Remotely Accessed Laboratory Suite (RALS) using the Internet of Things

In this series of posts, we’re looking at how the projects from the 2016 Teaching Innovation Award are developing. In this post, Dr David Kerr and Dr Anthony Sutton, Wolfson School of Mechanical, Electrical and Manufacturing Engineering, reflect on their project progress and plans for the future.

Aims
To create a suite of equipment and an integrated software framework that enables the quick and easy design and implementation of remotely accessed laboratories based on Internet of Things technology. The suite will be designed to provide a flexible and scalable development platform for laboratory-based course material.

Objectives

  • Develop a suit of hardware devices with sufficient flexibility to work with a range of typical sensors and actuators used in science and engineering labs
  • Integrate these with a mobile and scalable software library that will operate on a range of platforms currently used within the science and engineering field (e.g. Matlab, LabVIEW)
  • Provide a suitable web dashboard for students to interact with the system and carry out their experiments
  • Involve stakeholders (technical and academic staff and students) within the Wolfson School and if required, the School of Science, in order to capture a wide range of technical and pedagogic essential and desirable criteria for the system design

Progress so far
Hardware concept – we are concentrating on a modular design concept, to allow a high degree of flexibility and to increase ease of use. Modules will cater for a range of peripheral devices such as actuators, motors, switches, sensors and cameras for real-time vision. The diagram below shows the main hardware layout.

Remotely Accessed Labs

The core of the system is the Raspberry Pi model 3, which acts as a webserver host and controller for the lab. Peripherals are addressed via an I2C serial bus, where Arduino/Genuino architecture is used to interface sensors, motors, actuators and relay switches. The Raspberry Pi also hosts the camera module. The Pi/Arduino architecture was a deliberate choice in view of its wide availability, low cost and ease of maintenance. Furthermore, the necessary software is either part of the Free Software Foundation (FSF) or has a Creative Commons license, and the hardware details are in the public domain.

Software and GUI
We are developing the web dashboard and server software in Python, using the Flask web development environment. All the software is FSF or public domain and there is an excellent developmental community, with an expected long future ahead of it. During the summer of 2016 we dedicated the initial design task to a bursary student for EESE, who constructed a successful prototype and interfaced this to our modular hardware. We decided this approach was preferable to tying in to an existing IoT provider such as ThingSpeak, where GUI development is limited and reliance on a third party could become complex and costly.

We want eventually to build in access to existing local coursework setting and marking systems such a Learn and CASPA. Thus students using the on-line lab could submit their work on line and receive feedback and marks automatically within a realistic time frame.

Pilot lab for demonstration
We are continuing with the development of an exemplar on-line lab for Part B Mechanical Engineering students. This is in progress as a Part C undergraduate project in the Wolfson School. The lab is currently used in conventional form in our first year Fluid Mechanics module MMA800. The demonstrator should be available in a working form by the start of the summer term 2017. Given sufficient time, we plan to try out the remote version of this lab with student volunteers who have already experienced the conventional exercise, and obtain their feedback.

This exercise has proved invaluable in helping to scope out concepts for commonly used interface modules. We intend these to be easy to use by those not familiar with the background hardware and make them in effect “plug-and-play” as far as possible.

User engagement
We intend actively to seek engagement with staff and other potential stakeholders such as Lab Technicians as well as students. A second Part C project is therefore underway to study and collate best practice from a review of existing remote laboratories used in the international FE and HE sectors. We plan to use a small scale survey of academic staff within the Wolfson School to ascertain possible take-up of this technology in the future. The results of the survey will form part of our final deliverables, and inform the final design concepts of our modular system.

To make the system more flexible, we will be looking at ways of building in access to the hardware via more popular engineering software suits such as Matlab and LabVIEW. Matlab is particularly attractive in that it provides excellent data analysis tools with built-in access to the Raspberry Pi and Arduino hardware platforms we are using in the project.

CAP Forum: Embedding Research in Teaching

This year’s first CAP Forum focused on the topic of embedding your research in your teaching. As a result, we invited one of this year’s Research-informed Teaching Award winners to present on how and why she embeds her research into her teaching, and what her research is about. In 2002, Dr Cheryl Travers set up a module to fill what she perceived as a gap in Learning and Teaching from her experience of being an academic occupational psychologist. This gap was the extent to which the SBE finalists have developed their ‘soft’ skills in their final year after their placement.

Her research is about her ‘Reflective goal setting model’ and the module puts this into practice- asking students to reflect on themselves, set goals, use the ‘power of written reflection’ to measure the impact of those goals. She asks the students to write a diary which for the first time this year will take the form of an electronic portfolio thanks to her new innovative system for students to log their thoughts.

The discussion that followed focused mostly on her actual pedagogic research, and how other disciplines can apply her reflective goal setting model, from Arts students to STEM students, and even students wishing to learn a language while at University.

Overall, it was an enjoyable afternoon with lively discussion, an abundance of food, and a wonderful talk by Dr Cheryl Travers. The session was lecture captured, which you can find here, and you can also find Cheryl’s papers on her research around goal setting, as well as her recent TEDx talk that she delivered at Loughborough Students’ Union below.

Dr Travers’ papers – 

Self reflection, growth goals and academic outcomes: A qualitative study

Unveiling a reflective diary methodology for exploring the lived experiences of stress and coping

Gamification for Learning in Electrotechnology

Dr Thomas Steffen, a recipient of a 2016 Teaching Innovation Award (TIA), explains how he has applied gamification to learning electrotechnology.

What did you want to achieve?

This project set out with a rather simple idea: to use an interactive simulation tool to teach students the basics of electric circuits in TTB211 Electrotechnology. We all know that electricity cannot be seen and should not be felt, so how do you learn about it? The project quickly gained momentum and additional facets, and now it includes four novel aspects:

    1. a browser based circuit simulation tool (everycircuit)
    2. gamification: a mobile game based on the same tool (circuit jam)
    3. an open source textbook
    4. a set of tutorial questions developed in Germany by Prof Kautz

So how do these work together?

A circuit simulation in Learn

A circuit simulation in Learn

The browser based simulation Everycircuit is great to use in the lecture, and I have done that before. But this time I want to go further, and so I have embedded simulations into a number of summary pages on Learn. Students will also have the ability to modify existing simulations or to create new ones. In my opinion, this really makes a difference, because it turns “magic” invisible electricity into something that students can play with and experience. Have a go with a Parallel resistors simulation.

The gamification aspect relies on a mobile game available in the Google Play Store, which includes a number of puzzles based on the same circuit simulator. So students get a familiar user interface, a portable way of learning, and the motivation of having clear goals and tracked progress. If you have an Android device, you can try a demo at: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.circuitjam . (Providing for students without a personal Android device is one of the challenges here, and there are a number of alternatives available.)

The open source textbook is an existing project at http://www.allaboutcircuits.com/textbook. In many ways, it is rather conventional, but it does offer two key advantages: for the students, it is more accessible and flexible than a library, and for the lecturer it offers the advantage that it can be edited and redistributed. I do not expect to put much effort into the second part this time, but going forward that is a significant opportunity.

Finally, I discovered a set of tutorial questions and exercises developed in Germany for a project in subject didactics in electrical engineering. The theoretical basis is a definition of two threshold concepts: electrical potential, and circuits as models [Brose, A., & Kautz, C. (2010). Research on student understanding as a guide for the development of instructional materials in introductory engineering courses. In Proceedings of the 3rd International Symposium for Engineering Education. Ireland: University College Cork]. The exercises are specifically designed and verified to reinforce these threshold concepts and to avoid common misconceptions found in student responses.

Has this affected your teaching?

Close to the beginning of the semester, I find myself well equipped and prepared to deliver this module, not just from an academic perspective, but also from a pedagogical point of view. Using these resources allows me to free up lecturing time to make the lectures more interactive, it helps to provide ample of simulations, exercises, homework and tutorial questions for reinforcement, and it includes the novel element of gamification to keep students engaged.

How has it been received by students?

The interactive simulation has already been tried in a smaller postgraduate module, and was received very well by the students. The gamification part and the tutorials not been used so far, but a thorough evaluation is planned. An update will be provided once the results are in.

See also:
Further information about the Teaching Innovation Award: http://www.lboro.ac.uk/services/cap/procedures-schemes/teaching-awards/teaching-innovation-awards/

Bridging the Feedback Gap

It is a common occurrence to hear staff express concerns about how feedback is used, but it’s often unclear what the expectations around feedback are for both students and staff.

Simon Martin, Department of Materials (AACME), recently a conducted a survey that was aimed at establishing just how much student and staff attitudes to feedback differ, and how these gaps might be bridged. With the help from the Materials’ Programme President, Alex Marrs, a short on-line survey was sent out to students within the Department. Materials staff were invited to take part in an identical survey.
Bridge
Concerns and issues experienced by staff and students surrounding assessment feedback indicated many similarities and a few differences giving potential clues to ways forward to improve the effectiveness of feedback.

The results of the survey were shared with School staff at a recent lunchtime Learning and Teaching workshop aimed at finding ways to make feedback more relevant, effective and meaningful for students whilst also making it manageable and sustainable for academics to deliver.

AACME’s regular L&T workshops focus on considering, challenging and developing practice.

If you wish to know more about the survey results, methodology and indicated outcomes Simon Martin is happy to be contacted directly (s.j.martin@lboro.ac.uk) for further information.

Feedback practice was also the focus of a staff/student Teaching Innovation Award last year in SSEHS. The final report of Harry Lane, Emma Giles, Dr Emma Haycraft and Dr Hilary McDermott’s project ‘Developing a common language: Enhancing communication and feedback’ is available on the 2015 awards section of the CAP website (http://www.lboro.ac.uk/services/cap/procedures-schemes/teaching-awards/teaching-innovation-awards/)

First Call for TIA Funding!

This is the first call for submissions for Loughborough University applicants seeking funding under the 2017 Teaching Innovation Awards.

These high profile awards support individuals or teams of staff or students and staff to develop and share innovative teaching ideas both internally and externally. These awards are a key part of Loughborough University’s commitment to developing teaching and learning, and attract significant attention.

Previous winners have been invited to speak at conferences, to deliver workshops, and to publish their developed ideas. We hope our 2017 winners will seize the available opportunities to disseminate their excellence in teaching innovation to support developments across our two campuses but also across the higher education sector.

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Staff and/or students with ideas to innovate current learning and teaching practice at Loughborough drawing on research, literature, pilot studies or a variety of approaches are encouraged to apply for funding.

This year an increased sum of £30,000 has been ring fenced for these key awards, and applications are being sought from students and staff on both our campuses.

Guidance documents and application forms can be found on the Centre for Academic Practice website as CAP administers the awards for the University http://www.lboro.ac.uk/services/cap/procedures-schemes/teaching-awards/teaching-innovation-awards/

The closing date for applications is 28 February. The decision panel, with membership from across the university including Loughborough Students’ Union, will meet in late March. Award winners will be notified in April and their success announced publicly at the 2017 Loughborough University Learning and Teaching Conference in June 2017.

If you have an idea which you would like to discuss prior to submitting an application please contact Deena Ingham in CAP d.ingham@lboro.ac.uk

Awards Celebrate Teaching Excellence at Loughborough University

The annual Research-informed Teaching Awards (RiTAs) and the Teaching Innovation Awards (TIAs) celebrate excellence in innovative and research informed practice across the University.

The awards are designed to reaffirm the University’s commitment to recognise staff and students who demonstrate high levels of achievement in both research and teaching.

The Research-informed Teaching Awards reward academic staff who have made an outstanding contribution to the promotion of research-informed teaching at the University.Learning and teaching conference (2)

The Teaching Innovation Awards fund student and staff ideas to enhance teaching and learning at Loughborough. This year, £23,000 has been awarded to fund nine different projects.

The recipients of this year’s teaching awards are:

RiTAs

Dr Line Nyhagen, Department of Social Sciences, School of Social, Political and Geographical Sciences

Awarded for her expertise in curriculum design which clearly demonstrates the ways in which she forges links between her research and her teaching.

Dr Cheryl Travers, Director of Executive Education, School of Business and Economics

For her expertise in pedagogical research which has had a major impact on students over a sustained period of time.

Dr Heike Jons, Department of Geography, School of Social, Political and Geographical Sciences

For her expertise in curriculum design which enables her students to benefit directly from her research over a range of modules.

TIAs

Jo Bullard, Department of Geography and Shung Hua Yang, Computer Science

Using Augmented Reality to Improve Geomorphological Understanding

Karisa Krcmar, Counselling and Disability Service and Lauren Sherar, School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences

An exploration of the benefits of active learning strategies for Loughborough University students with neurodiversity

Ella-Mae Hubbard and Joshua Goodman, Wolfson School of Mechanical, Electrical and Manufacturing Engineering

Understanding and exploiting threshold concepts

David Kerr and Anthony Sutton, Wolfson School of Mechanical, Electrical and Manufacturing Engineering

Remotely Accessed Laboratory Suite (RALS) using the Internet of Things

Thomas Steffen, Aeronautical and Automotive Engineering

Gamification for Learning in Electrotechnology

Sweta Ladwa, School of Science

A ‘Blueprint’ for Peer-Based and Collaborative Learning in a Teaching Laboratory

Lauren Sherar, School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences

Experiential and interactive learning in the teaching area of Physical Activity and Health of Children

George Torrens, Loughborough Design School and Simon Downs, School of the Arts, English and Drama

Development of a multi-disciplinary, self-learning led resource for practice based students supporting training in research methods, design thinking & decision-making

Alexandre Christoyannopoulos, Politics, History and International Relations and Marco Bohr, School of the Arts, English and Drama

Development and dissemination of an informed resource on professional blogging for students and staff

All award winners will be formally announced by the Vice Chancellor and Pro Vice Chancellor Teaching Learning and Teaching Conference on 16 June.

The event will take place at the West Park Teaching Hub where this year’s TIA winners will be exhibiting posters outlining their projects. There will also be the opportunity to explore practice ideas through workshops run by successful TIA applicants from previous years.

To book onto the conference, please email cap@lboro.ac.uk

Designing and Delivering a Quality HE Curriculum – some takeaways

By Gabi Witthaus, Learning & Teaching Facilitator, School of Business & Economics, Loughborough University.

On 3 March I attended the Inside Gov event in London, “Designing and Delivering a Quality HE Curriculum”, wearing my SBE Learning & Teaching Facilitator hat. Here I summarise my key take-aways from the day.

Alan Palmer, Head of Policy and Research, Million+, opened the event. He briefly reflected on the status of the Green Paper for the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), noting that he expected the Government to report back on responses received to the Green Paper in around mid-May – with the rationale that the release of this report would be timed to occur after the local elections but before the referendum on the EU.

Dr Tim Burton, Head of Standards, Quality and Enhancement, Quality Assurance Agency (QAA), was first up. He expressly did not talk about the TEF, and instead focused on the QAA’s Quality Code for awards and programmes, with its three component parts – Part A on academic standards, Part B on academic quality, and Part C on information about higher education provision. Part A contains the Subject Benchmark Statements, many of which are currently being reviewed. Tim noted that the statements are not prescriptive and do not form a curriculum; however, he said providers are “encouraged to take account of them”. My take-away: the resources on the QAA website are extremely useful, if not essential, for anyone designing programmes or modules.

Prof. Pauline Kneale, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Teaching and Learning) and Professor of Pedagogy and Enterprise, Plymouth University, gave a keynote on instilling flexibility within curriculum assessment. This was the highlight of the day for me. Pauline discussed how her institution had begun approaching assessment from the point of view of making assessments accessible to students with disabilities. Instead of merely offering modified versions of the mainstream assessments for students with particular needs, course teams at Plymouth looked at ways of changing the assessment to be accessible to everyone, and in the process began devising more authentic assessments (i.e. relevant to real-world situations) that encouraged deeper learning than traditional forms of assessments. The resources on Plymouth’s website contain guidelines, models and evidence-based examples of good practice in this area – a good place to start is with the Staff Good Practice Guide to Inclusive Assessment.

Chris Willmore, Academic Director of Undergraduate Studies and Reader in Sustainability and Law, University of Bristol spoke passionately about listening to the student voice in curriculum change. In an initiative at Bristol, students can pop into the Students’ Union to have a conversation with other students (not lecturers), in plain English, about what kinds of changes they would like to see in their various curricula. Whacky ideas are encouraged. A toolkit is provided for students to enable students convert their ideas into proposals for academic staff to consider – this requires students to rigorously map any new intended learning outcomes onto subject benchmark statements and professional body requirements.

Next, Dr Momodou Sallah, Senior Lecturer in Youth Work and Community Development, De Montfort University, talked about international study visits as transformative pedagogy. He gave a fascinating account of how De Montfort students were benefiting from field trips to the Gambia, and showed a very moving video (available here) of this cross-cultural exchange.

Dr Maria Cerrato Lara, Lead Researcher, ‘Learning Gain in Active Citizenship’ Research Project, Oxford Brookes University, continued the internationalisation theme by focusing on an HEA-funded initiative at Oxford Brookes in which ‘Active Citizenship’ was introduced as a graduate attribute for all taught courses.

Professor Peter Lawler, Academic Director, University College for Interdisciplinary Learning, University of Manchester, spoke about  enriching the curriculum through interdisciplinary learning. He discussed the frequent misconceptions held about interdisciplinarity, for example the idea that simply combining modules from two or more disciplines equates to an interdisciplinary curriculum. Manchester University launched their University College for Interdisciplinary Learning (UCIL) in 2012, and this group supports programme teams across the institution in designing interdisciplinary courses. He emphasised the importance of starting out with the programme aims in mind, rather than starting from the vision of modules as ‘building blocks’ that could be combined to magically create a truly integrated programme.

Fiona Harvey, Education Development Manager, ILIaD, University of Southampton and Chair, Association for Learning Technology (ALT), spoke about an initiative at Southampton whereby a number of students took the opportunity to receive support and advice in learning about technology for learning, and those students then worked closely with their lecturers to redesign curricula to embed learning technologies. She gave several arguments for this being a more effective way of curriculum change than simply working with academics – to name a couple: if students themselves have ‘bought into’ a particular technology, they are more likely to use it; and secondly, academics generally appreciate having a student in the classroom who is willing to help if the technology goes wrong, and to support other students in using it.

Dr Neil Gordon, Author, Flexible Pedagogies: Technology-Enhanced Learning Report, from the University of Hull, spoke about  integrating technology effectively to support flexible learning at Hull. He discussed the rationale for making learning more flexible for students, and talked about the implications, e.g. ethical and security concerns associated with the use of technologies. He also proposed flexible forms of assessment (for example, giving students a choice between an exam and an assignment; allowing students to propose the format of their own assessments) as a natural consequence of flexible teaching delivery.

Dr Crinela Pislaru, Senior Lecturer, University of Huddersfield, gave a case study on enhancing employability for STEM students through peer-based mentoring. In this case study, undergraduate students in electrical and mechanical engineering courses were mentored by postgraduate students from the Institute of Railway Research. Students were given practical projects to do in groups, with their mentors, and were required to reflect together regularly on the effectiveness of their teamwork.This experience was a valuable addition to students’ CVs.

Finally, Professor Michael Thorne, Vice-Chancellor, Anglia Ruskin University, spoke on the topic of embedding work-based learning into the curriculum to improve employability prospects. He described an initiative at Anglia Ruskin called Degrees@Work, in which entire degrees are offered at workplaces, jointly managed and run by the university and the employers. Their commercial partners include Barclays, Specsavers and Harrods, with degrees in banking, optometry, and retail respectively. He presented this business model as a win-win situation for all concerned – students do not have to pay fees, while the employers pay premium fees to the university for bespoke programmes. He also discussed a self-employment programme running at Anglia Ruskin, in which students are given support and encouragement to start up their own businesses.

All in all, it was a full programme with many thought-provoking ideas to take away. All slides from the event are available here.

Designing and Delivering a Quality HE Curriculum – some takeaways by Gabi Witthaus is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.By Gabi Witthaus, Learning & Teaching Facilitator, School of Business & Economics, Loughborough University.

 

TIA Winner Lee Campbell’s article, ‘TECHNOPARTICIPATION: Intermeshing performative pedagogy and interruption’, appears in BST Journal

technoparticipationAn article written by Lee Campbell (School of the Arts), entitled ‘Technoparticipation: Intermeshing pedagogy and interruption’ has been published in the latest edition of  Body, Space, Technology.

The article looks at various aspects of e-learning and focuses on Skype as a virtual technological platform, with the scope of ‘generating innovation in terms of subverting the bog standard presentation format of a lecture’. Skype as interruption is examined in order to promote the positive aspects of interruptive elements within performative pedagogy.

Research was enabled by a Teaching Innovation Award which Lee Campbell received; the Award granted him a funded period of research to explore Skype’s potential as a technological social media tool with pedagogic value.

To read the article, click here.

Loughborough Academics Publish Research in Prestigious Journal

2010 Teaching Innovation Awards winners, Dr Lawrence Leger and Dr Karligash Glass (Kenjegalieva), have recently published their work in Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education.  Their research article, ‘What if best practice is too expensive? Feedback on oral presentations and efficient use of resources’, suggests that ‘less resource-intensive [teaching and learning] methods need not compromise learning outcomes’. [1]

To read their article, click on the link below:

http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2015.1109054

[1] Lawrence A. Leger, Karligash Glass, Paraskevi Katsiampa, ShiboLiu & Kavita Sirichand (2015): What if best practice is too expensive? Feedback on oral presentations and efficient use of resources, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, DOI: 10.1080/02602938.2015.1109054, p.1.

E-learning Champion Showcase

Eshowcase2

Five members of academic staff from the School of Business and Economics (SBE) have been working over the last year on individual E-learning projects.

These E-learning champions chose a particular area linked to one of their taught modules, for which they wanted to develop the appropriate technology to engage further with their students.

The projects this year were:

Maxine Clarke – To provide an online facility for students to upload information (articles/newspaper articles/videos/etc.) on a weekly basis and to provide a written summary of their submission. To enable online ‘marking’ of this submission as this will constitute the students’ coursework element for this module.

Kai-Hong Tee – To improve students’ effectiveness in their learning via a self-assessed practice questions made available on LEARN

Simona Rasciute – To introduce an interactive problem/exercise solving feature into Learn.

Dan Sage – To encourage students to read beyond lecture notes and the textbook in order for them to develop their critical thinking around concepts and key debates related to the lecture content. The project involved the use of an electronic ‘pinboard’ (Lino) to facilitate collaborative discussions and presentations around journal article readings on the Sociology of Work module.

Baibing Li – The aim of the project is to provide a better and interactive way for the students to participate the teaching/learning process during my lectures.

The E-learning Champions felt that the benefits included having time to explore the potential of their chosen area of E-learning and to be fully supported by the CAP and SBE E-learning Team.

The project was led by Mr. Philip Wilkinson-Blake from the SBE.

The project concluded with an E-learning Champions Showcase Event, which was supported by IT Services, CAP and the SBE E-learning Team. Over 40 staff attended the event, at which E-learning champions shared their experiences and findings.

Video and lecture capture technology was used to share the best practice with other colleagues across the University.

The data findings are now being analysed by the SBE E-learning Team and will be shared with other Schools in the future.