Tablets in Learning and Teaching: VideoScribe

As part of the TiLT project, we’ve been looking at different tools for presenting in the teaching room which work well with (or depend on) the use of tablets. VideoScribe is a desktop application (and iPad app) that allows you to create what are variously referred to as ‘whiteboard animations’ or ‘fast drawing’. The visual approach is one that you’ll be familiar with from TV commercials but, to my mind, it has not yet become over-used or hackneyed. It involves a disembodied arm and hand doodling very quickly on a flipchart or whiteboard, with the doodling captured and animated using stop-motion animation (similar to Wallace and Gromit).

VideoScribe makes this kind of animation available to everyone, without the need for design / illustration skills. The desktop application and iPad app both feature a large, expandable library of pofessionally produced whiteboard animation clipart, which can be combined with your own text and images. The possibilities are endless. Within HE, there are all sorts of ways in which we might used it to explain difficult concepts through visual metaphors, whether it is as part of a MOOC or embedded in a Powerpoint / Prezi presentation  used in a lecture.

Although there is a free trial, there is no longer-term free subscription; it costs around £10 per month for an annual subscription. However, this starts to look like very good value when set against the cost of getting an agency to produce what you can now generate yourself. We’ll certainly be testing it out further. (Thanks to @davidhopkins for flagging this up!)

New web conferencing software

From August 1st, we will be using Adobe Connect Pro v9 as our standard web conferencing / online classroom software. An outline of the program is available in this leaflet and in this Getting Started Guide. Initial tests indicate that the web meetings have better audio and video quality than previously, and the system works in a very similar way to its predecessor.

Connect replaces Blackboard Collaborate, which will not be available after July 31st.
At that time, we shall lose the recordings made on the old Collaborate/Elluminate systems, so please contact the e-Learning team if you need these to be downloaded.


Tablets in Learning and Teaching: Electric Slide

Electric Slide ScreenshotYesterday I was one of the presenters at our lecture capture conference (about which more in my next post). I’d decided that hosting the event, giving the welcome address, presenting a workshop session, and chairing the closing plenary wasn’t stressful enough (!) so I decided to try ouy our new iPad Mini as a presentation tool.

In the last post on tablets in learning and teaching, I described various ways in which your iPad screen can be mirrored on the teaching room projector. All the methods described relied on both the tablet and the ‘receiving’ device being on the same wifi network, ie Eduroam.

There is, however, a more technically straightforward way of doing this, and that it to use a web-based presentation tool such as Electric Slide (pictured). There are other similar services but Electric Slide receives generally favourable reviews.

Electric Slide comprises a web service for which there are both free and paid-for pricing plans together with an associated iPad app (there is no Android version). Once you have set up your account, you log in via your desktop / laptop and upload Powerpoint presentations, Keynote presentations or PDFs. These are then converted into a format which allows them to be viewed and controlled online, including via the app. The main limitation of a free account is that your presentation is limited to 90 minutes before you are timed out and have to log back in again – which would be a bit of a pain in a 2-hour lecture!

When you come to deliver your presentation (or lecture), you access it via the iPad app and can then navigate through it by tapping / dragging, and you can zoom in / out using the standard pinching gesture.

This worked well in my presentation yesterday, although of course you’re limited to viewing documents in Electric Slide, as opposed to the other mirroring methods which allow your audience to see anything on your tablet. Also, any embedded links in your Powerpoint (eg to other websites or videos) aren’t rendered.

In conclusion, I will probably use Electric Slide again for simple presentations, but it certainly doesn’t replace the other mirroring methods.

Experimenting with Facebook in the Classroom

Faculty FocusMy Teaching Centre colleague Maurice Fitzgerald has featured Faculty Focus several times in posts over on the Teaching and Learning Blog. Based in the United States, Faculty Focus provides various free, as well as paid for, resources in the form of newsletters, downloadable reports, etc., regarding learning and teaching issues.

In the latest Faculty Focus article, Nisha Malhotra, a lecturer in economics at the University of British Columbia, talks about her positive experiences of using Facebook to support a research methods class. Read the full article here.

Here at Loughborough, the Learning and Teaching Committee (LTC) recently considered a document setting out a draft approach to the use of social media and other Web 2.0 services in teaching. The approach recommended (by my colleague Martin Hamilton, Head of Internet Services, and myself) was that the institution should support the use of such services in teaching where appropriate and with due consideration for the associated risks. What this means is that module tutors (and programme leaders) need to think carefully about the specific details of how they would like to use such services, and thus avoid negative outcomes relating to copyright, data protection, etc. LTC accepted this general approach which will now be formulated into a policy statement.

Colleagues should note that, where they are using other online services, Learn [our Moodle-based VLE] needs to remain the ‘online hub’ of every module.


Free tools for teaching – Doodle scheduling

Doodle Screenshot(This post follows on from the Free tools for Teaching – name randomiser post.)

Here Radmehr Monfared talks about how he uses the free Doodle scheduling tool to organise lab sessions:

Have you ever set up lab sessions for students when there are many sessions but each student has to attend only one? You usually end up with one very busy session and a number of quiet ones.

Some lecturers balance the numbers into groups (forcefully) and if someone complains then they deal with it. However, I realised that if you give choice to students they usually are free for more than one session. Then I can balance the lab load based on their availability.

Doodle Scheduling is exactly the tool for this sort of case and is free. I have been using this for many years for arranging meetings and scheduling personal events. However I used it last term for balancing my lab sessions. Most students are familiar with this website and I had no problem collecting data and compiling my lab time table.

Before using it, I checked with IT to see if there is any equivalent tool in the university, but there was none at the time.

This is how it works – You arrange your available lab times in the columns of a table on the web and email the link to students. Students add their name and tick the time slots that they can attend. Then based on availability you distribute students equally within the lab sessions. It worked great for me in the last term.

There are various other mechanisms that you could use for this purpose (including the Face-to-face activity in Learn / Moodle) but Doodle has the benefits of being simple, effective and familiar to many students.

Free tools for teaching – name randomiser

Name RandomiserDr Radmehr Monfared is a Lecturer in Intelligent Automation within the Wolfson School. In conversation with a Teaching Centre colleague Radmehr mentioned a couple of free online tools he has been using to support his teaching. Here is Radmehr describing the first scenario:

It is always a dilemma how to choose a student to answer a question while maintaining the fairness and equal opportunity to everyone, and also not making the student nervous.

I have come across the “name randomiser” idea many years ago. The idea is to rotate through the students’ names on the screen and randomly stop at one name.

This has been proved an ice breaker and a fun activity, while that chosen person has to answer the question. Students certainly like it.

Back in the days when our lecture rooms didn’t have internet access, I use to use a simple VB program that did the job for me, but filling the student list was a problem.

But these days, I use the following website, which is fun (with lots of interesting noises) to take pressure/stress off from the students.   The advantage is that I can copy and paste the student list from my excel sheet very easily.  

Another one that I particularly like and used is  . This one also allows running a timer for students to answer the question.

[The latter is the tool shown in the screenshot above and it’s interesting to note that it was intended for primrary school use but can be useful even in HE!]

'Other' Web tools

Martin Hamilton BlogEvery so often, my colleague Martin Hamilton (Head of Internet Services) and I are asked by a University group to look again at the University’s policy on the use of Web 2.0 services to support Teaching and Learning. “Web 2.0” is an unsatisfactory term that covers a wide variety of tools out there on the Web, including the best known social media services (Facebook; Twitter; LinkedIn; etc) but also an ever-increasing range of ‘other’ Web tools, some of which have been developed specifically for education but most of which have not. The Tools for Teaching section of this blog covers some of them; this section will be expanded over the next few weeks.

They are characterised by the ability for a user to create a new account within moments, although of course many now adopt a ‘freemium’ business model, where users can upgrade to a paid-for account to get additional features. Many of these services also have a corresponding app for mobile devices.

A cursory glance through previous posts on this blog will reveal that we have effectively been encouraging academic colleagues to exploit specific tools (Twitter and Socrative are recent examples) but do the benefits of using non-University services outweigh the risks? There certainly are risks, connected with data protection issues, the lack of service level agreement, the possibility of a service you’ve invested time in disappearing overnight, and so on. On the other hand, these services offer opportunities to engage learners in new ways, supplementing the features of central IT systems such as Learn (Moodle).

Martin and I have drafted a discussion document which he has posted on his blog to elicit comments from colleagues here and elsewhere. Let us know what you think.

Twitter-based voting in Powerpoint: update

If you’ve been using the SAP Twitter tools for Powerpoint, about which I blogged back in the autumn, you’ll be disappointed to here that because of a change to the Twitter service itself, they will soon stop working correctly, according to a newsflash on Timo Elliott’s website.

There are some alternatives you might like to consider. Of course, if you’re using the the tools together with Twitter as a way of getting students to ‘vote’ / answer questions in the classroom, you could use the Turning Point dedicated voting system instead.

Or if you were using Twitter to get informal, unstructured feedback from students, you could use a Twitter ‘visualisation’ service such as Twitterfontana. Here’s how one Loughborough colleague has been using Twitterfontana.

Use of Social Software: Request

Having recently conducted an audit of all modules on Learn, we are aware that some modules really do push the boat out and try out new things. If you are one of those who specifically make use of social software for instance wikis or Facebook within your module then a new JISC-funded project is looking to develop a handbook to disseminate the effectiveness of social software initiatives.

If you would like to share your findings and contribute to the project, please contact Dr. Shailey Minocha,




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WordPress, a simple blogging tool which does so much more…

wordpress_logoWordPress is a freely available blogging tool with some additional versatile tools to help you do so much more. Loughborough University uses WordPress to run both the e-learning and Teaching Centre blog, and can do much more that simply displaying blog posts. The following article describes how some in academia are using WordPress.