Adventures in Technology Enhanced Learning @ UoP

Tag: Student Engagement (Page 1 of 2)

WiseFlow ePortfolio – Unlocking the power of WiseFlow: Transforming ePortfolio assessments

In the digital age, traditional paper-based portfolios have given way to ePortfolios, harnessing a powerful way to showcase a student’s work that demonstrates their learning, progress, reflections and achievements, over a period of time. ePortfolios are increasingly becoming popular in education as they offer several benefits to both students and academics.

For students, ePortfolios provide an adaptable platform to showcase their learning journey, including their best work and reflections on when it didn’t go quite to plan, and draw on evidence from a range of sources whether that be PDFs, images, videos, audio snippets or written text. This process helps students develop their metacognitive skills and self-awareness as learners over a period of time.  Academics, on the other hand, can use ePortfolios to assess students’ learning outcomes in a more comprehensive and authentic manner. In turn, this allows academics to gain insights into students’ thought processes, identify their strengths and weaknesses, and provide targeted feedback. Additionally, ePortfolios allow academics to track students’ progress and provide evidence of their achievements.

Using ePortfolios also builds several skills, including digital literacy, communication and critical thinking – all of which are vital in the modern workplace. Students have to select, curate, and present their work in a clear and engaging manner. They also have to reflect on their learning process and map this to learning outcomes. These skills are crucial for success in the modern workplace, where digital communication and collaboration are essential. With a background in teaching vocational courses for 12 years at Further Education level, I’ve seen first-hand the impact and outcomes of effective ePortfolio use for both students and academics. 

At Portsmouth University, we have struggled to find a solid ePortfolio solution. We currently use a popular open-source ePortfolio platform that allows students to create and share their digital portfolios. While the platform has several benefits, including flexibility, customizability, and integration with other systems, it also faces some challenges. One major issue is its user interface, which can be overwhelming and confusing for some users – particularly in the setup stage of having to import the portfolio into your own profile. This process often leads to a lot of technical issues and puts up an immediate barrier to entry for those not tech-savvy. Additionally, the learning curve for using the platform can be steep, and it may take some time for users to become familiar with all the features and functionalities. However, despite these challenges, academics and students value the use of the ePortfolio system on offer and the benefits this provides.  

We are currently coming towards the end of our first stage of a pilot with a new system: WiseFlow. This is a cloud-based digital end-to-end exam and assessment platform that supports the assessment and feedback lifecycle for students, assessors and administrators. It’s fair to say that staff feedback about the WiseFlow pilot has been overwhelmingly positive. As a core project team, we’ve had the pleasure of working with academic teams to support students with innovative assessments in Wiseflow, across a range of disciplines. This all links to our Digital Success Plan to (re)design robust assessments to meet the needs of the diverse student population within a blended and connected setting and incorporate a robust specialist end-to-end assessment platform. Our aims in the project were to make it easier for academics to design assessments, easier for students to find their assessments and feedback, and reduce the manual workaround assessments for academics and support staff.  All of which, WiseFlow seems to have been able to deliver. 

Within the pilot, we wanted to really push the boundaries of WiseFlow – utilising a wide range of assessment types to really test if WiseFlow can become the go-to platform for assessments at Portsmouth University.  One of the big challenges for us was to find an ePortfolio solution that is user-friendly, and adaptable across a range of disciplines as well as providing a versatile feedback loop where students could receive formative feedback on their work from assessors and develop ideas, prior to final submission. After challenging the team at WiseFlow to this – they came back with a solution. Block arrows showing the timeline of a flow ePortfolio for Online Course Developers, eLearn Team, Students and Academics

Traditionally, a FlowMulti (just one of the many ‘flow types’ WiseFlow offers for assessment) would be used for open/closed book multiple-choice exams, where the participants fill out a provided multiple-choice test.  However, the team at WiseFlow suggested we could utilise this functionality to use as a bespoke ePortfolio solution.

Using a FlowMulti allowed us to replicate the layout and design of current ePortfolios as well as allow us to adapt the setup to truly take ePortfolios to the next level. To create the feedback loop, we allowed assessors early access to the work, early release of feedback to students, and students to submit unlimited times before the deadline.  The portfolios could be easily updated year-on-year, were inviting for students to engage with, and could be authored by multiple academics at the same time. This seemed like the perfect solution.  

After testing, adapting and re-testing, we felt this solution offered a totally new level of ePortfolio to our current offering. The ability to re-purpose traditional multiple-choice questions allowed us to push the boundaries of assessment further, like never before. The only limitation is our own creativity to adapt and repurpose these. We put together a showcase of a PGCert portfolio to show our academics the findings, who immediately fell in love with the platform and we started working together to develop a portfolio to run within the pilot.

“As a course team, we are incredibly excited about the flexibility that the Wiseflow ePortfolio has to offer. Working with the project team we have been able to design a summative assessment vehicle which is both intuitive for learners and versatile enough to encompass a broad range of tools which enable the course Learning Outcomes to be demonstrated in an engaging and meaningful way.”  Dr Joanne Brindley, Academic Practice Lead & Senior Lecturer in Higher Education.

A screenshot of an image taken from a computer of the page that the participant will see asking them to reflect on their skills. A screenshot of an image taken from a computer of the page that the participant will see. The image is of empty drop box for the participant to upload their activity into it. A screenshot of an image taken from a computer of the page that the participant will see asking them to type up a reflective statement on the using of Technology to support learning.

We are now in the “participation” phase of two ePortfolios – one for the Research Informed Teaching module and one for the new Level 7 Teach Well: Principles to Practice professional development module.  We have had great experiences re-designing pre-existing portfolios to really push the boundaries of what is possible in WiseFlow. We’ve added interactive elements, by turning traditional questions and approaches on their head – such as using a histogram for reflection, allowing students to visually reflect on skillsets pre- and post-observation. We’ve provided students freedom of choice with assessment by integrating a voice recorder into the portfolio and also utilising existing platforms to integrate into the WiseFlow portfolio. Really, the only limitation is our own imagination.  

“We teach the PG Cert Higher Education so our students are staff. The platform is incredibly user-friendly for both staff and students. We used it for ePortfolio as the last platform created lots of complaints, whereas this platform has led to lots of compliments.  The staff members spoke highly of the platform and I believe, many have asked to be part of the pilot next year due to their positive experience.”  Tom Lowe, Senior Lecturer in Higher Education

There has been overwhelmingly positive feedback from academics and students regarding the usability and functionality of using WiseFlow as an ePortfolio solution.  Through word of mouth and firsthand experiences from early career academics, particularly those who are studying on the Research Informed Teaching module, the platform’s potential in enhancing their own teaching has become widely recognized.  I remember being invited to one of Tom’s lectures to showcase the platform to his students who would be using it and the response was overwhelming. Staff were excited to use this as students and saw the immediate potential for their own teaching. It is always a good sign of a new innovation when there is an immediate benefit to both staff and students that can be applied instantly in the classroom. Essentially, we now have a waiting list for academics who are wanting to work with us to develop ePortfolios in WiseFlow – with no advertising at all and purely from those who have used it as students. We believe that when this is advertised, we will see a huge influx of academics wanting to use this. We have also spoken to other Universities in WiseFlow user groups, who are actively keen to explore this and want to learn about our innovative approach. The potential of this solution is game-changing, not just for us, but for other Higher Education institutions. 

However, using an innovative approach and essentially turning a quiz assignment on its head does not come without some drawbacks that need to be considered before academics embark on an ePortfolio solution within WiseFlow.  There is currently a 12-file limit, set at 10Mb per file when students upload files into the portfolio. Although it is great that students can do this, it does not lend itself to modern file sizes or some of our subject areas (for example, our Creative and Cultural Industry Faculty, where students would regularly upload large .psd, CAD files, HD video, and high-quality audio etc). In our initial pilot, we haven’t encountered this issue – but it’s worth considering if this is the correct way to proceed with an assessment. The limit on the number of files is also a concern. For example, some students in our pilot have reached the 12-file upload limit. While there are workarounds, such as storing files in a Google Drive folder and sharing the link or combining multiple files into one, however, it defeats the purpose of an ePortfolio as an all-encompassing system. Perhaps, a better approach would be to have an upload limit as a whole, with a defined combined file size.  The final consideration to make is that once the ePortfolio is live, we cannot make changes.  We’ve worked extensively with academics and our support teams to iron out any issues prior to release, but again, this is important for academics to understand. Careful planning and consideration must take place in the authoring phase of an assignment, which will then be rigorously checked prior to release – in the same way an exam would. Despite these setbacks, we’re actively in discussions with WiseFlow regarding developing this and hope to make progress on these in the near future. 

The future of ePortfolios in WiseFlow is exciting, and we can’t wait to see how they will continue to be developed across the University. The ability to adapt and transform ePortfolios will open up new doors for our students and academics to really develop the ways in which students can showcase their knowledge and understanding. We’re hoping for a successful run of ePortfolio use within our pilot and looking forward to developing new ideas as we move into the future.  

Until next time. Watch this space.

Chris.

Guest Blogger: Rugaiya Ally with Tom Langston – Student Experience at the University

Introduction

This is the final part of a series of four blog posts conceived by Tom Langston and Rugaiya Ally as part of Rugaiya’s work placement within DCQE’s Academic Development and Technology Enhanced Learning teams. 

Tom and Rugaiya wanted to explore students’ feelings about higher education and their expectations about life at university, and therefore devised a set of questions to ask students about their experiences. Rugaiya then interviewed 14 fellow students from across the university faculties (with a predominant number studying in the Science and Business faculties) with most studying at Level 5. This series of posts constitutes a condensed summary of the thoughts and opinions of those 14 students.

In part one we investigated what areas of their course students found to be a strength and where they struggled with the progression through their course. In part two we explored student expectations prior to coming to university. In part three we examined students’ attitudes toward their future careers. Finally, here in part 4, we focus on the student’s university experience and how proud they are to be University of Portsmouth students.

Pride in being a student at UoP

The first question I asked was: What makes you proud to be affiliated with your university? 

The students said that many areas of the university offer them the chance to feel part of Portsmouth; they referred to “its diversity and inclusivity”.

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“The history of the university; it feels good to know I am part of a long chain of people who passed through the same buildings.”

The university provides a space where being part of something bigger than the individual is important: “Recently, the university was in the top 40 for student satisfaction. I agree with that and it makes me proud to be part of this university that’s willing to help the students.

It is not just the name of Portsmouth that is recognised, but also the people who work here and who offer a sense of community – there is a sense in which they are the true heart of Portsmouth.

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“The dedication that some of the lecturers have with the students and how willing they are to interact with them during lessons.”

“I am proud to be affiliated with this university since it made me develop a lot of skills from studying different courses to how they are applied in real life cases thus being confident to what is coming on careers and all programs concerning careers.”

“It’s a great University, top 100 and the architecture course is very well known around the world.” 

Ultimately, the support that many students receive through personal tutoring, ASK, their tutors and fellow students is a key point of pride to many: “The help I get from the university is beyond imagination!” 

What could be changed?

I then asked: What is something you would change about your university if you had the opportunity? 

Current students have a very similar and shared opinions concerning COVID and the pandemic.

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One student pointed out how important it is for new students and even current students to be introduced to the Student Support Services – Wellbeing, ASDAC and many others – as these are extremely useful: life at university is not easy! So instead of promoting all those discos and clubs, a major topic during inductions and orientations should be an introduction to Student Support Services.

“I think especially to first years (freshers), the university should make a great effort to introduce them to the different clubs and student support services that are held at the university. This would not only help them with their social skills but it’s a great addition to their CV for placements”. 

Another student commented on the feedback system after assignments. Sometimes the feedback is not really helpful, which is why some students do not even turn in their formative assignments for feedback. (This example highlights that the feedback for a group assignment can vary depending on the student.) 

If had to change anything it would be their feedback system, it is not quite efficient for me and also stops giving students different feedback for the same projects” 

Would you recommend your course to a friend?

The final question I asked was: Considering your complete experience with our curriculum being taught, how likely would you be to recommend your course to a friend or colleague? 

Overall feelings were positive: most students replied with “yes, very likely” and there were some great responses about their university experience.

Each student will have a range of experiences, however. The complete picture they build is a key conclusion to the time spent at university.

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“Yes, I would recommend it because, during my two full years at the University of Portsmouth, I have come to appreciate and enjoy modules like finance that I never expected to enjoy.”

While COVID was a major part of the university life of many students, there was a general understanding and appreciation of the work put in by academics. Although one student ranked the overall experience as 5/10 they were clear that the support provided by the university and their tutors was important.

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One of the students would recommend the course to others due to the tactics used by the teaching staff at the university, which were helpful in making harder modules and disciplines easier to understand: “I would highly recommend biomedical science to others, pathological science is the main part of biomedical science and the teaching team here at the University of Portsmouth are amazing with incredible teaching tactics which makes it enjoyable and easy to understand, especially haematology and microbiology.”

“I would totally recommend international business and management to my friends and colleagues”. 

Another student pointed out how helpful the Psychology department is and that is why the student will recommend others to join psychology at UoP: “I would recommend it and I’d recommend the university because the psychology department is very helpful”.

These comments demonstrate how supportive the University of Portsmouth can be for the students, giving them a sense of pride to be part of something bigger than themselves. 

Conclusion

Throughout this series of blogs, Rugaiya interviewed students from a variety of faculties but found that they all had a shared sense of what being part of Portsmouth means. There are of course areas that should be continuously worked on and developed or enhanced but overall the experience that Portsmouth offers is one that elevates the individual and helps them to achieve a sense of personal success and pride.

Credit Image: Photo by Paolo Nicolello on Unsplash 

TEL in ’22 – and looking forward to ’23

(Co-writer: ChatGPT)

In 2022 the TEL team said “goodbye” to some valued colleagues, who moved to take up different roles within the University, and we said “hello” to new colleagues who joined us. Chris, Jo, and Mike have already introduced themselves on TEL Tales, so I would like to use this end-of-year post to discuss a couple of work-related highlights: our implementation of Moodle 4.0 and, regarding the key area of assessment and feedback, our pilot of the WiseFlow end-to-end assessment platform.

Moodle 4.0

Moodle 4.0 is the latest version of the Moodle learning management system, and it includes many new features and improvements that aim to enhance the user experience and support better learning outcomes. Some of the key improvements in Moodle 4.0 include:

  • A new and improved user interface: Moodle 4.0 features a redesigned and modern user interface that is more intuitive and user-friendly, and that provides easy access to the most important features and functions.
  • Enhanced learning analytics and reporting: Moodle 4.0 includes improved learning analytics and reporting tools that provide teachers with more detailed and actionable insights on students’ learning, allowing them to track their progress and identify areas for improvement.
  • Improved accessibility and support for mobile devices: Moodle 4.0 has been designed to be more accessible and user-friendly for users with disabilities, and it includes support for mobile devices, allowing students to access their learning materials and activities on the go.
  • More options for personalization and customization: Moodle 4.0 provides teachers and administrators with more options for personalization and customization, allowing them to tailor the learning environment to the specific needs and preferences of their learners.

Overall, Moodle 4.0 is a significant improvement over previous versions of the learning management system, and it offers many new features and enhancements that can support better learning outcomes and a more engaging and effective learning experience.

At this point I would like to ask the reader: did you notice anything unusual about my discussion of Moodle 4.0?

Moving on, another major project for the TEL team has been to support a pilot implementation of the WiseFlow end-to-end assessment platform. Our hope is that a dedicated platform will allow us to improve our practices around assessment and feedback. Let’s explore that idea below in a little more detail.

Assessment and feedback

There are many different ways to assess students, and the best approach will depend on the specific learning goals and objectives, as well as the context and needs of the learners. Some key principles and strategies that can help to ensure effective assessment of students include:

  • Align assessment with learning goals: The assessment of students should be closely aligned with the learning goals and objectives of the course or programme. This will help to ensure that the assessment is focused on the most important and relevant learning outcomes and that it provides valid and reliable information on students’ progress and achievement.
  • Use a variety of assessment methods: Different assessment methods can provide different types of information and insights into students’ learning, and it is important to use a range of methods in order to get a comprehensive picture of their progress and achievement. Some common assessment methods include tests, quizzes, projects, presentations, portfolios, and observations.
  • Provide timely and meaningful feedback: Feedback is an essential component of assessment, and it is important to provide students with timely and meaningful feedback on their progress and performance. This feedback should be clear, specific, and actionable, and it should help students to understand their strengths and weaknesses, and identify areas for improvement.
  • Engage students in the assessment process: Students should be actively involved in the assessment process, and they should be given opportunities to reflect on their own learning, evaluate their progress, and set goals for improvement. This can help to foster a growth mindset and a sense of ownership and responsibility for their own learning.

Overall, effective assessment of students requires careful planning, the use of a variety of assessment methods, timely and meaningful feedback, and student engagement in the assessment process.

Again, at this point I would like to ask the reader: did you notice anything unusual about my discussion of assessment and feedback?

I inserted those italicised questions above because I (Stephen Webb) did not write any of the text in the two subsections. My “co-author” (ChatGPT) wrote the text.

In 2022, GPT3 (Generative Pre-trained Transformer 3) became a mainstream technology. At least a dozen apps are available that can provide clear, comprehensible text-based responses to prompts provided by a user. An app such as ChapGPT can write essays (and poems, and computer code, and much else besides). And many of our students will know this.

Similar technology can generate artwork. The artwork accompanying this blog post is an original by DALL-E, from a prompt I provided. DALL-E is a much better artist than I can ever hope to be.

I hesitate to call this technology Artificial Intelligence because it is neither artificial nor intelligent; I prefer the term Assistive Computation. Whatever we call the technology, though, I believe that in 2023 we need, as educators, to start grappling with its implications. Can we reasonably assess students by setting them essays to write, when apps can spit out the essays for them? What does the technology mean for notions of authorship and plagiarism? (You will notice that I have credited ChatGPT as being the co-author of this blog post; is that reasonable or meaningful?) What are the best strategies for learning with this technology?

Of course, teachers as well as students can use Assistive Computation. As an experiment, recently, an academic asked ChatGPT to generate a question in a particular knowledge domain that could be set for a first-year undergraduate essay. (The question it generated was entirely suitable.) The academic then asked ChatGPT to generate a rubric for the question. (The rubric was acceptable.) Then the academic asked ChatGPT to write an essay based on the question it had set. (The essay showed no insight, made no new points but would have received a passing grade.) Finally, the academic asked ChatGPT to mark the essay according to the rubric. (The feedback, if nothing else, was at least provided in a more timely fashion than human teachers can provide.)

This experiment suggests to me that either (i) we cut out the middlemen (students and teachers) and let AI do whatever it wants; or (ii) we work together – both students and teachers – to understand how to use Assistive Computation to improve teaching and learning. 

There are many questions here. And I believe 2023 is the year we all need to start grappling with them. Another question: should educators be concerned about this technology? I’ll let my co-author answer:

It’s natural for educators to be concerned about the potential impact of technology on their profession. However, it’s important to note that systems like ChatGPT are not capable of replacing the role of a human educator. While they may be able to generate text, they do not have the ability to understand or evaluate the content of that text in the same way that a human can. It’s also worth considering that the use of such systems may actually highlight the importance of critical thinking and analysis skills, which are vital for success in education and beyond. In the end, the role of educators will continue to be important in helping students develop these skills and prepare for the future.

I (the human, not the AI) would like to wish you an enjoyable festive period and a happy New Year!

Credit Image: An original by DALL-E

Guest Blogger: Rugaiya Ally with Tom Langston – Employability: Perceptions of the university in supporting student careers

Introduction

This is part three in a series of four blog posts conceived by Tom Langston and Rugaiya Ally as part of Rugaiya’s work placement within DCQE’s Academic Development and Technology Enhanced Learning teams. 

Tom and Rugaiya wanted to explore students’ feelings about higher education and their expectations about life at university, and therefore devised a set of questions to ask students about their experiences. Rugaiya then interviewed 14 fellow students from across the university faculties (with a predominant number studying in the Science and Business faculties) with most studying at Level 5. This series of posts constitutes a condensed summary of the thoughts and opinions of those 14 students.

In part one we investigated what areas of their course students found to be a strength and where they struggled with the progression through their course. In part two we explored student expectations of their courses and modules and what could be changed and what should continue. Here in part three, we examine students’ attitudes to their future careers, and how their taught modules helped them develop the life and employability skills needed to achieve their goals. Finally, in part 4, we will look at attitudes to university life in general. 

Employability 

The first question I asked was: How do you feel what you have learned on your course has helped you develop your career?

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One student focused on how learning on their course helped in finding passion, even if they are still uncertain of which careers to go into:   

It has helped a lot, even though I’m not yet sure what I want to do. I know that I like psychology and I like being able to link it to different parts, e.g. art/design/business.”

Another student found that their continued desire for the course has shaped how they approach the career that they want, and it helped develop useful relevant skills:

The fact that it has been a course I have always wanted to study and practice, and so it improved my physical and mental skills in the field.”

Some students developed extra skills and knowledge of their future careers:                    

What I have learned has helped me develop my career in a significant way, most especially in business management and when it comes to decision making.”

Similarly, a Pharmacy student explained how their course helped them to interpret data and practical applications for the components that make up medicine: 

“The information about drugs has helped me understand and interpret the excipients in it a lot.” 

Many students develop their passion over the duration of their course, and what they expect for their career can evolve and change over time:

“The different modules I have undertaken exposed me to different kinds of knowledge and career paths. In my Sixth Form, I wouldn’t have considered taxation as a career path but after my second year I realised that I do have a passion for the module and, luckily, I do understand it well.”

The next question I posed was: How has your university experience in general helped you to progress into a career?

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One student commented on how helpful the Careers and Employability team are in guiding students with extra information about the job market: “The placement team significantly helped me progress my career because of the guidance they were always ready to offer. They not only helped me with constructing a CV but the different techniques required to progress.

However, while some found their placement to be a success, others had a slightly more challenging experience.

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Another student mentioned how good and unique the University’s learning environment is in providing learning and teaching services with cutting-edge resources: “The University of Portsmouth provides hands-on simulation sessions, lab classes, dispensing sessions, and placement, which has helped me gain practical skills. As an international student, I appreciate that a lot, since in my country, there’s a lack of that.

One student is now sure of what career path to follow, and this is possible due to the help of personal tutors and course lecturers: “During the first year, I was quite unsure what to do but now I have a bit of a clearer idea on what I want to do once I graduate. Talking with my tutor and lecturers when I was in my second year has helped me decide as well.” 

Another student commented on the University’s alumni body, which is very helpful as you get support and guidance from people who are already in relevant careers or who have much relevant experience:

“The university has an alumni body that is accessible to all graduates for career advice, where I am given guidance on how to embark on my career.”

“It has opened a lot of opportunities I didn’t think I had.”

The third question I asked was: Did this course help you develop professional skills (e.g. written or oral communication, computer literacy, teamwork)?

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Some students found the learning in their courses helped them develop important life skills, such as writing and communication skills: 

Yes, the course helped my writing skills, because it is part of the course itself, to be able to express legal concerns and other different actions.”

“DLLP, particularly presentations, have helped me improve my communication and problem-solving skills, and therefore, I’m looking forward to improving more as I progress into the course. Meetings with personal tutors is also a factor which has improved my communication as well as writing lab reports, which have improved my writing skills.” 

One student pointed out how course group work helped them gain useful employability skills, such as team-working skills: “3 out of 6 of the total modules we did in the second year required us, the students, to carry out a presentation as a group. This helped me with my team-working skills and intellectual skills. This is because some of the presentations required us to present them to the class face-to-face while others required a lot of research in order to come up with a well-detailed business plan”.

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The goal of a university is to provide a student with opportunities to progress both educationally and personally. These experiences will be the building blocks for their careers and it is often not just the taught content but the wide variety of skills that are developed over their entire university life that help provide a strong foundation for employability after graduation. As demonstrated through the feedback of the students interviewed, employability should not just be something undertaken in the final year, but a culmination of all the time spent at university.

Credit Image: Photo by Luis Melendez on Unsplash 

Guest Blogger: Rugaiya Ally with Tom Langston – Student Expectations

Introduction

This is part two in a series of four blog posts conceived by Tom Langston and Rugaiya Ally as part of Rugaiya’s work placement within DCQE’s Academic Development and Technology Enhanced Learning teams. 

Tom and Rugaiya wanted to explore students’ feelings about higher education and their expectations about life at university, and therefore devised a set of questions to ask students about their experiences. Rugaiya then interviewed 14 fellow students from across the university faculties (with a predominant number studying in the Science and Business faculties) with most studying at Level 5. This series of posts constitutes a condensed summary of the thoughts and opinions of those 14 students.

In part one we investigated what areas of their course students found to be a strength and where they struggled with the progression through their course. Here in part two, we explore the student expectations of their modules and courses. It will look at what made the module interesting, what should academics continue to do for their students and what areas should be changed or stopped. (Note that some quotes have been slightly edited to anonymise the academics who are referred to.) In part three we examine the students attitudes towards their employability skills. Finally, in part four, we look at university life in general. 

What makes a module/course interesting 

The first question I asked was:

What do you think the instructor/lecturer did the best and made the module/course interesting and enjoyable? 

One response highlighted the positive aspects when the lecturers use their own reflection and life experience to highlight the content and teaching material:  

“Some did well in making us have a clear understanding of their modules by always providing enough examples and scenarios to understand firmly; however, with other lecturers, the reverse was the case”

Another student appreciated the group discussions organised by the lecturers: 

Group discussions and talks through forums made the course enjoyable” 

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When lecturers put in what the students considered to be “extra work and enthusiasm” learning was easier and study became a positive experience both inside and outside of the classroom.

Within the Faculty of Science and Health, the students reflected that:

Lecturers within Pathological Science 2 made haematology interesting for me and the way they delivered their lectures online and in-person with interactive sessions with quizzes and case studies. Meanwhile, others made learning microbiology much easier with small quizzes they would put at the end of the video. It helped me with retaining what they taught during the lectures much faster”.

“The lectures of some lecturers … were really interesting since they explained well and answered our questions accordingly. Also, the presence of dispensing and lab sessions, as well as a practical simulation session enabled us to gain hands-on practical skills and knowledge and was very enjoyable”.

Within the Faculty of Business and Law, students had an equally positive experience when scenarios and interactive demonstrations were used to provide context for the theoretical teaching:

“The second term of my second year, we did a module called Critical Issues. The module coordinator that taught us managed to make the lessons interesting by letting the students discuss the notes in class in a creative and memorable way. For example, in order to learn more about inflation, she printed out fake money whereby we the students got to understand that having more money doesn’t solve the problem”

My next question expanded on the area of the enthusiasm of the lecturers that were teaching the course. Responses were about how the lecturers made the classes more engaging as we all know how hard learning can be sometimes. 

“Instructors were completely immersed in this course and made sure every student understood everything that was taught and were quite enthusiastic about the course, which gave it a lively feeling.

“Yes. Some of them were really keen to deliver the lectures and were always willing to answer the questions whenever I emailed them”. 

“Yes, some of my lecturers were good at explaining, ‘lecturer 1 for instance’ who does so in a way that everyone can understand.” 

One student felt there was a split between how the lecturers delivered their materials:

“The lecturers mentioned in the previous question above were enthusiastic while others… made it seem like they weren’t. They couldn’t explain or answer our questions well and it seemed like all they were doing was just reading off the PowerPoints.” 

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What lecturers should continue to do 

It is important to consider the good practice of academics within the University so I asked:

What do you think lecturers should continue doing? 

One student found the revision sessions conducted by lecturers really helpful:

They should continue to have more revision time. For example, I managed to uplift my grade in taxation during the speculated revision time we were given by the lecture. Since the lecturer wouldn’t be teaching, they will have enough to explain concepts in the pace more acceptable to the student”.

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Another student liked the drop-in sessions and found them to be helpful since the lecturers mainly supported students with the specific academic problems they are facing:

“Helping students’ drop-in sessions on face-to-face classes should definitely continue”.

Another student felt that providing context to their learning really beneficial:

They should continue explanations with real-life scenarios.

One student found the material uploaded on Moodle useful as it provided guidance and supported preparation ahead of the lectures:

They should continue to give more help and guidance to everyone through platforms like Moodle, continuing to record their lectures and giving relevant materials for extra reading lists”

Moodle can be seen as a positive force for many students, although having a variety of external tools can also be overwhelming. Where academics feel they are providing choices or alternatives for engagement, they may be increasing a barrier to the learning experience.

Moodle Positive (0.51)

What lecturers should stop doing

Finally, what students found to be less positive is an important part of the reflective process. I asked:

What do you think the lecturers should stop doing?”

Stop Lectures (0.36)

Lecturers should stop simply reading the words on a slide. Instead, they need to provide context to their content and offer explanations of the information being presented:

Some lecturers should stop merely browsing through the topical notes and then head straight to the questions but instead they should explain to the students what exactly is being required and the deeper meaning to the notes given”.

Another student replied:

“[Stop] holding revision classes very close to exam time and teaching contents 2 weeks before the exams”.

This answer provides insight into the notion of tight deadlines and issues of workload. 

One student commented on how repeating exams (or past papers) is just testing their memories rather than their understanding of the concepts:

Some exams were a complete copy of the past papers. I believe this forces students to just memorise answers from past mock papers instead of understanding more from textbooks. Exams should have past questions I agree; however, the paper should not be a complete copy of a past paper and rather should have different questions from different papers/books”. 

With the university acutely aware of issues with awarding gaps, this area was important to students too. 

Research suggests that lecturers are impacted by implicit bias and this can impact all areas of teaching, learning, interaction and marking. One student highlighted what they felt was evidence of an implicit racial bias, suggesting that all black students in their class were given the same mark in the assessment of 50/100.

Conclusion

Every student experiences university life differently, with some seeing a wider range of problems than others. As this blog highlights, there are areas that students feel academics can improve on but other areas that demonstrate a strong and positive experience in learning.

Credit Image: Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash 

Guest Blogger: Rugaiya Ally with Tom Langston – Student Opinion of the University

Introduction:

This is part one in a series of four blog posts conceived by Tom Langston and Rugaiya Ally as part of Rugaiya’s work placement within DCQE’s Academic Development and Technology Enhanced Learning teams. 

Tom and Rugaiya wanted to explore students’ feelings about higher education and their expectations about life at university, and therefore devised a set of questions to ask students about their experiences. Rugaiya then interviewed 14 fellow students from across the university faculties (with a predominant number studying in the Science and Business faculties) with most studying at Level 5. This series of posts constitutes a condensed summary of the thoughts and opinions of those 14 students.

Here, in part one, we investigate what areas of their course students find to be a strength and where they struggle with the progression through their course. In part two we explore student expectations prior to coming to university. In part three we examine students’ attitudes toward their future careers. Finally, in part 4, we look at university life in general. 

Strengths and weaknesses of the course

Strengths

I asked: “What are the major strengths of this course”.

The general feeling from most students was extremely positive. One response was: “Being in the second year made me realise how much this course was not only theoretical based. This is because of the placement team that is always there to offer its help. Even though I did not manage to land a placement, the placement team helped me learn more about my future career.”

Another student mentioned that providing a safe space to learn is key: “To be able to practice in a simulated environment and the availability of many placement opportunities for gaining practical knowledge and skills.” 

A couple of students found positives in the content but also found that the course developed their wider skill sets: “The major strength of this course will be that it covers a lot of areas regarding management and business. It also investigates different perspectives of decision making.”

In the next 30-second clip of audio, a student mentioned that developing their skills, both subject-specific, as well as more general, transferable skills, was important to the course.   Strengths (0:29)

For some students, their subject interest was enhanced when they could see instant real-world implications: “Being able to learn about the patterns people have and apply that to real life immediately … I like how psychology allows me to explore different fields and learn about different ways of associating those fields, for example, perfumery and psychology: psychology helps us understand the emotions perfumes trigger and the moods each perfume may create on different people.”

For other students, the opportunity to engage with the subject was a key advantage: “It gives you the ability to relate to all global political and diplomatic affairs.”

An obvious strength is the role the lecturer plays in engaging the students: “The lecturers are really good and some of them make the lectures more enjoyable to listen to and pay attention to.”

Weaknesses

The next question related to the potential negatives of their experiences. Asking “What were the major weaknesses with your course?”

Several students noted that they identified the weaker areas of their course to be when they struggled with specific skills or places where they might need help and support. For example: The weakest aspect of this course will be the financial area, mostly because the calculations are quite different.

The idea that students are required to have a certain level of self-efficacy is important, but not to the detriment of well-being: “… it is the student’s responsibility to keep track of their studies, but the university needs to also follow up on students’ performance – especially those that wouldn’t normally do well.”

It should also not be taken as a given that a lecture or seminar space provides complete clarity of the subject: “Having a lecturer who lacks the ability to explain his module explicitly in lectures.

A common problem raised by students (as heard in the next 45-second audio clip) relates to the structure of not just one module, but multiple modules, and how their assessments are often grouped together. This can increase the pressure of a student’s workload. Weaknesses (0:45)

Some students found that Covid led to difficulties (as everyone expected). The transition to online working, however, raised problems not only with the loss of face-to-face interactions but, more importantly for the future of the blended and connected experience, how online activities were structured into the learning process. The following 27-second clip highlights the issue that students faced.  Weakness (0:27)

Conclusion

As demonstrated above, there were many positives to a student’s experience at the University. In particular, students liked to see that they were learning more than just content but how the overall experience of university life was developing them personally. Despite the positives, however, the students identified areas for improvement, particularly in how courses and modules are designed and structured to create a manageable and achievable workload. Students wanted to achieve good grades and have a great social experience at university; inevitably, Covid impacted this.

Credit Image: Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

Guest Blogger: Co-Creating Expectations with Vevox

Introduction by Tom:

I was asked by Vevox (a company we work closely with that facilitates audience response) to run the first session in their autumn webinar series. I was happy to do this and you can watch the recording of the session on Youtube.

After the session, Joe from Vevox was asked if I would mind someone writing a blog relating to the session. I was flattered and said of course. Dr Rachel Chan from St Mary’s University in Twickenham wrote her blog and shared it with me and I asked her if we could re-publish it here on TelTales. She was happy to let us use the blog…so this blog is a short reflection from Rachel after attending my webinar on “Co-Creating Expectations with Vevox”.

Co-creation Blog

St Mar's logoMy name is Rachel Chan, I am a Senior Lecturer – Clinical Specialist Physiotherapist teaching on the BSc in Physiotherapy at St Mary’s University in Twickenham. Throughout my academic career, I have always been hugely committed to Teaching and Learning. I recently listened to a talk by Tom Langston from the University of Portsmouth about co-creation and thought it might be valuable to write a short blog to share some of his key messages.

Tom began by asking us a question ‘What is co-creation?’ We were all on the right track, people suggested things like ‘student partnership,’ ‘collaboration’ and ‘support.’ Bovill and colleagues(2016) define it as ‘…when staff and students work collaboratively with one another to create components of curricula and /or pedagogical approaches.’ Great, so, Where does it work? Tom showed us that co-creation can work in many areas of pedagogy including setting expectations, assessment criteria, curriculum content and assessment design. I was already sold by this point but there are many, less obvious benefits, to adopting co-creation in your pedagogical practice.

  1.  It enables you to better meet expectations (the students’ expectations of you, your expectations of the student and more subtly but equally important, the students’ expectations of each other). An important tip Tom shared was setting these expectations as early as possible so that everyone knows the playing field from day 1.
  2. It facilitates a dynamic approach to your teaching practice, encouraging you to reflect on what you do and allowing you to evolve as an educator. CPD in action!
  3. It gives the students’ a voice – of course, it is impossible to accommodate all of their suggestions, no one is suggesting that you do. Phew! But listening to students, and showing them that you will try to accommodate some of them, opens the channels of communication – they know that you care and that you have heard them. This is SO important.

The idea of co-creation may make some educators feel anxious and, in some areas, it will be easier to implement than others (assessment design may be more challenging for example) but you can and should start small. Bovill and Bulley have created a ladder that models co-creation, it shows dictated curriculum at the bottom and an anarchic level of students in control at the top (ttps://eprints.gla.ac.uk/57709/1/57709.pdf). Tom wasn’t suggesting you aim too high but believes adopting some co-creation in your practice will have huge benefits for all.

How to adopt this principle of co-creation? There are many ways in which you can successfully include co-creation in your teaching such as using an EVS to make quizzes or simply creating a collaboration space to stimulate discussions with students.

My take-home message…Step 1. always try to engage your students in your teaching, and perhaps more importantly…Step 2. respond to that engagement. Thanks, Tom, I am inspired!

If you have any questions or would like to know more about co-creation, please contact Tom at:  tom.langston@port.ac.uk

H5P Branching Scenario: Students as Decision Makers

Adapting during Covid

Due to covid, students have unfortunately missed out on a lot of practical aspects of their courses, which may have been the main reason they decided to take the course in the first place. The Branching Scenario tool in H5P can be used as a substitute of sorts to allow students to have a more meaningful learning experience.

How have we adapted since last March to try and make our courses more content-rich? The use of videos is far more prevalent than before. Videos are great! BUT we need to also use them in conjunction with other learning tools. If you’re asking students to watch video after video it becomes a passive experience and then we fall into a similar situation when we ask them just to read ppts, notes, etc.

How can we show there is “added value” to our courses? 

Interactivity is key here, good synchronous sessions can help engage students, but often there are issues that mean students are unable to attend or the experience of the session is spoiled by a student’s connectivity issue. It’s important not to neglect asynchronous resources. A mix of both makes for a good module and better student feedback! 

The following branching scenario is more of an asynchronous activity but you could also deploy it in a live session if needed. 

In late October 2020, I was approached by a member of the nursing academic team to film some scenarios within our own simulation suite, to be used as an online resource/substitute for activities that could not go ahead due to covid restrictions. The three scenarios involved a student nurse and a patient (played by actors) and covered various aspects of Patient focussed care. 

Being interested in filming (Read my previous blog post), I jumped at this opportunity but I further suggested that we make certain elements interactive, to put the student in charge of making decisions. They would play the role of the student nurse and based on how the scenario panned out they were given 3 key decisions to make with one “good” and one “bad” choice at each decision point.

Set up and execution

The filming was set for the end of November in Covid secure conditions and two of the three scenarios were scripted to have these decision elements within them. In terms of filming style, I decided to go with a three-camera setup, one on the patient, one on the student and a wide-angle also so that students could see the whole environment these characters were in. If I could do it again I might go for a POV (Point of View) style which might give an even more immersive experience.

The editing process was interesting as I had to be creative in some places where audio quality was not as good as I’d hoped and splicing the scenes to make them run more smoothly.

Creation of the H5P object was in itself very easy to do. Once I had exported the individual video files, it was a case of dragging and dropping them into place within the Branching Scenario editor. I would certainly advise anyone who’d like to do this, to map out exactly how you think it will look beforehand so it makes the actual building of the resource much quicker. 

Did it work? 

I received some fantastic feedback from both the academic in charge and the students who used it. I honestly believe that this could be a way forward in bridging the gap between practical elements and online learning. Whilst these types of resources lend themselves well to medical courses where students will need to take important decisions in their future careers, I can also see that this has a broader appeal in Languages, Law, Criminology, Coaching/management and many others.

If you want to have a go at one of the resources I’ve made, check out this link:

https://portsmouthuni.h5p.com/content/1291197333648269337

(You don’t have to be a student nurse to complete this! There’s no difficult terminology or complicated procedures to understand.)

Lockdown Learning Fatigue – How can we re-engage drifting students

Amy Barlow, National Teaching Fellow and Head of Academic Development reflects on how in TB2 ‘Connection and Belonging’ should be the priority curriculum activities 

Universities first went online in lockdown, March 2020; webcams were fired up, adrenaline was high and we were all navigating teaching from a place of unfamiliarity and novelty while the sun shone outside. Our pets and children became part of the daily Zoom on-screen family as tails hovered across the screen and toys were passed to Mum or Dad during calls. ‘You’re on Mute’ became the unspoken mantra of the working day. Restricted trousers and heels were replaced by comfortable joggers and leggings – it was academia Jim but not as we knew it.

Fast forward to February 2021 and the prolonged need to teach online, during another lockdown (in Winter this time) has resulted in a sense of fatigue for many staff and students. It’s been months since some of our students have been physically on campus and seen their peers and tutors. The ebb and flow of each semester starting and beginning haven’t been felt. They have not experienced the celebratory feel on campus when their assignments are finally all handed in and they have not revelled in the social buzz of navigating their new timetable as teaching resumes and new exciting subjects take centre stage. Lockdown learning fatigue has settled heavily on the shoulders of many and there is a growing concern for their progress when attendance is minimal and much of the well designed self-directed learning is missed, or engaged with, out of sequence. The blend of online tools and the skillset of colleagues, to deliver distance learning is at an all-time high – but how can we bridge the disconnect that seems so apparent for some lecturers staring at empty discussion boards and sitting patiently in silent Zoom rooms?

Studying has become a lonely activity and the multiple ways students orientated their studies previously have stopped. Although on the plus side lockdown has taken away many distractions and time pressures, it has also brought with it a learning environment that has many new barriers especially in terms of mental health and wellbeing. Staying on track week to week and navigating multiple module pages in the VLE is a new method of time management required from students.  In terms of community, the face-to-face interaction and ‘get to know you’ activity which scaffolds peer groups and support structures for students have been diminished. For example, the chats walking out of lectures, the informal opportunity to meet over coffee and a safe space to ask their friends questions are no longer a learning resource available to them. It’s this period of orientation to new modules which is so crucial to the curriculum gaining momentum and to students staying on track. 

Over time, withdrawal from study may escalate into missing a week, or weeks of teaching and then feeling that re-engaging, or attending the Zoom taught session is too much to face. A student, for example, may feel overwhelmed. Some may just feel uncomfortable studying in bedrooms and attending online classes in this private space. Ironically, they are disengaged from the one shared learning experience and readily available support structure which may help them. If they get out of sync with their peers and the module content, it is understandable that they may not want to join in,  feeling embarrassed for not completing the prep work they may have been set. Logging into Moodle may seem daunting when done sporadically – all of sudden there are new posts, everyone is chatting and answering questions and it’s a confusing picture.  This Learning Well resource is useful to help students understand why they may find it hard to concentrate when they are feeling anxious and overwhelmed. It’s on our course and department pages but is a good tool to bridge the subject with them.  Many courses saw at the end of TB1 that all of these factors had resulted in a last-minute assignment panic for many. This was seen when views of recorded sessions spiked in the days prior to deadlines and demand for one-to-one catch up sessions increased. 

Meeting the needs of this students group is new territory for teachers everywhere, who are also battling with their own lockdown fatigue and the challenges of home working. 

So, how can we re-engage students during a time of lockdown learning fatigue?

View our top tips to Re-Engage here.

There is no quick fix. There are, however, some simple steps that can be taken to bring students back into the online learning space. To re-engage and help them all to feel on track – but most importantly relaxed about their studies so they can learn. They need to understand that everyone (including their lecturers)  are sharing the same struggles and anxieties as they are. It’s safe to speak up and share that they feel a bit lost – no one will judge them, they can catch up – it’s all there on Moodle if they feel able to work through the scaffolded learning activities that are set in small chunks. Importantly, they work together as a team to help each other succeed in a difficult time. 

A key recommendation is focusing on the first, three weeks of the module being fun, accessible and social-based around fascinating disciplinary content. This time is make or break in terms of engagement. Then bring in further social, low-pressure activities as the module progresses. Students may not want to keep their videos on during zoom sessions, that’s fine – perhaps a quick wave at the start and a commitment from everyone to communicate with the chat function would help the group to get to know each other. Informal drop-in sessions have been successful in our Faculty of Business and Law to create a social online space to ask the questions that may otherwise seem stupid. For example, setting clear expectations about participation is key, but don’t just tell the students what you expect, ask them to discuss what they think is fair:

Would they like to use their videos during calls? 

Would they expect to contribute to the VLE activities every week or every few days? Are they happy to be part of a group chat (e.g. Whatsapp) just for this group? 

Should all sessions be recorded and available for those who didn’t attend? 

What should they agree to do if they feel they are falling behind?

How will they hold each other to account?

What will the group do if they are confused or have missed content?

Icebreaking and ‘Get to Know You’ activities could feature at the start of each week not just at the start of the module. Many small steps early on can make a big difference – 

Read more at our Re-Engage resources 

Are you struggling with engagement on your module and could use some fresh eyes or advice? Contact your Academic Development Liaison for support :

Faculty of Science – amy.barlow@port.ac.uk

Faculty of Technology – catherine.murgatroyd@port.ac.uk

Faculty of Business and Law – andy.clegg@port.ac.uk

Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries – stuart.sims@port.ac.uk

Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences – andre.van-der-westhuizen@port.ac.uk 

 

Credit Image: Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

Audiovisual in Education – A general discussion about a topic that is more relevant than ever

My colleague Tom Langston recently visited a session hosted by Learning on Screen, The British Universities and Colleges Film and Video Council (https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/) and it reminded me of a previous visit I undertook a few years ago (before Instagram!) which I thought I’d use to form the basis of this blog. One of the great things about escaping the university is the possibility to network and have discussions with professionals from other institutions and companies. Spanning business and education, it is amazing how views match or differ and hearing a different take on modern university life is insightful.

Technology is a “new” problem

A concept I encounter on a near daily basis is the trouble of meeting the modern demands of the student with technology as it has progressed at such a rate of knots, that we are struggling to keep up. Interestingly, the minutes from the council’s meeting in 1954 were shared with the attendees and the main themes and issues raised were assessing our own pedagogy, how to use new mediums in education and the advancement of technology. Issues that are very topical even in 2019.

A concept also levied at us is that the “modern student” has never been so technologically advanced. They were raised in the age of the internet and the school years were entwined with handheld device usage. They have not necessarily needed to phone up Uncle Ray or another assigned family expert to ask him about 17th century monarchs as they can “google” it. This Generation Z or iGen, as they may be referred to, use and naturally access technology in a very different way to their predecessors or their more ancient educators.

However with this is a common misconception about levels of understanding. Just because a student can use an iPhone and access film, does not mean they “know” or are experts in it. 

Access does not automatically equal knowledge 

Are these digital natives as savvy as we think they are? Or is it a gross assumption based on our observations of them accessing technology. HE Institutions (as well as our team) are looking closer at digital capabilities and providing support for those who need it, but do we as educators need to consider assessing the digital needs of the students rather than naturally assuming that they would want VR tours and interacting with embedded H5P content. 

It draws me to the constructivist approach when teaching Primary Science in my previous life, where you would have your topic but it’s ultimately the students who govern how they are going to learn and find out things and it can result in an outcome at a far greater depth due to their immersion in the process.

A tension between form and context

Visual Literacy and the use of audiovisual also opens up an array of issues to consider. Take for example the BBC , which has an unbelievable bank of resources. The issue of copyright and ownership is a topic we have had blogs about in the past. There is a view that we need to have some buy in from the broadcasters and content owners to serve education. This would open up the concept of not just reusing sources but being creative beyond the content’s initial use. The idea of repurposing the material, taking an old thing a part and making something new with it. The BBC Archive, was created to be used by film-makers and was not necessarily intended for public consumption. It opens up a can of worms that perhaps material that looks fairly inconspicuous today, can have a massive impact in the future. This is evident due to the scandals raised by historical tweets being uncovered and the use of archived film footage in investigations into high profile court cases about abuse.

There has to be some education for students about not just the technology and media we use but the context around it.

Final Thoughts

The more we look to bring audiovisual into our teaching, the more we are going to have to look at ourselves and change how we teach. The idea that people sit in blacked out rooms watching films is an old school pedagogic view, just as the days of students being sat down talked at are no more.

There is an element of Audiovisual that gets their eyes off of their screens and onto the intended one at the front. We can use technology and platforms such as Twitter to allow students to engage on an individual basis. We must ensure that it is not a passive viewing experience but allows students to research, reference and back up their own point of view, offering the stimulus for a voice that otherwise may have stayed quiet.

The final thing to consider is the danger that if we spend too long of today worrying and focusing on “how to use technology and film” and it prevents trial, implementation and reflection, in ten years time those concerns will be obsolete and new issues will have replaced them.

Images from:

Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

 

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