Category Archives: Uncategorized

Printing PDF Documents: More Than One Page Per Sheet!

I was recently asked about how to print an A4 PDF document so that there are multiple pages on one sheet.  This reduces the amount of paper required.  The embedded video below shows how this is done.  Another tip to make life easy!

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.

Assessment and Feedback for Learning Conference

Today I am presenting on MP3 audio feedback to students at the University of Ulster’s Assessment and Feedback for Learning Conference. There are a range of presentations and keynotes throughout the day. Further details about the conference are provided here.

I will be reporting on some work underway within the School of Biomedical Sciences on the recording and delivery of MP3 audio feedback to students. The project is funded by the Centre for Higher Education Practice at Ulster and I am presenting some of the results to date. My slides for the event are embedded below.

Tweets etc from the event are under the hashtag #UlsAFL12 and are archived here.

Variety in Chemistry Education 2010

Tomorrow I am off to the Variety in Chemistry Education 2010 Conference in Loughborough.  My previous experience of this conference was a very positive one; in particular the format which comprises short, to the point presentations rigidly and fairly regulated by the chair.

I will  be presenting some of our work on the use of reflective video to engage students and am looking forward to the technology-focussed sessions.

I also hope to provide a few tweets and will be using the hashtag #Variety10.  Does anyone know if this is the official one?

The abstract of my talk is below:

For the past two years we have provided first-year undergraduate students on bioscience courses the opportunity to make short reflective video logs of their experience in chemistry practical classes.  Three practical groups per laboratory session are provided with a video camera and brief instruction on its use.  Each group must reflect on particular aspects of the practical, highlighting anything they found difficult and offering advice to someone who may be repeating the experiment at a later time.  In so doing this promotes engagement with practical work during the session and thought towards how the material relates to lectures and other parts of the course.  The videos are then uploaded to a video sharing website ( hosted on university servers and shared with everyone enrolled on the introductory chemistry module.  Students may view, rate and comment upon their colleagues’ videos in a manner similar to the popular video sharing website You Tube.  The software used to construct the website also contains social networking functions allowing students to ‘make friends’ with other members of the module group.  This reflective tool has provided a collaborative and inclusive peer-learning environment for bioscience students in a subject that is often perceived as difficult and at a time when transition issues to university study may be encountered.

You can find out more about our reflective video project here.

Photo credit.

Tick Box Teaching

I caught a few minutes of Virtual Revolution recently and was intrigued by some of the comments made around the template-style social networking tools that have exploded onto the scene in recent times. The comparison was made with the garish websites that adorned cyberspace in the mid to late 1990’s when Geocities and Angelfire were the order of the day gaving vent to all manner of personal in silico expression.

Does anyone remember the old themes on Geocities? I recall having the address as “CapeCanaveral” was a close to the science theme as you could get. With clumsy hand-crafted HTML my science was now on the cutting edge!

What a contrast to the neat and tidy template-driven sites such as Facebook, WordPress and Twitter which have opened up online communication to the non-geek. With a click of the mouse and a few personal details you’re on your way.

Keeping Teaching Between the Lines
In a similar manner template-driven “teaching areas” on the average VLE now allow academics to enter a world of digital communication unheard of before. What freedom of communication! What freedom of expression! Or is it?? In the rush to get our notes online and our students to engage is there the danger of the dreaded tick box teaching? Almost in the same manner as we have lost many of the eccentric scientists with mad hair and spotty bow-ties that once walked the corridors of academia; many of the teaching websites stamped with the individualism of their devoted web master are now redundant. And perhaps for some of these that is best for us all.

But it begs the question. Are we becoming increasingly conformist in our teaching; too ready to accept the latest template as the best way forward? Being an inspiring teaching may manifest itself in the presentation of template-based resources in an innovative way. It can equally manifest itself in an enthusiastic lecture aided only by whiteboard and marker.

In reflecting on all of this I was reminded of some of the most memorable lectures I sat through. Often the notes were handwritten and the lecture marked by the enthusiasm and a clear desire on the part of the academic to instil something of worth into the minds of the students.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against VLE’s, Powerpoint or any other innovation attached to a USB. I do however hope that technical innovation and all that it offers will not stand in the way of creative and innovative teaching in the future.

I wonder what our students think?

Image credit.

A Vision of Students Today

Michael Wesch’s insight into today’s student is somewhat revealing and no surprise to the academic on the classroom floor. While the students profiled are from the US, very strong parallels exist with the student population in the UK and probably in a lot of other places as well.

Conference Report – University of Leicester

Today I took part in the Learning and Teaching in the Sciences 2009 unconference at the University of Leicester.  There were a number of participants from different parts of the UK and we had opportunity to discuss various aspects of teaching, learning and assessment.

I had opportunity to learn from colleagues on their strategies for providing feedback to large groups; particularly laboratory classes. It was also interesting to see that a number of colleagues had developed pre-practical assessment as we have done with Introductory Chemistry labs at Ulster.

Overall it was a very worthwhile event….

I suppose I should mention that the meeting started about 10:30AM and ended about 12:30PM with lunch. For most of us from N.Ireland this type of meeting involves an early morning start, drive to the airport, flight delay, taxi on the other side, attend the meeting and then do it all in reverse, arriving home on a Friday evening frazzled.

Today was a much more pleasant experience as I was able to follow and participate in the event via Twitter. In fact I didn’t even have to leave my desk. The conference could be followed via a Twitter hashtag (#uollts) or using the amazing TwitterFall which I only discovered after the event! Responses from non-attending delegates were relayed onto a screen in the conference room. So we all got our say!

This was networking in the best sense of the word. A big “thanks” to all who took part and most importantly to the organisers who made it such a great success.

Stephen McClean