ rather than consumers and how students are becoming agents of change. They also recognise that there are ‘e-challenges’ with the role of digital technologies, e.g. how to engage more staff in digital activities, that students may have differential access to technology and how to encourage a culture of shared learning design and and content. The HEA’s terminology for e-learning is now shifting to ‘flexible learning’ with a recognition that technology and e-learning is (or should be) embedded in the L&T experience rather than something separate.

The second presention was from Paul Bailey who is the programme manager in the JISC e-Learning team. Paul gave an overview of how JISC will change after the Wilson review to become a ‘company limited by guarantee’ from 1st August 2012.  JISC are working on a new strategy but the 5 strategic objectives are likely to be the same as before. Paul described how JISC are also focusing on students as change agents, similar to HEA.

David Beards from the Scottish Funding Council talked about their approach to e-learning and how the changes to JISC will affect them.

Andy Ramsden who is on the Steering Group of the MELSIG (Media Enhanced Learning Special Interest Group)  asked us to think about how MELSIG could be useful in our own insitution. This is an excellent SIG (Dan Roberts blogged about the MELSIG event he recently attended) and I think the general feeling around the group was that this is worth continuing.

Dr Neil Ringan from MMU gave an overview of an e-reader pilot project that started in September 2011 in the Department of English. 35 members of staff were given a Kindle e-reader (including the current Poet Laureate) though some members of staff already owned an iPad so it was possible to compare to some extent what staff thought of each. The aim of the pilot was to look at how the e-reader could be used

  • to support professional practice as producers and consumers of creative materials (using the e-reader as an e-reader) and
  • to support academic practice, particularly in relation to assessment and feedback (using the e-reader for reading & annotating assignments).

Positive aspects of the Kindle were the size, quality, battery life, that it is easy to store lots of text, the accessibility, price and quick access to the book store. Negative aspects were that PDF documents were not intuitive, creating e-books is clunky, annotation tools are too slow and primitive, the proprietary amazon e-book format lock in, limited internet capability and the speed and refresh rate.

Positive aspects of the iPad were the ease of importing PDF documents, PDF reading and annotation, that there was full internet access, that it was a more viable netbook replacement and the battery life. The negative aspects were the size and weight (in comparison to the Kindle), the Apple and iTunes propriety issues, the price and that there was no physical transfer.

In summary:

  • the Kindle was considered to be an excellent e-reader but not much more.
  • The iPad is a good e-reader (not as good as the Kindle) but it was also a lot more besides.
  • Staff were enthusiastic about using the Kindle as a reading tool but there was no enthusiasm to use it for assessment and feedback purposes.
  • The view across the department is that tablets, rather than netbooks, are the best way forward. Staff wanted the pros of the iPad but cheaper, and the pros of the Kindle, but more flexibility in what it can do and for it to be easier to use (this evaluation pre-dates apples latest developments with ibooks). It may be worth looking at the Kindle fire.

The rest of the meeting covered more general HeLF business. These are useful meetings as it is important to find out how colleagues in other institutions are addressing similar issues.

Debbie Prescott