The best of Leicester: The Institute of Learning Innovation (ILI)

I am a PhD student who recently spent a six months in Leicester. My last night I had a wonderful time with two PhD students, Brenda and Grace. Brenda asked me what was the best for me in Leicester, and I replied, “ILI”, without hesitation.


International environment at the Institute of Learning Innovation

I came to the ILI on  April 1st and left on September 25th. Although it was not my first time abroad, it was my first time abroad alone. Yet, I never felt lonely. At the ILI, it was just like home. The ILI building is lovely. For me it was more than a working place; it was a comfortable place to stay with friends and family. People at the ILI made me feel love in this “family”.

In the ILI, there are two nice traditions. The first one is to send birthday cards. Even though I didn’t receive any cards as my birthday is in January, it felt very nice to write my best wishes in birthday cards for others. The second tradition is to have lunch together regularly. It was a good opportunity to taste dishes from various countries as everyone brought dishes from their respective countries.

Beside the friendly and warm atmosphere, there is another reason for me to choose ILI as the best of Leicester. It was a very important period in my PhD project. I got opportunities to present my work in postgraduate research conferences (University of Leicester and University of London), to get feedback from peers, to participate in seminars and workshops (ILI, University of Birmingham, University of Loughborough), to enhance my research skills and to network with people. I can really see I “grew up” rapidly in this six-month period and gradually found a clear direction for my ongoing research.

Thank you all!

Thank you all!

I would like to thank everyone at ILI for making my stay in the UK a beautiful, memorable period. Many thanks to Grainne and Palitha, your support and advice were crucial for making this productive research period possible. Thanks to David; having a regular discussion with you was one of my most enjoyable moments. Thanks to Terese; I enjoyed working with you in the 7Cs learning design workshop; you made me realize how interesting and important is the job of a learning technologist in higher education. Thanks to Gabi; your input was really valuable to my study. Thanks to Ming; your advice had a direct impact on my PhD life. Thanks to Paul; now I know more about the British culture. Thanks to Ale; your suggestion makes a future collaboration possible. Thanks to Brenda, Grace, Bernard, Oznur, Nada, Natalia, Tina, Tony, Marion and Alison; I am quite happy to become a member of this PhD student group.

I wish you all the best!

Regards, Nan


Experience of a Visiting Scholar

The Sino-British Trust provided me with a perfect opportunity for my research. I have been given the opportunity to participate in the Beyond Distance Research Alliance (BDRA, now Institute of Learning Innovation) of the University of Leicester (UoL) as a visiting scholar from October 2012 to February 2013. My visit to the University of Leicester was an excellent and rewarding opportunity to work in a lively, critical and highly international environment, which contributed to expanding my horizons as a researcher. Personally, this four-month visit allowed me to get additional energy that will help me to carry on with my research in the fields of E-learning and critical studies on Project Based Learning (PBL). This was indeed an extremely intellectually challenging and productive period.

At BDRA I was provided with excellent research facilities. Further, the academic environment was of extreme importance. The frequent engagement and discussions with the colleagues of BDRA and the researchers from UoL are a key element. All the events gave me an excellent opportunity to discuss my research project in detail, hear about other fellow scholars and researchers and their fields of study, and exchange views and experience. I also invited some of my colleagues and students to take part in a survey on iTunes U.

During my time at BDRA, I was able to study in depth some central aspects of PBL and its realization through online scenarios, especially those pertaining to the theoretical basis of my research. Profiting from the broad collection of books, journals and current articles available in the university’s libraries, and from the chance to meet and exchange ideas with professional colleagues working on e-learning and technology enhanced learning, I managed to improve my research report and to strengthen its main ideas, which focus  on the topic of “ E-tivities embedded in Projected Based Learning scenario used in online vocational education”. I also had the opportunity to learn from a European Commission-funded project on Problem-Based Learning called SCENE during my stay at here.

Hengjun giving a presentation at BDRA

Hengjun giving a presentation at BDRA

In addition to completing the research report for which the fellowship was granted and building a framework of Project Based Learning scenarios used in online vocational education, during my stay I attended the following events taking place within the University:

  • Distance learning and technology workshop for the delegates from the Open University of China (OUC), in Leicester, 23 Nov, 2012.
  • Workshop: changing conceptions of online distance education for the 21st century, in Open University, 27 Nov, 2012.
  • Internal conference: Learning and Teaching Conference, 10 Jan, 2013.
  •  Leading & Motivation others workshop, 14 Jan, 2013.
  • Writing for Business workshop, 22 Jan, 2013.
  • The Ethics of: Ethics and Online Research workshop, 23 Jan, 2013.
  • Blackboard Content Creation workshop, 30 Jan, 2013.
  • BDRA’s doctoral research group meetings

My visit to the BDRA gave a significant boost to the development of my research. I will share my work with my colleagues in China. And I will continue my research on E-learning and its application in vocational education. I intend to finish my work as follows:

  • Submit a piece of journal paper focus on Project Based Learning and its application in vocational education, in collaboration with Dr. Palitha Edirisingha.
  •  Finish a piece of conference article concerns the E-learning and Project Based learning.
  • Build an online PBL scenario about logistic information collection.

Finally, I would like to thank my colleagues of BDRA for allowing me to work in such an interesting, inter-disciplinary and transnational environment. I am truly grateful to everyone and in particular, to my tutor – Dr. Palitha Edirisingha. I am so grateful for his hospitality, support and advice on my research. I also learned from Professor David Hawkridge, a visiting professor at BDRA, who has been involved in setting up CRTVU in China. A word of appreciation is also due to Dr Ming Nie, Dr Paul Rudman, Gabi Witthaus, Terese Bird, PhD students and other unnamed colleagues for your hospitable assistance. I enjoyed our discussions, and the intellectually rich and friendly times we shared.

 Thank you all.

– Dr.   Hengjun Zhao

Online learning and research – sharing in South Africa

Grainne Conole surrounded by art collected and created by Paul Prinsloo of Unisa

A team from Beyond Distance is visiting Unisa in South Africa for a three-day series of workshops and seminars about research and online learning. It’s wonderful to be back here among friends in Pretoria less than a year after our last visit. The team of six of us from Leicester is split between the Pretoria and Florida campuses. A few links to the presentations that have been given so far follow:

An overview of technology-enhanced learning (Grainne Conole)

Research methodology in technology-enhanced learning (Grainne Conole)

Audio recordings: Research Methodology in TEL Part 1

and Research Methodology in TEL Part 2 (Grainne Conole)

Sharing: from research to practice (Grainne Conole)

Harnessing the power of new media for learning, teaching and research (Grainne Conole)

Audio recording: Harnessing the power of new media for learning, teaching and research part 1

Harnessing the power of new media for learning, teaching and research part 2

Going open: the implications for learning, teaching and research (Grainne Conole)

Optimising the research possibilities in online teaching and learning (Ming Nie and Gabi Witthaus)

Questions for future e-learning research: can we plug the gaps? (Ale Armellini)

New Technologies and 21st century learners and their impact on teaching and learning at Unisa (Palitha Edirisingha, Ming Nie)

Ethical considerations in learning and teaching (Palitha Edirisingha, Ming Nie)

OER-based design for learning and its impact on research (Ming Nie, Gabi Witthaus,Terese Bird)

What works and what doesn’t work in research dissemination (Terese Bird)

The twitter stream from the three-day event (using hashtag #unisa12), captured on Storify:

OERs by Video

I am preparing for a project in which I will need to make video open educational resources (OERs). I will be creating split-screen video clips of lectures showing the presenter on one side, and whatever she is demonstrating on the computer on the other side. I am trying to imitate some Open Yale lectures I have seen here. I’m pretty sure Open Yale is using some sort of hardware and software lecture-capture solution which I don’t have. My solution will be low-cost: I will film the presenter, and capture whatever she is presenting via some screencast software such as Quicktime Pro or Camtasia, and use the split-screen wizardry of Final Cut Express to create the final product. If you want to learn more about how that is done, see my blog post from last week.

The next wrinkle in the video OER saga is that some of the footage will contain unsavoury language, and some may contain images of vulnerable adults and minors. Therefore, I need to bleep out words and blur out faces. I found a great tutorial for the face-blurring here, and I embed below a very helpful tutorial on bleeping out unwanted words.

Final Cut Pro Tutorial: How To Bleep Out Words So Your Mama Doesn’t Hear It from Andy Coon on Vimeo.

These are new issues for me in the realm of creating OERs. These learning materials will be created for a very specific medical-related audience (I will reveal more when I have something to show), but because they will be open-access, they should reach unknown audiences and unforeseen uses. That’s the beauty of OER!

Terese Bird, CMALT

Learning Technologist and SCORE Research Fellow, University of Leicester

Accessing professional development

Graduate and postgraduate students include personal/professional development in their training plans. One disadvantage doing a PhD from overseas is missing researcher training sessions on campus. I do participate in Research Days through videoconferencing, but there are no provisions for other sessions restricted to physical attendance at the university. There are, however, different ways to make up for this, taking advantage of events in my local community. I am a research student in the Beyond Distance Research Alliance (BDRA) at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom, and I reside in Edmonton, Canada. There are a few examples of opportunities, including one just attended.

Last year I participated in the Thinking Qualitatively Workshop Series, delivered here in Edmonton by the International Institute for Qualitative Methodology. I will attend this June for a second time. I am also on the distribution list for professional development opportunities from the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research (FGSR) at one local institution, the University of Alberta. Through it, I was able to attend free sessions preparing grad students for teaching. Also, I responded to a call for (paid) volunteers to work at a technology conference. While paid a little, it was an opportunity to give back, especially with unfilled slots.

The latest in my development, was the 2012 Alberta Graduate Conference, held at the University of Alberta, May 3 to 5, 2012, and concluded this afternoon. The Alberta Graduate Council, representing students of four member associations, organised the conference. I heard about it from the FGSR distribution list and through my alma mater, Athabasca University. I checked and learned they welcomed a percentage of attendees from other institutions, so I registered and attended.

My point with this post is to identify one reason we need not feel isolated at a distance. I’ve been able to extend my network at the same time as adding to my development. This is not a one-way street. For example, the BDRA has welcomed external participants in online seminars and at its February Research Day. I was also able to introduce a number of students to informal networking on Twitter through #phdchat. It goes without saying that sharing within the academic community has benefits for all.

I would like to extend my thanks to the organising committee and generous sponsors for an excellent conference and for opening the doors to non-member students. It was a pleasure to participate.

A.E. (Tony) Ratcliffe
PhD Research Student, BDRA
May 5, 2012

My so-called digital life: making split-screen video OER

It has been a while since I have written a blog post. I got busy; I got out of the habit. And yet I know how useful it is to write a blog post on what I’ve been learning lately, what I’ve been musing on, problems I’ve been trying to solve, conferences or events I have attended and learnt from. And so I am back, trying to get back into a good habit of digitally reflecting, as part of my so-called digital life. On Tuesday, I will be describing the benefits of blogging to a group of PhD students here at University of Leicester. And so, it’s time to start practicing what I preach.

Since I last wrote a blog post, I helped carry off Follow the Sun 2012, our very successful third online-only conference on the future of learning. I also earned my CMALT. Thank you, Association for Learning Technology! These are good to note. But what else have I been doing? Mainly, I have been building open educational resources (OER). I have done some for the history-focussed Manufacturing Pasts project. I will link to these and share them out when the website is ready, which should be in the next few weeks.

Intro to Final Cut Express by Techcast Focus

I have also been learning to use Final Cut Express, because I have to build OER out of a film of a presenter, combined with a film of what she is demonstrating on the computer. The best way I can think of do this, with the resources available to me, is to make a split-screen video comprised of the two films.  I am pretty good with iMovie, and decent with MovieMaker, but have never touched Final Cut Express. And so I went to YouTube for tutorials. I link above the first of a series of 5 very useful tutorials posted by Techcast Focus — I highly recommend these if you are just getting started in Final Cut Express.  I learnt how to do the split-screen process from this tutorial by oneironaut420. I plan to make the video of whatever is being demonstrated on the computer by a simple screencast — probably using Quicktime Pro if it can be done on a Mac, or on Camstudio or Debut if it must be Windows.

One main reason I decided to blog about this is that if I don’t, I will forget this technique. Blogging is my open research notebook.

Please comment on what you blog about, how you keep yourself going with blogging — or your own cool tips for building video OER!

Terese Bird, CMALT

Learning Technologist and SCORE Research Fellow, University of Leicester

BDRA Research Day

PhD Research Students and Supervisors

Approximately three times a year, a Research Day is offered for students of the Beyond Distance Research Alliance at the University of Leicester. Student presentations provide updates on research to date and the planned direction. Supervisors, research staff, student colleagues, and invited guests ask questions and provide feedback. We can anticipate presentations by others, and this day included updates on our department, critical writing, social media research tools, and methodological perspectives.

Usually joining online from home in Canada, I can participate subject to the limitations of technology and obviously missing the traditional evening dinner together. This time was different, as I combined the event with a couple of extra days at the university and a vacation that included visiting relatives not seen for a long, long time. I don’t feel this needs to be done with a physical presence, but there was added value. First and foremost was the ability to see everyone at one time. There was not the opportunity to speak individually at length, so perhaps the follow-up will be one-to-one conversations by videoconference–at least as needs are identified.

I am a believer in, and supporter of, distance learning, but there was something special about this visit. Beyond the opportunity to develop relationships and meet new people, such as PhD students from the School of Education that we recently became a part of, it was the academic setting. It reinforced the journey I am on and the academic nature of it. With three tutorial sessions during the first and third days (the research day was in the middle), I emerged with a fresh motivation to research and to write. Plans started to come together for the next stage which is a pilot study. I even had a chance to meet with a senior representative of an organisation that confirmed an interest in participating in the research.

One of the most important things for me to do right now is to write and to write regularly. I came away making a commitment to myself (shared with supervisors) that I will aim for a written output every two weeks or so. It is up to me to keep on track with this, but I know a colleague or two in the PhD student community will hold me accountable.

It was wonderful meeting everyone in person, many for the first time. I look forward to returning again.

A.E. (Tony) Ratcliffe
PhD Research Student, BDRA


Resurgence of the scroll

Having found a liking for the Kindle reader on my Android smartphone, and with BDRA’s interest in e-books, it was quite a surprise this morning to have a washing machine repair man present me with what was basically, thanks to a turn-of-the-century suitcase of kit, a scroll.

Not parchment, and printed or the wrong side, but a scroll nonetheless

My first thought was some kind of reverse-medieval helpdesk comedy, but then it occurred to me that actually, we use the scroll as a presentation format every day. We just don’t notice, because we call them “pages”. Web pages. Except, they are not pages of a website really, because most people don’t find them by going to the “home page” and navigating hyperlinks, as was originally envisaged. No, they go straight to one “page” from Google. So really, each “web page” is a discrete document, and since these documents are usually longer than a screen-full, one has to “scroll” through them. So, they are scrolls.

Why, then, did the medieval scroll give way to the book? Well, according to Wikipedia, for “compactness, sturdiness, ease of reference (a codex is random access, as opposed to a scroll, which is sequential access), and especially economy; unlike the scroll, both recto and verso could be used for writing”, None of these matter in electronic format, especially “random access”, a problem solved by the browser’s “search” facility. In fact,  “search”, not hyperlinking,  is the key technology that has allowed what would have been books to become multiple small documents. In this brave new world, hiding part of the document on separate pages becomes a disadvantage. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you… The Scroll.

“Old” technology is often disparaged simply because it “wasn’t invented here” (i.e. by the current generation), but “old” technology may well be cheaper (analogue vs digital radio), easier to use (clockwork vs digital egg timer) and more appropriate (birthday card vs text message). When designing any new system – I’m thinking of learning design in particular – it’s important to use the most appropriate technologies from all those available, and not be seduced by newness.

Paul Rudman

Carpe Diem: the 7Cs of design and delivery

We are in the process of taking stock of the various interventions in the field of designing for learning in Higher Education. We are fortunate to have secured funding to review the main deliverables and lessons learned from the Open University Learning Design Initiative (OULDI), Carpe Diem at Leicester and other interventions, such as Moderating Online Groups. As part of that process, Gabi Witthaus, Grainne Conole and I spent some time discussing ideas and concepts, out of which a new, embryonic framework emerged: the 7Cs of design and delivery.

As you would expect, in terms of blogging, Grainne beat me to it. But as you will see below, our ideas continue to evolve. The following diagram shows the current state of the 7Cs framework:

The 7Cs of design and delivery

The 7Cs of design and delivery

Each of the seven Cs has activities and technologies attached to it. For example, Capture has OER repositories as part of the resource audit; Communicate has Adobe Connect or Blackboard Collaborate (synchronous), as well as discussion forums (asynchronous); Consider may make use of blogs, etc. A later post will deal with this. In the meantime, we welcome comments and suggestions.

Dr A. Armellini
Beyond Distance Research Alliance
7 February 2012

PiLC 2

I’ve come to the end of the recording phase of the PiLC lecture capture project, and will move next semester into gathering and analysing the research data, most of it coming from the students.

The recordings work out as follows:

  • Chemistry (1st year u/g): 5 lectures @ 1 hour each
  • Media and Communications (Masters module): 6 lectures @ 2 hours each

All lectures were captured with Adobe Connect and simple audio (mp3). In addition, the final session in both were also captured with OpenEYA.

As I said in my earlier post, OpenEYA seemed to have a glitch with the microphone. I kept in touch with the Science Dissemination Team at the International Centre for Theoretical Physics – they developed the software – and we established it was a clash with the latest version of Linux’s Ubuntu (v. 11.10).

They managed to release an updated version of OpenEYA several weeks ago, and I was able to trial it for the last two lectures. It worked brilliantly.

All I used was a very old notebook running Ubuntu, two HD webcams, and a Samson CO3U microphone. Ubuntu was very stable, and the processing of an hour of recording caused no problems.

What I hadn’t realised was that, once OpenEYA has compiled the final zip archive containing all the audio and video files, the whole thing can then be uploaded to Blackboard and unpackaged in the same way as an Adobe Presenter or Captivate archive, as it’s also Flash. And the end result in terms of user experience is excellent.

For me, three things spring to mind at this stage of the project.

First, if I were looking to introduce campus-wide lecture capture from scratch, I would give the Linux/OpenEYA option very serious consideration.

Second, lecture capture is about compromise, as you can’t anticipate differing lecture styles. My colleague in Chemistry doesn’t stay still for more  than a few seconds, so having a camera on him is pointless.

Third, and moving on from this, I feel that complicated capture is probably unnecessary. In most cases, an mp3 recording to accompany the PowerPoint slides uploaded to the VLE will be enough.

However, this final assumption and others will be investigated when we return after the break.

Simon Kear

Senior Learning Technologist

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