Down and up the greasy pole

It seems there is no constant but change. I was feeling pleased with myself over my success with a Greasemonkey script to produce simple statistics for comparing results from multiple markers in the Moodle assignment system. My infrequent forays into coding had made that process a bit like climbing a greasy pole but I’d eventually succeeded in reaching the top and a working script.

It was during that process of development or shortly after that I noticed that more complex pages in the assignment module were failing to build and display correctly. Initially that was visible for my first assignment which had marks and attached feedback files for about 170 students. That page was taking a long time to appear and, when it did, it had just the table of results without any of the regular styling or page navigation. Pages without results or with fewer students per page continued to load correctly but it was no longer possible to generate statistics across the whole set of markers and results for a larger course.

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Greasing the wheels of progress

For the past eight years we have been dealing with assignments submitted online through a locally developed system, EASE (Electronic Assignment Submission Environment), which was originally planned in response to perceived deficiencies in WebCT Vista, our LMS from 2003 until around 2008. By the time EASE was ready we were in transition to Moodle as our LMS but EASE offered enough that most classes used it in preference to the native Moodle submission system, which was available to those who wanted it.

This semester, as part of the Grand Unification Theory of Everything that decreed consistency via a single interface, EASE was suddenly deprecated in favour of a revamped and slightly adapted Moodle module that was expected to offer facilities equivalent to EASE. The new system actually includes some facilities that are better than anything EASE offered. Most notable is the facility to zip up a set of files with feedback to students, upload the archive and have the files distributed to students. That is vastly preferable to selecting and uploading a file for each of up to several hundred students.

Unfortunately those responsible for promoting the change inexplicably chose not to publicise such benefits and instead simply told people that the familiar system, EASE, would no longer be used. There was no real training offered and very limited documentation. The response from staff required to make the transition was less than universally positive and is probably intensifying now that we are near mid-semester and most courses are dealing with assignment submissions.

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SITE 2015 – Las Vegas

I spent the first week of March (1 – 6) attending the 26th annual conference of the Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education (SITE) in Las Vegas. That was also the first week of semester so, when I was not at the conference, I was kept busy responding to students in the course discussion forums. I’m grateful for the support of my School and Faculty to attend, including partial financial support. I’ve attended SITE each year since I first attended in 1998 and have always found that it is the most useful conference for me in terms of interest in the papers presented and connections with colleagues. This year was no exception.

I had booked my travel in mid-2014 and expected to arrive in Las Vegas on the morning of Saturday, 28 February, before we left Brisbane according to the clock and calendar. As it happened there was freezing weather in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and our 9:20 am flight from LAX to Las Vegas finally departed at 5:30 pm after the plane was thawed and able to depart DFW. I had hoped to use the time on Saturday to arrange an excursion to the Grand Canyon on Sunday but that didn’t happen. Instead we spent Sunday exploring The Strip and I eventually booked for a conference excursion to Red Rock Canyon on Monday. That trip did yield some interesting landscape photos to complement some from Las Vegas itself.

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Can I walk the walk? Project-based design challenge in EDP4130

With interruptions it has taken longer than I’d hoped to revise the assessment package for the 2015 offer of EDP4130 Technologies Curriculum and Pedagogy. I do now have what I think is a complete draft sitting on my own site for testing and review. I still need to think about how to integrate that into the LMS and tie in other material that might be needed but I think the major work is done.

While I’ve been thinking about the course and working on the details of the assessment enrolments have crept up from 130 when I began the year to 154 (23, 15 & 30 on the campuses and 85 online). That should not affect the way the course is taught or assessed but will increase the volume of work to be managed.

I began the assignment design with the intent of preserving (and enhancing where possible) the focus on collaboration and sharing of resources that have been a feature of the course in the past while moving toward a project-based learning approach that would use methods we recommend to students for teaching technologies. That resulted in the outline I described previously. This post describes some of the work toward the more detailed description for students.

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Assessing some options

A bit more than a week into the new year and the beginning of semester is inching closer. It’s time to get some work done on the courses I’ll be teaching. Content will need to be updated but I tend to begin most times by thinking about assessment and how that will enable students to demonstrate (or not) their learning.

The larger of the two courses I’ll be teaching is EDP4130 Technology Curriculum and Pedagogy with 130 students enrolled at present, 55 on one or other of 3 campuses (16, 9 & 30 respectively) and the balance online. All students will have access to the online material and, based on past experience, attendance at classes will vary according to students’ other commitments. I’ll be dealing personally with the online group and 16 (so far) on campus. A colleague on another campus will deal with the 30 and the 9 will be serviced by a casual staff member. We will need assessments that can be managed through the LMS (Moodle) by that mixed group of students and staff.
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Tantalising Turnitin toolset for assessment

As is usual at this time of year I’m ‘spring cleaning’ and ‘renovating’ the course(s) that I will be teaching in Semester 1 (begins 2 March). I’ve been working on the assessment for EDP4130 and hope to say more about that soon but, in the process, I was thinking about submission, marking, and managing results using our new systems. That’s my subject here.

For the past several years most of the work I have had submitted for marking has come in the form of Word files submitted through EASE (Electronic Assignment Submission Environment). When EASE was introduced in 2008 for use in conjunction with our LMS (Moodle) it was an advance on the previous arrangements using WebCT Vista or Moodle. EASE provided for allocation of items to markers (originally manual by selection from a list) and for bulk download of submissions in a zip archive that expanded to a set of folders, one per submission. It lacked any automated way of allocating to markers and had no facility for bulk uploading of marked work with marks and feedback. With a bit of AppleScript and JavaScript in combination I was able to build a method for allocating items to markers according to a list in a spreadsheet and to automatically upload marked work from a suitably configured folder. The latter is something I would not give up lightly if the alternative is uploading marks and feedback individually for up to 100 or more students at a time.
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Refreshing & rebooting this blog

This blog has long been in need of refreshing. The earliest posts date from 2004. For a while, especially around 2005, I was mostly posting comments about material I found on the web and occasional reports of conferences or comments on other happenings. More recently it has been mostly a series of auto-posted daily records of links bookmarked in Diigo with occasional other pieces of more substance. To make that work I had a ‘links’ category set up as the default so that the auto-posts from Diigo landed in a logical category.

Over the years I’ve experimented with various themes. for a good while I used Beautiful Sunrise and more recently (mid-2014) I moved to Dazzling but I was never really happy with the way it insisted on displaying just summaries and compacted the link posts into a blob of undifferentiated text. My problem was that most other themes that I looked at were too bland, too fussy, or spread things out too much and used overly large text. Any satisfactory solution was going to involve some work and time to do that along with (re)learning what I needed to know to make it work.

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Dogged optimist?

Being an optimist sometimes seems to require a degree of dogged determination. It can be necessary to hang on, sometimes for years, in the hope that things will be right in the end. Those of a more pessimistic persuasion would probably describe it as delusion rather than hope but that’s the core of the difference between the half-full and half-empty views of the world.

USQ has been offering fully online courses for almost 20 years. Unlike the early online offerings in some places that required attendance at face-to-face class meetings at beginning and end, and sometimes in between, USQ dived in at the deep end. Online courses had no required face-to-face meetings, no printed or optical media materials through the post, and mostly no required synchronous connections. An online or WEB course was just that. It all happened on the web.
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Australian Computers in Education Conference 2014

This time last week I was in Adelaide to attend the Australian Computers in Education Conference (ACEC2014), the once annual but now biennial conference of the Australian Council for Computers in Education (ACCE). ACCE is the peak national professional group for those interested in ICT in education. It brings together state associations like the Queensland Society for Information Technology in Education (QSITE) and EdTechSA, which was the host on this occasion, and is the national affiliate for the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). The members of these associations are predominantly K-12 teachers but also include teacher educators with interest in the field. That makes their conferences, and especially ACEC, interesting as sites where academics and teachers come together with research papers mixed with presentations with a strong classroom focus. ACEC is a rare opportunity for interactions across the school-university spectrum.
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The end of things

Our USQ 23 Things pilot is ending with a reflection. With the orientation that makes a total of 10 weeks across 8 things. That’s a somewhat truncated version of the full 23 Things, which is itself a truncated version of the original 43 Things that I found when I did some digging a week or two ago. I assume that 43 Things was derived from the 43 Folders idea. That I understand. 43 = 12 + 31 and is the number of folders needed for a tickler system in which things are filed for the day they are due in the current month or under a future month. The originator of 23 Things apparently thought 43 Things would be too many and arbitrarily reduced the number. If our pilot is any indication that was a smart move. We appear to have struggled with 8 Things over 10 weeks.

The invitation this week is to reflect on the past 9 weeks. I looked at the 4 suggested readings about social media and academia. They were interesting and confirmed some existing ideas but I don’t think there was much that was truly new for me in there. Coincidentally Corinne Weisgerber tweeted a link this morning to 10 Rising Social Networks You Should Explore. That’s 10 more things just waiting to be explored for those who made it through this pilot and really wanted 23 Things 🙂
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