Teaching the Digital Text: Literature and the New Technologies

Professor Michelle O’Callaghan, School of Literature and Languages
m.f.ocallaghan@reading.ac.uk

Overview

12754The project ‘Teaching the Digital Text: Literature and the New Technologies’ employed two undergraduate research assistants to help in the design of a Part Three module that aims to introduce students to current research in the digital humanities and teach practical digital skills. Resulting from the project, a workshop was held, led by experts in the field, and a module was developed that will first run during the 2015/16 academic year.

Objectives

  • To work in collaboration with students to design a new Part Three module.
  • To identify topics and tasks to include on the module.
  • To experiment with open source software.
  • To explore different modes of teaching and assessment.

Context

Digital Humanities is an emerging field that brings together studies in the humanities with information technology and raises pressing methodological questions. Given the project leader’s own involvement in digital editing and database projects, the aim was to involve students in developing a module that explores how literary studies is engaging with these new technologies.

Implementation

The aim of the project was to develop a Part Three module in collaboration with undergraduate research assistants, who were selected through a formal application process. Over a twelve week period, the team worked together on a pilot of the proposed module. Through a process of discussion, the team put together a bibliography of the critical material, developed and trialled tasks and assignments, debated suitable modes of assessment, and explored the resources available. During this twelve week period, the project leader met with the IT Business Partner of the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Science to discuss the IT requirements for the module.

At the end of the pilot, a workshop, ‘Teaching Digital Humanities’, was held, led by invited speakers from the University of Oxford, Bath Spa University, and the University of Winchester, who currently run successful modules in this area on undergraduate and postgraduate programmes, as well as Dr Matthew Nicholls from the University of Reading’s School of Humanities, who spoke on ‘Digital modelling in teaching and learning’.

Impact

This pilot project culminated in the successful design of a Part Three module, ‘The Digital Text: Literature and the New Technologies’, which will run in Spring Term during the 2015/16 academic year. The workshop held as part of the project was especially productive. It brought together a range of colleagues from within the University of Reading – academics, librarians, and those in IT – and from other universities, who shared their expertise and experiences of working within the field of digital humanities and the broader issues the new technologies raise for the study of humanities.

Reflections

The most successful aspect of the project was the opportunity that it provided to design a module in collaboration with undergraduate students. This student-led approach to module design is particularly appropriate in this instance because digital humanities is a field that combines theory and practice, and so provides students with the opportunity to apply their learning through using digital tools and creating their own digital outputs. At a very practical level, collaborating with students on module design is invaluable for identifying what are the most effective and engaging modes of delivery and assessment. It is very stimulating to discuss with students pedagogic issues, not only at the practical level of what works in the classroom and what does not, but also how to engage students in thinking about wider conceptual and theoretical issues.

Core Issues in English Language Teaching: building student autonomy, technology-enhanced skills and employability

Dr Clare Wright, School of Literature and Languages
c.e.m.wright@reading.ac.uk
Year(s) of activity: 2014-15

Overview

12758This project aimed to build student expertise in managing task-based approaches to learning, foster active engagement in seminars including international students, and support students’ development of Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) skills, through student-led revisions of a popular undergraduate module, with the Employability and Professional Track staff at School level, the Generating Resources and Access to Screencapture Software (GRASS) team and the central TEL team.

Objectives

  • Revise the module delivery to enhance student autonomy and academic development.
  • Improve preparation for and engagement with team- or task-based work in seminars
  • Improve the use of TEL in class and the related skills development of both staff and students.
  • Build up student employability in teaching-related expertise by leading a team- or task-based teaching approach in seminars.

Context

Core Issues in English Language Teaching for Part Two and Three students aims to build awareness of professional language teaching practices in international settings, and has approximately 35 students. Students enrolled on the module learn about different language teaching approaches, including task-based learning, team-based teaching, and TEL. This project responded to student demand for clearer training to manage task-based approaches to learning, greater engagement in seminars including international students, and greater skill-development of TEL.

Implementation

Two Part Three students and two international students conducted this project, alongside the module leader, with the Employability and Professional Track staff at School level, the GRASS team and the central TEL team.

The project team worked through revisions to the existing module guide, held a student focus group to discuss possible changes with students across the university, attended tailored training sessions with GRASS and TEL team members, implemented their training by using various TEL products (such as Camtasia and Powtoon), prepared presentations for a University of Reading TEL Showcase organised by the Centre for Quality Support and Development (CQSD) and Reading University Students’ Union (RUSU), and wrote a final blog entry on the project. The project leader, Clare Wright, was awarded an inaugural national Jisc Change Leader Award for a portfolio based on this project.

Impact

The student project team members could show full satisfaction when reflecting on their progress in understanding more about learning processes, and in gaining greater employability as a result of developing TEL-related skills, delivering presentations to the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Teaching and Learning) and a wider University audience, and writing up the project blog. The project revealed that students were generally happy with the way they were being taught, but that including more TEL and autonomous learning could seem a challenge, especially for Part Two students. The suitability of the project for the Jisc Change Leader Award was an unexpected outcome, and feedback from the project submission could be used to benefit University Teaching and Learning (T&L) stakeholders, for example at a T&L Showcase event.

Reflections

The positive engagement with the aims of the project, and the close interaction between the students and the project leader was a key element of the project’s success. Attempts to roll out discussions to a wider student base, through focus groups, were less successful, suggesting either that students felt they were too busy to attend such events, despite the incentive of a free lunch, or that they were already happy with the way they were being taught.

Follow up

The Core Issues in English Language Teaching module is being revamped for Part Two students for the 2016-17 academic year, and will take the findings of this project into account.

Links

Engage in Teaching and Learning blog post: The PLanT Project and ‘Core Issues in English Language Teaching’ by Jess Fullam, Emily King, Daria Pominova and Megumi Kuranaka

MOOCs at Reading – what, why and where next?

Dr Clare Wright, School of Literature and Languages
c.e.m.wright@reading.ac.uk
Year(s) of activity: 2014-15

Overview

MARThis project funded a small team of researchers and teaching practitioners from the Department of English Language and Applied Linguistics to explore teaching and learning implications of the University of Reading’s pilot Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), A Beginner’s Guide to Writing in English for University Study, delivered on English language academic writing, designed and run by staff at the International Study and Language Institute (ISLI). The project team members focused on design, delivery and mentoring issues arising from the pilot, to be used to improve future MOOCs at Reading.

Objectives

  • Create a mentoring training brief.
  • Complete two research outputs.
  • Host a national workshop to share best practice and set up a community of practice.

Context

As the English language academic writing MOOC was in its initial piloting stage, and was an unusual combination-style MOOC (merging both content knowledge and skills in using knowledge), project team members were able to bring expertise in Applied Linguistics and Academic Writing to evaluate teaching and learning success and identify areas for improvement in future iterations.

Implementation

Project team members conducted interviews with educators and mentors and evaluated data on student evaluations obtained from the MOOC platform team (Future Learn) in order to ensure that a rigorous and thorough evaluation of the pilot MOOC could be conducted. Building upon these findings, a national workshop for over 30 participants drawn from various institutions was held at the University of Reading, where presentations, group discussions and a concluding round-table discussion, considered a number of key issues surrounding MOOCs.

Impact

The data gained from interviews with educators and mentors led to ISLI staff creating a specialised induction training pack for incoming mentors in further iterations of the MOOC, which has been successful in helping new mentors avoid some of the pitfalls and challenges identified by the pilot.
The national workshop was successful in meeting its aims, attracting over 30 participants from the UK and Ireland. Following the workshop, a blog entry for the University of Reading’s Centre for Quality Support and Development (CQSD) Engage in Teaching and Learning blog was written, which was also adapted for an Association for Learning and Teaching (ALT) newsletter highlighting the tips on best practice which emerged from the workshop discussions.

An invitation-based website was also set up for those attending the final project workshop to host the speakers’ slides and space to maintain an ongoing community of practice.

Project team members have contributed a chapter to be published in a forthcoming book on educator and mentor experiences of the MOOC, and a journal article in preparation on student evaluations of the MOOC, for academic dissemination of the project’s research aims.

Reflections

There was excellent teamwork between the three members of staff involved, with clear project aims and timely targeted support for the MOOC staff helping to ensure good buy-in from all stakeholders on the research part of the project. Good connections with the wider MOOC community ensured that the workshop was well planned, with good speakers, and ensured there was a good take up and as wide an impact as had been hoped.

The project did not have any evolving aims; given the success of the impact activities, however, especially the workshop, ongoing take-up within the online Community of Practice would be good, while better knowledge in how to set up and maintain such a network by project members and more time to keep momentum with the wider MOOC team at the University of Reading would further boost ongoing interest and further research impact and activities.

Links

http://blogs.reading.ac.uk/engage-in-teaching-and-learning/2015/06/15/education-online-en-masse-lessons-for-teaching-and-learning-through-moocs-by-clare-wright-clare-furneaux-and-liz-wilding/
Education online en-masse: lessons for teaching and learning through MOOCs

Assessing the use of Technology Enhanced Learning in Higher Education: the case of trading simulation software at the ICMA Centre

Dr Ioannis Oikonomou, ICMA Centre
i.oikonomou@icmacentre.ac.uk
Year(s) of activity: 2013-14

Overview

8948This project reviewed the effectiveness of the ICMA Centre’s use of trading simulation software, a unique combination of problem-based learning and role-playing which uses modern technology.  While it was found that students enjoyed having access to trading simulation software for their learning, a number of areas in which improvements could be made were identified, and recommendations were made to effect these.

Objectives

  • To assess the effectiveness of the ICMA Centre’s use of trading simulations software.
  • Highlight areas for improvement and make suggestions about the possible restructuring of the content of the offered trading simulation modules and ways of further enhancing their academic and practical usefulness for students.

Context

The ICMA Centre has three dealing rooms, which are used for conducting small group seminars, workshops and trading simulation sessions for modules at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels, as well as being a valuable tool for outreach purposes.

Although the ICMA Centre has been subject to periodic and contextual review, there has been no formal investigation that specifically targets the teaching and learning issues and transferable skills of the trading simulation software.

Implementation

To assess the effectiveness of the use of these facilities, historic feedback was analysed. The ICMA Centre had regularly undergone periodic and contextual reviews as according to University of Reading policy, with these reviews evaluating all aspects of the ICMA Centre’s programmes. This was therefore a valuable resource for understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the use of trading simulation software for teaching and learning within the wider context of the ICMA Centre’s delivery of programmes.

Also analysed were evaluation forms connected to trading sessions at both the undergraduate and postgraduate level for three academic years. The great benefit of these data were that it allowed quantitative analysis of trading simulation software, as students gave numerical scores to indicate their satisfaction. Qualitative data were also available, with students providing free text comments, which give specific details about what had worked well and what might need improving.

Interviews were conducted with module convenors and teaching assistants. This allowed greater detailed information to be generated on the strengths and weaknesses of trading simulation sessions, and offered the chance to discuss module convenors’ and teaching assistants’ perspective on trading simulation sessions. Additionally, interviews with staff were valuable for capturing some of the informal opinions and attitudes of students, which may not have expressed in formal evaluations.

The guidance offered by these analyses was used to formulate an online questionnaire in order to generate quantifiable data.  Finally, two student focus groups, one of undergraduate students and one of postgraduate students, were interviewed in order to expand upon the findings of the questionnaire. Effort was made to accurately represent the diversity of student backgrounds on ICMA programmes in the focus groups.

Reflections

Historic evaluation forms, interviews with module convenors and teaching assistants, the online questionnaire, and the focus groups had comparable findings.  Overall, students very much enjoyed the use of trading simulation software, and generally found it to be user-friendly, reasonable and realistic.  The realism and ‘hands-on’ nature of the platform are particularly beneficial characteristics, as adult learners tend to focus on tasks, especially when they believe they may encounter these in their lives.  The trading simulations were highlighted as being effective tools for the development of employable skills, and helped students to internalise complex financial concepts.

The principal negative aspects of users experiences of trading simulation software that were raised at multiple points during the study, were that students wanted more time using the trading simulation software, and better connection between lectures and use of the trading simulation software.  This was most keenly felt by undergraduate students, who receive significantly fewer trading hours than postgraduates, and who felt that the sessions could be better embedded into their teaching and learning portfolios. As a result of these findings, a number of recommendations were made for improving the delivery of teaching and learning with the use of trading simulation sessions.

Follow up

Progress has been made on fulfilling the recommendations of the report: Trading Simulation II has been moved from the Financial Modelling module to the more suitable Debt Markets and Instruments; module convenors have instructions to be mindful of the link between their lectures and trading simulation sessions, and for how performance in trading simulations sessions is to be benchmarked; alterations and additions have been made to the simulation software’s scenarios so that it can be utilised for different learning outcomes; availability of trading simulation sessions has been increased, and trading hours for students have been increased; students are given firm guidance and information on the interpretation of and access to their feedback; and an experienced trader has been employed as a sessional lecturer for the undergraduate training sessions.

With these alterations having been made, feedback on trading simulation sessions has improved, and students demonstrate deep and broad levels of learning on concepts they are able to explore through the use of trading simulation sessions.

Incorporating digital modelling into teaching and learning: Digital Silchester

Dr Matthew Nicholls, School of Humanities
m.c.nicholls@reading.ac.uk
Year(s) of activity: 2012-3

Overview

Digital SilchesterFollowing on from the success of the Virtual Rome project, a Classics module was constructed to teach Part Three undergraduate students 3D digital modelling for the purposes of historical reconstruction. Student satisfaction with the module has been high, and students have benefited from developing skills other than those developed in traditional modules.  The module has received widespread public recognition, and in 2014 won a Guardian University Award for teaching excellence.

Objectives

  • Provide students with digital skills.
  • Provide students with a different way of learning and representing what they have learned.
  • Extend students’ knowledge of the ancient world.
  • Create a digital model of the Roman town at Silchester for possible future use.

Context

Dr Nicholls has been conducting the Virtual Rome project to digitally reconstruct the city of Rome as it appeared c. AD 315, which he has used in his teaching. Students had expressed interest in attempting 3D digital modelling for themselves, and as part of an Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme project students had been taught digital modelling, suggesting it would be straightforward to adapt this approach to a taught module. Owing to the University of Reading’s investigation of the Roman town at Silchester since 1974, there is a wealth of information relating to this area of the ancient world, presenting an excellent opportunity for developing a module.

Implementation

Students received technical instruction in the techniques of 3D digital modelling, so that students can familiarise themselves with the software and learn the necessary skills to conduct effective modelling. These sessions are conducted within computer labs, in which the module convener can demonstrate the use of 3D digital modelling software though projection while students follow on the lab’s computers. Students use the 3D digital modelling software SketchUp Make, which is able to be downloaded for free, allowing greater access to independent learning. There are numerous tutorials available to help students learn to use SketchUp Make, and Students also have access to screencast guidance videos on the Blackboard Learn virtual learning environment.

Students also learn the conduct of reconstruction. Students engage with how reconstruction is used in historical research to deepen understanding, and consider the debates which are central to the topic. Additionally, students develop the skills necessary to conduct research, so that they can access materials to justify decisions they make in reconstruction.

The module has two assessments. The first, constituting 20% of the final mark, sees students assigned a building, of which they construct a digital model, alongside a written commentary of 1500 words justifying the decisions they have made. This assignment presents students with a formal means through which to obtain feedback on their use of 3D modelling software and their report writing. In the second assessed piece of work, constituting the remaining 80% of the final mark, students freely select a building from the Roman town at Silchester, and create a large digital model and detailed written commentary, for which there is no word limit. To allow construction of an effective model students must research the available resources, such as archaeological plans, secondary texts and comparative materials.

The marking criteria for the module are adapted from the Department of Classics’ internal marking criteria, and so students are easily able understand how to fulfil the criteria.

Students receive video feedback on their assessments. Through use of video capture software, students can see the module convener manipulating their 3D model while providing verbal feedback on how well it and the commentary meet the marking criteria.

Impact

Feedback from students is overwhelmingly positive, as students enjoy the opportunity to try something different to other modules. Students who find other areas of academic study challenging may excel in the module, as they are provided with an opportunity for visual learning and use different skills to conduct 3D digital modelling. The module has received widespread public recognition, and in 2014 won a Guardian University Award for teaching excellence. The module was also a contributing factor for Dr Nicholls being an inaugural winner of the British Academy Rising Star Engagement scheme.

Reflections

Seemingly one of the greatest challenges for the module was teaching the techniques of 3D digital modelling, as the module convener did not have formal experience of this, and the students did not have prior knowledge upon which to draw. The methods used in the first year of the module, which have since been refined, proved effective, and despite the steep learning curve all students were able to become suitably proficient in order to conduct the assessments. Some students do, however, require a large amount of support to reach this level of aptitude, which they may not require in a traditional module. The use of Blackboard Learn to provide access to learning resources was an important factor in helping students adapt to the module.

With regards marking of assessments, one challenge was to explain the module to external examiners, as this module is unique within Classics in Higher Education in the United Kingdom. This did not represent a major obstacle, but more coordination than normal was required with the external examiners.

Teaching 3D digital modelling is valuable, as many careers in which the University of Reading’s Classics graduates find employment make use of digital modelling. Beyond careers that actually perform digital modelling, many employers value the digital visualisation skills that students develop on this module, and students find that it provides an interesting topic of discussion in interviews.

Follow up

The module has continued with some amendments since its first year. The submission dates for assessments has been altered so that students submit following the Autumn and Spring terms. This has been done to allow them to benefit from a full term of instruction before creating their models.

In order to support the teaching of the module, the process of capturing lectures and workshops, so that students can refer to these videos for their independent learning, is underway.

In December 2015 Dr Nicholls will be holding a workshop for beginners to learn SketchUp modelling at the University of Reading. Interested academics or researchers are invited to contact Dr Nicholls for further details.

Politics Show on Junction11 Radio

Dr Alan Renwick, School of Politics, Economics and International Relations
Year of activity: 2014/15

Overview

DSC_0289 - CopyOur Teaching and Learning Development Fund (TLDF) award was used to fund the purchase of a laptop and recording equipment to help students in preparing materials for broadcast in the Politics Show on Junction11 Radio, the Reading University Students’ Union radio station. This facilitated learning activities that greatly boosted students’ self-confidence, engagement with politics, and transferable skills.

Objectives

  • Deepen students’ engagement with politics by creating a forum for them to discuss it on live radio.
  • Deepen students’ understanding of the role of media in politics through practice as well as academic learning.
  • Foster students’ self-confidence and their skills of research, communication, presentation, and audio editing.

Context

The hardest part in studying politics is often connecting what we learn through academic study with what is happening around the world today. The Politics Show and allied Media and Politics module are designed to facilitate that, as well as to foster a range of crucial transferable skills. The ability to record and edit material ahead of broadcast is essential, and our TLDF funding allows that.

Implementation

The Politics Show was broadcast every Tuesday evening during term throughout the year, between 7 and 8pm. Much of the show involves live studio conversation, but pre-recording some content allows us greatly to open up the range of material that we can include, and most shows have therefore involved at least some such content. We have, for example, included vox pops hearing the views of students around campus, recorded interviews with notable visitors to campus, recorded interviews away from campus with a range of political figures, and recorded material on location, including reviews of exhibitions at the British Museum and British Library. While most such material can now be recorded with a good quality smart phone, the equipment we were able to purchase through the TLDF gives the highest quality of recorded sound and ensures that all students have access to the means of recording and editing, even if they do not own the requisite equipment themselves.

Impact

The Politics Show has been a tremendous success: students who take part visibly grow in confidence and ability to communicate and in engagement with politics. In addition, anyone with access to a computer can listen to the show live or through our podcast edition, and many people do so, ensuring that the show helps advertise the University of Reading and the Department of Politics and International Relations – and the achievements and professionalism of our students – to the wider world. The show is a core element in the package that we promote to applicants during open days and visit days. Again, these opportunities require that the show’s quality be high, and our TLDF funding has helped ensure that.

Reflections

We regard the Politics Show and the associated Media and Politics module as a very clear success, which is due in large part to the energy that this activity has unleashed among our students. We plan some tweaks to aspects of the module that are not related to our TLDF funding in response to lessons learnt over the past year. But we see no reason for substantial changes to the Politics Show itself or the role of pre-recorded material in it. Our one frustration this year was that, for administrative reasons, we could not purchase our new equipment until late in the year, but we will be able to integrate it more fully into the show more continuously in 2015/16.

The show’s original host, Dr Alan Renwick, has now moved on from the University of Reading, and two new hosts – Dr Dawn Clarke and Dr Mark Shanahan – will therefore be taking over. Given that they will be new to this kind of activity, we do not plan to experiment much with innovations over the coming year, but further refinement and evolution of the format may take place thereafter.

Links

The archive of podcasts from the show is available here: http://www.reading.ac.uk/spirs/about/spirs-PoliticsShowPodcasts.aspx

Using technology to find low-tech solutions by Mary Morrissey

Like a lot of people, I do not consider myself particularly savvy about technology: when I find that something is useful to me, I learn how to use it. That said, I think we can use learning technologies to come up with ‘low tech’ solutions to our teaching needs. Among the advantage is efficiency in terms of time and money: we already have the kit, and we know how to use it. I offer the following as an example.

It is often difficult to make sure that students are aware of detailed regulations that affect their work but which cannot be summarised or displayed easily. Conventions for writing and referencing are a good example in our department.  Last summer, Pat Ferguson (our Royal Literary Fund fellow whose role in the department is to help student improve their writing skills) observed that we had excellent advice on essay writing, but it was in our large Student Handbook, distributed at the start of the first year. Pat suggested that we make this information available separately.

I thought this was a great idea. I noticed there was other information in the handbook that students need through their degree too: there was information about our marking criteria; there were some very helpful examples that showed the difference between plagiarism and poor academic practice. I took these sections, and I created three separate documents with titles that I hoped would be self-explanatory: ‘Style Guide for English Literature students’; ‘Understanding Feedback – Marking Criteria’; and ‘Plagiarism’.

I uploaded all three documents to Blackboard’s ‘Fileshare’ area for the department, and I created links from the Blackboard courses for all our Part 1 and Part 2 modules. (I am working on the Part 3 modules, but there are over 50 of those!) I also posted the documents in our central ‘Information for English Literature Students’ Blackboard organisation, on which all staff, undergraduates and postgraduate students are enrolled. By keeping the documents in ‘Fileshare’ I can update them every year, to include new ‘standard paragraphs’ for example. I overwrite the old file with the newer version, and all the daughter versions linked to it update automatically.

This isn’t rocket science, but I think it has helped us make useful information more readily available. Having in posted in most of our Blackboard courses makes it more visible; having three small documents (in pdf format) makes them easier to download and print.

Where would I go from here? Students have told me that they like a website with exercises that help with grammar and writing skills that we recommended. It’s based in the University of Bristol:  http://www.bristol.ac.uk/arts/exercises/grammar/grammar_tutorial/index.htm

I would like to create an interactive resource like this, and I know it can be done. The University of Aberdeen took the paper-based ‘Guide to Written Work’ (on which we all relied when I worked there!) and turned it into an internet-based resource with exercises: http://www.abdn.ac.uk/writing/

If anyone knows any low-tech ways that I could do something similar, please let me know!