About Pete Roberts

By day I work as a learning technologist in GLEU - that's the Learning enhancement unit at Goldsmiths, University of London. By night I'm an electronic musician. Views expressed here are my own.

Mahara UK 2014

Last week I packed my bucket and spade and headed off to thunderstorm-struck Brighton for Mahara UK 2014 - not much use on a pebble beach as it happens.

Two day conferences can be a bit thin on compelling content, but fortunately not in this case. Before we went m’colleague Tina and I were getting a bit jaded about Mahara – we’ve had mixed success I think it’s fair to say – some inspiring, enthusiastic adopters and a fair amount of polite disinterest or people put off by the learning curve.

By the end of the first day I was convinced again – Mahara rocks. It was inspiring to see and meet people with so many great ideas describing how they’d used Mahara. Also nice to meet the developers themselves – and later on meet some sea life at the evening event.

By the second day I had a notebook full of spontaneous ideas about using it here at Goldsmiths – I won’t bore you with them here, I’ll blog again as and when we try things out and describe how it goes.

Here’s the Twitterings about it all: https://twitter.com/search?q=%23MaharaUK14

Roll on 2015 and a big thanks to Brighton Uni and Catalyst! And the people at the UMI hotel were really nice too.

Fancy working with us?


Join us!

We’ve a vacancy within the team for an Academic Developer (Technology Enhanced Learning) in the e-learning team at Goldsmiths. You can probably guess the sort of thing it involves – but here are the details :

Get your skates on – closing date is the 18 July.

BETT 2014

I went to the BETT exhibition and conference a couple of Fridays ago in the cosy, intimate surroundings of the Excel exhibition centre. It was huge. Surreal almost.

Some of the people I met had come a long way (Sweden for example). I’d walked and crossed the river from Greenwich – having finally found a reason to take the strangely pointless dangleway. I’m not good with heights.

So what to make of BETT? There was a massive amount of stuff on display covering all age ranges. Not surprisingly, lots of tablet stuff (mostly iPads). Had a chat with the people from Urkund too – an alternative to the seemingly ubiquitous Turnitin.

If nothing else, it drove home that if kids are increasingly growing up and being educated with all this tech, then at HE level we should be aware of it and not perceived to be stuck in the dark ages when they get here.

What was most interesting to me were the sessions. Students from Plymouth Uni talked eloquently about their use of social media and similar ‘cloud -based’ web tools. Ironically this was on the day when Gmail when down for a while – so always have a plan B. This brought to mind an exercise I had to do a couple of years back, mapping out my Personal Learning Environment. About the only thing I used that I think  wasn’t mentioned was Zotero. I was interested in their experiences of blogging too. Initially maybe a bit daunting but a great reflective tool and of course good for networking and developing a professional online persona. Or just rambling like I do.

I enjoyed Doug Belshaw’s Masterclass on Digital Literacies – food for thought there and I’ll blog about that when I’ve got some sensible thoughts together. Also on a similar theme was a talk from UAL about their ambitious communities of practice approach to engaging students and staff with digital technologies.

Resources from these that were new to me (or slipped my mind in the past) included:

So would I go next year? Hmm.

You wait ages for a conference then two come along at once – mobile learning

Mobile learning: How mobile technologies can enhance the learning experience

On Friday I attended BETT 2014, which I think needs its own post. On Thursday I went to a small UCISA session at Imperial College on mobile learning, introduced by John Traxler who was also at BETT. It was basically a day of recent case studies.

He made some interesting points. For example, although case studies are valuable, things are moving so quickly that they soon become dated. Also, the idea of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) is more complex than simply coping with the hardware people have – people are bringing their own services too – and expectations with them. Facebook or Gmail for example.

Mobile devices can be used to reach out not just to the geographically distant – but the socially distant too. And, say, a smartphone that knows where you are standing in an art gallery AND a system that knows a little about your history and interests could deliver information that is about the painting you are looking at – but also relevant to you.

There was some discussion through the day about students who can’t afford them – or maybe don’t want them – and the choice of device. Most of the projects were based around iPads. Some of the challenges were interesting – how do you make an iPad ‘lab proof’ for example.

Some of the themes were echoed at BETT the day after, so I’ll return to those in my next post.

You can see the case studies here: http://www.ucisa.ac.uk/bestpractice/Copy_of_publications/effective_use.aspx

Getting Appy

M’colleague Tina and I downloaded a couple of apps that were featured during the day. My personal favourite is Fieldtrip GB, which allows you to log a variety of data sources from an IOS or Android device. You can store and tag photos, audio or even text data in custom forms. I particularly like the maps that you can download in advance in case there turns out to be no signal at your destination. Afterwards you can upload your data to Dropbox – although truth be told I haven’t got that bit working yet. I’m looking forward to analysing the data we gathered afterwards in the pub.

Anyway – Fieldtrip GB is definitely my APP OF THE WEEK.

Fieldtrip GB app

Fieldtrip GB app

Season’s greetings

This year I took it upon myself to furnish the office with a Christmas tree.

festive tree

Festive tree

Impressive I’m sure you’ll agree. Two pounds from the Dig This shop in New Cross (nursery, farmers market, records and art exhibition). Assuming it survives the year, I can use it again next year, thus being green as well as Scrooge-like.

Season’s Greetings. Bah humbug etc.


Turnitin experiencing problems

Turnitin UK seems to be unwell again. At the moment it’s either very slow or not responding at all. If you’re at Goldsmiths trying to use it, best to try again after a few minutes and keep an eye on learn.gold’s site home page for news. It can take hours sometimes to resolve. (Turnitin is a third party system so it’s not something we can fix in GLEU).

You can follow @TurnitinStatus on Twitter for up to date news. Their last tweet was: TurnitinUK continues to experience a service disruption. We are working to resolve this and will provide an update.

Quizzes aren’t just for STEM subjects…

One of the things I want to look more deeply into are quizzes in learn.gold (which runs Moodle 2.5). I think there’s a general view that multiple choice quizzes are good for science subjects but not for areas like English literature.

Here’s an interesting blog post from the commercial company Questionmark. English Literature students were required to answer a multiple choice quiz before lectures and the questions were made as search-proof as possible by using different words to those in the text. Students had to read and understand the text in order to answer, so no Googling and cheating. Students reported that the quizzes motivated them to complete assigned reading before lectures.

Learn.gold has quizzes built in of course. This year our Centre for English Language and Academic Writing (CELAW) devised a quiz to help students write academic essays. An example paragraph for an assignment was supplied and the students were asked to read it and respond to several questions (a series of statements rather than YES/NO).

For example, if it was an opening paragraph, they were asked if it introduced the essay clearly, whether it provided a clear context to the discussion that followed and so on.  Students were then given immediate feedback. I tried it out and found it quite challenging.

Any other interesting example of quizzes welcome!