Anyone who’s ever worked on a European funded project or programme will be all too familiar with the volume of paperwork and time spent on administration and auditing to meet European funding and reporting requirements. Digital signatures, although highly time and cost efficient, are not acceptable for auditing purposes with only hand signed documentation being permitted.
As part of a consortium providing a significant amount of European funded work based learning in Wales, Coleg Sir Gâr were keen to find a solution that would meet both European and Welsh Assembly Government requirements for hand written signatures as well as providing the elegance and efficiency of the online learner management and learner support systems colleges and tutors wished for.
The Secure Work-Based Learning Administration through Networked Infrastructure (SWANI) project, funded under the JISC Learning and Teaching Innovation Grants SWaNI FE programme, therefore set out to identify ways of addressing this tension and establish a pilot project as a proof of concept to form the basis of a long term solution.
After some research the project team settled on the Fastdox digital document system as offering exactly the combination of hand signed originals and timestamped digital copies necessary to meet the needs of all parties.
The documents to be signed are created in a MySQL database supported by a very user friendly and remotely accessible web interface. These are then printed using the Fastdox software which applies a unique pattern of microscopic dots to the physical document to communicate with the digital pen. The pen functions just like an ordinary pen, allowing trainers to sign the documents normally and therefore produce the required hand signed physical document, but the pen also stores all the written information, time stamped, for later downloading into the online learner management and auditing system: an excellent overview of the entire process is available from the product site itself and an exploration of how it was put into practice can be found on the project’s blog. At between £4-500 for each pen and software package it represents a one-time investment that fulfils a long term requirement, requires little training for tutors to use and meets all the requirements the project set out to address – indeed, the biggest problem the project team ran into was the lack of standardisation in documents across WBL providers and changes to the document design part way through the project which required some revision.
With the pilot now coming to a close, the project team will be adding further information to the project website and undertaking a series of dissemination activities. Their solution should be useful not only to FE colleges with similar funding and auditing requirements but for anyone looking for efficient and effective digital document management and tracking.
The 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.
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.
The JISC Learning and Teaching Innovation Grants programme funds a small number of projects each year to explore and support innovative approaches to teaching and learning. These projects cover a vast range of subject areas, technologies and activities, from poetry to chemistry, LaTeX to Twitter, QR codes to the Wii, virtual worlds to augmented reality. Over the next few weeks I’ll be blogging about a number of these projects, the innovative activities they’ve undertaken and the very wide range of technologies in use within this programme.
JISC have just released a call for the latest round of funding available within this programme. The application process is designed to encourage speculative and innovative ideas, the first stage consisting of submission of an outline proposal rather than the traditional full bid.
The deadline for submission of proposals for the current call is noon on Monday 21 March 2011. There’s also a briefing event being held at 2pm on Tuesday 22 February in Elluminate which potential applicants are strongly encouraged to attend.
Best of luck to all applicants!
Edit (21 Feb 11): Martin Hawksey offers some excellent tips on bidding through his JISC RSE Scotland North & East blog.