Futurelearn goes live!

Futurelearn Website

You may have read or heard this morning about the launch of Futurelearn (http://www.futurelearn.com ) , the UK’s answer to Coursera, Udacity and other MOOC platforms. If so, you’ll have noted that Loughborough is one of the 21 UK institutions currently involved.

So, what exactly does this mean?

Futurelearn is offering a range of MOOCs, which stands for ‘Massively Open Online Courses’ – free, non-accredited courses that students can take over a period of several months and which have the potential to act as tasters for full accredited programmes. There is a strong social aspect to MOOCs, in part because the most popular MOOCs may have many thousands of students enrolled at any one time.

The MOOCs are hosted on a shared online platform developed by the Open University, which is co-ordinating the Futurelearn consortium.

Some commentators are predicting that MOOCs will have a transformative effect on Higher Education in the medium term and, while this is contested, it seems certain that they are here to stay. The UK government is strongly supportive of the MOOC agenda, with Universities and Science Minister David Willetts saying: “I encourage all our institutions to explore the opportunities offered by new modes of technology, such as MOOCs. This will keep the UK ahead in the global race to deliver education in worldwide markets.” Loughborough has decided that it is important to engage with this agenda and has signed up to membership of Futurelearn.

The first MOOC Loughborough is offering through the platform has been developed by the School of Business and Economics and is entitled Innovation and Enterprise. Led by Phil Wilkinson-Blake and Julie Holland from the Glendonbrook Centre, this course will be available from early 2014, running over a period of 6 weeks, with three hours’ study per week. Students can fit the study time around their existing work and family commitments.

The Innovation and Enterprise MOOC will be followed next spring by a ‘mini-MOOC’ currently being developed by the Mathematics Education Centre on Getting to Grips with Mathematical Symbolism. This is aimed at people who aspire to study science or engineering foundation courses but who currently lack the confidence and the knowledge to take this further.

Further MOOCs are in the pipeline.

Feedback on use of lecture capture in Materials MSc programmes

Polymerisation Revision ReVIEW screenshotLast summer the Materials department, within the School of Aeronautical, Automotive, Chemical and Materials Engineering (AACME), took the strategic decision to capture all lectures on modules with distance learners across three MSc programmes. The experience was reviewed by their Postgraduate Teaching and Learning Committee last week, with some key points emerging:

– Feedback from students to the programme manager was highly complimentary for the modules using lecture capture.

– Part-time distance learning students, discussing their module choices for 2013-14, have been specifically asking for modules with lecture capture.

– There has been no negative feedback or criticism of the video lecture content by any student.

– Full-time students also found the recordings useful with an especially high level of interest around exam revision time.

– The overseas students where English is not their first language found video captures especially useful to clarify some lecture topics.

– In response to a call to Semester 1 lecturers asking them if they want to have their lectures recorded again this year the response has been very positive and those lecturers who did not have their lectures captured last year have chosen to do so this year.

– A number of lecturers found that using lecture capture significantly reduced the amount of work they had to put into distance learning materials for part time students, in one case scrapping all old printed materials (booklets) and replacing with Video lectures and online content only.

– Lecturers were very pleased with the results and didn’t find the process hard to engage with. Using the visualisers in lectures was especially popular.

(With thanks to Martin White, who co-ordinated the project)

Lecture capture to support elite athlete students

Loughborough SportWith the support of colleagues from Loughborough Sport, we’ve just submitted a research grant application focused on the use of lecture capture to support elite athlete students. This is an area I’ve been interested in for a year or so, and it’s an application of lecture capture where the benefits are, on the face of it, pretty obvious.

Elite athlete students face challenges due to extended periods away from campus for central training camps and competition. Currently, in the case of sports-related absence which might affect assessment, elite athlete students can make use of the University’s Assessment Flexibility policy if they are representing their country in an international competition, or at a squad training camp. But this can be disruptive to the student’s studies and life in general, so it would help everyone concerned (including module tutors) if the need for this could be avoided through capturing lectures and providing other forms of online support.

The use of lecture capture has already been piloted in a limited way to support athletes having to spend time away from campus; for instance, the 2012 Olympic hockey bronze medal winner Laura Unsworth had lectures on two modules captured in semester 2 this year specifically because she was going to be away at a national squad training camp. Monty Panesar, the Loughborough graduate England cricketer, is back studying for an MBA, and he too has had lectures recorded.  With over 500 elite athlete students across multiple sports currently studying at Loughborough, there are potentially many more students who would benefit from being supported this way.

Screencasting options for the Mac

Camtasia is the screencasting software of choice for the PC on campus, but where does that leave Mac users?

There are some interesting options, depending on how much/little you want to do. BTW, this isn’t a comprehensive list; just stuff I’ve come across and liked the look of.

Screenr.com screengrab

Screenr.com screengrab

First-level option: Screenr.com and Quicktime Player

Screenr is a Java-based web application (so not just for Macs), part of the Articulate Network (Articulate makes heavy-duty e-learning software). You have 5 minutes-worth of recording anywhere on screen at any size, with audio. Excellent if you just want to show a short demo, although Java can take a wee while to initialise. Quicktime X Player, which is of course built in to MacOS, now lets you record a movie (off a camera or iSight), record audio or record the full screen. This is great for the occasional recording when there’s no net access, for example, and QT will export movies for different iPhone or web sizing, but expect things to get a bit blurry if you’ve just recorded off a full screen on a 15″ MacBook Pro, say. In this case, you’ll need to scale your display resolution down before you record the screen so that you have reasonable resolution in the finished product (plus it keeps file sizes down).

Second-level options: Snapz Pro X and Jing.

Snapz webgrab

Snapz webgrab

Jing webgrab

Jing webgrab

These two apps sit in the background waiting for you to launch them to do screengrabs and record screen activity with audio. Jing talks nicely to screencast.com (as it’s a Techsmith product, too) and it’s free, whereas Snapz Pro X is $69. That said, Snapz offers a large range of output options (.bmp, .gif, .png, .jpg, .tiff, .pict, .psd, .pdf and .mov), which it can preview in realtime – Jing just makes .swf files. It feels like a lot of money, but you’re paying for quality software that’s lean and functional. It’s what you might go for once you’ve grown out of Jing but don’t feel that upgrading to the Pro version of Jing will do the business.

Third-level options: Camtasia and Screenflow.

Camtasia webgrab

Camtasia webgrab

Screenflow webgrab

Screenflow webgrab

Both of these are proper desktop apps cost $99 online (or £59.99 via the App Store) and do just about all you need from a screencasting application – capture and editing. Multiple audio channels, one video channel plus picture-in-picture, multiple callouts and media possibilities, text overlays and transitions are all available. There are many comparisons/reviews of both apps on the web – the differences are subtle, but Screenflow deals better with capturing moving images and has slightly better editing workflow, whereas Camtasia has more effects and more export presets. To further muddy the waters, Screenflow is due a version upgrade ‘soon’. Each have a 30-day free trial. Techsmith also helpfully offer a comparison page showing differences between the Mac and PC versions of Camtasia.

Further options:

Captivate webgrab

Captivate webgrab

The ‘elephant in the room’ is Adobe Captivate 5.5 for Mac, the stable release of which was launched on 26th May this year. This is a comprehensive ‘e-learning content creation tool’, with the usual Adobe CS interface style, Powerpoint integration, SCORM/AICC export capability and more. Captivate may be more than you ever need, or it may be exactly to tool you’re after…

We’re aiming to update this with more of our own experiences as time goes on. Comments, suggestions welcome.

Lecture Capture with an Added Dimension

Martin White Showcase presentation
In this E-learning Showcase 2011 presentation, Martin White (Materials) compares and contrasts different approaches to lecture capture as applied to a Distance Learning Fund project last year. This project involved pre-recording 10 hours of guest lectures for a module on Packaging Technology. The added dimension in the title refers to the use of a ‘visualiser’ to capture real-world objects.

Click on the screenshot to watch the ReVIEW capture.

Seizing the opportunity of online learning for UK higher education


The Online Learning Task Force (OLTF) published its final report ‘Collaborate to compete: Seizing the opportunity of online learning for UK higher education‘ in January 2011.

It concluded that online learning – however blended with on- or off-campus interactions, whether delivered in the UK or overseas – provides real opportunity for UK institutions to develop responsive, engaging and interactive provision which, if offered at scale, can deliver quality and cost-effectiveness while meeting student demands for flexible learning.

The report showcases the work of 16 university and consortia courses in the UK including partnerships between HE institutions and the private sector.

It makes six recommendations to institutions and the wider HE sector. They include:

  • using online learning to enhance student choice
  • realignment training and development
  • developing and exploiting open educational resources.

The OLTF was set up to research and investigate how the UK could maintain and extend its position as a world leader in online learning. It was chaired by Dame Lynne Brindley, Chief Executive of the British Library, and met five times between September 2009 and November 2010.

Is online distance learning a real solution for today’s higher education funding, capacity and recruitment issues?

(From JISC e-Learning Programme)

The latest edition of JISC On Air looks at some of the issues associated with creating sustainable and effective online distance learning. The radio show highlights the value of engaging students and enhancing the learning experience through the effective use of online learning tools such as podcasts and virtual worlds.

Kim Catcheside explores these issues with  David White (author of the recent Online Learning Task Force: A study of current UK online learning report), Richard Hall from the De Montfort University Learning Exchanges Centre and staff and students from the University of Leicester, as part of the latest JISC On Air radio show.

Further information about this show is available from http://www.jisc.ac.uk/blog/online-distance-learning-whose-future/#more-429 and you can subscribe to these shows via itunes and RSS.

Elluminate: the experience so far

Loughborough’s institutional licence for the Elluminate web conferencing tool has been in place since back in the summer, and many colleagues have now experienced it either through delivering or participating in a session.

Two areas that have been particularly active in the use of Elluminate are CREST and WEDC. In the YouTube video below, Sheryl Williams from CREST and Cath O’Connell from WEDC talk about how they’ve been using it, what’s worked well and not so well, and the advice that they would give to colleagues thinking about trying it out.