Under development: xGames

xgames-logoThe xGames project, a collaboration between Reid Kerr and Anniesland colleges, has been running for nearly a year and is currently in the final stages of piloting its innovative use of wireless xBox360 controllers for classroom quizzes.  Funded as part of the JISC Learning and Teaching Innovation Grants: SWaNI (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) FE programme, the project has produced a highly user friendly question editor to allow complete novices to quiz and game design to easily author questions.  These questions can then be played in one of several games designed by the project on a large screen linked to a standard Windows PC fitted with USB receivers for up to four wireless xBox controllers.  Using wireless controllers is crucial as the range of the sensors allows a great deal of flexibility in classroom set up, permitting the use of breakout groups to discuss topics and feedback, for example.  Additionally, xBox controllers are familiar to many learners who are more confident using them than PC gaming.

The video below demonstrates the system’s use in a primary school classroom, and the engagement and enthusiasm of the children is immediately obvious, with lively discussions about the quiz questions and clear enjoyment of the session, the immediate indication of correct and incorrect answers providing instant feedback to the pupils.  The use of the large screen allows the teacher to constantly maintain a clear overview of the progress of the entire class, allowing her to identify topics that are generally not understood and which require whole class revision or struggling individuals within the group.  Discussion amongst the older group of college students is more muted, but their focus on the game mechanics and subject matter is evident.


The games, screenshots for which can be found under the games menu on the project site (software will be available from this site in due course), are designed using industry standard software such as XNA Game Studio, 3D Studio Max, Fireworks and Illustrator, with the question editor using a Visual Basic form for generating plain text files containing the question stem, distractors and correct response.  Unlike a commercial system such as Quia, questions are stored in a shared public folder so they can easily be shared and reused by teachers in different institutions.  XGames has generated interest from FE and, particularly, schools, and may well see further uptake as an affordable and easily adopted way of bringing game based learning into more classrooms.

Under development: Sharing Higher Education Data

Meaningful work placements and graduate employability have always been an important part of university education and preparation for a professional future in certain disciplines, and are arguably even more so today in a climate of limited employment opportunities, with high university fees and loans positioning students as customers investing in their future careers.  Certain subject areas enjoy good relationships with industry, providing industrial placements to give students real-world experience in their future fields, while local companies benefit from the expertise and cutting edge knowledge these students can bring to the workplace.  Universities and colleges similarly benefit from this ongoing engagement with industry, ensuring their courses remain relevant and meaningful.

Shrinking university staff numbers have increased workloads, limiting the time staff have to spend assisting individual students in seeking suitable placements and opportunities for work-based learning.  In any case, reliance on university staff is not necessarily the best way in which students can prepare themselves for seeking suitable, fulfilling employment on graduation, or establish fruitful relationships with potential employers.

The Sharing Higher Education Data (SHED) project attempts to address these issues through the delivery of a ‘matchmaking’ service for students and employers, which will both facilitate communication between them and enable students to plan their learning paths in the light of the expectations and requirements of their chosen profession.  Sample case studies included in the student and employer information sheets about the service help illustrate the range of ways in which SHED can benefit both user groups while increasing interaction between academia and industry.

SHED uses the popular Mahara open source eportfolio tool to allow students to develop their profiles, and, vitally, provides them with strict control over what information is made publicly viewable by potential recruiters.  Students can also view common employer search terms within their particular field in order to better understand the employment market in that area and to support the review and revision of their profiles to enhance their employability.  The integration of the XCRI information model and specification (eXchanging Course Related Information) provides a common framework for describing and sharing course information, while Leap2A and InterOperability provide support for the sharing of eportfolio and competence information.

As a partnership between the Centre for International ePortfolio Development at the University of Nottingham and Derby College, SHED will also be able to demonstrate how the system can be used across a number of different institutions without compromising privacy while maximising opportunities for placement and project work and professional development.  Although small-scale and local to begin with, it is intended that the system be scalable to include many institutions, subject areas and locations, and provide both a valuable service for students and employers and insight into regional and national trends in industry and development.

Under development: eMargin

eMargin logo

When I was studying English at university, one of the more engaging and intriguing sites of discussion and debate was the margins of printed texts.  These are the ultimate asynchronous discussions, taking place over decades in some cases, rarely revisted by their participants once they’d left their comment on previous comments.  It was fascinating to encounter often very different perceptions on both primary and secondary texts, and they encouraged me to reflect on my own interpretations and arguments as well as articulating them in the form of comments added to those already there.  These serendipitous discoveries definitely enhanced my learning experience, providing the opportunity to discuss texts and solidify my understanding significantly beyond that provided by limited tutorial time and the very few other opportunities for debate available.  Similarly, I encouraged my students to write on their books to increase engagement with the texts they read and legitimise their interpretations and opinions, although that was often met with askance looks that clearly said, ‘sod that, I’m selling them later.’

So I was very interested to learn about the eMargin project, which is developing an online collaborative textual annotation resource as part of the JISC Learning and Teaching Innovation Grants funding round six.  The eMargin system allows a range of annotation activities for electronic editions of texts, encompassing notes and comments on individual sections, highlighting, underlining and so on, all personalisable to support different tastes and access requirements.  What takes this beyond the usual functionality offered by ebook readers is the ability to share these annotations with class-mates and students from other institutions, enabling their use as educational resources by design rather than chance.  Teachers are able to control the degree of exposure of annotations in line with institutional policies on student IPR, and the system may be developed further to allow students to control which comments they wish to share and which to keep private, allowing them to use the same system for personal study as well as class work.  By providing an easy means for sharing ideas, together with a wiki feature for building and capturing consensus, this system will be of value in all disciplines, not just English Literature where it is being developed.

The project team, Andrew Kehoe and Matt Gee of the Research and Development Unit for English Studies at Birmingham City University, are developing the system through a number of iterations in the light of feedback from teachers and learners, and engaging participants in other institutions and other disciplines to demonstrate its versatility.  The team is also exploring the possibility of integrating eMargin with VLEs, and its potential as an eassessment tool; it may also have value in tracking the development of learners’ ideas in order to reduce opportunities for plagiarism.

The project runs until the end of May 2012, when source code, user guides and an archive of textual annotations will be available via the project site.  You can also visit their FaceBook page.

Under development: VWVLE

The VWVLE project, or Supporting Education in Virtual Worlds with Virtual Learning Environments to give it its full name, has been funded as part of the JISC Learning and Teaching Innovation Grants round 5 to examine the wide range of emerging pedagogical opportunities offered through the integration of virtual worlds and web-based virtual learning environments.

Led by the University of the West of Scotland, with partners including Imperial College London, The Open University and the University of Ulster, the project builds on the considerable experience and expertise the project team have developed through their work on SLOODLE and the use of games for learning within virtual environments.  SLOODLE (Simulation Linked Object Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment) provides seamless integration between the virtual world Second Life and Moodle, the popular open source VLE.  Pilot courses will see students in engineering, computing and medicine explore aspects of the core question of how web-based virtual learning environments can effectively support learning and teaching in virtual worlds, particularly focusing on personalisation and reuse of content, and gaming in VWs, and demonstrating the applicability of such technologies across different institutional and disciplinary contexts.

A number of outputs will be produced, including guidance for practitioners, a range of extensions or plug-ins for Moodle/SLOODLE, and a guide to producing reusable content in virtual worlds which will attempt to address some of the issues that present a significant barrier to the easy and effective exchange of such resources.  The emphasis on the integration of VWs and games with educational systems such as VLEs will both highlight the pedagogic benefits of such integration and attempt to clarify and address the challenges of doing so.  By making explicit the range of technologies and support resources relied upon by educators working with VWs, and identifying and sharing good practice, the project can make a real impact on practice in this area and future activities.

Under development: Peer Evaluation in Education Review (PEER)

The Peer Evaluation in Education Review (PEER) project based here at the University of Strathclyde is one of five projects funded in the JISC Learning and Teaching Innovation Grants programme round 5.  Running from 1 June 2010 to 30 June 2011, the project explores a range of issues around the implementation and delivery of peer assessment within higher education.

PEER is led by David Nicol and Catherine Milligan, building on the highly influential Re-engineering Assessment Practices in Higher Education (REAP) project.  The interplay between the two projects is clear from the extensive information available through the umbrella site that links the two, offering a wealth of information and resources around assessment, peer assessment and feedback.  The website is constantly under development, so is well worth regular revisiting to see the latest developments.

The project’s first phase involves the development of a framework for peer review and a detailed evaluation of existing peer review software.  A range of tools was evaluated in relation to a list of desirable features, and outcomes from this exercise are being added to the website for future reference.  Stage two involves a series of small scale pilots in a range of subject areas and institutions: the project team are also very interested in hearing from others piloting peer review software for potential inclusion within this research activity.  The final phase will see the development of a number of resources including guidelines on implementing peer review within a course of study and a literature review.

Unlike some LTIG projects, technical development activities are limited to those necessary to integrate those systems chosen for the pilot phase with the institutional LMS, Moodle.  Both the PeerMark functionality within Turnitin, and Aropa, developed by the University of Auckland, New Zealand, will be tested during the pilots.