Keith's Blog

Apps for Teaching - Learning - Research

Topic: Peer Support

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.

 

 

Study-Space App

📥  Apps, Community, Mobile, Peer Assisted Learning, Peer Support, social media, student

Study-Space is a small-scale experimental social-media type app, implemented as a forum, but with a few extra features.

studyspace

Based on previous experience with Facebook groups and the input and encouragement from students, an app was implemented for iOS and Android.

An over-riding issue for students was convenience:

‘if you make it easy enough, then we will use it’

The internal nature of the app alleviates some issues privacy that have caused some concern amongst students in previous studies using mainstream public social media. [1]

In a nutshell, the work is an experiment to determine if a homegrown app could be a viable platform to support a closed community of students helping each other. The closed context provides a secure area for users to experiment in the course of their learning, and does not directly impact on an individual's public or mainstream online identity.

The trial

The pilot ran mid-February to mid-May 2016 with a cohort of around 140 pharmacy students.

Some of the key features of the app include:

  • Private – only available to a small cohort of 140 students
  • Focussed - one programme unit
  • Anonymity – most students have chosen to post anonymously
  • Quick and convenient – it is available as an iOS or android app, or a web-site
  • Simple – a forum of text posts combined with some special types of posts for academics:
  • Voting competitions
  • Questions/Surveys in MCQ format

What happened

Although the app is an optional supplement to the unit, is has been used by around 60% of the cohort. There has been a good level of activity, mostly based around various questions and answers posted by students such as shown below:

Study Space running in a web-browser

An example of a student answering a question from another student

We have yet to properly evaluate the app because the students are revising and taking exams right now. However, the feedback so far:

The Academic View

Dr Albert Bolhuis

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

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.

The Students View

Student comments from the end of unit evaluation include:

Feedback via StudySpace has been very useful.

The app was a great idea for getting feedback to us.

I think the app has been a very good improvement to this unit and the lecturers are always there to answer questions as well as us

I think the idea of the Study Space app is good!

... and the app has been very useful as people can ask questions and get replies extremely quickly

The studyspace app which was trialed during this unit is really useful and I feel it would benefit being used in other units too

Study Space App is really helpful; I hope it can be rolled out in other units (it would have been of even more use in 242/Drug Met perhaps?)

Future Development

Based on the evidence so far and interest from academics, it now seems likely that further trials will take place across the university in the next semester. In particular, one area for exploration that hasn’t been tried yet is synchronous use during lectures.

Please let me know if you are interested

 

References:

  1. The role of social media in undergraduate pharmacy education

Alyson Brown @alyjbrown and Brian Addison @BrianAddison75 –
Robert Gordon University

Social Media for Learning in Higher Education Conference 2015