Archive for 'Media & Learning Technologies'

MOOCs just keep getting bigger!


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Hype or hope? You decide.

I thought it was time to catch up on the current headline grabbing subject of MOOCs ; following my own recent MOOC experiences and a few inspirational talks here at Aston. On Monday 28 January 2013 Professor Curtis Bonk visited Aston University and delivered a brain melting talk on Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). His presentation was recorded and is available in 4 chunks on the Global Dimensions in HE website 

Professor Bonk galloped through the recent history of MOOCs, models, and (learning) theories – which was both fascinating and overwhelming! The MOOC is definitely here to stay in a multiplicity of variants and pedagogic models, and all look somewhat disruptive (if you believe the hype), and some are even innovative! I still think the primary reason for most is still a “shop front” or large data collection for learning research. Some are offering innovative modes of delivery and learner engagement; i.e. the recent E-learning and Digital Cultures  course offered some interesting and engaging activities – including a final peer assessment on created digital artefacts. Whereas the Coursera course: Fundamentals of Online Education: Planning and Application was forced to close after only a few days. I was enrolled and attended (in parts) both the above, so it was interesting to see two completely different models of MOOC courses, and experience (chaotic) social learning using two vastly different (interactive) models. It was somewhat ironic to witness the Fundamentals course fold/fail , but I’m sure they are redesigning the course for version 2 – as we speak. Let’s not forget how Daphne Koller promotes the Coursera model of altruism / openness, but then talks about the usefulness of the (learning) data they’ve gathered! This keynote by Gardner Campbell at the Open Education Conference 2012, should bring us all back down to earth, as should this recording of a debate on the subject at the ASCILITE 2012 conference?

Professor Bonk also mentioned the new Google learning platform called coursebuilder but advised that it required some coding skills to use it. On that note, I was talking to David Kernohan from JISC, at the JISC CETIS conference this week about the other types of MOOC platforms being developed; his research had uncovered most were bespoke coded products, and some were using WordPress or the Pearsons platform.
In other recent news; two of the big players in the field announce significant increases in partnerships, whilst 5 US MOOCs have been recommended for credits. In the UK, Sir Michael Barber, chief education adviser for Pearson, says online learning (not necessarily MOOCs) offers “both a threat and opportunity” for UK universities. At the Online and Open-access Learning in Higher Education event , Professor’s Josie Taylor (OU) and Diana Laurillard (London Knowledge Lab ) criticized the ethics, motives, and pedagogic models of most MOOCs (i.e. does completion = success? What are the values for those who drop out?), which are all founded concerns. Although; we don’t hear much complaining from the “students” of these courses about multi-choice assessments wrapped around (good quality) talking heads type video production! Do we?

At this week’s CETIS conference I attended presentations by Simon Buckingham Shum  (OU analytics guru), and Professor Patrick McAndrew  (OU Professor of Open Education) both talked about the creation of the FutureLearn MOOC project. Simon talked at length about [research & marketing] data, and what types of data will/could be harvested from FuutreLearn, whilst Professor McAndrew talked about the Open learning movement and the design ethos behind the new venture. Their MOOCy “good intentions” are thus:
• Build on what we know
• Innovate
• Be accessible
• Be interactive
• Make use of data
• Use the right licence
• Be prepared to re-use
• Not be in it [just] for the money
• Be happy
If you want to know more on how to design a MOOC, dip into the (OU driven) OLDS MOOC archives for the received wisdom from those that have just completed this course. I’ll finish off this update posting with a link to the new CETIS white paper on the subject : MOOCs and Open Education: Implications for Higher Education which helps clarifies the current state of play. Just try not to mention the word disruption too much, will you.

New year – new tools


Welcome to the new academic year at Aston. We’ve been busy upgrading some of the core learning tools during the summer. Before I talk about new tools, I thought it’s worth shouting about a new collaborative learning space (MB512) – see image above. This space has been designed and installed to showcase the ideas and feedback from recent consultations coordinated by Steve Ellis. It looks and feels great, and has been designed to ensure the space is flexible and can cater for collaborative (small group) working.  The design, colours, and embedded technology all make for an innovative space.

For those just getting back into the swing of things here’s a few pointers to keep you updated;



Blackboard VLE has been migrated to a managed hosted service, and is now updated to service pack 8. The transition has been slick and painless, and thus ensures a robust service for all our users. Two new tools of note in this release are:
New grading rubrics
New reports (tracking) types




As you may be aware, Blackboard purchased Elluminate and Horizon Wimba last year. The resultant development was Collaborate, which we upgraded to this summer. Apart from the improved interface , upgrades include:
• Echo cancellation, which eliminate feedback noise, meaning you no longer need to use headphones with PC speakers.
• Improved scheduling via the Blackboard integration.
• (vastly) Improved application sharing. Meaning you can share your desktop/live applications with session attendees, to illustrate an idea, walk through a solution, or collaborate in real time.

Collaborate is fully integrated into your Blackboard Courses.  Access it via the Tools menu.

We have also upgraded Turnitin’s integration with Blackboard. This new integration should eliminate some operational issues reported last year. The new (direct) integration fundamentally alters the way BB VLE links to Turnitin. This has resulted in a change to the submissions inbox, removing the ability to sort by student name, and no paper ID column! Students still get a full time and date stamped receipt. The main difference in the assignment set up, is the new multi part assignment. This can now cater up to  5 parts to a new assignment,  each with their own due dates – which could be useful for large/iterative or group projects.






Skype has been installed on all the Pool rooms PC’s, and uses the handheld/tie microphones. So if you are planning to invite a guest speaker from afar, they could be “present” in your lecture via Skype.

Book onto our staff development sessions to learn more about the above tools.

TED’s new addition

I’ve long been a fan of the diverse range of informative and inspiring TED Talks. Today they’ve announced a new member of their family – TED Ed – which will be officially lanching as a YouTube channel in April. The idea is simple – teachers across the educational spectrum can team up with professional animators to share their resources in a short video not exceeding 10 minutes.  As always with TED, the video says it all…

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Learning platform updates

The vendors of three of our core tools have recently announced product updates. We will be monitoring and testing (some of) these during the forthcoming months; and will report back on progress.


Two new major updates are currently being planned for later this spring:

1)   Updated Basic integration;

  • Upgraded Instructors interface, enabling better tracking and monitoring of all scripts in assignments
  • Instructors being able to view any requested matched papers from within their own institution – without needing to contact Tii support
  • The ability to attach audio feedback to scripts.

2)   Direct Integration (currently in beta test). Main features;

  • Multi-part and continuous assignment types
  • e-rater grammar checker
  • removal of the roster synch button
  • Export grades to Excel format, user un-mapping ability, ability to recycle /rollover old assignments (with new cohorts)
  • Releasing grades only on “Post” date
  • Improved support for moving assignments.

Read more here:

Note: some of the features listed above (e.g. audio feedback, or upgraded instructors interface) will be implemented as standard for the web document viewer, so they will ultimately appear in both the direct and basic integrations.

In addition to the above new features on the horizon are;

  • A whole new set of analytics tools will be made available to assignment instructors.
  • A phased roll out of fully iPad enabled Turnitin access will begin in spring 2012 through to winter 2013.
  • Translated paraphrasing will also be available this year. This relatively new method of converting text into different languages – then back into English, can be now be “checked” to detect this practice.

Book your place on the free Turnitin webinars running spring 2012.

Read more

Media and Learning Technologies’ Portfolio

You can now browse all the significant teaching and promotional projects which Media and Learning Technologies (CLIPP’s media service) has produced in the past three years on our Portfolio pages on the Aston University website. There’s a brief summary of each project and what we ended up delivering, as well as links to the video content itself (where possible).

I’m really pleased that we now have this resource as a testimony to what we can achieve, but it’s really just a small part of what we do. With every new project, we’re adapting and developing our skills and knowledge further, to ensure that we continually improve  the creation of high-quality learning and promotional materials which effectively reach their target audiences. Please check the Portfolio pages regularly in the future as I will be adding not only the latest completed projects as we deliver them but also some of the classic work we did between 2004 and 2008, and hopefully even earlier.

Should you need any more information – or have any comments – about any of the projects on the Portfolio pages, then please don’t hesitate to contact me on 0121 204 4232 or at

Research in Learning Technology

Research in Learning Technology is the journal of the Association for Learning Technology. It aims to raise the profile of research in learning technology, encouraging research that informs good practice and contributes to the development of policy. The journal publishes papers concerning the use of technology in learning and teaching in all sectors of education, as well as in industry.

On January 1 2012 this became an Open Access journal and, as a result,  the last 19 Volumes are freely available at the journal’s new web site

Super Hero Origins – The Diary of a Production

The need for a ‘My Aston Portal’ video was first put to me during my PDR by my then line manager Kevin Brace at the end of July 2010. At that stage a brief for the production of the animation had not been developed and as I had no personal experience with MAP it was clear that several developmental meetings would be needed before we could get the ball rolling.

The first port of call would be Addam Hepburn, Systems Implementor with ISA who, due to his work on MAP, was more than happy to help out. Because of the Summer annual leave diary and other ongoing projects, it would not be until the beginning of October that Addam Hepburn, Kevin Brace and myself would be able to get together to thrash out some ideas.

What may have been the logical approach for many, the tutorial/how to/walk through video, we were able to dismiss almost immediately. Addam raised concerns that as MAP is constantly developed, new features would not be reflected in such a video therefore restricting its shelf life. Also I felt that this kind of video would be too long if it were to cover all aspects of MAP and would not be sufficiently dynamic for the audience at which it is aimed.

Of the several other ideas discussed the one that seemed to have most promise was the idea of a comic book which would feature students around campus discussing the merits of MAP. The virtues of this approach would mean it would be colourful and therefore eye catching and the narrative would have to be broken down into clear and concise chunks. We would also be able to develop a multi format approach by using the comic book pages as posters to promote MAP. Kevin also suggested the use of a QR Code on the posters to drive students to the animation and the MAP pages via mobile devices. This approach would negate the use of filming and sound recording and therefore be minimal on equipment and personnel resources.

Satisfied that we now had a style to aim for, our attentions turned to the content. Addam and Kevin felt that the key to getting students to use MAP was not just the everyday services it offers such as finance and time tabling but by focusing on how it can make them more attractive to employers through management of placements and use of the e-portfolio. Developing this thinking, Kevin came up with a tagline, “Enhancing Graduate Attributes”, around which the content would be based.

A second meeting between me, Kevin and Maureen Tibby, Head of the Careers and Employability Centre, was arranged for the end of October in order to run the “Enhancing Graduate Attributes” idea past Maureen and also ensure that we were adhering to Aston’s remit/strategy. Maureen’s suggestions and the meeting as a whole proved encouraging and satisfied that we were heading in the right direction I could finally begin work on preliminary visuals, a proof of concept for the animation and a brief for the project in order for a script to be developed by Nick Birch.

The essence of the brief was a requirement for a script that featured two protagonists involved in a conversation about the virtues of MAP (with a focus on ‘Enhancing Graduate Attributes’) presented in the form of a frame by frame comic book. As mentioned earlier the protagonists were to be students featured in various campus locations and the perceived (but unstated) tone was to be straight forward and informative. However, the first draft script that Nick returned at the end of November was quite unexpected. Not only was it humorous but also had the protagonists referencing the fact that they were part of an advertisement and breaking the ‘fourth wall’.

Initially, although the script was very good, I felt that this was not what was needed because the mock ad-sales element of it didn’t fit with the tone we were trying to set. Then it occurred to me, that with a slight re-write of the script, one of the protagonists could be turned into a super-hero which would reinforce the comic book motif. Everything had fallen into place.

The final script, storyboard and test animations were completed just in time for the Christmas break with plans in the New Year for the ‘design’ of a super hero costume, identifying people to play the parts and blue screen photography prior to assembling a first draft of the animation. However plans had to be put on hold as a couple of projects, including the Paramedics Training Videos for the NHS, would take priority for a couple of months. However, during this time we were able to present the work done so far to Maureen Tibby, Angela Davies and Lehanne Anderson of the Careers & Employability Centre and their favourable comments proved very encouraging.

Work on the animation finally reconvened at the start of May 2011. In order to plan out exactly what images of our actors would be needed for the final animation I created a version with self shot photographs of myself against a blue screen, playing the part of ‘Captain Aston’ (although not in costume) and his opposite number. To all intents and purposes, this was the final animation and would only require the replacement of the images of me with the final images of the actors.

A call went out to marketing and the entire South Wing fourth floor corridor for volunteers to play the parts of Captain Aston and his cohort and it was CLIPPs very own Paul Gorman and Zara Kendrick who answered that call. A couple of hours shopping and a bit of nifty work with a sharp knife and a bit of glue and Captain Aston was finally ready to don his cape and mask.

After a short photo shoot against the blue screen to get the required images of Paul and Zara, final compositing of the My Aston Portal animation could begin and the completed animation was delivered at the beginning of June 2011.

Comments have so far been positive. Angela Davies wrote “It’s great to see it all come together from your initial pencil drawings. I think it unambiguously emphasises MAP’s functions.  Glad you decided to go with the direct approach.  The poster is vague enough to want to find out more, but the comic strip is very clear, and funny; I think it will appeal to students.”

Nick Birch added “I’m really pleased with what we have achieved in making the MAP animation. Often, it’s the simplest messages that take the most effort to communicate effectively and Steve’s worked so hard on bringing this complex, yet straightforward message to the screen. I think it’s another fine example of the high quality and visual impact we can achieve in Media & Learning Technologies.”

Angela also suggested that Captain Aston could be put to further publicity use in the future, a sentiment also echoed by Steve Thompson. So there could be a sequel yet!

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Many thanks to Kevin Brace, Nick Birch, Paul Gorman and Zara Kendrick for their involvement in this project. If you have any questions regarding this production feel free to enter them into the comments and I’ll try my best to answer them.

Steve McHale
Video Graphics & DVD Production
Centre for Learning Innovation & Professional Practice

Captain Aston Vs MAP

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This stylish video has been produced to highlight the potential of My Aston Portal (MAP) to all Aston students. MAP hosts a range of tools to support learning and personal development.

The video was crafted by our own Steve McHale from the Aston MLT department, part of The Centre for Learning Innovation and Professional Practice (CLIPP). Credit and thanks also go to CLIPP staff; Paul Gorman (The Captain), and the Zara Kendrick (Sidekick).

Panopto Lecture Capture Workshop 2011

For those of you not familiar with Panopto, they are a company that make a lecture capture system called “Focus”. At Aston this is also known as Aston Replay. We have used the system now for several years and generally we are very happy with it. So much so that last year we actually hosted a SCHOMS event that was centred around lecture capture, with Panopto invited to talk to the delegates about their product.

Workshop time has come around again and Panopto have organised a “Lecture Capture Workshop” at the University of Birmingham. Members of CLIPP will not only be in attendance but Paul Gorman will be giving a short presentation about some research we have been working on related to Aston’s usage of lecture capture.

Here’s what Panopto have to say about their event:

Location:   University of Birmingham

Date:         Wednesday 19th October

Time:        10.30am – 4.30pm

Register today! (Note that our ‘South’ user day will be held on 2nd November at University of Southampton – if you are interested in this, please contact us here too and we will be in touch)

Networking opportunity for users of Panopto

The University of Birmingham is kindly co-hosting this event with us. It will give users of Panopto an opportunity to discuss technological and pedagogical issues relating to using Panopto’s software and will provide an opportunity for you to network with other universities.

Introduction for those new to lecture capture

If you are a university that is interested in learning more about Panopto’s lecture capture, this event will provide an ideal opportunity for you to hear from other institutions and talk to Panopto about how our platform works.

The day will include talks by Birmingham and Aston universities, as well as product updates from Panopto.

Lunch will be provided and there will be plenty of time for round table discussions. Faculty members who have used Panopto or are interested in it are also encouraged to sign up.

Register your attendance today – email us, confirming the name of your institution, number of colleagues attending, along with their names and job titles.

Once you have registered, we will send you a final agenda and more details. Meanwhile, we look forward to hearing from you and don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any further questions.

The Reusing Medical Recordings Project

Just a quick note to introduce the Reusing Medical Recordings Project, which is a JISC-funded project “to encourage shared understanding between managers and practitioners across clinical and educational settings on the rationale and good practice for the creation and use of medical recordings for educational purposes”. This consultation aims to produce a set of guidance materials around ‘making and using clinical and healthcare recordings for learning and teaching’, aimed “primarily at students, teachers or doctors who wish to use a patient recording or patient data for learning and teaching.  It will also be of interest and use to other clinical and healthcare workers as well as to university staff where patient recordings are being made available for learning and teaching.

The project should standardise guidance around issues of ethics, copyright, patient permission, storage and re-use in order to demonstrate good and responsible practice, and to generate trust and reassurance for the patient.

This may well have an effect on the work which we do in Media & Learning Technologies, but also across the campus. Findings and recommendations are expected in Autumn 2011.