Goldsmiths LEU Conference: Designing Learning Landscapes (1)

Liveblog notes from the morning at Goldsmiths’ Learning Enhancement Unit conference 2014: Designing Learning Landscapes #dllgold14.



Esther Saxey welcomes everyone, makes housekeeping announcements. We are in the ‘New Academic Building’ which, they are proud to tell us, is shortly to be named the Stuart Hall building after the late sociologist.

Michael Young: Welcome

Pro-Warden (Students and Learning Development), Goldsmiths

Welcomes everyone, thanks for coming. Thanks contributors and participants, and to the GLEU team for organising the event. Len Platt, Head of LEU, is leaving LEU for another post after today. Sue Dixon is starting on Monday as the new Head.

Introduces Andrea Sella. Research and experience in TEL.

Andrea Sella: Keynote – My Learning Landscapes

Professor of Material and Inorganic Chemistry, University College London

Apologises for dishevelled experience. Had to get kids to nursery, but child went in to melt down about blue trousers. Only way to get here in time was to pedal. Grateful for the CV workout.

Blames Tina (Simon Rowe). At UCL, started talking to her about using technology.

From point of view of a time-poor academic, frustrated with working in a particular system. Daunted by the audience. I have no theory. UCL didn’t have an academic training programme, I fell between the cracks. Giving a lecture-demonstration without having practiced properly, burn marks are still on the bench in the chemistry theatre. Lectured on the biggest course in the dept, for life scientists, then took it over.

Problem – life scientists. I’m a chemist, and life scientists are terrified of it. Think they’ve escaped chemistry and maths. Large numbers.  Want to show them it’s important. It’s a big service course, numbers steadily rising, from 280 upwards, to 430 with a 325-capacity theatre. The Dean says, well, it’s too late. Have paid fees, want attention. Insane logistics. No admin support. Keeping tutorials going, attendance, was a problem. Wants to strengthen maths, and chemistry – and have a life himself.

First VLE started appearing, WebCT. Brave new world. Did what many academics still do – forum, archive of handouts, interesting links – or link – put there. But no more because life’s too short.

Live demo of course VLE section at UCL. It’s one of those websites you really want to go to. (laughter) Course introduction is hidden. tutorials allocations. Useful links – including the departmental homepage. Interactive Periodic Table link – pops up a dialogue saying “pageok” (oops). Greenwood & Earnshaw textbook online … doesn’t work.  Also a section there, is hidden, and has nothing in it.

Very struck that students come to the site and use it, but every time he walked past students, they were on Facebook. At a UCL teaching event, asked, how do we use Facebook for teaching? Response was savage. (laughter) Told he was an idiot. Must not go near Facebook! People, students, we – who’s addicted to Facebook? (Quite a few hands.) Honestly? What about Twitter? (Many hands.) Aha!

Wants to make something sufficiently attractive to pull students in regularly. It is an immense distraction.

Build something a little different. So students would come back and use it again. First of all, make communications absolutely clear. If you have 370 students, if you’re not crystal clear, 5% of the class will drive you mad. And that’s a significant number. Make it clear they have to use the site to get information. Establish the guidelines, early in the year, about how it’ll work. Clear boundaries, ideas about what they can expect. A contract. Hope to establish a virtuous loop which will lead to an increased use. Crucial is that you have useful resources, interesting activities, answers to their questions – and questions for them to think about.

Also building departmental website, in 1996 or so. Had some background. Importance of consistent layout. Students again and again say site is easy to use. The order you put your links and things – e.g. forum, synopsis – is the same in every section. Sensible. So if have the hang of one place, they have it for the next. Also crucial to split in to separate and consistent sections. Any web designer does this – but academics are starting from zero, and it takes time to get your head round it, and they don’t have time.

Forums as a crucial idea. They become the way they students communicate with him. Discipline point: never answer a question by email (if not personal). E.g. what time is something, post it to the forum. Only through the slightly – can appear snotty – but post it to the forum, for all the others who have the same question. Community terms: if you don’t know where the lab is, post it to the forum, everyone can find it out.

Five types of forums – Directives from the Great Leader, Admin Q&A (general), section-specific forums split up by topic (academic specialisation, can appoint a specific person to a section). Two others: Fun and Frolic – post links, vaguely-related TV, news items. Wishlist Forum – simply a place to say here’s an idea to run this course more smoothly. Have 300 minds to crowdsource clever ideas. One idea, student sucked all course information of the college calendar, made a Google calendar you could download on to your phone. Put the link up. But in other depts they refused. Other students suggest interesting resources, places to study maths, interesting articles, changing lab times slightly. This does something important – changes the relationship from leader:minions to something more balanced. Important, especially where numbers are rising. Let them feel they can contribute to the enterprise.  Those last two are very helpful in involving students.

How do you make forums work? Colleagues on a big course, 200, course site looked hideous. He wanted to reorganise it on Moodle. Six colleagues subscribed to the course, each one had never seen forums used like that. How did you do it? I answered. Important to reply promptly and enthusiastically – to certain things.

Example of really bad message – a rant about ‘due ot the excessive amounts of plaigurism’ [sic]. A complete misunderstanding, of even the most basic human psychology.

Plagiarism is an interesting issue. How much can we blame the students? Is it a rational response to a situation we put them in? Need to think about how we assess students, and how much pressure we put on them. That message is an example of how to kill a VLE.

Reply to general questions promptly and enthusiastically. Use profile pictures – means a face comes up. The brain is weird, if you see a photo, with a bathtub with taps making a face – if you put a face, picture on a profile – whimsical – people respond to it, it becomes less impersonal. Example – Google Map of where you were born, interesting spread.  Force initial subscription, explain how to get a digest so not swamped. When they ask about course material, slow down, wait for students to come back. Ground rule – want forum to be a place where you know, you put stuff forward. You don’t understand material, until you try to explain it to someone else. The act of writing it down or explaining it is going to cement the ideas for you. So aim to elicit responses. Allow students to rate posts, like Likes. And a steady stream of drivel in the frolics forum.

How do you do this when you have to programming resources? Put a picture on each course page. It’s trivial – even if obvious. Adds a bit of colour, livens it up slightly. Set up the calendar and fill it with everything. It’s tedious to do. One reason to is that you have things appearing in the right-hand side.

So for his course, always has stuff from New Scientist and Nature as RSS feeds. Get students in to the habit of thinking other science is neat. I’m not interested in a student who’ll parrot the answers back. How we deliver material, through very traditional lectures. Also means things continue. Yes, they are a distraction. Must set it to open in a new window. Wikipedia trance effect. Make sure the course window is still there. Crucial to get students to do stuff for themselves. Want them to put together their own revision resources. Gets them to contribute definitions to a student-built glossary. Need edits, comments, and ratings. Includes FAQ – e.g. reading week, date of exam. Also other stuff. Has a random glossary entry. This takes work. Put bait – if you put in 3 definitions you get an extra 3% on your mark, focuses people. Later on, asked how useful they found it – they say yes, quite useful.

Typically, give out handouts. Question that entire model. It’s phenomenally expensive. Dept spends £60k/y on photocopying and printing. Are we going to spend that on paper? Opportunity cost – spend £15k on, say, coding revision questions? I just put them on Moodle, so they’re forced to do them 2 slides to a page. Well after the lecture, so they have to take notes there. Some students hate that. Wonder how effective that is. It’s crept up on us. If the students have to get the own, it’s pushing responsibility back on to them: an active process.

Revision questions for students are very important. The really important thing is to give students immediate (or deferred) detailed feedback to each answer. Can analyse and see students are putting down the wrong thing. Can adjust your feedback. Real problem we face, when we get poor NSS returns, say they don’t get enough feedback. In our department, tutorials went from 3-4 students, to 6-8, then workshops with 20+. Tiny items in a grinding machine. Give them resource like this, free ourselves up to deal with other things. This is time-consuming, but has to be done. Feedback must be varied, informative, surprises. Informative but whimsical. Make it not just drudgery, mechanical thing. So include questions like why do you put salt on aubergines. Try to connect lecture material to the real world. Can make it subject-specific, like in chemistry can past in SMILES strings for chemical formulas.

Quiz banks, used for revision and marks in formal assessment. We have lots of questions. Some we turn in to games, get them to try for a high score. Gamification. Confidence-based marking – provide an answer, and how confident you are. It builds in a powerful mental feedback. We have lots and lots of questions – 600 or so. Regarded by students as esssential. Also use Peerwise – NZ site – students generate their own, work with each other. Their own playground I don’t look in to. Also, can fish out some additional questions.

Really big problem: how to keep track of 600 questions. How do I find them again? Don’t understand how tagging works, and have legacy of questions that are un-tagged. Real weakness in VLEs.

Using them for final assessment – some are seen, some are unseen. Tests conducted on students’ own devices in the lecture theatre. Beauty of this is we’re not reliant on booking clusters, which are very small. But using their own, having someone standing at the back of the room – you can tell if someone’s wandering off. Also quite tight for time. Has worked a treat. Makes it easier, and students feel more comfortable using it. Need a cluster as backup in case of glitches. Over time get economies of scale.

Videos – lectures all recording. Time machine – lecturecast – rated useful or essential. Not enormous amount of watching. Opens up lots of possibilities. Getting in to flipping. Only reason I don’t do more is the Echo 360 client is buggy and drives me crazy. Can make Khan-academy style things. Useful for pre-albs, introductions, safety. Viewing rises when accompanied by a quiz – can be as simple as ‘how many questions are there on the quiz’. Can also provide post-exam feedback videos. Students often get nothing back from the exam. Can make one, saying it’s about these questions, discursive. Like brain dumps, have the questions and talk it through. Students love it. Have had 100 views, close to half the class.

Add curated YouTube vids. Fun forum, but dedicated Facebook page is better. All of the stuff intrudes: public and private lives are intermeshed, students are doing this already. Twitter good, has novelty, can use course hashtag. Rapid response and comment in lectures and labs. Encouraging students to use devices.

Behind all this is the huge shadow of MOOCs. Nobody knows what the answer is. Senior colleagues say, come on, the OU have been trying to do that video crap for 50y, they’ve got nowhere. I know engagement doesn’t last in them, but there’s things we can learn. The face time is the thing that differentiates us from MOOCs, so we have to use VLE resources to free up the face time. Put the drudgery on to the VLE, and do it well. Our students are primed to accept video instruction in a way the OU wasn’t. People who haven’t grown up with Spotify, YouTube etc, have no idea about the real world. Take the best things, integrate them in to the face to face things.

Also, universities are a pyramid scheme. We can’t pay academics, get more students, too many, need more academics. Worried about when the wheels come off. VLEs are a way of coping. Responding to student demands and providing face time.

Questioning almost everything about our teaching. Get away from teaching material, stuff, information. Do I have to know the melting points of all the elements? But we tell them assessment is based on knowing this and that. Get the process across.

Running elearning site properly takes time, and effort. Has taken 15y to convince colleagues it’s worth while. Thinking that elearning is a way to free up staff time is a delusion from people who don’t teach.

I can’t teach anyone anything. I can stand up, tell you about enthalpy, entropy, you’ll get nothing from it, it’s got to come from the student. The only way is to convince them it’s fun, interesting, hook them in. The TV, radio, standup comedy is incredibly helpful. I don’t think we teach. We bait them, draw them close to it. They’re on their own.

Thanks to all who’ve helped. Including the students who’ve come through.

There are too many academics not aware of the possibilities.


Rachel ?, from Inst Mgt Studies: Social media encouraging students – do you use LinkedIn? Relevant for my department.

Haven’t figured out what LinkedIn is for. Get messages from people saying they rate me for nanotechnology, distillation. Haven’t figured out what it does. So no, haven’t looked at it. People say it’s great for making contacts.

Rachel: Our students use it a lot for getting research participants. Recruiting organisations. But I’m from a background where we use it.

I’d have to think quite hard. Mostly 1st year UG, a bit up at 3rd year. It may become more valuable there. Have a dream for a course where students invent something and we get VCs etc to back it. There it might become quite valuable.

Tim Smale, ?: In assessments, give students some seen and unseen. Do they all get the same, or random selection each?

We give everybody the same thing. The order is randomised, and the order of answers is randomised. But not separate cohorts. Have thought about that, don’t know how to set it up.

Tim: Justifying that each student had the same difficulty of assessment.

Yeah, I’m too lazy to think through the implications.

Carol, from music conservatoire: Is there a future for the VLE? In the next 5y?

I think you’ve got me stumped with that. I’m so busy in my process, haven’t looked up beyond and think in the long term. A MOOC is a glorified VLE with a lot more participants. It’s not completely obvious what in 5y will be able to replace what we have. The great advantage and thing that drives you crazy is it’s a consistent framework and set of tools, you select them. I’ve used wikis, played around with stuff. The VLE is just the framework within which you operate. We’ll always need some framework. Maybe we’ll call it something different. There’ll be an evolution beyond that.

Someone from Goldsmiths CS: Peer assessment? How prominent that might be in formal final assessment – maybe base it only on peer assessment?

I think we have to mix it up. I don’t use peer assessment in my big courses. But have used small components in other things. Great value, tell students to revise, it’s an eye opener when you see what someone else has written down. Wish I could show students what others write on exam scripts. Some write nothing and think they’ll get somewhere, others write rambling essays. has to be part of the mix. Tricky logistically with very large numbers. [Easier online with MOOCs!] Worry you lose control over things.

Eileen, secondary head of virtual/blended institution in US: What’s the best skill I can instil in the students I send to you/your level?

Independence. Students find it so difficult, that transition from close monitoring, told how things are going, to being dropped in to free fall, much fewer checks. We do keep track a bit, but it’s limited. Incredibly important, in a Goveian era, it’s difficult. The real problem is unintended consequences. Goodhart’s Law, about indicators. Any indicator used as an instrument of public policy ceases to be a useful indicator. See this with the obsession with marks – learning is forgotten. I’m exaggerating slightly. But if we can find ways to let students be freer, less obsessed on the quarterly report – it sounds like the City, not teaching.

The Importance of Literacy

Panel 1 Developing Digital Literacies (room 326)

(1A) Developing digital literacies for practice-based massive open online communities of interest – a social enterprise model

Chris Follows (University of the Arts, London)

Six art schools round London. Basically, communities of practice. Project called DIAL – Digital Integration into Arts Learning.

At UAL, we have two online courses. Not talking about those as such. Blended learning. I’m looking at outside the curriculum, developing communities there. The idea of independence, learning without the motivations of marks.

Project part of JISC Digital Literacies programme. The approach was to get individuals, staff, students, to say they struggle with digital challenges. We had a project to support those staff doing things off the radar, not supported by day to day training programme. Develop the communities of practice (Wenger). Learning together. Create resources for others to use and adapt. Strange project – what does ‘digital literacies’ mean? Digital learning is quite complex. A framework for going from complex situation to more straightforward. Glossary of terms – CoP, OER, ‘Open’, DLs, MOOC, CC, VLE, Drupal.

Open education – developed their own definition. Unrestricted, don’t have to log in, can be re-used.

Over time at UAL, have done a lot with open education through funded projects. In the beginning, grassroots, were just getting on with it. Started a site a while ago, process.arts. Got funded projects – KULTUR, UAL Research Online, JISC UKOER ALTO & UK, SCORE Fellowship at the OU, JISC Developing Digital Literacies, Open Educational Practice Unit – online, talk this afternoon. Quizzes don’t really work in practice-based subjects like arts. From 2014, a lot of DIY. People want to produce their own learning environments, so Bring Your Own Environment. People will do it if they want, might need support. And MOOCs. – running itself, nobody paid. Share practice, open collaboration, enhance face to face. When new management come in, spent a lot of time, have to reconvince everyone that it’s a good thing to invest in. Whole course units, case studies, instructional videos goes on there, clustered in to groups. 1000 posts, 800 comments, 300 videos and 250 embedded. On YouTube – 75,000 hits on a video about sand casting. With platforms like Facebook and YouTube, have to treat them as channels so you can pull out if necessary. David White’s visitor/resident work. Mapping where you are on visitor/resident axis and institutional/personal one.

DIAL: developed communities of practice, as expected. But also communities of interest, cross-college clusters groups. Groups include video presentation skills, Drupal:UAL, Professional online identities. Copyright issues, tablets in studios, digital literacies.

Lessons learned – balance between f2f and digital. Lots of fear about not being ‘digitally ready’, in staff and students. Real need for universities to support this sort of project, the things that aren’t really supported.

Impact on process.arts site – big jump in visitors when they started. [Although a ?seasonal slight decline in the figures after initial jump, which is a shame if correct.]

More activity ongoing on many of the topics identified as interesting in earlier phases. Lecture capture and video streaming about to happen, lots of concern/interest from staff. Also exciting stuff like wearables.

Finally: MOOCs. Previous work looking at openness, is underpinning MOOCs. There’s not many art MOOCs. It needs a rethink. Carl Andre’s bricks, public reaction, “this isn’t art, what a lot of rubbish”. Get same reaction in art schools. A lot of what Andre said about art relates to MOOCs. [Interesting.]

Looking at a consortium of universities, art schools, colleges, artists in studios, galleries, a cross-section to really look at making sure creative industries are not left out of MOOCs. Get our heads together. Want creative space where can be a bit more risky.

Social enterprise. MOOCs attract postgraduate student audience. How do we engage the young people, outside formal university education. Have to address learners from non-privileged backgrounds. Link to galleries, who do good jobs of linking.

(1B) BYOD4L No Doors, No Locks!

Chrissi Nerantzi (Manchester Metropolitan University) and Sue Beckingham (Sheffield Hallam University)

Chrissi talking – Sue is in hospital. Good wishes.

Interested in open education. Talking about an open course developed with colleagues. Called Bring Your Own Devices For Learning BYOD4L.

A space is just a space, without people it’s nothing. So Ecology rather than Environment.

It’s CC-licenced (BY-NC).

People say open, social is the way forward. Have never done anything in five days. Another one run over 12w. Positive future – social, collaborative, joined up. At the moment have institutions competing, but it’s not a competition. See students as collaborators. Bring institutions together to learn.

Struggled to call it a course. It is a course, but there’s a book project and event linked to it.

Developed a simple model – 5Cs – Connect Curate, Create, Communicate, Collaborate. So over five days, a dedicated theme. But no stopping people doing things.

This is not a content course. Hear a lot about creating resources, but this is inquiry-based. Learning through scenarios, 2-3 minutes. They share a problem – fish model – Focus, Investigate, Share.

Used freely-available websites, social media. No specialist help. 11 different people, working together remotely. Badges to recognise learning and achievement, and for facilitators. Daily TwitterChats, very popular. Not just chats but exchange of rich thinking. People curate their own blogs, facilitators blogged about their experience, modelling practices.

Not just online. Human interaction and exchange.

Hard to say goodbye at the end. A community was created. You do get to know people when you respond and create links. Many of these relationships continue and are leading to collaborations.

They really loved the freedom.

Stats – had a big peak at the start, then tailed off; get regular pulses.

Followup survey, N=74 (not bad). 22 students, 51 professionals, mostly academics, academic developers, learning technologists. Audience quite well kitted. Experienced open learners. Reason for joining mostly professional development for application. People want CPD, but they want what works for them. Maximise on that trend.

Question – how can we attract individuals who are less confident and experienced? We had facilitators, we did support people, didn’t through people in there.

Siemens’ un-course. Norman Jackson’s work on creativity, learning ecologies. Usually it’s content-driven. Not with contexts and processes determined by the learner.

Next step: cross-institutional #BYOD4L 14-18 July, run by Manchester Met, Sheffield Hallam, Sussex, ?Ulster. Happy to discuss other institutions joining.


Not much time because we don’t want to eat in to lunch (!).

Q: What determined your choice of 5d?

Chrissi: Good question. I started running longer courses. Previous over 12w. That was too long. Nice when have individuals in a semester for credit. To sustain that engagement for open learners, it didn’t work. So condensed that in to 6w. Noticed it worked much better. Some complained they wanted longer. Can’t please everyone. Wanted to try something different, bite-sized. Is there a way to get people together, because it’s just 5d, they can focus. People in HE, students, teachers, they will get the framework in 5d but the learning doesn’t stop there.

Q: I ask because I did a course run by Helen Webster, that was over 10d, it built a good momentum. You feel good pressure to do things and get involved. If once a week, easier to let it slide.

C: Felt we were on a high for 5d … and then it stops. Felt like wanted a bit more. But it is quite demanding.

Julie Watson: Interested in ratio of facilitators to participants – optimum number? Meaningful community.

C: We had 10 facilitators. Communication was there. Support was there. If you have small groups, we had 8-10 people in a PBL group. About 60% of them disappeared. So idea of 4-5 people in one group, nice size. Danger there because it’s open, some people might disappear, might end up with 2-3 people. We merged groups. So still opp to work with others.

Sue: The hardest thing was setting up the group to start with. Working out how to work together, multiple things, what doing with PBL, is this course for me.

Q2: For Chris. You said, quizzes don’t work well in practice based environments. A solution?

Chris: Don’t have one yet. Practice is hands-on, very tacit. That’s a challenge, to find a way to do all the engagement stuff, get facilitators or stewards to have the skills to nurture that engagement online. Again, with the badges, it depends on different audiences. Badges, we did a pilot on them, it’s like with MOOCs, adapting it for our environment. Mozilla Badges as they are won’t work. So we do a quiz, but we adapt it. We need a little bit more thought. Big issue people want to address, walking in to FutureLearn or other places, not necessarily the best environments for creativity.

Irene: For Chrissi. Marketing, letting people know. You had people from all over the world. (Mainly from the UK.) How did people know about your course? Expectations?

Chrissi: We used social media channels. We were from different institutions with local audiences. Had one facilitator from Australia. Expectations – no registration, but in the forum, will need to check to see if they had that. They could take whatever they wanted. Encouraged to tailor the outcomes, personalise them, pick and mix, put their own learning path together.

?Rose: Chris, as a practitioner, how have you looked at the area of the crit? In practice based work, the crit …

Chris: All I’ve done is set up a place for people to come and talk. Interest from many places. Developing an ecosystem naturally. Working with QArts, impromptu crits with lots of institutions on sight. A crit is where you talk about your work, self-reflection, with people. Their online presence is there but not pushing the boundaries. Perfect partnership. We do a lot of stuff online, team up locally, London, New York, Brazil, where there’s the ecosystem on the ground as well.

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Author: dougclow

Experienced project leader, data scientist, researcher, analyst, teacher, developer, educational technologist and manager. I particularly enjoy rapidly appraising new-to-me contexts, and mediating between highly technical specialisms and others, from ordinary users to senior management. After 20 years at the OU as an academic, I am now a self-employed consultant, building on my skills and experience in working with people, technology, data science, and artificial intelligence, in the education field and beyond.