Thinking about developing our online student experience

Over the coming year all three schools here at GCU are making a concerted effort to increase their fully online provision.  As part of this process the Blended Learning team are leading the co-ordination of support and development activities for all staff involved in the initial programmes selected for development this year.

Last week we started this process with a face to face session facilitated by Dr Alan Mason (formerly of the University of Ulster), Senior Manager, International Customer Success with Blackboard.

To get us started Alan first asked us all to think about what we thought a good  online (not on campus) student experience should be, and what would differentiate any GCU offerings.  Common themes that emerged had a strong focus on the importance of consistency and shared values of the student experience for both online/off campus and on campus/blended access. So for example ensuring that induction for off campus students was comparable to that of students on campus.

We then moved on to a session using the Viewpoints methodology that Alan developed whilst at Ulster (thinking in particular about assessment and feedback).

There was a great deal of lively group discussion. Common areas which everyone identified as important included: setting expectations,  creating meaningful and opportunities for interaction and dialogue, instilling positive motivation (for both students and staff), clarifying good performance, supporting reflection and meaningful feedback. There were many examples shared of how this is being done already in our existing blended learning and teaching contexts.  There was also consensus and recognition of the tensions around trying to develop innovative pedagogic approaches/values and the reality of staff time and resources.

Whilst acknowledging that there is lots to be done in the coming year, everyone is looking forward to being part of working together to ensure we have a consistent student experience however and wherever our students are engaging with learning activities.

Developing for fully not on campus, online delivery does challenge many of our everyday practices, and taking a few steps back to think about how and why were are going to do something is always useful. I think this drawing, inspired by the 8 things to look for in today’s classroom from George Couros, which seems to be doing the rounds in the twittersphere this week  sums up some of discussions we had last week around the student experience pretty well.

(click on the image to see larger version)

sketch note of 8 things to look for in todays classroom


The Really Useful #EdTechBook available now

Officially launched today (28th January) The Really Useful #EdTechBook is a collection of  “experiences, reflections, hopes, passions, expectations, and professionalism of those working with, in, and for the use of technology in education. Not only is it an insight into how, or why, we work with these technologies, it’s about how we as learning professionals got to where we are and how we go forward with our own development.”

Written by practitioners for practitioners the book gives a wide range of perspectives on the adoption, implementation, integration of learning technology and learning technologists in HE today.

I was delighted to be asked to to contribute to this project and have co- authored a chapter “Learning Technologist as Digital Pedagogue” with David Walker from the University of Sussex. You can read more about our collaborative and network approach to writing the chapter in this post.

The book is openly licenced and a PDF version is available to download.  As this is a self publishing effort, the costs of the book have been kept to a minimum.  Would love to hear if you think this really is a really useful book.

More information about the book, the authors and download/print options are available here.

This slide deck also gives a flavour of the content of the book.

#byod4l day 5 creating and a few final thoughts


On Friday we took a slightly different take on the creating theme of the day and in our lunchtime session we had a look at google cardboard. There was a bit of creating involved in building the headset!

Google cardboard instructions

We actually have quite a bit of activity here in GCU within virtual worlds, notably in our School of Health and Life Science.  Google cardboard isn’t quite a virtual world but at £12 the headset is a pretty affordable way to get a look at some more immersive apps.  We even managed to get it working with an iPhone. We were quite excited by the potential for students to build some apps for use with it.  Personally I felt a bit sick after about 20 seconds on a virtual roller coaster,  so still not convinced some of this VR stuff is really for me.

Google cardboard headset

Over the week we had some really good discussions with the staff who…

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SafeAssign versus Turnitin – beyond Plagiarism

At the 15th Annual Durham Blackboard Users’ Conference, I attended a session on discussing the shared experience of using Turnitin in contrast to Blackboard’s own SafeAssign. While much frustration was vented at the unreliability of Turnitin during submission periods, the key focus was whether Safe Assign should be used instead assuming it was more stable for students to use.

So the initial focus was on their functionality as plagiarism checkers. So let’s just clarify what they both offer. Firstly, they are not plagiarism checkers as they are promoted but rather check for  text similarity between a student’s paper and the resources in their databases.  In fact, this key sentence appears in a turnitin guide for students  “Turnitin does not detect or determine plagiarism—it just detects matching text to help instructors determine if plagiarism has occurred.” ( So academic judgement is required to identify accidental or deliberate plagiarism.

A second consideration is the database for the” originality check”. One service has a huge student paper archive and refers to over 130 million articles   while the other has fewer student papers and references the ProQuest ABI/Inform database with over 1,100 titles or 2.6 million articles .  So while there are other factors, Turnitin appears to be the better resourced but is let down by its instability at critical periods. This really illustrates the institutional  dilemma posed by the Clash.

Yet such a decision should be made on a wider context electronic management of assessment (EMA) and not in isolation. The Durham discussion mentioned Turnitin’s key advantage over SafeAssign was QuickMarks despite such features as delegated marking and video feedback being available in Blackboard. so really the Durham debate moved beyond ‘Plagiarism’ and this is the key point I raised at the meeting. It is vital to look at what institutions are trying to achieve with electronic submission right through to feedback. There is no perfect system yet so it requires compromise and agreeing how to manage the assessment process within the module, department and institution. Even if this approach is possible, we are all assuming that there are no access problems not just for submission but for providing feedback. These services must realise that they have beyond ‘plagiarism checking’ to being part of a bigger picture. This is why reliability of access by all is critical and random system failure means undermining e-assessment within the education sector.

#byod4l day 4 – collaborating

From Sheila’s blog


This was the question that started last nights #byod4l tweet chat.  Pretty tricky isn’t it?  As with every night this week there was flurry of responses to this and the rest of the questions during the hour. You can catch up on all the discussion via the collated storify.  For me collaboration is usually about working with people to create something tangible or for some common goal, I also think:

There was a general consensus last night about common goals and collaboration being different from cooperation. However, as with all the “C’s” highlighted this week there is a level of interdependence and we…

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#byod4l day 3 – curating, Evernote and lists

From Sheila’s personal blog


Stuff, stuff, everywhere stuff – where to save/share? Do you ever feel like that? Judging from the #byod4l tweet chat last night and the discussions during our drop in session yesterday I think most people working in education and with technology feel a bit overwhelmed at times, with the amount of “good stuff” out there. We all have ways of curating and are often driven by that “just in case it might be useful” urge.

I said a couple of times yesterday that I am “a bit rubbish at curation”. Despite many attempts with just about every curation service I seem to lack an inner librarian that is need to keep on top of the amount of “stuff” I curate. I think my most consistent technique (and it is a bit haphazard) is favouriting tweets. Because I (and twitter) archive my tweets I am fairly confident I can find things again (tho after a couple…

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#byod4l day 2 – communication

From Sheila’s personal blog


So once again #byod4l has provided me with an opportunity to do something new. Last night, along with Sam Illingworth and Mike Nicholson I facilitated the day 2 tweet chat on communication. As ever the chat was fast, furious and good natured, and a wide range of approaches to communication both for learning and teaching and in more general terms was discussed.

 visualistaion of #byod4l

Our mobile devices give us access to instant communication however there was a note of caution coming through about being “always on” and the temptation to reply instantly. Sometimes it is good to take a pause before sending that tweet, email, text. It might actually be better to pick up the phone and speak to someone too.

Finding the “right balance” is always tricky. I know that I have started to slowly move away from certain communication channels at certain times. For example twitter is something that is…

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#BYOD4L Day 1 – Connecting

The latest iteration of #BYOD4L got underway today with the topic of connecting.  Connecting is fundamental to learning, and particularly to learning (openly) online. As part of the week we are running informal drop in sessions every lunchtime this week to connect with staff and students across the university.

Yesterday we had a good discussion about using communication services/apps (in particularly twitter) in the classroom.  Finding time to just think about how to potentially integrate new communication channels into a class is an issue for many staff, however we are seeing more and more people set up module hashtags and integrate a twitter feed directly in their modules in GCU Learn (our VLE). Inspired by the tweet chat on Sunday between #byod4l and #txeduchat one of our lecturers is now going to try and adapt the ideas used on Sunday night (particularly the selfies and doodles) into induction activities.  Hopefully that can not only let staff and students try out twitter in a relatively simple way but also build confidence for future use, including more focused tweet chats on specific topics.

Although many of our staff and students do have mobile devices, they are not universal.  Booking out pool devices can often be more time consuming for staff and students as apps have to be downloaded each session. So whilst having spare tablets in theory is a good idea, in practice it’s not really that great if you can only access them for short periods of time and settings are wiped when they are returned to the central point.   You get most out of any device if you are able to personalise and access it all the time.  The campaign for iPads for staff and students continues . . .  and we move onto day 2’s topic communicating.

#BYOD4L – GCU lunchtime drop in sessions (12 – 16 January 2015)

#byod4l logo

Happy New Year from the Blended Learning Team.  If you’ve been following the blog you’ll know that next week sees the latest iteration of the highly engaging open, online course Bring Your Own Device for Learning #byod4l.  GCU are one of the partner institutions this time around.

Along with colleagues from 10 other institutions/organisations we’ll be part of the wider facilitation and support team.

Over the week there will be a lot of online activity in a number of different online spaces including twitter, google+ and Facebook.  In addition we are going to be hosting lunchtime daily drop in sessions every day next week where we can have informal discussion and sharing based on the topic of each day.

Hopefully this will allow us to share some of the best and emerging practices as well as the challenges of using mobile devices effectively for learning and teaching here at GCU.

Below is a draft outline for each day’s session. If you would like to share anything you are doing then please let us know (tweet us @sheilmcn, @lcreanor, @gcujime using #GCUBlend). The sessions will be very informal to encourage as much sharing and discussion as possible.

All the sessions will run from 12.30 – 1.30 – feel free drop in at any time during the hour.

Day 1 Connecting  (location: H116)

Day 2 Communicating (location: H112)

Day 3 Curating (location:H113)

Day 4 Collaborating (location: H116)

Day 5 Creating (location: H113)