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These are my occasional musings and notes from conferences and workshops

Tags: Conference, Learning Technology, MoodleMoot, workshop

week 1 reflections

Posted on 01 September 2020, 10:44

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Tablets in Clinical Education

Posted on 16 December 2013, 9:28
Last updated Monday, 16 December 2013, 11:32

These are my notes and reflections from an HEA event that took place at the Royal Veterinary College near London, in December 2013.

Twitter Hashtag #tabvet13


Tim Cappelli of Manchester Medical School (MMS) gave an excellent keynote on their experiences in introducing iPads to medical students.

The project came about as result of poor nss results after Manchester took bottom place in the student satisfaction league table. Institutional funds were made available to give all 460 year 4 medical students an iPad in Dec 2011, with the view that there was nothing to lose by trying something new.

Not surprisingly, there were lot lots of initial complaints from 5th year students who didn't get an iPad!

The project initially planned for the students to give the devices back when they graduated but allow to buy them for nominal amount, however it was eventually realised that this wasn't practical as they would need to be sold fit for purpose, PAT tested and the institution would be liable for next 6 years, so in the end they were give away free.

MDM (mobile device management) software was installed to have some level of remote security and control. This allowed the school to install specific content and to remote wipe tablets if needed but students were able to personalise and add their own apps and content. MDM was also set to remote lock device if no interaction for 5 minutes (therefore making them more secure) and they were pre-configured with Virtual Private Networks (VPN), and had the student personal timetable fed direct to the iPad calendar.

Reference was made to a Hull University study of tablets in Scottish schools, highlighting the finding that giving tablets for in-class sessions then taking them back doesn't work  - the students need need ownership and to be able to personalise how they use the devices. The Hull study can be found here:

Results and feedback

  • 70% reduction in printing
  • Many students reported that Notability & Evernote were great apps to make smart lecture notes that could be cross-referenced and media rich, and Dropbox ideal for sharing.
  • Over past 2 years MMS moved from online access to textbooks to 48 hour download of books from Elsevier.
  • Using iPad increased productive use of time check email and compare symptoms with apps while waiting for consultant or during breaks - self directed.
  • 70℅ students experienced positive change in way knowledge and experience shared due to use of iPads

Copyright infringement is a huge risk especially when sharing published content and journal articles. Apple let users copy and share such content via apps but say the users are responsible and liable. From comments made during the presentation staff seem rather laid back about this issue which suggests some digital responsibility training is needed for both students and staff. Terry McAndrew of JISC Techdis suggested as a useful resource on educational copyright.

40℅ of the Manchester students already had tablets but School have chosen to support only the iPad tablet. MMS's justification in bucking the trend towards 'Bring Your Own Device' (BYOD) was that a single platform is easier to manage from the institutional view, and by giving every student the same device it promoted inclusion and equality in a collaborative community, with greatly increased opportunities for shared resources resulting from student generated content. Students scavenge information and tag to make it searchable and contextual, and use Evernote's OCR (Optical Character Recognition) feature to scan handwritten content and convert to digital text (if the app can read the individual's handwriting).

MMS are proposing to give all 1st and 2nd year students a device but none for clinical teaching staff as they should be able to afford own. Staff teaching in pre clinical years (separate department) have them though because their department is separately funded!


Implementation Session

The breakout workshop was asked to consider some key issues in implementing the use of tablets:

  • Ownership.  
  • Security. 
  • Resources.  
  • Support.

There were some interesting points raised during the discussions in this session. I'm hoping that the presentations from the session will be shared soon, and I'll then add further details here about the areas to consider for implementation.

WiFi access is a big one - as institutions go down the route of encouraging students to use internet enabled devices they MUST at the same time invest in the network infastructure to ensure that those devices will work within lecture and study spaces at least - having 50 (or 150) students attempt to access resources or interact clicker style using tablets, only to find that the bandwidth grinds to a halt when the 4th person logs on will only result in negative feedback and any potential gains by giving the students devices will be lost as they become regarded as expensive doorstops.

Social Media and Digital Responsibility is another area for consideration. At my previous institution I introduced a new Social Media Policy, aimed at encouraging responsible use of social media for professional and learning purposes. This was kept as simple as possible, though inevitably legal jargon was forced into the policy. The central tenet, however, was "If what you are about to post would upset your mother, boss or friends, think again"

Connectivity in NHS trusts was resolved as result of leverage due to numbers of students - hospitals added an extra network only available to students.

Students didn't use how to videos and guides - they relied on each other.

iPad simple to setup and use but Nexus and similar android devices probably the same. It was interesting to hear so many people use iPad as a synonymn for tablet - for which I can only congratulate the Apple Marketing division, but it certainly isn't the case that the iPad is the only possiblity - just the most hyped (and most expensive).


Using Tablets in Veterinary Education Nick Short RVC

Mobile Computing
In just 10 years have progressed through considerations for laptops to tablets to mobiles Operating systems issues eg inability to play flash on some devices after substantial investment in developing flash based content Student IT survey almost all use windows PC at home but on the move laptop vs iPad or other device much closer.

Anatomy specimen pots have qr codes - when scanned takes you to video about the subject in context. Would be easy to do using our specimens and camtasia

Tablet pilot
63 devices for vet nurses before looking at wider rollout. After researching the available options they chose to go with Windows devices - Dell Latitude 10, and also gave them to the staff. The Windows tablet was chosen for several reasons, but the essentials were that it was compatible with institutional computers, could run flash content, and had office software, which allowed the students to maximise the study-related functionality of the devices.

Method - very complex series of steps were taken in th eimnplementation of the rollout, starting with Identify Device } supplier } order } familiarisation } build testing } deploy & customise } initial testing } feedback }  hardware order for students } software build } and more.

Nick also mentioned a twitter feed that is used by students to share useful links - worth a look @rvc_elearning

Lessons from tablet pilot

  • Access WiFi key
  • Interactive video & images valued
  • Ebooks - working on getting more interactive from publishing
  • Future OER (sharing) and device agnostic mobile friendly content


Short Sessions

Using flash on mobile
There are issues for users who want to watch/interact with flash content on iPads and other mobile devices. Note that although Android devices no longer come with flash player installed it is still available and works on devices such as Nexus 7, but flash based content is definately in decline - this is an issue for legacy resources built over the past decade. Google Swifi is oe of th esoftware tools available to convert swf to html5 -

Library eBook
Onshelf qr codes. Knew I was onto something when suggested that at RCS a couple of years ago. RVC are using them. Have shelf markers in correct context in library students can scan to access eBook. Currently have 100 titles. Evaluation suggested they needed to advertise and inform what qr book blocks were for as some students were taking the 'book block' to the desk to checkout (despite QR codes being used at RVC for past couple of years).

iPads as learning resources
Comparison of laptop vs tablet as education device. Student oriented, with input from Elsevier as eBook publisher. The ebooks are useful as access but if going to read hard copy preferred as the eBooks were very flat without interaction. eBook are charged at the same price as hard copy (£100 a book) which seems outrageous to me as a substantial cost should be in printing and distribution, so the pricing model is grossly unfair to those opting for the eBook which has fewer costs for the publisher!

Students like iPad but want their laptop as more versatile.

One of the concluding remarks made just before I slipped out of the conference for the 6+ hour journey home was that HEE / HEA have a focus on TEL that will see an expansion of resources for vet & human medicine next year.

LoLa - Video Conferencing

Posted on 20 July 2012, 12:02
Last updated Tuesday, 19 February 2013, 10:23

The LoLa (Low-Latency) Workshop took place at Tarantini Conservatory in Trieste, Italy in April 2012. The focus was on using video conferencing technology for live, interactive and simultaneous music performance, rehearsal and tuition, and included delegates from 15 countries, both musicians and technologists in the education field as participants.

The accompanying videos illustrate the technology in practice, and highlight the essential challenge of latency in performance - ie the delay between the sound and video being transmitted and received.

The concept and challenge of latency in music is not new. 600 years ago, St Marks Basilica had four choirs stationed in different locations, and music was composed specifically to take account of the 10 millisecond delay between those locations so that the singers would be synchronised.

Without specialist low-latency equipment this latency (delay) makes it almost impossible to play together remotely. Most commercial video conferencing tools have a latency of around 200 milliseconds - but anything over 50ms becomes very difficult.  Using LoLa technology, the baseline delay is minimised to around 20-30ms, and the only real limit thereafter is effectively the physical distance that the data needs to travel along cables between locations. The longer the physical distance is between performers, the greater the delay, resulting in increasing difficulty in maintaining a performance between locations. Based on current technology (and physics) a practical working limit of around 1500 miles exists, though it is possible to perform at greater distances if participants are experienced in working together.

The Polycom Music Mode is considerably better than other commercial systems for music as it prioritises audio and video at the correct frequency for music (rather than speech), and handles echo cancellation better allowing the accoustics of the performance to be heard appropriately. This system still has latency constraints which limit its use for simultaneous interaction, though this is of less importance in the context of tuition, unless the participants are attempting to play together.

For practical purposes, using super-fast broadband between academic institutions it is possible to perform or rehearse between locations across Europe, or from the middle of the USA to the coast - but not between continents (the distance is too great). The technology is reliant on super-fast broadband networks such as that used for transmission of vast quantities of data between institutions analysing results from the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. The UK component of the network is the JANET LightPath (this can handle considerably more data that the JANET broadband normally used at institutional level).

This requirement creates limitations at a local level - something refered to frequently during the workshop as 'The Final Mile'. Without high-speed broadband the quality and speed degrade, while the latency significantly increases. The technology is therefore of limited use between sites that are not directly connected by a lighpath (or very close to one). While ideal for work between to European institutions, it is likely to have limited value for outreach or remote rehearsal. This also highlights a major decising-based limitation in the high-speed education networks being developed - education does not start and finish within universities.

For more details regarding LoLa, the Internet2 site covers the use of the technology in the USA, where this technology developed in Europe has taken off -

For full details about the event see this page -

Tourists Look Up

Posted on 10 April 2012, 13:56
Last updated Wednesday, 05 August 2015, 11:34

These are some musings on reflection as a learning activity - formed while having a couple of hours to do the 'tourist' bit en-route to a workshop in Trieste, Italy in April 2012. Mostly they're just nice pictures of architecture and sculptures - the actual workshop content follows later.

One of the things that struck me vividly was that my home city of Glasgow has architecture and sculpture every bit as fabulous and distinctive as that of Trieste (or of York, where I attended the ALT conference last year). But as a local I don't make any real effort to see the buildings around me in Glasgow. As I walked through the central square in Trieste I noticed that you could tell who the tourists were at a glance - not because they had cameras, but because they were the ones looking up. The local residents were simply going about their business, heads down.

It's a natural trait (and not limited to humans) to stop noticing things around you that aren't a threat. It's called habituation. The same thing happens when you move into a new house and the streetlight outside your window makes a buzzing sound that keeps you awake for hours. Within a couple of weeks you don't even notice it - but it's still there. What does that have to do with reflection? Well - everything really...

The most dangerous thing I did while in Italy was cross the road with the green man -  on a zebra crossing. Coming from the UK I had the natural expectation that when the green man was lit the cars and motorbikes would stop - it's a cultural thing. But no. Halfway across the road (and therefore committed to the journey) I could still see a stream of fast moving traffic piling around the corner just in front of me (and also behind me) - between me and the safety of the pavement. There was a brief lull in the flow of motorbikes and I quick stepped to the safety of the pavement with some relief. On asking the conference hosts about the local driving rules I was told "If there's nobody crossing the road cars keep moving - if there's someone in front of them they will stop".

This seemed a bit mad to me - but within two days I started to habituate to it too - and hurled myself onto the road challenging the cars to stop just like the local pedestrians did. Fortunately, they did - otherwise this blog would end a bit prematurely.

But back to reflection.

The point, really, is that anything we become familiar with is something that we stop noticing. Only by stepping out of our comfortable bubble will we experience things with a new perspective, and actually reflect (think) about what we are experiencing in a way that might challenge our conventional view - in other words to learn from the experience. This causes me some discomfort. Not because I'm suggesting that we need to experience new things in order to reflect on whether what we know is actually correct (I think that's a good thing), but rather:- does this mean that we need to continually experience new things - are we in effect in an arms race between our brain (and established preconceptions), and the outside world (of new ideas).

And if this is an arms race - how can we win? At what point do we say "I have learned enough to know something". When are we enlightened? To contrast this, Malcolm Gladwell in his book "Blink" provides fairly compelling evidence that very often our snap-decisions are more accurate than carefully thought through judgements - too often we overthink things and analyse to death our ideas and interpretations of our environment. I'm doing it now...

Perhaps the solution is to move on to something completely different. One of the observations that I made in Trieste is that there was an extremely visible police presence. There seemed to be a police car or patrolling officers at almost every junction - but their presence was neither intrusive nor intimidating. There was a reassurance of " We are here. There is no trouble, we are simply passing through". New ideas should be like that.

So I'll conclude by suggesting that unless we make a habit of experiencing our lives in different circumstances we may miss important facts that would critically change our attitudes or opinions. Perhaps the snap-decision process works well because the moment we start to ponder an idea we rely on old information rather than the initial raw data of an immediate experience. If that's the case then active reflection is something that should not be done within the same context as the work that is being reflected on. For example, thinking about how a piece of music is played might be better served by some distance - in time and space. Videoing the event and contrasting it with a related (but new) experience at a later date might make the reflection a more powerful process than simply sitting scribbling notes immediatey after the performance, as doing so is likely to fall back on existing patterns rather than creating opportunities for new ideas to emerge.

MoodleMoot 2010 Day 2 - Morning

Posted on 14 September 2010, 16:26
Last updated Tuesday, 10 April 2012, 13:45

After an evening spent discussing cultural differences and practices with international delegates in the comfort of the student union (after a meal which to be honest wasn't great), it was an early start again for the anticipated highlight - Martin Dougiamas, the creator of Moodle, video conferencing in from down under, where an antipodean Moodle Moot was running concurrently with our own.

I had seen Martin speak a couple of years earlier when he was touring and stopped off in Scotland to speak at Glasgow University. I was therefore a little disappointed that Ii heard nothing new ... Moodle 2.0 still promised to deliver all of the key functionality i expected an LMS/VLE/CMS to deliver, but was still not ready and was scheduled for some mythical 6 months in the future. This put my own plans to roll out Moodle 2.0 within RSAMD firmly on hold - I wasn't going to be the guinea pig institution that uncovered some fatal bug that the developers hadn't noticed. as a result i came back from the conference 90% accepting that we would not be ungrading this year - and even more disappointed that some of the key functionality that was expected in 2.0 might actually be put back until a release of 2.1 to allow the product to 'get out there'.

Perhaps feeling a bit fatigued after a couple of days away from home, or perhaps just busy working through the implications of the 2.0 revelations I have to say the morning workshop was a blur of speakers and my notes for the session contained nothing I'd want to tweet about. Lunch was a welcome break by that point.

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