The Learning Spaces Project

The Learning Spaces Project at City University London is a central project led by the LDC with representatives working on the project from each of the Schools.  By designing and implementing more modern innovative teaching spaces for small group teaching and learning the project aims to address the contradiction between classrooms that were designed in a previous century and modern teaching practice.

The project has kicked off with the redevelopment of four small group teaching spaces (the largest being for 30 students), in order to evaluate the impact that furniture, room layout and modern technology can have on teaching and learning.

We would be really interested to hear any suggestions or views that academics or students have about the new learning spaces, or any experiences that anyone has had teaching (or learning) in these rooms ( A109, A112, A216, D222) you can leave your comments at the bottom of this post, or if you don’t want to publish them please feel free to drop me an email at kate.reader@city.ac.uk.

Angela Dove the  Learning Development Associate for the Learning Environment and Lecturer at Cass Business School has been teaching in one of these rooms over the last term and has outlined her experiences below:

“The learning session was a Reflective Practitioner first year elective module for UG Management students.  It is normally taught in a standard classroom. The room was arranged for the previous session and the wheeled chairs and light tables were easily moved.

The lighting levels were very good, bright, but not glaring and a great contrast to the rather dingy lighting of the normal classroom. The heating level/ air quality was also good. In previous sessions in the normal classroom I have had to either open as many windows as possible, or students have sat in their coats. As students arrived they sat at different configurations of the flexible round “petal” tables. I noticed that:

  • Students tended to sit with colleagues that they did not usually sit next to when in the usual class room; which is arranged in uniform rows.
  • A couple of slightly late students did not have to disrupt the session by moving along rows of seated students, but quickly and quietly joined a table- based group.

The sightlines felt immediately better, it was easier to see and communicate with all the students (some sitting on higher stools towards the back). Whereas in the normal classroom, one is faced by either a wide angle of long rows of students, or the opposite, with rows of students stretching to the back of a narrow room. And the students one needs to try and engage more do in this type of space, tend to sit at the back.

This more organic space arrangement of groups made it possible to come out from behind the pod and move easily around the room and between clusters of tables.  In  Q and A sessions in a standard forward facing classroom the students very often have trouble seeing and sometimes hearing the student asking the question.  This space arrangement and swivel chairs allowed them to interact far more with each other, and the teacher, encouraging dialogue.

Another major benefit is the increased amount of vertical space available for learning opportunities. Three walls feature large panels of glass, which can be written and drawn on, and have an additional magnetic property. Paper materials, index cards, images etc. can be displayed using magnets, and easily moved around, without fiddling with blue- tac.

It is also possible to quickly rearrange the clusters of tables and chairs actually during the session, causing minimum disruption, and no heavy lifting.

For group work and paired activities, I could more easily give support, rather than having to clamber over rows of students to get to the group on the inside, or wall end of the row.

A visualiser is a useful tool for students to present their ideas, however this space also allowed a more collaborative approach, with students presenting their ideas on paper and freely circulating around each group table, viewing the work and discussing it.”  (reposted from LDC Vignettes)

If you would be interested in teaching in the new pilot spaces, or you have been allocated one of these rooms for your teaching and would like some more information on the different ways you can utilize the space for your classes please feel free to contact Angela Dove (angela.dove.1@city.ac.uk) or Kate Reader (kate.reader@city.ac.uk).

Marking/Grading with Tablets

At City University London I have been investigating the most effective ways academic staff can mark student scripts using tablet computers.  With the introduction of three week turnaround on student papers, alongside the introduction of 100% electronic submission of assignments in the Schools of Arts and Social Sciences, academic staff have been seeking out ways in which they can mark student papers without having to compromise the ability to do this anywhere at any time.  Being in Central London a popular choice is usually on the train, the tube, or the sofa in front of the television on Sunday evening.

The VLE at City is Moodle 1.9, and for marking student papers electronically we use both bulk download and bulk upload in order to import and export student papers from the gradebook in Moodle, and return the graded papers to the students.  While the suggestions below are described in conjunction with Bulk Upload, they are just as relevant for  uploading individual feedback to the gradebook, and I have tested all of the software mentioned below with individual upload of feedback to ensure this works.

To use Bulk Download and Upload you simply click on the assignment you wish to mark in the gradebook, select your group of students, and click bulk download, this downloads all the assignments into a folder on your device.  When you have marked the papers you simply click bulk upload and attach the same folder, this adds all the marked scripts back into moodle as feedback files for the students.  By sorting students into groups you can also use bulk upload and download on the same assignment with multiple markers, enabling them to only download the papers of the students they are marking.

Motorola Xoom + Samsung Galaxy

I found that Bulk Download and Upload worked well with Android tabletcomputers such as the Motorola Xoom and the Samsung Galaxy Tablet that had the free file directory AndroZip installed.  AndroZip allows the bulk download of the zip file onto the tablet.  Allows the academic to open the files and save back changes to that zip folder, and then easily allows for bulk upload of the folder back into Moodle.  The advantage of working in this way is that you are essentially marking offline; you only need internet access during the initial download and the final upload.

In order to mark the papers I found two pieces of software that fit with our current academic practice.  The first for marking .Doc or .Docx files is “Documents to Go”.  This office suite cost £9.99, and has a very easy to use comment and track changes function, so that you can easily go through a student paper and leave comments and corrections, as well as filing in a cover sheet if necessary.  The great thing about this office suite is that it is designed to make commenting and tracking changes easy on a tablet, yet when the student opens the assignment in Microsoft Word this transforms perfectly into comments in Word.

For marking PDF files I found Repligo Reader (£3.99) to be the easiest software to use.  You can easily add comments throughout the script using the tablet.  When the student opens the PDF using acrobat reader, it allows them to hover over the comment icons and the comments appear in full.

To mark the assignments using the software just scroll to the folder with the assignments in and open them in “Documents to Go” or “Repligo Reader” when you click save, it automatically saves the marked file back into the zip folder ready for bulk upload into moodle.

HTC Flyer

The HTC Flyer uses a different version of Android to the Zoom and Galaxy, this means that the behaviour of some of the software is slightly different, including that of Androzip.  The main difference with the HTC Flyer is the pen.  This will prove popular with those who prefer to write on scripts with a red pen, rather than type in comments.  You can still use all the software mentioned above on the HTC flyer, but unfortunately they do not interact with the Pen.  At present this only really works well with PDF documents.  The pre-installed foxit PDF Viewer allows you to draw comments with a “red pen”, then save them back to the zip download folder.  According to HTC the next OS upgrade will allow the pen to work with all apps, which hopefully will allow for a blend of Pen and comments.

iPad2

While most people are immediately drawn to the shiny iPad produced by Apple, the lack of a visible file directory and the way documents import in and out of pages, I found the iPad extremely bad at integrating with our VLE Moodle 1.9.  There was no way of enabling bulk upload and download, and although you could individually open a student’s assignment from Moodle, there was no way of uploading the marked assignment back into the gradebook.  Hopefully the app currently under development for Moodle 2.x will resolve some of these issues.

A Case Study: The OU Wiki for reflection on professional skills

Dr Helen Scott and Dr Lara Zibarras teach on the MSc Organisational Psychology at City University London. They run a module called Professional Skills which introduces students to the range of practical skills and procedures required of practicing occupational psychologists.

In 2010-11 they took an innovative approach to their module assessment, using Moodle’s OU wiki tool to provide students with a framework for creating a reflective diary. Each week, Helen and Lara invited guest speakers to present on different aspects of professional practice in organisational psychology. The wiki-based diary provided the basis for the students’ assessed work for the module. In this case study they share their experience of using the tool and advice they would give to others considering using a similar assessment method.

A Guide to Writing Feedback for Undergraduates: By Academics and Students

Top ten tips

I ran a session at the LDC conference last week called ‘an undergraduate guide to feedback’.  I showed a few of the different ways in which we deliver feedback to students in the School of  Social Sciences.  This included using Wiki’s for continuous feedback, using the quiz tool in moodle to deliver operational feedback to students, and paying PhD students to write a guide to feedback for undergraduates with the purpose of providing students with a clearer idea of what we expect them to do with their feedback, and PhD students a more comprehensive idea of the types of feedback they should be giving undergraduates when they are marking.

I then opened the topic up to the floor for debate, first we discussed the different types of feedback that others were using in their Schools, and this ranged from using video and audio to providing group feedback for assignments.

We also had some students in the audience so I asked them to think of the most useful and productive feedback they had received as students and they came up with the following list of feedback preferences:

  • General points delivered to the entire class before they received their grade
  • Feedback that is delivered electronically as they often have difficulties deciphering handwriting
  • Lessons learned from previous years students
  • The option to discuss feedback with a tutor or module leader specifically in the first year
  • Voice recording (Audio Feedback)

We then moved the session on to try and write a series of tips for academic staff writing feedback for undergraduates.  The audience was made up of Academics, Support Staff and Students who all helped input into the following list of tips/ideas:

  • Consider giving general feedback across the class before grades are released so students engage.
  • Stay away from Jargon and ensure students understand the language you are using i.e. critical discussion
  • Criteria specific – link your feedback to your assessment criteria
  • Don’t hand write – consider electronic feedback (moodle?) or typed cover sheets, students have problems with handwriting.
  • All feedback needs to be appropriate to the type of assessment – one size does not fit all!
  • Suggest solutions, don’t just point out errors!
  • Make sure you let the students know when you are giving feedback – flag it as feedback!
  • Be creative consider audio, peer assessment and other innovative forms of  feedback.

A Case Study: Classroom Response Systems

Classroom Response Systems or PRS (Personal Response Systems) often known as clickers can be used in many different ways to support teaching and learning.  We currently have 300 TurningPoint handsets for use in the Schools of Arts and Social Sciences.

These handsets can be used in conjunction with PowerPoint  in order to quiz students  throughout a lecture.  In the case study video below Dr Kielan Yarrow discusses how he uses clickers to teach Psychology at City University London.

The PRS system is very simple to use, especially if you are familiar with PowerPoint.  If you are a member of staff at City University London and would like some training on how to use the handsets please contact a member of the Education Support Team.

“Mobile learning: Crossing boundaries in convergent environments” Conference in Bremen, Germany


This conference was run by the London Mobile Learning Group this was a mobile learning conference with a twist. Part conference, part un-conference, with a 50 euro attendance fee, and a local hostel on offer for those on a tight budget, this conference was designed for anyone with an interest in mobile learning, from PhD students to primary school teachers through to those utilising mobile learning in medical and professional industries.

The conference was very small for an international conference, with a maximum of 150 participants which gave the event an intimate feel as if everyone would know each other at the end. The most unique aspect of the organisation was that it was partially traditional with presentations of peer reviewed papers and workshops, and partially run in an unconfererence style allowing for anyone to join in and share their work and experiences.  Papers and presentations were uploaded to cloudworks throughout the conference.

The keynote discussed the widening role of mobile technology in primary education discussing a project that brought computer science teachers and art teachers together, using everything from robots, haptic and virtual environments they attempted to show students that computers are not about using fixed tools and a keyboard, but rather an environment for creation and imagination.

This merging of computer science and arts departments within schools reminded me of an article in the guardian last week about South By Southwest (probably the worlds most famous conference around emerging technologies) the author had seemed shocked that because use of technology was so integrated in our everyday lives, sxsw interactive was no longer a conference about the tech industry it had become a conference quite simply about everything. This mobile learning conference was essentially exploring how mobile technology has allowed us to enhance all aspects of learning, from primary school arts classes to higher education, professional development, and also exploring the role of mobile learning in more independent and informal learning contexts.

A main theme that arose time and time again were the possibilities for using mobile devices to bring the outside world into our classrooms to add more social, cultural and geographical context to our teaching. While many of the presentations were around primary and secondary education, I feel we have good examples of this type of activity taking place more and more in Higher Education.  For example during the flip video project in the Sociology Department at City, first year Sociology students were asked to work in groups, to create a video about a space on campus of their choosing.  The project asked the students to explore the sociological aspects of the space, giving the students their first taste of thinking like sociologists.

I presented the research I have been conducting with Dr Sian Lindsay and Ajmal Sultany from the LDC around the use, ownership and attitudes of our students towards using their personally owned devices.  We have found two years in a row now that students want to use their personal devices in a passive way, they want to access grades and feedback, and access the VLE, however they are resistant to using their mobile devices in a classroom setting.  I found this surprising as 77% of them now own smartphones, and they happily engage in projects where we provide the technology (e.g. flip video cameras).  I find it concerning that the Horizon Report (pdf) has repeatedly named smartphones as the next big thing in Higher Education, and this has been reiterated throughout mobile device research, and yet I wonder if anyone  is actually asking the students whether they are willing and able to use their own devices as part of their formal learning experience.  Our presentation “just because they own them doesn’t mean they use them” is available here.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time at this two day event in Bremen and while it was interesting to listen to the experts, the unconference angle allowed far more sharing of ideas and practice than is normally achieved in a typical two day event.  Because of the low costs of running this in a local community centre the range of participants able to attend really contributed to the overall success of the conference, I hope to see more events like this arising in the future.

Moodle showcase winners to be announced tomorrow!

Back in September 2010 the Education Support Team in SASS (in other words Anna, Mo and I) announced that we were running a competition for showcase Moodle courses that we could use as case studies of good practice across the schools from the modules that were built last term.  A winning module from each department has now been selected to win, winners will be announced tomorrow!

We would also suggest that all winning modules consider submitting a presentation for the 3rd Annual Learning at City Conference: Engaging Students in Learning. The conference takes place on 23rd June and proposals should be submitted electronically to LDC, using the proposal form, by Thursday 31st March 2011.

Now you have all become Moodle experts we are launching a new series of workshops to run up until the summer around some of the areas we have had a lot of questions about since the launch, this encompasses everything from designing out plagiarism and best practice, to writing challenging multiple choice questions for both moodle and clickers.  Alongside our full sized workshops we are also running some hands-on half hour lunchtime sessions, these range from embedding multimedia in your moodle course, to ‘how to’ use the latest web 2.0 tools for research.  We will of course still be running some of our old favorites, so if you meant to attend a moodle workshop but haven’t quite got around to it yet – you haven’t lost your chance!

Patrick Baughan and Olivia Fox, our school representatives from the LDC, will also be running some sessions specifically for Social Sciences and Arts Staff, these include support sessions for re-writing module specifications, information about the MA in Academic Practice, and the LDC’s “Creating Effective, Interactive Handouts workshop”.

For full descriptions of the workshop series, and to sign up click here or drop us an email.