Category Archives: eLearning

Essay mills turning out high-quality essays undetected

Know your students & their writing styles

I’m not usually one to moan or highlight something that annoys me, but when I read this article this morning I had that sinking feeling and face-palm moment!

What this article totally missed, and what I’ve been saying to academics (and anyone who’ll listen) is that these online plagiarism detection systems are only as good as the people looking at the results.

The TurnItIn ‘score’ is no measure of originality, despite being called an ‘originality report’. It is a measure of what percentage of the submitted text is matched against known sources (student papers, journals, books, Internet sources, etc.). So, a paper that gets a 50% score means that 50% of the text has been used or can be found in other submitted papers to the system. It is not saying 50% is copied/plagiarised from other sources. These matches could be down to poorly referenced work, badly quoted and or badly cited work, and even popular quotes. The 50% is only an indication to the academic that further investigation is required, that they need to

This annoyed me most:

“It is clear that this type of cheating is virtually undetectable by academics when students take precautions against being caught,”

If you rely solely on something like TurnItIn then yes, I agree, it is virtually impossible to detect cheating. But these submitted papers by the student should never be viewed in isolation – the academic(s) should have other opportunities for the students to submitted written assessment, along with email evidence and even forum/online comments, so the writing style of the student can be seen. Then, when the online paper comes in the academic can see quite easily that the style, language, grammar, punctuation, etc. is different, sometimes wildly so. From here the different pieces of work can be compared and an informed opinion can be made.

“But [Dr Lisa Lines] argues that much more radical steps will be needed to combat the use of essay mills, including greater use of exams and requiring students to give oral presentations on the topic of completed essays.”

Again, no. You don’t need to add more exams or more ‘radical steps’, you just need to be more prepared to get to get to know your students, their writing styles, their use of grammar and language. I’m sure, once you know this, it’ll be far easier to spot work that is out of the ordinary, for that student, even without the reliance on TurnItIn.

TurnItIn and other systems like this are to be used as part of a wider assessment strategy. The main focus of that strategy though should be the relationship between academic/teacher and student.

The scary part of this reliance on TurnItIn [other plagiarism detection tools are available] is this – I worked with one academic (a few years ago now) who actually based the student’s grade on the TurnItIn score. Yes! They even admitted they didn’t even look at the details or report or the paper itself. Anything with 50% matched or over got 50% grade or less (but never a fail). Anything between 20-50% match got a 50-60% score, and anything less than 20% of text matched got a better/higher score over 60%.

One another related topic, this article on the Guardian website – An essay I bought online was so bad I want a refund – but the firm won’t pay up – was also worrying. But at least the piece did answer the bigger picture here. It’s not about the ethics of a refund for the paper, it’s about the integrity of the student in trying to subvert the system. And from a law student too?!

“The use of these types of websites not only raises serious questions about whether an individual is meeting the standards required, but also whether somebody has the right character to enter a profession where honesty and integrity is crucial.”

Image source: Dom Pates (CC BY 2.0)

Learning Technologist pt.15

What is a Learning Technologist? Pt. 15

In May 2015 I joined Warwick Business School, WBS, as an eLearning Consultant. In September the same year I was awarded the ‘highly commended’ Learning Technologist of the Year award from the Association for Learning Technology (ALT). The strange thing is, that was the last time I posted about being a Learning Technologist here. After 14 posts I stopped.

There’s no reason for it, I didn’t even realise I’d done it until a few tweets last night from Clare Thompson (@ClareThomsonQUB) and Sue Beckingham (@suebecks) reminded me about it. Yes, I’ve continued to write about work and wider reading of the industry we’re in, but this is Clare’s tweet that prompted me to write here again, about being a Learning Technologist:

In the last two years I thought of and collaborated on, edited and then self-published  The Really Useful #EdTechBook. I’ve developed, supported, mentored, facilitated, and bled/wept over the creation of two MOOCs for the University of Warwick (Big Data and Literature and Mental Health). I’ve facilitated a total of 15 runs/presentations of all five Warwick MOOCs. I’ve two other MOOCs in development at the moment, one of which took myself and colleagues to Italy recently to interview and film important individuals for case study and ‘thought’ pieces who were attending an event in Prato Centre, Monash University, Italy. Oh, and I’ve met & interviewed Sir Ian McKellen and Stephen Fry, all part of the day job!!

YouTube: Literature and Mental Health

Outside of work on MOOCs I’ve been included on the EdTech Magazine list for 2015 and 2016 lists for ‘Top 50 IT Blogs Influential Blogs in Higher Education’ and the 50 Most Influential HE Professionals Using Social Media list. I was interviewed for the published work on How has Apple transformed your classroom? Part I, the Teacher’s Practical Guide to the Flipped Classroom and wrote this article on ‘Facilitating the Unknown’ in a Special Issue: Open Facilitator Stories, based on the amazing online course BYOD4L, and been involved in multiple weekly tweet-chats from/on LTHEchat.

And these are just the thing I can remember off the top of my head. Perhaps I should be more organised and keep better notes? Oh, and I still Sketchnote.

The great thing is that I have the interest and passion to do all this, all the time. I love being connected and in a position to collaborate or share knowledge and experience. I love that I can swap roles and identities so quickly depending on what the day brings – technical support, pedagogic support, management or administration, etc. No day is the same. No email asks for the same thing. No meeting covers the same thing (well, not very often).

Like Clare I find that IRL meetings can be awkward, conferences can be draining, events can be difficult to get everything done I want and see everyone I want to see AND still have time for the event itself. I’ve been reading the Quiet Revolution, about introverts, and engaging in their regular tweet chat. Having the time to reflect on events and conversations is important, and sometimes events can be so hectic there simply isn’t the time:

Oh, one final thing .. there’s always room for Lego! Pictures of Lego, actual Lego kits, or just talking about Lego.

Image source: clement127 (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

student experience

What is the student experience?

It’s that time of year again when we hear more about things like the NSS survey (and results), teaching and learning showcase, graduates & graduation, league tables, and of course the student experience. But what is this ‘student experience’?

Is it the application process, the hall of residence, the equipment, the availability of books in the library, the quality of teaching, access to support, timely assessment feedback, employability, skills, digital literacy? Is it this? Is it more?

For my perspective, and from my own experience working in HE for the past 10 years or so, it’s all the above and more. The student experience starts at the open day (or before if you include the planning the institution puts into it, as well as the prospective student looking at where to go). It really starts in ernest as soon as the application is accepted and a place is given, right through to the actual 3 or 4 years of study, all the way to graduation and the alumni network.

From end-to-end the student will experience the whole institution, not just their own course or department, and not even their own building or campus. Is the university spread across multiple campuses, across different continents as well? How the university manages this will impact on a single student and their time of study. Is the course modular and pulls different departments together for delivery? Then the culture of each department will impact and affect those students, and needs to be carefully managed (no one wants one module to be vastly different or better/worse than another). Is the student body multinational and diverse? The support and teaching needs to reflect and involve the different cultures and expectations of these individuals too.

The list can go on and on. It’s fair to say that everyone working in further or higher education, whether it’s front-line teaching or research, administration, management, estates, etc. has an important role to play in how the students view and experience the course, the department, the campus, the employability, and value of the course. For someone to say that the student experience is not part of their role is not pulling their weight and is making everyone else’s job far harder than is necessary.

Here are a few articles I’ve found useful over the past year or so when looking at the student experience. Please feel free to add your own favourites in the comments box below:

Image source: clement127 (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Slack

Slack

So, I’ve heard a little recently about Slack. I’ve heard it’s good for improving communications between and within teams. I’ve heard it’s cut down on the amount of unnecessary or unwanted communications. I’ve also heard that, unless everyone embraces it then it will complicate your working practices and be a huge mistake.

So. what is Slack, and could/should we use it? Slack is ‘team communication for the 21st century‘, or a tool (not an app, although there is an app, and web client, and website) to make you ‘less busy’. Using channels, messages, files, integration with other online systems, etc. this has the potential to de-clutter your working practices, enable a cleaner workflow .. all the stuff that surely we could do with our current systems if we worked at it and used them effectively and efficiently?

So, I ask again. Why Slack? Is this just another tool that, if used badly or half-heartedly, has the potential to make even more of a mess of where we are, than we’ve already made in getting here? Is it that one wonder-tool that we’ve been waiting for to kick us into gear to streamline our efforts, to remove unwanted distractions, and to efficiently work collaboratively?

You know what? I have no idea.

Here are some resources I’ve found, and have found interesting. See what you think:

And these less-than complementary articles too are still worth reading, trying to find a balance in the slack-or-not debate:

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Hashtag #4WordPedagogy

Hashtag #4WordPedagogy

Another fantastic hashtag ‘battle’.

Started by Jesse Stommel at the weekend, it’s a simple premise used before: use a hashtag and get the learning community to share their thoughts. Jesse asked us to write some pedagogic statements. In four words. Only four words.

Jesse has summarised his favourites in this Storify list, but here are some of mine, and some of my favourites:


What about you, what would/did you tweet?

Image source: Holly Hayes (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Heuristic Learning & Shakespeare

Heuristic Learning & Shakespeare

I used to write about apps I used or liked as part of my work, or at least I recognised could aid me in my work, but have been remiss on this front for a while. So, with the urging of a few peeps on Twitter (thank you) I’ll start it up again.

This new app I’ve installed actually covers two loves – learning/reading and technology. In my role as eLearning Consultant at Warwick Business School I am responsible for the University of Warwick’s Shakespeare and His World MOOC. My involvement with this course and Professor Jonathan Bate has kick started my love of reading – I studied English Literature A-level. So here we have an app that’ll help me understand the use of technology (and see a fantastic new approach to tech that can aid learning) as well as the understand the Bard’s language.

Back in 2011 I wrote this post about how ebooks, even apps, could be used to greatly enhance the learning experience beyond just the basic text-and-note features the early e-readers offered. It seems it’s coming true (I wish the images in that post had survived a server & hosting service migration)?

Heuristic Shakespeare - The TempestHeuristic Shakespeare – The Tempest (iPad): Like many I find Shakespeare difficult to understand, sometimes just plain obscure. Through the MOOC mentioned above I have learned a lot more about Shakespeare’s influences in the time he wrote the plays (literary, cultural, personal, etc.) as well as the subtleties of his jokes and digs(and careful similarities) to the establishment. This app, therefore brings everything together and makes this one play, The Tempest, so much easier to understand, read, watch, and like.

“The Tempest from Heuristic Shakespeare is the first in a collection of thirty-seven separate apps. Each app is a tool for demystifying one of Shakespeare’s plays and making it more accessible to a modern audience. Sir Ian McKellen and Professor Sir Jonathan Bate take us on journey of discovery using the world-famous Arden Shakespeare texts and their extensive essays and notes. The apps function is to provide an essential aid to understanding and enjoying the plays in the theatre or on the screen.”

Heuristic Shakespeare – The Tempest $5.99 / £4.49
https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/heuristic-shakespeare-tempest/id1099176816

From the outset it is clear this app brings the very best of the internet (small ‘i’ these days) and learning. Not least the range of names and successful Shakespearean actors and scholars like Sir Ian McKellen and Prof Sir Jonathan Bate (both of who I worked with on another MOOC), but the way in which multimedia has been used to enhance the text, not replace it.

For those studying Shakespeare for any level of exam or are just an avid reader or Shakespeare lover this App is as good as any book or cheat-sheet note … if not better! If you ignore the videos where the actors read/act the play for you (a massive boost to my understanding – let the actors handle the difficulty of getting the pace, language and emphasis right, I can concentrate on the words and their meanings) the rest of the features are worth getting the app on their own – Shakespeare’s timeline, productions of the play, a copy of the First Folio pages, etc.

Note: I wont review each of the subsequent 36 apps, if indeed they do get round to them all, but suffice to say this approach is a quality one, offering everything I could ever have wanted when I was 16-18 and studying Shakespeare myself.

Heuristic Shakespeare The Tempest 1  Heuristic Shakespeare The Tempest 4

Heuristic Shakespeare The Tempest 5

Heuristic Shakespeare The Tempest 2  Heuristic Shakespeare The Tempest 3

Now on to the actually purpose of the App .. and it being called ‘heuristic’. For me a ‘heuristic’ learning experience is all about having the freedom or opportunity to use my experiences to discover or solve something myself. I may be led to the subject, question, or the problem, but the process of learning and solving or answering the question is for me to work out. I wont use, or even know, the best or most efficient process to use to do this, I’ll no doubt flounder around while i figure out what I need to be doing, but it’ll be my decision, my design process, and my skills that’ll take me through this and towards a solution.

And this is exactly what this App offers … the ability to use/choose what version of the play I want: either the text of the play, the pages from the First Folio, actors performing the words, understanding where the play. This is amazing and there should be more opportunities for people to learn like this, Shakespeare or not.

If you’re an English Literature teacher, or a student who’s used the App please let me know what you think of it? Did it help? What aspect of the App you found most useful, interesting, distracting, good for comprehension, good for revision, etc.?

 

Learning

It’s just ‘learning’ now. OK?

So, we’ve had eLearning, e-learning, elearning, and ‘e learning’.

We’ve had mobile learning, mLearning, mlearning. But not ‘m learning’.

(We’ve also got the VLE, LMS, CMS, and many more besides, but that’s for another post).

I believe we are now at a place with web development where we should drop able all these different ways of saying ‘learning’. We should not need to be talking about the different platforms or devices students use to access their ‘learning’; they should all be scalable and accessible to accommodate students using a smartphone, tablet, laptop, desktop (or any other device I can’t think of now). Access to learning resources should be across the board, easy, and not determined by the device. Pretty much everything the students need is now online – books, resources, notes, assignments – so the moniker of ‘e’Learning (for ‘electronic’) is void. Students have devices now which do not tether them to either a physical location or a specific IT network that I’m pretty sure we can drop the mLearning (for ‘mobile’) too.

So, where are you taking your LEARNING now?

Image source: Alan Levine (CC BY 2.0)

Video Filming David Hopkins

How ‘long’ is too ‘long’?

For a few years now I’ve been spouting the same lines when it comes to planning a video for an distance learning course or MOOC: “preferably no more than 4 minutes, definitely no more than 6.” Anything more than 6 and we’d consider splitting it at a natural point in the subject, or working with the individual and their content and seeing where a natural break can be made, or other ways to shorten the video.

This has been supported by experience (from distance learning courses I’ve supported at both Bournemouth and Leicester University’s) and the MOOCs I’ve supported and developed while at Warwick, as well as articles like this.

As with everything, there is enough evidence to be found to support and to disprove it.

Yes, I agree that if you have a ‘teaching’ resource, where the academic/teacher is speaking to camera then there is an optimum length that someone will sit and be ‘talked at’, and this is where I see the 6 minute limit coming into play. These kinds of resources are often loaded to a VLE or a MOOC and as part of a set of resources for the topic or week’s subject area.

But there are other approaches to video content where I don’t see this working. What about case studies or mini-documentaries? What about a conversation, when a short 4 minute clip just isn’t enough to get in to the details? Do you still stick to the short-is-best message? In order for these to work you will often need to make it longer so the content and ‘message’ of the case study can be put across.

Let’s not forget, the video is nothing on it’s own. It must always be put into context for the student – why are you presenting the video for them to watch, what do you expect them to think about when they watch it, is there something they need to question as a result of the video (and/or linking it to other resources to build their wider knowledge about the subject area), can they critique the resource and present their findings back to the group, etc.?
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Mobile Learning

Mobile Learning vs eLearning

I like infographics, but I don’t like this one on the LearnDash website: Mobile Learning vs eLearning. I find it inaccurate, or at least misleading. Here’s the comment I left, in case it doesn’t get published:

I disagree – to compartmentalise tablet or laptop users as either one or the other is misleading to people wanting to know about new online learning techniques based on their preferred method/device of learning. Is a laptop user, sat on a train, not mobile? Is a tablet user sat at home on the sofa still mobile, or just too lazy to turn the laptop/desktop computer on?

In an age of accessible web design, and course design, many organisations design their materials, indeed their learning platform, to offer the same experience to their students irrespective of the device used. In fact, this is key to the learning that a student is not disadvantaged for using their own device, irrespective of it’s age, operating system, screen size, etc.

And this doesn’t even cover the statement “eLearning is designed to be more static and be accessed at your desk.” Really? In this day and age, you still think that? What do you think? Am I being harsh?

Image source: Paul (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Learn Appeal Capsule

Learn Appeal – The Learning Capsule

At the end of 2015 I met up with Lesley Price, just a catch up to chat about retirement (unfortunately not mine), keeping busy, moving house, and The Really Useful #EdTechBook. Lesley also had something else to show me.

Whilst waiting for food to arrive Lesley plopped (only word for it) a blue lunchbox on the table and said … “try this out”. Um, OK?

Connecting to the Capsule Wi-Fi, then typing an IP address to my phone’s browser, I was suddenly connected to a learning management system complete with a choice of courses / content, interactions, videos, etc. This box had it all and, if we’d told people on tables around us, we could have all accessed and learned something new together. Right there and then!  Continue reading