Lecturers are expected to create content on VLEs such as moodle, sometimes with no training in technicalities or design (be it graphic or instructional). Below are some pitfalls noted while dealing with helpdesk queries relating to Falmouth University’s VLE, Learning Space.
- Poor “Chunking”
Each module has its own page split into weekly sections. Within a section, you need to balance the number of clicks a student makes against the amount of scrolling they have to do.
The use of Folders or Pages or downloadable documents can greatly reduce the need to scroll and allow the student to grasp an overview more easily. However, it is all about balance: don’t ask students to download multiple documents that each only contain a paragraph of text.
Chunking is worth planning from the start as it is time-consuming to put right once content has been created.
- Superfluous images
Use of icon-style images can be appealing and helpful when done professionally. However, over-use of large images that aim to function like icons can create clutter and confusion. If you are not “graphic design aware” then keep things simple and avoid.
- Large images
Whether an image serves a serious purpose or is merely “eye candy”, it needs to be kept to an optimal filesize. This is an issue most lecturers are unaware of and have no training in, resulting in some module pages that require students to download 100 (yes, sometimes 100) times more data than is necessary. Staff need to know how to resize and compress an image BEFORE they upload uploading and embed it.
- Poor text formatting
This may result from cutting and pasting from either a webpage or a Word document, or may be overzealous formatting, with copious amounts of bold, underlining and colouring. To avoid carrying unwanted formatting into Learning Space, paste plain text into the editor (on a mac, Cmd+Shift+z) rather than a simple paste (Cmd+z). Thereafter, exercise restraint when tempted to add formatting.
Presenting the same thing in the same way is difficult to achieve in a UK HE setting where module leads may be left to “get on with it” with little guidance. If you can’t be consistent with your colleagues, then do strive to be consistent within your module and “chunk” in the same way each week.
You’ll have noticed that the above all relate to basic content presentation and not to choice and use of activity tools. That is for another time!
We have upgraded Learning Space to version 3.7.3 of Moodle. There are some improvements to Forums including private replies and the ability to lock discussions, but no major new features.
Adding staff to module areas: a change in process
The process for adding staff to any module or course area now needs to be performed by Educational Technology. Should you or a member of the staff team wish to have staff access to an area you need to get in touch using the email address email@example.com.
Previously staff were able to add staff to areas themselves and this update means a change in the current process of staff access to Learning Space.
Adding audio or video directly
This is an opportunity to remind you of an existing feature that appeared 6 months ago: you can record sound or video directly into any editing box (e.g. in labels or forum posts).
Ed Tech attended Digifest 2019 this week. Run by JISC, this HE/FE conference aimed to “explore the power of digital and look in detail at what next-generation digital students need to thrive”.
The impact of machine learning was a recurring theme in the keynote speeches and take-home messages included:
- to avoid bias, we need to ensure that data sets used in machined learning are explicitly inclusive;
- today’s graduates will have multiple careers, mostly in jobs that do not currently exist;
- to be employable in a world where machine learning/artificial intelligence is ubiquitous, humans will need three key skills: creativity, empathy, accountability.
Liz Sproat, Google’s head of education for Europe
Workshop sessions attended by Ed Tech included:
Th University of Essex’s student data dashboard
JISC’s digital literacy framework
Finally, there was an excellent simulation of a day in the life of Natalie, an undergraduate student in 2029 whose learning is via VR.
Nathalie, student 4.0
We look forward to Digifest 2020!
New UK regulations on accessibility became law in 2018 and content made available on Learning Space needs to be compliant by September 2020.
What does it mean for Falmouth teaching staff?
You will be responsible for making your Learning Space compliant by 2020. You will need to
- become familiar with the regulations;
- learn and apply relevant practical IT skills.
What are some of those practical skills?
- structuring Word documents using Word’s heading styles (NOT by formatting text as large and bold);
- using meaningful headings on every PowerPoint slide (even if they are hidden behind an image);
- tagging (in the correct way) all images with a meaningful alternative text description;
- using descriptive text for links (NOT ‘click here’).
What help will I get with this?
As well as offering training and guidance, we are looking at procuring an “accessibility checker” for staff, to be embedded in Learning Space. When you upload a document, it would:
- tell you how accessible your content is;
- highlight where you need to fix things by hand.
It would also provide management information on how accessible each module area is.
Do I need to do anything right now?
For now, do your best to make any new materials accessible and inclusive (a) using accessibility checkers built into Microsoft Office and (b) following accessibility guidance from gov.uk. We will be in touch regarding training and content-wide compliance later this year.
With the first term underway and Learning Space in daily use by most students and teaching staff, the upgrade project is nearing its end. We have been responding to user queries and feedback, some of which have led us to tweak the system settings. We have also been supporting students, particularly in the use of the university’s e-portfolio tool. Other behind-the-scenes work has included expansion of our guidance notes (see below) and work on improving business analytics. Over the next fortnight, the upgrade project will formally end, and maintenance and further development of the system will become “business as usual”.
Guidance for Staff
Here is a reminder that there are comprehensive yet accessible notes for staff and students. Among the 38 topics you will find:
Staff workshops coming soon!
Following this Summer’s successful training sessions, we are planning a series of short staff workshops covering e-feedback, online peer review, tips and tricks and accessibility. We’ll be in touch with all courses at a later date to explain more.