Creating a YouTube based discussion activity in Moodle

I run a lot of training on effective uses of a VLE (usually Moodle) and one of the easiest activities that I show, is finding a video on YouTube, and then embedding this into a forum activity within the VLE.

The reasons for doing this are:

  1. By embedding the video (rather than simply linking to it) – we remove all the distractions, adverts, etc. that appear on YouTube around the edges.
  2. By adding this as a discussion activity, we ask the students a question – this will focus their attention whilst watching the video, rather than just passively  ‘absorbing’ it.

It doesn’t matter if students don’t actually post their answers to the forum (although useful if they do), as they will still benefit from watching the video with the question in their mind.

The following video goes through the steps of how to embed the video, and the basic settings within a Moodle forum activity.

And if you want to only show a portion of the video you can always identify the exact start and end points that you want to play, by following these instructions:

https://davefoord.wordpress.com/2012/11/20/cropping-a-youtube-video-before-adding-to-moodle/

Using discussion forums to create ‘Stretch and Challenge’ activities

I am currently working with various different clients, helping them to develop their use of the VLE system Moodle.

Discussion icon One of the techniques that I show people is how a discussion forum can be used to create an effective ‘stretch and challenge’ activity. Stretch and challenge, is a term that is used by Ofsted, and relates to ‘does the tutor provide an opportunity for the more able learners to be sufficiently challenged – beyond the core learning objectives that they expect everyone in the class to meet?’ A few years ago – this area of work seemed to be one of the key questions being asked by inspectors, and something that caused many tutors problems. Other factors in the Ofsted inspection regime are currently more important, but stretch and challenge is still observed and commented on.

When I was teaching, I used the VLE extensively to support my delivery. I would organise each course by topic, which was often (but not always) structured with 1 topic per week. Within each topic, I would provide certain common items – e.g. some notes related to the topic, relevant links, some form of activity and as the last item within each topic, I would pose a challenging question related to that topic. For this I used the discussion forum mechanism to pose the question. This was for me a convenient mechanism as easy to set up, and I was providing an opportunity for the learners to engage in discussion during or after the session. In reality – in most cases no actual discussion took place within the forum itself, however this didn’t matter – as I knew from observing the students behaviour and from verbal conversations that took place during the session or at the start of the following session that they had read the question, and some had thought about an answer to it. On some occasions discussion within the forum did take place – which was great as it gave the ‘quieter’ learners a chance to air their opinion, as well as giving learners access to other learners opinions (which then helped with their assignment writing where they had to present a balanced viewpoint on a topic – not just their own viewpoint).

Examples of some of the questions that I used in my teaching were:

  • There were discussions in the media about sexual inequality within sport, and it was highlighted that women tennis players at Wimbledon got paid significantly less than the men. Tim Henman then contributed to this debate, by stating that it was right that men get paid more as they play best of 5 sets, compared to women playing best of 3. I was able to use Tim Henman’s opinion as an opener for the discussion – which did evoke a huge response from both the males and females in the group – without me having to offer my opinion on the topic.
  • In biomechanics (science of sports movement) I carried out an experiment to estimate the force that the bicep has to exert to move the forearm. The reality is that the muscle itself has to exert a much greater force than the end movement (as this is a type 3 lever which gives mechanical disadvantage) – so the challenging question was ‘Why has the human biceps muscle evolved as it has which gives such huge mechanical disadvantage – which hasn’t evolution moved the muscles attachment to the forum further from elbow, which would allow greater forces to exerted by the forearm? (Please comment on this blog post if you want to offer an answer).

The hard part of this process was thinking of a good challenging question, here are a few tips:

  • When starting a discussion, making a statement and then ending it with the word “discuss” – often doesn’t open a discussion. Instead ask a more specific question to open the discussions.
  • If applicable – asking topical questions (e.g. relating to something currently in the news) will more likely evoke a discussion.
  • It is possible to ask a question from a viewpoint that isn’t your own – which allows you to ask more ‘risky’ questions (see the Tim Henman example above).
  • Asking a question from someone else’s viewpoint also allows you to ask a question that is more likely to create an emotional response – which in turn is more likely to attract an answer.
  • If students do post – you can contribute to the discussion to further develop it, explore other avenues/opinion, reference articles or webpages that are relevant.
  • If you do respond to posts – be careful not to ‘kill’ a discussion by giving the students the ‘correct answer’ straight away, instead try to lead them through further questions.
  • Questions don’t have to have a right and wrong answer (again, think about the Tim Henman question.
  • Think of a series of questions in one go – rather than one at a time. This is much quicker, and it is often possible to relate questions together. Most VLE systems will have the option to time release the dicsussions, or you can manually hide them, and make them visible as required.

If  you can think of other tips, then please add to the comments below.

Using Excel and Office 365 to create learning activities

In my previous posts I have:

  1. Introduced the idea of Office 365 and how it can be used to create collaborative activities.
  2. Given an example of how PowerPoint can be used to create a collaborative activity.

In this post I am going to look at using Excel to create a collaborative learning activity.

Many people struggle (some are scared of it) with Excel which is a shame as it can be a superbly powerful learning tool – and it can be used in any teaching area not just maths, accountancy etc. There are many possible uses that I could list here, but I will stick with a couple of simple examples.

If I was teaching research methods or statistics, and wanted to investigate the idea of 2 sets of data and what the correlation is between them, then a simple way to do this is for each student to work out their height (m) and their shoe size (European) record these in a table, then everyone plots a scatter graph of everyones results – and we look at the line of best fit, standard deviation etc. Yes the constructing of a graph on paper with a ruler is an important skill to learn, but on this occasion I want to focus on the way that the correlation changes as more points are recorded, and for that I want to speed up the plotting process, so I am going to use Excel to help me.

Image of an excel sheet with a data entry table on the left, and the resultant grpah on the right

Example of an excel sheet teaching the principle of data correlation

So I have created  a simple spreadsheet which has a data entry table – I have identified each student with the letters A-K, and I have colour coded the area they need to enter their data into with a green shading. I have unlocked these cells and then protected the whole sheet, so when the learners add their data, they cannot accidentally alter or delete any of the workings. On the right you will notice that I have pre-created a graph that will plot the data as it is added, and then underneath the table I have created some simple statistical functions to identify mean, mode, median etc of the data as it is entered.

So having created the above sheet, all I need to do is save it to my OneDrive (new name for SkyDrive) – share it with my learners (see previous post), and then allocate each learner a letter between A-K. They edit the sheet in the web browser, entering the 2 pieces of information against their letter. All of the students will be editing the same resource at the same time, so they will see the graph and the numbers change in real time as the amount of data added grows. The beauty of this is that by speeding up the capturing and plotting process, I can spend more time helping the students to understand the significance of what the graph and the numbers mean, and I could reuse the same template to add my own dummy data to show the effect of anomalies, different types of correlation etc.

Any form of class experiment which involves the capturing and sharing of class data can be achieved with this method. If the data entry is more complex than my example, then you could create a sheet within the workbook for one student, then duplicate this lots of times so each student has their own sheet.

Another useful feature is that it is possible to embed sections of the file (e.g. the results table, or the final chart) back into a piece of web space (e.g. the VLE, or a blog) – so below is an example of the final chart – as the file is used and data is entered this will automatically update.


With the above example all students could see (and potentially alter) all other student’s entries into the resource. This may not be desirable – e.g. if you are capturing sensitive data (e.g. if working out Body Mass Index and asking students for their Weight and Height) or you could ask students to feedback what they have learnt, what they have found difficult, what they would like to recover in a revision session etc.

What you could do is create a single Excel file asking for the data that you want. Once happy with this, you duplicate that file however many times you have students. You then share each file with the individual student. This may sound complex but is a lot easier and quicker than you would imagine. You now have a mechanism for students to give individual feedback to you – you as the teacher can see all of the files, so easy for you to see the information – and if you are really keen, then you could create an ‘overview file’ which uses simple excel formula to pull the data from each students file into a single dashboard type file. This last suggestion doesn’t update the data live as it is entered, but everytime that the file is opened it will pull through the latest data at that point.

If we are using Excel to create learning objects then it is beneficial to make the appearance of the file as tidy and uncluttered as possible – which I have discussed in a previous blog post – https://davefoord.wordpress.com/2010/05/19/simple-formatting-tips-in-excel-to-improve-quality-of-learning-materials/

In my next post in this series I will give an example of using Word to create a collaborative activity.

Using PowerPoint and Office 365 to create a collaborative learning activity

In my last blog post, I explained a simplification of how Office 365 and One Drive (formerly known as SkyDrive) work together to make collaborative learning activities possible. In this post I will give an example of how and why PowerPoint can be used for such an activity.

One of the programmes that I provide training for is the ITQ for Accessible IT practice as part of this programme I have adapted an activity where the attendees collaboratively discover accessibility features of Microsoft Windows that many don’t know about. To create the activity I have set up a simple PowerPoint presentation as follows:

Example of a PowerPoint Template for a collaborative activity

Example of a PowerPoint Template for a collaborative activity

Basically I have a list of different accessibility features that I want the attendees to research, and for each one they have to summarise what the feature is and how it could be useful from an accessibility perspective. All I have done is created a simple slide within PowerPoint with 2 text boxes – 1 for each question. I then duplicate the slide numerous time and all I have to do is change the title of the slide to each of the accessibility features.

Looking at the left side of the image you will see 3 such slides of this nature, and you will notice that on this occasion I completed the first one as an example. All I have to do now is make a copy of this file (so that I have a clean master for next year) and to share this activity with my students (which I will explain later), allocate a topic (e.g. slide number) to each student and away we go. An old pack of cards is a useful way of randomly allocating a topic to each person.

The advantage of this activity for me is it is very quick to set up – once I have thought about what questions I am asking and how much space on the screen I want to allocate them, it is very easy to create the actual mechanism. When using this in class – all the attendees are editing the same document at the same time, so I can view that document and see what is going on – this means that I can see what people are doing, helping them if necessary, without having to walk around and look over their shoulders, it also means that if I had a student at home for example they could also partake in this activity either in real time or later on. If a student is doing something really good, I can pause the activity and show their slide on the screen and point out the key points, without having to mess with screen sharing, transferring files etc.

After a period of time I may stop the activity and ask people to then look at a different slide and edit what the previous person has done or to look at the points and identify the most important etc. At the end of the session, each person can take their own local copy of the file which may be useful to them as part of an assignment.

The beauty of this technique especially if using it at the start of a topic, is students get to see other students points of view – which can help when constructing an assignment to use other peoples opinions and not just ones own.

I mentioned earlier about sharing the file – there are different ways that I can do this, the easiest is to share a link as follows:

image showing how to share a link using Skydrive, Select Share, Get a Link, Shorten Link

Sharing a link using OneDrive

  1. On OneDrive, choose the ‘Share’ menu
  2. On the left you could invite people if you know who they are, or you can get a link
  3. There will be an option of whether they can ‘Edit’ or ‘View’ – choose ‘Edit’
  4. If using the get a link option, you can copy the link as is, and email it to students or add to the VLE. or you can shorten the link and put it onto the board for students to type in manually or convert to a QR code.
  5. At the end of the session I may revert the sharing settings back to view rather than edit, so students can view what has been completed but cannot continue editing it (in case they try to be funny and write rude things about me or other students in the document!).

In my next post I will give an example of how Excel can be used to create a collaborative activity.

Using Office 365 to create collaborative learning activities

Last week I was at the BETT show, working for The Tablet Academy who were running the interactive classroom on the Microsoft stand. We ran a series of 15 minutes interactive sessions, with one of my sessions being on the use of Office 365 to create collaborative activities. This session turned out to be very popular showing the interest from educators in this way of working.

The principle that I demonstrated wasn’t new – it was something that I have been doing for 8 or 9 years using the collaborative functionality of Google Drive (formerly known as Google Docs) which I have previously blogged about, however many education organisations are nervous about using Google Drive in this way, and the example that I used in my blog post, did involve the work being potentially visible to anyone in the World, which didn’t matter for what I was doing, but for other subjects would be an issue. If an organisation has adopted Google Apps for education then it could all be kept safely enclosed within the organisation, but most places don’t have this – but if they do have Microsoft, and now that Office 365 offers a real time collaborative functionality – I can easily set up similar activities in a way that the IT/Network manager will be happier with.

Before we progress we need to understand a bit about how Office 365 works in conjunction with OneDrive (Microsoft’s cloud storage option – formerly called SkyDrive). When a teacher creates a file using Word, PowerPoint Excel or similar – they can save this to their OneDrive – this will appear on their computer just like any other network drive, so behaviour wise it is very easy for staff. If they are offline, it doesn’t matter the work will save, and as soon as they are online again it will Synchronise with the OneDrive server.

The files are now stored on the computer but also in the cloud – this means that I can access them from any internet enabled computer by going to the OneDrive website and logging in as me.

Image showing the web view of Skydrive with the Words (Download, Share, Embed and Manage highlighted)

Example view of the OneDrive web interface

You will see in the  image that there are 4 options highlighted with the red rectangle:

  • Download – allows for a local copy of the file to be downloaded onto the computer.
  • Share – Is what we want here, as we can give students access to the file, without having to send them a copy.
  • Embed – allows for files to be embedded into something like a website, blog or VLE – this could be very useful for displaying a graph or chart following an experiment or survey.
  • Manage – allows options such as renaming, but also a version history – so if someone sabotages a collaborative file, you can roll back to an earlier version and find out who did the sabotaging.

These different options can be applied to individual files, multiple files or even folders. The folders options could be very useful, as you could set up sharing options with individual students at folder level once at the start of the year, then any file that is added into that folder will automatically be visible to the student – I can see lots of potential here for giving feedback after assessment, and an ability for students to make comments etc. on their feedback all with the same document. The history functionality gives me the data integrity that I need for assessment purposes which in the past caused us to produce lots of inefficient different files with no information moving between them.

If I were to set up a collaborative activity using these tools, there are 2 options for the students. They can either edit the file in the web app – this is great if accessing this activity via a device that doesn’t have Microsoft Office on it (e.g. an iPhone or iPad), and allows for real time synchronous editing (lots of people editing same document at same time) – but you don’t get the full Office functionality. Or students can access and edit the file in Office, which gives the full functionality and great for small scale non-synchronous collaboration.

The key to making any of this work, is changing the way that we behave with files – which will take time. Email although a great tool, has created a culture of sending files as attachments – which creates multiple copies of the same file in different location which then leads to problems. If a single file is stored in one place and a link to this file is shared then there is only 1 file and therefore less problems.

In the coming days I will release posts, giving examples of different collaborative activities using PowerPoint, Excel and Word.

Using Google Docs (Drive) to create a collaborative learning activity

Google Docs or Google Drive as it has changed it’s name to, is a suite of office tools that work via the internet and store the different files in the cloud (on the internet) rather than locally onto the computer. This has huge advantages in terms of the files are backed up automatically, can be edited on a variety of different computers (including Smart phones) and they allow multiple people to contribute or view the files.

It is the ability to allow multiple people to edit that makes Google Docs an excellent collaborative learning tool, as it is possible to set up activities where different learners are accessing and editing the same document at the same time – this means that they can see and respond to what each other is doing in real time.

An example of such an activity is one that I ran recently used at a training event as part of the Advanced Teacher Learning Coaches programme. This took me about 10 minutes to create and set up, so nice and quick, and the learning experience was far greater than doing this in a non-collaborative way. If you want to use the activity above (possibly swapping in your own websites for your particular area), click on the link above, then save a copy of this (from the file menu) – you can then alter the sharing settings to allow other people to edit it. A video showing how to do this can be found below.

Using Google Docs for collaborative activities – is a great way of working with higher order thinking skills. What I will often do is set a simple task where each person or small group of people have to edit an area within the document answering a question or questions. What I then do is ask everyone to swap areas (e.g. so they are looking at someone else’s contribution) – I can then ask a more challenging question – such as critique the other person’s responses, or present a counter argument to their point, or ask them to identify which of the points made by the first group would also be examples of….. etc. and if time allows, then I sometimes set a third question where they look at a third different set of responses and answer another challenging task or question.

Another really useful feature within Google Docs, is that you can see the revision history – so you can identify which people have contributed most (and when) – which can be useful if doing this as part of an assessed activity – and you can roll back to earlier versions of a document, so if someone does something very damaging (e.g. deleting everything, writing something defamatory, or using it to cyber bully) you can roll back to an earlier version (or restore point).

The fact that these documents will work on most if not all Smart phones makes this a really powerful, versatile and truly mobile opportunity.

Creating a ‘Gap fill’ activity within Microsoft Word 2007

Gap fill activities created within Word are relatively low level interactivities, in that they don’t give the learner feedback, and are really only good for lower order thinking skills, however they are a very simple way of converting an existing ‘static’ word document into something with an element of student engagement. These video clips have been produced using Microsoft Word 2007 – the principles are similar in other versions of Microsoft Office, but the way of doing this is actually different.

This first video shows what the output will look like.

The second video will show how we create this effect in Microsoft 2007. The techniques may be slightly different in other versions of Word (or other Word processing packages) – but the principles will be same..

If you want to take this technique further, then my suggestion would be to switch to Excel, which then gives you options of providing the learners with feedback, simple scoring mechanisms and validating their entries etc. I blogged about this previously at https://davefoord.wordpress.com/2010/05/20/using-excel-to-create-a-matching-pairs-activity/