Category Archives: Uncategorized

End of the Crucible blog

Just a note to say that this blog will not be updated any further, though old posts will remain as an archive.  The Academic Innovation team does not exist anymore as an entity. Thanks for reading!


Challenges to media advocacy

By Susannah Diamond and Andrew Middleton, Academic Innovation

Media in their hands: Over the last five years digital media has become easy to produce using everyday gadgets and software, and is easy to share through YouTube and similar sites – in the outside world at least. Staff and students at Sheffield Hallam and beyond, as ‘user-generators’ of media, are demonstrating the benefits that media-enhanced approaches can bring to teaching and learning.  Audio feedback and student podcast assignments are two of many techniques being used here.

Intervention required: However, our ongoing work in this area leads us to believe that universities and colleges are struggling to make the most of the opportunity because their infrastructures still present too many barriers to most staff and students.  The problem is that in comparison to the days when academics were dependent upon specialist production units, user-generation of media places quite different demands on the institution. For example, technologies inside university for user-generation of media should be as click-and-play as the tools that many now experience at home when they are not studying. Institution-wide support for user-generated, media-enhanced approaches to learning needs to be underpinned by a wide range of organisational, technological, and cultural elements, and the opportunities and associated requirements need to be understood by all the people responsible for these elements. Otherwise the danger is that investment in obsolete approaches or services may continue.

Challenged:  Having identified the issues, our next step is to become advocates for change – both in our internal strategic roles, and externally across the sector.  We have been working together on the topic of ‘Media Infrastructures’ for some time, consulting others in the HE sector, and writing and presenting on the topic.  As a result of a workshop at Alt-C 2009, we were recently asked to run something similar at a JISC regional event.  This seemed like a good opportunity to push our ideas forward, particularly as we’d been set a challenge to create a tool that could make the issues explicit for senior management across the sector after leadership and co-ordination was identified as an important stumbling block at a meeting of the Podcasting for Pedagogic Purposes Special Interest Group at the University of Leicester last year.

A cartoon about the difficulties of sharing media within the university.

Outcomes: In the process of preparing for the workshop we tried to find a good way of communicating the challenge facing institutions using various visualisation techniques including diagrams, a grid-based matrix, and even a cartoon. We concluded that face to face conversations are the most useful way to communicate the issues, but that a briefing doc and an evaluation tool could be used by others to assess their own institutional context and press for change.  The workshop (see presentation) was a waymarker in producing this briefing doc, and provided positive feedback on its usefulness as an effective communication tool on which to base further work.

Just-in-time podcasting

By Andrew Middleton, Academic Innovation

Last week I set a challenging assignment for students studying a computer science module. Unusually for this group it required them to work autonomously on a project that was very open-ended. I knew the assignment would provide them with a rich and valuable experience, though I was not surprised by the anxiety I picked up on in email following the posting of the assignment brief in Blackboard. I decided to dedicate the next face-to-face meeting with them to talking through the brief: what was I really looking for? Was it really as manageable as I suggested? How should they go about the assignment?

I’m really glad I put that time aside. It seemed to do the trick. That is, for those who turned up.

A number of students hadn’t turned out for the session. What should I do? Should I say “That’s their loss?” Should I make myself available later so I could give them a repeat briefing, maybe several times? Should I cover the same ground next week? Should I leave them to speak to those who had turned up? I decided, because this was critical to an assignment due to run for four weeks, that I had to give them access to the class briefing as soon as possible and that this could be achieved by recording my talk through of the brief and the discussion around it using the MP3 recorder I always carry with me ( though I could have used the iPhone I also carry as it has a good recorder built into it).

The recording was posted to the module podcast before I left the class. Those who turned up were consulted about this and they had the benefit of being able to ask questions that were important to them in the session and were able to make s start on the assignment planning whilst the class was in session with further support from me. I was able to advise the non- attendees to consult their peers on this and it is entirely up to those who were there to decide what else they will share.

Having gone through the brief and answered questions about it, I became aware that input from a Careers adviser would help to add authenticity in establishing this particular task. I should have thought of this before, but I hadn’t. That input would be valuable now and can’t wait til next week. I’ve arranged to buy an adviser a coffee later today and to get their input in MP3 format. That will be posted to the module podcast from my iPhone as I walk back to my desk.

This post has been written on my phone on my way into work. I feel much more responsive and effective with this technology in my pocket and I can see how such interventions can make all the difference to the student experience and their capacity to immerse themselves in their studies.

Enhance student engagement with feedback

by Stuart Hepplestone, Academic Innovation

As part of the Higher Education Academy Evidence Based Practice Seminar Series 2010, Sheffield Hallam University is hosting Enhancing Student Engagement with Feedback on Wednesday 17 February 2010, 13.00-16.00.

This seminar will share the methods and outcomes of Technology, Feedback, Action!, a 12-month Higher Education Academy funded project undertaken at Sheffield Hallam University investigating the potential of technology-enabled feedback to improve student learning.

The audience will consider how evidence from the project can be used to enhance and transform feedback practice in the context of their role within their institution. The seminar will offer practical advice to academic tutors, encourage staff to make effective and efficient use of technology-enabled feedback, and promote strategic thinking for senior managers around enhancing student engagement with feedback.

This seminar will be presented by Stuart Hepplestone (Senior Lecturer Curriculum Innovation) and Helen Parkin (Lecturer Strategic Development and Evaluation).

Further information and booking details. There is no charge for this event.

Our digital scholarship

By Andrew Middleton, Academic Innovation
Academic Innovation here at Sheffield Hallam is a team of nine people currently. Innovation is a subjective term: for many of us our job has not just been about horizon scanning for new and emerging technologies, but about living, working and learning with them. This has provided us with an immersive way of evaluating their potential to learning and teaching.
I decided it would be interesting to ask my colleagues, at the turn of the decade, to look back five years and reflect on how emerging technologies have changed the way they learn. Some of them are formally engaged as learners, or have been recently, whilst for most ‘learning’ is less formal, relating to working practice or leisure activities. I have decided to anonymise contributions so as not to embarrass anyone. Continue reading

Creating opportunities for professional development – a collaborative act [Part 1]

By Helen Rodger, Academic Innovation

Putting together tailored professional development opportunities for groups of staff is something I’ve been doing a fair bit of recently, and I’m expecting to be doing a lot more of in the future. Of late, they’ve fallen into two categories – the one that we’re looking at here involves a course pre-constructed around a particular theme, and modified to suit the needs of participants, it is then delivered collaboratively with faculty staff. The second involves working closely with a team (for example a subject group) to establish requirements and then collaborative construction of a bespoke course with the team and other appropriate specialists – I’ll cover that one in Part 2..

So back to the first: Over the last year I’ve run three instances of a four week course on Facilitating Online Learning – or in other words, using discussion boards effectively in learning & teaching.  The course is run completely online and is designed to model recommended practice, so that participants experience practice that may not be covered explicitly in the course, and hopefully will reflect this when running their own courses or modules. Participants are asked to engage with the course content – reading, discussion, activities – for three to four hours per week. The course ran once before this year and has evolved from an eight week course to one that feels more manageable for participants to engage with over time. Other smaller modifications occur as a result of feedback that we gather from participants – from the ways in which we communicate, materials covered, or the addition of a face to face session. While have always asked for participants to reflect on what they’ve gained from the course and how it has helped develop their practice, we’ve only recently offered a certificate of completion, and linked it to the Academic Standards Framework. Participants currently only need to make a considered reflection in order to pass and to have actively participated, there is no benchmarking of practice although this may be addressed in the future.

 In the last year, over 60 staff have registered for the three courses, with around 70% engaging to the level where we can say they have completed

That level of success on its own is pretty special and you could speculate that we just got lucky, or tapped into a real need – however when you add to the picture that all the staff are from one faculty; that attendance is for the most part voluntary, and there is a constant stream of interest, it starts to feel even more special. I think that this is largely down to the way we manage and deliver the course – and this is where the collaboration comes in:

 I work with David Eddy from Health and Wellbeing who has dual roles around LTA and Distance Learning. He advertises the course, partly through word of mouth and targeted emails, and gathers names; I set the course up, finalise content based on surveys of what the participants need and want to cover, and I handle the day to day running of the course. We both facilitate the discussion, while he keeps participants moving  with direct emails along the lines of “you’ve not been engaging, is everything ok?”. We jointly review the course and modify it for the next cohort. 

I’m not necessarily suggesting it’s the division of labour that makes it a success – however, it would probably have a very different dynamic if we didn’t work in together in this way, i.e. with the two different perspectives of faculty and central department. If I were to take on the role of advertising the opportunity may be seen as something different: unfamiliar, owned externally, centrally managed. Similarly, if I were to handle the pastoral side, the same things come into play- particularly in a voluntary course taking place over time. In short, I need David’s faculty position, experience and role, and he needs my neutrality, access to LTA specialists and practical input.

With current the absence of thorough evaluation I can’t say much more without it looking like conclusion jumping – but I do think this model is something we should be trying to replicate in other faculties and for other professional development courses. If you are interested in participating or helping to facilitate this course, or something similar in another faculty do let me know. The faculty link is crucial, the opportunity feels more viral than organised and seems to reach places that traditional models of delivery don’t.

 A final note – we’re hoping to get funding to thoroughly evaluate the impact of the course at faculty level later this year, so it would be good to squeeze in some analysis of the collaborative approach too.. perhaps there will be a Part 1 revisited in the not too distant future..

shelf hello, flake goodbye?

A couple of apologies are in order: firstly for the tortured title of this post; and secondly for a news-about-crucible post rather than something more outward-looking. This week’s planned update has been postponed due to illness, but hopefully normal service will be resumed shortly. In the meantime, we thought it’d be worth flagging up a couple of developments here.

On shelfari

We’ve recently been exploring a site called shelfari. It’s a great service that lets you gather and share information about your books – ones you’ve read, ones you’re reading, and those on your wishlist. You can also add your own reviews, check out other people’s thoughts about items that interest you, and join discussion groups set up around specific topics. If you look to the right, you’ll see an image of our (currently a-bit-empty) shelfari shelf – if you click on the image, you’ll get straight through to the site itself. We’re still building our virtual shelf, so it will start to reflect the fact that we’ve read more than 3 books between us fairly soon… 🙂


When we started crucible we were intending to develop this blog alongside a number of other resources, one of which was Pageflakes. The intention was that Pageflakes would offer a combination of dynamic and static content, linking to the online presences of work conducted by members of the team. While Pageflakes offers a lot of potential, unfortunately we’ve experienced several issues with reliability (pages and content not loading properly or being unavailable, for example) so we’ve decided to mothball this side of things for now. We’re working on different ways of collating and presenting some of our activities (you might notice blog feeds appearing in the sidebar here, for example) and will keep you up to date with where things are going.

And finally…

You might have caught some of the recent hype about Google Wave, a system which promises new real-time communication and collaboration possibilities. This short article from the NewScientist is well worth a read: it takes an early look at some of the human factors and possible implications of this new method of communication: