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Reflections on Using tablets in FE and HE assessment event

This blog post is an example of how a blog can be used for reflective practice. I am going to reflect on a training session that I recently ran, and use this reflective practice to help me improve the session for the future and help with my planning of other similar sessions.

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Self Reflection

On Friday 28th March 2014 I ran the first FE/HE session for The Tablet Academy at Lougborough University. The session was designed to look at the use of tablet devices in assessment, and attracted 8 people from across the country.

There are lots of different people, companies and organisations offering tablet training at the moment, of varying quality and varying price (and no direct correlation between the two), so I was keen that I offered something different, something more than the very easy “look at me and how clever I am with an iPad” type session, that yes can be inspiring, but often doesn’t give people a chance to unpick bigger issues.

Therefore the main focus of the day, was to try to get the attendees to think openly about the use of tablet devices in assessment, including the issues that may arise, and not just the positives that can be brought. We also made the decision to focus on BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) rather than specifying a particular platform (e.g. iPads).

The structure of the day was:

  1. Introduction presentation.
  2. Exploring options of how tablets can be used in education.
  3. Designing, completing, then assessing an assessed activity with tablets.
  4. Bringing it all together.

Here is my reflection on each part:

Introduction presentation

I created a short presentation that was designed to set the scene, and to try to create the mindset of not using tablets to replace laptops, but to look at what tablets do that laptops cannot, and how this can be used beneficially in assessment. On reflection, I should have spent less time on this point and more time demonstrating options of what is possible with tablets. I didn’t want to spoil the next activity by giving the attendees the answers to the tasks I was about to set them, but some of the the attendees would have benefited from such examples to help make the rest of the day less abstract.

Exploring options of how tablets can be used in education

We had allocated a significant amount of time (over 2 hours) to this part of the day, which was an opportunity for attendees to explore different options of how tablet devices can be used in assessment. Because each person would have different organisational needs, roles and devices, I created 7 separate tasks (challenges) for them to look at. Each task had some background information, then a set of questions/activities for them to work through which would hopefully guide them through an exploration of that topic, with me facilitating them to unpick some of the issues. I estimated each topic to take about 30 minutes so hoped that people could explore 4 or 5 of the options in the allotted time. As it turned out the tasks took longer than I anticipated, so they only managed to cover 2 of the tasks, which was a shame. For future events, there are various options:

  1. I could shorten each topic, but then have a section for each topic which is titled “further exploration” or similar – so they could continue exploring at a later day.
  2. I could have sent attendees some pre course information so they could look at the options and possibly start some of the tasks (even if they only downloaded any required apps, and created accounts where required on them – which would have saved time).
  3. I could have been more draconian with the time keeping, forcing them to change topics if they spent more than say 40 minutes on any topic. I am not a big fan of this idea, as I need attendees to be comfortable with their explorations, and it is more beneficial for them to unpick a smaller number of options well, rather than more options badly.
  4. If I increased the time of the introduction, to include a quick demo of each idea, this would then have saved attendees time when exploring these options.

Having jotted down these possible options, I think points 1,2 and 4 above could be used together to improve this part of the session, and is what I will do next time.

Designing, completing, then assessing an assessed activity with tablets

This part of the day worked really well. Working in pairs, each pair had 30 minutes to design a tablet enabled assessable activity. They would then share this with a different pair. Each pair then had 30 minutes to complete the task set by someone else, after which they returned the work to the original pair, who had a further 30 minutes to assess and give feedback.
For this activity I was very strict with the timings, using a countdown timer on an iPad to keep me and the group focused. By setting a very specific and challenging time helped to keep people on task, and stopped the afternoon from ‘drifting’. Attendees very much got into the spirit of this activity, they had a lot of fun (which is good), they were imaginative (which was the intention) and they uncovered a few problems with the logistics of actually getting the task to the other people. The main reflection (which was also echoed by the participants feedback) was they didn’t need 30 minutes to assess the work, so could shorten this easily to 15 or even 10 minutes, apart from that I would keep this part of her he day the same.

Bringing it all together

As with any good training session, it is important that there is a chance to reflect and regroup at the end, and some form of identified action for people to do next. For this I set the task of asking people to identify the 5 Ws – Why, What, When, How, and Who for them to identify a small step that they were going to take to move their organisation forward in using tablet devices in the process of assessment. After the slightly pressurised previous 90 minutes as they raced against the clock, this made for a useful reflecting and refocusing activity. We then had some general discussions and used Socrative as a tool to reflect on the day in general.

Looking at the feedback provided by the attendees all bar one were very satisfied with the day, with some highlighting a few of the points I have made above. A few said they would have preferred the day to be platform specific (e.g. Just iPad, or just Microsoft) rather than BYOD, and a few wanted to see more examples of good practice.

From my perspective, I wanted the day to be a chance for people to unpick the real issues around using tablets for assessment, and as such I knew that people would encounter certain problems during the day, which was good, as better for them to encounter them here rather than with real assessments, however these few problems may have been perceived as outweighing the benefits of using tablet devices, which wasn’t my intention. The biggest problem that people encountered was the BYOD issue – of working with ideas that work across all platforms. Many thought Google Docs would be a good option, but discovered that these didn’t work well on iPads and sharing them was more complicated than expected. I tried to reinforce the point that in reality you use the tablet devices when they are most appropriate and use something else when not appropriate, e.g. It is perfectly acceptable for a member of staff to use a computer to create the assessment, the student to use and tablet to complete it and the tutor to use a computer to mark it.

My thanks go to the staff at Loughborough University for their support, in particular Charles Shields and Farzana Khandia.

 

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Using Word and Office 365 to streamline assessment feedback

In my last few posts I have been explaining some uses of Office 365 to create collaborative activities using PowerPoint or Excel. In this post, I am going to look at Microsoft Word. Word could be used to create a collaborative learning activity in a similar way to the PowerPoint example, but it is set so that only one person can edit one paragraph at a time – therefore careful consideration is required when designing such an activity. In this example I am going to look at the mechanism of student feedback following assessment and h the collaborative nature can be very useful.

If I look at what might happen in colleges, universities and some schools at the present:

  1. Teacher produces an assignment brief and gives this to the learner.
  2. Learner completes assignment and hands it in.
  3. Teacher marks the work and fills in a feedback sheet, hands work and feedback sheet back to learner.
  4. Learner fills in the box on feedback sheet where they reflect on the assignment and their action plan to solve any updates required.
  5. At end of term, teacher realises learner hasn’t updated their assignment – contacts learner.
  6. Learner has lost feedback sheet so has forgotten what needs doing.
  7. Teacher re-issues feedback sheet (luckily they have a copy).
  8. Student does updates, hands work back in.
  9. Teacher remarks work, fills in anew feedback sheet with the additional feedback and final grade.

Although the above may sound like a tedious drawn out exaggeration, I am sure that many will see similarities with current practices  – and whatever ones system, whether paper and pen or electronic there is almost always a significant amount of files moving from place to another and there is seldom an efficient loop where the students use the tutors feedback to help them with their updates or future assignments.

So here is one suggestion. We create a single Word document that is going to contain all of the information relating to that assignment – and this will be used by both tutor and student. This will contain the brief for the assessment, the list of criteria being covered/assessed, and area for the student to reflect on the assignment, areas for the teacher to give feedback, and space for them to add additional information if the work is referred and needs to be upgraded.

Once this document has been created – all the tutor has to do is to share this with the learner through OneDrive (the new name for SkyDrive). The learner and the tutor are now accessing the same document. If the tutor wants to have a situation where all of the students marked work is returned at the same time, rather than piecemeal – they can quickly remove the students sharing rights, mark all of the work and then re-share it.

Image showing the history settings within OneDrive

Image showing the history settings within OneDrive

One of the key reasons why this technique hasn’t worked in the past, is the verification process needs to see the different versions of the work and the feedback given – which in turn lead to the notion of creating lots of different documents. The beauty of using Office 365 and OneDrive is there is a built in history and version mechanism.

With this you can see any previous versions including who made the changes and you can restore or download any of the versions at a later date if required by an IV or EV.

Image showing the history options for a file including the ability to restore, download and who made the changes and when

Image showing the option to restore or download a previous version of the same file.

Having one file to deal with rather than lots of files is easier for the tutor and the student to manage. There are less chances of error due to people using the wrong version of those files, and from a teaching and learning perspective having all of the information in one place for the student is far more likely for them to reflect on the feedback and change their behaviour as a result.

I hope that as organisations start to use Office 365 more and more, there is a real effort for people to think about what they are doing and why – and how these technical advancements can make a huge difference to our overall efficiency and effectiveness.

The accessibility benefits of using audio in teaching and learning

My last 2 posts in this blog, have looked at the use of audio within teaching and learning as follows:

In this post I want to think about some of the accessibility benefits and issues for this area of work. Firstly (and sadly) a lot of people use accessibility as an excuse not to use audio more, often stating that they don’t want to use audio in case they have a deaf learner in their class.
No hay más ciego que el que no quiere ver...

This is a commonly misunderstood area – as (although it may sound silly) many deaf learners actually find audio content really useful. Agreed, if someone has no hearing then audio is of no use to them, but many people that are identified as being deaf have some hearing, and many of them will have hearing aids that will amplify noise so that they can hear something. For these learners accessing a lecture is often difficult as the hearing aids will pick up all noise in the room, including the lecturers voice, mutterings from other learners, the hum of the strip lighting, the squeaking of pens etc. making it very hard to hear. The use of induction loops has helped this issues to a certain extent, but still isn’t ideal, as you hear the tutors contribution but not necessarily what other learners say. If however as part of the process an audio file has been produced summarising the key learning points (and remember you can always get the learners to do this – see my post on ipadio) – a deaf learner can in a quiet environment (e.g. their bedroom) listen to this – altering the volume accordingly so that they can hear it through an ordinary audio player and pick up some extremely valuable information that would otherwise have been missed. With this in mind, when I record audio, I amplify the recording slightly (which is very easy to do with things like audacity) – as it is always possible to turn the volume down, but it isn’t possible to turn the volume up above its maximum.

Another question that I am often asked is “Do we need to provide a transcript for all the audio recordings we make?”. This question again is another barrier (excuse) that stops people using audio, as the time to create such a transcript puts them off.

Personally, my interpretation of the law (and I am not a lawyer – so do not take this as legal advice) is as follows:

The law (Equality Act 2010) states that

  1. We have to make reasonable adjustment.
  2. We have an anticipatory duty, to be prepared for a variety of disabilities and associated possible adaptations.

So – what does that mean? Part 1 is simple – yes if we are using audio and we have a learner who states that they need a transcription then we need to provide it.

Part 2 – is more tricky. Many people interpret this as we should produce the transcripts upfront, but this doesn’t make sense to me, as if we followed that logic through it would mean for every session someone delivers, they would have to turn up with their resources printed on a variety of colours of paper, in different fonts sizes and fonts, and in audio format, Braille format, videoed as British Sign Language etc. This to me wouldn’t be a reasonable expectation.

So I don’t automatically provide transcripts, however what I have done with a few organisations that I have worked with is ensure that there is a mechanism in place to create such transcripts if required (e.g. if a student asks for one) – very quickly (this I think is a reasonable adjustment). Many people ask me if there is a technological solution to converting audio to text, and sadly there isn’t a fully reliable one, so my solution would be to just employ a very fast typing temp, who could listen to the audio files, and transcribe them. The problem here is many organisation would then argue over whose budget would pay for this temp (e.g. is it central, is it the teaching team(s), is it learner support). Personally I think it should be a central budget – as the key here would be getting it done quickly and the organisation should have a procedure in place to do this if a student requests it. I am aware that most organisations don’t, which is a shame as it would be a very simple mechanism to put in place.

So in summary – we should not avoid using audio on accessibility grounds, instead we should embrace it, if we can make sure that audio recordings are clear and recorded at above average volume then great. If we do produce transcripts up front then brilliant but of not possible then having a mechanism in place to create them should suffice.

Using Google Apps to create a fast feedback tracking system

I have been very lucky to work with Loughborough College in recent months on an LSIS funded LIT project, which looked at using the functionality of Google Apps (which the college uses) to create a mechanism to speed up the feedback process for students once they have submitted their BTEC assessments.

In order to achieve this the services of Martin Hawksey were enlisted as the mentor – as his knowledge and skill in using Google Scripts was going to be required. The project was originally lead by Patrick Lander, but he left the college to return to New Zealand, so after he had done all the hard work, I was able to take over to finish off and get the pleasure of seeing the project through to fruition.

The project is currently in the testing stage, to check that it works fully before rolling out wide scale (which will now have to be next academic year) but the early indicators are good.

The project has been a very interesting one, not just from the technical side of things but also recognising that teaching staff work in very different ways, and for this to work we had to accomodate these different ways of working – which proved a huge challenge, but one which I think we have overcome. The main issue to overcome was to reduce the need for the tutor to record information in 2 separate locations (e.g. on the feedback sheet for the learner, and in a central recording and tracking location). The starting point was the idea of using a spreadsheet grid which then effectively mail merged the information into a feedback sheets that the learners received – however some staff don’t like filling out information in grids, and you are very limited with the formatting options of the feedback. So the solution is (in over simplistic terms) – information can be entered into a spreadsheet grid if the tutor wants to – or there is an interface that can be used which is more user friendly – this then fill sin the grid for the tutor. They can then produce feedback sheets for their students – in which they can individually add formatting or additional information to the feedback – and once done they can ‘release’ the feedback which puts a copy into the students area, and send them an emil notifying them. Although this may not sound it, when in action, it speeds the process up significantly, and because the actual grade data isn’t being entered twice there is less chance of data copying errors.

All of the outputs from the projects have been released to the wider community, in a hope that other people will see the benefits and develop this further. Full details of how to do this can be found on Martin Hawksey’s blog post on this at http://mashe.hawksey.info/2012/05/hacking-stuff-together-with-google-spreadsheets-fast-tracking-student-feedback-system/?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=jisccetis. Personally I think that for an organisation to use this they would have to have implemented Google Apps for this to work (it could work without it, but I think would be very difficult – as each student would need a google account, and the tutor would need to know their email address).

As the project goes through testing, further updates will be made to the project blog at http://thehub.loucoll.ac.uk/elearning/category/lsis-lit-project/ 

Why I use audio for online marking


Basic controls in Audacity

Originally uploaded by Dave Foord

A technique that I am using more and more for any form of online marking or feedback, is to record an audio file using Audacity. Audacity is a free piece of software which can either be downloaded onto a computer, or can be run from a memory pen and is part of the eduapps package so easy to use from there. The output is an MP3 file, which is much smaller than using the inbulit voice recorder in Word, and Audacity if very easy to use.

So why do I do this rather than using the track changes options in Word?

  1. Even though I am quite a quick typist, I can still talk a lot faster than I can type. In terms of marking work I think it takes me between 30% and 50% the time that it would take me to use typing feedback.
  2. The feedback that I give is richer, both in terms of saying more (as no restrictions in space) and there is additional information (a bit like body language) to the learner, in terms of changes in my voice etc.
  3. I don’t make the learners nicely presented piece of work look an awful mess, with comments and lines everywhere.
  4. The learner can listen to the feedback on a computer, or on a music player – so they can for example access their feedback on the bus on the way home.
  5. I can do my marking sat on the sofa or laying in bed – which is much more comfy than sitting at a desk – very important when having lots to mark.
  6. A tutor will only need to learn about the location of 4 buttons within Audacity to be able to use it, so very simple for even those that are a little technologically weary.

Not all learners will like this approach, and it only really works if the person doing the marking can find somewhere quiet and alone to do this – but for me, I think that it is great.