Talking Teaching

May 24, 2011

teaching with panopto

Filed under: education, university — Tags: , — alison @ 4:35 pm

I’ve written previously about the lecture-capture system Panopto as a tool for supporting student learning. Anyway, our Teaching Development folks asked me to write a short piece about it for our in-house teaching support publication & very kindly said that I could post it here as well :-)

Panopto’s a tool for capturing classroom teaching and making it available on-line for students to access whenever they please. I first became aware of it when the University was gearing up for its i-TunesU presence, and decided that the technology had a lot to offer me and my students as a tool to enhance teaching and learning practices. (I am definitely not a fan of technology for technology’s sake – it needs to have a pedagogical benefit.) And I’ve been using ever since – for lectures, for podcasts, for catching up when I’ve had to cancel a lecture due to illness.

Panopto isn’t perfect. In a lecture theatre it picks up what the lecturer’s saying, but misses most or all of the other goings-on – the questions (remember to repeat them) & the discussion around various points. It also loses ‘sight’ of the speaker if they move too far to the left or right, although that shouldn’t stop you moving around, to speak to a group maybe, or to get closer to someone who’s speaking very quietly. But students viewing a recording can see the speaker (provided there’s a camera in the room; otherwise they’ll just get the voice-over), see the powerpoint slides (& any notes or diagrams added to these in class), and watch any videos or animations that were shown in class. They can stop the recording, replay it, view tricky points again and again. To me, this was a key reason for using panopto, because I could see how it gave students the chance to revise and review difficult concepts in their own time and at their own pace.

This was borne out by an informal survey I did with my first-year class last year. The most common reason they gave for using Panopto – and not everyone used it – was as a means of reviewing material that they hadn’t understood in class. ‘Used it to revise for exams’ was also a common response, & indeed, you could tell that anyway by looking at the usage statistics within the Panopto system. But it also turned out to be really useful for students with lecture clashes – and given that we emphasize the ‘flexible learning’ opportunities available at Waikato, that’s got to be a good thing. Students liked knowing that if they were sick they wouldn’t be missing out on too much from my classes. And someone said, ‘you could use it as an excuse to miss classes – but then you’d be missing out on a lot of the ‘extra’ stuff that goes on in the lecture room’. In other words, the students were using Panopto as an additional means of supporting and enhancing their learning.

It’s also an excellent tool for reflecting on my own teaching practices. I often watch a lecture later, looking to see whether something that seemed to go well at the time, really did. It’s actually quite hard to do this to start with, because you’re seeing and hearing yourself as the students do, & that may or may not fit with your own image of how you look and sound in the classroom! It can form the basis of discussion with a friend or mentor: ‘I did this particular thing because I hoped that it would… – do you think it would have had that effect?’ I know TDU have used a recording of mine as the basis of discussion with other lecturers on delivering constructive criticism of a colleague’s class – and the feedback I received from that was extremely useful (thanks, guys!).

So, if you’re toying with the idea of trying out Panopto in your classroom, I’d say, go for it. It’ll seem strange, the first time or two, but after that (as long as you remember to press ‘record’ & turn on the microphone! been there, done that) you really don’t notice it. I was told that the students just wouldn’t come to class but I can’t say I’ve noticed that – if they’re going to wag, they’ll wag, & this is just another excuse. But more seriously – your students will see your use of Panopto as just another sign that you’re interested in & keen to support their learning, & both you and they will gain from the experience.

September 9, 2010

panopto – good for more than just recording lectures

I’ve just been reading a thought-provoking essay by Laura Guertin - it’s certainly given me some ideas on ways to expand my use of panopto in my teaching :)

As you’ll have gathered from previous posts, I began using panopto with my first-year biology class in the A semester this year. And I’m very enthusiastic about it. I use it to review my classroom performance, & our Teaching Development Unit staff used on recording for a staff-development workshop on peer review – the thinking here was that participants might be more willing to give strong constructive criticism if the focus of that criticism wasn’t actually present. (I got the feedback in written form & found it very helpful.)

But that wasn’t the reason I decided to go with panopto. I was more interested in its potential to support student learning, hoping that it would be valuable for students who’d missed a lecture or wanted to view part of one again. We included a question on student attitudes to the technology in the course appraisals for the paper: comments were universally positive & included statements that they were downloading the lectures as podcasts to watch when travelling, & valued the opportunity to go over content that they’d missed or not fully understood the first time round.

There has to be more to this technology, though, so it was good to read Guertin’s essay & find that she identifies a number of other possibilities for podcasts. Several of them really appeal to me & I’ll look at ways of including them in my own practice. The first is in reducing pre-class anxiety. I know from time spent advising students about their programs of study that some can be really worried about their papers – they’re not sure if they’ll be able to succeed, anxious about their ability to understand the content (especially if they haven’t studied that subject for a while or it wasn’t their strong suit at school), and often have misconceptions & preconceptions about what they’re likely to cover during the semester. Guertin suggests that providing podcasts before the paper or on course assessment.

This one got me thinking, as traditionally quite a bit of the first lecture is taken up with ‘house-keeping’ – information on when labs & tuts begin, how the course is assessed, where to find people & buy printed handouts, & so on. It’s a heap of information & – judging by the number of times we get asked for that same information later on – many students simply don’t take it in. Quite probably they just can’t take it in; they’re being hit with this sort of thing in all their lectures & it’s a real informaton overload. But, if I were to make the information available as a podcast ahead of time (& use the ‘participants’ list on Moodle to e-mail them all that the podast was available & where to find it), maybe they’d listen to it in advance & they’d have the podcast to refer to when they needed to. So that’s on my list of things to do before 2011A begins.

Another suggestion is to use them to provide answers to frequently-asked questions – things that repeatedly crop up when you’re meeting with students individually. (Now that I think about it, the same sort of thing would be really good in addressing common enrolment-related questions – we could put something together to go on the Faculty website for new &/or returning students to access! I must remember to talk with our registrar about that one.) If several students come along with the same or similar questions it’s probably a fair bet that there are others out there who are also puzzled by the conundrum-du-jour, & a podcast on the current week’s hot topic(s) would reach those students as well & also be an effective use of my time.

And I’ve written ‘interesting!’ in the margin by Guertin’s paragraph on making lecture summaries available as podcasts. This is based on a piece of research (author cited in Guertin’s paper) which found that most of the researcher’s students weren’t actually listening to the full lecture podcasts he was making available. (Now, this isn’t necessarily a problem if the students are getting all they need from the lectures & any associated reading, but anyway…) The students said they’d prefer much shorter reviews – so their lecturer turned this around by getting the students to do the work, making 6-10 minute podcasts about something they’d found interesting during class, & then uploading these to the server for their peers to view. This strikes me as an interesting exercise & I can see how it could be useful in our A semester paper where we already get the students to give brief presentations; many of them might well seize on the option of doing a podcast. Although for that, we’d have to ask the IT folks about making the software available to the students.

Although I have to say – when I read the heading for that paragraph, my first thought was that this would be an interesting discipline for the teacher. I suspect that it could actually prove to be quite a challenge to distill a 50-minute lecture down to its key ideas – but a valuable one, as it would surely focus the mind on just what the key ideas are that one wanted to get across :) And that has to be good for all concerned.

L.Guertin (2010) Creating and using podcasts across the disciplines. Currents in Teaching & Learning 2(2): 4-12

July 1, 2010

reflecting on panopto

Way back at the start of the semester, I started using Panopto software (plus the necessary bits of lecture-room hardware) to record my first-year lectures. It was a bit of a step into the unknown, really, but the technology was there & I could see some of the advantages that could accrue to both teachers & students. Anyway, after a semester of using it, it’s interesting to reflect on how things have turned out.

First up – there wasn’t a drop-off in the number of students coming to lectures :-) This was contrary to the expectations of some of my colleagues & I must say that I was very happy about it. Obviously my students see some value in actually being there. I wonder if part of that is the opportunity to ask questions & also to hear what others are saying – the microphone in the lecture theatre I’m timetabled for picks up my voice very well but not those of students asking questions. This means, incidentally, that you have to be absolutely scrupulously careful to repeat any question or comment that a student makes, so that someone viewing the lecture at some later time knows what’s going on. Without that, it would seem a very one-sided conversation!

It’s been interesting to see how & when the students use the recordings (Panopto gives you the opportunity to review all the statistics around that.) Only a few were looking at each lecture over the few days immediately following the actual performance. Of those only perhaps one or two would look at the whole thing; the others would just view for a minute or a few minutes. And I know that people who were ill or had to be away for some other reason were rapt to have the opportunity to see/hear what had been said in the class(es) they’d missed. So I can see the real potential for these recordings for someone like a STAR student: a secondary school student who’s also enrolled in a uni paper, but who might be doing it somewhere else in the country. It’s got to be better to watch lectures compared to just working through study guide & lecture pdfs from Moodle, even if you can’t actually participate.

The other fun thing to see was how the use statistics shot up before each test & the final exam. Must have been a lot of revision going on there!

And – I know that at least some in the class were downloading lectures to their i-pods. I know this because occasionally you’d see someone in a tutorial scrolling through a lecture as they searched for something to help them answer a question. (I rather like this aspect of the technology. When we had our ‘on-campus’ days for the region’s year 13 biology students, I recorded the talks I gave & put them up as video podcasts onto our external server for teachers & students to access. They’ve been downloaded a few times too, so hopefully people are finding them helpful.)

So it’ll be good to see, when the course appraisals come back, just what the class members think of this new technology. Will they see it as a useful aid to their learning, or just a bit of flashy technology?

What has all this meant for my teaching practice? First up, it’s forced some changes in how I use the classroom. I’ve always been a ‘pacer’ (I’d have made a good lion in an old-fashioned zoo!), but with the fixed cameras that we have in most rooms, that’s constrained, because if you move too far to one side or the other, you move out of the reach of the camera. Maybe the shortened perimeter of my perambulations is better for the students, less distracting? I don’t really know.

I can report that my habit of drawing on slides with the mouse comes across well & is easy to follow in the ‘slide capture’ view. It means that I can annotate slides, maybe do extra drawings, & that’s accessible to the students afterwards. You could argue that I could equally well work on the whiteboard & that’s true, but it wouldn’t be adequately (if at all) captured by the camera in my lecture theatre. If you want an example: it became (alarmingly) clear 10 minutes into a lecture on reproduction that most of the class really had no idea about meiosis, going by their responses to my questions. So there really wasn’t much point in just pushing ahead. Instead, I stopped at a slide on sperm formation & development (spermatogenesis) which happened to have a large margin down one side, & ‘drew’ in that space as I talked about the process & answered questions.  It probably took about 10-15 minutes, but the students seemed much happier with the material at the end of that. Maybe it just helped them remember something that I know they almost certainly encountered at school. Anyway, we were never going to cover everything that I’d originally intended to – but it didn’t matter! We stopped at a ‘good’ place & later on I recorded a voice-over for the bits we didn’t get to & put that on the server for them.

And it’s really useful to see myself as the students see me. I know I use my hands a lot – it’s nice to see that it doesn’t come across as random hand-waving. You can hear what I’m saying: the words are nice & clear & there aren’t a lot of ‘ums’ (thank goodness!). I should probably stop running my hands through my hair when I’m thinking of how best to answer a question. The occasional jokes & asides seem to come across OK. (Actually, I know our Teaching Development folk are using one of my recordings to work with lecturers who want to learn how to peer-review/critique colleagues’ lectures – people are perhaps going to be more open & honest in their criticisms & comments when the person being talked about isn’t actually in the room! I’ve said I would very much like to receive feedback from that group; they’re bound to pick up things that I don’t even notice, so it’s got to be to my benefit & that of my students.)

And I really must stop drinking Coke before the class starts (even if the students do treat it as a bit of a running joke)!

November 5, 2014

reflections on using AdobeConnect in a tutorial

Recently I went to a couple of seminars/tutorials on using AdobeConnect in teaching & learning. As I vaguely remember saying somewhere else, this bit of software looked a bit like panopto might, if it were on steroids, & I could see how it could be a very useful tool for use in my classes. Not least because (as you’ll have gathered from my last post), there’s some concern around student engagement, particularly among those who don’t actually come to lectures, & AdobeConnect seemed to offer a means of enhancing engagement even if students aren’t physically present.

I decided that I’d like to trial it in the two pre-exam tutorials I’m running this week (my class has its Bio exam on Friday – the last day of the exam period. No prizes for guessing what I’ll be doing for most of the upcoming weekend :( ) I would really, really like to use it during lectures, so that students not physically on campus can still join in, but, small steps…

So, first I set up my ‘meeting’. Work has made this easy by adding an AdobeConnect widget to the ‘activity’ options in Moodle, so that was pretty straightforward; I just needed to make the session ‘private’ so that students signed in using their moodle identity. The harder part of the exercise lay in deciding what to actually do when in the meeting room. In the end I set it up with a welcome from me, a ‘chat’ area, so students could ‘talk’ with each other & ask questions, and a ‘whiteboard’ so that I could draw (& type) in response to those questions. And, when the class actually started, I spent a few minutes showing everyone there (the 20 or so who were there in the flesh, & the 8 present via the net) what each of those ‘pods’ was for & how to use them.

You certainly have to keep on your toes when interacting with a mix of actual & virtual class members! My thoughts & observations, in no particular order:

  • remember to press ‘record’ right at the start, if you’re intending to record a session!
  • next time (ie tomorrow) I’ll remind those physically present that they can log into the meeting room too – this could, I suppose, be distracting, but it also means that they would be able to participate in polls, for example. I did it myself, at the launch of our ‘connect week’, just to see what everything looked like from the on-line perspective.
  • it was really, really good to see the ‘virtual’ students not only commenting & asking questions, but also answering each other’s questions. I hadn’t expected that and it was a very positive experience.
  • but do make sure that you encourage this cohort to take part; they need to know that you welcome their participation.
  • the rest of the class seemed to quite enjoy having others interacting from a distance.
  • next time, I’ll bring & wire in my tablet, & use that rather than the room computer. This is because I do a lot of drawings when I’m running a tut, and while you can draw on the AC whiteboards, using a mouse to do this is not conducive to nice smooth lines & clear, precise writing. I <3 touchscreens!
  • it’s very important to remember to repeat questions asked by those in the room: the microphone’s not likely to pick their voices up, & if you don’t repeat the question then the poor virtual attendees won’t have a clue as to what you’re talking about.
  • with a pre-exam tut it’s hard to predict what resources might be used, in terms of powerpoints, web links & so on. For a lecture I’d be uploading the relevant files right at the start (ppts, video links & so on), but today I was pretty much doing things on the fly. However, I’m running another tut tomorrow & have put links to a couple of likely youtube videos into the meeting page already.
  • Internet Explorer seems to ‘like’ some AC actions more than Chrome; the latter wasn’t all that cooperative about ‘sharing my screen’, which seemed to me to be a better option than uploading at one point in proceedings.
  • as a colleague said, doing it this way meant that overall I had more people in class than would have been the case if I’d only run it kanohi ki te kanohi (face to face) – what’s not to like?
  • for me, the whole session was quite invigorating, & I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of learning to use a new piece of software to improve the classroom experience.

Mind you, on that last – it was my impression that the classroom experience was improved. And you’ll have gathered that I truly did have fun. But I’m not a learner in the way that my students are. So I asked them for feedback (interestingly, so far I’ve had only one comment + my response on Moodle, but as you’ll see we’ve had a reasonable dialogue on Facebook) – and here’s what they said:

BIOL101 Adobe Connect tutorial

So next year I will definitely be using this during lectures, and to interact with my Schol Bio group & their teachers – and I think we’ll definitely have one tut a week (out of the total of 6 that we offer) that’s via AC, so that students that can’t come onto campus can still  get the benefits of that sort of learning environment.

November 4, 2014

angst around lecture recordings

These days there seems to be a fair bit of angst in the tearoom, centred around using panopto: students are watching panopto recordings (or not) rather than coming to class, and for some colleagues this seems to be a Bad Thing & should be Stopped.

Now I’ll admit that I see a drop in numbers attending the lecture, from time to time – usually ahead of a test in another paper, when students want a bit more revision time, or when there’s an essay due for me & they’ve left things till the last minute. And there are a range of other reasons for students preferring ‘virtual’ classes over the real thing (eg Karnad, 2013). Personally I’m fine with that; students have a lot of conflicting demands on their time and if they choose to manage those demands by dealing with the most pressing issue first & catching up on class later, I don’t see it as a huge problem (apart from the fact that I wish some of them would develop some better time management skills, & maybe we need to look at how we help with that). And the reality is that we’re going to come under increasing pressure to deliver a truly flexible learning experience as population demographics change.

So it’s saddening to hear comments along the lines of ‘well, we should leave the recordings up for just a week, to force students to watch them soon after delivery’. This really runs counter to the idea of supporting flexibilty, & also of encouraging truly independent learning. I mean, on the one hand I’m often told that our students are adults now and we shouldn’t be keeping tabs on things like lab attendance, and yet on the other there’s this quite punitive attitude around coming to/viewing lectures. Talk about contradictions!

Yes, of course there are things we can do better! A conversation with each semester’s classes around using lecture recordings ‘properly’ eg watching in a timely manner, and what the literature tells us about the results of not doing this, certainly wouldn’t go amiss, and would help our students really start to come to terms with the realities of a modern university. (Here’s an example of good practice in this aspect of teaching & learning, one that I think that my own institution could well emulate.)

But we should also think about how to change our own techniques so that students actually want to be in every lecture that they can possibly attend. If they perceive no additional benefits in a kanohi ki te kanohi (face to face) class, compared to a recording, then there is no incentive to come along. As the (anonymous) author of this excellent resource for teachers says

Students will want to attend the live lecture because of the way you structure it to include some interactivity and will then obtain further value from reviewing portions of the live lecture as they add to their notes and reflect in order to deepen their understanding.

While the author makes it clear that making lecture recordings available can have a positive impact on student learning and on retention, they also point out that there’s little benefit overall if lectures follow the ‘traditional’ format. (Now where have we heard that before?)

Research suggests that recording traditional lectures adds relatively little pedagogical value to the student learning experience. Therefore add pedagogical value by ‘seeding’ the face-to-face lecture with student tasks or activities, or follow-up questions for discussion and research, so that students can benefit from reviewing your lecture recording and use it to add depth to the reflections that they are already making in the live lecture.

For after all,

[the] main goal of providing recorded lectures is to engage students in blended learning experiences that facilitate a flexible self-paced mode of learning and review that supplements rather than replaces the need to attend the face-to-face lecture.

Karnad, A. (2013) Student use of recorded lectures: A report reviewing recent research into the use of lecture capture technology in higher education, and its impact on teaching methods and attendance. LSE Report.

University of Canterbury (no date) Best practices for recording lectures. Echo 360 for staff

October 29, 2014

reflections on e-teaching and e-learning

Dear readers – what follows is a much longer post than I would normally write (& yes, at times I write some quite extensive posts!). This is because the current post constitutes my ‘portfolio’ to support nominations from my students for an e-learning award offered by my institution. I decided to write the portfolio in this form because blogging is a medium that I feel comfortable writing in, & because it’s so easy to add hyperlinks, files etc. (Consequently many of the links lead to my own reflective writing elsewhere on this blog, and to presentations I’ve given.) Plus I would really very much value feedback & comments – I don’t regard myself as anything approaching an expert (or even a journeyman) in this field and I know that my future practice will benefit from your insights.

That said, please do read on!

Technologies such as Moodle, panopto, AdobeConnect & the like allow access to learning opportunities  in a much more flexible way than the ‘traditional’ university environment, and this is going to become more and more important in the future as student demographics change. For example, as the number of people in the  18-25 age group continues to decline while the 50+ cohort continues to grow, then we will need to offer education to ‘non-traditional’ students and in ‘non-traditional’ ways. From an institutional perspective, using learning technologies in an interactive way can also help to ensure that we enhance retention and meet graduate profiles. For example, the graduate profile for our BSc says that students can communicate using a range of methods including multi-media (which includes web-based resources and activities), can work cooperatively, and have the skills necessary for self-directed learning: acquisition of all these attributes (plus the more usual acquisition-of-knowledge outcomes) can be supported by learning technologies, particularly those that are interactive.

So then, what does this look like in the context of my own teaching practice? I know some people see me as an ‘early adopter’ of classroom technologies like these, but on reflection I think my activities in this area have grown organically – much like my teaching career, I suppose.

RELECTIONS ON APPLYING TECHNOLOGY TO TEACHING & LEARNING

Moodle and Facebook: 

Alison is constantly introducing new ways for us to learn through technology. From educational videos and other resources on Moodle to an accessible Facebook forum for students to share their own passion for biology, she has been experimenting successfully with the digital resources available to teachers at the University of Waikato.

Great at technology, innovative ideas (eg facebook page for 101)

Very helpful both during lectures and tutorials. Very active on Moodle, promptly responds to forum questions, has created a Facebook page for the paper.

(Student nominations, 2014 e-learning award)

I’ve used Moodle ever since it became available: paper outlines, study guide notes, powerpoints of lectures, assessment materials, quizzes, discussion forums, useful links & readings  – it’s all there. Once panopto came on-stream, links to lecture recordings went up on moodle as well, thanks to the WCeL wizards. I’ve always encouraged students to ask questions, join discussions, and post materials on Moodle (I have colleagues who’d rather receive individual emails but honestly! why answer the same question multiple times?) but interestingly, it was the first-year students who were most active in doing this.

However, in the last couple of years I’ve seen this activity drop right off, and it’s been something of a concern. Being asked for feedback on Moodle as part of the University’s process of identifying a new student management system really made me reflect more closely on this, partly in light of my own use of other on-line communities (not least of them, Facebook). From talking with students I gained the impression that moodle can be very ‘clunky’: it takes at least a couple of steps to arrive at a resource, whereas on FB links are right there and obvious. The students complained that they were continually having to log in to moodle during the day, in contrast to remaining logged in on FB, and that they preferred the FB notification system. This got me thinking about how best to use this as an additional way of supporting my students’ learning and increasing their engagement. (This is not to say that they don’t use Moodle: a recent survey I carried out with our 2nd-year students shows that they clearly do – but they just don’t engage to any great extent.)

There’s a lot of literature available now about using Facebook to support teaching and learning. Fittingly, I was introduced to some of it through the Ako Aotearoa Academy FB page that I administer, but I’ve since talked more widely about it with colleagues at other institutions and started delving more deeply into recent publications; for example, Dougherty & Andercheck, 2014 (my reflections on that paper are here), and Kent & Leaver’s 2014 e-book, “An education in Facebook?”. And I sounded out my students, who were extremely positive about the idea. The result: we have a Facebook page for the first-year biology class, where they regularly post material & start discussions, and where I post course information and questions or polls (all mirrored on our Moodle page), along with links to other, science-based, FB pages.

BIOL101 student post

BIOL101 2nd student post

My thoughts after a semester? Yes, it’s a bit of additional work, because notices, polls and so on must be posted in two places rather than one, and because there’s the need to interact with other posters. It would be good to see more students there – at present just over half the class is present and at least observing on FB - but (and it’s a big ‘but’), commenters are far more lively and engaged than on Moodle, which seems to be reserved for ‘serious’ questions. That engagement is important, as it contributes to enjoyment and performance. Plus there’s also evidence that engagement (or lack thereof) with study, with teachers, and with the institution – can affect student retention.

As an aside, the lack of ‘personal’ feel to many MOOCs is a shortcoming of this method of content delivery; as the author of this blog post has said,

I think most MOOCs are just textbooks for the Internet age. A brilliantly delivered lecture or a brilliantly written book are both good content delivery systems. But without interaction, feedback, and mutual accountability that is all they can be.

We have to ensure we deliver that personal touch!

Anyway, next year I’ll be more systematic about my use of Facebook in relation to my teaching, in the sense of examining whether there is any correlation between use of the page and academic outcomes. And I’ll use tools like ‘question of the week’ – on both Moodle and FB – to try to lift engagement further.

Panopto

I leaped early into the panopto pool, and I’ve been splashing around in it ever since

Incorporates technology. Records every lecture for panopto and makes good use of moodle.

regular and helpful facebook user. encourages students to get involved in various online activities.

(Student nominations, 2014 e-learning award)

Panopto’s a tool for capturing classroom teaching and making it available on-line for students to access whenever they please. I first became aware of it when the University was gearing up for its i-TunesU presence, and decided that the technology had a lot to offer me and my students as a tool to enhance teaching and learning practices. (I am definitely not a fan of technology for technology’s sake – it needs to have a pedagogical benefit.) And I’ve been using it ever since – for lectures, for podcasts, for catching up when I’ve had to cancel a lecture due to illness. I promote it whenever I get the chance, in tearoom conversation but also at conferences and symposia (e.g. Fun with panopto). (I also use it to review and reflect on my own classroom performance; the recordings are really useful when considering whether something could have been better communicated, although they are certainly unforgiving when it comes to things like mannerisms and use of voice!)

Students certainly value this technology. It gives them the flexibility to balance workloads, manage lecture clashes, revise for tests and exams, and to be absent due to illness or family commitments. Of course, it also gives them the ability to simply skip class and promise themselves that they can catch up later, something the literature shows doesn’t necessarily happen. I believe that we (academics) need to be more forthright in communicating with students around this, but that’s not to say that we should reduce our use of lecture recordings!

Able to pause and go over things i don’t understand. Can also do them in my own time.

For me, Panopto is most valuable during study week for revisiting explanations rather than for catching up on missed lectures.

Usually if I don’t watch an entire lecture on panopto it was because I preferred the text-book or other material to the lecturer’s style of teaching, or because the lecture recording failed, or because I listened to the lecture on podcast.

(2014 student feedback via surveymonkey)

There’s a lot more to lecture recordings than this. They can be used for ‘catch-up’ snippets – recordings of the slides at the end of the lecture that you didn’t get to because there were concepts that needed additional explanations. But panopto also supports more active learning techniques such as flip teaching, where a lecturer can prepare a short recording for students to watch ahead of class, and the actual classroom time is used for group discussions and problem-solving. For a couple of years now I’ve been running ‘Design-an-animal/Design-a-plant’ classes (described in the previous link) to consolidate student learning in a fun and cooperative way, during the A semester.

(2013 student feedback: Aspects of the paper that should be maintained)

The design a plant exercise. This exercise ties the knowledge we have acquired in past weeks, producing a
comprehensive well developed understanding of the adaptations and functions of different plants

the “designing a plant” was a great activity that was very interesting and exciting

the flip class which was really fun.

And in the B semester this year we had a session on DNA technology, where the class decided they’d like to hear more about GMOs: I provided short explanatory clips on gene cloning and PCR & DNA sequencing for them to watch ahead of time, so that we could spend the ‘lecture’ on discussion (and a very wide-ranging discussion it proved to be!).

Furthermore, techniques like this have a clear and significant positive effect on student learning (eg Deslauriers, Schelew, & Wieman, 2011)Haak, HilleRisLambers, Pitre, & Freeman, 2011) and we need to encourage their wider use as we reshape ourselves as a true ‘university of the future’.

 

REFLECTIONS ON SUPPORTING LEARNERS

Educators aren’t just using techniques like this simply because the technology has become available. There have to be positive outcomes for the students. I touched on some of these at the beginning of this post, in the context of ensuring that students have gained the attributes we describe in our graduate profiles.

However, another big plus for digital learning technologies is the way in which they allow us to meet the different learning needs of students. (I’m inclined to agree with the author of this post regarding different learning styles, mind you.) For example:

  • They really open up the options for students for whom work commitments, or geographical isolation, mean that they can’t attend classes in the ‘normal’ university hours.
  • For all students, the ready availability of lecture recordings means that they can review a class, or part thereof, as often as they need in order to gain understanding of concepts and information.
  • Students who are ill, or have lecture clashes, or sudden family commitments, don’t have to stress too much about missing classes (but see the following paragraph :) )
  • The fact that recordings are downloadable as mp4 files means that students can use them pretty much where & when they choose – on the bus, perhaps, or sitting in a comfy chair at home.
  • It’s easy to incorporate video clips, or even music (albeit with a scientific message) into classes. This opens up a whole new range of resources to use with our students (and breaks up the ‘lecture’ format, re-energising the classroom). This has occasioned some ‘interesting’ discussions over the use of such material from other institutions: it’s not “our” learning material, and students should be seeing our resources and ideas. This is true, but why re-invent the wheel? If an excellent resource exists, then use it! – and enhance the role of facilitator of learning, rather than simply someone delivering facts.
  • Technologies also empower students in ways that we might not always consider – for example, setting up a Moodle discussion forum for anonymous use means that someone who might be too shy to speak up in the lecture theatre can ask their questions, & make comments, in a less-threatening environment.
  • And having just attended a session on the use of AdobeConnect, I can see (& will make use of) the potential in being able to set up a ‘virtual’ pre-exam tutorial, synchronous with an actual class, for students who can’t make it onto campus for that particular session: they can see & hear what’s going on & ask questions of their own, for example. (It looks like panopto on steroids so I will admit that I’m left wondering what will happen to the latter in the future.)

I feel very strongly, however, that while we definitely need to provide learning opportunities for academic staff around learning technologies, we also need to educate students around their use. Despite the frequent use of the term ‘digital natives’ in discussion around our students and e-learning, the description really doesn’t fit our current cohort particularly well, and there’s a very interesting discussion of the term here. (It may be another story when the current crop of under-5s reach tertiary classrooms as many of them have truly grown up immersed in and using on-line technologies. And having said that, we also need to remember that there remain sectors of society who simply cannot afford to access the hardware to enable such learning. How do we enable them?) This means walking the class through what’s available on moodle, for example, or how to download an mp4 file of a panopto recording. But it also means discussing with our students - very early on in the piece – the perils and pitfalls of relying on recordings as an alternative to actually being in class eg the frightening ease with which you can fall behind in watching lectures after the event. This should be done with all first-year classes: many of this cohort have difficulty adapting to the different requirements, expectations, and learning environments of the tertiary system as it is and, lacking time management skills, can very easily fall off the wagon – something that has implications for both completion and retention.

She is very helpful and she knows her topic well. Very organised and goes beyond her duty to make sure students are getting everything in order to succeed. 
 
I think she is a really great lecturer and has used a range of different tools to help us learn in her lectures such as a drawing tool on the computer and has also created a Facebook page for BIOL102 to make it more interactive and fun to learn for everyone enrolled in the paper.
 
She is a really great lecturer, who makes a lot of effort to ensure her students get all the information they need to learn about what she is teaching. she also takes the time to make sure that students questions are answered, and always keeps in mind that because students have different learning levels, that she gives all the information required. 
Demonstrates a real passion for what she teaches. 
(Student nominations, 2014 e-learning award)

e-LEARNING & PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT

As I said earlier, I definitely don’t see myself as an expert in this field! This means that I frequently reflect on my classroom practice and the things I’ve learned (the focus of many of the posts here on Talking Teaching!), and I take advantage of professional development opportunities as often as I can. In the past I’ve attended quite a few workshops on various aspects of Moodle (and the on-line support materials are very useful too; thanks, WCeL team!). The university’s Teaching Development staff run regular Teaching Network sessions, where participants learn from each other on a whole range of teaching-related issues, & I go to these at every available opportunity. The most recent session, by Alan Levine, introduced the idea of pechaflickr as a tool for engagement and for learning, and that’s led me to think about using a pechaflickr session in tutorials, as a fun change of pace but also of a means of checking understanding of particular concepts. Definitely one for next year.

Sharing is good. And so I promote these technologies when I get the chance :) This year I facilitated a session on flip teaching at our annual WCeLfest (where I gained a lot from the participants’ feedback), but was also invited to take part as a panellist in a discussion of what our university might look like in a future where distance and blended learning make much more use of digital learning & teaching technologies. And I’ve previously shared their application at other conferences – in a 2013 discussion around how teachers’ roles are changing from disseminators of facts to facilitators of learning, for example. In addition, I led a discussion about MOOCs at a UoW Council planning day earlier this year, which also formed the basis of this particular post.

Learning technologies also have huge potential in terms of outreach to the wider community. For example, since 2005 I’ve been running Scholarship Biology preparation days for students - and their teachers – preparing for the Scholarship Biology examinations, which has involved travelling to deliver sessions in the Bay of Plenty, Taranaki, Auckland and Hawkes Bay, as well as in Hamilton itself. (I also write another blog, originally intended to support these students and still containing a considerable amount of material that’s useful to them and their teachers.) But these face-to-face sessions are one-offs, as it were, so this year I decided to set up a Facebook page so that interactions and support could continue. Feedback from the teachers is very positive. Sadly,  the students have not been so engaged on the page,  although the teachers tell me their students are definitely using material from the page in class,  which is a great outcome from my perspective. I’ll leave this one up and running and hopefully, as resources build up and teachers encourage their students to use it from the beginning of the year, we’ll start to see some more active student participation. I can also see the value in using AdobeConnect to run occasional virtual tutorials for this far-flung group of students – it would be particularly valuable for those students who are the only one at their particular school sitting this exam, as they’d get the opportunity to interact with others (&, if I can work out how to set it up!) work cooperatively with them to solve problems in an on-line active-learning world.

Schol Bio FB feedback

 

 If you’ve read this far – thank you for staying with me :) I appreciate your company on what is for me a continuing journey of self-reflection and learning around my teaching practice. I’ll be grateful for your feedback – and I do so hope you don’t feel you’d have been better off sitting at home in your bunny slippers :)

best wishes, Alison

October 28, 2014

pechaflickr and other cool stuff from Alan Levine

Recently I had a blast, attending an inspirational workshop by Alan Levine (I grab professional development opportunities like these with both hands!). The workshop gave me some ideas for new things to try with my students next year, and I thought I would share the notes I made at the time (with commentary) in case there might be useful things there for others.

Alan kicked off by asking us if we knew when the internet was created (heaps of history here), by whom (I’ve never really understood why so many people think it was Al Gore), & for what. It was originally intended to allow scientists to better communicate with each other – but sometimes it feels as if the science is being swamped & lost in amongst everything else that’s posted on the web. (A friend once said to me that one day the internet could collapse under the weight of funny cat pictures. She could be right.)

The web certainly allows openness, reduces insularity, and engenders connectedness. Well, in an ideal world it does, and many parts of the internet do function in that way (eg the sub-reddit on science), but at the same time the web has also seen the development of various silos where dissent isn’t tolerated and the ban-hammer is wielded on a regular basis.

But in education openness is to be valued, because we can all – teachers & learners alike – learn from each other. Alan introduced us to one of his projects, which involves videoing teachers as they talk about what goes on in their classrooms. You’ll find these stories at True Stories of Open Sharing, and he sees them as a form of ‘paying it forward’. At this point one of the others at the session volunteered a story about how she’s using twitter to support student learning. I still haven’t got into tweeting & I found the whole thing quite fascinating- it seems an even more direct connection than Facebook.

Alan noted that people see many barriers (perceived and real) to doing this sort of sharing around teaching:

  • lack of confidence
  • not comfortable with spontaneous story-telling (and yet narratives are such a great way to engage others - the link is about working with children, but everyone loves a good story!)
  • don’t have original ideas
  • fear of being seen as mediocre, or not good enough – worried about what others think
  • the worry that it may affect how peers or employers perceive you
  • the lack of face-to-face contact, so you can’t judge your audience (& for many of us that is very important; I can’t get quite the same buzz going when I do a panopto recording in my office, for example, although that could be lack of practice, perhaps?)
  • don’t want to be seen as commonplace, repetitive, or wrong.

Which I guess may be why many of my colleagues don’t actually share a lot about what goes on in their classrooms.

Yet that sharing & feeling of the personal are important, because education is becoming less about ‘product’ and more about relationships, connections, and engagement. With information so readily available on-line at the click of a mouse (think MOOCs, for example), universities do need to re-examine, & perhaps re-invent, the way they do business. What is the ‘added value’ that we provide, that makes students want to continue to come to a bricks-&-mortar institution? And how do we make on-line learning a valuable and engaging alternative, for those who choose it?

Because the knowledge is already out there. We need to move from seeing ourselves as deliverers of content, to delivering a learning experience. And that really does require some fairly significant changes; we’re not really talking business-as-usual. (One of those changes will probably be the development of a code of ethics around how we share materials, ideas, and content with each other & between institutions.)

After this we moved on to the idea of improv(ing) ourselves – as in, improvisation: being natural, rather than forced. After all, the ability to improvise is a valuable skill as classes don’t always go as expected. Alan asked who knew about pecha kucha (usually, speaking to no more than 20 slides for no more than 20 seconds per slide – it really forces you to focus on your message!). I’ve used this presentation style several times now, & in fact had something of a baptism of fire for my first one: got roped in to do one at my first Academy symposium – except that I didn’t know the subject until just before speaking, & someone else chose the slides :)

Anyway, quite a few of us knew of pecha kucha – but what, he said about pecha flickr? He set one up for us, with each person taking a slide in turn. It was hysterically funny and we could straightaway see that Alan was right: this sort of improv changed the energy levels in the room, raised enjoyment (as if we weren’t already having fun!) and engagement, and got everyone participating. I could see how good it would be as an icebreaker at a (smallish) conference, but I also started wondering how we could use it in first-year bio classes. Maybe in tuts, as a revision tool? The students would have to be comfortable about it, but the technique would have a lot of potential for diagnosing gaps in knowledge and also for giving practice in verbal communication.

And we finished off with the idea of ‘connected courses’. (This was very brief as we’d spent so much time having fun.) There’s a need to find ways of making on-line spaces personal, welcoming, & engaging – connected. For example, MOOCs tend to have a high attrition rate, & it’s possible that’s because they’re a bit like motel rooms (Alan’s metaphor): impersonal, & with no real sense of ownership. In contrast, many blogs are the equivalent of a personal bedroom, with comfort, boundaries, & security. How can on-line courses generate that sense of connectedness? One way to find out is to experience it – at Connected Courses: an open course in how to run an open course :) I’m really hoping that next year I’ll find myself with the ‘free’ time to invest in investigating this one further!

March 12, 2014

teaching plant life cycles – trying a different approach

For whatever reason, I find that many students seem to struggle when it comes to learning about plant life cycles. The whole sporophyte/gametophyte, meiosis/mitosis thing really gets them – & that’s even before we start looking at how the life cycle is modified in different groups of plants. Yes, the textbook has lots of diagrams & yes, I’ve always started simple & worked on from there, with opportunity for plenty of questions, but still there are those for whom the topic fails to click. (Not to mention the lecturers in third-year classes, asking whether we really teach this stuff in first-year.) This year the issue’s become even more of a challenge, given that about 2/3 of my large-ish (N>200) didn’t study plants in year 12 at school.

So this year I wondered if it would help if I drew a really basic cycle on the board, as preparation for a more detailed session in the next lecture. I do this in tuts anyway, but not everyone comes to those… And because I use panopto for recording lectures, I needed to think about the best way to do it, because while there are whiteboards in the lecture room they are non-interactive, & the camera doesn’t do a good job of picking up things on a ‘normal’ board. And this is where having a tablet (not an iPad this time; it’s too frustrating when mine won’t communicate properly with the lecture theatre software) comes into it.

This is because, once the tablet’s hooked up to the lecture room system, then anything I might write on its screen (with my spiffy little stylus) is recorded via panopto. And so I left blank slides in my presentation, & drew all over them when we got to that stage, cute little frogs & everything :) (Why frogs? Because we started off with drawing an outline of an animal life cycle, slotting in meiosis & fertilisation, haploid & diploid – with the opportunity to expand on what those terms might mean – before going on to drawing alternation of generations in a very general sense.

Which sounds fine in practice, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, now that I’ve gone & checked the recording, I see that the material on my tablet DIDN’T make it across to panopto, which is downright annoying & obviously I’ve stuffed up somewhere. OK, everyone in the lecture theatre got the benefit of that experience, but those who weren’t, didn’t :( And part of the reason for doing the recordings, is that those who’ve got lecture clashes can catch up later. Mutter mutter mutter.

However, all is not lost. I’m staying later at work for an evening event, so I’ll do a re-record once I can get into a free lecture theatre.

All part of the learning curve – as is the anonymised ‘feedback’ thread I’ve set up on our Moodle page. If the technique helped most students understand the concept of alternation of generations, then I’ll work on doing it better. If it didn’t, well, I guess I need to go back to the drawing board.

March 14, 2012

how do you give feedback to university teachers

How do you give feedback to university teachers? – this was the search ‘topic’ used by one visitor to Talking Teaching. It struck a chord with me as I’m part of a small group of people discussing that very question, so I thought it might be a good topic for a blog. Not least because actually sitting down & writing about it should help to focus my own thoughts on the issue.

My institution expects teaching staff to carry out regular appraisals of their papers & their teaching in those papers.While there are a number of ways to do this, in practice most people use the ‘standard’ form: a set of Likert-scale questions on both paper & teachers that are common to all appraisals; a set of open-response questions (identify 3 things about this paper/teacher that should be changed/kept the same); &, if the lecturer chooses, some other questions as well. (Last year I included a set about student’s perceptions of Panopto, for a research project that I’m running with a couple of colleagues.) So there’s potentially quite a bit of information available there.

It’s what happens to this information, of course, that matters. Here, the current state of play sees lecturers receive a summary of the Likert question responses, plus any demographic information, fairly soon after the semester ends. Once the grades for the semester are finalised, we’re then sent the original survey forms, so we can then read the open-ended material as well. Both lots of information are potentially extremely useful if you’re wanting to improve paper delivery & your own teaching. The thing is – does everyone actually read it? Anecdotal evidence would suggest not: that the sheaf of paper may sometimes simply be flicked through (at best) before relegation to the paper-recycling device commonly known as a rubbish tin. When this happens, both students & teacher miss out. The students have spent time engaging with the questionnaire & do have a right to expect that their words will be read & (hopefully) responded to. And the lecturer may have missed out on suggestions that might allow them to enhance their paper’s delivery. And of course, there’s no closing of the feedback loop – letting the class know that you’ve read their comments & suggestions, & explaining how & why (or why not) you’re intending to respond to them. This in turn can see students becoming quite disillusioned with the whole process.

One of the options we’ve discussed, as a means of improving this part of the system, is whether to provide teaching staff with a summary of the open-ended questions as well, perhaps with a commentary alongside: “X% of the class felt that…. This suggests that… – have you considered the following.. ?” This, of course, would constitute a lot of extra work for our Teaching Development staff!

And there’s also the question of whether this is the best, or the only, way of getting feedback on one’s teaching.What about on-going formative feedback during the semester, using techniques like one-minute papers or ‘muddy questions’ (in which students highlight the points in a lecture that most puzzled or confused them)? Or the use of feedback surveys in learning management tools like Moodle? There’s also the issue of perceived legitimacy – I’ve heard it said that students don’t know enough about a given subject to give any meaningful comment. (While this is likely true about the content it’s certainly not the case for the methods – students do have a fairly good idea of the teaching styles & tools that work best to enhance their learning.) Would feedback be better coming from peers rather than students? How comfortable would lecturers be with having a colleague sitting in on their classes & providing constructive comments afterwards?

I seem to be posing more questions than I’ve answered! Please feel free to weigh in with your suggestions :-)

February 26, 2012

in the rush to ‘e-learning’, are we losing sight of our goals?

One of the ‘big things’ in schools these days seems to be the increasing expansion of e-learning. I’ve written previously on one school’s decision to require all its new students to have iPads, or similar tablet-style computers. At the time I worried about whether, in the rush to embrace new technology, the question of whether its use would enhance student learning was being left behind.  And a friend of mine who’s a secondary teacher recently said something similar: these technologies can be tools for learning but do not & should not replace the need for linking our teaching to a student-inquiry-based experiential and cognitive-conflict-based learning (which requires a lot of forethought & planning from teachers!).

That concern resurfaced yesterday as I was reading the NZ Herald‘s on-line edition (on my iPad, lol), & found one story citing a couple of US reports suggesting that perhaps e-learning isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

The first of the Herald‘s references was to this report at Education News Colorado, which examines the performance of students who are taught entirely on-line (for a range of reasons, that could include having dropped out of  ‘regular’ schooling, living in an extremely isolated area, or for philosophical reasons. At this point I need to note that the news report is based on an analysis of on-line school data, & so far doesn’t appear to have been published in the science education literature. (However, the Colorado Department of Education annual report, from which the data are drawn, can be found here.) Nonetheless, the analysis does appear to highlight some rather worrying trends:

  • Online students are losing ground. Students who transfer to online programs from brick-and-mortar schools posted lower scores on annual state reading exams after entering their virtual classrooms.
  • Academic performance declined after students enrolled in online programs. Students who stayed in online programs long enough to take two years’ worth of state reading exams actually saw their test results decline over time.
  • Wide gaps persist. Double-digit gaps in achievement on state exams between online students and their peers in traditional schools persist in nearly every grade and subject – and they’re widest among more affluent students.

Now, one reason put forward by education officials for the apparently wide differences in results was that on-line education was pretty much an option of last resort, & certainly at least one Colorado virtual school does appear to target at-risk students who may well be behind on many educational indicators. However:

The analysis of state data shows, however, that most online school students do not appear to be at-risk students. Only about 120 students of the more than 10,000 entering online programs last year were identified as previous dropouts returning to school, and only 290 entered online schools after spending the prior year in an alternative school for troubled youth.

The obvious question is, why? Because there does appear to be something going on. And it’s relevant to NZ even though fully on-line teaching is a long way from the use of iPads & their like in a bricks-&-mortar classroom: we’re still looking at two stages on a continuum here.

Part of it could be that kids are not really as tech-savvy as we’d like to think. Putting them in front of a desktop computer, or giving access to things like tablets, doesn’t mean that they’ll necessarily use the technology to its best advantage. They may well need to learn that skill. And those using the technology to teach also need to think about how well it fits their learning objectives – is it there because it’s ‘there’, or because it enhances learning in some way.

Coming back to the full-blown exclusively on-line learning thing: there are also issues of community & pedagogy. In a real (as opposed to virtual) school, students are part of an actual community that includes both their peers & their teachers, & which can extend into the community outside of school. It can be rather isolating to be a distance student, & not be a part of that (this was certainly my experience when I was studying extramurally for my teaching qualification).

Which is where the pedagogy comes in. Certainly from a university perspective, we haven’t always been terribly successful at moving from the face-to-face to the on-line teaching environment. However, technologies like vide0-conferencing, skype, moodle & panopto can help to give some sense of belonging to a learning community – as can tailoring teaching materials to this alternative means of teaching & learning, instead of simply uploading everything in the format that’s used in ‘normal’ classes. Are some of the students in the Colorado study missing out on that sense of community?

And the Herald‘s second reference? It was to this story (from September 2011) in the New York Times, which carried out what looks like a fairly extensive investigation on the use of technology in schools, before concluding that

schools are spending billions on technology, even as they cut budgets and lay off teachers, with little proof that this approach is improving basic learning.

Now, that’s talking about the current status quo in parts of the US. New Zealand’s a long way back from what the NYT is describing, both in the extent of our technology roll-out & in the amount of money we have available for it.  And the research into the effectiveness of on-line teaching & learning is certainly being done (here, here, here & here, for example). (There’s also an interesting review of ‘virtual schools’ available here, which uses New Zealand as one of its examples.)

But still: technology, in education as elsewhere, is a useful tool, but not necessarily a panacea for all ills.

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