Games and Simulation enhanced Learning (GSeL) Conference

GSeL Logo - 8bit style graphics.Last Thursday I caught the 8.44am cross country to Plymouth to attend the first Games and Simulation enhanced Learning (GSeL) Conference. GSeL is a newly formed interdisciplinary research theme group, part of Plymouth University’s Pedagogic Research Institute and Observatory (PedRIO).

VR Hackathon

Plymouth University 2nd November 2017

The main event was on Friday the 3rd, but a session billed for the previous day – ‘Hackathon: VR for Non-programmers’ sounded promising. So, I ventured down a day early to channel my inner geek. I’ve got a basic (but rusty) understanding of coding so hoped that the ‘non-programmers’ tagline was true. Turns out the session was well designed for those with little to no experience. Michael Straeubig expertly guided around 15 attendees with differing skills through the process of creating a simple VR equivalent of ‘Hello World’ over the course of 2 hours.

The Hackathon was a hands on workshop running through downloading a-frame framework template project files from Michael’s github, installing open source software for editing/coding.

Sounds complicated? Yeah, sort of – but Michael’s laid-back-whilst-enthusiastic delivery helped fill in the gaps and moved at a steady pace we could all keep up with. He guided us through creating our first scene, adding in various 3-dimensional objects, altering their size and colour. Setting up a local server on our laptops via, we were able to move beyond viewing the 3D space we’d programmed and view it on a pair of budget VR goggles (Google Cardboard) on our smartphones.

It was a great primer for dipping toes/feet/legs into creating simple VR spaces from scratch using free tools. The a-frame project files supplied had additional examples of how to extend and develop. I don’t mind admitting I spent a large part of the rest of the day tinkering. A Michael drily observed during the session, we’d become ‘cool coders’.

Games and Simulation enhanced Learning (GSeL) Conference

Plymouth University 3rd November 2017

A day of talks and workshops based around the use of Games and Simulations, both real-life and digital. Some personal highlights for me included:

Professor Nicola Whitton’s keynote ‘Play matters: exploring the pedagogic value of games and simulation’ which tapped eloquently into themes like Failing without Consequence and motivation/engagement through playing games.

Matthew Barr (University of Glasgow) ‘Playing games at University: the role of video games in higher education and beyond’ – a great talk about his work with ‘gaming groups’ and the benefits cooperative video game playing brought students. “If I ruled the world, every student would play Portal 2”.

James Moss (Imperial College) ‘Gamification: leveraging elements of game design in medical education’ – some brilliant examples of using scenario based games in medical education. ‘Stabed to Stable’ involved scenario/persona based learning, a horizontal whiteboard, post-it notes and pens, with students clustered around trying to map out processes (checks/actions) they needed to go through, whilst James periodically helped guide or threw related spanners into the works. An overhead time-lapse video showed a dynamic session in action. A second game involved teams becoming the ‘medical officer’ helping a team of characters climb Everest. This simulation included mountain noise recordings (incrementally getting louder), random wildcards presenting challenges, lighting changes and James squirting participants in the face with water.

Michael Parsons (University of South Wales) ‘Keeping it Real: Integrating Practitioners in a Public Relations Crisis Simulation’ – shared his experience running a real-time simulation for PR students. Students attempted to handle a recreation of the infamous Carnival Triumph ‘Poop Cruise’ in the University’s Hydra Minerva Suite. The simulation used news report recordings, archived social media posts and live interaction with actors via telephones over several ‘acts’ to simulate a PR teams attempts to handle a particularly disastrous voyage. It all went well till the passengers were close enough to land to get mobile phone reception (and access to social networks).

The conference presented a feast of examples of using games and simulations in teaching and learning. From creating crosswords to utilising digital badges to recognise achievements to data visualisation in Virtual Reality, the place was abuzz with ideas. The focus on the potential of play and gaming to engage students meant the event had something for everyone, whether die-hard techy or strictly analogue.

Tool for creating ‘Deep Links’ to a Blackboard Course/Organisation

Blackboard Deep Link Generator

A frequent question we’re asked at this time of year is ‘How can I link directly to a Blackboard Course?’

It’s something that can be done, but simply sending out a courses URL will only work if the recipient is logged in/authenticated. Often the use case for sending out direct links means that it’s really unlikely the user will be logged in, so they need to be prompted. Sending out an email that says ‘log into Blackboard and then come back and click this link’ is obviously a nonsense.

This is where ‘deep linking’ comes into play. By amending the URL and adding a bit of extra text at the beginning you can create a link that forces the user to sign in/authenticate and then redirect them to the desired course, bypassing the Blackboard Home page. Unfortunately processing a Bb URL in this way can feel like you’re dabbling in the dark arts.

We were asked about this yesterday, so I’ve re-purposed one of the tools I used to use to do it all for you. Click the link above to launch.

Note: This will only work for University of Bristol URLs, so external visitors will need to view source and amend themselves – you should only need to change the ‘prefix’ variable to your own institutions login pages. 

Designing and Evaluating Accessible Learning Experiences 

I attended an Accessibility in Education workshop in London last Wednesday (24th May).  Lisa Taylor-Sayles and Dr Eric Jensen presented two strands – design and evaluation.

Lisa’s presentations covered designing for accessibility and inclusivity. Her focus was on Universal Design for Learning (UDL).  Designing learning experiences fit for everyone, regardless of their needs.

She began with a potted history, WW2 veterans returning with disabling injuries. This led to changes in approach to town planning, infrastructure, and assistive technology. Later the principles of Universal Design developed into the Three Principles for UDL.

Read more about the Seven Principles for Universal Design here.

Read more about the Three Principles for Universal Design for Learning

Lisa gave practical advice on small changes that build to improve learning experiences. Simple steps such as using a tool to check colours benefit everyone. Rather than assuming you’ll retrofit for accessibility if needed, you increase inclusivity.

This approach dovetailed well with Eric’s strand which focussed on effective evaluation. He covered Formative evaluation, surveys and qualitative methods such as Empowerment Evaluation. Eric gave real life examples of where he’s used these approaches in his work (and what works and doesn’t).

Sessions and workshops alternated between the two strands, keeping it fresh. For me this also helped cement the need for evaluation needs to be core to any learning design. Would definitely recommend the event if it’s repeated.

Digital Literacy – An NMC Horizon Project Strategic Brief

A new Horizon Project Report from NMC focuses on how classroom instruction/education can create digitally literate students (and by default staff).

NMC Releases Horizon Project Strategic Brief on Digital Literacy

“While institutions have become more adept at integrating emerging technologies, our survey data revealed that there is still a lot of work to be done around improving digital literacy for students and faculty,”

TEL Rubric for Online Course Spaces

Icons for TEL Rubric categories.

TELED have published a Rubric for online course spaces. This tool provides clear guidance for creating new online courses or reviewing existing courses.  The rubric is suitable for use with any units and programmes which have online spaces, including for blended learning which includes face-to-face components.

It gives clear criteria covering best practice and effective course design. It also covers how to enhance and engage, with simple and achievable advice. We will continue to develop it, adding links to examples and further information.

Digital Bristol: Mobile Movies – get smarter with your smartphone

The lovely Joseph Giddon with a rule of thirds grid overlayed via FILMic Plus.

A rule of thirds grid applied via FILMic Plus on Android.

Digital Bristol: Mobile Movies – get smarter with your smartphone

Yesterday I attended the Mobile Movies workshop at BBC Broadcasting House. This event was part of the Digital Bristol Week events held around the city this week.

The workshop came as two sessions. The first covered techniques for filming using mobile phones. The second looked at specific apps used by BBC Journalists. The focus was particularly on Mobile Journalism (mojo). Yet there was lot to take away for those creating video content for education.

Part one: Learn how to shoot on your phone like a professional, with Deirdre Mulcahy.

This session gave some solid gold tips on filming with mobile devices. Deirdre covered the pros and many cons (read limitations) of mobile filming. Some great advice here around composition/framing of shots as well as overcoming limitation. The session introduced a smattering of media theory (rule of thirds, authentic voice, distortion bubbles etc). There was also fantastic practical advice for setting up and filming an interview.

Deirdre also made a convincing argument for using a selfie stick to film interviews with. No really. I’m almost convinced.

I appreciated the practical advice/activities undertaken. Getting a chance to have some hands on time helped get to grips with the theme of the session.

Part two: Apps and accessories to take your device further, with Marc Settle.

Marc presented a whirwind of app recommendations. Despite the dreaded iOS focus disclaimer, he brought enough to keep Android users interested. Marc mentioned extra bits of kit that can improve footage. Selfie-sticks, monopods and portable lighting all came up at breakneck speed.

I lost count of the number of apps highlighted but the crux of the talk centered on apps suitable for Mojo. How to take your device beyond basic filming to creating a more polished product. The phone in your pocket has the oomph (technical term) to create polished video content.  Apps can help add text, sound and even branding should you need it – “So the D@#/y M@/l can’t steal your content” 

My main take away from Marc’s session is to find apps that ‘play nicely’ with your preferred workflow. But you also need a back up app that does a similar job – make sure you have a plan b.


Open Education Week 7th to 11th March 2016

openMarch 7th to 11th 2016 is Open Education Week. A celebration of free and open educational opportunities available to everyone.

“About Open Education Week

Open Education Week is a global event that seeks to raise awareness of free and open sharing in education and the benefits they bring to teachers and learners. Coordinated by the Open Education Consortium, the event showcases projects, resources, and ideas from around the world that demonstrate open education in practice. The open education movement seeks to reduce barriers, increase access and drive improvements in education through open sharing and digital formats.  Open education includes free and open access to platforms, tools and resources in education, including learning materials, course materials, videos, assessment tools, research, study groups, and textbooks, all available for free use and modification under an open license.”

Artificial intelligence generated music for video


Music is a powerful tool within video. There may be times when you or your students want to use music with footage. You might need an upbeat track to use as a ‘bed’ over a sequence of still photos? Or something a little punchy over a title slide to set a scene and grab a viewer’s attention? We can’t just use any track we desire and it’s likely that a copyright expired track may be a little dated. Despite recent changed to how copyright applies to education options are still limited.

So what can we as educators do? One option is to use music licensed under the creative commons scheme. This sits on top of traditional copyright but allows a more nuanced range of uses than a blanket ‘nope’. Sounds great, but anyone who’s spent hours trawling through CC licensed music will groan at you.  The great stuff’s already everywhere and the majority of the rest is pretty awful. Even then you might find it isn’t the right length and may need editing to fit your footage. Finding music to fit can be a time consuming and frustrating exercise.

Jukedeck should make life much easier. It uses AI to create bespoke music from the criteria you supply. In around 20 seconds you can have a track created in the style you choose at the length you need. You can fine tune the instruments used, BPM and general feel. The music is royalty free, which means you have no issues using it for educational purposes. Signing up for a free account gives you 5 free downloads a month, after that it’s $7 a track.

The private beta has already seen the likes of the Natural History Museum and Google using it. Jukedeck launched this week at TechCrunch Disrupt London’s Startup Battlefield.

More info on how it works –

Making Movies With Your Mobile

Pete and Martin visited Pervasive Media in the Watershed for one of their Friday Lunchtime talks last week to hear Jack Edwards talk on Making Movies With Your Mobile. During the talk, part of PMs Open Studio Friday initiative, Jack introduced the simple concept that almost all of us are carrying around a device capable of filming great quality footage. Aimed at those wanting to produce footage for creative or activist purposes, a lot of the advice covered was useful for more general filming.

Whilst in education we may not be in the market for creating the next Cannes sensation, there’s a lot we can take away from a more professional approach. You no longer need to have expensive video cameras, microphones, lights, and tripods to create good quality footage. WIth a bit of stage management and some relatively cheap equipment that fits in a pocket you can easily create your own high quality video.

One of the main take home points was the use of sound, confirming something I’ve said time and time again – you can watch quite poor quality footage if the sound is good, but if the sound is awful even the most beautifully shot HD video will quickly become jarring and unwatchable. With a mobile phone you have a microphone optimised for close up use but may not perform particularly well over a small distance. The good news is by plugging in a cheap clip on tie-mic (around £2-3 on ebay or £5 in Maplin) you instantly get better quality sound. Some of these have quite lengthy leads which could be useful if you’re trying to film more than just a talking head. A top tip is to use a bit of furry fabric to cover a mic outside to mimic the ‘dead cat’ style microphone covers professionals use to muffle wind sound.

Lighting and exposure can be another issue when filming on mobile, so getting you know your settings can give far better results. By turning off auto-exposure in your phone’s video app you can ensure you don’t get that fading in and out effect that can ruin so many indoor shots as you phone desperately tries to get the best levels and fails miserably. A subsequent online search found loads of guides for my phone telling me how to turn off auto-exposure both for the native app and a few of the video apps I’ve downloaded.

Composition – setting up scenes/stage management was also briefly discussed. This is often overlooked but making sure you’ve got a scene set up and everything ready before shooting makes for a more watchable clip. For example using a tripod – these days you can pick up mobile phone adaptors for both large and small desktop tripods. Having a stable shot over shaky-cam is usually far preferable for a viewer (most of us don’t set out to induce motion sickness). You can pick up cheap adaptors, some of which double as hand held ‘stabilisers’ – giving a more ergonomic handle rather than grasping a phone hopefully resulting in a smoother video (£5-25 on Amazon and ebay). Jack illustrated this DIY approach with the fact that when CNN can’t get a full crew to a news story their local reporters will use a ‘Selfie Stick’ and tie mic to film themselves – if that’s good enough for Nationwide broadcast then it’s probably good enough for us. [Note: Please don’t buy a selfie stick]

As far as which mobile apps to use Jack recommended the native iOS video app or Cinema FV 5 for Android. I’ve had a play with the latter and it certainly gives you a lot of manual control over things like focus and exposure.

Jack encouraged us to think about editing as a cut and paste exercise, just a case of grabbing clips, snipping out bits we don’t need and pasting them into the order we need. There are lots of options for giving your footage a bit of editorial polish directly on your phone or tablet these days, this guide gives lots of options for both Android and iOS – – I personally recommend Cyberlink Powerdirector for Android – the cut and paste approach works well with this app.

The talk was followed by a screening of Tangerine, a movie shot entirely on an iPhone with a specially adapted clip on anamorphic lens. The total cost of the equipment ran to around £1000, whilst the movie has gained critical praise both at Sundance and in the mainstream media. Unfortunately we had to get back to work, but the film trailer looks great and I’ll definitely be watching it a later date.