Online Learning Task Force – update

Image of British Library PiazzaOn Friday 25th I represented Loughborough at the Online Learning Task Force event hosted at the British Library. Chaired by Dame Lynne Brindley, Chief Executive of the BL, the session was an opportunity for universities to engage with the high-level government-appointed task force as it approaches the conclusion of its year-long project.

Some of the themes that emerged from the day were: the need for further collaboration between institutions, eg in the area of open content, and the barriers in the way of this; and how to develop the technical and pedagogic skills necessary if staff are to support full online distance learners.

  © Copyright Dave Croker and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence


Here’s a quick stat to make academic colleagues think as they finish marking:

Total questions marked automatically by Optical Mark Recognition (OMR) during Semester 2 exams: 296,963

If you could mark a question in 5 seconds (!) and could continuously mark for 6 hours a day, it would take 69 days. That’s almost 14 weeks of saved academic time…

Learn Rollover

On the 19th and 20th of July, Learn will be “rolled over” to the new academic year. On these 2 days, Learn will not be accessible to staff and students. The dates were chosen on the basis of feedback from departments in order to minimise disruption. Most of you will not notice the rollover – your module pages and resources will look/remain the same.

During the rollover, modules from the current academic year on Learn will be archived and will no longer be editable by staff. However, staff and students will still be able to view past module resources on Learn.

When this year’s module resources go into the archive, only students and staff who were registered on the module will be able to access them. Students taking the new 2010/11 version of a module will be unable to access the 2009/10 version of that module (unless they were registered on that module last year).

We will transfer all your module material to the 2010/11 modules on Learn, and as of the 21st of July you will be able to edit materials for the 2010/11 academic year. If you have activities in your module they will be copied across too. When new students are registered to your module they will be automatically added to your activities. The exception will be any activities you have created using groups. New students will need to be allocated into your pre-existing groups as you see fit.

The MyModules page will contain a link to the 2009-10 edition of Learn so that everyone can consult their modules from last session.

Students will be able to log in and view their upcoming module material, as well as getting access to module results and details of any forthcoming exams (resits during the Special Assessment period). They will still be able to access this year’s module material in preparation for the Special Assessment period.

Please notify us via learn [at] of any:

– module code changes

– modules which need to be kept active

"Email for Life", e-Portfolios etc with Google Apps for Alumni

At Loughborough we went live with Google Apps for our students last Christmas. This was very well received, and we are currently in the throes of launching Google for Alumni.

We have been liaising closely with Google’s developer team for several months to create a system that will allow students leaving this Summer to keep their Google Apps email, contacts, calendars, docs etc on graduation.  This is a very exciting development, and I believe we will be the first institution to have a “fully baked” system for alumni that offers true continuity of service during the alumni transition and beyond. Before our partnership with Google this would have been impossible for a number of reasons, perhaps most notably the storage required for an ever increasing alumni body’s email and documents.

Behind the scenes there are some very interesting technical things going on, such as a split simpleSAMLphp Single-Sign On configuration that authenticates to our Active Directory (for current students) and Google’s user database (for alumni), and extensive use of Google’s ATOM APIs.  We are also automatically provisioning alumni aliases for students when their account is created, so they will literally have “email for life” – or at least the life of our contract with Google 😉

Fundamentally, though, it’s about the user experience – we are now in a position to reassure our students that (at one of the most stressful times of their lives) they don’t need to worry about suddenly losing access to their digital identity as a student.  From the initial student feedback we know that this will be well received. It’s also great news for us in IT Services – the typical picture at this time every year has been a flood of eleventh hour requests for temporary account extensions and reactivations, often requiring people’s files to be laboriously restored from backups and diverting our staff from development work.

It is illuminating to consider some of the initial comments that we have had from our students.  For example,  there is significant interest in some form of continued access to course materials on our Moodle based VLE (Learn).  Our students also tell us that they have already found Google Groups and the Google Apps shared calendars and documents facilities very useful.  These are presently used for purposes ranging from group project work to student clubs and societies, and I expect that alumni will find interesting new uses for these services.  The lossless nature of the alumni transition is particularly interesting here – e.g. programatically created Google Groups for student cohorts by course and module can persist indefinitely, shared documents are still accessible, and so on.  Want to get in touch with your peers to arrange a reunion of the class of 2010?  Easy!

It’s often stated that people tend to stay with their first bank.  With the widespread interest in services like Google Apps and Microsoft Live@edu the next wave of learners could find themselves using the same provider’s technology for personal use, at school or college, at University, and again for business purposes.  This is particularly relevant where the person in question is intentionally building up a portfolio of material, although it should be noted that neither Google or Microsoft presently support the likes of the Leap2A e-Portfolio specification. The evidence from our alumni transition work is that these need not all be separate and independent accounts.  However, I suspect that we will see a move away from accounts that are curated by any one organization, and towards a looser approach based on affiliations to an underlying account that is owned by the individual.  This may have interesting implications along the lines of the “tribes” formed through in-store loyalty cards and cheap calls to other customers of the same telco.  Interesting times!

So you want to capture your lectures…?

Screenshot of captured lecture

Colleagues interested in recording lectures, whether live or pre-prepared, now have a range of options:

– Echo 360 fixed installations: we now have the Echo 360 system for automated video lecture capture installed in CC011 (James France), T003 (Wolfson) and HE010 (HEBS), with another 5 rooms due for installation before the start of next academic year. This system has the benefits of automatic indexing, scheduled recording of lectures (taken care of by Teaching Support) and easy publication via Learn, so there is very little additional work for you. You just have to remember to stay in the area marked out with tape or you won’t be in shot…!

– Echo 360 Personal Capture: we have a 5-user licence for this Echo 360 variant which allows Teaching Support to provide a lecture capture service in almost any teaching room on campus. Once you’ve made your booking, TS come out with a Macbook Pro on which the capture application has been installed, then at the end of the lecture the recording is uploaded to the Echo server for you to review / link to your Learn module page. The Personal Capture option is currently offered as an audio + screen capture service because of video frame rate limitations, although this is likely to change. NB: the capture application can’t be installed on your own PC / laptop.

– Camtasia: we will shortly have 100 licences available for colleagues to install on their own PC as an optional application. See for details of how Camtasia can be used. Essentially it’s a great tool if you need to record at your own PC and / or if you’d like to undertake more complex editing than is possible currently with the Echo 360 system (eg aggregating multiple lecture recordings; adding a second audio track; adding video files recorded elsewhere). If you’re interested in using Camtasia, get in touch with me via c.f.g.shields [at] .

– Podcasting: using one of the 100 MP3 recorders that were purchased last summer and distributed to every department, and the ‘podcast activity’ in Learn. See for an interview with one academic who has had a very successful experience of implementing podcasting in one of her modules.

Web 2.0 and your students

Web 2.0 image
The Library, E-learning Team and Students’ Union have just completed a study to find out more about how students are using Web 2.0 sites such as Facebook and YouTube for both their social lives and their studies. An on-line survey was completed by 178 students.

The results show that most students use Web 2.0 sites for both academic and social purposes and that most use their favourite sites ‘constantly’, which won’t come as a surprise to anyone wandering around Level Three of the Library. The top 5 Web 2.0 sites are Facebook, Wikipedia, iTunes, YouTube and Google apps. The work has been a great success and provides lots of ideas and directions for the University in general and the Library in particular about how Web 2.0 services can be used to help students learn. The URL for the report is: