Last week I attended the University of Wolverhampton’s e-learning celebration 2009. I blogged about the previous event in 2007, which I really enjoyed.

This year’s event had a number of themes around the concept of blended learning including collaborative work, content, ePDP, formative assessment, and e-submission and feedback.. The presentations were primarily from current University projects, many of which are coming to a close. It was interesting to hear about the work going on in the academic schools on e-learning, although it was a little disheartening to learn about some of them as I had no idea they were going on and feel our department could have offered support for some of them. Nevertheless, a lot was covered in just one morning, and it was really good to find out about some of the initiatives going on around the university.

Supporting Creative Practice in Virtual Worlds

Denise Doyle was first and spoke about her project on supporting practice in virtual worlds. Denise has been using Second Life for two years to support her teaching within the School of Art and Design. She has used it to hold in world seminars, although found more staff presence is necessary than would be in a traditional classroom environment. The island on Second Life owned by the school has also been used to host exhibitions of student work, with the advantage that the space can be developed in a creative way. Denise’s current project is coming to an end, but she would like to research further into how Second Life can be used in collaborative practice to reduce issues such as geographical location and to share areas of work with other practitioners around the world.

“I wish we’d had these”: video podcasts for the dance studio

Dennie Wilson and Ben Andrews spoke next about video podcasts they developed for use with dance students. They created a series of 7 podcasts and hosted them on a webfolio which was also used to enable communication about the podcasts via the e-portfolio. The podcasts featured current and alumni students; beginning with instructional podcasts, gradually becoming more conceptual. The school also had 25 video iPods which could be borrowed to access the podcasts. Students found the podcasts useful, and those who created them wished they had been available whilst they were studying the module.

The use of Facebook as a tool for collaborative learning…. and infinity!

Dean-David Holyoake spoke next about his use of Facebook with paediatric students. Dean-David and his colleague John Thain built a community on Facebook for one of their module groups. The group was closed access (i.e. only those on the module could join) and was voluntary. A few students joined in the first week, and within three weeks all 20+ students in the group had joined the Facebook group. The group was mainly used as a supportive learning community with little input from Dean-David or John. The group gossiped, shared experiences and resources, and built an online support system.

E-Evolve and Enhancing Employability

RobĀ  Edwards was next who spoke briefly about the E-evolve project (Enhancing Employability and Vocational Opportunities by Learning in Virtual Learning Environments). The idea of the project was to create a repository, on the institutional VLE, storing useful resources and links relating to developing skills to enhance employability. Resources include powerpoint presentations, Adobe Presenter video lectures, Word documents, and self-test quizzes. The resources are available for anyone in the University to use, and currently has around 1500 subscribers who have accessed the content.

Facilitating Experiential Learning of Study Skills in Sports Students

Mark Groves and Julian Smith talked about their project which aimed to improve study skills support to Year 1 sports students. They adapted the core sports module (250 students) and replaced what used to be a study skills lecture in a traditional style to a blended learning approach whereby they would first have a subject specific lecture, and then be expected to use the VLE to learn about the week’s skill (including information skills which were created by library staff) and complete a related task. They would then need to bring their completed task to the following lecture where they received feedback in small groups in the form of a tutorial. They found that the students engaged with the learning far more when using the blended learning approach, and as a result pass grades for the module increased.

Screen capture tutorials: teaching music technology software

Rebecca Summers from the music department demonstrated her screen capture tutorials for using music software which she know uses in her lectures instead of demoing at the front of the room whilst students try to follow. Rebecca used iShowU ($10 on Mac) to record the videos, and took just one take – she didn’t write a script or plan the video too meticulously, just did it as she would in a lecture situation. Students preferred learning in this was as they can work at their own pace, and it also leaves the lecturer free during the lecture to help on a 1:1 basis without holding the rest of the group back. 67% of the students also looked back at the videos in their own time, which is another key advantage over a traditional lecture.

Designing a student support website

Jon Rhodes from the School of Art and Design spoke briefly about the student support website that will act as a supplementary service to the face to face support provided by the Centre of Learning Development. Unfortunately the site is not live yet, although a lot of work has gone on including the main design elements and ensuring the website is easy to use in different format, which is particularly relevant as many of the potential users (e.g. dyslexic, visually impaired) may require elements such as different background colours and varying text sizes.

“Help is never more than a click away” (blogging to aid transition to HE)

Catherine Lamond from the School of Education shared their experience of using blogging as a tool to aid transition to HE for students on the foundation degree, many of whom also work full or part time. The blogs were launched at the pre-induction session which gave students a voice to air any concerns they had before the course started and during the first few weeks. Tutors and others in the cohort were encouraged to comment on blog posts, and they found that students got a confident boost, particularly if a tutor commented on their blog.

Academic Skills Development Arena

Nicki Walsh, shared the Academic Skills Development Arena (ASDA!) that she had created for students to improve all areas of academic skills. In the past students had been given a link to a Word document with links on, but they found that this was not very easy to use, so Nicki developed an area on the VLE which links to useful web resources as well as some images, text, and activities designed by Nicki. She is hoping to develop this further adding more materials to be used as part of modules and also as a stand-alone training guide.

An evaluation of Learner Response Systems in HE

Diana Bannister and Andy Hutchinson from education partnerships gave an overview of their work in the evaluation of Learner Response Systems (LRSs) in Higher Education. Turning Point is used throughout the university for different uses, and Diana and Andy furthered the research they had already completed into the use of LRSs in schools, the REVEAL project. They emphasised the importance of sharing good practice across the university.

Delivering student feedback: the role of podcasting

Steve Cooper from the music department knew that student’s weren’t making the most out of their written assignment feedback and were only really using it to check what grade they received. He decided to use podcasts to give feedback and bury the grade in the podcast to ensue students listened to the feedback. Steve used Audacity (also recommended at the CoFHE Conference talk on podcasting), and a relatively decent microphone to ensure the feedback was clear. He didn’t edit the files, and left them with the natural style and tone as if it was part of a conversation. Each track was around 3 minutes in length, and Steve found he could grade and give feedback on around 6 an hour (i.e quicker than written feedback). He identified the files by student number on his staff web space. Feedback from students showed that 70% felt it was more constructive; they felt it was more personal, like a tutorial session, and the use of tone for criticism made it easier for Steve to give constructive criticism. He found there was a collective motivation to getting the feedback and felt that students engaged with it far moe than they would written feedback. Most of the students also kept copies of the files on their computers to refer back to when working on a new piece. The issue of auditing came from the audience, but Steve confirmed that a CD of the feedback had been satisfactory as an alternative to written feedback sheets.