Meet Sally

This week, we’d like you to meet Sally Swaine, the University’s IT and Digital Skills Coordinator. Sally is based in Innovation and Technology Solutions (formerly IT Services). In this short video, she talks about the two big IT training projects that you might not be aware of. The first one is the re-location of the IT Training Room, completed earlier this year,  and the second is the migration from Lynda.com to LinkedIn Learning (scheduled to take place this Summer).

The University has subscribed to Lynda.com for a few years now. It provides us with a vast, and ever-growing library of instructional video courses. The courses cover a wide variety of topics. This includes a lot of learning content on popular IT software packages like Microsoft Office (Word, Excel and PowerPoint) and the Adobe suite of creative applications, such as Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign. There is also a wealth of material on creativity, entrepreneurship, project management and social media marketing. All of the courses are taught by industry insiders. Best of all, this service is FREE to all students and staff currently studying or working at the University of Essex.

Check out the video courses on Lynda.com now.  Go to the organisational login page, then type “essex.ac.uk” into the box and press the “Continue” button. You will then be able to sign in using your  usual Essex ID and password.

In 2015, Lynda.com was bought out by LinkedIn, the world’s most popular professional social networking site. (Subsequently, LinkedIn was acquired by Microsoft in 2016 for more than 26 billion dollars.) Over the last two years, the website has been further integrated into the LinkedIn network and re-branded as “LinkedIn Learning”.

The University will be upgrading to LinkedIn Learning this Summer (the specific date has yet to be decided). All of the content currently on Lynda.com will still be there, along with a whole host of new features. This will include an improved user interface and personalised course recommendations related to your profession. You can take a sneak peak at the new platform on the LinkedIn Learning website now.

For those of you that don’t already know, IT Training provide classroom-based training as well as online instruction. They specialise in teaching you new ways to improve your day-to-day use of IT. The team can help you manage a busy inbox in Outlook, or create intelligent application forms in Word. The team offer intermediate Excel training, perfect for anyone wanting to get to grips with PivotTables. You can also polish your digital presentations skills by attending a PowerPoint training session.

Usually, face-to-face sessions are based at our Colchester campus, although training at Southend or Loughton can be arranged if there is enough demand. You can browse a full list of available courses on the Staff Directory. Most sessions can be booked through HR Organiser. However, a few are available on Proficio (some of these courses may require payment).

The IT Training team can also provide bespoke training sessions for small groups and teams. Contact IT Training for more information.

Peer Review Blogging

In this short video, Dr Katy Wheeler explains how she used a discussion forum in Moodle to improve student engagement, and introduce her students to a new and novel form of assessment.

Katy recently returned to the University of Essex, after spending three years teaching at the Open University. While at the OU, she played a leading role in the development of a new interdisciplinary module called Investigating the Social World. Katy also spent a considerable amount of time teaching within a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). She was keen to put this experience to good use at Essex, and decided to combine online learning activities with face-to-face teaching—a technique commonly known as blended learning.

Katy used the forum feature available in Moodle to simulate the act of publishing a blog post online. This was done to reflect the fact that more and more information is consumed in this way, instead of through traditional media outlets, such as television and print. The task also provided her students with an invaluable opportunity to improve their digital skills.

Rather than use a site like WordPress, Moodle was selected because it provides a safe space for experimentation, and does not require students to post content to a publicly-available platform. Using Moodle in this way also allowed Katy to oversee the process, and intervene if and when required.

Students were asked to write a short blog post, 600 to 800 words in length. They were instructed to write an article on the production or consumption of a commodity of their choice. Each student posted their article to the forum in Moodle, so that their work could be shared with a small group of their peers (approximately four students were in each group). Students were then given a week to give and receive feedback on the shared articles. Once this had happened, everyone had another week to revise, redraft and improve their blog article. The entire process took a total of three weeks.

The students enjoyed the task and learnt how to communicate ideas in a concise manner. The activity also helped them understand how to make complex ideas more accessible to the general public. Key benefits of the activity included improved student participation, engagement and enjoyment. The activity also helped Katy’s students improve their digital skills and, by extension, their employability.

Through the task, students learnt how to write content suitable for the web. This included developing an understanding of hyperlinks, and how to incorporate visual content into an online article. The group work element of the task also encouraged collaboration, the development of strong team working skills and, most importantly, taught the students how to give and receive constructive criticism. The structure of the task also taught Katy’s students about the importance of drafting, and the process of review, when trying to improve the quality of a piece of written work.

Katy believes that experimenting with a blended learning environment has enriched the teaching and learning process for her students. The activities in Moodle allowed her to extend the learning process beyond the confines of the physical classroom. This encouraged her students to engage with the learning content beyond the timetabled teaching sessions each week.

Katy’s work in Moodle was so successful, she received an EEA (Excellence in Education Award) in July 2018, along with a prize of £1000.

If you want to learn more about Peer Review Blogging, you can attending Katy’s upcoming Education Insights session (book a place via HR Organiser). The session will cover some of the possibilities and challenges of using Technology-Enhanced Learning (TEL) for student engagement and assessment.

If you need help and support using Moodle with your students, please contact the Technology-Enhanced Learning (TEL) Team.