Category Archives: Teaching & Education

The OUP Bioscience Education Summit at Ulster University

The Jordanstown campus of Ulster University was the venue in September for the national Bioscience Education Summit, an annual two day event that draws together academic teaching practitioners in the bioscience discipline from various institutions throughout the UK.  This year there were delegates from 23 UK universities in attendance along with representatives from the Higher Education Academy and Oxford University Press.

The Summit included a presentation from the most recent recipient of the national Bioscience Teacher of the Year Award (Dr Mark Clements from University of Westminster) and there were short “swap shop” sessions for sharing of practice. This combined with discussion around topical issues in learning and teaching in the biosciences made for a stimulating event.

A Storify of the event is available from this link.

The Summit was originally a forum for academic departmental representatives of the Higher Education Academy UK Centre for Bioscience. The yearly meeting was an opportunity for colleagues to hear about the work of the Centre, to share best practice, and to benefit from networking within a supportive and collegiate environment.

With the demise of the HEA Subject Centres the bioscience community has made efforts to maintain this network of teaching practitioners and has sought to continue hosting the annual September event; rebranded as the Bioscience Education Summit.

The organising committee are very grateful to the support from Oxford University Press that has made this year’s event possible. They also thank the School of Biomedical Sciences and the Centre for Higher Education Research and Practice (CHERP) at Ulster University for their valuable support.


Screen Captured Video Feedback to Enhance Engagement with Laboratory Practical Work #HEASTEM14

I recently took part in the Higher Education Academy STEM conference on 30th April 2014 in Edinburgh. Here is a screencast of the Pecha Kucha presentation I have on the day on screencast video feedback to students.

Event: Student Engagement, Flexible Learning and Attendance

Student Engagement, Flexible Learning and Attendance

Date: 8 Mar 2013

Start Time: 10:00 am

Location/venue: Room 8K14 (Boardroom) Jordanstown Campus University of Ulster

This event is being hosted as part of the Higher Education Academy’s Workshop and Seminar Series 2012/2013
The use of information and communication technologies is increasingly adapted to support flexible learning in Higher Education institutions. The adaptation of more sophisticated technologies offers a broad range of facilities for communication and resource sharing, thereby creating a flexible learning environment that facilitates and even encourages students not to physically attend classes. However this emerging trend seems to contradict class attendance requirements within Universities, inevitably leading to a dilemma between amending traditional regulations and creating new policies for the higher education institutions.

This workshop will bring together educators, researchers and practitioners from the academic society to present the latest advances on technology enhanced learning and new methodologies of measuring student engagement in a technology enhanced learning environment.

It provides participants with a forum to discuss the impact of new technologies on flexible learning and debate the major issues arising from linking flexible learning with class attendance and attainments.
The workshop will contribute to understanding the impact of flexible leaning on attendance and attainments and provide quantitative evidence for determining regulation amendment and development of new policies in addition to addressing practical challenges in the wider deployment of new technology to support flexible learning.

There is no charge to attend the seminar, but a place must be reserved.

To Register please email

30 places available on first-come, first-served basis.

Full details on the HEA Website. The text above is taken directly from the website linked above.

Provision programme is available here.

HEA STEM Biosciences Forum

On 11th and 12th Spetember 2012 I was at the HEA STEM Biosciences Forum at the University of Leicester. This event was modelled on the highly successful HEA UK Centre for Bioscience Representatives Forum which took place on a yearly basis before the demise of the Centre. As expected the event attracted colleagues from a number of bioscience departments throughout the UK. Alan Cann from Leicester has provided an excellent overview of the meeting on the @leBioscience site. Once again the event provided opportunities for discussion on topics relevant to teaching in HE and it was great to hear examples of practice from colleagues working at the chalk face.

HEA Annual Conference 2012 – Archive of Tweets & Top Tweeters!


I attended the HEA Annual Conference from 3rd – 4th July 2012, presenting a poster on MP3 audio feedback to students.  I enjoyed a number of sessions and also participated via Twitter using the conference hashtag #HEAConf12.

Using Martin Hawksey’s excellent twitter archive tool I include here a link to all of the tweets posted using the conference hashtag.  Click the image above to go there, or this link!

The tool also provides some nice summary data such as the top tweeters.  List below. Hope you find this useful.

JaneChandler 109 Number of links 367
HEA_SocSci 84 Number of RTs 476
DebbieHolley1 50 Number of Tweets 1520
HEAPsychology 49 Unique tweets 1520
sgwarnog 44 First Tweet in Archive 03/07/2012 09:47:03
WarwickLanguage 41 Last Tweet in Archive 05/07/2012 08:02:44
UoEChangeAgents 37
HEA_Sociology 35
Tim10101 34
lisparcell 33
HEA_Events 32
larshyland 27
goze01 22
saltechdis 21
policyreviewtv 21
rmforsyth 21
benscoble 19
RebeccaGalley 19
JohnnySRich 18
PatParslow 18
sarahjaneflynn 17
tbirdcymru 17
jennyshaw 17
ProcessArtsUAL 16
GdnHigherEd 16
ModasarRasul 15
mannymadriaga 15
alejandroa 13
renireni 12
SuzanneFergus 12
jdew2 11
martinedmondson 11
chrissinerantzi 11
nopiedra 11
HelenBarefoot 10
PlanetChemistry 10
johncusworth 9
m_bro 9
SueLee99 8
UNITEGroup 8
andrewmid 8
christa_line 8
GENIE_Tweets 7
edwardgamble 7
philwane 7
GemmaLace 7
ae_romero 7
DoggyDoig 6
ceredig 6
terrymc 6
laizydaizy 6
theresaduffy 6
laperryman 5
ArunMarsh 5
AlexM11 5
marianneshepp 5
DrSarahAtkinson 5
JISCAdvance 5
julieh8 5
fiona_handley 5
HEA_Law 5
JimtB42 5
leemcrofts 5
SCOREProject 5
ProfDcotton 4
suewatling 4
jopeat 4
Seda_UK_ 4
zenscara 4
fredgarnett 4
pgcap 4
suebecks 3
hea_AH 3
jgro_the 3
chriscane 3
JISCNexus 3
drnickmorris 3
SussexTLDU 3
joanieg1205 3
DrLancaster 3
epictalk 3
Phil_Baty 3
sensor63 3
LT13uk 3
GoMoLearning 3
stickerboy 3
TraceydeBeer 3
Sally5454 3
levylass 3
CarolFerries 2
ArtsEdTech 2
ani2tall 2
DIALProject 2
GrahamScott14 2
sarajanebath 2
AMLTaylor66 2
gillferrell 2
sashwatson 2
daveowhite 2
antoesp 2
LornaMCampbell 2
dkernohan 2
impact_oer 2
tjcoughlan 2
HEAcademy 2
northumbrialaw 2
hopkinsdavid 2
Gradcore 2
LindaKKaye 2
chapmanpaul 2
JISC_Techdis 2
Stijn_Van_Laer 2
MerynMcLaren 2
juliadesigns 2
ffynnonweb 2
teachinggrid 2
christinepd 2
EpicKirby89 2
slewth 2
HEA_BusinessEdu 2
LT_tech_HE 2
jim_gatehouse 2
ukcge 2
glhunt31 1
Stuart_Hepburn 1
wcarey 1
StacyGray45 1
impeus 1
rjsharpe 1
topofthefield 1
ArtieVN 1
asmithorguk 1
HederaUK 1
hetha2009 1
carlvincent 1
cbthomson 1
netskills 1
iggiles 1
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NikNikNikki 1
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fazer_rider 1
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Bright_Tweets 1
BorderlessEdu 1
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leroyh 1
ThreePrisoners 1
annindk 1
TeachingConsult 1
MahmoonaShah 1
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Helen_Kurai 1
teensexplained 1
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DraycottMC 1
dranners 1
effdebate 1
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acha1977 1
grainnehamilton 1
drbexl 1
matthyde 1
DrRichJohnston 1
spencro 1
timeshighered 1
elle_c_emm 1
Aqua_Rach 1
bobharrisonset 1
ImperialGradSch 1
universityboy 1
cherylclemons 1
skemp_esd 1
MeghanBeler 1
AllyCampbell88 1
philosopher1978 1
katy_jordan 1
NUS_Liam 1
mscator 1
sachesney 1
sophie2ze 1
sheilmcn 1
pstann 1
E4FE 1
PalmerAlan 1
HEArtsEducation 1

Offering Sound Advice: Audio Feedback to Students

Over the past year myself and three colleagues in the School of Biomedical Sciences at Ulster (Alison Gallagher, Kay Hack and Paul Hagan) have been exploring the use of audio feedback to students. We used a number of methods to record and deliver audio feedback to students and the findings of the project will be disseminated at:

1. University of Ulster Centre for Higher Education Practice (project funders) 3rd Annual Festival of Innovative Practice, Universtiy of Ulster, Coleraine; Friday 15th June 2012.

2. Higher Education Academy 8th Annual Conference at the University of Manchester; 3rd – 4th July 2012.

At both events we plan to disseminate our project using the poster embedded below.

A Pecha Kucha presentation was delivered at the Ulster event. A screencast video of this is posted below:

The project investigated various modes of recording audio files such as desk-based microphones, headsets, and hand-held voice recorders and interfacing with software such as Audacity.

Modes of delivery of MP3 files were also investigated such as feedback podcasts, emailing audio files or delivery via the institutional VLE. A feedback podcast was developed for a large (n=140) year one module to provide comments on student performance in a laboratory context. This utilised Feedburner to manage the podcast and to track usage. The feedback provided was generic in nature and summarised comments provided to students verbally in class.

In their evaluation a number of students stated that they preferred to receive verbal feedback in class or to receive written feedback. Some students commented that they did not use iTunes (or similar software) and were not familiar with subscribing to podcasts despite being given a brief instruction on how to do this. This therefore represents a technological hurdle that needs to be addressed if this technology is to be used in the future. Finally both staff and student perceptions of using this mode of feedback alongside more traditional modes of feedback such as written comments on student work or verbal feedback provided in class were explored.

Getting Started

We have found one of the most straightforward ways to get started with audio feedback is to use the Wimba Voice Tools available within our own VLE, Blackboard Learn. This requires that the user have a headset and microphone, but all other aspects from recording the audio to delivery via email is taken care of. One downside is that emails are sent off immediately and cannot be queued up for delivery in a batch. If individual students are receiving feedback it will reach them at different times. There is also limited opportunity to edit the files before they are sent out. However, these are only a minor drawbacks considering how straightforward the tools are to use. In addition, the files are archived within Blackboard learn for accessing at a later time.

Other Recording Tools

In a previous post I mentioned that for a while now I have been sending feedback on some student work as MP3 audio files. I have used the free program Audacity which gives a greater level of flexibility in recording, editing and outputting the finalised audio file. A short article in the Bioscience Education E-Journal describes how we have configured Audacity to work for us.

Some colleagues had been asking about the process of providing feedback in this manner and so I have prepared a short screenr video on how to use Audacity.

Recorded Delivery

Once captured the files need to be sent to students. If you are not using the Wimba Voice Tools on the VLE then you will probably send these by email. This is no major problem if you are sending files to a handful of students or generic feedback to a large group; but what if you have recoded individual files for a large group of students? For that you will need to use mail-merged email that allows you to attach the individual file for the relevant student. This can be done using Pegasus Mail and a full tutorial is provided here: An alternative approach is to use Microsoft Office running macros and a tutorials is available here: Both scenarios do require some time spent in configuring the system.

Sounding Off

Colleagues offered various perspectives as evidenced in the poster above. Some brief conclusions are: Individualised and formative feedback by this mode can be very effective. It may be extended to offer ‘whole group’ feedback for large classes, though this does not seem to be very effective in all cases. Colleagues agree that audio feedback does not necessarily mean that it will take a shorter time than written feedback, but that in most cases it has a greater impact with students.

Texting Times

The Market Square in Antwerp, Belgium

First, Glasgow Caledonian University….
I seem to have been talking about SMS texting a bit over the last while. Last week I was invited by Kevan Gartland to Glasgow Caledonian University to participate in an event on Feedback Enhancement in the Biological Sciences. This was one in a series of seminars on this subject organised by Glasgow Caledonian University in association with the Higher Education Academy. I outlined our use of text messaging (as described previously) especially in assisting with peer marking and rapid communication of results following a written class test for around 100+ students.

Also presenting at the event was Jamie McDermott from GCU who was demonstrating his use of especially in an inter-professional context in a session with some 500 students. This has proved most successful in engaging students in this large lecture context with many asking questions by text message were they would normally have been reluctant to pose a question verbally during the session.

….next, Antwerp in Belgium…
Then this week I was off to Antwerp in Belgium for the 2012 BlackBoard Teaching and Learning Conference. This time I was invited by Travis Sowders of BlackBoard Connect to be involved in a panel discussion on the use of SMS text messaging in the classroom. Travis chaired the session and there were contributions by Jo Spiller from University of Edinburgh and myself on our three uses of texting at Ulster; communication, feedback and voting.

**Update on Friday 1st June 2012. Slides from our session at Antwerp are now embedded below:**

**Update on Tuesday 19th March 2013. Interview regarding the use of text messaging in the School of Biomedical Sciences, University of Ulster as recorded in Antwerp for BlackBoardTV is now embedded below:**

…. in other parts of the conference…
For me one of the highlights of the conference was the keynote address by Kayvon Beykpour, general manager of Blackboard Mobile. He described the work that had been done to introduce push notifications in BlackBoard meaning that students can receive up-to-date information straight to their handheld device. This was well received by conference delegates. However, it was the second part of his presentation that appealed to me most where he described the new developments in mobile-enabled class tests / examinations. Tests set up in the mobile environment can be made available to users of an array of mobile devices, but they can still be accessed in the traditional way via a computer connected to the VLE. This new feature opens the possibility of running multiple choice and short answer tests for large groups of students, each accessing the test from the familiar platform of their preferred mobile device.

I was also most impressed with a demo of Kaltura video sharing software for Blackboard. This facilitates a You Tube type environment where video may be shared in a number of different ways to different user groups. For me this represents an opportunity to consider upgrading the platform for our YouTestTube video sharing project adding mobile functionality and making the site much more accessible.

There were a number of Tweeters at the event and the tweets from the #BbTLC2012 hashtag have been archived at the following address:

Not surprisingly, WiFi access throughout the conference venues was excellent and worked flawlessly. Antwerp is also a charming city to visit.

Image Credit.

Distinguished Teaching Fellowship

Celebrating with sons Matthew and Joel

In 2007 I was delighted to receive a Distinguished Teaching Fellowship (Team Award) from the University of Ulster. The award was mainly for our support of year one students taking introductory chemistry. This year I was the recipient of a Distinguished Teaching Fellowship (Individual Award) from Ulster. Further details are here.

Playing with Prezi – Thoughts & Tips

I had a go at using Prezi for my presentation at the Effective Learning in the Biosciences in Conference in Edinburgh last week.  This was the first time I had used Prezi outside my own Institution and I provide below some of my reflections and thoughts on its use as a presentation tool, especially in the educational context.

1. To use Prezi you need to visit the Prezi website and register for an account which is free for educational use.  You may author your presentations online and then download the entire presentation when you are ready to show it to your audience.  A paid option allows you to download a desktop version of the authoring software, but my experience to date has been with the free version.

2.  With Prezi you can use text, upload images, video and incorporate You Tube video in your presentation.  Note of caution, when showing your Prezi you must be connected to the internet if you have used You Tube video otherwise it will not work.  A workaround is to to upload video in avi or wmv format as this is then  embedded in the final presentation.

3.  Elements in your presentation can be made larger or smaller depending on the importance you want to give to each one.  You then link the elements together using the “path” function so that the presentation flows in the order you want.  The best way to see this is action is to use the tutorials or example presentations on the Prezi site.

4.  The “sea sick” factor.  I was concerned when I was constructing my presentation that I might need to distribute Stugeron (or similar medication) to my audience in advance.  The zoom-in-and-out functions of Prezi provide some attraction and can be attention grabbing, but used too much can become a distraction and may make your audience feel queasy.

5.  For me the jury is still out on just how I will use Prezi, especially in the teaching context.  I think that it would be valuable if used sparingly to explain concepts where you wanted to firstly show the “big picture” and then to zoom in on the detail of constituent parts.  One example on the Prezi site uses this in the context of anatomy of the human body etc.

6.  Reusing PowerPoint.  For my presentation I exported some PowerPoint slides as jpeg’s and used these linking them with relatively short paths and with not a lot of zoomng in and out.  This is therefore a halfway house between PowerPoint and Prezi (PreziPoint??).

A link to my Prezi is given below; just click on the image.  Any feedback would be gratefully received.

OUP / UK Centre for Bioscience Teacher of the Year Awards 2011

The Bioscience Teacher of the Year Award is a great way to recognise and reward teaching excellence in the biosciences.  Details of the short listed finalists and the overall winner of the 2011 award, Jon Scott is available on the UK Centre for Bioscience website.

The award is now run in conjunction with Oxford University Press and this year a short video compilation of each of the finalists in action is also available from their website, and is  included below.