About mariekeguy

Was Digital Learning Manager at the RAU

So long and thanks for all the fish!

After 3 years at the Royal Agricultural University, I will be moving on in the new year and taking up the position of Learning Technologies Production Manager at the University College of Estate Management (UCEM). I’ve had an amazing time at RAU and am really sad to leave my colleagues.

ITS at the start of 2020

Before I go I’d like to highlight some of the things we (not just me!) have achieved over the last 3 year in the Learning Technology team.

Since November 2017 we have:

  • Increased the team from one person to four people. You may remember that I gave this presentation at the 2018 ALT conference about growing a learning technology culture in which I reflected on being in a one-person team.
  • Taken a strategic approach to our Gateway (Moodle) site. This has mainly been through the VLE working group, which comprises of ITS staff, library staff and academics.
  • Enforced a regular upgrade cycle for Gateway (Moodle). This has involved upgrading the version (- in 2017 we were on version 2.7, we are now on 3.8.3), creating blank templates/pages for modules, creating a Baseline for academic staff to follow, introducing a testing process and following a set timeline.
  • Improved Gateway’s content and design. The front pages have been redesigned, content has been audited and updated. There is now a Gateway user group to support non-academics with page editing.
  • Created two fully online courses as part of the Catalyst project. The courses have set a bar for other module content.
  • Delivered transnational online teaching to Shandong Agricultural University (SDAU) in China. The 8 weeks of teaching has involved pre-recorded content and online interactive sessions in Zoom.
  • Pivoted content online due to the pandemic. This has been done through the RAU blended curriculum.
  • Embedded use of the Panopto video management system. Panopto was in place three years ago but was underused by academics. We have trained staff and put in place processes that enabled us to deliver video content for all modules for the blended curriculum. We’ve also carried out a lot of media content creation.
  • Introduced Mahara ePortfolio. Mahara was another tool that we had but weren’t using. We have trained staff and began using ePortfolios on a number of modules.
  • Moved mid-module feedback surveys online. Also supported the NSS and internal Student Satisfaction Survey.
  • Found out what our staff and student think using the Jisc Digital insights survey. The survey has run for the last three years.
  • Improved digital accessibility at the RAU. Through creation of the digital accessibility group, writing a VLE accessibility statement, automation of caption creation on Panopto, supporting various accessibility tools including Browsealoud and TextHelp.
  • Implemented Talis Aspire reading lists. This system now supports all our book purchasing and module resources lists.
  • Improved our publications repository offering. The RAU are a member of the GuildHE CREST site. The site has been improved and processes established to support the submission of publications to the repository and the next REF.
  • Implemented myday mobile and desktop app. The myRAU app is now available to all students.
  • Procured Vevox as the new Student Response system. Vevox will be fully implemented in the new year.
  • Project managed the Office 365  implementation. Elements of this, such as Teams, have been expedited due to the need for online delivery. Other elements such as the Intranet remain outstanding. This has been, and continues to be, a significant piece of work.
  • Participated in the Landex Learning Materials and Technology committee. This has allowed us to use H5P content from the land Based Learning Online site on our VLE.
  • Assisted curriculum development. Through participation on programme design groups, involvement in validation panels, leading on module design and design jams.
  • Delivered analytics and statistics. For the VLE, student reporting and annual statistics reports.
  • Written this blog and the TEL tips journal.
The LT Team with Alun Dawes, head of IT. From left: Pip McDonald, Alun Dawes, Husna Ahmed, Marieke Guy and Chantal Schipper

That’s an incredible lot of work we’ve ploughed our way through! I’m very proud of the Learning Technology team and wish them all the best for the future.

LTs and Business analysts night out 2019

Have a great Christmas and New Year everyone!

The Certainty of Uncertainty: Transnational Online Pivot in China

Today Pip McDonald and I presented at the China and Higher Education: Navigating Uncertain Futures online conference organised by Manchester University.

Our 20 minute presentation was part of the Pivots to online learning session chaired by Jenna Mittelmeier, Lecturer in International Education at Manchester Institute of Education. You can see the slides on Slideshare.

During the presentation Pip explored the idea of uncertainty when moving to online and suggested a concept of ‘uncertainty literacy’ with it’s own taxonomy.

The research for this exploration was collated through use of an online questionnaire sent out to the SDAU lecturers.

Climate Smart webinar with the Netherlands Embassy

We’d like to share a guest blog post from our professional programme team on a recent webinar they were involved with. This was a new activity for the RAU and a substantial learning curve. Thank you to Professsional Programme Manager Elizabeth Badger, Professor Louise Manning and Associate Professor Nicola Cannon for the summary.

Climate smart webinar

This September, Associate Professor Nicola Cannon was asked by Tim Heddema, Agricultural Counsellor for the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, if the RAU would be prepared to co-host the fifth of a series of conferences the Embassy has been running with various partners.

The discussions around Nicola’s research work prompted the idea of an online webinar conference format, in these COVID-19 times, to explore future opportunities and priorities for collaboration on climate-smart agriculture between the Netherlands and the UK.

Nicola Cannon presenting on Climate Smart

As we race towards Christmas it’s easy to forget now that September was early in the new landscape of delivering online professional development programmes at the RAU and at that point our activities had been based around embracing the ‘meeting’ type platforms Zoom and Teams. These technologies are used in a variety of meeting and webinar deliver settings but we looked to develop a new approach and audience experience. This introduced us to the term simulive and the advantages of the learning experience of working with a platform which offered a this package.

Creating a simulive event

What does this mean? The use of ‘simulive’ allowed us to use both pre-recorded videos and live content, to have a branded registration and viewing site and a very detailed set of analytics,  and the facility of a programme manager on the day to ensure that we could focus on the delivery of content rather than back room technology management. We found this very appealing. We felt that hosting an event with a high level of International speakers and attendees needed a more polished and risk free setting than an internal meeting or teaching environment provided by the self-managed Teams and Zoom. The platform we eventually chose came from a list of options kindly offered by Student Recruitment and Widening participation Manager Liam Dowson of providers he had seen at external events he had participated in during his marketing and outreach activities for the RAU.

Climate smart
Climate smart presentation by Sophie Alexander

We spoke with a number of providers and then decided on WorkCast as a provider as they were appropriate to our needs and budget and the learning process began for us. We can say this has been a big learning curve.

Working with WorkCast

Once you are signed up for your event, WorkCast provide a very supported and responsive service and manage all aspects of the event except the speakers and topic content. However it is easy to underestimate the time it will take to coordinate all the parties and processes.

WorkCast recommend between 8-12 weeks to set up for an event and if your event has a reasonable number of speakers, with varying response times, availability and technical expertise, and especially if you are partnering with other parties in organizing the event, this seems accurate.  In fact all of the supporting information that WorkCast provided was actually very useful and relevant and probably equally transferable to general presentation and event working practices.

Lessons learnt

The first lesson learnt is definitely that online does not mean instant. Generous allocation in your planning of pre-production time is essential for proper topic development, technical and personal connection and presentation briefings particularly if you are including pre-recordings. In the end the biggest challenges are not with the selection of the platforms as there are a variety of ways to choose to run your event online. It is making sure that you cover all the potential issues that could arise – scripting the links between one presentation and another so another person can step in as a co-chair if internet links drop out.

Rehearsal is key especially checking pre-recorded videos work well on the platform. The videos themselves need to be of a minimum quality and ideally this is communicated to presenters in a timely way. Recognising that different viewers will have a range of internet download speeds which can mean that for some the video and sound are in perfect sync – whereas for others the two can separate. Making sure you have a clear protocol for managing questions that come in and that you can provide sample themes beforehand to panel members. Thus the content and curation of an event is critical and so is panel member and individual internet connection speed and equipment can definitely compromise the quality. Guaranteeing the speaker’s internet speed and background setting to emulate a more television like experience for the viewer will be a given in the future as audiences become more demanding.

A social media strategy is essential to drive attendance especially in the last twenty-four hours before the event. Linking social media engagement to the presentations on the day and preparing tweets and posts beforehand is essential. This can only be achieved if all the pre-recorded material has been listened to and reflected on. Professionalising our online presence when we move beyond Covid-19 is key and considering how we meet audience needs and use the correct platform for the topic and learning scenario.

Online delivery is here to stay, and optimising audience experience is key.

Vevox is go!

After a small-scale pilot during semester 1 the RAU have now agreed to purchase the Student Response system Vevox.

Background

We started our journey with Vevox in 2019 and before lockdown. With an increase in the number of core modules being delivered we were seeing more large-group lectures of over 100 students. There was an increasing need to keep students engaged and encourage discussion and critical thinking despite the group size. A small pilot group was established and we looked at solutions including Mentimeter, PollEverywhere, Turning point and Vevox.

The group opted for Vevox primarily due to their PowerPoint integration, ease of use and friendly customer service approach.

The impact of Covid

Covid has not only slowed down our ability to work on new projects but has changed our requirements. Our blended curriculum consists of pre-recorded lectures, while seminars are face-to-face or online (depending on the situation of the students in that module). The PowerPoint has (for now) moved down the priority list, while use in an online session (for example in Teams) has moved up. Surveys (an asynchronous version of polls) are also of more interest. Vevox have worked hard with us and the sector more generally to stay relevant, for example will soon be releasing a Teams integration.

The pilot group

Participation on the Integrated Foundation Year Digital Skills module

The Vevox pilot group has been relatively active and we now have 16 users registered on the site, 9 of these have created polls or surveys. Some of these poll sessions have had over 80 participants. I have used Vevox on the Digital Skills module I teach on and the students really like it. Polls have been more successful than surveys but we have had a high participation rate and it has led to some good discussions. The anonymity is helpful and has encouraged honesty and participation.

What next?

On Wednesday 9th December Amie Fletcher from Vevox will joining us on Teams in a very brief (3:30-4pm) session introducing Vevox. We will also share a couple of case studies and real life experiences from the pilot group and invite people to sign up for the second phase of the pilot to run in semester 2.

We are also looking at our SSO integration, the aforementioned Teams app and the PowerPoint plugin.

And of course the ITS team plan to use Vevox for our Christmas quiz!

Our plan is that Vevox becomes one of the core tools in our digital tool box.

Digital at the core: a 2030 strategy framework for university leaders

The Jisc learning and teaching reimagined report related to this framework is now available: https://www.jisc.ac.uk/reports/learning-and-teaching-reimagined-a-new-dawn-for-higher-education. It is an excellent report and one that we will be looking at closely.

As the sun rises on this new dawn for higher education it is illuminating new digital models of learning and teaching, while at the same time casting a shadow of darkness across some traditional, increasingly old fashioned, ways of working.

David Maguire
Interim principal and vice-chancellor, University of Dundee
Chair, learning and teaching reimagined

The report finds the biggest challenges facing our sector to be:

  1. Embed digital at the heart of university culture – Leadership and vision are essential for transformation as digital becomes a central feature of learning and teaching.
  2. Invest in the short term but with a long-term strategic view – Most university learning and teaching infrastructures need significant upgrades to support the expansion of online learning and teaching. As this is a rapidly maturing field, careful long-term planning is needed to ensure investment is strategic.
  3. Explore new economic models for high-quality blended learning at scale – Scaling up high-quality blended learning and teaching takes considerable time and investment. If the shift is to be sustainable, affordable and widespread, work is needed on the economics that will allow transformation.
  4. Embrace blended learning in curriculum redesign – Focusing on learning design, with student involvement, will ensure that it achieves high-quality outcomes and makes a difference by shaping fully accessible and inclusive learning.
  5. Expand the digital skills and confidence of students and staff – Significant and rapid progress has been made in improving the digital capabilities of students, staff and leaders but there is much more to be done, and increasing all-round digital confidence remains a priority.
  6. Communicate the benefits of blended learning – We have evidenced a significant increase in the acceptance of digital learning and teaching but further attention is required to understand and meet shifting perceptions, both within and beyond the sector.
  7. Strengthen the response to digital poverty – The digital divide was brought into sharp relief in 2020 with students’ differing levels of digital access. This remains a priority concern for all groups and additional resources are needed to level up opportunities.

We are facing many of these at the RAU. It has been a huge cultural shift to move online and there is still considerable work to be done in bringing the whole institution with us.

In order to counteract these challenges the report makes a series of recommendations. These make a good basis for any future planning.

  1. Universities to use their strategic and structural planning processes to effect the digital
    transformation of learning and teaching, ensuring that sponsorship is provided by
    governing bodies and executive teams.
  2. Universities to review their strategic investment in digital learning and teaching.
  3. Universities to make investment plans to mitigate the heightened cyber security risks
    that arise from greater dependence on digital technologies.
  4. Universities to think radically about the scale and scope of their learning and teaching
    activities, prioritising blended learning approaches wherever possible.
  5. Universities to accelerate the adoption of blended learning, with close involvement of
    students in all aspects from design to delivery.
  6. Universities to ensure inclusivity and accessibility are integral considerations in
    curriculum redesign.
  7. Universities to ensure their professional development plans include digital training, peer
    support mechanisms and reward and recognition incentives to encourage upskilling.
  8. Universities and sector organisations to establish research to remain in step with the
    changing digital preferences and expectations of prospective higher education students.
  9. Universities, government and funders to provide additional funding or means to reduce
    digital poverty as a barrier to students accessing higher education.

There is a recording of the accompanying launch webinar which features VCs from Edinburgh, Aston, Falmouth and Sheffield Hallam, the CEO of AdvanceHE, director of policy at UUK and others.

Thanks again to Jisc for the report and accompanying materials.

Creating Better Videos: Getting Started

In his last post Matthew Rogers-Draycott promised to share some of the tips, tricks and ideas that he has been using to improve his recorded material. He starts with looking at how you can create better videos.

Creating Better Videos: Getting Started 

Recording content for blended, flipped or fully online courses is a minefield. Not only do you need to shape it to fit a very different set of pedagogical and methodological considerations, you also need to ensure that it is recorded in a way which maximises the impact of material you are delivering. 

There has been a lot written about how to design materials for these contexts but, surprisingly, the same attention has not been given to providing clear advice on how to record for them. As someone who has some experience of this work and, is currently exploring how to improve my output, I felt that this was something I could contribute to.  

In my effort to address this topic I am going to write a series of blogs/vlogs that will discuss how to produce better recordings using varying levels of equipment. In this first piece I am going to explore the key factors that underpin the production of good recordings and make suggestions as to how these can be controlled with minimal equipment. 

In my opinion there are 3 key factors that you need to control to produce good recordings: 

  • your environment
  • your camera position
  • and the placement of your microphone. 

The Environment 

When choosing a place to record there are 2 things you need to consider, the first of these is the ambient volume. Managing ambient volume is not just about finding a quiet place that is free from other distractions or interference, that bit is quite obvious, it is also about ensuring that the room you are recording in is not too acoustically bright. A bright room is one that is tilled, has hard floors, and/or lots of hard furniture. Recordings in these environments will tend to sound echoey and tinny even with good quality equipment. This means that kitchens and bathrooms are not ideal, instead, try to record in carpeted rooms with lots of bedding and/or soft furnishings. Larger rooms with less furniture are also not a good choice as they can add an echoey quality all of their own to the recording. If you are stuck in a large or, acoustically bright space, putting a pillow behind your mic or, at the either side (just out of shot if you are using video) can help, as can hanging a blanket around the area you are recording in (to make it acoustically smaller). 

Matt set up
Matt’s home set up

Assuming that you are videoing your content the second thing you will need is light, even a good camera with low light correction can be rendered inept with poor lighting. If you do not want to invest in lighting, which can be done relatively cheaply, the important thing is to try to make sure that your face is lit from behind the camera and that you do not have any bright light sources directly above, behind, or to the side of you. This should make sure that the visual tone of your recording is even and that you do not look washed-out, in shadow, or have any instance of flare from other light sources. A simple trick is to record during the day, and do so directly facing a window, this should ensure that you are lit by the natural light from the window without the need for any additional light sources. 

Camera Position 

Next, you need to consider where your camera is positioned. Wherever possible your eyes should be level with the camera and you should be able to speak directly into it as if you are looking at the audience. If you are using a webcam, putting it on a small tripod can help to get the right level, if you are using a laptop, I would advise you to lift it up using a small pile of boxes or books to achieve the same effect. When you see yourself on camera your face should be framed in the centre of the image, with a centimetre or so between the top of your head and the top edge of the screen. Making sure that your camera is at eye level will also help to reduce shadows and, if you are using an inbuilt mic, it should ensure that you are speaking toward it. 

Laptop stand by Jem Yoshioka
Laptop stand by Jem Yoshioka

Microphone Position 

To be clear, buying a good external USB microphone or headset is the quickest fix to improve the quality of any recordings you are producing vs. using the mic that is built into your laptop or webcam. The reason for this is that laptop and webcam mics are small, poorly filtered, and often badly positioned. 

When considering mic placement, it is important to understand that the further away you are from the mic, the thinner your voice will sound and the more the environment will affect the recording. That said, if you are too close to the mic you will sound overly bassy and the impact of your breathing will be exaggerated. Therefore, the mic needs to be close to your face, but not too close, about 15-30 cm away and just slightly off-axis from your mouth is ideal. If you have a pop-filter or windshield you should use this as it will further lessen the effects of breath sounds and aspirated plosives on the quality of the recording. Following these suggestions should mean that you can turn-down the gain on the microphone, which will in turn reduce the impact of any background noises. These tricks will help your voice to sound richer, fuller, and minimise any interference.  

Microphone set up

If you are stuck with only a laptop and in-built mic the best advice is to lift it up (as previously suggested), and get your face as close to the mic as you can while still maintaining a good framing of your face in the screen. Beyond this there is not much you can do to improve your audio unless you are willing to engage in some post-production with something like audacity

I hope these tips are useful, in my next piece I am going to focus in more detail on getting the audio right and will use some examples to illustrate the points I have raised here. 

Digital Approaches to Education During CV19, a Critical Perspective

Today we have a post from one of our lecturers, Matthew Rogers-Draycott, in which he offers his perspective on the digitisation of higher education, and the role of curricula such as the RAU’s blended learning model during the Covid-19 Pandemic.

Matt is a lecturer here at the RAU specialising in Entrepreneurship and Marketing, and he acts as the Programme Manager for a number of undergraduate degrees in the School of Business and Entrepreneurship.

Between stints in business Matt has spent the last 16 years working internationally as an entrepreneurship educator and course leader in a wide variety of institutions. He is also a passionate tech geek with a keen interest in digital approaches to education. You can follow Matt on Twitter.

Matthew Draycott, lecturer in Entrepreneurship and Marketing

We hope that this this post will be the first in a short series in which Matt shares some of his experiences of digital delivery.

Digital Approaches to Education During CV19, a Critical Perspective 

When I was asked to write this blog it was hard for me to decide what to focus on. In institutions across the UK staff are coping with such a variety of pains and pressures I wondered how I could write something that would be useful and meaningful. In the end, I decided to try to summarise my thoughts about the RAU’s approach to online education in this phase of the CV19 crisis and how I felt about this in the hope that it might provide some useful insights for other colleagues. 

Unlike many in the sector I am not a newcomer to designing and building digital learning materials. I created my first online course in 2011 and, in a previous life, I often championed the use of flipped classrooms, virtual learning spaces and gamified delivery through projects such as Mashhop.com (a pretty glorious failure), eventsblogs and conference presentations

Having read this, I bet many of you are thinking that, in the current environment, I am getting exactly what I always wanted… Please allow me to disabuse you of that notion. What I have long hoped for is a planned shift toward a more digitally integrated curriculum which is not, in the main, what we are currently producing.  

Matt delivering content in the classroom and using lecture capture software (Panopto)
Matt delivering content in the classroom and using lecture capture software (Panopto)

At the RAU, for example, our CV19 delivery model is designed to provide a blended curricula, a middle ground between fully flipped and traditional in-class teaching.  

While I believe that this is a good model which has pushed me to create some impactful new learning materials and encouraged me to update many lectures in a fashion that I might otherwise have avoided, this is still a long way from the deliberately constructed ecosystem I would like to see higher education institutions such as ours embrace. 

The difficulty here is that our model, like many others in the UK, is treading a fine line between the need to build more structured, synchronous, online content while maintaining an element of asynchronous face-to-face delivery. Furthermore, its rapid introduction leaves me feeling that deeper considerations of philosophy, pedagogy, and methodology have been curtailed in favour of streamlined approaches which can react to our ever changing environment.

To be clear, I am not criticizing the model, I am supportive of it, and I think that its compromises are understandable given the competing pressures it must, pragmatically, mediate between. That said, I am also keen that we do not present this as something it is not, a major step-change toward the mainstreaming of digital education approaches in higher education. 

Matt's home recording set up
Matt’s home recording set up

If we are going to shift in that direction, temporary solutions, such as those that we are currently offering will not be enough. Students are savvy consumers of digital media, they expect content and delivery systems which have been designed from the ground up to engage, entertain and educate. I believe this will result in the need for new training programmes, better equipment, and a radically different conceptualisation of the curriculum design process. All of which will likely put the need for specialist support staff, training, and development time to create these kinds of experiences in sharp focus, especially when balanced against the myriad of other agendas institutions such as ours must seek to fulfil.

It is, therefore, becoming increasingly clear to me that we as educators need to make time and space in our ‘new-normal’ to share insights and ideas that will help all of us to develop our practice as. No matter how difficult that may be.  I know that is what I intend to do more of. I am going to commit to more blogging, posting and dissemination to share some of the tips, tricks and ideas that I have hit upon to improve my materials and I hope this will encourage others to do the same. 

Becoming a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert

Yesterday I attended my first Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert (MIEE) team meeting along with over 200 other MIEEs from around the UK. The MIEE global community is “a thriving community of educators who are working together to change students’ lives and build a better world“. Pip has been an MIEE before and wrote a great post on her experience, but I am a newbie.

MIEE October connection call

Being a member of the group means that we have access to support (through the MIEE Facebook group and Teams site), can host events in the name of MIEE and get free offers from Microsoft partners.

MIEE map

Yesterday’s meeting involved some general introduction to the support people by region, an overview of new Teams features and very brief introduction to Thinglink.

MIEE support for south

My main aim for the following year is to get to know the MIEE community better and become more proficient in all things Microsoft. There are already Teams channels springing up for regions and different sectors (like HE). It’s clear that there is a huge amount going on and I’m looking forward to being part of it.

MIEE badge

Recording Educational Activities Policy

Our Recording Educational Activities Policy has now been approved and is available from the RAU Academic policies and procedures page.

The policy provides guidance for the recording by University staff, students or others, of activities delivered with an educational purpose by, or for, the Royal Agricultural University.

A while ago we shared guidance based on this policy including an infographic with tips on recording content online.

RAU Blended Curriculum

Over induction week students have been introduced to the RAU blended curriculum. The curriculum has been designed to:

  • Conform to guidelines for Covid-19 for a socially distanced campus
  • Provide all RAU students with an on-campus experience that includes faceto-face teaching
  • Maintain the high quality RAU learning experience

Modules have been structured to include a combination of online
and face-to-face teaching and learning activities

A week of comprises of:

  • An introduction to the week ahead – either synchronous or asynchronous
  • Online pre-recorded lectures, in chunks
  • Other online learning such as quizzes, further resources, activities
  • Face to face seminars which is meant to consolidate learning
A page on Gateway

As part of induction week we also supported our freshers and returners with online induction sites. These covered:

  • Blended curriculum introduction
  • Library introduction
  • Labs introduction
  • ITS induction including an introduction to Gateway, cyber security, Office 365 and Turnitn
  • Orientation – including a socially-distanced campus tour
  • Other – links to important resources
Induction support