Tablets in Learning and Teaching: mirroring your Surface Pro tablet

Microsoft websiteIf you’re lucky enough to have a Microsoft Surface Pro tablet (expensive but, dare I say it, cooler than an iPad) , you may be interested to know that there is a way of ‘mirroring’ the tablet’s screen on a bigger HD display, such as a teaching room projector. This is despite the fact that the Surface Pro lacks the ‘Airplay’ functionality of iPads, or the emerging ‘Miracast’ wireless display technology that is starting to be adopted on Android devices.

US company Actiontec sell a reasonably priced kit comprising a USB dongle transmitter and a receiver and, although we haven’t tried it, reviews seem to suggest that it works very well with the Surface Pro. See for instance Tom Grissom’s review which includes a video demonstration. (Incidentally, Tom’s blog includes lots of other useful suggestions on using the Surface Pro for teaching.)

I know of at least one academic colleague with a Surface Pro so we may well get to try this out soon, in which case I’ll post an update.

Tablets in teaching

A Very Modern Lecture

A Very Modern Lecture, reused courtesy of pjohnkeane Flickr photostream under a CC licence

Are you using a tablet in your teaching – either iPad or Android? If so, we’d like to hear from you. How are you using it? Have you found any particularly useful apps? What response have you had from students?

We’re planning a ‘tablets in teaching’ project for next academic year and any feedback would be useful in setting this up.

For more information on how IT Services supports staff / student use of mobile devices, see and .

Ultra High Definition video for healthcare education

uhdcardiff-cropToday researchers at UK universities will carry out 3D demonstrations on a ‘virtual patient’, showing how groundbreaking ultra high definition (UHD) technology is making a real difference to medical training and diagnosis.

Already used by trainee radiographers at Cardiff University, UHD technology, using the UK’s research and education high-speed data network Janet, has the potential to revolutionise the way medical training is conducted. It will not only free up treatment rooms for patients but also enable students to grow their competences in a virtual world before treating ‘actual’ patients. By sharing resources with other university sites significant savings could be made, as well as enabling shared expertise.

This showcase is the first of two run by the UK Ultra High Definition Consortium consisting of the universities of Cardiff, Bristol and Strathclyde, and Glasgow School of Art. Today’s demonstration shows radiographers at Cardiff’s Healthcare Studies undergoing training on a ‘virtual patient’ using 3D technology, bringing to life an area of the body in need of treatment. The streams, of 4-8K content (that’s 4 – 8 times the resolution of normal HD) will also be shared with other sites at Bristol and PSNC (The Poznan Supercomputing and Networking Centre in Poland). It will also show computational modelling on arterial cells – the results of collaboration with the Cardiovascular Sciences Research Group based at the Wales Heart Research Institute in Cardiff.

Nick Avis, professor of interactive visualization and virtual environments at Cardiff University’s School of Computer Science & Informatics explains: “The great thing about UHD video is that it enables us to use high fidelity visuals to replicate the human body, which are critical for modern diagnostics. However, delivering this data-intensive digital media to remote users, whilst retaining high visual quality, requires high-speed networking and infrastructure.

“We are fortunate to be able to use Janet’s high capacity data network to collaborate with research partners and push the boundaries of this technology, not only in the UK but internationally too.”

Dimitra Simeonidou, professor of high performance networks at the University of Bristol explains: “For remote applications, such as real time medical training to thrive, the network infrastructure must become dynamic and readily consumable. A fundamentally new approach is required in the way we design today’s networks.

“The High Performance Networks group at Bristol develops ground-breaking technology which automates any network infrastructure, transforming it into a reflexive environment that instantaneously establishes network services at global scales. Today we demonstrate the benefits of such technologies using the medical training platform at Cardiff as exemplary application.”

The UK Ultra High Definition Consortium is the first of its kind in the country to build an integrated networked infrastructure for research into novel multimedia techniques and networking architectures. Through their work, the group aims to develop and deploy the next generation of networked UHD applications.

Emma Smith, video projects co-ordinator at Janet, member of the UK Ultra High Definition Consortium explains: “Ultra High Definition is the next generation of high fidelity digital media. Until now it has been most heavily associated with the entertainment industry and more recently large-screen coverage of the 2012 Olympics.

“This research will not only benefit research and education, but also has the potential to enable virtual museums/tourism, performing arts collaborations and many more. We are pleased to be able to support these types of collaborations through Janet.”

Already other research into UHD technology is taking shape as a direct result of this project. This includes a proposal for an EU/Brazil partnership to explore the infrastructure requirements to combine technical developments in cloud technology and the use of high definition content. It may yet be some years off, but as research in this area develops we may start to see its deployment across a wider range of disciplines and eventually across mainstream video.

A second showcase will take place later in the year at Glasgow School of Arts to further demonstrate the use of this technology.

[Adpated from a JISC press release published 19/04/13]

2012 Technology Enhanced Learning Survey

UCISA TEL survey cover
Every few years, UCISA (Universities and Colleges Information Systems Association) conducts a survey of the use of Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) in UK universities and colleges. The report based on this year’s survey has just been published and is available here.  Here is a condensed version of the key findings from the executive summary:

Enhancing the quality of learning and teaching is consolidated as are meeting student expectations and improving access to learning for students off campus.

Availability of TEL support staff remains the leading factor in encouraging the development of TEL, followed by central university and school/departmental senior management support, which have overtaken availability and access to tools in the rankings.

Academic staff knowledge has dropped to fifth in the list of barriers influencing TEL development. However, the top two barriers to TEL development remain lack of time and money.

Institutional strategies continue to influence TEL development, with teaching, learning and assessment the leading internal strategy.

The key change since 2010 has been the emergence of corporate strategies, which have overtaken library and learning resources as the second most commonly cited internal strategy influencing TEL.

Dedicated e-learning strategies are on the decline.

Blackboard Learn is still the most common VLE, but Moodle has increased as an enterprise solution and remains the most used VLE when departmental implementations are included. Adoption of other VLEs is negligible.

Plagiarism detection, e-submission, and e-assessment tools remain the most common centrally supported software in use across the sector. E-portfolio, wiki and blog tools are also well established but support for podcasting tools has declined since the 2010 Survey. Social networking, blog and document sharing tools are the most common non-centrally supported tools in use across Pre- and Post-92 institutions.

The proportion of web supplemented modules has steadily decreased with web dependent modules increasing. This suggests that progress has been made in embedding TEL as a key element of course delivery. However, fully online courses have decreased.

Evaluation of the impact of TEL tools and systems on the student learning experience is well established with over half of the institutions responding to the Survey having conducted studies, but evaluation of pedagogy is less common (except in Scotland!)

There has progress towards the optimisation of services for mobile devices.

Mobile technologies have moved to the top of the list of the items making the most demand on TEL support teams. E-assessment and lecture capture remain in the list of top five demands.


TwitterfontanaIn my last post on the demise of Twitterfountain, I mentioned Twitterfontana as an alternative well worth taking a look at, but sounding a note of caution about over-reliance on any free Web 2.0 services as they can (and do) disappear overnight.

The next day I received an email from Jaap Roes, one of the developers of Twitterfontana, thanking me for the mention but pointing out that the source code to his service is openly available, meaning that even if his company had to stop providing the hosted service, it would still be possible for people to use (and customise) it on other servers. This is a very fair point and is definitely another reason to use Twitterfontana rather than one of the other alternatives.

Twitterfountain: a cautionary tale

The expert Twitterati amongst you may have come across the Twitterfountain service, which enabled you to create an animated stream of tweets featuring a specific hashtag, against a backdrop of images found with a particular tag on Flickr, with the tweets updated in realtime. This was great for conference sessions, or even for teaching, as a way of encouraging interaction from your audience. It only took a few minutes to learn how to use the website, and a few minutes more to create your animation.

I was in a session with a couple of colleagues yesterday and thought I’d mention Twitterfountain in the context of a discussion around ways of encouraging engagement in lectures to large groups. It occurred to me that it would be easier to display it on the projector rather than attempting to explain it, so I typed in the URL – resulting in a 404 ‘Page not found’ error.

Eventually, a bit of Google searching brought up a company blog with the heading: “Twitterfountain has gone belly up”.

A real shame, as it did what it did very well. Of course, there are alternatives out there, but that’s not the point I want to make.

What the story shows is that if you’re using one of the dozens (hundreds? thousands?) of free Web 2.0 services out there to support your teaching (or research, or conference presentations, or whatever), you should be cautious – from one day to the next you can find that the site has disappeared, taking all your content with it if you didn’t have it backed up on your own computer.

PS – of the alternatives I’ve looked at, Twitterfontana seems to come closest to offering the same combination of functionality and ease of use.

Raspberry Pi – the new BBC Micro?

Raspberry PiIf, like me, you were a teenager in the 1980s, chances are you’ll remember the BBC Micro and the Sinclair Spectrum. These were ‘home computers’ that encouraged a generation of pallid adolescents to try their hand at programming, leading pretty much directly to the British games industry becoming one of the country’s biggest export earners over the next twenty years.

The problem is, over the last decade the culture of hobbyist programmers has become a thing of the past, as computers have taken on the status of all-pervasive ‘white goods’. Teenagers have their iPhones, iPods, iPads, Facebook etc – but by and large they don’t spend hours learning how to write platform games.

Lamenting this fact, a group of computer scientists at Cambridge set up the Raspberry Pi Foundation with the mission of creating an ultra-cheap computer targetted specifically at children. Launched earlier this year, the Raspberry Pi costs around £30 and consists of nothing more than a tiny uncased circuit board which can be connected to a standard USB keyboard and mouse, using a bedroom TV as a monitor. The Raspberry Pi runs the Debian version of the Linux operating system which is open source and therefore free, booting up from an SD card.

I ordered one as soon as they were announced and, after 6 months’ wait, it finally arrived on Friday. Theoretically it was intended for my 8-year-old son Alex but, if I’m honest, I might concede that there was some geeky nostalgia involved here. It took less than 10 minutes to set everything up – in fact, I spent a lot longer trying to make a homebrew case for it out of Lego! The next morning I sat Alex down in front of it and left him to it, avoiding the temptation to over-explain. Half an hour later I returned to find that he’d managed to create a complex animation using Scratch, the visual programming language for children included with the OS.

Will he choose to keep at it, rather than going outside and kicking a football around? We’ll see. But I wholeheartedly approve of the aims of the Foundation and believe it could make a real difference in encouraging at least some children to design/program/engineer things themselves rather than being passive consumers.

JISC build Stairway to Heaven

JISC Elevator
Well, not quite…
But the new JISC Elevator is a really interesting angle on funding within the HE context, inspired by the emerging trend in the wider tech world for crowdsourcing / crowdfunding.

Here’s the press release:

Bright ideas wanted for new JISC funding platform

 Do you have a smart idea for using technology in your college or university?  If you’re looking for rapid project funding, pitch your idea on a new JISC website and receive feedback from your peers.

 The JISC Elevator is a new beta platform for people to pitch ideas for projects up to £10,000 using video and short descriptions.

 Once an idea has been submitted to the site, people working and studying in UK higher and further education will be able to vote if they like the idea.

 When an idea receives the target number of votes then JISC will decide whether or not to fund the idea.

 Visit the JISC Elevator <>

 Andrew McGregor, who is managing the JISC Elevator trial, said: “JISC’s remit is to fund cutting edge innovation – so we hope that by creating a different platform for bidding we’ll be able to capture the brainwaves of many more people in colleges and universities, perhaps people who haven’t previously bid for JISC funds.  The voting mechanisms on the Elevator will also allow us to respond directly to what’s important for people in further and higher education.”

 The JISC Elevator is open to all kinds of ideas, with suggestions including:

•     Innovate with e-books

•     Start a student led project

•     Open a can of worms – propose a technical project that starts a big conversation in your institution

•     Use gaming principles to improve research or teaching processes

•     Apply work previously funded by JISC to your own situation

•     Create online services to help students make decisions about university

•     Develop cloud solutions to account for and monitor cloud security

 For details on what kinds of idea we are looking for please see the submission criteria:


 Successful projects will be notified in April and expected to complete by the end of July 2012.

 Visit the JISC Elevator <>

There's more to social networking than Facebook and Twitter

Did you know…

∙ Twitter and Facebook are blocked in most parts of China by the Great Firewall of China?

∙ China has 485 million Internet users, more than any other country in the world?, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, already has 195 million users (almost as many as Twitter)?

∙ Manchester Business School has 22,000 followers on Kaixin (the Chinese equivalent of Facebook)?

∙ Loughborough has 1200 Chinese students?

WeiBo screenshot

Screenshot from

On September 21st, André Schappo (Computer Science) and his student Christine Liu will be giving a session demonstrating the use of the main Chinese social networking services. They argue that international Universities such as Loughborough should become more aware of non-Western social networking and exploit the opportunities they offer to communicate with both current and prospective students. Lboro staff should get in touch with me if they would like to attend.

In the meantime, you can find out more about the non-Western Web on Andre’s personal blog at In particular, for a list of Western organisations / companies with a presence on the Sina Weibo microblogging site, see .