Friday, 12 October 2018

Supporting Student Success Event at Centre for Distance Education University of London

Have you ever been to an event and thought what am I doing here? Conversely, have you also been to an event and thought why did I not know about this series of events before? Well I have.

Yesterday, Fiona and I went to Supporting Student Success Event organised by the Centre for Distance Education, University of London which was really useful. The event had two parallel sessions and we attended different ones hoping to make the most of it.

In this blog post I am going to share my learning from Dr. Ormond Simpson's work.
Dr. Ormond Simpson presented a report about feedback from students with disabilities. I have not been able to locate the document online yet, but once I find it, I will link to the report in the blog post. The report was titled Disability the student voices: feedback from disabled students. The data for the report had been collected by sending an anonymous survey link to current students who have declared a disability. Though this does not reflect on views of students with disabilities who have dropped-out, it gives us a view to the struggles these students have to face in accessing learning.

The range of disabilities reported in this survey showed the varied individual needs and the need to support students for their specific needs. It was also the first-time I heard from a student with light-sensitivity as a disability.

Looking at some of the recommendations from the report, I can see that we, at UCEM, are already practicing some of these while there are other recommendations that we need to embed into our practice.

An important issue raised in the discussion was the ability to share information. Especially with GDPR coming into force it was reported that the details of disability declared to the university by the student during the application process does not get conveyed to the tutor on the course or the course directors. This has resulted in students not being offered the support they should have and students thinking that the university nor the lecturers cared about them.

I find it difficult to understand why GDPR or other data protection laws should affect the lawful use of declared disability data to support a student in a course. Perhaps we should seek consent to share the data with the tutor who is supporting student in the course. In my view, if a student has disclosed a special need, they would expect the course team to support them.

Unless the tutor is made aware, how would they "know" that this student has special needs especially at a distance. For example, if the university has special software to support special needs students but the tutor does not know that the student should be given a copy of this software it would affect the student's experience of learning. Alternatively the software could be made available to everyone, but that could be very costly and in fact unnecessary information for a large group of students.

It is easy to say XYZ is inhibiting us supporting student success but I believe we can find effective ways to overcome such barriers and research events like these bring the issues to light so that they can be addressed.

Friday, 5 October 2018

Creating videos using whiteboard apps

Some of our tutors wanted to try creating videos while drawing diagrams. So we are looking at Lightboard type video creation in the future. But as a quick solution I was looking at different apps available on iPad which would allow something similar but of course only capturing the whiteboard.
Writing on a whiteboard
Explain Everything was the first app I tried. However, it only gave me option for limited time free trial. So I moved on to see what other apps were available.

I then tried Doceri which did offer me the opportunity to create a free account without a time limit. You can select the resolution I selected the optimised one for iPad screen. It also allowed me to download my creation. However, need to pay if you want to remove the watermark. This is my Doceri creation - Using Doceri App on iPad Quick Demo.

Next I tried ShowMe. Out of the two apps I liked ShowMe but it does not allow you to download or privately save your creation with a free account. Here you can see my Demo of ShowMe app on iPad.

Despite the recommendations I received about Explain Everything I didn't feel I wanted to register and try out a tool that gave me only 14 days of free trial. On the other hand even though ShowMe did not allow me to download my creation I liked that app the best I think it is because I didn't like the frame used in Doceri at all.

There are so many tools out there - many apps. But you have to invest the time to go explore.

Thursday, 23 August 2018

Blog for Online Identity Badge Evidence

I am working towards Digital Professional in Higher Education badge and at the moment I am finishing my work on the Online Identity badge. The last activity for the Online Identity badge is to:
Create a blog post (200-300 words) on the experience of developing your online presence and comment on two other colleagues blog posts.

To fully participate in the contemporary society, one needs to be digitally literate as many civic activities are now taking place in the online space. According to JISC (2014), there are seven elements of digital literacies: media literacy, information literacy, digital scholarship, learning skills, ICT literacy, communication and collaboration, and career and identity management. Beetham and Sharpe’s (2010) framework show digital literacy as a development process where it is developed from access and functional skills to higher level capabilities and identity. So, as a Digital Professionals in Higher Education, we should be able to demonstrate that we have moved from “I have .., to I can … to I do … to I am ..” – that is we have developed a digital identity.

The question asks to write about my experience of developing my online presence. However, my online presence was created over a long period of time. For example, even my personal blog dates to April 2013. I had finished my PhD where I looked at the use of ICTs for distance education and was then a Postdoctoral Research Assistant working with my supervisor Prof. Shirley Williams. In my thesis I had a chapter on “digital inequality” where I discussed why the then buzz word “digital divide” was deceptive and in this I used van Dijk’s (2005) work on a model of successive kinds of access, which is similar to the developmental process of digital literacy but looking at levels of access. Being aware of these works, I suppose, have helped me in shaping my digital identity online.

However, I did not have a personal website until I started working towards this badge. So, I am going to reflect on my experience of developing my online presence through my personal website

I wanted my personal website to bring together my scattered presence on the web to one place where it would be easier to find my work and contact information. I initially designed the website to have publications, blog and contact details only. But my colleague, Sandra, was working on CMALT and she had created her portfolio in a Google Site, which looked good. With this inspiration I decided to not only put my CMALT portfolio but also FHEA portfolio online. I had to remove some of the evidence in the portfolio due to data protection/privacy issues but the section Portfolio in my website now provides a selection of my instructional design work, CMALT portfolio and its feedback and my FHEA portfolio. To my surprise, using Google Sites was very easy. It did not take much time at all. I used images from the stock of CC0 images in Pixabay to add some colour and visual appeal. I must say I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the automatic contrast checking and adjusting tool provided by Google Sites to make the site more accessible. After creating my website, I thought to myself why did I not do this earlier?

However, my new website was not getting picked up by search engines. So I searched on the internet and created Google Crawler request and also registered with Google Analytics so that I could see the usage of my site. So this exercise have not only resulted in me creating my website but also getting to know how new sites are listed in search engines as well as getting my toes dipped in Google Analytics!

I think making a portfolio available online not only help to build your personal profile but also helps others working towards qualifications like CMALT or FHEA to see sample portfolios they can take inspiration from. For example, I found four part series of blog posts from Matt Jenner about his submission for SFHEA when I was thinking of working towards SFHEA and it inspired me to start writing up my portfolio for the same.

While working towards the Online Identity badge I kept on thinking about projecting a persona via our digital presence. Many people who are digitally literate consciously manage their digital identity. So, effectively we see what they want us to see. On the flipside we also project what we want others to see. I think it is really important that when we look at someone’s online identity to be aware of the filters that are already there.


JISC (6 March 2014). Developing digital literacies. [accessed 22 August 2018].
Sharpe, R., & Beetham, H. (2010). Understanding students’ uses of technology for learning: towards creative appropriation, Rethinking learning for the digital age: how learners shape their experiences Routledge. 85-99.
van Dijk, J. (2005). The Deepening Divide: Inequalities in the Information Society. Thousand Oaks: Sage

Friday, 17 August 2018

Creating a chatbot with IBM Watson

I am taking a MOOC with edX offered by IBM, How to Build Chatbots and Make Money. This two week course suggests investing 2-4 hours a week commitment for the course.

As we have been looking at ideas of AI for assessment when I got to know about this course I was interested in giving it a go. I must say I am impressed how "intelligent" my chatbot "Nikki" is in teasing out natural language and how easy for me to create it with IBM Watson without having to do any coding at all. I am still in third module but really pleased with where I got with the course.

The course asks you to implement a chatbot that can help with delivery questions and suggestions about flowers to buy. But as we all know, educators can be the worst students - I didn't do what they asked me to do. Instead, I created my own chatbot, "Nikki", to be able to answer questions that are listed in University College of Estate Management's FAQ page about Studying with UCEM.

Nikki was able to answer almost all questions relating to the details I have provided her correctly. In fact, colleagues at work have been impressed with how good Nikki was in answering the questions they put to Nikki in tricky language. 

The good thing with IBM Watson chatbot is while doing these chats, if Nikki doesn't get something correct, we can train her in the conversation by selecting the correct response she should have given and then IBM Watson trains itself to get it right the next time.

However, there were instances where Nikki gave hilarious responses. For example, in one instance the dialogue went like this...

         User: I am ill
         Nikki: If your personal circumstances change for any reason, either at home or work in a way that might affect your studies, assignment or exam performance, you should notify us immediately.
[Full marks Nikki!]

         User: death
         Nikki: Great talking to you. Have a good day.

image of chat window showing a conversation with Nikki the chatbot
A conversation with Nikki the chatbot
If someone is dead they can't communicate with you anymore so she ended the conversation. However, I have now taught her to be more empathetic and suggest the same response as for change of personal circumstances as it is more likely to be a death in the family that they are talking about.

I would highly recommend this course if you are looking to get yourself familiar with AI chatbots. However, be warned that the Cloud service they are showing in the screen casts, IBM Watson Conversation, has been updated to IBM Watson Assistant and there are few differences as to what you see in the instructional video and what you see in your actual screen but nothing major to stop you from continuing. It also allows one year of free access to IBM Watson services (Ts and Cs apply) but allows you to learn something new. 

Monday, 13 August 2018

Open resources and accessibility - Published in BERA Blog

The original post was published in the British Educational Research Association Blog on 7th August 2018.

Tharindu Rekha Liyanagunawardena University College of Estate Management Tuesday 7 August 2018

Open educational resources (OERs) are:
‘[A]ny type of educational materials that are in the public domain or introduced with an open license. The nature of these open materials means that anyone can legally and freely copy, use, adapt and re-share them.’ (UNESCO 2017).

This open movement was pioneered by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT’s) Open CourseWare (OCW) initiative in 2001 (Brown and Adler 2008), and it has thrived worldwide. However, despite this increase in ‘openness’, people with disabilities still face significant barriers in accessing ‘open’ content.

Take me to the full article at BERA Blog

Friday, 13 July 2018

Dimensions of Online Assessments in Higher Education

While working on a systematic review of e-assessments with Prof. Shirley Williams, we quickly realised that terminology used was varied and inconsistent. We became frustrated looking to find definitions of terminology in the literature.

The JISC definition of e-assessments:
the end-to-end electronic assessment processes where ICT is used for the presentation of assessment activity, and the recording of responses. This includes the end-to-end assessment process from the perspective of learners, tutors, learning establishments, awarding bodies and regulators, and the general public (JISC, 2007, p43)
was widely used but what about other terminology, such as: “digital exams”, “online exams”, “web-based assessment”.
Exam papers (CC0)

In the Association for Learning Technology Conference 2017, it was discussed how e-assessment is used in the academia. While some consider the submission of assignment via the VLE to be an e-assessment, some others consider the full end-to-end process of online submission and online marking as e-assessment, while many others believing in various shades in between (Alston, 2017).

In this context we explored concept e-assessments from five main stakeholder perspectives: students or the participants who takes the assessment, administrators or managers who organise assessments, assessors who assess the students, authors who set the assessment, and quality assurance those who oversee the quality assurance of assessments.

Conole and Warburton (2005) present a categorisation of assessments in their work: formative (administered to assist the learning process), summative (administered for grading purpose), diagnostic, formal/informal (invigilated or not), and final/continuous. With our experience of assessment in our own institutions and beyond we believe that exams (examinations) are considered by most stakeholders to be different to other assessments, here we define exams as:
a formally convened, timed, summative assessment of a module under prescribed conditions (adapted from UCEM, 2017).
From the point of view of authors and assessors there is not much difference between formative and summative assessments. In summative assessments all learning outcomes should be covered and in formative assessments timely meaningful feedback should be provided for the student to learn. On the other hand, we see a big difference of summative and formative assessments for the participants. Formative assessments are for learning and as they do not carry marks for the module some students may not even attempt these. While summative assessment is for grading that carries high importance to the students. Also, the fact that whether the summative assessment is in the form of an exam or other (for example, coursework) makes a marked difference for the participants. If the assessment is formative there is generally little role for administrators as these increasingly tend to be quizzes or short answer questions where automatic answers can be provided. On the other hand, if the assessment is summative administrators have greater role and if the assessment is an exam even greater one. For the quality assurance too summative assessment would be important.

What are your views on our conceptualisation?


Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Open to Inclusion

I have been working with Prof. Shirley Williams, professor emerita University of Reading and Prof. Andrew Adams, Meiji University Japan on a book chapter for the past couple of months. The chapter is titled Open to Inclusion: Exploring openness for people with disabilities and it is for the book Ecologies of open: Inclusion, intersections, and interstices in education edited by Dr. Dianne Conrad and Prof. Paul Prinsloo.

Working with Shirley and Andrew is always a pleasure but this was more so as we had unfinished business of a paper on Open Educational Resource for Higher Education. So when I saw the call for proposals I wanted to make sure we utilize the work we have done already and build upon that using my recent experience of accessiblity work at UCEM.

Image showing an inclusive society
Inclusive Society
The chapter, explores the ideas of open and how they have been fluid over time: for example globalisation opening barriers for capital flow; Open Universities opening up educational opportunities. We show that though things have been progressing it is yet to be inclusive.

The chapter introduces fictitious learner personas of students with disabilities: Khalid, Sophie, Arun and Chamari and invites the readers to explore with them the obstacles they face in accessing open resources, the educational materials that are made available with permission for re-use and re-purposing.

Using our international experience of working and living in various countries, we investigate whether the difficulties these learners encounter may differ had they happened to live elsewhere in the world. In this, we look at five different jurisdictions including in both developed and developing countries: Ghana, Japan, Sri Lanka, the United Kingdom and USA. These countries have been selected to illustrate the diversity of legal protection for disabled individuals in different regions of the world ranging from strong protection to nominal protection.

The chapter presents the case for inclusion and accessibility, including legal considerations in selected jurisdictions. While highlighting the importance of raising awareness in enabling inclusion, the chapter explores the potential of open content to create “inclusive openness.”

The manuscript is under review and a copy can be made available if you are interested in this work.