iSpring: Video Case Study 1 of 3

iSpring Early Adopters Project: Video Case Study 1

In the Learning Technology Development team we’ve recently completed the early adopters project in the use of iSpring. Over the coming weeks we’ll be sharing the knowledge and experience of three selected participants who have successfully embedded iSpring into their eLearning toolkit and produced some impressive learning materials for students.

This week we’re introducing our first video – featuring Sertip Zangana from the Faculty of Health & Social Care.  Sertip is a Senior Lecturer in Advanced Clinical Practice. He talks about his involvement in the project and his general practice, including the benefits his students’ experienced in the online environment, and the challenges involved.

Why not take a few moments to view the first of three video case studies. Look out for the next two videos coming in April.

Sertip_Case_Study click_to_open







Sertips’s video powerfully illustrates the positive effect that technology can have.  His words describe how the use of iSpring can offer huge benefits to the student learning experience. 

At Edge Hill we have built up a critical mass of good practice that can be accessed by staff who are thinking of incorporating these technologies into their courses. If you have been inspired and would like to learn more your Learning Technologist can help.

…and you have access to a wide range of user guides on eShare and beyond:


Mark Wilcock
Learning Technology Development Officer



BBC-featured History quiz engages students in HEA project

Reflections on ‘What Kind of Historian are you?’ Quiz

According to Mason Norton (Edge Hill University) and Dan Taylor (University of Roehampton), in history, there are four broad categories of historian:

  • Empiricist

  • Postmodernist

  • ‘historian from below’

  • ‘top-down’

The categories emerged as part of the Developing Historical Thinking project run by Edge Hill and Roehampton, when Mason and Dan teamed up to create a Cosmopolitan style self-test quiz – aimed at getting first year History students to think about the theory of history.  Mason wrote this post, and Dan comments: “… it’s a thoughtful reflection on a great tool and an enjoyable collaboration”.


Reflections on ‘What Kind of Historian are you?’ Quiz

by Mason Norton

HEA-QuizQuizzes can seem like a very basic, almost too simple, pedagogic tool, and with a topic as complex and as endless as historiography, you might be forgiven for thinking that the two would not go together very well. However, back in the summer of 2013, myself and Dan Taylor of Roehampton were given the task of thinking up a quiz to be called ‘What Kind of Historian are you?’. Whilst to me, the answer is simple, I was conscious of the fact that to many first-year undergraduates, the challenge is to get them to think about the theory of history as something other than a tedious irrelevance.

So we realised the quiz could be an opportunity to make something daunting look a little bit fun, whilst making students stop and think. After half a summer of e-mails going back and forward, we managed to get it down to four categories; empiricist, postmodernist, ‘historian from below’, and ‘top-down’. This was a simplification of some historical schools of thought, but it was a necessary one- freshers, for example, are ill-equipped to know, or even care, about debates within, say, the Marxist school of historians about the collapse of the USSR. This process was in itself quite interesting because it showed collaboration not just between the universities, but between the disciplines- I am a historian whilst Dan is a philosopher. The conversations between the two of us were mutually informative- it is useful, I think, for a historian to see what a philosopher thinks of history, and also for a philosopher to see what a historian thinks of philosophy.

Then, we had to think up of ten questions to ask. Easy? Well, no, actually. We needed to strike a balance between covering ground already encountered at A-level, and also introducing students to new areas of historical enquiry. Most freshers, for example, would probably have never thought of treating human sexuality as a subject for serious historical enquiry. So our quiz needed to be constructed as a bridge between what had already gone before- what students would, or at least should, be fairly confident about tackling- and some of what they would be looking at over the next three years.

When we launched the quiz, there was an immediate flurry of interest, which was pleasing. Then, when it came to the dissemination phase, interest expanded even further. We received an e-mail asking if we wanted to let the quiz be used on a History teaching resources site, and then we received an approach to talk about the quiz as part of Making History on BBC Radio 4, with a link to the quiz on the programme’s website, which boosted the profile of the HEA project as a whole.

Consequently, when it came to the second iteration, there followed after the quiz a series of entries on personal journals using Blackboard (which was also the software upon which the quiz ran), which meant that we could see what students made of the quiz and their answers. This further developed the interactive process between student and tutor. We observed students reflecting upon their engagement, and come the end of the semester, when we ran the quiz again, we could see how far (or not) students had come.

So the quiz, through both its construction and its iteration/implementation, proves the use of technology as a crucial part of the digital humanities, and of education as a two-way street. In the iteration, students have been introduced to some different historical schools via a practical, hands-on exercise, as opposed to say a fifty-minute lecture, followed by a two-hour seminar. We as tutors have then learned more about individual students and their preconceptions, and what we need to work on and/or develop over the next few weeks that the module will be running for- something that we would not otherwise have had necessarily until the first assessment a few weeks later. This dialogic element is what makes Blackboard such a vital learning tool, in my opinion- we can pick up on the misconceptions earlier, and without causing such a knock-on effect for student grades, or, for that matter, the confidence of individual students.

In the construction, we have been forced to look more seriously at what we had taken for granted- and in the design of this quiz, one or two of my own preconceptions have been challenged- that may well have been the same for Dan too. So this means that we too become better historians (or, in Dan’s case, a better philosopher) as a result of having to rise to a new challenge, which is, to use a cliché, all part of the learning curve.

The result is that a format that may, at first glance, seem trivial and trite, is actually- once you start to work with it in depth- quite challenging and quite stimulating- and offers a new take on what is, perhaps, an old problem.

BestofTEL_SMALLMason Norton

Associate Tutor
Department of English & History
[email protected]

What I find most interesting in this post is how Mason highlights the increased connection between academics and students facilitated by the quiz and other technologies.  If you have been inspired and would like to learn more your Learning Technologist can help.  LTD would be very happy to work with you to create a similar quiz for your area – perhaps developing a quiz workshop for your team.

Blackboard also have some good online resources – such as this one about creating tests and surveys (a test is equivalent to a quiz):

   Tests_Surveys_Pools – Creating_Tests_and_Surveys

More generally, LTD deliver a wealth of support and staff development sessions – here’s a link to the current series that you can book on:

   DDE: Digital Practitioner

Technologies are an “absolute lifeline” for our students!

Blackboard Collaborate and discussion forums help build community and meet students’ emotional and learning needs.

Readers of this Learning Edge blog will be familiar with our Best of TEL series, where we invite colleagues from across the university to guest author posts about their practice, to inform and inspire others. This post has a guest author, but is slightly different, as this time we hear from one of our recent graduates.

Lisa Corcoran, a student on the BA (Hons) Teaching, Learning and Mentoring Practice in 2012-13 and talks about her experience of the TMP3000 Work-Based Research module which incorporated the use of discussion forums and weekly webinars via Blackboard Collaborate:

“Distance learning for me was a very isolating experience, TMP3000 was the final milestone of a long and arduous journey. At times the daily slog of work, family and study seemed relentless with no light at the end of the tunnel. I was at the end of four years study and had found communication a barrier in most of the other modules I had completed.

I think universities who offer distance learning don’t always consider these emotional factors, Edge Hill certainly offered great resources in terms of its library postal service, taster days and written material. But nothing compares to human contact and being able to have that reassurance that you are on the right track.

Whilst completing TMP3000 my feelings are that the communication and support was outstanding and as a learning community we all came together in the final hour though the discussion boards and the webinar to support each other. That learning community was only facilitated because of those discussion boards and webinars, for some people it was an absolute lifeline and the importance should not be underestimated as very important emotional needs and learning needs were met daily on those discussion boards.

On a personal note the webinar sessions were most helpful, the experience I was having with distance learning was very abstract and the webinar made it a concrete tangible process which brought about a change in my state of mind that yes I was on the right track, yes other people were feeling the same way and yes there was somebody there (David) to reaffirm I wasn’t going mad.

I cannot emphasise how important it was for me to take part in live discussions without the misinterpretation of email and the long text, to be able to speak rather than type a question and be part of a discussion with real live people. The experience for me was absolutely invaluable on every level and absolutely without a doubt was a contributing factor to achieving a first class honours.”


Lisa’s story powerfully illustrates the positive effect that technology can have.  Her words describe how the use of technologies, and particularly the web conferencing tool, helped connect her with her fellow students and tutor, and offered ‘human contact’, which addressed her need for emotional support during learning.

At Edge Hill we have built up a critical mass of good practice that can be accessed by staff who are thinking of incorporating these technologies into their courses. If you have been inspired and would like to learn more your Learning Technologist can help.

You are also invited to join a Developing Digital Excellence staff development session:

…and you have access to a wide range of user guides on eShare:

If you enjoyed this post, you might also be interested in some of our previous Best of TEL guest entries:

Engaging learners with Blackboard Collaborate

How the Inclusion Team is using our web conferencing platform to engage students, enhance communication and improve outcomes.

Anne McLoughlin is  the leader of Edge Hill’s dyslexia programme.  The programme is a blended course – mostly online – delivered via our Blackboard VLE and the Collaborate web conferencing system, with some face to face conference days.

I interviewed Anne in September.  This 10 minute recording* is a mini-case study:

[eshare version of the recording and transcript:]

Here are some highlights:

  • One of the aims of using Collaborate was to give a more engaging experience for remote learners;
  • Sessions delivered with Collaborate are recorded – thus students are able to re-visit the sessions;
  • Collaborate is used for student inductions – with presentations by Learning Services staff;
  • It’s also used for tutorials – attempting to give an equivalent experience to distance students;
  • Issues revolve around students confidence with technology and ‘Java’[2];
  • The Collaborate mobile app has been very reliable;
  • The LTD guides have been useful [3];
  • The support from LTD has been “really good” [4];
  • The feedback from students indicates that Collaborate has made them feel part of the University community.

And, finally, Anne’s advice to staff: “Have a go …, perhaps a small number [of students] to start with, and then just go for it!”  And really finally, Anne’s last word: “I love it …”

BestofTEL_SMALLAnne McLoughlin
Senior Lecturer
Faculty of Education
Professional Development
Extension:  7163
Telephone:  01695 657163
Email: [email protected]


Anne would be pleased to discuss her approach to using Collaborate with anyone at Edge Hill – her contact details are above.

If you have more general questions about the Collaborate service or any of the tools within the Learning Edge Suite contact your Learning Technologist (see the Faculty Contacts on this page) or email the LTD Team on [email protected] or 01695 650754 x7754.

*Note that the recording was made on my mobile phone – illustrating the quality that is possible from a device most of us have in our pockets.

[1] Note that I’m creating a blog post on how to have a virtual office link at the end of your signature – so watch out for that in a few days time – or contact one of the LTD team if you want to do it now.

[2] Blackboard have removed the need for Java in the next version of Collaborate.

[3] We have many guides and resources – here are some that we understand have been very useful to colleagues:

Building and teaching in Learning Edge
Blackboard Collaborate: Audio and Video Equipment (Device Guide and Recommendations)
Planning Collaborate Session: An Overview
Introduction by Blackboard: Collaborate Web Conferencing Online Orientation
The LTD Best of TEL Blogs – such as: Collaborating all over the world

[4] Developing Digital Excellence sessions – such as:
Basic Introduction to Blackboard Collaborate (Student Services Webinar) 22/07/14

Using Optivote in Large Lectures for Student Engagement and Enhancing Learning

Optivote HandsetsIn this post Elaine Hughes, Senior Lecturer in Adult Nursing and a SOLSTICE Fellow, tells us about her experience using an Optivote voting system. If you are inspired to think about using this type of system in your own teaching, there is plenty of support and information available to help you get started.

Could you set the scene for us?
“As Kurt Lewin said ‘Learning is more effective when it’s an active rather than a passive process’. Therefore maintaining student engagement and enhancing learning in lecturers of around 140 students can prove to be very challenging. Other than written formative tests there are limited ways of assessing whether learning has taken place at the point of contact. Yet, it is well documented that when learning is fun then it can prove to enhance memory and thus stimulate learning.”

What did you do?
“Before the Optivote system was available for use I still used quizzes in the classroom with rewards for the right answers, usually Quality Street, which proved to be very popular with the students. It clearly helped focus their concentration as they were able to give the right answers after a taught session but whether learning had taken place throughout the class couldn’t be evaluated. What you also couldn’t see were how many got the answers right as not all students would attempt to verbally answer. Cue Optivote.”

Why did you do it? What were the drivers?
“The use of a voting system allowed greater student engagement and allowed me to evaluate whether students had understood the key messages in a lecture. It moved the delivery of sessions forward and I think there are probably many other ways to use this in class which could be measured over a period of time.”

How did you use the voting system?
“Because I teach anatomy and physiology initially Optivote lent itself to these sessions. However I have now used the Optivote system in large groups for a number of years across level 4-6 for sessions for different purposes:

  • for formative quizzes following anatomy and physiology sessions where the end of module assessment included a summative exam
  • as an alternative method of teaching anatomy and physiology, using the questions as a focal point to discuss the reasons for the answers
  • in clinical decision making and delegation sessions where students are asked to rationalise their decisions in practice and used as discussion points”

What was the outcome?
“The use of the Optivote handsets really promoted student engagement with the session content and generated discussion among the groups. In terms of ‘did deep learning take place?’ this is much harder to quantify. However in the module where there was a summative exam the pass rates were higher. To make real claims as to whether this was directly related to the use of technology research would have to be undertaken. However what is evident is the students enjoy this engagement as these sessions are consistently highlighted in module evaluations.”

What were the issues and concerns?
“With any technology within the classroom, especially with so many pairs of eyes watching, the fear is always ‘will the system fail’ and ‘have I programmed this correctly?’ There’s a handy guide to setting up your database and loading in your presentation and questions/responses but I think the first time I used it it wasn’t so simple! Although with practice it’s easy to set up and use, but like everything practice makes perfect – however I still always test it before each use!”

What ‘unanticipated outcomes’ were there?
“I wasn’t sure how the students would react. Would they think it was childish to press the button and vote? Would they want to get involved? Would they see it just like ‘who wants to be a millionaire’ and jump in with their answers? I needn’t have worried. What I actually saw at one point was probably the most disengaged group I’d ever taught sit on the edge of their seats, pointing their handsets at the screen and pressing buttons before the voting timer had even started! I did think that this was just a one off response from this particular group but when I demonstrated the use of the equipment to staff I had exactly same reaction! When students go off task in a class they talk. What I also tend to see with Optivote is lots of chatter with their neighbours, but it’s quite obvious they’re discussing the question that’s been posed to them, especially during clinical decision making as this can get quite animated.”

Did the use meet your expectations?
“In terms of student engagement it certainly has met my expectations. Keeping such large groups engaged and interacting, not just with me but with each other and on the subject content, can be difficult. However assessing if learning has taken place is more difficult. The students certainly remember the sessions but do they remember the content!”

What would be your advice to others trying to do this?
“I’m no techno expert by any means but if technology scares you then just speak to someone who has used it. It literally takes 20 minutes to set up your database and then it’s done. After that it’s a couple of minutes to set up in class. Don’t use it too frequently as it becomes too familiar: that way the students continue to engage with the process. Don’t use too many questions and change your format, it keeps the audience on their toes.”

BestofTEL_SMALLElaine Hughes
Senior Lecturer Adult Nursing & SOLSTICE Fellow

Collaborating all over the world

Using Blackboard Collaborate to support students based outside the UK

Pam Nicol has a number of roles at the University – this posting involves her work on the Masters in International Higher Education. Pam has been using Collaborate since it was introduced to the MIHE team about four years ago, and previously to that used the Wimba system.  This piece is derived from an interview I did with Pam on 6th August 2014.

“I teach on the Masters in International Higher Education – specifically a series of six sessions about strategic management, via Collaborate, to students located all over the world. Collaborate has been really useful – allowing me to present live and to recorded the sessions for students who can’t join at the time.

Bb Collab Image

Blackboard Collaborate ©

Collaborate is a great piece of technology – it’s been very reliable – it hasn’t let me down once!

When I was first asked to teach using web conferencing technologies I was quite nervous, but quite quickly it became evident how easy it was to use – to the extent that an IT novice like myself could use the technology quite effectively.

My introduction to the Collaborate system was hardly ideal – consisting of a quick run through from colleagues about half an hour before I was due to give a session. Needless to say, there were a few problems with that first session, but now I have a big ‘Press the Record Button’ above my monitor as a reminder!

The structure of my sessions are an hour for a lecture, then an hour for follow-up questions / individual tutorial. The six sessions are delivered around 5:30pm, for an hour, with tutorials / questions between 6:30 and 7:30. The twilight timing seems to fit in with students across multiple time zones.

Students use the mic or the chat window to ask questions during the session, and I remain online for up to an hour after the lecture to pick up on individual questions that students don’t want to raise in front of the group.

One of the main issues I’ve had to overcome is finding a quiet space – a shared office is not ideal. My currently favourite location is one of the small rooms in the SIC – as beyond 5pm it gets very quiet and I can borrow their headphones and camera.

Other issues I’ve experienced is unsuitable equipment that students or visiting lectures might try to use. We’ve also had some issues with visiting lecturers using Mac equipment. However, on the whole we’ve not had many issues with student’s equipment – noting that the instructions that Blackboard and Edge Hill have put in place to support students is very good (– most students who are experiencing problems try to solve it themselves using the guides before they contact me.  A new guide is available via eShare on equipment that has been tested by Learning Services and is consdered to work well with Blackboard Collaborate (

I’ve also noticed that teams in the Faculty of Health are more ready to try new technologies such as Collaborate.

I don’t think we would be able to deliver the qualification without Collaborate – I can’t see a way of getting students from all over the world involved in a class discussion except through web conferencing technologies.

My advice to staff thinking of doing some sessions with their students is just to have a go – and don’t get put off by the first few steps (that can be a little daunting for the novice). Also, write a script and print this out to have with you as you deliver – this is very useful for ‘filling in’ when there are gaps in the flow – and include comments such as what the weather’s been like recently. And if you are in a shared office, find somewhere else, or book a classroom.

My advice to the institution would be to see if Collaborate might be used to make courses that are not viable due to low numbers open to a wider audience.

And finally, one thing I’d really like is a feature to enable me to have a room available to invite students from anywhere in – not needing to setup a course area for them.”


BestofTEL_SMALLPam Nicol
Learning Facilitator
Student Services

Telephone:  01695 584190 x 4190
Email: [email protected]


It’s evident that Pam is very enthusiastic about the Collaborate technology – and she is demonstrating excellent practice in terms of delivery and recording. Pam would be pleased to discuss this with anyone at Edge Hill – her contact details are above.

I have also helped Pam achieve her final request above – using a tutor room in a course area. I’ll be creating a guide and blog post about this technique in a later posting, but it you want to know about this or any of the tools within the Learning Edge Suite contact your Learning Technologist (see the Faculty Contacts on this page) or email the LTD Team on [email protected] or x7754.

Screencasting Formative Feedback

How one tutor increased students’ engagement with feedback.

YouTubeButtonIn this video blog post Carl Simmons explains why assessment is so problematic and suggests how tutors can increase the amount of useful information that students receive using screen and voice recording software.

The issues are:

  1. Good quality feedback consumes significant tutor resource;
  2. Students tend not to use the qualitative feedback comments.

Carl replaced traditional feedback (handwritten comments / annotated Word documents) with videos of each students’ script, adding an audio recording of himself talking about the work – a ‘screencast’.

Results indicate that students both use this feedback more than traditional text comments – and feel that the assessor has their best interests at heart, providing a motivational boost.

SpeechBubbleThe students engaged far more readily with the screencast feedback – often viewing it more than three times.  There was also a perception that the feedback took significantly longer to produce – yet Carl found creating the screencasts took him about the same length of time as previous methods.

Carl’s approach is significant because many studies indicate increasing student engagement with qualitative feedback improves students’ outcomes.

Carl has created a screencast that outlines the technique and discusses how he analysed the data.  Potential issues are also identified, such as raising students’ expectations.  Here’s the link:

Your next steps?

Create a screen cast of your own – perhaps marking an exemplar piece – unpacking the reasoning behind the piece’s grade.

Carl would be delighted to speak to colleagues, both at Edge Hill and beyond to give help and advice to those considering using this screen casting technique.  Further, perhaps you might be able to add to the research data – seeing if the results you get are similar to those already observed.

BestofTEL_SMALLCarl Simmons
Senior Lecturer
Faculty of Education

Telephone:  01695 650916 x7916
Email: [email protected]


For further help, support and advice on how you can use screen casting or any other TEL tools, please contact your Learning Technologist (see the Faculty Contacts on this page) or email the LTD Team on [email protected] or 01695 650754 (x7754).  Or – you just ‘do it’ with my favourite FREE service:

A Knight’s Tale – ebooks the ultimate creation

Learning Service’s Learning Technology Development Team wanted to find out if it is possible to create an eBook of course content and distribute it to students without publishing through a 3rd party but via the institutional Virtual Learning Environment (Blackboard), as a way of providing media rich content which can be downloaded to their device.

Dr Charles KnightDr Charles Knight (Senior Lecturer Business School) assisted by taking part in a pilot project to develop course content for his students using eBook creation software.

On completion, Charles kindly agreed to be interviewed about his and the student experience.

As a result of the interview, this blog post contains a number of audio clips taken from the interview as our way of sharing a personal account of this subject with others who may also have an interest in this area.

After researching software with the right options for us, we decided upon Ultimate Ebook Creator (UEC) for the creation of ebook content. Which, in our view offered what was required in terms of (DIY) in-house creation, capable of producing several file types and is easy to use. Prior to the pilot a free trial version of the software was available making it a good choice, because it meant we could compare it with other free software such as Calibre and Scrivener.

The right solution

ebook software packagesIn addition to our own software research Charles also took a looked at Calibre, which he explains, is easy to use for converting documents into an ebook format. However, in terms of creation, he goes on to say;

Ultimate Ebook Creator is a very powerful piece of software.  The built-in document editor is very similar to Microsoft Word, so is very familiar and much easier to use than some other software packages”.


Introduction: Charles Knight

Traditionally, lecturers here use PDFs to distribute course content via Blackboard. Charles wanted to know what the advantages and disadvantages are of using eBooks, and also to get a better idea of the process of creating and distributing eBooks.

The problem with PDFs

Another of the drivers for conducting the pilot was to look at eBooks as more engaging alternative to PowerPoint.

When originally undertaking the pilot the first item to investigate converting was the course handbook.  The process currently involves producing a handbook as a Word document, saving it as a PDF and uploading it to Blackboard. For the pilot, Charles also offered the students an .ePub and .MOBI version of handbook so students can choose a format depending on their device or apps.

Challenges using the software

Another area which often presents a challenge is copyright. For the purpose of the pilot we asked Charles to consider this in the production of his material.

The content created and converted for the pilot was produced by Charles with the exception of the front cover. Charles explains the reason for this and why creating a good book cover that stands-out is important and goes on to describe his approach to copyright compliance:

During the pilot Charles was able to provide students with a number of file types and the opportunity to download .ePub, .MOBI, PDF and Word files for equity and with the aim of distributing them online through Blackboard.

Surprisingly for Charles and the students, downloading an eBook file to a dedicated eBook reader presented the main challenge. However, other devices such as the iPad, Android tablets and some mobile phones would suggest an application to open the file making it much easier to download and use.

Hear Charles share his thoughts on the process of creating eBooks, the software used and the complexities involved in terms of the process and the matter therefore of additional support and training for staff and students:

So what recommendations does Charles offer to others who may be considering doing something similar with eBooks and any comments for manufacturers of this type of software?


The future

Following on from the pilot, we asked Charles what would he do different next time and what his thoughts are around producing eBooks in his future courses and module:

“I’ve played around with the formats, I’ve got three devices in-front of me; an iPad, Nexus 5 Android phone and a Kindle tablet and it rescales and it’s dynamic content on each of these, you know because you can resize it. It’s made me think, it’s a far better format!”


It has been a very interesting journey and one where we have enjoyed areas of success and begun to reflect on current practices.  However there are still some challenges ahead and proposals of enhancements for the software developers to take on board.

Finally my thanks to Charles Knight for taking part in this pilot at such a busy time of the taught curriculum and to his students for providing valuable user insight. I would also like to thank Nitin Mistry, from Ultimate eBook Creator, for his part in the project; working with us to adapt his software, providing free and unrestricted access to UEC’s full features during the pilot and the continued developments he made throughout the project.

Martin Baxter




Martin Baxter (Learning Techology Development)

Alas Prescott and Ellis

 … it’s a bit like having a tutorial with you … 

An initial request to create an online session for the PG Cert in HE has resulted in a wealth of video resources ranging from academic writing to change management and leadership that are now used across a number of programmes in the Faculty of Health and Social Care.  Trish Prescott and Jeannette Ellis, both Senior Lecturers in the Faculty, produced these resources using an approach that role models a ‘conversation’ .  This blog post reflects that conversational approach, with input from Trish (T:) and Jeannette (J:):

T: We were asked to do a session on Critical Reflection for the PG Cert – a course for staff that are new to teaching in Higher Education. We wanted to try something different – to expose new teachers to a different style of teaching and learning. So we created a screencast [a PowerPoint presentation narrated by Trish and Jeannette] supported by a World Café approach in the follow up face to face.

J: We wanted to get peers/colleagues to engage online before the face to face session – so in class we could do exercises and build on material they had already engaged with.

T: We had some issues with the technology and the process …

J: … our first attempt didn’t record anything! But now we can initiate it all with occasional help – and have even done some fading in and out!

T: Beyond the PG Cert we’ve had a series of evaluations from a blended undergraduate CPD programme asking for more face to face sessions …

J: …so we created screencasts that were perhaps more engaging than some of the existing online activities. Initial topics included:
– Academic writing and referencing
– Doing critical reflection …

T: … and then more sessions for the undergraduate dissertation.

Q: Can you tell me more about your approach?

J: We put ourselves in the students’ shoes – Trish is the ‘academic’ and I am the potentially knowledgeable but not expert student. So I pose questions that I feel a student would ask when they are in a room with you. So you are creating a situation that is almost mimicking what students want to ask but often don’t feel that they can or that they want to.

T: Just putting up a PowerPoint is a one direction approach. Having a conversation allows a debate, and the feedback that we’ve had so far is that ‘it feels like we’re having a 1-2-1 tutorial with you because of the engagement that is going on’ … and that’s why I think it works really well with two of us rather than just one of us talking over it.

J: We’ve created screencasts covering topics such as academic writing and referencing, practice innovation, change management, and leadership. Feedback from the Advancing Practice module was “ … really good, it strengthens the delivery.”

Q: How are you sharing with colleagues?

T: We’ve put generic resources on Blackboard and would encourage other tutors to direct their groups to these resources to ‘deliver’, and then follow with a workshop / Q&A session – this would be a more efficient use of time.

J: Chris Jones and I presented at the staff study day – our session was called “Facing students in alternative ways”. The idea was to share ways of offering a voice of the tutor in formats other than face to face

T: For the PG Cert course it was about role modelling different ways of doing things so that tutors can see ideas in practice and make it theirs.

Q: What feedback have you had?

J: The most significant comment for me was from one of Trish’s students:

“ … it’s a bit like having a tutorial with you … “

… because it almost is:

  • it’s orientated to the individual
  • they pace it and place it according to their own need;
  • it’s dead easy to start, stop or skip.

Q: What are your next steps in the project?

J: So far we’ve limited our opportunities to voice – just talking over a PowerPoint. We are aware that Camtasia would afford us an opportunity to have ‘talking head’ video of us on screen – that’s probably the next level.

T: We’re looking at other software that will allow us to develop a really interactive online session – with lots of activities, things to read, interactive quizzes etc.

J: As well as improving the process of creating screencasts, we’ve also got much better at the content. For instance, Trish now gives a breakdown at the start of each screencast – saying how long it will take. If that’s a long time I’ll suggest they think about breaks; it’s perfectly OK to walk away from it – when they come back they can scroll to where they left off.

Q: What issues and concerns have there been?

T: We thought we’d need a script – but that didn’t work out well.

J: If you’re reading from a script it’s awful – it doesn’t work. It’s got to be natural, in ‘real time’, saying what you are thinking. So what we do now is to have a conversation before we record – perhaps making a few notes on the slides about what we really want to cover – and then just let it go!

T: Students like the result – and we don’t bother editing our mistakes / giggles out – the students have said that these are ‘ … really nice.’.

Q: Where do you record your screencasts – do you book a room?

J: Yes and no. At the moment we are using the old TV studio in LINC – right next door to the Learning Technology team where we pick the laptop up from.

T: This is a really good example of the ‘New Academic Team’ – because it was technologists and us working together to enhance the student experience. Everyone in the LTD team has been very supportive – helping us whenever we turn up.

Q: Did the project meet your expectation?

J: I think, it surpassed it in many ways … we didn’t have any expectations

T: We would try this and see what happens.

J: The driver was to make it better for the student. There was an expectation to improve things, so from that perspective it has, although we haven’t done any formal evaluation.

Q: What system do you put the screencasts on?

J: We use YouTube – we send them to the Media team in Learning Services who put them on the FoHSC’s YouTube channel – and we link to there from Blackboard – it’s very easy.

Q: What is your advice to other looking at doing this?

J: ’Give it a go’.

T: Microphones – get a proper desk microphone …

J: … don’t do what we did and twist a headset microphone – making it look like a pretzel! You need a USB mic.

T: Get help from the Learning Technology team. We still go back to LTD for the final steps of the screencasting process – the ‘publishing’.

J: Take a ‘bite sized’ approach – limit screencasts to 40 minutes or so – and build in activities too.


Jeannette Ellis
Senior Lecturer
Faculty of Health & Social Care

Trish Prescott
Senior Lecturer in CPD, Learning and Teaching Fellow
Faculty of Health & Social Care


The approach that Trish and Jeannette are taking is the Flipped Model – something that is very current in the TEL field – being cited by the Horizon Report of 2014 as an ‘Important Development in Educational Technology’ that is ‘One Year or Less’ from mainstream adoption: (

A great ‘getting started’ guide for Camtasia written by Peter Beaumont of LTD is available on eShare:


For further help, support and advice on how you can use Camtasia and similar tools to create video ‘content’ for your students please contact your Learning Technologist (see the Faculty Contacts on this page) or email the LTD Team on [email protected] or 01695 650754 (x7754).


A Tidal Wave of Discussion …

How active discussion produced outstanding* results.

By David Callaghan

Online discussion forums are widely-used in online and blended courses at Edge Hill and increasingly course teams have been exploiting the benefits of these asynchronous online communication tools to support their face-to-face students’ learning. When used effectively, discussion forums have been found to support reflection, deep thinking, peer and collaborative learning (and more), but the challenges of stimulating the ‘right kind’ of participation (in any course type) presents an interesting topic for new and experienced academics to consider.

I’ve discussed, interviewed and blogged about online discussion before – but always as an ‘interested’ observer of practice – rather than a ‘committed’ stakeholder. This reminds me of Storming Norman Schwarzkopf’s definition of commitment (he got international leaders to ‘commit’ 750,000 infantry to Operation Desert Storm) – his definition:

“If you want to know the difference between being involved and being committed think of a ham and egg breakfast.  The chicken is involved but the pig’s committed.”

Schwarzkopf in Bannister (2013:3m15s)

Having recently led a dissertation module for a large cohort of 60 online students, I’d like to share my personal experience of being a ‘committed’ discussion board leader.

It didn’t start well.  I had struggled to get any useful discussion in similar ‘dissertation’ modules – perhaps because the students were focussed on their own research and didn’t envisage much use knowing what others’ were doing. Further, at the first conference day (in January) when the students were physically present, my question about what type of technology would help their learning elicited little interest.

A good start

YouTubeWelcomeAgainst this backdrop, my eternal enthusiasm and experience as a Learning Technologist, which told me the right use of this technology could make a difference, prompted my ‘commitment’ to kick in. In a few hours I had:

  • Created a couple of discussion boards (or as Blackboard calls them, Forums);
  • Encouraged students to contribute via the Forum descriptions;
  • Very quickly ‘thrown together’ a two minute video to welcome students to the module –  and within the first 20 seconds has asked them to subscribe to the General and Introduction Chapter discussions;
  • Sent out an announcement (ticking ‘Send a copy of this announcement immediately’) to all students with a link to the welcome video.

The first post arrived about an hour after my announcement went out – with a student offering a YouTube video on ‘Praise’ that they mentioned at the induction a few days earlier.  A trickle soon turned into a torrent, and within a few days the General and Introduction forums became very active with around half the students making postings to the forums.  During the first three months there were over 1,000 postings to the discussion boards – creating what I regard as a very effective support mechanism for distance students.  At the end of the course over two thirds of the cohort were active participants in the discussions and the cohort had made a total of 2,573 posts.


From observing excellent practice in the Faculty of Education by Deborah Humphreys (see earlier post: ‘The secrets of Online Discussion’) and Wendy Dixon (UG Professional Development) what comes across clearly is the need to have a presence (Garrison, et al., 2000) – checking the forums frequently and replying promptly to posts (Hodges & Cowan, 2012) – perhaps with further questions or thoughts to encourage further discussion.  As I had subscribed to the two forums I was notified the instant someone posted – so frequent checking wasn’t necessary – and I was able to respond very quickly to postings, especially if some redirection was required.

My driver for responding quickly was informed by Gilly Salmon’s (2004) model suggesting that tutors should be very involved in the early stages of an online discussion and that as time goes on the tutor can move from being a leader to become more of a facilitator and ‘encourager’ chiming with Sugata Mitra’s ‘Granny Cloud’.  My aim was to step back and allow the community to respond to posts.  Others’ have developed this with the analogy of a ‘ghost in the wings’ (Mazzolini and Maddison, 2007); there is evidence that this happened in this course – moving from superficial notes about spelling mistakes etc. through to, towards the end of the course, some very insightful and effective comments on peers draft chapters.

Regarding the ‘Community’, during my telephone tutorials I sometimes asked how the group knew each other before the course and was rather surprised to hear that most of them had never met until the conference day – challenging my notion that creating an ‘online’ community was more challenging than in a classroom.  This echoes Pelz’s notion that ‘… online students bond earlier and ‘better’ than students sitting in the same classroom’ (2004:41).

Reflecting on how I engaged with the discussion, here are some of the things I did, indeed continue to do, that help create such a lively and useful discussion:

  • Use my postings to model what I want the students to do;
  • Post links to resources or uploaded materials – from Edge Hill and beyond;
  • Acknowledge valuable contributions from students publically on the discussion board – especially those that offered critique of their peers’ drafts (note many of my postings began ‘With thanks to Alice, Bernard and Cath for their insightful contributions’ …);
  • Sending private thanks to people who consistently made useful contributions;
  • Prioritising my time in order to respond to drafts that students had posted on the discussion board – thus encouraging more postings to a public arena and posting back comments on drafts so that instead of feedback being to a cohort of one it was to the cohort of all;
  • When to jump in? At the beginning I found balancing waiting for students to respond versus replying myself to unanswered postings a difficult balance . Towards the end of the course I tried to leave for two days before I responded;
  • Using the notification tool to thank all those that had been engaging;
  • Using the same tool to invite contribution from those who weren’t engaging;
  • Using the same tool to find those who were not engaging at all, and send an email to their personal email address;
  • Ditto, but phone them;
  • Ditto, but using their mobile phones;
  • If questionable practice arises, drown it out with a quick ‘here’s a much better alternative’ (redirection – I’m sure there’s some psychology link here);
  • When I have a tutorial with students, I ask them to summarise what they think would be useful for others’ to hear and post this on the relevant discussion.


The most challenging aspect was keeping on top of all the discussion as there were so many students – as well as the pressure to produce polished responses that were instantly displayed to the whole cohort (Bair & Bair, 2011).  Also, constructing replies to questionable practice that re-directed the group without disenfranchising the poster was challenging.

Results, feedback and costs

The results were outstanding, with 57% of the cohort achieving a First Class mark for their TidalWave GradeBookdissertation.  I had grave concerns about collusion when I began marking as the first dozen or so scripts were outstanding, however, apart from some similarities referencing the Data Protection Act, each piece was highly original and very polished. This increased my concern about the cost to the students and their families of the many hours that each of them had put into this final piece; was I complicit in adding to their study burden by creating a demanding on line environment?

So, at graduation, I was rather concerned to meet those who I may have driven apart – but my concerns vanished as fathers, husbands and daughters came up to me and thanked me (rather enthusiastically) for the support, help and encouragement that I had given their loved ones.  I should point out, though, that most of what I was being thanked for was given by their fellow students – I had become a broker of peers rather than a purveyor of learning.

Research into wider aspects

I will be asking the students if I can explore their posts, our journey, to look at aspects such as how I may have facilitated my social presence in online forums (Savvidou, 2013), Sociability (Smith & Sivo, 2013) and the learners ‘Sense of Presence’ (Sung & Mayer, 2013).

I’m also interested in the emotional aspects of the discussion.  Cleveland-Innes and Campbell (2013) suggest that ‘…emotion must be considered, if not a central factor, at least as a ubiquitous, influential part of learning—online and otherwise’.  Another ethereal aspect was recently highlighted by a colleague who suggests that underpinning my pedagogy was/is my belief that the technology and how I was implementing it would benefit the student experience and improve outcomes and results – emphasising to me that my faith that it would work made it work – justifying my sometimes ‘evangelistic’ encouragement for others to do the same.  To me, this sounds rather like the ‘heart and soul’ of online learning.


At the outset I didn’t have an explicit rationale for using discussion boards – but as the course progressed the rational emerged:

  • Engage students with the course and the tutor;
  • Engage students with each other;
  • Benefit from an ‘active’ learning approach;
  • Build on relationships made during the conference day;
  • Reduce isolation for distance learners;
  • Share resources and materials found;
  • Capture conversations that others can share (note the search tool!);
  • Questions that may have been answered to just one person went to the entire cohort;
  • Look at drafts of others’ work – perhaps to inform their own writing;
  • Become more aware of other perspectives;
  • Have an audience in mind when creating their own drafts;
  • Comment on other students drafts;
  • Have a safe community to ask and answer questions within.

I was especially pleased to see in later weeks the confidence and trust in the community grow, as evidenced by students becoming ‘critical friends’ – making critical judgements of peers’ work – having a sense of empowerment.

If any of the above isn’t clear then ask me – my contact details are below.  Also, here is a technical guide to using the Blackboard ‘Discussion Boards / Forums’ from colleagues in Learning Technology Development.  Finally, both the Faculty of Education and Learning Technology Development are very keen to promote staff development in this area – so if your team might benefit from some bespoke training, please get in touch – contact details below.

I suggest that the support and guidance the students shared with each other via the discussion board and the collegiality created via their online discussion and Collaborate sessions was a significant factor in the cohort’s exemplary success *.  I encourage colleagues to try some of the ideas I’ve presented above in their courses – and will be pleased to discuss this further.   Please take a look at a presentation based on my and the students’ experiences –

* 57% received a First Class grade in the dissertation module (n=47). 

BestofTEL_SMALLDavid Callaghan
Associate Tutor, Professional Development
Faculty of Education 

Learning Technology Development Officer
Learning Services
[email protected]


For further help, support and advice on how you can use Discussion, Tracking, Web Conferencing (Collaborate) and other tools within the Learning Edge Suite contact your Learning Technologist (see the Faculty Contacts on this page) or email the LTD Team on [email protected] or x7754.  Also, see the LTD Guide about Blackboard Discussion Boards.

David Callaghan, 1st November 2013

An American General, a legendary radio producer, a former Times editor, a British composer, a cricket commentator. M. Bannister. [Web] [Sun 6 Jan 2013]. London: BBC.
Bair, D. E., and Bair, M. A. (2011). Paradoxes of online teaching. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 5(2), 1–15
Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 2, pp87–105.
Hodges, C. B. and Cowan, S. F. Preservice Teachers’ Views of Instructor Presence in Online Courses. (2012) Journal of Digital Learning in Teacher Education 28(4) pp139-145.
Mazzolini, M. and Maddison, S. (2007) When to jump in: The role of the instructor in online discussion forums. Computers & Education, 49 (2) 193-213.
Pelz, B. (2004) Three principles of effective online pedagogy. Journal of the Asynchronous Learning Network, 8(3), pp33–46.
Salmon, G. (2004) E-moderating: The key to teaching and learning online. London: Routledge.
Savvidou, C. “‘Thanks for sharing your story’: the role of the teacher in facilitating social presence in online discussion.” Technology, Pedagogy and Education ahead-of-print (2013): 1-19.
Smith, J.A. and Sivo, S.A. (2012) “Predicting continued use of online teacher professional development and the influence of social presence and sociability.” British Journal of Educational Technology 43(6) pp871-882.
Wakefield, J. (2012) Granny army helps India’s school children via the cloud. [accessed 11/04/2013].