University of Bath e-Learning Podcast

Along with my colleague Sacha Goodwin, Recorded Media Manager, I was interviewed recently for the University of Bath e-Learning Podcast.

In the podcast, we  looked at the use of the lecture capture software, Panopto, and talked about last year’s pilot of the solution along about plans to extend the service for the upcoming academic year.

Hosted by Vic Jenkins and James Barrett, we investigated what lecture capture can offer for learning and teaching, and ideas for integrating it with current practice.

Listen to the podcast: Episode 6 – Panopto Lecture Capture

Working with Megameeting

A couple of months ago, my manager Andy Ramsden, Head of e-Learning at the University of Bath, scheduled a session where the team would test Megameeting, a web conferencing software. I assumed at the time that this would mean that we would all scatter around the campus and connect to the relevant server to test the service. st-martins-snowIn fact, the session was tested more realistically than we had envisaged! The University of Bath was closed yesterday due to adverse weather conditions [photos on Flickr], meaning that e-Learning team members were working at home. I don’t think that even Andy had things planned this well, but he may beg to differ!

Megameeting is a browser based web conferencing solution, using an Adobe Flash Player plug-in. It is intended to work on a variety on operating systems (PC, Mac and Linux) and the range of web browsers that are now available (IE, Firefox, Chrome, et al). The application is available on a variety pricing plans, though I do not intend to explore this aspect during this post.

On the whole the session, which was facilitated by James Sainsbury from Megameeting, went well. Unfortunately, one colleague was unable to get to the session due a technical problem, but others seemed to make in without too much trouble. As I was too busy outside building an igloo(!), I didn’t have time to run through the Megameeting technical setup wizard, but  things worked fine.

Some of the key features of Megameeting include: integrated text and voice chat, desktop sharing, shared slide presentations, live video (using webcams), run polling activities. In addition, sessions can be recorded and archived for later use. Further information is available in a Megameeting White Paper, which details this functionality in more depth.

megameeting-screen-captureIn many ways, Megameeting is similar to other applications that I have come across such as Adobe Connect and Elluminate. It offers similar functionality with a similar setup overhead for the user.

Whilst James ran through the main components of the software (see left), Andy shared his desktop and ran through (quickly!) a presentation based on the QR Codes project that he is involved with. Andy and Roger did not have webcams attached to their PCs, so contributed through voice – this did not seem to hinder their (or our) user experience though.

Key areas of follow up and thoughts are as follows:

  • One of the major advantages of  Megameeting is that it is hosted by the third party, rather than having to setup or maintain a server in house. How does this compare to other services currently used by the university? Who retains ownership of the data?
  • Currently, there seem to be no integration with VLEs, such as Moodle. Admittedly colleagues can place a link to the web conference within their Moodle course, but I would be interested to see how this works in practice.
  • James mentioned that the company are currently developing a solution whereby participants can take part in any conference, using a mobile device such as a Blackberry. It is quite possible that this will feature will be ready for beta testing within the next few months, before being released  in September 2009. Once again, I’ll be interested to see how this works in practice, particularly with flaky 3G mobile phone reception in some areas (including the university campus). Same applies to those users using mobile broadband services.
  • Over zealous nework ‘firewalls’ are often a problem for some students trying to access, for example, Moodle. Some user testing might have to done in this area with some of our students, despite the fact that Megameeting offers three ‘ports’ through which users can connect to a conference.
  • With six people, the web conference went off without too many problems. How scalable is this solution though? If a colleague is hosting a web conference with a large(r) number of users, would another facilitator (technical support person) need to also be on hand to deal at the start to with any access problems?
  • Unlimited training for ‘power’ users such as members of the e-Learning team would be offered. Would this be in the form of face-to-face training or over the web using Megameeting?

I felt that it proved to be a very worthwhile experience testing Megameeting, and looking at an application that had not across my radar previously. I will be interested to see how this initiative moves forward at the University of Bath, and particularly how we might use the application to support our own staff development approaches. A 15 minute online taster (or coffee break) type session has previously been mooted.

Right, back to building snowmen…

Audience Response Systems (ARS)

I’ve recently been given Project Lead responsibility for our institutional pilot of an Audience Response System (ARS) by TurningPoint during the 2008/2009 academic year. TurningPoint is an easy-to-use and interactive ARS which can be used increase levels of student engagement and motivation in a face-to-face learning and teaching context.

An ARS consists of set of small, handheld gadgets [usually called "clickers"] that allow students to participate in lecturers, seminars and tutorials by submitting responses to questions and viewing the responses as a graph.

Given that I’ve recently been on annual leave, I haven’t made as much progress on the project as I would have liked. However, I have begun to work up a project support blog at http://blogs.bath.ac.uk/ars/. For further information, do get in touch with me at e-learning@bath.ac.uk.

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Open Source Social Software

Over the weekend, I came across a blog post by Josie Fraser entitled, Open Source Social Software. It summarised, very succinctly, a variety of open source social networking platforms and tools. I wanted to make mention of this post as I felt that it dovetailed quite nicely into a post I submitted a couple of months ago relating to Web 2.0 type tools and their applications.

Using Tablet PCs in Higher Education

Tomorrow, the University of Bath is hosting the first Western e-Learning Meeting, featuring Heads of e-Learning and Learning Technologists from the Universities of Bristol, Exeter, Gloucestershire and UWE. The focus for the session will be the use of Tablet PCs in Higher Education… which is perfect since I often work with a Toshiba Portégé M700-100, as referred to in an earlier post.

Some of the attendees will be presenting about the use of Tablet PCs at their institutions, and I hope to share my reflections sometime in the next couple of days.

In preparation, colleagues have been asked to prepare a short overview about an article about the use of Tablet PCs in Higher Education – I’ve chosen a presentation, I’m afraid! My overview appears below.


The following relates to a presentation delivered at the Tablet PCs in Higher Education Workshop in 2005, in Seattle, Washington. Whilst the presentation is nearly three years old, it provides some useful information and data that is [still] relevant for an institution investigating the use of Tablet PCs in HE.

The presentation, A New Face for Time-Honored Ideas – Lessons from the Tablet PC Project at the University of Virginia, details a pilot of Tablet PCs in three different classrooms. Four hundred Tablet PCs were deployed in three courses: Statistics, Cognitive Psychology and Biochemistry. The following key points were highlighted during the presentation:

  • The pilot programme was a partnership between Thomson, the University of Virginia, Microsoft and HP.
  • Hybrid print and digital solutions were developed in consultations with teaching staff. All students bought the course text at the beginning of the course, but the teaching staff used digital solutions to teach at least part of the programme.
  • Microsoft PowerPoint slides were embedded within Microsoft OneNote files and made available for download. In lectures:
    • Instructors annotated slides
    • Instructors recorded voice clips to be attached to slides
    • Students annotated slides using their Tablet PCs
    • The Instructors annotated, recorded slides were made available for download by students following the lecture

Pilot highlights

  • Response to the Tablet PCs was overwhelmingly positive, learning to active learning within lectures.
  • Extent of student use of Tablet PCs and response of students to Tablet PCs correlated strongly with instructor engagement
  • Instructor engagement was catalytic – spurring students to use Tablet PCs in their other classes
  • New technology increased options to develop individual learning styles – “hand to head practice builds long term memory”
  • HP established a discounted price for Tablet PC purchase by students and departments
  • Tablet PC seminars were developed for several other areas, with hands-on workshops arranged for both staff and students

Tablet PCs in Higher Education Workshop in 2005: http://tinyurl.com/2zvec8
Presentation URL: http://tinyurl.com/4ebxwn

Follow up comments (NRP)

  • Were Tablet PCs used to facilitate collaborative activities, for example, for group course work?
  • In addition to the Microsoft PowerPoint/OneNote combination, was any additional software (for example, a graphical wiki) used for either individual or collaborative working?
  • Could Tablet PCs have been used in conjunction with other technologies such as audience response systems or mobile phones to enhance collaborative working?

I note that this study took place during 2005, and that technology has moved on since then e.g. the introduction of wireless networking on University campuses.

Uses of SMS to support e-Learning activities

Following a bit of investigation into the pilot texting service soon to be instigated at the University of Bath, I’ve been thinking about some potential uses of SMS to support our own e-Learning activities. This list isn’t in any particular order – just a collection of some random thoughts.

As a Personal Response System during lectures, seminars or tutorials

  • Students use their phones and a keyword to ask questions
  • Might aid student engagement – they already own the technology. Do they wish to use their mobile devices for “work” use
  • Might encourage those who are can be quite reluctant to contribute e.g. International students, those who don’t like asking questions in front of their peers
  • For reflective questioning prior to and post face-to-face sessions. A short 160 character reply might get them thinking.
  • Tips for revision purposes e.g. for a succinct explanation of X, have a look at page Y of course text.

To support the central e-learning support service

  • Moodle service updates – to let people know about service downtime i.e. Tuesday morning “at risk” period
  • e-Learning events e.g. reminder about the Summer Seminar Series time and location, change of location for said workshop. Will staff wish you use their personal mobile devices for work related activites? [As an aside, I got a text from a staff development session at 9pm on a Friday night. I wasn't impressed!]
  • Push out post-session information. For example, “you’ve just attended my seminar on collaboration and wikis, would you be interested in attending a hands-on workshop to learn more about the Moodle wiki and Confluence?”

For collaborative activites

  • Text messages sent following an update to a wiki page
  • Texts get put into a central space. Word cloud generated?

I’m a bit short on thoughts for this at the moment, so hopefully some reading around the subject will spark a few more thoughts.

Final thoughts?

  • Texts are cheap, but there’s still a cost associated with sending out messages. Will the service will be looked after centrally or will departments have some control? If centrally, how will the system be policed in terms of text quota?
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