This is a general category in which we recognise people who have made creative use of digital technologies other than WebLearn in their teaching. It’s always an exciting category to judge because it reveals the many initiatives at the departmental and even individual levels that complement provision from the centre.
Winner: Professor Simon Benjamin for Flipped Classroom for First-Year Undergraduate Materials Students (Maths)
Having taught a course on Vectors, Matrices and Determinants to first-year Materials students for several years, Simon came to realise that a substantial part of each of the lectures followed a simple recipe: the lecturer explains how to work out a particular mathematical result, and then goes through several examples while the students copy them down from the whiteboard. He decided that this material could be better presented to the students using short videos to be viewed before the lecture, along with some practice exercises. He made a series of 10 short videos and uploaded them to YouTube.
Simon then selected some of the more simple problems from the work sheets that students are given, and worked with a graduate student to convert them into a series of online multiple-choice quizzes. Each quiz allows the student to test their understanding of the preceding video by selecting answers from multiple choices. In this way, students can practise the techniques at their own speed, freeing up the lecture time for more interactive and interesting problem-solving discussions.
Simon has now taught the course in this new format twice. Feedback from students has been very positive, and Simon was asked to describe his work to colleagues in the Department of Materials. He has also noticed that the video lectures tend to be viewed again in the run-up to exams, which suggests that students are using them to brush up their technique.
The judges considered Simon’s entry a worthy winner for three reasons. First, it’s a pioneering example of the ‘flipped classroom’ technique in Oxford. Second, it shows that a DIY approach to video making can be highly effective. Third, Simon has contributed to the University’s mission for global outreach by releasing his videos under a Creative Commons Licence on an open Moodle platform hosted by the Department for Continuing Education.
Runners-up: Dr Kenny Moore, Jon Mason, Dr Aartjan te Velthuis and Professor William James for Viral Outbreak Online ‘i-Case’ Teaching Platform
The Viral Outbreak i-Case is a major reworking of an online practical class for medical students first developed ten years ago. It addresses students’ tendency to ‘follow the recipe’ in such classes without engaging fully with the context and purpose of what they are doing. Viral Outbreak requires the students to decide which experiments to perform in order to uncover a key piece of information about an imaginary outbreak of influenza in two fictitious primary schools.
The revised version takes advantage of newer cross-platform technologies and addresses a number of the educational shortcomings identified in its predecessor. For example, the iCase requires the students to decide which experiments to perform in order to uncover a key piece of information. However, the results had previously been presented in an analysed format. In order to encourage the students to fully understand each of the techniques, teaching team decided to provide them with simulated data that required students to process the data themselves. This had the added advantage of being more visually appealing and more representative of real life experiments.
In their written work students are now demonstrating greater understanding of the key learning outcomes. They also report that they enjoy the iCase more than ‘normal’ practicals even though they find it more difficult.
The judges felt that the iCase represents a highly successful fusion of excellence in technology and creativity in educational design.
Honourable Mention: Dr Rebecca White and Dr John Ingram for Innovative Food Systems Teaching and Learning Programme (IFSTAL)
The Innovative Food Systems Teaching and Learning Programme is an ambitious multi-institutional initiative in blended learning. Spearheaded by Dr John Ingram of Oxford, the programme combines face-to-face teaching with a cross-university VLE to provide opportunities for students to engage with an interdisciplinary topic of global importance: food security. The blended model aims to meet two key criteria: cross-campus graduate student engagement and interaction; and a ‘systems’ perspective that draws on the strengths and different perspectives of each partner institution.
The backbone of the IFSTAL programme this year has been a series of lectures delivered by different IFSTAL partners at their own institution and live-streamed across the sites. In the example below, a lecture live-streamed from the University of Reading is watched by students at the University of Warwick on the left, and City University on the right. The lecture was also viewed by students in Oxford, the Royal Veterinary College, the School of Oriental and African Studies, and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
The programme includes a range of other interdependent ‘blended’ parts: use of Twitter and Adobe Connect for cross-campus Q&A; use of Twitter Storify; use of VLE-based forums for answering questions after lectures, including with voice-recorded answers; use of the chat-room function on the VLE to hold Q&A sessions across campuses; and the use of Adobe Connect to run webinars. The VLE (Moodle, hosted at the Royal Veterinary College and accessed through each institution’s single-sign on functionality) is also a flexible form of access for people who cannot participate in the face-to-face activities, such as distance learners.
The judges have been impressed by IFSTAL’s achievements in its first year and are pleased to award it an Honourable Mention.