Adventures in Technology Enhanced Learning @ UoP

Category: Future of Education (Page 2 of 2)

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 ( 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


Minerva – the university rethought?

On 25 June I attended an Adobe/Times Higher forum called “Making digital literacy a pillar of education”, along with representatives from 40 or so other HE institutions.

There was no disagreement at the forum about the recent recommendation from the DCMS Select Committee that digital literacy should sit alongside the “3R’s” as a fourth pillar of education. Everyone agreed that, as the pace of technological change quickens, employers are less interested in a student’s knowledge than in their personal qualities – and in particular their ability to engage in lifelong learning. But there was no consensus on how universities can best prepare their students for life in a world in which digital technology will play an increasingly important role.

Of the institutions present at the forum, undoubtedly the most innovative approach to Education 4.0  was that adopted by the Minerva Schools. Minerva built a first-year undergraduate curriculum from scratch, but rather than base the curriculum on subject-specific knowledge they built it around 81 “habits of mind” and “foundational concepts”. Students engage in cross-contextual learning activities in small-seminar format, all of which require or exercise the use of those foundational concepts. Through these activities students pick up subject knowledge, but they are assessed on how well they satisfy the foundational concepts. 

In the first year of study the Minerva School’s students are based in San Francisco. Subsequently they spend time in Seoul, Berlin, London, Hyderabad, Bangladesh, Buenos Aires and Taipei. Sounds terrific! (And expensive…) And all of this is made possible using digital technology – it’s a fundamental enabling technology for Minerva.

Minerva Schools were able to take this approach because they were small, well resourced – and also because they were starting from scratch. It would be a huge task (probably an impossible task) for an existing university with thousands of students to change its curriculum in this way. But there might be elements of the approach that universities can adopt. It’s interesting that the Minerva project have recently opened its bespoke educational technology platform, called Forum, to partners: they claim that the platform, which was designed for use in a small-seminar format, can scale to support up to 400 students. It will be worth keeping an eye on this development. 

Image Credit: Commons Wikimedia: The Greek Goddess Minerva

Assessment online – Are we past the “hand-in” date?


In eLearn, we have just reached the end of the exam period with our faculties intact (excuse the pun) and with very little drama (which is not normally the case). The sight of nervous students queuing up outside of Spinnaker for an exam inside a gym hall bought all those memories of dread I had experienced nearly 20 years ago flooding back.

When I think about how much has changed in the teaching landscape in terms of the integration of technology into teaching, as well as the diverse ways in which people attend university, I can’t help but feel this method of summative assessment is rather antiquated.

This could very easily turn into a blog about the nature of summative assessment, which I wrote far too many assignments about in 2004 as part of my teaching degree. I don’t want this to turn into a virtual trip down memory lane for myself but a means to highlight what is different and future possibilities.

The wonder of Turnitin

With my teacher hat firmly still on my head, I can’t be more positive about this technology when it comes to marking, having lived the late nights devoted to marking never ending piles of papers. True, it has its faults and the late nights may have merely been transferred from pen and paper to in front of a screen but it has so many facets designed to make the experience easier for both marker and student. You can’t help but feel its implementation has been a large forward step in the progression of assessment. Being able to customise and apply quickmarks across assignments prevents the numerous occasions “RTQ” would have to be written. The possibility of copy and pasting comments or highlighting text to directly link to aspects of a rubric are all seemingly small things that actually take hours when going through the work of 90 students and that is before you give personalised feedback that moves learning on.

The student gets a rich visual experience that can be accessed on any device and feedback is so easily obtainable/downloadable that it could only promote reflective practise. The hand-in process has changed dramatically with the long line outside of the faculty admin office with bound assignment in hand is a thing of the past and it can now be submitted in bed with a cuppa. Don’t get me wrong, you will still get students who will leave it till the last minute and those who perhaps have been a little too influenced by other sources within their writing but nevertheless a snapshot of this process in 2019 vastly differs from 2009 and is a world away from 1999. The same of which can’t be said for the end of year exam.

Quizzes – More than just for daytime tv

Perhaps it is slightly unfair to portray examinations at university to be solely desk based due to the increase in exams being carried out online using Moodle Quiz. The Quiz tool is far more powerful and robust than perhaps people realise. Yes you can use it to create multiple choice “pop quizzes” for the end of topic or to elicit prior conceptions at the start of something new but it can also be used to make 100 questioned essay-based behemoths which include a variety of different question types. Safe Exam Browser allows for it to be taken under true exam restrictions and the ease in which times and restrictions can be customised makes them far more accessible than its paper-based counterpart. Claro Reader software can be used to overlay colours and intuitively applies text-to-speech (dependant on how the exam has been written of course!). The possibility of including image or video within an exam assessment not only opens up a wealth of ways to question but leads me on to my next point.

The Audiovisual Essay

I was very fortunate to have witnessed a presentation from the inspiring Dr Catherine Grant who spoke about the concept The Audiovisual Essay in Film & Moving Image Studies. I would certainly recommend visiting the website, which explores the concept in great detail. There are some amazing examples and relevant research that has been undertaken about the subject. For those who are unfamiliar with this form it is essentially the expression of critical, analytical and theoretical work using the resources of audiovisuality (images/sound/video in montage) I begrudge trying to pigeon hole the genre further but it truly flies in the wind against sitting in a hall for 3 hours writing an English Literature exam. While it lends itself to creative, historical, visually rich courses and cannot be applied across the board, the premise of it being a “different” way to demonstrate understanding is valid.

Final Thoughts

This brings us back to assessment types and again perhaps explains the shift towards the greater emphasis on coursework-based assessment models. That in my eyes is a different debate, this blog is exploring whether sitting in hall to carry out an end of year assessment still has a place in modern university life. You have to question over their time in Higher Education, how many opportunities students get to sit at a desk for a considerable time and demonstrate their understanding in that way. Are we providing students with a rather unnatural medium by which to demonstrate their understanding? Does that in turn affect their ability to reach their true potential? Particularly as the end of year summative assessment the culmination of the blood, sweat and tears of their learning journey, do we not owe it to the learner to reassess the way we make this final assessment. The flip side of this is to give students more exam practice and opportunities but is this a direction where we want to go? To me that seems to be a practice that would be looking in the rear view mirror where I would argue we should have our eyes on the road ahead.


Featured Image:

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay


Software developers and user interface designers often use storytelling techniques to help them make sense of different features of their system and to help them communicate and explain their work to others. Software developers, for example, write “user stories”: descriptions of system features written from the perspective of an end user of the system. User interface designers often develop “personas” – a written description of a fictional character who represents a particular type of end user.

Jisc, in trying to understand what Education 4.0 might mean, have adopted a similar approach. They have created a fictional character, called Natalie_4.0, who represents a student taking a university course in geography in October 2029. What might a typical study day look like for Natalie_4.0? What opportunities will technology open up for her? By writing a story – “A day in the life of Natalie_4.0” – we can try to get a feel for what the future of educational might be like. Our story would not say that is is how education will turn out; but it can say how education might turn out.    

The twist here is that Jisc have written Natalie’s story not in the form of a written story, as is usual in the software development and UI world, but in the form of a virtual reality experience. I checked out the Natalie_4.0 VR experience at the recent Digifest conference. So – what was it like?

Well, the first thing to say is that the VR technology itself is improving at a rapid rate. Increasing numbers of VR content developers are entering the market and the hardware is getting cheaper and better. The Natalie_4.0 VR experience itself builds on this foundation: it is immersive, and while you are sharing Natalie’s day it is easy to imagine how VR technology could have real educational benefits. (Personally, I don’t believe that those benefits extend to all subject areas. Indeed, in many cases I believe the introduction of VR would be detrimental – it would be a gimmick. Nevertheless, in some niche areas I can see how VR could deliver tremendous benefits.)   

But what about the story itself? Does Natalie_4.0 provide a reasonable guess as to what the student of 2029 might experience? Well, of course we won’t know definitively for another ten years. But for what it’s worth I believe that some guesses will likely prove accurate; others won’t.

The influence of AI on daily life is one aspect of Natalie_4.0 that will, I think, come to pass. The story suggests that Natalie will have access to a personal AI that will help her throughout her day – in her learning as well as in her everyday life. But other aspects of the story seemed to me less convincing. For example, Natalie’s AI organises a live feedback session with her (human) tutor. Well, it will be terrific if turns out that every student has access to a personal tutor; if every student can sit down with a teacher and have a one-on-one session to discuss a piece of work. But how is such a thing possible in a mass education system? Most universities can’t offer that luxury now – why should that change in the future? (It might be that Jisc have underestimated the rate of progress of artificial intelligence; perhaps Natalie’s personal AI will be able to play the role of tutor as well as general assistant?)  

Another AI-related thought struck me as I sat through Natalie_4.0. In the feedback session mentioned above, the tutor uses some gee-whiz technology to provide feedback on … a written essay. Well, technology has already reached the stage where an AI can generate reasonable text in a variety of styles; in ten years time I’m sure Natalie would be able to get an AI system to write an essay for her. (Who knows. Perhaps AI systems will be able to mark essays. Why not cut out the middle-man and have an AI write an essay and a different AI mark it! All untouched by human hands!) In such a world, authentic forms of assessment will become crucial: tutors will need to assess skills that are uniquely human – judgement, creativity, leadership, teamwork, communication. That is the main thing I took from the Natalie_4.0 experience.

Image credits: Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

Digifest 2019

Jisc’s Digifest is my favourite educational technology conference. Spread over two days at Birmingham’s International Conference Centre it’s an ideal opportunity to meet practitioners from other institutions and this can be nearly as useful as the set programme of talks and presentations themselves. This year the focus was on practical ideas that can be taken back to the classroom or lecture theatre. To this end, I attended sessions on the use of video.

The first session, “How digital video innovates pedagogical methods”, was run by learning technologists from Havant and Southdowns College and looked at how staff and students have used video for both formative and summative assessment. Together, the technologists have worked on around 200 videos, some produced by the students themselves. It was clear that the use of video has had a significant impact on teaching and learning at the College. While claims about improved student attainment and retention lacked supporting data, feedback from both staff and students did indicate improvement in student engagement and achievement.

The importance of video in teaching and learning was also the theme of a presentation by Dominik Lukes’  (Learning Technologist, University of Oxford). In his presentation, titled “How YouTube started a revolution in learning and nobody noticed”, Dominik argued that the role of video in teaching and learning can only expand and provided this example of the power of video as a learning tool. Whilst I’m not entirely convinced by the claim that ‘video is the future’, both Dominik’s and the Havant College presentations did illustrate the usefulness and power of video if used properly. Both presentations also highlighted the ease of using YouTube as the delivery platform especially given the automatic subtitles function. It would be interesting to find out more about what students think of video as a learning tool and the extent to which benefits outweigh costs (in terms of time primarily) but from personal experience, I think a lot more use could be made of YouTube in teaching and learning.

Of the panel discussions I sat in on, the most interesting was “Listening to teachers: implications for education and digital“ The discussion was based on a piece of research by anthropologist Donna Lanclos and others the findings of which can be downloaded here. The research consisted of interviewing teachers in both the HE and FE sector with the aim “to uncover what next generation digital learning environments might look like”. Their report also came up with a series of recommendations which are well worth reading.

I was particularly interested in how terminology was being used. Many years ago when I was a student we went to lectures delivered by lecturers, in this discussion it was about “teachers” facilitating and delivering learning. This change in emphasis – teaching rather than lecturing – is something, I assume, that will become more ubiquitous given the introduction of the TEF in 2017. A number of thought provoking issues came out of the discussion not necessarily related directly to technology. For example, to provide effective holistic support to students takes time, which is one resource most staff are short of. This issue links nicely to a presentation I saw by Bolton College on the use of chatbots. But more on that in my next blog along with a look at Snatchbot!


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