Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Adding captions to YouTube videos is as easy as (mince) pie

What better time than 4 pm on 22 December to start a blog post.

I saw via Twitter a while ago that YouTube had made it possible to add closed captions (subtitles you can turn on or off) to YouTube videos. This had been something that I'd wanted to do a while ago to our What it means to be a critical student tutorial that I'd blogged about back in September.

You can find the instructions in YouTube's help centre item called Getting Started: Adding / Editing captions, plus additional instructions on Getting Started: Preparing a Transcript File. I decided that I wanted to test out using a transcript file rather than a caption file as this would be much quicker if it worked - and this is what the help article says about it:
YouTube uses experimental speech recognition technology to provide automatic timing for your English transcript. Automatic timing creates a caption file that you can download. Short videos with good sound quality and clear spoken English synchronize best.
And I tried it and it worked a treat! We already had the script in a word document so I simply pasted it into Notepad, removed any special characters (bullets, in our case) and then uploaded it as per the instructions. The speech recognition software did it's job brilliantly and timed the captions perfectly. The only errors occurred where Steve (the narrator) had deviated from the script. It was an easy job to edit the transcript on paper whilst watching the captions. I then amended the .txt file and uploaded it again. Fantastic and well done Google on making captioning quick and easy!

Here it is - and just click on the CC icon in the bottom right hand corner menu to turn the captions on.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Tagginganna progress

I'm feeling rather stalled on this project after an initial flurry of activity and the good news that we got the funding, so I'm hoping that forcing myself to write a blog post about it might focus my thoughts (it will also mean that the slightly inane Twitter fixed my dishwasher post isn't sitting at the top of my blog any more).

I've written a couple of times before about our tagginganna project and there is a growing list of items that we've tagged on delicious (there's also a tagginganna friendfeed group that's aggregating everything).

The project team

The project team is made up of Mark Rawlinson, Alex Moseley and me. So when I refer to 'we' that's who I mean.


The project is officially called Text Tagging: Searchable Reader-Commentary on e-Texts, and a Pedagogy of Implicit and Explicit Meaning - so you can see why we're shortening it.

The problem we're trying to address

Reading novels takes a long time and a good discussion about a long novel takes much longer than the time available in one tutorial. Additionally, when students are reading a novel they are expected to make the meaning of the narrative explicit (in order to be able to discuss it in a tutorial) but during their private reading they are experiencing the richness of the text's language implicitly. There is therefore often a disconnect between the meaning of a text and their experience of it. Add to this the fact the experience of the text is 'available as a rapidly diminishing memory' and you begin to see some of the problems faced by both tutors and students in reading and talking about novels.

The solution we think might work

This is best explained by quoting directly from our bid document.
Text tagging (marking up textual elements, and adding searchable tags which make the implicit explicit) is a procedure for bridging the gap between narrative experience and narrative analysis, between private study and seminar discussion. Readers could share an online text, and through individual acts of tagging (either concurrent with the initial reading, or retrospectively, in a guided rereading) contribute to a social network of interpretive acts which can be retrieved by searching the text and/or the tags. The social network of tags is a meaning map of the narrative under study, and crucially, a map that always takes discussion back to the territory of the text being analysed (discussion invariably tends to abstraction where the evidence is as apparently inaccessible as the fine details of a very long book).

Project aims

The aims of the project are:
  • to test the pedagogical benefits of tagging and commenting on a shared online work of fiction (Anna Karenina) by a small group of third year undergraduates, and using this collaborative markup as a discussion point in face-to-face seminars: this is focussed on making meaning explicit;
  • to test the pedgogical and community-development benefits of sharing comments and tags across multiple cohorts, focusing on the new meanings and affordances offered by pervasive and incremental tags;
  • to determine the technical suitability of a number of freely available tagging/commenting tools to support the above activity;
  • to test the pedagogical benefits of tagging and commenting on a shared e-book within the BlackBoard VLE, by a small group of distance-learning postgraduates;
  • to develop one or more pedagogical models for the use of tagging and commenting on online texts within a higher education context;
  • to report on the technical suitability of a number of freely available tools and platforms to enable pedagogically-effective tagging and commenting within a higher education context;
  • to form the basis for discussions with publishers (initially Routledge) on the use of e-books within academic courses.

We need a researcher

The majority of the funding for the project will be spent on a research assistant. So if you're interested or know anyone who might be - please get in touch.

Right, now I've reminded myself what the project is about I'm off to have another think about and Diigo.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Twitter fixed my dishwasher

A few weeks ago I blogged about how Twitter had helped me with my son's maths homework. Well here's another Twitter story for you.

On Wednesday last week I was working from home to get some marking done. I'd spent about an hour the previous evening trying to fix our dishwasher. I'm not very good at white goods maintenance but I knew enough to clean out the various filters and the pump and find the reset function. Unfortunately it still didn't work - I could get the numbers to light up but no water would flow into the machine. I thought it was well and truly bust.

Then I had an idea, why not ask on Twitter how to fix it. So that's what I did...

At 10.06 am on 28 October I tweeted the following - 'Is anyone any good at fixing dishwashers? Cleaned filters and pump last night but still bust'

And at 10.16 am I got the following reply '@stujohnson Sometimes you need to tip them forward a LOT ie over 45 degrees to reset the "safety" microswitch'

Which in a spare 5 minutes later in the morning I did. And lo and behold - it worked! So, thank you to Twitter and thank you to @adijeff, who you should definitely follow if you have any white goods maintenance queries!

Friday, 16 October 2009

Automating events notification

After last week's Friday afternoon blogpost on how I'm using RSS, Twitterfeed, Twitter and Facebook to engage with our students, I thought I'd write a follow up.

Up until now I've only connected up our news item RSS feeds to Twitterfeed but I haven't connected up our events RSS feeds. The reason for this is that some of our events (e.g. our workshop programme) we publish in bulk at the beginning of term and so RSS out from these wouldn't work in a timely fashion. Then I had an idea (just as I was trying to get to sleep) - what about creating a collection portlet on our website (Plone) and set the criteria to only display events that are 24 hours in the future. Then if the RSS from this collection was connected to Twitterfeed the events would appear automatically on our Twitter account 24 hours before they happen, which in turn would appear on our Facebook fan page. All of which would neatly feed in to our followers' news feeds without me having to do anything (or without having to pester other people to do anything).

So this is the criteria I set in the Plone collection item:
  • Item type = Event
  • Location = [relevant folder]
  • State = Published
  • Start date (and this is the bit that makes it work in a timely fashion) = 1 day/in the future/on the day
And to my considerable astonishment it worked!
So now we'll be letting students know of events, via Twitter and Facebook, 24 hours before the events happen, without having to do anything. And whilst this clearly doesn't stop the need for conversation - it does help facilitate it.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Trying hard to connect

I thought I should write something about how I'm using Twitter and Facebook in Student Development at the University of Leicester. Two important things to say first:
  1. I'm not saying we're doing it perfectly - I just want to let people know what we're doing and invite comment. Some things are going well and some things could definitely do with improving - I'd be interested to know your thoughts
  2. I've had a lot of advice, some of it inferred from how I see people using Twitter and Facebook and some of it direct advice (thanks especially to @caffeinebomb, @ajcann, @fawcettbj and @thisisdavid)

What are we doing?

We're trying to connect with students in order to make them aware of the services we offer to help them in their studies and their career planning. I've recently revamped the Student Development website to make it more dynamic by adding lots of RSS feeds to get news articles out. The other thing I'm trying to do is to connect up to people's social spaces using Twitter and Facebook.

Broadcasting (the easy bit)

The easy bit (although it took a bit of thought to connect it all up) is broadcasting. I didn't want to have to do this manually so I've automated it using a combination of RSS, Twitter, Twitterfeed, Facebook and a Facebook application called selective Twitter status (see 'How are we doing it?', below).

Conversation (the more difficult bit)

The more difficult bit is actually having conversations with people, and this is the bit we need to work on more. Having conversations takes time and resources but is the bit that makes the biggest difference. I'm using Hootsuite to allow multiple users to tweet to our uolsd account. Hootsuite took a bit of figuring out but is great now we've got the hang of it. The people who tweet to the account are me plus our Helpdesk staff - these are PhD students who work for us on a casual basis in our Student Development Zone. We need to work on this more because the PhD students haven't used Twitter before, and we also need to get a consistent voice. Generally speaking we are being reactive, responding to requests, rather than proactive. As we follow more people though we should begin to see more people who we can help. I am trying to follow only University of Leicester students who first follow us - that way we are a) responding to the needs of our students and b) hopefully it doesn't feel like we're stalking them(!).

How are we doing it?

The diagram above shows how it works.

And that's it! We're slowly building up a bit of a following - currently 201 followers on Twitter and 147 fans of our Facebook page. We have a link to our Twitter and Facebook information on every page of our website, along with a bit of an explanation, which you can see here.

That's a bit rushed but I'd be interested in your comments and suggestions.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Twitter and maths homework

Just after breakfast this morning I tweeted the following:
And very quickly I got the following replies:
  1. goze01@stujohnson I have answer. Not telling yet. Get him to list the combinations of numbers when multiplied give a 0 in unit column. :-)19 minutes ago from Echofon in reply to stujohnson
  2. Steepholm@stujohnson I assume there's also some way of doing it mathematically that a 9-year-old could figure out.about 1 hour ago from TweetDeck in reply to stujohnson
  3. Steepholm@stujohnson I've just written a little program to do it by brute force - 32 * 3125 is the only solution.about 1 hour ago from TweetDeck in reply to stujohnson
  4. traceymadden@stujohnson Suspect just being asked to find all the factors of 100,000 and identify the ones that match the criteria.about 1 hour ago from TweetDeck in reply to stujohnson
  5. traceymadden@stujohnson Try looking 4 clues on how they are 'supposed' 2 solve this in their maths workbook (should lead on from last lesson).about 1 hour ago from TweetDeck in reply to stujohnson
  6. pk_kent@stujohnson 32 x 3125. Do factor analysis of 100,000 - divide by 2, again by 2 etc. u end up with 2x2x2x2x2x3125about 2 hours ago from Echofon in reply to stujohnson
  7. katiepiatt@stujohnson got to be 3125 x 32, I divided down 10000 by 2 until I reached a number that didn't end in 0, then found the other factorabout 2 hours ago from TweetDeck in reply to stujohnson
So my son worked it out by:
  • dividing 100,000 by 2 until he got to a number that didn't end in 0 (3,125)
  • then dividing 100,000 by 3,125 which gave an answer that also didn't end in 0 - 32
  • Bob's your uncle!
So thank you to @goze01, @steepholm, @traceymadden, @pk_kent and @katiepiatt!!

Thursday, 17 September 2009

A new tutorial on being a critical student

Steve and I have just produced a simple tutorial to try and explain/demystify what it means to be a critical student.

The tutorial is created using a simple PowerPoint slide show which is then recorded and audio added using Screenr is exceptionally easy to use - especially when you discover the pause button. The 5 minute limit is a useful discipline. Files can then be uploaded to screenr or YouTube or downloaded as MP4. It's brilliant.

I had some really useful comments back via Twitter (most of them within 30 minutes)  - which are listed below. If you have any comments then please let me know. This is our first experiment of doing tutorials using PowerPoint plus screenr and I think given our first experience, we'll be doing more soon.
  1. AlexM11Nice subject-indepentent overview of critical thinking for students RT @stujohnson 3 hours ago from Screenr
  2. MoMAlearningRT @AJCannRT @stujohnson: Tutorial on what it means to be a critical student 3 hours ago from web
  3. nosnilwar@stujohnson I'm still baffled by the Heller quotation, but I think the academic/estate agent analogy is brilliant 3 hours ago from Screenr
  4. jon_scott@stujohnson Like the idea but it needs to move faster and could have a shorter introabout 4 hours ago from web in reply to stujohnson
  5. dhtpTutorial on what it means to be a critical student. (via @stujohnson)about 4 hours ago from Tweetie
  6. virtualleaderRT @adamread: @stujohnson Love the screenr presentation about being a critical student Me too:0)about 4 hours ago from TweetDeck
  7. goze01@stujohnson screenr looks like fun! I feel a new project coming on...about 5 hours ago from TwitterFon in reply to stujohnson
  8. adamread@stujohnson Love the screenr presentation about being a critical student , will show to our study skills dept :)about 5 hours ago from TweetDeck
  9. alan_hookRT @stujohnson Tutorial on what it means to be a critical student from University of Leicester 5 hours ago from Screenr
  10. jobadge@stujohnson critical tut looks good stu. Any plans to customise it for Science subjects?about 5 hours ago from TweetDeck
  11. scottuhi@stujohnson great, I'm blogging the link so maybe your followers will increase :-)about 5 hours ago from web in reply to stujohnson
  12. scottuhi@stujohnson Like the video on critical thinking, do you plan to change the URL or can I send it to a few people?about 5 hours ago from web in reply to stujohnson
  13. intuteRT: @universityboy: Tutorial on what it means to be a critical student. (via @stujohnson)about 6 hours ago from TwitterFox
  14. JottersLtdTutorial on what it means to be a critical student. (via @stujohnson)about 6 hours ago from web
  15. universityboyTutorial on what it means to be a critical student. (via @stujohnson)about 6 hours ago from TweetDeck
  16. universityboy@stujohnson Good to see a quick and easy to follow tutorial on being a critical student. Two thumbs fresh!about 6 hours ago from TweetDeck
  17. sboneham@stujohnson Pop filter= Move the mic a bit further away/to one side. Both should reduce plosive 'pops'.about 6 hours ago from TweetDeck in reply to stujohnson
  18. muir31@stujohnson useful tutorial on 'critical thinking', i will use this for my students #mscelabout 6 hours ago from web in reply to stujohnson
  19. pigironjoe@stujohnson This establishes the principle, but it is short on practical advice and subject specific examples - room for follow up?about 6 hours ago from twhirl in reply to stujohnson
  20. pigironjoe@stujohnson Yes, pretty good. Rooney's dulcet tones make it for me.about 6 hours ago from twhirl in reply to stujohnson
  21. msars@stujohnson Nice. Suggest 1. Gap in narration to allow reading of Catch 22 quote 2. Add e.g. for scientists to show it applies to them tooabout 6 hours ago from TweetDeck in reply to stujohnson
  22. pigironjoeRT @stujohnson: Tutorial on what it means to be a critical student Feedback gratefully received!about 7 hours ago from twhirl
  23. sboneham@stujohnson Excellent - like the iconography! Critical friend bit...maybe cut bit of narration, up the tempo & get a pop filter/move mic?about 7 hours ago from TweetDeck in reply to stujohnson
  24. AJCann@stujohnson Nice. Cut some words at the start - they can read. Please blog about the process of how to make these.about 7 hours ago from twhirl in reply to stujohnson
  25. AJCannRT @stujohnson: Tutorial on what it means to be a critical student Feedback gratefully received!about 7 hours ago from twhirl

Monday, 7 September 2009

How to tag anna

I wrote a few weeks ago about our tagginganna project. Well, it's moving along nicely (slowly but nicely). I mentioned that we were either going to use Diigo or If you're interested you can join our Diigo tagginganna group and then comment on our copy of Anton Chekhov.s Ward No. 6. We'd also like you to comment using which you can do at

And if you need a bit of guidance...


This is how you comment to our tagginganna group in Diigo

This is how you comment via

Over to you!

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Student Development on Twitter

Here's an interesting article about universities on Twitter in the Times today.

You (Student Development staff) probably know that Student Development has a Twitter presence ( which we're only experimenting with but already have 129 followers. We plan to get helpdesk staff to be active on the account on our behalf using either Hootsuite or CoTweet. We'll also be sending out news tweets on a regular basis in an automated fashion using FutureTweet (or maybe we should just link the RSS news items to TwitterFeed?). Let me know what you think.


A  few weeks ago Mark Rawlinson (@nosnilwar) in the School of English put a project idea to me. Months ago he got me reading Anna Karenina (because I'd never heard of it!) and since then he's been thinking about a project related to it. As most other people in the world seem to know (I didn't), Anna Karenina is quite a long book, more than 900 pages, the problem that Mark commonly experiences in tutorials is where students can't quite remember where they read something. They have experienced reading a book (often a very long book) but they can't pinpoint in the text where a particular theme, or idea, or event can be found. It therefore usually relies on the expertise and knowledge of the tutor to remember key sections for them. Mark's suggestion was to task students with reading a paper copy of a book in the conventional way but then ask them to tag or comment on an online version of the book. The tagging and commenting would need to be visible to a defined group and, importantly, searchable.

Rather than test the project out on 900 pages of Tolstoy, Mark suggested that we start with a short story, so we're using Ward no. 6 by Anton Chekhov (both this and Anna Karenina, and many others are available via Project Gutenberg).

Alan blogged about the project after an early meeting a few weeks ago, since then I've been thinking more about what tools to use for the tagging and commenting bit. Two tools seem like they might work:


Diigo's strap line is 'Highlight and Share the Web!' and describes itself as 'a powerful research tool and a knowledge-sharing community'. Alan didn't like diigo but it's growing on me (not least since I connected it up to my delicious account, but that's another post). The groups feature is the bit that looks like it's going to be the most useful for this project, and I've created a tagginganna group (which you can request to join if I haven't invited you already) and put the text of Ward no. 6 on a Wordpress site (am I allowed to do that?). I haven't tested it yet because no one has yet joined the Diigo group - so come and join in the fun! 'is a plugin for WordPress that lets you comment paragraph by paragraph in the margins of a text'. The blurb looks great (although I've had some issues with dodgy script):

I don't have WordPress downloaded and hosted so I'm using to host the project instead. You can find it here and, once you have a account (which looks confusingly similar to a WordPress account but is actually different), you can start commenting.

So, please help!

Friday, 3 July 2009

Group tweeting from @uolsd

This is going to be a v brief and rough and ready post (nothing new there then). This week I've been thinking a lot about the Student Development Twitter account. I posted a few weeks back about using Twittbott to allow multiple people to tweet to one account, but it doesn't work (or at least I can't get it to work). Then a student on twitter suggested this:
Which seems to work a treat. Multiple users can tweet to the uolsd Twitter account without having the password - I just log into the Netvibes Twitter widget for them.

The next problem was that within the Netvibes Twitter widget you only see @replies of people the account is following - which wasn't much good. So JayJay suggested this:
So now what we have is a Netvibes page that can be tweeted from and can see @replies from tweeters the account isn't following. It looks like this:
I think we might be getting somewhere. Any suggestions?

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Snaps from the Festival of Postgraduate Research

Here are a few snaps from today's Festival of Postgraduate Research. Next year I'm going to amplify this.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Student Micorblogging And Recording Timelines poster at HEA conference

I'm just putting this here for completeness. Jo, Alan and Alex have done the work really. In fact, I'm very grateful to have my name on it at all. Thanks guys!

Heat Poster

Poster presented at Higher Education Academy 2009 Conference from TechDis funded HEAT 3 project

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

SLTC images

I'm just playing with embedding a Flickr slide show based on a tag search. I should have figured this out ages ago like everyone else. Oh well, at least I know now! Thanks to Alun and James Clay for help figuring out how to embed Flickr slide show in Wordpress.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Conference reflections: SLTC09

I seem to be continuing my late Friday afternoon blogging habit. But at least I'm still going and I'm hoping that as I continue I'll find it more and more useful. We'll see.

On 16th and 17 June I was in Edinburgh at the Science Learning and Teaching conference. Here are a few reflections before I forget.

Best bit

Spending time with colleagues and meeting a few new people (especially people I'd already met on Twitter).

Worst bit

Getting up at 4.30 am on Tuesday to get the flight up to Edinburgh.

Queeziest bit

Professor Dave Barclay's keynote on forensics and learning by experience.

The thing I wish they'd change

The programme was full-to-bursting and so there was very little time for discussion. I'd like to see more space in the programme next time to facilitate discussion and sharing of ideas.

And here's the wordle of the tweets courtesy of Moira Sarsfield.
Finally, I'm beginning to see how Friendfeed is going to be useful. And as I've tagged this perspicasious and erudite post 'sltc09', it should appear in there too.

Where can I find money for a good idea?

By doug88888
I blogged about our IT peer support project a few months back and, as some of you know via my tweeting, after very hopeful noises from the committee we were reporting to, it turns out there's no money to fund the project after all. The email I got from the committee chair said:
"The upshot is that there is no money at the moment, but [we are] continuing to look for funding from somewhere. It’s a very tough year and [we are] waiting to hear the final Corporate Services budget outcome which should be known soon.

It’s very regrettable, but we may need to put the scheme on hold. I haven’t lost hope just yet, though."
So whilst there's still a chink of light there, I am, to say the least, disappointed. And all the more so because we (the IT skills working group) have been beavering away on this for more than a year.

My initial reaction was one of resignation, however, having just had a conversation with someone entirely unconnected with the project I've been reminded that this is a good idea and one that needs to see the light of day.

The benefits of the project, as I see it, include the following:
  • students who are users of the service get contextualised and personalised help on their IT skills queries
  • in particular, distance learners will get increased support on their IT skills queries
  • peers support students will improve their own IT skills (IT literacy?) as they deal with student enquiries
  • peer support students will gain loads of experience in dealing with people - face to face and online (great stuff for CVs)
  • peer support students will gain a Leicester Award and recognition on their transcript (more great stuff for CVs)
  • a bank of FAQs (and associated answers) will be built up - a useful resource
  • the project will serve as a good test-bed for peers support in other contexts in the university
So the question is, can you (both my readers) recommend any potential sources of funding for the project? All suggestions gratefully received.

Monday, 15 June 2009


Has anyone managed to get Twittbot to work? I'd like to use it for the Student Development Twitter account but I just can't get past stage 2 of the 3 stage set up process. I blogged a while ago about wanting to use Twitter for Student Development but since then I've been, at best, sporadic in my use of the account. I'm aware that I need to use it for conversation, rather than merely a broadcast channel, but in order for that to happen I need to get other people involved in using it. I found Twittbott via this post from Mashable. It sounds like just the kind of thing I need because it says:
It's the first bit I want - allowing multiple people to publish to a single Twitter account, but when I try and sign up I get this error message.
There's just no way I have the time to generate presence on the Student Development Twitter account on my own, I need colleagues to help. In order for that to happen I need to:

  • Persuade them that Twitter is a good channel for supporting students
  • Find an easy way of multiple people using one account

If you have any advice on either of these, or can point me to any good institutional/multiuser examples, I'd be very pleased to hear it.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Plans for a Student Development website

The creation of Student Development gives us an opportunity to re-think our web sites. It's important that the new site reflects the recent structural changes to the various teams, but what is perhaps more important is that the new site isn't just a merging of the current Careers and SLC sites but an opportunity to re-think how we present ourselves online. Matt, Fran and I have been meeting over the past couple of months to scope out the project. The purpose of this post is to update you on our progress so far and invite your comments. You can view the draft site at Note that the draft site is pretty much empty at the moment so it can only give you an idea of structure and layout.


The criteria we have established for the site so far are as follows:
  • users (especially students) can find what they want quickly and easily
  • the navigation is easy to use
  • the navigation uses self-explanatory and active language, where possible
  • the structure is flatter to avoid 'burying' of items
  • there are good cross references across the site to avoid 'siloing'
  • the text is simple and concise
  • there is good use of imagery
  • pages are frequently updated - especially via dynamic feeds
  • users can subscribe to RSS feeds, where appropriate
  • the old URLs will still work
  • there are clear areas of responsibility for different teams (an internal criteria)


We have decided to give each team its own folder (apart from Information Systems, Publications and Publicity - which doesn't need one) to help ensure that areas of responsibility are clear. So the top level folder structure will look like this:
  • Learning Development
  • Career Development
  • Research Student Team
  • Work-related Learning (and probably a separate one for Enterprise?)
  • Community Liaison
  • Employer Liaison
However, given the need for self-explanatory and active headings, we intend to re-word the folders to be more useful for the users of the site. Our suggestions are...
  • Learning Development becomes Develop your academic skills
  • Career Development becomes [Suggestions please]
  • Research Student Team becomes [Suggestions please]
  • Work-related Learning, Enterprise and Community Liaison becomes Get the experience you need (with sub-headings Work placements, Enterprise, Volunteering)
  • Employer Liaison becomes Information for employers
There will also be an additional folder at the top level called Information for staff.

Each team folder would then follow the same (or similar) structure, as follows (with suggested active headings in brackets). Employer Liaison may need a different structure altogether - again, suggestions welcome.
  • About us
  • Resources (Find a resource)
  • Consultations (Make an appointment)
  • Workshops (Come to a workshop)
  • Events (See our events)

Sample screen shots

Figure 1 shows the top level Student Development page. Note that the dynamic feeds are populated from the associated feeds at the team folder level. So, for example, events and news in the Research Student Team folder appear both in the Research Student Team folder (on its own) and at the top level Student Development page (aggregated with events and news from all the other team folders)

Figure 1: Top level Student Development page

Figure 2 shows a sample team folder level page (Postgraduate researchers). Note that at this level each team can also have their own Help with... area that is specific to their site users. The events and news items at this team level (as explained above) will feed into the top level Student Development page.
Figure 2: Example team page - Postgraduate researchers

Other elements of the project

In addition to the site itself we will be reviewing the editing permissions of the site under the new structure and also running some training on how to use different elements of the content management system.

What happens next

Please let us know your comments, either by commenting on this post or speaking to me, Matt or Fran. Thanks!

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

How to write an effective essay

Look what Marta and Lucy have come up with! It's primarily a printed resource that Marta and Lucy have sent to students via their departments, but I'm interested to know how you think we should put it on the website. We could just embed it (as below) but it doesn't really work because on paper it's all folded up. What do you suggest?

Sunday, 31 May 2009

Using blogs in teaching

Super helpful 'video poster' from Lindsay Jordon on using blogs in teaching.

Friday, 29 May 2009

Viva tips via Twitter

Another Friday afternoon post... I've just run an interesting session with intercalated medical students preparing them for their vivas. I tweeted at the beginning to say:
Preparing intercalated medics for their vivas...
and then I had an idea: why not ask my very helpful twitter followers for tips? So I tweeted again:
If you're feeling helpful pls could u tweet your viva top tips so I can put on twitterfall in class with #vivatips (go on, it's Friday!)
And within seconds I was getting useful tips aggregated via a hashtag and ready to show to my students via Twitterfall. Real time tips from really helpful people (thank you really helpful people!).
The students thought the tips were very useful, Twitterfall was a handy format (once I'd supersized the text and minimised the clutter around the fringes of the screen), and the students added their own tips in class (shame they weren't on Twitter too). My only nagging question was the one Alan posed.

Friday, 22 May 2009


I'm just hurrying off for the bank holiday, but thought I'd do another quick high-traffic-Friday-afternoon-post (!) first about the unconference I organised and ran today. Whilst I was a bit worried before hand, it really wasn't difficult to sort out (though it would probably would have benefited a bit more thought). What I've been struck by in particular is the usefulness of the conference to people who were participating via twitter. Here are the people who I know have blogged about it so far

Monday, 18 May 2009

A nearly 'unconference'

On Friday I'm running our Learning and Teaching in the Sciences conference. I say I'm running it, but I very much hope that I'll just be facilitating it as this year we're going to attempt one of those participant led unconference things.

Initially I'd decided to cancel this year's event as we couldn't get the speakers we wanted, then (to my surprise and delight) several people complained. So it's back by popular demand! Alan Cann commented that a traditional conference was the last thing we needed and suggested an unconference? So that's what we're experimenting with on Friday. Here's an outline so that I can a) get my thoughts down and b) invite comments and suggestions.


There are some of the factors we need to bear in mind if this is going to work well.


We have 20 booking so far and I don't imagine that will go up or down a great deal between now and Friday.


We will be in GPS18 - a reading room in the George Porter building - which will accommodate more than 30 but will probably be best set up as 4 groups of tables with 8-ish around each table.


We have 3 hours available (10.30-13.30) but with lunch included in that, so will probably closer to 2 hours.


We will have a mix of people coming along - some of whom will be very comfortable with the idea of an unstructured unconference, others of whom (I expect) will find it all a bit odd. So I need to give the event some direction and shape, but without turning it back into a conference. I don't want to stick slavishly to the unconference model (of which there's not a great danger because I don't know enough about it!) but I do want to use it as far as it's useful in getting everyone involved and contributing and coming up with practical ideas.


The theme is assessment, more specifically we have a question to focus our thoughts: Do we over assess our students and should we assess less?


So a suggested outline is as follows (NB. timings very approximate).

Introduction (10 minutes)

Explain the proposed outline and relevant unconference elements:
  • each group will have a convenor to facilitate (not lead) the discussion - they are not necessarily an expert on the chosen topic, they've just identified a challenge and want some ideas;
  • each group will have a flip chart pad and pens and will need to note down (and then present back) the challenge they have identified and some suggested solutions;
  • participants can choose to go to whichever group they like;
  • participants can (and are encouraged to) move to a different group whenever you think they've got as much from they're current group as they can.

Pitches for session 1 (10 minutes)

This is the bit that's not very unconference-y. Get 4 pre-primed people to pitch their idea as one of the group topics. The suggestions I've had so far are as follows (not all of these people have been asked yet - some have been volunteered - but take it as a complement!).
  • Using Turnitin for assessment (Jo Badge)
  • 10 quick wins on assessment (Jon Scott)
  • PC-based exams (Richard England)
  • [and another one please - Alan? Chris? Dai?]
Each pitch is a a maximum of 2 minutes - no slides.

Just noticed none of these are problems - just things - any suggestions?

Session 1 (up to 30 minutes)

This is when people get into groups around the tables and off they go. Participants can switch group whenever they like (but not the convenor).

Feedback from session 1 (10 minutes)

Feedback from each group.

Tea and coffee (10 minutes)

Brainstorm for session 2 topics (10 minutes)

What do we want to talk about next?

Session (up to 30 minutes)

As for session 1.

Feedback from session 2 (10 minutes)

As for session 1.


What are we going to do next?


Courtesy of central catering.

Friday, 15 May 2009

IT peer support project update

Just about managing to keep up my once a week blogging habit. I posted a couple of weeks back about our IT peer support project and this is a bit of an update. The paper went to our snappily titled Student Experience and Enhancement Committee a week ago. The reception was very positive but they did ask for a few clarifications on how the project will:
  1. relate to the current IT help desk;
  2. support distance learners;
  3. be evaluated.
So this week I met with the Service Desk Manager (in IT Services) and the Enquiry Services Manager (in the Library) to talk about 1 and 2 respectively. Both were good meetings and there seemed to be genuine interest in the project and a keenness to collaborate. In fact the common theme in both conversations was the need for the project to complement and reciprocate  their services rather than simply ensure we're not treading on their toes. In terms of evaluation I've bluffed something about uptake, impact and viability.  So I'll be emailing the chair of the snappily named committee with the clarifications very shortly.

On a tenuously related note, I came accross this natty thing via Twitter this week - - which could be handy for system testing of distance learning students' systems. Good ol' Twitter.

Publishing this on a Friday afternoon is sure to generate lots of traffic, I'm sure.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Student Devlopment on Twitter

I recently created a Twitter account for Student Development here at the University of Leicester ( I now need to decide what I'm going to do with it. As you'll see I've already tweeted from it a couple of times, but I need to know what students will find most useful and what the etiquette should be for a more institutional type account. So here are some questions.
  1. What kind of things should I tweet about? Forthcoming events, relevant resources, different services we offer - anything else?
  2. How often should I tweet from it (I don't want to annoy people)? I was thinking maybe once a day?
  3. If students follow me (it) should I (it) follow them? Is that the polite thing to do or might some consider that snooping?
  4. What about a picture - currently it's just :)
  5. How do I explain it to students who don't currently use Twitter? I was thinking a direct link from our website for those who do and a link to an information page about how it might be useful for those who don't (plus an RSS feed in of tweets).
Is there anything else I need to bear in mind?

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

How to boil an egg

Every now and then our team shares ideas about their teaching - things that have worked and things that haven't. One of the problems I'm often faced with is wanting to make learning experiential but being limited by teaching large numbers of students (50+), in a short space of time (1 hour) in an inappropriate teaching space for experiential learning (a lecture theatre).

One of my particular frustrations was (is) trying to teach presentation skills by telling rather than by doing (because of the limitations mentioned above). This isn't anything ground breaking  but here are a couple of slides I've used recently to try and get students experiencing what it's like to present from a text heavy slide versus a visual slide. I get them to pair up and have a go and then take feedback on how they found it.

Does anyone else have any bright ideas?

Monday, 27 April 2009

IT peer support

Well, the IT peers support paper has been sent to our Student Experience Enhancement Committee and we'll wait and see what they say about it on 8 May. The paper requests funding for a 12 month 0.5 post to coordinate an IT peer support scheme. The costs of the project don't include the cost of paying students to do the peer support because we're asking for volunteers to join an IT peer support programme validated by the Leicester Award. We're hoping it will prove an innovative and helpful way of extending the IT peer support available to both campus-based students and distance learners alike. Do you know anyone else who is doing something similar? Does anyone have any advice.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Remembering the milk

By moutzouris
This is going to make me look like a complete geek, but here we go...

In January I starting using Remember the milk (RTM) to help me get more organised. More specifically I'm using it to adopt the Getting things done (GTD) system (which I might blog about some other time when I've finished the book (!), but thanks to ffolliet for getting me into it). But after a useful, albeit brief, meeting yesterday with Jo Badge and Gareth Johnson I thought I'd note down how I'm using RTM.

Getting things done involves 5 stages
  1. Collect
  2. Process
  3. Organize
  4. Review
  5. Do
...and remember the milk (RTM) is helping me with all of them. I needed something that was useable for both a PC and an iPod Touch and allowed offline access. Most of what follows aren't my ideas, but things I've found from various RTM forums (especially this one on a GTD set up and this one on useful searches). So this is just a record of the technical stuff (it's a bit dull, but if you're interested read on).


I just have two regular lists; inbox and processed (which I call '|' so it takes up the least room on the tabs)


Most of my tags I give a prefix so they are appropriately grouped.


My context tags I prefix with c_ (I tried @_ but I didn't fint that as intuative). So context tags are things like:
  • c_office
  • c_phone
  • c_email
  • c_web
  • c_home
  • c_errand
So you can see I use the sytem for home stuff as well as work stuff - which I didn't think I'd like but actually I do.


Status tags I prefix with s_ and I have just the standard four:
  • s_deferred
  • s_nextaction
  • s_someday
  • s_waiting


Project tags I prefix with p_ (I bet you're beginning to see a pattern here!) and so are things like:
  • p_lts2010
  • p_tutorials
  • p_itpeersupport
These will be fairly meaningless to you but are very specific to me - and I have loads of them because GTD defines a project as something with more than one action.


Reference tags I prefix with r_ and are things like:
  • r_itswg
  • r_plone
  • r_homegroup
  • r_itpeersupport (a lot of my reference tags link to projects)


This helps create the tickler file and are a means of setting how many days before the action needs doing you want a reminder (days, weeks, months).
  • zzz_1d
  • zzz_2d
  • zzz_3d
  • zzz_1w
  • zzz_2w
  • zzz_1m

Smart lists

Because I have smart lists I only need 2 manual lists. The search code for my smart lists is as follows.

Next actions



NOT(due:never OR due:today) AND NOT (list:zzz)



ZZZ ( a bit of a monster)

(tag:zzz AND dueAfter:now) OR (tag:zzz1d AND dueAfter:"1 day of now") OR (tag:zzz2d AND dueAfter:"2 days of now") OR (tag:zzz3d AND dueAfter:"3 days of now") OR (tag:zzz4d AND dueAfter:"4 days of now") OR (tag:zzz5d AND dueAfter:"5 days of now") OR (tag:zzz1w AND dueAfter:"1 week of now") OR (tag:zzz2w AND dueAfter:"2 weeks of now") OR (tag:zzz1m AND dueAfter:"1 month of now")


I also have a smart list for things I need to do tonight (if I feel like it!).
dueBefore:today OR due:today AND tag:c_home
It's not a perfect system, but it is a system - and it's working well for me. I'm feeling more on top of things and less hassled. Do you have a system? Do you need one? What do you think?

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

New web address

I'm just playing round with the poll feature really, but wondering what people thought for for a web address for Student Development (this wouldn't replace existing ones e.g.

Whatever we choose for the web address would also be the same for the central email address (again, not replacing any existing ones).

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Thinking about a new online tutorial

The most useful thing for me about giving my presentation at our Teaching and Assessment Network (TAN) the other week was the discussion afterwards about what should happen next. So far I've only developed two tutorials, one on plagiarism and one on posters (although the one on plagiarism does have 16 different versions). For a while I've just not had the time (what with writing a book with Jon Scott and everything) but I'm very much hoping that I'll be able to create another one over the next few months. There were a couple of suggestions from the TAN crowd; something on revision and exam skills and something on analysis or criticism. Since having had a conversation with Simon Rofe in International Relations I've decided to try and develop something on the later, with the working title What is analysis? (although I really must come up with something better than that).

So here are my (and Simon Rofe's) early thoughts on what it might include.

Key areas to cover

  • An explanation of how analysis (or criticism) is different from narrative (or description)
  • Suggest different ways of using evidence to analyse/critique ideas
  • The importance of the relevance of evidence to the point you're trying to make
  • The importance of using your own words to express your views
  • How to link paragraphs to develop argument


An activity of some kind around the following quote from Joseph Heller, Catch 22.
"...the corporal and Colonel Korn both agree that it was neither possible nor necessary to educate people who never questioned anything."

Possible structure

Scene setting – these four students all read the same books, all used the same quotes and all worked hard on their essay – but they all got different marks…

Part 1 – stepwise creation of a paragraph using two quotes (each paragraph version is one submitted by one of the four students)
  • only description
  • paraphrase
  • analysis
  • comment
Part 2 – the creation of a second paragraph to link with the first using two additional quotes.


As with the plagiarism tutorials I plan to develop and refine this with one department (International Relations) and then adapt it for other disciplines if it works. These are only very early ideas, but I thought I'd put it up to get some early comments...

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Disciplinary Action workshop at ALDinHE 2009

At the ALDinHE 2009 conference Steve Rooney and I ran a workshop entitled Disciplinary Action: Working with subjects-departments to design and deliver academic skills training and resources.

We began by introducing ourselves (we're very polite), then explained a bit about how the Student Learning Centre has evolved over the years and gave a brief overview of the workshop. We then ran our first activity - getting delegates to place their service  on a spectrum (a piece of masking tape sneakily stuck on the floor before hand) representing the location of the services that they offer - central at one end, departmental at the other. We had no idea how people would arrange themselves, but as it turned out there was a fairly even spread - including representation at the extremes. There were people who considered their services purely departmental (because they were based in a particular faculty or department) and others who considered theirs purely central. We had an interesting discussion at this point about whether being located in a department meant that the skills training offered in this context was therefore 'embedded'.

Our second activity involved introducing a second spectrum, specificity, to get delegates to think about whether the learning development interventions they offered were generic or discipline specific. At this point we revealed our one and only slide; a simple 4 box model, as shown on the right. In groups delegates placed the different types of interventions their services offered (individual consultations, resources, central teaching, skills modules, etc) into an appropriate box. This was to encourage them to think about the appropriateness of the interventions they offered.

Finally delegates looked at a case study to encourage discussions around what embedded skills training actually means and how it can be improved. I've long had the notion that  skills modules are the thing to aim for when working with departments, but preparing this workshop has got me thinking about whether or not it should be. Whilst it might be embedded from my point of view, is it embedded from the students point of view? Do students perceive skills modules as integrated or do they perceive them as silo-ed? What do you think?