What’s New in Learn

Following this year’s Learn rollover (23rd and 24th July) there will be several new features appearing in Learn:

  • Timeline tab to appear alongside the ‘My Modules’ dashboard, which gives students the ability to display outstanding activities in date order. This tab is effectively a checklist – as soon as an assignment is completed it will no longer appear within the activity list. Watch the three minute video to learn more about the timeline tabhttps://youtu.be/mmzmNTK2Ww4

  • Reminder to grade alert is now an option that can be enabled within the Learn Assignment Activity. The alert will trigger a notification that grading is due. Watch the four minute video for an updated look at the Learn Assignment tool://youtu.be/09V8IyiNQ1Y

  • Collapsible comments, similar to those available within Turnitin Feedback Studio, are now available within the Learn Assignment Activity. Watch the one minute video on how to do this: https://youtu.be/_6EqV63hkJc

  • File type restrictions allow you to specify what types of files should be submitted within the Learn Assignment and Workshop activities in Learn. A list of file types will be presented for you to choose from within the activity. Watch the one minute video on how to do this: https://youtu.be/-M2vWx3-7bQ

  • Stealth Activities – A way to neatly create ‘orphaned’ activities that are hidden but available via a link. Watch the two minute video on how to do this: https://youtu.be/Z8e3BSopTg8

You can see/test out these features on the Mount Orange demo site – https://school.demo.moodle.net (login as a teacher using the username: teacher and password: moodle).

Supporting students’ learning using STACK: Application on a Finance module

Kai-Hong Tee (School of Business and Economics) has been using the STACK question type in Learn to generate mathematical questions. In the post below, Kai explains how it works and why it benefits students. 

I am currently teaching “Financial Management” which is offered as a core module for our second-year students studying for the “Accounting and Financial Management” (AFM) and “Banking and Financial Management” (BFM) degree programs, which are currently one of the best in the UK, with the latest ranking from the Guardian at the second place after University of Bath. The AFM degree is also accredited by the professional accounting body, we follow strict criteria when teaching the students and appropriately assessed them. However, as this module is also opened to other students whose degree programs are less mathematical in nature, such as Marketing and International business, it is important that “Financial Management” must provide sufficient support taking care of a wider range of students of different capabilities. This prompted me to re-think and re-design an existing self-assessment exercise that already has been available to students on LEARN. Figure 1 shows the questions and answers I have been using to help students on Learn. This assessment is based on one topic (equity valuation) in which most students don’t feel very confident, based on my observation and years of experience teaching “Financial Management”.

Figure 1. 


As you can see from figure 1, this self-assessment exercise consists of limited questions. The aim, however, is to encourage students to gain a better understanding on the topic through practicing doing the problems. However, for the weaker students, having just 4 or 5 questions may not be enough to develop the skill required for this topic.

Why use the STACK question type?
To efficiently supply larger number of questions so as to allow students to have more chances to practice them to acquire the skills, I adopted the STACK question type in the Learn Quiz activity to enable mathematical questions to be generated automatically. Currently, STACK has been applied in different schools, including the subject areas of engineering and mathematics. Figure 2 shows a snapshot of a question set up using STACK on LEARN. Figure 3 shows that using STACK it is possible to generate a similar question to be done again with different information. This then allows students to have additional practice.

Figure 2.

Figure 3. 

I’ve applied this idea to “financial management”. Figure 4 is an example of a question. Figure 5 shows that students will receive feedback on the answers they provide.

Figure 4.

Figure 5. 

New questions will be generated automatically and can be viewed by clicking on “start a new preview” (see figure 3), the implementation of STACK therefore involves some program coding. Figure 6 gives a snapshot of the “program coding” screen. Here, every question is treated as a “model”, and the “numbers” in the question as “variables”, since they will be different in each attempt of the students to “start a new preview”. Figure 6 shows the range of “variables” (inputs) that you want to set for your questions, representing the “new” question each time a new preview is attempted.

Figure 6.

What’s next?
One issue I face here is that the “new” question won’t have the text changed, just the “numbers”, there may therefore be a familiarity after a few rounds of practicing the questions if there are insufficient questions. Therefore, to increase the effectiveness, more questions can be included to reduce biases arising from “getting right answers because of familiarity”. These questions of different level of difficulties are then re-shuffld for each new round of attempt made by the students.

An area that is worth further developing is to incorporate adaptive learning pathways. Basically, I would only need, for example, 5 questions of different levels of difficulty, and then work on them to create pathways based on the feedback (answers) from the students. From the feedback, this then indicates which level of difficulty is reasonable to further assess the students. It may be possible for STACK to be developed in a way that students are led to attempt questions of reasonable level so that their standards are monitored and matched so that appropriate skills could be developed alongside sufficient practices of more suitable questions. This will be an area for future investigation. If workable, this should support the weaker students better. This implies that students could practice more questions and become more skillful based on their level of understanding, rather than simply practice any available questions without adequate understanding of their standards.

Further information at STACK can be found on the following page:

Tutorials on STACK are available on:  https://stack2.maths.ed.ac.uk/demo/question/type/stack/doc/doc.php/Authoring/Authoring_quick_start.md 

The STACK project team also recently won a HEA CATE award to disseminate STACK across other institutions: https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/person/open-university-stack 

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/

Empowering students to develop a ‘user friendly’ framework for Learn

The staff/student team who secured a Teaching Innovation Award to understand how to make the most of Learn are well underway with their collaborative project.

During the summer the team undertook an audit of all 2014/15 Undergraduate Learn pages used within the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences (SSEHS). The audit was set against the University’s minimum requirements for the virtual learning environment (VLE) whilst also considering the presentation of educational material. Each page was rated on a scale of 1 – 5 with a short description of content and layout.

Once the SSEHS course reps had been decided, the project team met with them and presented a selection of audited Learn pages to gather their feedback against the criteria used in the audit. Student feedback on these pages supported initial findings from the audit and the researchers were able to identify both examples of good practice and those where there was ‘room for improvement’.

The research team have just developed an on-line survey using Survey Monkey which aims to capture student perception and use of Learn. This will be circulated to all SSEHS students and they are hoping for a good response. The responses from this and additional focus groups will inform the planning for a workshop in which students will work with a VLE specialist from the Higher Education Academy to develop the School’s Learn provision.

The team leading this project which has relevance for the VLE use within and beyond SSEHS are Dr Hilary McDermott, Dr Ashley Casey, Lee Barnett and student Said Ibeggazene.

Changes to TurnItIn for next year

The Learn interface to TurnItIn is changing next year.  When the new edition of Learn is released on July 22nd, all TurnItIn assignments will need to be re-created for the new session.  This is no different from previous years, although the software will look slightly different (see: Changes to Turnitin ).

A six-slide PowerPoint presentation is available to show students how to submit coursework using the new TurnItIn assignment.  It may be added to a module as a standalone resource or incorporated into a lecture presentation.

  • If your module uses a TurnItIn assignment activity, a new instance of the activity will need to be created in the 2014-15 module, just as you should have created a new activity last year.
  • The new TurnItIn assignments will be created with a new version of the software, and work through a new TurnItIn account.
  • As usual, students involved in the SAP will use last year’s edition of Learn (which will be called Learn13) and the old 2013 TurnItIn assignments will still work.

TurnItIn for any assignment

TurnItIn have recently announced their Grade Anything initiative, which allows the system to accept files of any type for evaluation.  Obviously the text-matching will only work with files containing text.  However the GradeMark online marking tool is now applicable for a much wider variety of student coursework, as is demonstrated on their video clips .

Don’t get too excited, though – there is no hint that the TurnItIn file size limit of 20 MBytes per file will be increased, so image portfolios or video clips are still likely to be too big to be submitted to TurnItIn.

However one workaround is the ability to use the marking and feedback tools without any submission being present, using a ‘submission template’ (i.e. a blank document).  You might use this to comment on a multimedia submission handed in by some other means, or to assess a live performance e.g. in Drama or Sports Science.

TurnItIn is shifting its emphasis from Originality Checking towards a focus on online marking and feedback provision.  The original functionality is still there and works as it always has done: the ability to handle any file type is an additional feature.

What is Learn for?

Learn12 screenshot

I was challenged a couple of days ago by an experienced academic colleague who said he had no idea what Learn (Moodle, if you’re reading this outside Loughborough) is actually for.

I was rather taken aback by this as it seemed to me that this should be obvious. But then, I’ve been supporting e-learning in Higher Education continuously for 12 years so for me the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) is a focus for most of my work. Considering the question more objectively, I have to acknowledge that for some colleagues the purpose of a VLE may be more obscure.

There is a functional description within the ‘Tools for Teaching’ section of this blog at http://blog.lboro.ac.uk/elearning/?page_id=1293 and this provides a condensed version of the message we try to get across within the New Lecturers’ Course and other CPD workshops, such as the ‘Introduction to Online Support’. Support is available to academic colleagues – both technical (via the learn [at] lboro.ac.uk helpdesk) and pedagogic, from the E-learning Officers and Quality Enhancement Officers in the Teaching Centre. This very blog (and the new Teaching and Learning Blog) provide an ever expanding set of case studies and other resources.

In some respects, it seems to me that asking the question “What is the VLE for?” is like asking “What is the teaching room for?” As with teaching rooms, the VLE provides you as the module tutor with an environment that enables a variety of activities to take place. It’s up to you how you use it, as long as your use goes beyond the Minimum Presence agreed by the University Learning and Teaching Committee.

For the last 5 years or so, coinciding with the rise of social media, some experts have been forecasting the demise of the VLE (see, for instance, http://serials.uksg.org/content/55k7732dthrq6gk1/?genre=article&issn=0953-0460&volume=20&issue=1&spage=31 ). But, perhaps because change in HE (and institutional systems in particular) takes longer than in some other domains, there is no sign of this happening anytime soon. For a balanced summary of where we are now with regard to Web 2.0 tools supplanting institutional VLEs, see Stephen Walker’s blog post on the subject.

Embedding or linking to programmes on BoB

BoB screenshotSince we started publicising the availability of the BoB (Box of Broadcasts) service, colleagues have been asking how to include programmes or clips in their module pages on Learn (Moodle). For the moment, the ’embed clip’ feature in BoB is not fully compatible with Learn (it’s currently only working in Firefox) BUT this is not really an issue because you can simply copy and paste the URL of a particular clip or programme on BoB into Learn, just as you would with any other web resource.

When students click on this, they’ll be prompted to log in to BoB (with their usual Lboro account) and once logged in they’ll see the clip.

If you’re a member of staff (or student) at Loughborough, try this, for instance:


Minimum Presence

We’ve just finished trawling through every single module on Learn for the purposes of auditing against the Minimum Module Online Presence (MMOP). The revised MMOP was approved by Learning and Teaching Committee last year and, compared with the previous version, introduces modest additional requirements such as the presence of a reading list on the University Reading List System. You can find the minimum presence requirements here.