Adventures in Technology Enhanced Learning @ UoP

Tag: nearpod

TEL in 2020

Well … 2020 has been quite a year. The most extraordinary 12 months any of us have experienced. Although 2020 has had its stresses (to put it mildly) I’m proud at how the TEL team has helped the University maintain its mission. Our existing students were able to progress and new students have been able to start their University career. Without technology, that would have been impossible.   

Like many people, we understood the disruptive potential of Covid-19 in late February. By early March we started thinking about the support we could offer if the University had to deliver teaching remotely. We thus had the elearning Tools website ready to publish when the VC sent his email about home working.  

That move to home working affected the TEL team less than many other teams in the University – partly because many of us already had some experience of home working and partly because we work with technology on a daily basis. All we need to do the basics of our job is a fast, stable internet connection. (One team member, stuck abroad when airlines began to remove scheduled flights, spent several days working from Australia. For a while we truly were providing around-the-clock service!) It helped the team enormously that we used SLACK: the platform held a record of our thinking and enabled people to catch up on discussions they might otherwise have missed.  

That’s not to say working at home (or living at work?) was without challenges – especially for those of us who were homeschooling children or who had other caring responsibilities. One lesson I think we learned far too late was this: when we’re working at home we don’t need to be available all the time. Too many of us jumped to respond to a SLACK message immediately or to answer an email the moment it reached our inbox. It’s nice to know our team members are conscientious – but that “always-there” mentality is ultimately self-defeating. And although SLACK enabled us to work efficiently while we were remote, it’s undeniable that face-to-face communication is quicker and less prone to misunderstanding than text-based communication. All that raises an interesting question: when we get back to some sort of normality, will we all rush back into the office? Not many people miss their commute, but some do miss the office environment – so will we work more flexibly, with one or two days spent in the office and the rest working at home? Or will some of us become full-time home-workers?  

Returning from speculation on future events to events that happened back in the spring of 2020: the University started to develop its “Blended and Connected” approach to the new academic year. To support that initiative, the TEL team created the website Preparing for teaching in a blended learning context, with content coming from across the whole of DCQE. We also worked closely with our colleagues in Academic Development to put on the TEL Tales Blended Learning Festival (and more recently a Blended Learning Mini-Fest).

The “Blended and Connected” approach allowed us to address a long-standing complaint from students. In response to our yearly Digital Experience Tracker, students regularly criticised the lack of consistency across their Moodle modules. We now had the chance to develop and implement a templated approach to Moodle. The TEL team also improved the Moodle theme, in light of co-creation work with a group of University computing students studying UX/UI design.

Of course, all those other tasks involved in running a large Moodle installation did not go away because of the pandemic. Integrations with other systems (more of which below) had to be managed, the upgrade to Moodle version 3.9 had to take place, and all of this took place as the University moved from Quercus to SITS. (Can anything be more stressful for a university than changing Student Record systems in the middle of a pandemic?) The SITS project touched most aspects of University life; for us, it required the development of new feeds into Moodle. 

Moodle itself has performed robustly since the start of the academic year, despite routinely serving numbers of students that in previous years would have been considered extraordinary. By the start of December our new Moodle had clocked up 1,264,306 logins and students had engaged in 14,088,187 activities (read/writes). Phew… 

Throughout 2019, discussions and consultations around content capture had taken place (and a new policy on content capture was eventually agreed). We entered 2020, however, in a difficult place. We were concerned about the technologies we had available to support content capture: our existing platforms had reached end-of-life. The team facilitated a number of supplier demonstrations early in the year, with the last demonstration taking place just before the work-from-home directive took hold, and UoP chose Panopto – the most widely adopted video platform within universities. The implementation and roll-out of such a platform would normally take place over the course of a full year, but we made Panopto available (complete with Moodle integration and a support website) within six weeks. Quite an achievement! And the platform is being heavily used: by November, we had 29,793 videos created; 10,464 hours of video created; 736,081 views and downloads; and 97,759 hours of video delivered. Again, phew…    

To support synchronous delivery for the new “Blended and Connected” approach, the University purchased Zoom. And, of course, we were quick to integrate this with Moodle. One useful feature in Zoom, which at that point could not easily be replicated by existing options such as Meet and WebEx, was the easy creation of breakout rooms. (Offering a plethora of technologies that do similar things – Zoom, WebEx, Meet – has the potential to lead to confusion for staff and an inconsistent experience for students. It can be difficult to take options away from people; in some cases, it might be technically impossible to remove options. But – in the interests of a consistent student experience – perhaps we need to be firmer in our recommendations of what tools to use?)

We invested in other tools, too: Padlet to facilitate collaboration; Vevox as an audience response system; and we continued to push Nearpod for interactive lessons. For all of these, we continued to provide our usual training support for staff, and offered face-to-face and small-group sessions – mediated by Zoom, WebEx, and Meet! 

Throughout the pandemic, the TEL team has been active on social media – and the stream of positive, uplifting, motivational messages from TEL accounts were well received during the lockdown. More than one member of staff said the posts cheered them up!

We worked with staff across DCQE to help them create support sites (for example the Wellbeing and ASK sites) and with staff across the University in workstrands, workstreams, and elsewhere. We supported departments in adapting to an online alternative to their usual ‘go-to method’ of face to face presenting such as the Staff Induction Welcome Event for new staff members held by HR. I hope that cross-institution working carries on when we return to some form of normality because everyone agrees it has been beneficial.

What else? Well, we have kept abreast of accessibility issues and our responsibilities under PSBAR. This is a difficult issue for all universities: the legislation was written, I believe, with static content in mind. But a VLE contains rapidly changing content from thousands of users. The sector as a whole is grappling with the implications of this.

We hope to develop our (externally hosted) CPD Moodle. As more people become aware of the platform, more courses are going on there. And we are working closely with CEG Digital, the University’s partners for expanding our DL offering

Questions around analytics and data have been of interest and, when we’ve had any spare time (hah!), we’ve tried to make progress in this area. We have liaised with a Business Analyst on the creation of a Student Engagement and Monitoring dashboard; locally, we have started to look at how to surface useful statistics on the Moodle dashboard. Watch for developments over the coming months! 

I could write much, much more about the team’s attainments – but I’ll leave it there.

We have encountered many setbacks and challenges – inevitably so, given the amount of change that has been implemented over such a short period of time – but the team, as part of the wider University, has achieved so much this year. We can leave the plague year behind us and enter 2021 knowing we have a bright future.

Digifest 2020

Although a regular delegate at Jisc’s annual Digifest I had never before given a presentation so was excited to have had my presentation proposal accepted. The topic for the talk, naturally enough, covered my work as an Online Course Developer on the university’s degree apprenticeship programme. Since the university launched its first degree apprenticeship in 2016 with just 7 Business and Management students, numbers across the university have grown to over 600 involving all faculties and 17 different courses. 

With a long history of involvement in work based learning, the university’s early involvement in degree apprenticeships would have been a natural progression along with a small handful of other trailblazers. Roll forward to 2020 and there are now over 90 HEIs delivering degree apprenticeships including Russell group institutions. 

Anyway, back to Digifest! Given the rapid growth of our degree apprenticeship programme I knew I had a good story to tell and, hopefully, some useful experience to pass on and for me this reflected a shift in emphasis of this year’s conference. I have always enjoyed the two days spent at the ICC every March but this year I was particularly looking forward to sessions looking at the practical application and development of eLearning tools and methodologies. In this respect two sessions in particular stood out. The first was a panel discussion titled “How do we address the digital skills gap” the second a presentation on how staff and students are actually using technology.

Having worked in the field of eLearning for some time, I’ve found one of the main barriers hindering the greater use of technology has been, and continues to be, time. After demonstrating a particular piece of technology, a frequent, and understandable reaction is “Yes, that looks great but I just don’t have the time to create resources using it…” Coming from a teaching background I can empathise, with preparation, marking, meetings and actual teaching, time is often in short supply In the sessions mentioned above different strategies were discussed in addressing the issue of time. One involved recognising and rewarding digital development, thus partly overcoming the digital skills gap with a carrot based approach. The other approach involved a more stick based strategy whereby developing digital skills becomes part of the standard annual appraisal.

In terms of the contrasting approaches proffered, my starting point is very much carrot based, which doesn’t necessarily need to be physically tangible. The use of technology in teaching can bring measurable gains, with some upfront investment in time, resources can be created that can be used multiple times and thus be time saving in the long run. For example a Moodle quiz can be used for either formative or summative assessment and is self marking. A short video can be quicker to produce than a handout and be a more effective learning resource. Use of tools such as Padlet, Nearpod and Vevox can add meaningful participation and interaction in lectures and seminars with the same resource being re-usable for as long as the modules are taught.

For students the greater use of technology can bring real benefits and Jisc’s digital insights survey regularly shows that students do want greater use of technology even if it is just lecture recordings. Moreover, according a report produced by the European Commission (Human Capital: Europe’s Digital Progress Report, 2017) 38% of workplaces stated that a lack of digital skills was harming business while in the panel discussion mentioned a performing arts student explained how the use of technology in his course had helped him develop the skills he needed to be able to gain employment in his chosen field. One suggestion I am a little unsure about is the rewarding of staff with badges they can wear when they achieve a given level of digital skills, a strategy used by one college, but some kind of recognition for digital development can only help spread good digital practice.

The presentations from Digifest 2020 are now available online to view, along with Andy Taggart’s: Degree apprenticeships – meeting the technical and teaching challenges

Image by Klaus P. Rausch from Pixabay

 

Some thoughts on Nearpod

Nearpod is a service that uses audience interaction during presentations to enhance almost any form of teaching.

Before we get into why I like Nearpod, I’d like to point out that I am not employed by Nearpod, I have no affiliation with them, I just really like their product! It’s easy to talk positively about something that you actually believe has benefits.

Nearpod is fantastic at changing the focus of a presentation from a big screen at the front of a room, to that of the person presenting and, of course, the device you have in front of you. The presenter can become a part of the audience, moving around the room and engaging specific members of the audience the room, but at the same time lead and direct the session without being tied to a PC at the front of the class.

Nearpod has 4 licences that start at nothing for a Silver licence right up to a District licence for larger organisations.

pricing structure

 

 

 

 

Taken from nearpod.com/pricing

There is an increase in connections and file storage between each level. I think that the basic interactions on the Silver licence are great for getting information from students and making the class interactive.

The basic features that the Silver licence offers are:

  • Text fill response box
  • Quizzes
  • Poll
  • Draw tool

The Premium features that are available with the Gold licence, and above, allow for:

  • Embedding video and web content
  • Game interactions
  • Allowing note taking on each slide for the student (School licence)

If you can’t see the Nearpod presentation below, please check for any ad or pop up blockers that may stop it displaying.

The Nearpod presentation above started life as a set of standard PowerPoint slides,  which I have then added some interactivity too. In this case, the slide’s interaction adds a collection of images and then I have added a question. Adding questions throughout the presentation allows the presenter to get information about the class; this could be good to gauge how well the audience has understood the lesson so far. It also contains BBC Worldwide content that is accessible directly within Nearpod as well as the ability to embed a live webpage within the presentation and a poll to gain feedback from the audience.

The more expensive licences allow you to set ‘homework’, which provides a version of the presentation to the audience to access outside of the classroom. They can then look through it at their own pace, either before the class, so they are prepared for the lesson ahead, or afterwards.  The presentation that has been embedded in this article has been done using the homework mode feature. It can be added directly within a VLE or a link given to be emailed to the student.

Nearpod also has a marketplace where you can purchase a range of presentations on a variety of topics. Whilst this is a nice addition, many of the materials are aimed at younger children and are therefore not directly appropriate for HE level education. Additionally, much of the content is provided for the North American market so you may not have a huge amount of ready-made content to choose from.

Sometimes, students get embarrassed when they don’t understand a concept or aspect of a lesson and everyone else seems to. It’s happened to me, and it’s probably happened to you. Using Nearpod for audience response could remove some of that worry. Audience responses are anonymous to all but the person presenting – the presenter can focus on improving that person’s knowledge, without bringing it up in front of the whole class.

For all the great features that Nearpod offers, there are a few negatives to the system that some of the academics have reported, for example:

  1. Students can feel “over Nearpoded”
  2. Transferring an existing PowerPoint presentation directly into Nearpod, then adding interactions, can dramatically extend the length of your teaching session

So to the first point. Some academics have said that if you turn every lecture into a Nearpod session, the students start to lose interest in the interactions. This can also be the case when too many are added to one session. The drop off of the initial engagement can be high and you lose their desire to be part of the process.  A few interactions per session inside of a “normal” PowerPoint seems to be the best plan until you find what works for you and your teaching using the software. The other initial workflow might be that not every session needs to be delivered in that manner if you are finding this issue.

The second point relates to the first in as much as it’s not a good idea to take existing PowerPoint presentations, add them into Nearpod and then add further interactions. Academics that have tried this so far have run out of time to deliver the entire lecture. Interactions add time to the normal flow of the lecture and while they are useful tools, it will take a rethink of the content you are trying to deliver in each session. It is a good excuse to look at older PowerPoints and think about how they can be improved either inside or outside of Nearpod. An addition to this is that Nearpod now allows you to continue a previous session using the same code for a period of 14 days after the first presentation. This means if you are tight for time you can carry on where you left off next time around.

The system has maintained a high user base within the University. However, be aware that if the student experience is not monitored it can affect an individuals feelings towards the system and process, which may taint the continued engagement with the product.

If you are curious about Nearpod, I would suggest you sign up for an account and have a go yourself. Give the free version a try and you may even find that it alone will be enough to suit your needs. Within the University we have access to the full licence so please email elearn@port.ac.uk to be added to the account.

Guest Blogger: Ankur Shah – How to engage students with interactive presentations

Ankur Shah
Technical Manager – Faculty of Business and Law (BAL), UoP

Tech vs Powerpoint

Over the years within Higher Education we have seen many applications and tools introduced that have had an impact on how students engage in a seminar or a lecture session. For academics every year this is a new challenge, not only to keep the content of teaching fresh, but also to try to make it interactive in way that will engage more students.

Now, any academic could argue that the best way to deliver a session is just to have a set of Powerpoint slides projected in the lecture or seminar room, where the students would also have a copy of the same in the form of printed material to make any necessary notes. We could argue that in the 21st century and in an age where digital learning is a key to gauge a student’s understanding on the topic taught, it has kind of become necessary to make presentations more interactive using a range of tools to make that change easy for academics.

How can an academic go about this?

There are many tools that can enable an academic to make their presentations more interactive with minimal effort To list a few:

  1. Prezi – this allows you to add motion, zoom and also gives an option to spatial relationships, for this you have to design a presentation within this tool
  2. NearPod – this allows you to add quizzes, flashcards, videos, polls etc to your existing Powerpoint slides – the University has a license for this tool
  3. Studio 360 within the Articulate suite – this is a tool that allows a user to design interactive presentations in a way where students cannot proceed to the next section without meeting the requirements set and also gives the user an option to c import into Moodle

With the changing technology, the above tools are not set in stone, but are what I would recommend to start with when using these advanced tools. But for this blog I will be looking at Nearpod, as that is something I worked on with an academic to get their presentation slides more interactive.

Why Nearpod?

I recently had an academic wanting to ‘up’ the way in which he delivers his presentations so that his students are more engaged in the session – as sometimes delivering a session on rather dry topics can be a bit boring, but just adding an interactive element can liven things up.

So, as the academic wanted to use a tool as simple as possible and in a short space of time, I suggested using Nearpod.The good part of Nearpod is you don’t have to work on multiple presentations, instead you can just upload  your Powerpoint slides to Nearpod and then within an app or web version you can add different elements to your slides.

The other good part of Nearpod is that the instructor will have full control over their slides and students can only begin the session if they are given the access code. This also allows the instructor to add if needed, polls or quizzes in-between the sessions to test how students are engaging with it.

Nearpod also gives the option to instructors for making their Powerpoint presentations available with the interactivity with the student-paced option. With this option instructors can just give the code to the students for their slides and then students can go through these according to their requirements and also use it for revision purposes.

The session was conducted with around 160 students in a lecture theatre where there were no problems – all the students logged-in fine and also the session had more engagement compared to the previous week. Some students even asked to have more sessions like this as it was helping them understand the concept or topic very well.

Other options that Nearpod offers are:

  1. Virtual Reality – you can have an image and the students can interact with the image in a Virtual mode, within the app
  2. Simulation activity
  3. Drawing questions – this allows students to draw using the tools available in Nearpod
  4. Open Ended questions
  5. Polls and many more

Finally, to wrap this post I am not suggesting that Nearpod is the only tool that can help with student engagement or make your slides interactive, but it is a tool which is easy to use compared to others already available in the University, and is certainly the one which works on all smart devices. Along with that it also offers various different things you can add to your existing Powerpoint slides and also it allows you to track your student progress. I would like to say anyone who is interested in knowing more about this tool, or any other tool, to please email pbs-tsu@port.ac.uk and we will be happy to help you with your request.

Image credits: Photo by Lilly Rum on Unsplash

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