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 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.