Taking action.

Actionable provides tips to academics on how to use technology for teaching and research

So from a teaching perspective, last year was an interesting year – I won another Student Led Teaching award and I am currently short-listed for ‘Most Innovative Teacher in Higher Education’ by the THE …which is nice. 

However it has been pointed out to me that I’m not great at sharing practice so I’ve set up actionable simply to share tips on using technology to save time and enhance teaching (and I’ve been asked to do some tips for research so will do). A new tip will appear every week and every single tip can be put into action immediately. The first four weeks are already up and available. Actionable isn’t intended for navel-gazing or long diatribes about practice – its presented on a take or all leave it basis. It’s also partly to do with my frustrating with a lot of #Edtech conversations at the moment which are so high-level as to worthless to someone wanting to try out something new. There is a place for that, it’s just not at Actionable. 

Enjoy.

Charles

We all got bored of lecturing.

Due to various facts I forgot to post some conclusions to my attempts to teach digital skills by killing off lectures and seminars for my project management module. Part 1 and 2 discussed in detail how it worked. 

This post is a following up to:

Part 1): I got bored of lecturing so I quit.

Part 2): I got bored of lecturing so the students quit me

Go and read the previous posts or this makes little sense. 

So how did it all end? 

Student activity and interest remained high all the way through the module and the feedback was excellent (which is always good to hear). Not a single student asked in their feedback for lectures to return. 

  • The group tasked to produce an Enterprise App turned into a solid report and a demo that we are now taking forward as a University to produce a full-blown app which we hope to have ready for September 2017. 
  • The group who were asked to produce a OER textbook also did an excellent job and I plan to use their text with my finalist strategy class in the 2016/2017 academic year. 

If I was going to make a tweak to the module, I might actually break the two larger groups down into two smaller groups so students have more choice in projects. I might also see if I can get some of this year’s class to come back and spend a few hours as advisers for the next class to take the module. 

In fact the whole thing has been so successful that I don’t plan to have any significant changes for the next year and indeed am currently looking at ways to spin out the student think-tank into a ongoing social enterprise. The module would act as the ‘training’ for the social enterprise and students would then work for external clients on larger scale projects. 

All the way through the biggest challenge has been for me to simply stand back and let the students get on with it and make their own decisions. I ended up making a lot of tea, eating a lot of biscuits but never had to step in to ‘save’ a failing project.  My key aim therefore of skills and academic development via getting out of the way has been achieved. 

Besides the specific module goals there has been a good mixture of digital skills development in here. 

Jisc talk about developing digital literacy to support digital practices and we can see it below in this diagram:

Digital capabilities needed to work and live in a digital society - taken from: https://www.jisc.ac.uk/guides/developing-students-digital-literacy This work is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND
Digital capabilities needed to work and live in a digital society – taken from: https://www.jisc.ac.uk/guides/developing-students-digital-literacy This work is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND

 

So how did the students develop in any of these areas? 

Communication and collaboration

I had actually paid for some professional project management software. Both groups of students quickly established that it wasn’t fit for purpose for the management of their projects. Independently, they assessed different options and settled on a mixture of google docs (production), slack and some Facebook (co-ordination/collaboration). Most communication moved from email to the use of real-time editing using google documents. 

Digital creation innovation and scholarship

One of the hot topics in digital creation is the small matter of IPR. I did have to give both student groups a little prompt about the various levels of copyright protection a work might or might not have. As a result of this, the student groups for both the enterprise app and the textbook had to start thinking carefully – what are the resource and time implications of gathering and remixing content under a creative commons or other license or simply creating bespoke content. 

Digital learning and Self-development

This in many respects was the most interesting aspect of their digital skills development. In both groups, students self-organised into vital roles – roles that the students themselves had never occupied before but identified as vital. For example – who was going to manage and allocate project hours? Who’s job was in a group to check the copyright status of material that could used? 

Overall – I think the fundamental message I took from this is the same idea I started with – provide a solid framework but get out of the way. 

 

How I mark (not with a pen)

I’m deep in marking so I thought it might be worthwhile covering how I try and trade off getting the best marking experience against time spent. 

I never accept paper submissions under any circumstances nor do I accept them via email or any other means except for our VLE (which is blackboard). This is for a number of reasons:

1) I mark once there and this also informs the student of grade and comments plus it populates the spreadsheet of marks and informs the students of their progress without emails from me. For example if a student is undertaking three assessments, they will know after the first assessment how much of the module they have already passed. This saves hours if it is a big module (100+). Especially at the end of the module where I simply download the mark spreadsheet for entry on our system. 

2) I can mark on the go if needed via the turnitin ipad app (you can sync assessments to it). The iPad app is also the quickest way to check what needs marking and if I am working with colleagues I can see where they are upto and also quickly second mark as and when needed. It also means if a student wants to talk to me about their assessment, I can bring it up on my ipad in seconds.

3) It creates an audit trail – all of the data about when submitted etc is collected in one place. More importantly if there is a problem later where work is lost etc, it’s an institutional problem not mine. 

4) I can make use of rubrics to provide a lot of very quick feedback besides my bespoke comments – this is important because although (paradoxically) I provide a lot of feedback I actually think it’s a waste of time because it occurs at the wrong time (I was an assessment post-doc and all the literature I read said the same thing).

5) Over time I’ve built an extensive collection of ‘quick-marks’ – customise comments that I can drag and drop over an assessment. 

Now when I’m at my desk, the quickest way I find to do it is… Dual-monitor – now a dual-monitor is useful for lots of things but I find it’s a massive time-saver for marking. 

Assessment  on the left, rubric on the right.
Assessment  on the left, rubric on the right.

All taken together I find that this cuts many many hours from the marking process, I couldn’t see any circumstance under which I’d return to paper.  

Teaching practice: Saving time with QR codes and NFC

How to use NFC tags and QR codes to save yourself a lot of time when students want to make appointments to see you… (less than ten minutes to set-up)

In a previous post I discussed how I make use of an online appointment system to save time and reduce email traffic. Here’s another aspect to this, how students can book appointments directly from my office door. Very straightforward to implement – I use Calendly because it works with MS Exchange but if you use a google calendar it works fine with that as well. 

This is simply a piece of paper I stuck an NFC tag to and then laminated
This is simply a piece of paper I stuck an NFC tag to and then laminated

This is all very straight forward – it contains three different ways that students can check my available slots and book in. 

1) They can manually type in the URL

2) They can use the phone on their camera to read a QR code – if you have never used this before there are many website that will generate these for free for you. 

3) Finally they can directly tap their phone against the notice if they have an NFC enabled phone. NFC tags are fairly cheap to buy and you don’t need any special equipment to set them up. Any NFC capable phone can be used to write to the sticker – in this case the URL of my diary.

The whole thing took less than ten minutes from start to finish and the longest bit was waiting for the laminator to warm up…

  

Saving time with appointment slots

A short article about why automating your diary is a good idea.

Since for those of us who work as academics in the UK system teaching is about to commence, Below is a summary of some work I did automating my diary so students could book straight into it. Since writing it, I’ve switched to Calendly because of its integration with O365 but the basic principles remain. 

The TLDR version – it’s a real time saver, students come to meetings better prepared, it reduces the administration burden on me and I prefer it to office hours. 

Summary:

·         Students were given access to an electronic diary for a period of twelve weeks which allowed the booking of appointments without needing to email or speak to the academic about their availability.

·         This system resulted in a reduction of email traffic/information overload for the academic and a more transparent appointment system for students. Informal feedback from students suggests that they find the system both easy to use and highly valuable in helping them to manage their time on campus and seeking advice/guidance from academics.  

·         This is a very limited one person POC, a wider trial of such a system should be consideredin regards to 1) reducing the administrative burden of academics and 2)  the possible positive impacts on the students/academics and wider universities and by extension areas of the National Student Survey such as ‘Academic support’ and ‘Assessment and Feedback’.

Aims:

The objective of the proof of concept was to explore what would happen if students were able to book appointments without contact or permission with me. The hope was that such a system would reduce email traffic (information overload) and free up time spent fixing up appointments to be better spent on research, service or learning and teaching activities.

How the system works:

As the student body makes use of Google apps accounts, it was decided that the best approach was to make use of the built-in appointment slot system[1]. The account holder simply decides on what time periods are open for students or others to book appointments and then the time allowed for each appointment. For the purposes of this trial, 30 minutes slots were provided to students.

The link to the diary page was then added to my email signature. Students when clicking upon the signature were taken to the following page:

The open slots in the diary
The open slots in the diary

Students are only able to see when there are available appointments and not appointments made by other students or any private appointments that are present in the diary. A student would then click on and book whatever appointment slot was available and then add some information about what the appointment was about. 

What they see when booking
What they see when booking

Below is the view seen by the account holder, it show not only the appointment slots but also other appointments and teaching commitments.

My full diary, students cannot see my other appointments. 
My full diary, students cannot see my other appointments. 

 The account holder receives either email notification or a text message providing the name of the student and the time and purpose of the appointment.  If a student was unable to attend a slot or no longer needed an appointment, they deleted it from their calendar and the slot reappeared for others to book. If a student (as many have done) had linked their university account to their mobile device (iPad, smartphone etc.), then the appointment would appear there as well.

 

Impacts for academic:

From a lecturer perspective, the main saving has been from the reduction in the number of speculative emails from students seeking to book an appointment at a certain time on a certain day and the email traffic and administration that this results in. It was made clear to students that this did not mean that I was not in my office at other times but simply that they could know with confidence that I would be available to speak to them at those specific times. Over a 12 week period, 150 slots were booked out and the attendance rate was 86%. Many students continued to simply ‘walk in’.  As an individual academic, I plan to carry on using this system because of the many benefits that both I and the student body obtain from it. Other academics  who have heard about the system have used it on an informal basis to better manage their time and it appears to be seen as highly valuable.

Feedback from students:

A number of students were asked about their experience in an attempt to gain some informal feedback. The general consensus was that the system was easy to use and was seen as much more productive than simply trying to guess if an academic was available or make a trip to the university for the same purposes. Typical comments included:

·         ‘no offensive to anyone but it can often take a week to set up an appointment, you set them an email, wait a couple of days, you email them again, then the original date has gone’ (Student 007);

·         ‘I don’t like bugging lecturers so if they don’t reply after a couple of days, I just try and get on with it’ (Student 003)

·         ‘It is really really simple that is the good [aspect] of it, I saved a link in my ipad so if I need to see you, I just look up your diary and often I can see you are free in an hour, so I book, stay on campus to do some work and then come up and see you’ (Student 004)

·         ‘I don’t understand why I have to spend so long hanging around in corridors waiting to try and find a lecturer. Most places in 2012 don’t work like that, why does this place?’ (Student 003)

Wider usage scenarios?

It is arguable that such a system may have a number of positive benefits for the individual academic, the student body and the University as a whole. In particular, such a scheme may have a positive impact on categories with the NSS such as ‘organisation and management’ and ‘access to lecturers’.

At present, the Higher Education system has a myopic focus on Teaching Enhanced Learning from a limited perspective of what happens within contact hours or from material provided to students via VLEs such as blackboards. It is undeniable that such facilities need to be provided and utilised to best benefit. However, the re-engineering of processes such as student contact with academics outside of the Lecture threat/classroom might have an equally positive benefit but for a more modest economic cost.

 

[1] A number of UK universities including the University of Sheffield and the University of Glasgow already use Google appointments for this purpose.