E-LearninglecturesMOOCsMoodleRoyal Holloway

The Future of Learning: an interview transcript

I was recently interviewed for a piece in Royal Holloway’s Alumni magazine Higher.  Here’s a transcript of my responses.

Do you think traditional campus learning (lectures, books, etc.) is threatened by digital learning?

The sanctity of the classroom has long been a source of concern for teachers.  At one time, even books were considered a threat.  Plato wrote in Phaedrus that books will cause man to “implant forgetfulness in their souls; they will cease to exercise memory because they rely on that which is written, calling things to remembrance no longer from within themselves, but by means of external marks”

Lectures are not threatened by technology.   Lectures and seminars, as well as independent and group study, can be enhanced and extended by the appropriate, informed, and measured use of technology, in whichever form it may take.

Our tenth year of supporting face-to-face teaching with our online learning system, called Moodle, is upon us. This blended approach to teaching, learning, and assessment has strengthened our campus-based learning; streamlined activities and processes; and provided new opportunities for teachers and learners. An example of this is the use of lecture recording.  Students are now able to reinforce their understanding of a lecture and revise their notes at any time, from anywhere where they have internet access.  This is very popular both with our home and international students, and not just during the exam period but throughout the academic year.

Can you foresee a time when Royal Holloway would do away with lectures altogether?

Research-intensive universities like ours can offer something unique; face-to-face time with, and feedback from, international experts in their respective fields.  Our students deserve and demand this, and lectures are seen by many as the most efficient way of providing such access.  It should be noted, however, that speaking to a large room of people is not necessarily the most effective of way of inspiring and empowering them.  This is where, again, technology can augment lectures.  For example, a number of academic departments have embedded the use of Smartphones and hand-held voting devices to support in-class interactivity.  Many lecturers are now able to check and record attendance, run polls, and deliver live assessments during their lectures.

The concept and consumption of a lecture is therefore increasingly fluid – it’s changing all the time as lecturers adopt new technologies.  Lectures as we have known them may be unrecognisable to our learners in 2025, but they will still be a vital part of the student experience.

What are the main benefits technology can bring to students?

Research shows that people learn more effectively when, among other things, they are active; have opportunities for dialogue; receive feedback; and have opportunities for consolidation.  Our growing range of digital learning platforms and projects facilitate these conditions.

Moodle provides each taught course with an online space for academics, students, learning content, and assessment to come together.  These communities can then interact independently of space and time.  For a number of years now, large cohorts of English Under Graduate students have been divided with ease into small, intimate groups where they work together to develop and demonstrate their textual analysis skills.  Their progress is evidenced by publication of written group work to online discussion fora, which only the group and their tutors can view.  The tutors can move from the ‘sage on the stage’ role to become a ‘guide from the side’ as they view and comment on the work throughout the duration of the course.

Academic departments no longer have to print and distribute to students paper copies of handbooks and readings.  These can now be made available online.  This largely paperless approach is extended to students with the growth of e-assessment and e-submission.  Last year, over 60 000 essays and submissions were submitted electronically by students.  These were then digitally scanned for originality to preserve the academic integrity of a Royal Holloway degree.  Over 20 000 were subsequently marked online, with the marks and feedback made available online to students.  The rapid turnaround of written work; legible, timely, and personalised feedback are central to a positive student learning experience.  This is supported by a recent survey (The RHUL Student Satisfaction Barometer, Autumn 2014), which showed very high levels of satisfaction among our students with regards to online learning and assessment provision (93.7%).

What are the main pitfalls of digital learning vs. face-to-face contact?

Skills and wills are central to success in this field.  E-Learning will only deliver the benefits it promises when institutions provide space, time, and resources necessary to develop the skills required by teaching and administrative staff to critique, select, develop, and successfully embed appropriate technologies in teaching and assessment.  This avoids the obvious pitfall whereby E-Learning is used to replicate rather than extend capabilities.

As with any digital technology, we must be wary of the approaches – theoretical and technical – that over-promise yet under-deliver.  The history of education on the web is littered with many examples of this, e.g., Second Life.

How do you see digital learning developing over the next decade?

Quickly – more so than in the last 10 years. and much more quickly compared to the 30 years before that – yes, digital learning has been around for that long!

The Internet has revolutionised almost all aspects of daily life in the 21st century, including; commerce, industry, banking, government, communications, entertainment and travel.   Higher Education has, although arguably to a lesser extent, also changed as a result of developments in online technology.  In terms of delivery and consumption, however, education remains episodic and event-driven, with the weekly lecture being the foremost example of this.  I expect that this will change in the same way that television is increasingly non-linear and consumed in ‘binges or bites’.

Featured image: NASA’s Hyperwall-2 Quarter-Gigapixel Display, accessed at https://flic.kr/p/fE9Euy and published here unchanged

Royal Holloway University of LondonTurnitinUncategorized

Turnitin Feedback Studio


At Royal Holloway, University of London we switched to Turnitin Feedback Studio (TFS) and the Moodle V2 direct plug-in last week.  Approximately 50% of our submissions are marked using GradeMark, but the issues we had last year were likely to prevent further significant growth in this area.  TFS addresses the sluggish performance of the Document Viewer while the V2 plug-in gives us greater flexibility in our use of Rubrics, PeerMark, and support of a range of file types – which was not possible with V1.  Another reason for changing is that we made no major changes to other E-Learning services this summer and therefore had capacity which we’re unlikely to enjoy next year.

I found the beta version of TFS occasionally buggy, sluggish, and inconsistent – although this was expected as the product was being developed.  I was more concerned about the reported behaviour of the V2 plug-in, although this is much improved since its release.  Turnitin are now producing higher quality training and support materials than they have in the past, and this has encouraged the team here greatly.

A cohort of over 350 students and 25 markers led the way and used it for the whole set-up > submission > checking > marking > feedback cycle last week, and it went spectacularly well.  Our support overhead was minimal and the feedback we’ve received has been nothing but positive.  I will share here our experiences with the new set-up throughout the forthcoming academic year.

Turnitin Upgrade at RHUL

Support for staff at RHUL

lecture interaction PowerPoint Audience Responce

Interactive Lecturing Tool – Clickers

The PowerPoint presentation has, at long last, completely replaced the overhead projector in the role of communicating text and images to a large group of students in support of a lecture. PowerPoint allows us to draw upon and incorporate endless media types. Showing websites, video clips and animations to support and enhance our teaching is common place. However involving each and every student in a way that allows the tutor to test their learning and draw on student experiences is still challenging. It is in this area that clickers, or more precisely, Audience Response Systems can revolutionise the way we communicate with students in this setting.

Lecturers can test understanding by asking students questions. This may be to a single student or via a show of hands to gain a consensus of opinion. With clickers each student is issued with a radio transmitting keypad before the lecture and each and every student can use it to respond to questions from the lecturer by selecting their answers from a range of prepared answers created within PowerPoint via the pad. These responses could be a simple yes/No, agree/disagree, or offer multiple choice style answers. A read out is displayed during voting so the lecturer can make sure every student has responded and can then close the voting. Results are displayed in the PowerPoint slide. The results are shown instantly, via a choice of graph layouts and show an exact set of results that the lecturer can use to gauge understanding or opinion, and can then redirect, review, or carry on the direction of the lecture based on this. The crucial difference here is that all students are interacting and feel more engaged with the lecture.

It doesn’t end there, if used to gain information from the students about their opinions and experiences this data can then be made available via Moodle afterwards, for further research and study following the lecture. From case studies I have seen, some universities have required students to purchase their own response pad before they commence their study. This allows the pad to be registered to a particular student so a name list could be viewed with each response. It has also been used to register attendance.

More information is available from the manufacturers of the response system via these links

We’re interested in hearing from you via this blog if you
– Have seen or used an audience response system used in an interesting and innovative way
– Wish to use an Clickers in the future and want to find out more.
– Links or documents you have found helpful relating to this topic.
– Any comments

#twitterBlended Learning EssentialsMOOCs

Blended Learning Essentials MOOC Week 1 Activity #FLble1

Activity – comment on video

The message was loud and clear for me; the use of digital technology affords greater freedom and flexibility for both teachers and students.  This is exemplified by the  electronic submission, originality checking, and marking tool Turnitin, which I noticed featured prominently in the video.  The ability to research, write, and upload an assignment to a VLE from anywhere and at any time – while then similarly receiving timely, legible and rich feedback ahead of the next assignment represents end-to-end blended learning in action.  I’ve led and supported many blended learning projects, and none have been as widely accepted and successful as online marking.

The closing comment of the final talking head, “The idea of using technology in education is a necessity” says it all for me.  Not only is the use of technology an necessity, it is irreversible.  There a few, if any, examples in business, health, finance, and other aspects of modern life where digital technology has been adopted and then abandoned.  E-Learning is part of the landscape, despite its relative immaturity.

I find that technology plays a crucial role in responding to the demands of today’s students.  Communication with and between students, is supporting institutional change.  Effective communication means multi-platform, instantaneous and responsive – and only digital technology can provide this.

Education has been slower than other fields to adopt technology, but quicker by its own standards to recognise, and begin to adopt learning analytics.  This suggests a growing acceptance of E-learning and a very welcome quickening of the pace of change.  In addition to this, would like to see greater agility among institutions, vendors, staff, and students in the provision and evaluation of blended learning – and far greater input from students.