Media in Teaching – Student Media Projects


On the 20th January, the TEL&ED Team in collaboration with the School of Modern Languages (SML) ran the first in a monthly series of community of practice events, showcasing the different ways that Media* resources can be used as part of teaching and assessment. This first event focused on the work of Modern Languages and Medical Science in supporting and assessing student-produced films and media-rich teaching packages.

Prior to the main event, we were very lucky to have Nick Bartram (Modern Languages Learning Technologist and Centre Manager) give a tour of the facilities found within the Multimedia Centre. The centre is a purpose-built six-room facility for the school, including Teaching and Study Spaces, a Film Library, a Recording Studio and a Cinema.

The aim of the event was to highlight what students learn by producing media resources, how others at the institution are approaching this, and assessing the results.

Presentation number one was led by Gloria Visintini and David Perkins de Oliveira from SML; they talked about the projects within the school where students produce videos as an alternative to written work, and how the school has developed assessment criteria to mark their work. More information can be found on our case studies page.

The second pair of presenters was Dominic Alder, from the eLearning team in the Medical School, and Will Fotherby, a fourth year Medical Student. Dominic talked first about the Student Selected Components program and the summer project to create Media Rich Learning Materials (more information can be found on our case studies page). Will then talked through his project ‘Get exercise confident‘, covering how he approached the project, the support he had received from Jonathan Williams (his supervisor), Dominic, and friends, and the skills he had built up by completing the project.

*In this context we use “Media” to describe video or audio content used as part of a teaching and learning activity.



16th Durham Blackboard Users Conference 6th-8th January 2016

failures2blue-300x293Congratulations to the team at Durham for putting on another excellent conference. For me, this is the most useful event of the year for those of us with the task of supporting Blackboard. It is truly a ‘user’ led conference. The agenda is set by users and attendees are open and willing to share.

It was harder to pick out specific themes and emerging trends than at previous conferences. The conference title ‘Learning from Failure’ can be interpreted in different ways (helpful for those submitting papers but resulted in lots of different topics covered). Learning from mistakes is something we know we should all should do, as students, teachers and institutions. Google’s approaches to ‘failing faster and smaller’ come to mind, as does Kolb’s learning cycle and the ‘validated learning’ approach used in lean design methodologies. For me, the key is to manage mistakes by limiting the impact, whilst creating a culture in which (whilst we try to get things right first time) we accept that this will not always happen and learn from the process. Failing is often part of success, providing lessons are learnt and changes made. When I was working with academics to create MOOC materials, the materials we  had to recreate several times after testing turned out to be the best bits of those courses.

Eric Stoller’s keynote on social media touched on the failure theme by suggesting we are likely to fail (and learn) as each new technology comes along. In doing so we (and our students) develop our digital capabilities. For example, we  learn more about identity and risk in these new spaces. A takeaway message for me is that whilst some spaces are very much at the social end of the spectrum, where student learning will happen, usually without our intervention,  we could encourage students to use other tools  more. For example Linkedin is increasingly a tool of choice for recruitment.  The age demographic for linkedin is 40+. Should we be encouraging students to sign up to these tools? Eric praised Linkedin Pulse, the  publishing facility in Linkedin, and mentioned that the company had recently acquired (a very successful online learning materials provider).

Alan Masson from Blackboard (previously the University of Ulster) highlighted a change in focus to a more mature embedding of TEL. VLEs are now business critical, and need appropriate robustness with 24-7 availability. Institutions are looking at deeper integration with student information systems. Alongside this, Universities are looking at personalisation and re-use of tools for things outside of core teaching. Sheffield Hallam, Leeds Becket, Groningen and Durham are amongst those developing home pages for different kinds of user (we are experimenting with this with the South West Doctoral Training Partnership). Edinburgh University have been using Blackboard collaborate for virtual open days (we have done something similar here with Google Hangouts).

Alan and Blackboard are keen to support user groups, something I enjoyed and benefited from  when working in the North East that is a bit lacking here in the South West. I am keen to see if we can get some activity going, perhaps initially involving our G4 partners.

I attended several sessions on learning analytics.  Andy Ramsden (once of Bristol University, now with Blackboard) is working with JISC to look at institutional cultural and technical readiness for analytics. Derby University  are experimenting with the Blackboard analytics tool, initially to interrogate activity in their online teaching division (University of Derby Online). Edinburgh have designed  a student-focussed analytic tool.  Students can see both their performance on tests relative to peers and online course activity (clicks) relative to peers. The information is also useful to teachers. Edinburgh are now looking at a data warehouse solution for the future which would allow much deeper analysis, presumably across a variety of systems.

The holy grails (if you can have more than one grail) are to predict student retention and  student performance in order to take preventative or supportive action. From the discussions, the reality is that whilst the data is there, and can be extremely useful, it is unlikely to answer these questions directly. What it can do is help us ask more questions requiring further investigation.  For example, if there is lots of  activity in a particular online course, is it because it is a very active course with engaged learners or is it because information is hard to find? Does it matter if students are not using the library? What else might they be doing? What does a gap in learners’ online activity mean?

At Bristol some academics are already keen to look at data from our lecture capture system to see which parts of lectures students are watching. We can then ask (for example) whether students are looking at a particular segment of a lecture because it contains a tricky concept.  For Blackboard, analytic data might help us understand the consistency of experience across the VLE – something we are asked in relation to quality audits. I am keen to learn from Cardiff University who have used something called Eesysoft to understand activity and target support at learners who need it though the VLE interface itself in the form of contextual help.

A number of institutions are integrating their student information system with Blackboard so that grade centre columns are automatically created in the Grade Centre and so that grades can be transferred back to the information system from assignments and tests once completed. This could dovetail with some of the online submission and marking work we are currently undertaking at Bristol. It could also feed into the Student Lifecycle Support Project implementation.

The conference was far from a failure, and I learned a great deal. I now need to build in time to follow up on some the lessons learnt the hard way elsewhere, and, with colleagues, continue to develop approaches that help us manage and learn as we develop and experiment with new approaches.

Psychology and education – notes from the reading group

Chris read Is it time to rethink the way university lectures are delivered?, a short article about a Science paper from 2011. A class of Canadian physics-major freshmen was split into two and one week of material was delivered differently to the two halves of the class. The first half stuck to the tried and tested lecture-using-powerpoint format, whilst the other half used a more ‘interactive’ approach termed ‘deliberate practice’: discussion groups, preclass reading assignments, in-class clicker-questions, online quizzes. Lo and behold, in a test the following week the second cohort scored 74% on a test about the material and the other half  only got 41%, thus illustrating that three days later they could remember the material better. The study has come in for a lot of criticism about methodology – only 211 of 271 students actually took the test (how would the others have altered the results?), and the people that designed it were also the ones that delivered the intervention so may well have been ‘teaching to the test’. However, the general feeling seems to be that though the study is flawed, the conclusions are broadly correct. It also illustrates that having a Nobel Prize allows you to publish anything you like anywhere you want.

Chris also read A better way to practice, 2012 . Written by Noa Kagayame, a Julliard School of Music violinist turned performance psychologist. His argument is that it is better to practice smart than practice hard – take home aphorisms from this article are Practice makes permanent and Perfect practice makes perfect, the implication being that unless you practice correctly you can reinforce bad habits. That seems logical enough. He also argues that more thoughtful study can reduce the time needed for practice and increase the likelihood of successful performance, but I (and many of the commenters below the fold) disagree with him about this. Whilst this might be true at the highest levels, at lower levels when it’s all about training muscle memory there’s simply no substitute for doing it over and over again.

Steve watched The key to success? Grit and read True Grit, Angela Lee Duckworth & Lauren Eskreis-Winkler, 2013. I’d phrase ‘grit’ as perseverance – effort and stamina to achieve something difficult over an extended period of time. In the Tortoise and the Hare, the hare has talent, but the tortoise has grit and achieves more in the end. This summary indicates that talent and grit are often orthogonal, or negatively correlated. In the past persistence was assessed against physical challenges, but this may not relate to long-term mental grit. Modern assessment is by questioning against traits e.g. ‘I finish whatever I begin’. ((to complete)).

Suzi read Stereotype threat and women’s math performance and Mindsets and Math/Science Achievement

Both papers discuss how mindset might affect learning.

Stereotype threat is a stress-induced threat of self-fulfilling a negative and well-known stereotype. For example an elderly man looking for his keys may worry about looking senile, become stressed, and so find it harder to find his keys. The paper puts forward evidence that women’s performance in difficult maths tests can be affected by the threat of fulfilling a negative stereotype: that maths is not a girls subject. Other studies have looked at stereotype threat in relation to racial stereotypes.

Growth mindset is the belief that intelligence can be improved. Not everyone has it, others have a “fixed mindset”. Many people will tell you that they are just not a maths person. The paper states that mindsets can predict maths/science performance over time, and can mitigate for negative effects such as stereotype threat.

Both are interesting and seem plausible. Some of the suggested strategies for reducing stereotype threat and/or increasing growth mindset are:

  • feedback should emphasise the high standards of the test, and that the student has the potential to meet them
  • frame high-stakes tests as “assessing current skills and not long-term potential to learn”
  • praise effort and process, not intelligence
  • describe great mathematicians and scientists as people who loved and devoted themselves to the subject (not born geniuses)