Using Blackboard Collaborate for small group tutorials with distance learning students

Adrian Aronsson-Storrier, School of Law                                                                                                                   


LLM International Commercial Law (Distance)


 Adrian held small group seminars with groups of around 5 students per online workshop.
Workshops were scheduled in all of the distance LLM modules, and ran weekly through the
Spring and Autumn terms. Collaborate was also used for individual dissertation supervision
 These were Postgraduate Masters level distance learning students enrolled in a range of
optional LLM modules. Students attended from across the UK and the world.
 The Law School already offered online workshop sessions using a competing webinar product
(Adobe Connect). This software was complex for students to use, not supported centrally by
the University and was paid for from the School’s budget. We sought to investigate alternative
web conferencing solutions that would be simpler for our students whilst maintaining
equivalent functionality (slide sharing, chat, whiteboard etc).
 Blackboard Collaborate was chosen to replace Adobe Connect as it was simpler for students to
use (a more straightforward interface reduced initial student training time, the integration into
Blackboard made it simpler for students to log in and participate).
 Preparation was similar to distance workshops previously delivered with the earlier Adobe
Connect web conferencing tool. For some workshops slides were prepared, in others a series
of tutorial style questions were circulated to students in advance for discussion.
 After giving students an initial training session, delivering a class on Collaborate took no more
effort than delivering an equivalent session in an on campus module.


 Students quickly adapted to Collaborate. They made frequent use of the chat function and the
‘raise hand’ function, particularly in larger groups where many students wished to contribute to
a discussion.
 Student’s enrolling in the distance LLM are required to have access to their own computer,
headphones and internet connection.
 From a support perspective, the move to Collaborate required less ongoing staff and student
training than our previous web conferencing software – once set up on Blackboard it was simple
for students and staff to access Collaborate sessions for their weekly workshops.
 Blackboard Collaborate achieved everything we had previously delivered to students using
Adobe Connect. It had the advantage of being simpler for students to use, and the blackboard
integration made connecting to the sessions simpler.

Thoughts and Reflections

 Lecturers in the school of law tended to use Collaborate from their homes (distance workshops
are often scheduled outside core hours, to accommodate students in diverse time zones). This
required staff to have sufficient equipment (laptop, headphones or a headset).
 One challenge – which often impacts distance learning when working with students in less
economically developed nations – was issue of the student’s poor internet connection
impacting sessions. At times students (particularly in Africa and the Middle East) had poor
internet connections which prevented full video streaming. While the software does allow
students to participate by providing streaming audio only, this is less immersive for the student.
 Ensure that all participants are making use of headphones or a microphone headset. If students
rely on computer speakers there will often be some level of echo introduced into the web
conference, which can be distracting. Students without headphone should be encouraged to
mute their microphones when not speaking.
 Provide students with an introductory session on the software before beginning online
instruction. We used a general online induction day for students as a trial, allowing them to test
that the software worked and giving them time to learn the functionality before being required
to use it in class.


Adopting a flipped classroom approach to meet the challenges of large group lectures

Amanda Millmore, School of Law,


Faced with double-teaching a cohort of 480 students (plus an additional 30 in University of Reading Malaysia), I was concerned to ensure that students in each lecture group had a similar teaching experience. My solution was to “flip” some of the learning, by recording short video lectures covering content that I would otherwise have lectured live and to use the time freed up to slow the pace and instigate active learning within the lectures.


  • Record short video lectures to supplement live lectures.
  • Use the time freed up by the removal of content no longer delivered live to introduce active learning techniques within the lectures.
  • Support the students in their problem-solving skills (tested in the end of year examination).


The module “General Introduction to Law” is a “lecture only” first year undergraduate module, which is mandatory for many non-law students, covering unfamiliar legal concepts. Whilst I have previously tried to introduce some active learning into these lectures, I have struggled with time constraints due to the sheer volume of compulsory material to be covered.

Student feedback requested more support in tackling legal problem questions, I wanted to assist students and needed to free up some space within the lectures to do this and “flipping” some of the content by creating videos seemed to offer a solution.

As many academics (Berrett, 2012; Schaffzin, 2016) have noted, there is more to flipping than merely moving lectures online, it is about a change of pedagogical approach.


I sought initial support from the TEL (Technology Enhanced Learning) team, who were very happy to give advice about technology options. I selected the free Screencastomatic software, which was simple to use with minimal equipment (a headset with microphone plugged into my computer).

I recorded 8 short videos, which were screencasts of some of my lecture slides with my narration; 6 were traditional lecture content and 2 were problem solving advice and modelling an exemplar problem question and answer (which I’d previously offered as straightforward read-only documents on Blackboard).

The software that I used restricted me to 15 minute videos, which worked well for maintaining student attention. My screencast videos were embedded within the Blackboard module and could also be viewed directly on the internet

I reminded students to watch the videos via email and during the lectures, and I was able to track the number of views of each video, which enabled me to prompt students if levels of viewing were lower than I expected.

By moving some of the content delivery online I was also able to incorporate more problem- solving tasks into the live lectures. I was able to slow the pace and to invite dialogue, often by using technology enhanced learning. For example, I devoted an hour to tackling an exam-style problem, with students actively working to solve the problem using the knowledge gained via the flipped learning videos and previous live lectures. I used the applications Mentimeter, Socrative and Kahoot to interact with the students, asking them multiple-choice questions, encouraging them to vote on questions and to create word clouds of their initial thoughts on tackling problem questions as we progressed.


Student feedback, about the videos and problem solving, was overwhelmingly positive in both formal and informal module evaluations.

Videos can be of assistance if a student is absent, has a disability or wishes to revisit the material. Sankoff (2014) and Billings-Gagliardi and Mazor (2007) dismiss concerns about reduced student attendance due to online material, and this was borne out by my experience, with no noticeable drop-off in numbers attending lectures; I interpret this as a positive sign of student satisfaction. The videos worked to supplement the live lectures rather than replace them.

There is a clear, positive impact on my own workload and that of my colleagues. Whilst I am no longer teaching on this module in the current academic year, my successor has been able to use my videos again in her teaching, thereby reducing her own workload. I have also been able to re-use some of the videos in other modules.


Whilst flipped learning is intensive to plan, create and execute, the ability to re-use the videos in multiple modules is a huge advantage; short videos are simple to re-record if, and when, updating is required.

My initial concern that students would not watch the videos was utterly misplaced. Each video has had in excess of 1000 views (and one video has exceeded 2000), which accounts for less than 2 academic years’ worth of student usage.

I was conscious that there may be some students who would just ignore the videos, thereby missing out on chunks of the syllabus, I tried to mitigate this by running quizzes during lectures on the recorded material, and offering banks of multiple choice questions (MCQs) on Blackboard for students to test their knowledge (aligned to the formative examination which included a multiple choice section). In addition, I clearly signposted the importance of the video recorded material by email, on the Blackboard page and orally and emphasised that it would form part of the final examination and could not be ignored.

My experience echoes that of Schaffzin’s study (2016) monitoring impact, which showed no statistical significance in law results having instituted flipped learning, although she felt that it was a more positive teaching method. Examination results for the module in the end of year formative assessment (100% examination) were broadly consistent with the results in previous academic years, but student satisfaction was higher, with positive feedback about the use of videos and active learning activities.


University of Reading TEL advice about personal capture –

Berrett, D. (2012). How “Flipping” the Classroom Can Improve the Traditional Lecture. Chronicle of Higher Education..

Billings-Gagliardi, S and Mazor, K. (2007) Student decisions about lecture attendance: do electronic course materials matter?. Academic Medicine: Journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges, 82(10), S73-S76.

Sankoff, P. (2014) Taking the Instruction of Law outside the Lecture Hall: How the Flipped Classroom Can Make Learning More Productive and Enjoyable (for Professors and Students), 51, Alberta Law Review, pp.891-906.

Schaffzin, K. (2016) Learning Outcomes in a Flipped Classroom: A comparison of Civil Procedure II Test Scores between Students in a Traditional Class and a Flipped Class, University of Memphis Law Review, 46, pp. 661.

Study Even Smarter

Michelle Reid, Kim Shahabudin, and Sonia Hood, Study Advice

The successful Study Smart online course will be running again for new Part 1 undergraduates, and will be launched to the new cohort on 28th August. Study Smart helps students make a smooth transition to university study by giving them a shared start point and by welcoming them into the University of Reading learning community. We aim to build on the success of last year, which saw 94% of students who completed the course saying their understanding of what was expected at university-level study was either fairly good, or very good.

National Interest

It is pleasing to see Study Smart becoming nationally recognised as a good model for student transitions. We have received inquiries from other leading Higher Education Institutions about using our model, and we have been showcased in a recent visit from Chris Millward, Director for Fair Access and Participation.

New and Improved

The Study Advice team are currently working on a number of improvements to Study Smart based on student and staff feedback. We are streamlining some of the steps in the course in order to make Study Smart more manageable and appealing, particularly to international students who may be pressed for time. We are liaising with ISLI in order to make sure our communications to pre-sessional students are as effective as possible. We are highlighting the benefits of doing Study Smart for students in STEM subjects. One of the most successful elements of the course last year was the student mentors, and we have recruited an excellent team of mentors for this year who have an even wider range of backgrounds and transition experiences to share with the incoming students. We are also investigating whether the main invitation to the course can come from Schools to give additional weight to the message.

Hands-On Session for staff

Feedback also emphasised the value of staff endorsements in helping students to engage with the course, so we would really value your promotion of Study Smart to your tutees and classes. To help academic staff get a feel for the course, we ran a successful Study Smart ‘Hands-On’ session on 4th June with an opportunity to explore the student-view of the course and sample the famous Study Advice cake! We will be running another ‘Hands-on’ session in early September so look out for details of this coming soon via the CQSD T&L programme.

For more information about Study Smart, see our Tutor’s Guide: or email

How pre-sessional English has develop the use of Turnitin, submission, marking and feedback to support students’ essay and exam writing.

Jonathan Smith is the School Director for Technology Enhanced Learning in ISLI (International Study and Language Institute). He is also a PSE (Pre-sessional English) Course Director and teacher of English.

The Pre-sessional English programme accepts around 600 to 800 students each year. Their students develop English skills in academic writing, reading, speaking and listening.

In the area of academic writing Jonathan Smith and his team have been exploring the use of Turnitin (Tii) GradeMark to facilitate electronic marking and feedback via:

. E-submission of written essays.

. E-marking and e-feedback via GradeMark using QuickMarks and text comments.

. Student engagement with feedback in subsequent production of written work.

About five or six years ago, before the use of GradeMark was adopted in the university, a group of pre-sessional staff attended a conference in Southampton in which colleagues of other universities presented how they were using GradeMark. It seemed a tool that could not only save time producing feedback but produce feedback of a more consistent quality. A couple of years later PSE started exploring its use with our cohorts of English academic writing students.

Listen to Jonathan’s experience on how he got involved with electronic submission, marking and feedback via Tii in this podcast.

Jonathan Smith, provides all PSE teachers with a one-hour workshop on how to use Turnitin and Grademark. Part of the training involves the use of the PSE ‘QuickMarks’ for e-feedback. These QuickMarks focus on common student errors with explanations and links to relevant sources – and can be used to provide in-text feedback. ‘QuickMarks’ are based not only on common grammar and lexical errors but also on the complexity of the language structures used and coherence and cohesion in the texts. Students are also assessed on content, use of references and other areas of relevance to academic essay writing.

After the training session, tutors set up submission points for formative work, in this manner students grow accustomed to submit work, access feedback, see and compare their own progress.

Students receive feedback almost immediately and they can work on the feedback either to bring it to the next class or towards their next assignments.








From the teachers’ perspective it was noticed that it was quicker to note common student errors in-text using QuickMarks. It was possible to see colleagues’ feedback comments which facilitated new tutors becoming familiar with marking and feedback across the cohorts.







One of the big advantages is that Turnitin is a one stop shop for both checking similarity and producing and receiving feedback. Students upload their essays, they can see their similarity reports and have the opportunity to take action and re-submit. There are a few technical issues around doing that, but the pre-sessional programme is committed to students seeing their similarity reports and using them to get a better idea of the quality and acceptability of their work.

Visit the EMA programme site to find out more case studies and updates

Collaborating across the country (and beyond) with Collaborate by Dr Mark Shanahan

10 Days before the US election, almost 40 students and four academics from across England came together to debate the Trump v Clinton fight for the White House, using Blackboard’s Collaborate platform, writes Politics & IR Director of Teaching & Learning, Mark Shanahan. I’d first come across collaborate at a TEL Showcase event, and had discussed its potential use with colleagues from other universities at the British International Studies Association’s Teaching and Learning conference at Newcastle University in September. When the university was looking for innovative Week 6 events, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to land on the political theme of the day and get students and lecturers from a range of universities talking – all without the need for anyone to book a room or a coach…or even (in theory) get out of bed.  

The benefit of using Blackboard’s Collaborate tool was the relative ease with which we could bring academics from Reading, Manchester, De Montfort and Huddersfield Universities together both with their students and a US-based journalist for 90 minutes’ discussion of the US elections. The sound and picture quality wasn’t always perfect – but that was probably more down to user equipment than the tool itself.

Allied to the video content, we had a live chat stream which was incredibly popular. There was a constant flow of questions from students for the academic participants and comments and responses between the students themselves. There was actually so much chat going on that it wasn’t always able to quite keep up with the flow and bring it into our video/audio. We started early with a pre-chat, and ended up running well past our planned hour. We learned a lot. Between myself and Senior TEL advisor, Adam Bailey, we agreed it would have been great to capture both all the chat for future use (we got some), and more so to use screen capture technology to keep a record of the event. We also realised early on that we needed a chair/moderator to keep the event in shape – and I fell into that role.

The response from both students and academic participants after the event was very positive. All the students who responded to a brief Surveymonkey questionnaire after the event want to do more of these link-ups via Collaborate – and want them to be longer. Equally, my colleagues Pete Woodcock, Head of Politics at Huddersfield, Alison Statham a Senior Lecturer in Politics from de Montfort and Howell Williams who’s at Manchester are all keen to get in front of a webcam again – perhaps to pick over the bones of the US election, and definitely to look at other politics subjects where we can share our views and expose our students to opinions beyond their own institutions.


Development of an online learning environment to enhance field trip communication

Dr Robert Jackson, School of Biological Sciences


An online learning environment was developed for a module, Microbiology Field Course (BI3B67), within the School of Biological Sciences (SBS). This online learning environment was used to facilitate staff and student communication while on a field trip, and was greatly successful, with students responding well to the use of technology to enhance their learning.


  • Provide digital learning support.
  • Facilitate communication before, during and after the fieldtrip.
  • Provide a supportive and collaborative learning environment.
  • Encourage students to reflect on their experiences and think critically, in order to inform their study.
  • Encourage students to consider their social media and internet usage in terms of developing their professional identities.


A field trip within the SBS has been in place since 2012, travelling to Iceland between 2012 and 2014, and Colombia in 2015. While the 2012 field trip to Iceland was a successful experience, it lacked an effective communication system, and students had independently created online communications facilities. As the 2014 trip was to be larger in scope, it was imperative that effective communication was implemented.


The development of an online learning environment was made possible by the collaborative work of staff across the SBS and the School of Agriculture, Policy and Development. Dr Alice Mauchline was able to contribute expertise in using mobile technology for field research, and she and Dr Becky Thomas had previously collaborated on investigating how students use the internet to engage with their learning.

Students were provided with iPads so that they all had equal access to the digital learning facilities that were to be used. In order to ensure that all students were equally proficient in the use of these technologies, iPad teaching sessions were created before the field trip, providing students with training in how to use the specific applications which would be utilised on the field trip. Additionally, support was provided on the field trip, with all teaching fellows available to provide guidance on the use of the technology. As a result of this training, students were able to use the iPads to take photographs and video, these being used to create a video presentation as a legacy of their work, with these videos then being posted to a field trip blog. Students also used the iPads as a tool for their lab work, for note-taking, for editing and for communication.

A private group within the social media platform Facebook was set up, providing staff and students with a supportive online learning environment. On the trip, the Facebook group was used to direct student learning and promote critical thinking: questions were posed to students on Facebook, with students encouraged to consider their response before discussing these in class, thus flipping the classroom; students then posted their answers to Facebook, allowing further discussion to take place after class.

Students taking BI3B67 are assessed in four ways. While on the field trip itself, students undertake data collection through field and lab work. Using these results, in groups they create a presentation, which is then given at a symposium held during the field trip. Students also create a blog, in which they give a lay account of the data collection methods used during the field trip. After the field trip, students submit the lab book, which collates their results from field and lab work. Finally, 50% of the module’s final mark is weighted toward the writing of a dissertation, which includes a background introduction to the topic, materials and methods utilised, results and discussion thereof.


Both students and staff responded well to the use of technology on the field trip, especially the development of the online learning environment. Students commented in post-field trip questionnaires that they found having questions posed to them before classes valuable, and that they were encouraged to learn in a deeper manner.


Using Facebook to flip the classroom saw students’ responses to the questions being asked of them improve. By using a platform with which the majority of students were already familiar, less training was required. As a result, staff and student communication were significantly improved.

Having the students produce a blog with videos was of great value, as this work is made available online for students to use for their professional identity when applying for jobs, thus demonstrating of their talents and enhancing their employability.

Setting up an online learning environment through Facebook is something that would be possible for others at the University to implement. As there are a number of experienced staff members at the University, expertise is not hard to come by.

Digital Performance Lab: the application of tablet technologies in the teaching of contemporary performance

Professor Lib Taylor, School of Arts and Communication Design

Year of activity: 2012-13


DPLThe project explored how tablet technologies can be applied for teaching contemporary performance, through the creation of a Digital Performance Lab for use as part of the optional Part Three Contemporary Performance modules (FT3COA and FT3COB).


  • Develop student employability and professionalism through creative research, group work and proficiency in digital media.
  • Encourage sophisticated student engagement with the creative industries’ use of digital media.
  • Enable students to explore issues of performance through practical, creative experimentation.
  • Provide students with the means to experiment in a creative way in the Contemporary Performance module, and in their individual research projects.
  • Set up a Digital Performance Lab for use as part of Part Three Contemporary Performance modules.


The project to incorporate the use of tablet technologies into FT3COA and FT3COB grew out of a previous project which had experimented with the use of Bluetooth technologies. Much current experimental performance makes use of digital technologies, so it was imperative that students were provided with the opportunity to study this aspect of contemporary performance, and it was felt that the versatility of tablet technology would allow students to explore issues of performance through practical, creative experimentation.


To aid in the set up of the Digital Performance Lab, Dr Lisa Purse, who has expertise in the use of digital technology, acted as an adviser on the project.

The Department acquired seven 32 GB iPads and covers.  These were loaded with a number of appropriate apps, which were added to over the course of the academic year as familiarity with what was available increased, with students also making suggestions for apps that they had found useful.  Several connectors were also acquired for projects to allow the screening of several images simultaneously.

To allow them to make best use of the technology, students were trained in the basic use of the equipment and the apps most appropriate to the early stage of the work.  Once trained, students were able to use the tablets for a number of module-related activities, including:

  • Collecting material for class workshops.
  • Filming and editing material for multimedia experimentation
  • Accessing performances available via digital technologies in class workshop to assist in the analysis of performance
  • Developing individual and small group presentations.
  • Recording performances in class.
  • Experimenting with ways that tablet technology might enhance the experience of a performance for the audience.
  • Developing methodologies to enhance the documentation of performances.

In order to encourage the use of the tablets, their use was incorporated into some student assessments:

  • In Autumn Term all students were required to participate in a group assessment in which at least one iPad was used.
  • In Autumn Term all students were required to collect gestures, sounds, and potential performance sites using the visual and sound facilities of the tablets.
  • In Autumn and Spring Terms all students were required to give a presentation on a defined topic using an iPad.
  • In Spring Term all students were required to complete an application for arts funding on their iPad.
  • In Summer Term students had the opportunity to make use of the tablets as they wished in their final performance assessments.


On the whole the project exceeded plans. The project objectives were achieved and the tablets became an integral part of most seminars and workshops as students became more adept in manipulating the resource. As students became more confident in the use of tablets, they were able to use the technology in a sophisticated way to support their work, experimenting with functionality and this being disseminated across the group.

Student attainment on the module was high, and the use of the Digital Performance Lab contributed to this. Presentations in seminars improved as students became more adept in their use of presentational tools. Documentation and analysis of work was improved by the opportunity to capture and record practice in development. The Lab enhanced student experimentation with the potential of the digital in performance, and enabled greater understanding of the theories and practices that are central to contemporary performance art.


While it had been anticipated that the tablets would primarily be used for the Part Three Contemporary Performance modules, students also used tablets for the development of other areas of their study, in particular their Independent Projects.  Independent Project supervisors noted that students with access to this facility brought research for their performances to tutorials on their tablets which they could manipulate to demonstrate their ideas and plans in a very effective way.

The benefit of using tablet technology for the teaching and learning of Contemporary Performance was that it allowed students to get quick results: for eample, students found that they could create sound effects or add music for a performance piece in a matter of seconds. By opening up opportunities to students, tablet technologies enhanced their creativity.

Follow up

Since the conclusion of the project, the Digital Performance Lab has continued to be utilised for the delivery of the Contemporary Performance modules. Beyond the Contemporary Performance modules, tablet technology is now used across the Department of Film, Theatre and Television in a number of contexts, including use in interviews for prospective students, and in outreach events such as summer schools held within the Department. Student response to the use of tablet technology continues to be overwhelmingly positive.

Tablet technologies have also been used by students with Theatre Royal Stratford East’s Home Theatre project, in which University of Reading students work with artists from the Theatre Royal Stratford East to develop a show to be performed in the home of a London resident.

Whiteknights biodiversity monitoring: building an app to collate long-term monitoring data of campus wildlife

Dr. Alice Mauchline, School of Agriculture, Policy and Development; Dr Alastair Culham, School of Biological Sciences; Dr Karsten Lundqvist, School of Systems Engineering; Professor Alison Black, School of Arts and Communication Design; Dr Hazel McGoff, School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science

Year of activity: 2013-14

A mobile app was developed for the collection of field data, supporting the activities of the Whiteknights Biodiversity Blog, and providing a central database for students and staff to monitor long-term changes in the local environment on the University of Reading’s Whiteknights campus.


  • To develop an app, suitable for use with Android and iOS devices, that was user friendly and had strong branding and identity.
  • To build a community of users for the app that would utilise and enjoy the app for biodiversity monitoring objectives.
  • To create the app as a tool that would support the teaching of biodiversity in a range of modules across several schools.
  • To create an app that could support the work of the Whiteknights Biodiversity Blog in monitoring long-term changes in the local environment of Whiteknights campus, including the University of Reading Phenological Monitoring Network (UoRPMN).


The project to develop the app, which was named KiteSite, grew from Dr Mauchline’s involvement in Enhancing Fieldwork Learning, a Higher Education Academy funded project that sought to promote the use of technology in order to improve student learning in the conduct of fieldwork.

The need for the app grew out of the success of the Whiteknights Biodiversity blog. Since being established in June 2011, the blog generated increasing interest, and coordinated multiple records on biodiversity, including a growing phonological dataset, the UoRPMN. The app was conceived of as a field recording tool that would support the work of the blog in monitoring long-term changes in the local environment of Whiteknights campus. Crowd-sourcing data in the manner that such an app would allow will provide researchers with access to data on more species, over a greater area and period of time, than they may be able to collect themselves.


First, a scoping study and literature review were conducted in order to identify existing apps, software and online resources that could be utilised.  Concurrently, six student champions, drawn from five schools across the University, interviewed staff members within their schools in order to establish the teaching needs that could be met by the development of the app.

As a result of these findings, a ‘HackDay’ event was held in December 2013 in order to decide upon the requirements for the basic functions of the app.  EpiCollect was chosen as an open source, generic, data collection tool that could be modified but already provided the functionality of sending geotagged data forms and photos to a central project website from mobile devices. The student champions modified EpiCollect to produce a prototype app, which was then tested by user-groups and refined by agile development.

In order to test the app, a mock species identification session was run, followed by field data collection using the app.  This and further data collection and feedback allowed the app to be refined and the database to be developed and enhanced.

In anticipation of the launch of the app, which was named KiteSite, a website and social media profile were set up, while promotional materials were printed and disseminated.

Ultimately the app was launched in June 2014, and a launch event was held, attracting a number of teaching and learning staff who expressed interest in using the app in their teaching and learning.

KS thumbnail


The project successfully created the KiteSite app that is currently being used by a small community for the monitoring of biodiversity on the University of Reading’s Whiteknights campus, and supporting the University of Reading Phenological Monitoring Network dataset.


Those involved in the project felt that they benefited from working as part of a multi-disciplinary team, as they developed their skills in effective communication and learnt to avoid the use of subject specific jargon.  Given that team members also had other commitments besides the project, it was sometimes difficult for them to balance their workload.

While it was not possible to create a dedicated iOS app, as had originally been planned, a functioning equivalent within the existing EpiCollect app that operates on iOS was created.

The appointment of student champions was valuable, as by having the project led by the principle end-users, they were provided with the opportunity to shape how the final project could be used and developed most effectively for their needs. The student champions took the lead on developing the website for the app, and one of the student champions drafted the reflective paper that was then published in the Journal of Educational Innovation, Partnership and Change.

Follow up

The project team continue to seek further uses for the KiteSite app. While it is used in teaching, the current objective is to engage with student societies that might make use of the app, such as BirdSoc, an ornithology student society.

Other universities have expressed interest in the project, and are looking to set up similar resources mirroring KiteSite.


From a traditional classroom to a flipped classroom

Dr Karsten O. Lundqvist, School of Systems Engineering
Year(s) of activity: 2013-14


6477A flipped classroom approach was trialed for the Part Two Java module (SE2JA11) taught in the School of Systems Engineering. 


  • Encourage students on the module to become deep-level learners, as they analyse, evaluate and create, rather than simply remembering and understanding.
  • Introduce a flexible teaching and learning style that students will find enjoyable.
  • Introduce flexibility that allows students to manage their time in a better way, giving them more opportunities to study the materials in a deeper manner.
  • Improve attendance and engagement with practicals.


In the summer of 2013 videos were created for the module.  New slides to present the content were designed, with the fonts improved to make them easier to read on a computer screen.  While the content was based on that of the old slides that were available to students, practical screencasts were introduced in the video, whereby the students can see how the code behaves and how they are supposed to develop it practically.  Some slides were altered so that they presented difficult concepts in more easily understood ways, such as through use of analogies to the restaurant business and the automobile industry.

Feedback and feedforward videos were introduced to explain the progress through the course.  One of the feedforward videos was used to make the students aware of the object-orient programming (OOP) nature of the code, and that the weekly practicals would be building upon previous material.  Students were told that they could use the weekly practicals as a gauge to measure if they had problems with OOP, and should ask the teaching staff for help.

The videos were created using Camtasia, an tool for creating videos and screencasts from webcams and computer screens.  The software suite also has simple post-production tools, which allowed zooming to ensure that the small text of development environments could be viewed easily.  These videos were then embedded as items on the Blackboard Virtual Learning Environment.  Uploading the videos to a streaming service external to the University was considered, but was decided against in order to create a classroom feeling to the videos.

The flipped classroom method generally recommends that videos be simply bite-sized chunks of around 4 to 6 minutes long.  Several of the videos created for the module, however, were over 1 hour long, as a result of the amount of material that needed too be covered, the adherence to the lecturing paradigm, and the lack of time available to transform the material as much as would have been necessary in order to make 6 to 20 minute videos.


To obtain feedback from the students, two voluntary bespoke surveys were shared with the students, one available in weeks 2-3 of the Autumn Term, and one available in week 1 of the Spring Term. The first survey showed that 84% of students preferred videos over lectures, and that only 4% of students did not expect to watch the videos more than once. In the second survey, 100% of students now preferred videos to lectures, and 100% expected to watch the videos more than once.


Flipping the classroom has been of great benefit. As the act of flipping cannot just be a case of replicating old teaching methods digitally, it promotes reflection on course content and teaching methods, and requires thorough planning. The initial investment pays off in the long term as the teaching materials produced can be reused, not only from year to year, but between different modules that have some overlapping content. While the creation of teaching materials may consume more time than the traditional delivery of content, it is flexible as it can be done when time allows, and does not require being present at an appointed time and location.

Despite concerns about the length of the videos, on the whole students expressed satisfaction about this.  The general response was that students expected the videos to be long, as they were replacing 2 hour lectures, and therefore students would feel cheated if the videos were not long and with a lot of content.  While it was agreed that students might benefit from having chapters within the videos to make them easier to search, none wanted the videos to be shorter.

In order to improve how the module is taught using the flipped classroom model in the future, the following recommendations were made:

  • Include a more self-regulated learning approach to the coursework, allowing students more flexibility over the weeks, and removing some of the summative pressures that might induce surface-level learning.
  • Change the module so that 100% of assessment is carried out through coursework. This should make students focus more on the practical work throughout the year, and help them focus more on the relevant material and learning it in a deeper way.
  • Introduce a level of self-regulated learning to the practicals, by introducing a logbook instead of weekly sign-off sheets. Students will need a number of signatures in their logbook to get 10% of their practical marks. The signatures will be given after a short formative discussion of progress provifnng useful feedback and suggestions of further work.

Follow up

The flipped classroom approach continues to be used for the teaching of SE2JA11, and has now been introduced for other modules within the School of Systems Engineering. In particular, videos on general coding theory are able to be utilised within many modules. Dr Lundqvist was able to draw upon the experience of flipping the classroom when creating the Open Online Course Begin Programming: Build Your First Mobile Game.

The recommendations generated by the pilot year have been carried out, with the exception of the introduction of a logbook, which proved impractical. While students still complete weekly sign-off sheets, the sheets are now 50% questions on the video, to ensure that students have viewed the videos and retained the information, and 50% questions on progress in their own learning, with the intention that students will reflect upon their own learning, and staff will be aware of students who are having difficulties.