Operational Issues

Candidates should demonstrate both their understanding and use of learning technology. ‘Use’ might include the development, adaptation or application of technology within teaching, training or the support of learning more generally. This should include evidence of:

  1. an understanding of the constraints and benefits of different technology
  2. technical knowledge and ability in the use of learning technology
  3. supporting the deployment of learning technologies

1. An understanding of the constraints and benefits of different technology

Description

I inherited a website of approximately 10 web pages and 150 etalks for one year 3 module and was 27 MB in size. Over eight years I have developed this to the Medical Education Portal which currently contains over 390 web pages, 700 videos, dozens of interactive patient cases and many interactive tutorials. It now has a footprint of 30+ GB.

Whilst I will give specific examples of technological constraints and benefits in this section and teaching and learning aspects in the next section it is important to be clear that I did not set out to build an alternative VLE or a replacement for the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). Instead gradually over many years learner needs both students and staff have feed the development of the portal as it is today. Pedagogical and practical needs have been foremost throughout the development of the portal.

Big Picture Example: Virtual Learning Environment (VLE)

The work that I have carried out during my role in medicine provides the basis of this portfolio being the most relevant and appropriate and specifically on my creation of the Medical Education Portal. The undergraduate medical curriculum does not lend itself to a traditional virtual learning environment (VLE) for many reasons and this combined with the poor aesthetics and usability of a VLE has lead me to build on an existing website for third year and develop it into a portal to cover all five years of the curriculum. The portal whilst having a wealth of advantages still works alongside the VLE as ultimately it is a website and not a functional VLE and this will be explained throughout the portfolio. The background of why it is a website built in HTML will be discussed in later sections, however, a brief timeline is as follows:

  • 2007: I inherited secure website (& DVD) for third years, Internet Explorer dependent
  • 2008: learning content made compatible across platforms, fourth year site launched
  • 2009: website given a new, more modern design
  • 2010: both websites (along with several other disparate sites) brought together under the umbrella of the Medical Education Portal (with a single url)
  • 2011: clinical skills area added to portal
  • 2012: student selected component (SSC) area added
  • 2014: carried out survey of the whole portal and followed up with focus groups
  • 2015: portal relaunched with new Bootstrap design for cross device functionality, no DVD provided only .zip files
  • 2016: several generic areas added
qub_medical_education_portal
Click image to view (pdf)

Small Picture Example: eTalks

The etalks I initially inherited were made using Microsoft Producer by Information Services staff and required the students to use Internet Explorer. Therefore, my first task in my new role in medicine was to ensure that I found an appropriate alternative software to provide an output that would be viewable across all platforms. After trialling several software options and researching as many online reviews as possible I selected Articulate Presenter which is essentially a plugin for PowerPoint. So the benefits where that it had an Adobe Flash output and thus would work on all browsers, on all platforms, it was also a smaller file size for online viewing. The constraints were that all the talks had to done again from scratch and also the video could not be put across all of the slides due to the Flash flickering between slides (a natural buffering effect).

This solution was very effective for several years until mobile devices became prevalent. The update to an HTML output was held back with waiting for Articulate to release this feature. When it came the updated software was simply too full of bugs and each fix actually made it worse. As the new term was approaching after months of unsuccessful problem solving I had to make the decision to uninstall and go back a version. Frustratingly, I had to release another year with Flash only.

Finally, the bugs were fixed enough to update the hundreds of etalks in 2015. The final step would be to have them play offline in the Articulate app but their code is holding this back this year as unfortunately this feature will not work under https. I have provided .zip files instead for those students who know they will be on placement in hospitals with unreliable wifi. Not a slick solution but one that ensures full access.

Reflection

I am incredibly proud of the portal and due to its success one of the postgraduate courses has chosen to use a similar solution for this academic year. After the induction evening the programme lead reported that a student came up after the demonstration and said ‘thank goodness I was dreading the thought of using the VLE’. Learner feedback such as this is so important to underpin my faith in it being a valid delivery solution.

Yet, I am incredibly aware (increasingly so) that I am becoming a victim of my own invention. As learners are turning more and more to this delivery and becoming less tolerant of the limitations of the VLE my workload ever increases. I am an educational developer and do not wish to end up becoming a file ‘uploader’. Currently there are neither the resources nor the budget to take the extra step to convert the portal to a true VLE with a database back end and subsequent functionality such as tracking, assignment upload, personalised pages etc.

To ease this situation I have put in practice a system with the medical education administrative staff to make document updating as seamless as possible. I recreated a copy of the portal’s file structure in a shared folder and put all the documents that are updated on a regular basis such as timetables, allocations, study guides, handbooks, policies etc. Whenever, a file needs to be updated the administrator saves over the file and emails me to let me know that it needs to be uploaded. I then simply have to drag this file from the folder straight onto the server. This system replaced the ad hoc pattern of the staff member emailing me a document, usually in its raw Microsoft Office format, with a random name. I would then have to convert it to PDF, search out what the file was called within the portal, save it into my folder and then upload it. Not only is this time heavy but my inbox was constantly going over the storage limit with the onslaught of huge files. The new system is faster, less open to error and saves on email space but has taken several years to get all staff on board, some still email the file as well as putting in the shared drive.

I freely admit to having a low boredom threshold and spent many years moving jobs after two or three years. After almost nine years in medicine I have shocked myself by having a constant list of exciting and interesting projects and challenges. This list never diminishes and even grows with innovative and new prospects. I am however, at the point that I am becoming increasingly pulled towards the educational elements and increasing in technical acuity is not the direction I wish to travel at this stage.

Our institution is currently investigating replacing own bespoke VLE and as a educational technologist I will be part of this process. Looking back over all my work for the portal, if I had the chance to implement a different solution I am not sure that I would have. I responded to the limitations of the VLE with regards to the medical curriculum and if we purchased an off the shelf alternative tomorrow I don’t think that it would actually address any of the problems that we currently face. However, in any of the discussions that I take part in as part of this process I will have to be open to future changes. As a single individual maintaining a huge website I have to admit there is a certain level of risk in this. One other person can update minor parts when I am unavailable but they are unaware of the whole structure. In an era of decreasing resources and increasing workload this issue is hard to bring to the surface for discussion. Is my solution ultimately unsustainable?

Evidence

Tour of the Medical Education Portal and also all those listed in the next sections.

2. Technical knowledge and ability in the use of learning technology

Description

As a technologist I try to use a wide as possible variety of both hardware and software. I have a Windows workstation, Samsung Galaxy Note (Android) tablet, a MacBook Pro, an Android phone and laptop at home is Linux. In addition, I have access to a iPad mini within the department. This together with multiple browsers is crucial for testing and trouble shooting all the elements I create and to answer staff and student queries.

With regards to software the key packages that I use on almost daily basis are listed below and more detail is provided in the embedded sheet underneath.

  • rapid elearning programs eg Articulate Presenter, Quizmaker
  • web technologies – HTML, CSS, Javascript, CMS systems
  • images manipulation programs eg Fireworks, Photoshop, Illustrator
  • Word processing eg Adobe Acrobat, MS Office, Open Office, Libre Office
  • Bespoke programs such as Riverside, internal QUB programs

Reflection

A particularly difficult aspect of being an Educational Technologist is the need to be a ‘Jack of all Trades’ which means I sometimes feel like a master of none. I was the first developer to be placed in a school and had a blank sheet to start my role. This was in itself a pro and a con in that I had freedom to do anything but lacked a map to follow. Therefore, I created the map from the starting point of the Third Year DVD.

Overall, I have tried to balance innovation with consistency. I have stuck to similar packages where possible so that students are familiar with the interface and how to use it across all of the years. However, I do try to keep up to date with what is available and make best use of freely open software such as Audacity. With regards to any paid software I download free trials to fully test and read user reviews before committing to a purchase, to ensure it provides what is needed. This goes to prove just how important it is not to make assumptions about technical abilities.

The core of all the web pages I have made and maintained is my work. The portal is based on a bought template but I edit the CSS files to the point that it would be unrecognisable from the original. From 2008 to 2015 these were standard HTML and CSS however in order to update it in 2015 to ensure that it was functional across all devices I upgraded to a Bootstrap 3 template.

Having purchased the Bootstrap template I then had four short months to rebuild a website of more than 350 plus pages across twenty areas. I began in May and needed to be done by the third week of August when fourth year students begin their new academic year.

Firstly, I worked on getting my design work in the HTML and CSS files and once that was successful then I started to work through each area as it would be needed. My summer became a summer of coding morning to night, week and weekend. By launch date I managed to have the crucial areas completed and then continued for the next few weeks until completion.

Any time I got stuck or needed elements that did not come with the template I used the Bootstrap website, help forums and crucially with help from a colleague in Information Services (to whom I am forever indebted). It was a very steep learning curve and by the end everything works correctly I am sure a programmer would find my code to be imperfect.

Whilst this was an intensely stressful time it was incredibly satisfying seeing the truly transformational change in the portal. It was almost an emotional experience by the end, exhaustion laced with success.

I have had informal feedback since its launch and I have planned an all year survey to take place in the third week of November, this is discussed further in Teaching, Learning and Assessment.

For any websites that have additional functionality and require authentication or database back ends then I rely on my manager for this. This point then touches upon the section above with regards to gains and limitations of technology – whilst the portal is proving to be a good solution for many things it is not a VLE and will not be a replacement for a VLE any time soon.

Evidence

3. Supporting the deployment of learning technologies

Description

Prior to the portal the main online element was the Third Year content. Support took the form of a workshop where the students were stepped through the content and how to problem solve. In addition, I supplied a Frequently Asked Questions sheet. After, several years this workshop was less and less attended and it was dropped in preference for an introductory session alone.

As the portal grew, I started to do an introductory talk at the beginning of each new academic year for all years not just third year. This is the perfect method to highlight new features, emphasise existing features and encourage feedback.

Within the portal itself, the two main areas I use to provide support both staff and students are the Technical Support area and the Blog.

For years 1 and 2 I have embedded their calendar from an Excel spreadsheet in OneDrive into the timetable web page which solved several problems in one solution. It allows the timetable to updated directly in the spreadsheet without having to upload the page each time, the students can filter and sort on any of the headers to get a snapshot of a module or a week and lastly I have configured the spreadsheet to be easily saved down as a csv file and brought into their own calendars.

Technical Support

This area includes links to Central university resources such as wifi, printing, large file transfer etc, help videos such as portal overview, Pecha Kucha etc, embedded Twitter feeds such as IT facilities, library and a link to the 1minuteCPD blog.

This year I am going to be redesigning the area around the Jisc Digital capabilities framework and working more closely with students to highlight areas were support is most needed.

Blog

I launched the blog in response to admin staff reporting that students weren’t looking for or knowing where to find crucial information. However, a second important driver was my desire to humanise the portal. Presence in online spaces is something I advocate when speaking to staff but yet I wasn’t being ‘in’ the portal.

For the first year,  all the blog posts either highlighted existing resources but in a personal voice or brought attention to key events such as advertising the Summer Studentship Projects. It also, had one post written by a student. I also wrote posts after receiving email queries from students as a personal way of presenting Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs). FAQs tend to be short and snappy so the blog also is a format which allows me to have longer answers augmented with guided videos.

This year I want to expand by having at least two by students and overall approximately 12 posts in total, the first of these will be on the importance of Deaf Awareness training for medical students.

Outside the portal support is usually on a one to one basis between staff and students as well as presenting to staff at Education days within the school.

On a wider scale I have participated in Central initiatives such as Learning at Work Week (I covered the use of Audacity) and the Centre for Educational Development events such as the annual learning and teaching conferences. Lastly, I started a new series this summer called ‘More Than Bullet Points’ with Pecha Kucha as the first. I put the video on YouTube so I could embed in the portal but also to disseminate to a wider audience of staff and students. I trialled sharing it on Twitter to see if this was an effective method. The series will also feature images, video, posters and infographics as topics.

Reflection

Within the realm of the undergraduate medical curriculum and a cohort of 1200 students I have traditionally approached support on a needs basis and did not replicate anything covered by central services. It is a difficult balance between knowing that as a group medical students are assumed to be very competent learners and rejecting the premise of the ‘digital native’. How can I best support this diverse audience?

One example of this was hearing from a student that whilst I had put instructions as to how to tailor the year 1 and 2 timetables and import into their own devices whenever a student got stuck they in the main gave up rather than reporting having difficulties. Therefore, this year I plan to add more step by step videos and follow up on any problems during a session in January when I will be speaking to them again.

However, since overhauling the portal I have started to introduce blog articles in order to bring attention to key elements within the technical support area and have plans to further supplement these over the coming year. So far the majority of topics that I have posted on have arisen from feedback from students and by starting a Digital Student Group this semester I hope will allow me to create resources that are needed by students.

The difficulty I feel for the coming year is how to create similar support for very busy staff. I have tried embedding the 1minuteCPD blog into the portal but I am unsure whether staff or students have accessed this. I need to work harder on the promotion of this and similar open resources this year to ensure wider dissemination and uptake.

Evidence

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