Adobe Connect for Videoconferencing and Recording Teaching Sessions

connectI have recently used Adobe Connect in a variety of ways to help lecturers record teaching sessions and give their students opportunities to meet and talk to key figures in the industries they are training in. Connect is a videoconferencing platform which allows people to communicate online by watching and listening to each other via webcam, and sharing documents or their computer screen with each other. Participants can also use chat functions to send messages, and answer questions in polls. No software is needed, as everything is done via a webpage. At City, our licence for Connect means that any member of staff can log on to talk.city.ac.uk and set up an online meeting room.

My first use of Connect to support teaching and learning was last summer, before the exams period, when a key revision session for the first year undergraduate Sociology students needed to be recorded. A number of students could not attend because they were out of the country. Instead of simply recording the session and giving students access to this via Moodle, we live streamed the class using Connect and over 20 students joined in from several different countries (around 50 students were present in the “real” class). While the lecturer took questions from the students who attended in person, I hosted the online meeting room online and participants used the chat function to ask questions which I relayed to the lecturer (although it’s simple enough for one person to host an online meeting and lead the session at the same time). We got some really great feedback from students during this session. Those watching from home were impressed that we’d gone to the trouble of letting them join the meeting live rather than having to watch a recording.

JOM834 Adobe Connect JOM952 Adobe Connect

Last term, a number of lecturers, particularly in Journalism, organised press conferences during which their students have an opportunity to talk to and question key figures from industry. While a web-based Voice over IP (VoIP) service like Skype could also be used for this, Connect also allows computer screen and document sharing. Sessions can also be easily recorded and stored on the Adobe Connect server, so that students can watch them again later. Access to recordings can be controlled quite closely.

We’ve also used Adobe Connect’s screen-sharing function, combined with the recording function, as an alternative to lecture capture in rooms which aren’t currently equipped with recording hardware, but where a need for specialist software means we can’t use our Personal Capture laptop kits. Connect doesn’t do a perfect job of lecture capture, because the online meeting room and recording have to be set up each time it’s used, and recordings must be retrieved from the system and posted on Moodle manually. Further, the recordings are not perfect quality and since they are Flash they won’t play back on all devices. However, by setting up a meeting room, connecting a microphone (and/or webcam) and recording the meeting, we have the ability to record a teaching session anywhere in the university. For this purpose, no-one else joins the meeting room; we simply record the session and share the desktop of the computer, which means that whatever the lecturer shows on the computer screen will be recorded along with their voice. The recording can either be downloaded as a stand-alone flash video file or linked to on Moodle.

ECEL Conference and Poster: A learner-centred induction to Moodle

Groningen

The “teaching pod” in the University of Groningen’s main hall

Back in October 2012 I attended the 11th European Conference on E-Learning (ECEL) held in Groningen, the Netherlands. This was the first time I’d attended this conference. I presented a poster on our work with the Department of Psychology on their induction programme for the BSc course in September.

The conference was interesting, mostly because it gave some insight into how City’s educational technology perspective is much more teaching-and-learning focused than many other universities’. Many of the presentations I attended were very technology-orientated and I heard people commenting that they would have preferred them to be more so!

I attended some useful sessions: methods for sending students notifications on Moodle updates via Facebook and Twitter; the changing role of the academic in the Web 2.0 world; and an interesting case study on use of blogging for portfolio development.

My poster summarised the word I had done with the BSc Psychology Director of Undergraduate Studies Marie Poirier, to redesign elements of the induction programme for undergraduate Psychology students. There was agreement between the department and our team that induction would be improved by being more learner-centred, less “information overload”, and by giving students more opportunities to get to know staff and each other. Accordingly, we redesigned many of the activities the students take part in during the week. My involvement was mainly in the first day “orientation activities” and in the Moodle induction on the fourth and final day.

Throughout the whole induction week the main principles for the activities were:

  1. To reduce information overload
  2. To manage students’ expectations and help them understand what is expected of them
  3. To start building a sense of cohort community
  4. To build a sense of subject-specific identity

The students’ first task on their first day at university in September was to get into their tutorial groups and meet the other students who had been allocated the same personal tutor as them. After a welcome and a brief introductory talk from Marie they were divided into small groups of four or five. Each group was loaned an iPad which they used to go off and make short videos about each other and about their personal tutor. Many of the students were quite excited and impressed to be given these devices to work with on their first day – however, the main reason we used the iPads was because they allow quick and easy shooting, editing and uploading of video (via iMovie and pre-created private Vimeo accounts), and because students can also use them to research their personal tutor. We had run a similar activity the previous year with Flip cameras and laptops: the iPads made the whole process quicker and easier.

The approach we took with the Moodle induction was to redesign it as a task-based fact-finding activity requiring students to work in the same groups as they had been in on the first day. The groups were given access to a tailor-made induction module which contained activities such as quizzes, choices, questionnaires and practice assignment submission points. (They could also watch the videos they had shot on Monday). The idea behind this approach was to have students simultaneously learn about and use Moodle: to learn how to use its tools and functionality by finding out something about it. We also wanted to address many of the concerns and questions students have about their new course by giving them the chance to find out the answers to some common questions (How do I find out my timetable? How do I submit my assignments? How do I connect to the wifi?). Finally, we wanted the induction activity to be clearly and explicitly tailored for Psychology students: we included links to commonly used Psychology resources and included contact details for key members of staff in the department. Without too much work, similar approaches could be taken for other departments in the School.

For details of how the project was evaluated, click on the link below to view a copy of the poster. If, as a member of staff in the School of Arts and Social Sciences, you’d like to try something similar for your induction, please get in touch.

Poster Final

Moodle tips – adding an rss feed to your Moodle module

Moving module choice online

Over the summer I worked on helping the administrative team move first year student elective module choice online. The data had previously been collected manually via a paper form given to students. The data then had to be transferred manually by administrative staff onto an excel spreadsheet before the students were enrolled on our student record system, SITS. This was a cumbersome process usually completed at the beginning of the academic year, what was already a busy time for administrative staff. We decided to look at a quick and easy way of moving this process online. I worked with the administrators to find out the type of data they wanted to collect and how they wanted it to display in excel. I then made up a few test forms using googleform for them to check over. Once they had agreed that it would work for them I trained the administrators in how to create googleforms and how to download the data in excel format. This is a very easy process and took very little time for them to learn.

We chose googleforms because it is free, all the administrators could easily get an account, the forms could be distributed via a link sent out by email or on the virtual learning environment (Moodle) and they could also be embedded in Moodle.

I asked the Undergraduate Sociology programme administrator for her feedback on how the change went.

How was the module choice done before moving it online?

The module choice process was previously done on paper. A module choice session was organized between March and May to choose modules that would be studies the following September. Module choice handbooks and forms were distributed at this session as well as information given by tutors about their specific modules.

Why did you decide to move module choice online?

We decided to move the module choice online for first years (2nd and 3rd years had already chosen modules) after the idea was suggested to us by Anna Campbell. The paper forms were a bit cumbersome, so moving to the online method seemed the best thing to do.

How easy/difficult do you find using googleforms for module choice?

I found the process of moving to the online form very smooth, and although I may ask for a little help in setting up the forms for 2nd and 3rd years, I think that using googleforms has improved the process very much.

How did it go?

Because the students were taken through the process during their moodle induction there were very few problems. I have not had very much feedback from them, but usually this can be interpreted as a good thing!

What would you do differently next time?

I think I would label the categories slightly differently for the purpose of sorting, but I would not change anything on a large scale.

Constructing effective online assessment

I have worked alongside my academic colleagues Isabelle Marcoul and Svenja Erich of the Centre for Language Studies at City University London for the last two years to help develop effective online assessment. This project has now been written up for the recently published Learning at City Journal Vol 2 (2). You can download a full copy of our article here for free.

I’m providing a summary of the article here, focusing on the way the technology was used and how we measured the effectiveness of a multiple choice Moodle quiz.

Background

City University London runs a programme of language modules, some for course credit, some are extra curriculum. The languages taught are French, Spanish, Mandarin, Arabic and German. Before they can join a class the students need to be assessed and assigned to the language course appropriate to their level of linguistic competence, ranging from beginner to advanced levels. In 2011 more than 1000 students took a diagnostic test.

Prior to 2011, the language tests were handed out in a printed format and marked by language lecturers. The administrative burden for this was heavy with very tight marking deadlines, a lot of administrative work to assign students to the correct course, communicate this to students etc. It was concluded that an online system would help automate this, ensure the students received immediate feedback about which level and class was appropriate to them and would speed up the administrative process.

Practicalities

Each year the university runs a Language Fair during Freshers week. Traditionally this was when students took the written test and completed questionnaire (to gather basic information e.g. degree course etc). In September 2011 this assessment was done via multiple choice quiz on Moodle, the questionnaire was also online in a googleform. This meant that

  • a computer room was needed for the language fair
  • an audio/visual component was deemed to be difficult to manage as a large number of headphones would be required so listening was not part of the test

Design of the test

The languages team wanted to assess different types of language ability while being restricted to using a multiple choice online system. Each language had a test comprising of 100 questions. Please see the article for a full description of the choice of question type and what was assessed.

As a learning technologist I was very interested in how the languages department wrote their multiple choice questions in order to assess different types of language ability. For example, students were asked to read a generic text in the source language and were given comprehension questions to see how much they had understood. Some of the questions also asked that the students not only understand the words but also the cultural context and concept in order to get the answer right.

e.g.

What would you like as a main course?
A sorbet with strawberries
Six oysters
Steak and kidney pie with chips

To answer this question students needed to demonstrate understanding of it and the choices and to pick the correct answer from their own knowledge.

In the article Isabelle writes about how we construct language and how we can assess higher order thinking skills using online assessment methods so please do access the article if you are interested in this.

Use of Moodle and googleforms

City University London uses Moodle as it’s virtual learning environment. This was seen to be the perfect platform for the language testing. I met with the lecturers that would be preparing the questions for the test and explained how the Moodle quiz tool worked. This was to help them understand the types of question that would and would not be appropriate.

Once the questions had been written we had a two hour hands-on training session where the staff were trained in using Moodle quiz and then used it to add their questions with my support. I would recommend this approach. It meant that I could immediately troubleshoot any problems and the staff involved have been successfully using Moodle quiz ever since.

We also needed to collect some personal data from the students e.g. name, degree course etc. We used a googleform for this as they are very easy to set up and the data can be exported in excel format which the administrator requested.

Effectiveness of the language diagnostic multiple choice test

Effectiveness of the test was measured by the number of students that stayed in the group/level they were identified as during testing i.e. the language level of the course matched the language level that the student tested at. We were very pleased to see that the test proved very accurate in determining level for French, German and Spanish (small numbers of students took Mandarin and Arabic so the data was not conclusive).

This shows that an online test can effectively measure language ability in the majority of cases with very little movement of students between levels.

You can download a copy of the full article here

A Case Study – iTunes U in Cultural Policy and Economics

In this video I talk to two lecturers at City who have used iTunes U to publish recordings of their lectures to their students and to the public.

Dr Dave O’Brien lectures on the MA Programme in the Centre for Cultural Policy and Management, and is currently acting Senior Tutor for Research at the Centre. Professor Keith Pilbeam is Director of the MSc Business Economics/International Business Economics in the department of Economics.

Dr O’Brien began self-recording his lectures for Contemporary UK Cultural Policy, a module for postgraduate students, in the Spring term 2012. He contacted the Education Support Team to find out about using iTunes U to publish them. Professor Pilbeam also contacted us in order to record his lectures on Introduction to Macroeconomics, a core first-year undergraduate module.

Both lecturers have seen impressive usage statistics for their podcast series, and suggested that publishing their lectures had not only benefitted their students, but freed up some class time for questions, or reduced their own workload. You can hear more about their experience in the video.

Download Dr O’Brien’s podcast series on iTunes U or as an RSS feed.

Download Professor Pilbeam’s podcast series on iTunes U or as an RSS feed.

Case study – creating presentations using prezi instead of powerpoint

Professor Suzanne Franks presenting at the symposium

Professor Suzanne Franks, Head of Undergraduate Journalism at City University London, wanted a more innovative way to present at the International Symposium on “China as a Development Aid Actor: Rethinking Development Assistance and its Implications for Africa and the West”  hosted by the Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Oxford. We discussed the options and she decided to try to use prezi.com. Prezi is an online, cloud-based tool for creating presentations, exploring ideas and storytelling. Prezis can be played on a computer with internet access, downloaded for playing offline or played on an ipad by downloading a free app.

Professor Franks’ presentation was about the influence of China in Africa, particular in the media and media training. She decided she wanted to use images with no words and wanted to position the images/photos in the correct part of the country. She also used a map of Africa overlaid with the flag of the People’s Republic of China. You can see an image of this to the left (see the full prezi here).

Prezi is a really innovative presentation tool that can be used in many different ways. Here are some reasons to try prezi

1. Prezi moves slickly between images, graphics, text, video and audio so is very flexible

2. A prezi can be linear but is best utilised to introduce concepts or projects

3. Prezi allows you to zoom in and out of a bigger picture

4. Prezi is free for educators to use, just sign up with your university email account

I recommend that you take a look at their popular and award winning prezi presentations to give you an idea of how versatile the tool is and this blog post for tutorial videos