Keith's Blog

Apps for Teaching - Learning - Research

Topic: Peer Learning

Making a Maker Club

📥  Arduino, Co-Design, Digital Skills, Hacking, Maker Space, Peer Assisted Learning, Peer Learning, Peer Support, Raspberry Pi, Student Authors, Technology

By Keith Brown and Peter Sloan

We are pleased to announce that funding from the Santander Technology Fund has now been confirmed. This blog post provides a brief overview of the project.


Nothing is so contagious as enthusiasm

Samuel Taylor Coleridge


The support and enthusiastic desire of physics undergrads to have a maker club has been wonderfully surprising, and has been a main driver for the UNi-LAB project. Lots (lots!) of ideas have been generated, and feedback from students include:

  • It would be an amazing opportunity to push myself creatively and to further my skills.
  • I have always been interested in building my own stuff and creating fun devices and gadgets, but haven’t had the resources to do so.
  • Throughout my whole education all I’ve ever seen is mainly from a text book, but it would be amazing to have the resources and time to enjoy science and be able to play with it.
  • It will allow time for students to get a bit more creative and rather than just replicating someone else's work, we can create our own projects allowing us to think creatively. Thinking creatively is eventually the mind-set that leads to development of new and novel ideas and solutions to problems. Therefore, I think this could be an incredibly important club.
Students working in a lab

@istock

 

The Undergraduate Innovation Laboratory (UNi-LAB) is a makerspace or hackerspace that builds on the enthusiasm of students to create digital devices, and to provide opportunities to work together, to design and build with 3D printers, laser-cutters, micro-controllers, sensors, actuators and Raspberry Pi computers. Uni-LAB is very much aligned with the notion of a 'sticky campus' which is an idea originating in Australia and which seems to be driving unprecedented levels of change in the development of university learning spaces. One of the main ideas behind a 'sticky campus' is to create an environment where students will want to come and stay (or 'stick' around) even though they have no formal teaching sessions to attend.

The underlying rationale behind UNi-LAB aligns well with the University Education Strategy:

(4) Ensure that our technologies and facilities support our strategic priorities for learning and teaching;

and

(5) Engage our students as active partners in their education.

Overview

The project aims to provides an undergraduate focused innovation space that can:

  • Capture, nuture and grow the budding enthusiasm that our students already have for 'practical science'
  • Break from formal teaching laboratories, which have limited time and space for students to tinker and innovate.
  • Place peer learning and support at the heart of the club
  • Give students the opportunities to learn new skills that can be deployed for research such as final year projects or for future PhD studies or a R & D career
  • Have a broad range of membership across the undergraduate physics based degree programs, year of study and gender
  • Engage other Departments at Bath in UNi-LAB, building cross discipline ties

Our intention is to deliver a weekly maker club throughout the semester, and to present UNI-LAB activities at Open Days and the Bath Taps science festival.

Projects in the Maker Space

A vast range of electronic components are available, from which to build digital devices and interactive objects that can sense and control objects in the physical world. Projects could include robots, automated telescopes or microscopes, light sculptures, games, home automation, prosthetic gloves, interactive furniture, sound synthesizers, wearable technology devices, IOT devices, indoor garden automation, a weather station, a seismometer, a vending machine, or even your own version of Amazon Echo!photo of robotic car made with eLegoo components

The following site provides some examples of the types of artifacts that could be made by students:

http://www.instructables.com/technology/arduino

The Space

The Department of Computer Science (CompSci) already has a 'Maker Space': the Ada Lovelace Laboratory. The success of the physical computing units based in this lab has been remarkable, and includes the highest SAMIS ranked unit in CompSci run by Dr Fabio Nemetz. Replicating this directly in other departments is not straightforward, but the UNI-LAB is a way to test these technologies and help, eventually, move our formal undergraduate labs into the 21st century. In order to drive the project forward, CompSci are keen that we make use of the Lovelace Laboratory on Wednesday afternoons.

The Lovelace Lab already has 3D printers, a suite of computers, soldering stations, a circuit etching station and laser-cutter. Additional resources will be purchased for use with the UNi-LAB projects.

photo of the Lovelace Lab

 

Although the project is initially limited to the Physics departments, we hope that other departments in the faculty will become inspired and in the future perhaps a faculty, or university, makerspace can be established.

The People

Target Audience: Initially 82 Physics students but scalable!

Project Leaders

Responsible for co-ordination and management

  • Dr Peter Sloan (Lecturer, Dept of Physics)
  • Mr Keith Brown (Faculty of Science Learning Technologist)

Student steering committee

Giving strategic and detailed advice on the UNI-Lab (including the proposal)

  • Elanor Buchanan  (Year 3 Physics, presently on placement)
  • Sam Cooper  (Year 2, Physics with Astrophysics)
  • Rose Yemelyanova  (Year 2 Physics)
  • Nicholas Walsh  (Year 2, Physics with Placement)
  • Jack Trainer  (Year 2, NatSci)
  • Jacob Withington  (Year 1, Physics)

Staff Facilitators (all Physics)

Happy to aid project, be it expert consultation, (light-touch) supervision, or giving initial ideas for tractable projects. May also be called on to judge maker projects.

  • Mr Martin Fullick (Physics Technician)
  • Dr Steve Davies (Senior Lecturer)
  • Prof William Wadsworth
  • Dr Carolin Villforth (Lecturer)
  • Dr Richard Bowman (Prize Fellow, co-founder of WaterScope, www.waterscope.org)
  • Prof Simon Bending
  • Dr Peter Mosley (Senior Lecturer and Head of Photonic group)
  • Dr Victoria Scowcroft (Prize Fellow)

Thanks

Many staff and students have helped with the project and we would like to extend our thanks to everyone involved.

 

 

It's official - I'm a Social Media Superstar!

📥  Agile, Apps, Co-Design, Enagagement, Jisc, Mobile, Peer Learning, Social Learning Network, Software Development

image of super hereos

Jisc have announced their top 10 UK higher education social media superstars of 2017, and I'm honored to be included!

The top ten higher education social media superstars of 2017

There’s also an announcement in Times Higher Magazine

But in case anyone is wondering why someone with minimal presence on social media should warrant a mention on this listing, the answer is that I’ve been silent-running; working on an internal social media app that provides a safe place for students.

Internal Social Media

Back in 2015, like many other people, we tried using Mainstream Social Media (MSM) with students.  However, it quickly became apparent that there are some intractable barriers: A fundamental issue is that a significant number of students do not want to leave a permanent MSM imprint of their activities undertaken whilst learning. Digital identity and employability are key concerns.

As a result, an internal home-grown app was developed and trialled in the spring of 2016 with a cohort of pharmacy students.

The system was further developed and version 2 has been implemented on a variety of programme units at the university. In addition it has been used for collecting student feedback for staff/student liason committees, and the app itself was the subject for teaching agile development on our MSc in Innovation and Technology Management.

The app seems to have been very well received by both students and academics, and the evaluation data indicates that it is useful for supporting learning:

Study-Space-Evalution-Data

The app also lends itself to role-play remarkably well.

Of course, this was not a solo effort, and I would like to thank everyone who has made this a success. In particular, the Learning Technologists and Academics that have driven the project forward:

Learning Technologists: Rachel Applegate, Geraldine Jones, Yvonne Moore, Paul Pinkney, Kevin Renfrew
Academics: Felia Allum, Albert Bolhuis, Steve Cayzer, John Chew, Julie Letchford, Mirella Di Lorenzo, Philip Rogers and Tony Roath

 

An Experiment with Social Media

📥  Apps, Co-Design, Enagagement, Feedback, Peer Learning, Social Learning Network

Introduction

Study-Space is a Social Media/eFeedback type of app that I built which has been designed and coded in collaboration with students.  The idea was conceived about 18 months ago as a way to overcome some of the issues encountered with mainstream Social Media.

This blog represents the one year milestone since the app was first piloted, and is an opportunity for me to pause to review the impact and collate some of the comments from students and academics.  A total of some 600 undergraduates across the university have used the app, with some excellent feedback and evaluation results from students.

There has been significant interest both internally and externally. As a result, we are currently looking at extending the app for use by researchers, and for use at other institutions.

The first pilot commenced in March 2016 in the department of Pharmacy and Pharmacology. Since that time it has been used on a number of programme units across the university. Evaluation data is very positive, and there is strong agreement from students that the app serves as a complement to the materials on Moodle. Recently, the app has been used with Staff-Student Liaison committees, and we have just commenced trials with virtual spaces for groups of Postgraduate Research students. It is also being considered for use on high-profile courses such as the Executive MBA in the School of Management.

The app provides for virtual, semi-formal spaces where students and teaching staff can interact inside and outside the classroom. Available for iOS/Android/Web it is only available from the in-house app store (you won't find it on the global app-stores), and is an app that offers a safe space that provides two layers of protection for students:

  • Privacy - data is internal to the university. This is crucial for students because it does not impact on their mainstream digital identity
  • Anonymity - students are able to post questions without judgement by their peers.
The app provides a safe virtual space for teaching and learning

The app provides a safe virtual space for teaching and learning

A Student Viewpoint

Toby Barrat is a final year undergraduate who has coded parts of the app, and also used the app for study on a programme unit:

Developing Study-Space has really helped to open my eyes to the potential that lies in the app, and the wider benefits of improving student engagement in higher education. Study-Space acts as a semi-formal conversation facilitator between students and academics which can help make the learning process more efficient for all involved.

From a student perspective, the forums developing on the app reflect opportunities to gain answers to the questions you have, but also to the questions you wish you had. The anonymity removes the fear of asking questions which could be perceived as being simple, but also gives the chance to give honest feedback about your level of understanding.

On the academic side, conversations on the app can be used to tailor revision and problem sessions in the areas that are needed. In my opinion, the most exciting element of Study-Space is its ability to engage students in peer to peer learning, and I personally have benefited from a question asked and answered exclusively by students in the app; the exchange reminded me of something which ended up being in the exam, and I no doubt gained marks because of it. Study-Space acts as an extra tool to be used alongside the systems we have in place at the University, such as Moodle and Samis, and adds functionality in areas which are lacking in the current arrangement. It would have been great if I had had the opportunity to use Study-Space during my 5 years at the University.

Academics' Viewpoint

John Chew, Department of Chemical Engineering:

I have always been a firm believer of active learning and teaching. I started using the Study-Space App in two of the units that I teach this Semester. The students and I feel that the App allowed and encouraged staff-student and student-student interactions inside and outside of lectures in a simple but effective way. I have now decided to use it in all the units that I teach.

Dr Steve Cayzer, Department of Mechanical Engineering

I used Study-Space to promote student engagement on my MSc programme. I was impressed by how easy it was to post up questions and polls, gathering quick and anonymous feedback. I designed an agile workshop around the app, challenging students to discuss and propose high value change requests. I invited Keith to discuss the results with the students; the result was a highly interactive, deeply immersive learning experience for the students, also yielding valuable insights for Study-Space development.

Dr Mirella Di Lorenzo, Department of Chemical Engineering:

I believe that Study-Space is a brilliant platform to engage with  students and to allow them to interact to each others. I use it to ask them for feedback , to test their knowledge with a quiz, to clarify some aspects of my lectures, to post useful links and references or simply as a question/answers tool. I can see that the students like Study-Space by their level of engagement with it and by their positive comments during informal chats. By using Study-Space I do not need any longer to reply to lots of individual emails. Often students have the same kind of questions, which on Study-Space can be replied once and in such a way that everyone can read it! The app is of clear benefit to the students during both teaching time and revision.

I am currently using this app for three modules during the current academic year and I believe I'll keep using it in the next academic year.

Dr Felia Allum, Department of Politics, Languages and International Studies:

Study Space has added a new, extra and exciting dimension to my teaching as I seek to make my teaching more interactive, but in reality it has complimented it perfectly. It has given students and lecturers alike, a new and virtual way of engaging among peers and teaching; a constant, interactive and engaging form of communication in class but also during the week in preparation before class.

Recently, I have developed active learning in one of my 4th yr units. The whole unit is dedicated to students studying Italian mafias and designing their own student led role-play. This experimental teaching and learning approach moves away from traditional forms of teaching to enabling students to engage and learn in different, more stimulating ways. It was unclear to me how technology could help me in this. However, Study-Space has been the most appropriate app that has accompanied me in the development of this new way/format of teaching. Study-Space has been the perfect forum for this process, inside and outside of the class-room.

Dr Albert Bolhuis, Department of Pharmacy and Pharmacology

As convenor for PA20024, the Study-Space app has provided a convenient way to engage with students outside of lectures, and enables staff to monitor how well students have understood the material that was taught. The app is easy to use and the workload is minimal. Importantly, students are not only asking, but also answering questions that have been posted, and the app thus facilitates a lively peer support community for the unit.

Dr Julie Letchford, Department of Pharmacy and Pharmacology

As an academic delivering lectures, practicals and workshops on this unit, I’m always keen to obtain student feedback. The voting element built into this App provides a really useful way of easily achieving this immediately after the session.

Summary

The app started as an experiment based on previous attempts using main-stream Social Media for teaching and learning. By providing two layers of privacy for users, the app that we built seems to have overcome the barriers, and has struck a chord with both students and academics. It represents a platform that augments and complements our VLE by providing safe and secure social channels to enable peer learning both inside and outside the classroom.

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