Posted by: leeskifrog | February 22, 2010

An inspector calls

As if my masters’ study wasn’t enough, we have inspectors in school tomorrow and Wednesday!

I’m sure it will all be fine as I’m lucky to work in a very good school; still, it looks like lots of paperwork and people running around like headless chickens are coming my way for the next couple of days!

Keep your fingers crossed 🙂


Posted by: leeskifrog | February 21, 2010

Swansea University: The Learning Lab Staff Initiative.

This case study reports on the implementation of a learning lab website for staff at Swansea University. It is built on the premise that, “there is considerable evidence that most HEIs are still struggling to engage a significant percentage of student and staff in e-learning, and a real development beyond projects by innovators has so far been modest (Salmon, 2005). Hence the learning lab website was born to support and encourage the implementation of e-learning throughout Swansea University. According to the case study’s author, “The underlying principal behind the Learning Lab website is that of Learning by doing, we are providing a number of different technologies in the Learning Lab site that allow people to have first hand experience with them, to experiment, to understand how they work, and to help them decide whether using such a technology would be of benefit to their classes.”

The website can be accessed here:

It is a simple, yet in my opinion effective, use of HTML and CSS webpages that encourages the use of Web 2.0 tools and the sharing of resources and ideas at the University of Swansea.

The benefits of the project include:

  • An increased and more diverse e-learning community.
  • Web 2.0 tools are being used more frequently and innovatively than before.
  • The sharing of tools and resources amongst colleagues.

The project took some time to get going, but appears to be snowballing.

I found this to be an interesting project, and certainly an example of good practice. I believe that by supporting people, you get results, and this project seems to put people before technology. Indeed, according to the author of the case study, “A Community of Practice is about relationships, sharing, support, sometimes collaborating, openness of opinions and being social. Most importantly, it’s about people, not the technology.”

Posted by: leeskifrog | February 19, 2010

The University of Exeter: Online Economic Texts.

This case study reports on the implementation of online formative exercises at undergraduate level at the School of Business and Economics. The resources were provided by the publishers of a set text, students and staff were trained and weekly help sessions were delivered by the module leader.

This was a web-based activity, where students reviewed case-studies, watched videos etc. before working through online exercises in the form of multiple choice questions, essays or graphical discussion. Once a student had completed an exercise, his/her results were forwarded to his/her lecturer.

The university’s justification for this e-learning project was as follows:

  • A changed module structure and a large number of students registering for semester 1 modules meant that teaching staff were faced with students with a diverse mathematical background. This presented pedagogical issues.
  • This would provide students outside of the School of Business and Economics with a module in business.
  • The university had identified the need to increase formative assessment.
  • International students would benefit from being able to access course materials prior to lectures and work through them at their own pace.
  • Students who had work/other commitments would still be able to take part and not ‘miss out’.
  • Would improve administrative systems at a module level.
  • Would allow for more flexibility in teaching, i.e. part-time lecturers and bought-out lecturers.

This justification appears to be sound. I am particularly interested by the benefits accorded to e-learning regarding access to course materials for students with other commitments. Furthermore, supporting international students appears to be another major contributing factor.

The university anticipated the following challenges when planning this project:

  • Students expected weekly classes; they seemed to identify contact time with learning.
  • This project was being introduced at level 2, therefore the university had missed the opportunity of introducing this project from ‘day 1’.
  • The on-line resources were password protected by the publishers. As such, students had to purchase a copy of the set text in order to access the materials.
  • The university was already using WebCT to deliver course notes etc. However, this project would not be embedded within this framework, and as such could lead to confusion.
  • Would students actually do the work?

By pre-empting these potential problems, the university is not only planning the project appropriately, but also signalling that there is potential resistance to e-learning initiatives amongst student bodies.

The design of the programme was to retain contact time between lecturers and students in the form of lectures, but to replace discussion classes with the online resources (blended learning). The justification for this approach was that it is a ‘core strand of our commitment that all our research staff will continue to teach’. This is an interesting comment, and may suggest that whilst learning is taking place with e-learning, teaching in the more traditional sense is not. One therefore has to question, how can one learn if one is not being taught? Perhaps there is recourse for meta-language regarding ‘e-teaching’?

According to the report’s authors, the project was generally successfully and achieved the following goals:

  • Existing courses where this project was implemented retained previous exams scores. New courses demonstrated a high level of average attainment.
  • Staff involved with the project were enthusiastic and as such the model could be demonstrated and disseminated across the university.
  • Attendance could be more easily monitored through log-in data.
  • The approach fits the institutional policy regarding ‘blended learning’ and the implementation of e-learning initiatives.
  • The use of e-resources allowed all students to access resources and ‘learning’, even if they were away from University or tied up with other commitments.
  • Feedback from international students was particularly positive.
  • Staff time was saved, space-saving also as less contact time.
  • The use of pre-made publisher resources reduced costs for the University.
  • Encourages team-teaching and contributes to module consistency if a member of staff is absent or ‘bought-out’ through research grants.

As with any project, there were also negative aspects of the project:

  • Student cost of buying the course book. The university has now negotiated a batch of ‘free’ copies that can be distributed to needier students.
  • The difficulty in managing the belief that this project was student-focused rather than cpst-driven.

I feel this is an interesting project to review as it brings several important issues to light, namely the possible belief that ‘real’ learning only takes place when there is face-to-face contact between student and teacher. Furthermore, there appears to be a shared feeling that e-learning is a poor substitute for more traditional teaching methods, and may be motivated for reasons of cost rather than pedagogical gain. Does anybody know of any studies that have researched any of this? Also, are we likely to see publishers jumping on the e-learning bandwagon and offering e-learning software/resources for commercial gain?

Posted by: leeskifrog | February 18, 2010

Swansea University: Use of Podcasting in Archaeology.

This case study reports on the implementation of podcasting in undergraduate and postgraduate archaeology courses at Swansea University. This involved one lecturer taking pictures at archaeological sites and making on-site recordings to accompany the images taken. The justification for this was that students, especially first year undergraduate students, were often struggling to ‘see the woods from the trees’  when looking at images (often in black and white) in course books. The podcasts went beyond the scope of a course book: images were in colour and students were provided with a ‘commentary’ by their lecturer. The podcast project was therefore more than just a ‘simple media library’.

The podcasts formed part of the university’s wider use of e-learning in archaeology: students were using Web 2.0 tools to discuss and share ideas, as well as blackboard to obtain course notes etc. The authors claim that the podcasts are examples of ‘student-centred learning’; I would agree.

What struck me with this project was the incredibly simple, yet effective, use of technology. The lecturer involved with the project took pictures with his digital camera and made ‘on-site’ audio recordings using a digital Dictaphone. Images and sound were then combined using iMovie before being posted on the web for students to download and use as a study tool. Clearly, innovation and complicated are not necessairy synonomous!

According to the author, the advantages of the project were as follows:

  • Student-centred learning.
  • Many year 1 undergraduate students had not visited the archaeological sites featured on the podcasts: increased awareness amongst pupils and easier access, especially for disabled students.
  • Pupils were given an eye-witness account of the sites, and therefore felt that they ‘were engaging with the fieldwork of the lecturer concerned’.
  • More engaging learning and an additional learning resource (an enhanced range of learning materials).
  • Helped to promote a growing interest amongst students to visit archaeological sites.
  • An easy to share resource (students, colleagues other universities etc.).
  • The lecturer concerned was forced to think through the complexities of the archaeological sites when making the podcasts.

As with any project, it was not without its disadvantages:

  • Time consuming to produce resources: took 1 hour to create a 3 minute podcast.
  • Whilst field-recordings were authentic, they sometimes lacked detail. As such, future podcasts would benefit from ‘office-based’ recordings.

I have been very impressed by this project; not only for its simple approach to harnessing newer technologies, but also because it clearly brings learning ‘to life’ for students. Surely, this has to be one of the possible benefits of carefully planned e-learning activities?

Posted by: leeskifrog | February 17, 2010

The University of Warwick: Use of e-assessment in Medicine.

This case study reports on the implementation of assessment blueprinting at WMS (Warwick Medical School). This involves matching learning outcomes against examination requirements set down in terms of General Medical Council (GMC) competencies. Once learning outcomes and examination requirements had been ‘matched’, examinations were set and marked optically. A database was then elaborated to provide students and tutors with personalised feedback based upon their performance in examinations.

The first thing that struck me in this report was the fact that there is not a centralised examination for all UK medical students. In other words, the GMC lays down a set of competences that all medical students must meet. Individual universities then ‘teach’ and ‘examine’ to these competencies. As a teacher of GCSE, A-Level and the International Baccalaureate, I find this to be an interesting concept: I cannot imagine not having a centralised examination system! Clearly, WMS have sought to develop this blueprinting system to ensure that students are being taught and examined appropriately. Also, given the large number of medical students at WMS, automated examination and reporting systems have their advantages.

This blueprinting ‘innovation’ was led by a small team of staff under the direction of the Associate Dean of Teaching. This project therefore seems to be a ‘bottom-up’ innovation, initially termed by Sonja Tack in her blog (Initial thoughts on Innovation – February 12th, 2010). Once the blueprinting system had been put in place, the optical examination system was developed and a student feedback database was elaborated. Once an exam script had been marked by the system, students’ strengths and weaknesses were identified and these were cross matched against pre-determined feedback statements in the database. This feedback was then sent to student and tutor.

According to WMS the tangible benefits of this e-learning project include a heightened awareness of GMC competencies amongst staff and students; better identification of student needs against GMC competencies; an increased efficiency in exam-script marking. Interestingly, WMS also make the following statement in favour of the e-assessment project: ‘to help distinguish WMS as being innovative and responsive the needs of 21st century healthcare’. In my opinion, this intimates that e-learning and innovation are desirable traits in further education, at least in the view of WMS.

Despite these benefits, the authors of the report do not shy away from problems they have encountered along the way neither do they omit problems with the blueprinting system. For example, they say that ‘hearts and minds had to be won’; suggesting that not all colleagues were on-board with the project. I would suggest that education can sometimes be resistant to change. They also admit that bugs had to be ironed out and that the approach is still being developed. This possibly suggests that it has not always been ‘plain sailing’ whilst implementing this project. Staff and student training was also highlighted as an area for development. The costs of establishing this project were also mentioned in the report.

This is certainly an interesting project, with scope for further development. Indeed, in secondary education (GCSE, A-Level, IB), we are already familiar with optically marked scripts and on-screen marking of written responses. However, the concept of automated pupil/teacher feedback based upon exam performance is potentially a great step forward. After all, why just give a pupil a list of exam grades, why not tell them where they excelled and where they need to focus their attention in future examinations?

Posted by: leeskifrog | February 17, 2010

e-learning concepts q’s and a’s

  1. To what extent should we think of elearning as a distinct discipline with a need for its own concepts and vocabulary?

I consider that e-learning should be a branch of the discipline ‘education’. Education, as a noun has three entries in the Oxford English Dictionary:

  • the process of educating or being educated
  • the theory and practice of teaching
  • information about or training of a particular subject

I think it would be possibly foolhardy to suggest that e-learning is so different from more traditional concepts of learning: after all the process of educating is still taking place, just in different ways. Therefore, the link between e-learning and education is tenable. Nevertheless, that is not to say that e-learning is not different in many respects from more traditional aspects of teaching. It is for this reason that e-learning is developing an adequate meta-language to describe its concepts and realities.

  1. Do you think the formal–informal divide is more or less evident in elearning than in more traditional forms of learning?

A prickly question! I would suggest that possibly, yes. The analogy of the formality a university lecture (traditional) compared with the informality of a blog post (e-learning) is an interesting one.

  1. Did you find any of the concepts difficult to place on the grid provided? If so, why was this?

Blended learning – such a vast term, encompassing so many variables I found it hard to place. However, because blended-learning involves aspects of more traditional forms of learning (i.e. face-to-face), it suggested to me that is perhaps slightly more formal then informal…

  1. Can you think of two different axes for such a grid that might also help categorise elearning concepts?

web-based versus software based

collaborative versus individual

Posted by: leeskifrog | February 17, 2010

H807: e-learning concepts and themes

Here is my matrix based on the e-learning concepts and themes introduced in week 2. Feel free to make any comments!

Posted by: leeskifrog | February 17, 2010

Lee the overworked donkey

I’ve often been called a donkey…and now I’m an overworked donkey!

I’m really enjoying H807, but it’s difficult fitting it in around other commitments. I’ll get there though!