The FMS Workload Reporting System (WRS)

Collecting and monitoring data relating to academic workloads

managing workloads

Universities have a responsibility to ensure that the workload allocations in their units are consistent and in line with their policies on workload allocation.

To achieve this there needs to be an accessible tool that can the capture agreed academic activities carried out on behalf of the University.

The FMS Workload Recording System (WRS) has been developed to allow staff to self-report their workload through a more transparent, equitable and collaborative process.

It is anticipated that this will lead to more informed PDR conversations, improved support around career development & wellbeing issues and allow equality diversity & inclusion considerations to be part of workload planning.

So, what does the system collect?

Previous work on collecting information around teaching activities highlighted the following key points:

  • The scope of the system needs to be wider than just teaching related activities
  • The auto population of activities through mining existing data sources was not always reliable 
  • Self-reporting is essential to ensure accuracy of the data collected
  • Each activity needs to be standardised using its own tariff formulae, for example:
                tutees reported hours = no of tutees x 5
                PARTNERS summer school lead hours = (no of students x 0.1) + 10

A working group was set up to specify what activities were to be recorded, each with its own tariff formulae to convert that activity into hours. These activities when they grouped into three distinct areas:

  1. Teaching & Assessment
    • Taught Sessions
    • Assessment & Feedback
    • Tutees & Projects
    • Other
  2. Research & Innovation
    • Research Projects
    • Research Awards
    • Research Applications
    • Others
  3. Management, Administration & Citizenship
    • Unit
    • Faculty
    • University
    • External/Other

The system was developed in phases:

Phase I (4 months)

Develop the website with an individuals summary view and a collection of self-reporting forms, all driven by a database of workload questions and augmented by data from existing sources.

individual worklaod summary
workload self-reporting forms

Phase II (one month)

Release website to a small pilot group of users to collect user feedback. Development of basic reporting tools (user activities, evaluation reports and cohort workload summaries).

cohort/unit workloads

Phase III (4 months)

Refine any existing usability issues raised by pilot group and develop the advanced reporting & administration tools required for full release.

Phase IV

Full release of the system.

So where are we now ?

The FMS Workload Recording System (WRS) went live in July 2022 to a pilot group of 158 academics.

The next stage (PHASE III) is to review what additional features or changes to the system are required and then prepare the system for its release to the whole Faculty.

Personal Tutoring, an example of rapid application development?

What is Personal Tutoring?

Personal Tutoring is the process of assigning the availability of university staff for student tutoring. It is not actually the process of assigning individual students to individual staff. Staff in the faculty are assigned to programme groupings/pots (not individual programmes), these groupings have a lead administrator that can then work out by looking at the expected student intake whether they need more staff resource, or can free it up for others.

The faculty admin team have undertaken this process for many years using excel spreadsheets and email communications to pass the information back and forward. This kinds of activity is both time consuming and prone to errors caused by duplicate copies of data and missed communications.

This is the perfect example of a process that can be done better using a web application, the kind of work the Technologies Developers in FMS TEL undertake all the time.

No time to plan properly

Sometimes a project comes to the unit that needs to be completed in a short time frame. Ideally the amount of time spent on a new website would be evenly spread between specifications, design, implementation, testing and support/improving., it may even go through many loops of these processes.

When a project does not have the luxury of time, then all these steps need to be compressed and decisions made on which steps need to be prioritised . In the case of personal tutoring the design phase and specifications where collaborated from the old Excel spreadsheets and turned into a simple tabular wireframe display. These spreadsheets where also identified as the origin of the data the site would be based off and import scripts planned accordingly. No complex interface features where offered, just a clean display of the data, with filters and stats to help the tutoring assignments. As for the implementation of the site, we decided to host the new site on top of another, saving time on hosting framework and infrastructure. We chose a site that had similar tools (FMS Projects, which has a statistics section) and tools we could utilise. We also based the core of the new site off knowledge and experience the team was used to (API’s and data tables, spreadsheet importing / exporting). Finally the testing and support side was compressed, keeping the interface simple, reducing the need for support and documentation. The limited number of users the site may have, also helps support as we can offer short term direct guidance.

With all these measures, we managed to reduce a development process that could take 6 months down to 3.

The Results

The Personal Tutoring site is due to go live in July 2022. We managed to write and get a functional version of the site done in roughly 2 months. This left 1 month planning the release, testing and show casing the site to the customers and making improvements from their feedback. Overall we are pleased with the structure and quality of the site. The code design is based on solid principles and should offer a degree of flexibility when Personal Tutoring gets used and the inevitable suggested improvements come through.

If you are interested in this topic and wish to learn more, please contact:

Dan Plummer, Learning Technologies Developer, dan.plummer@newcastle.ac.uk

Scaffolding Reflection

This article outlines the rationale for scaffolding reflection and describes the developments, which will be available across the University by September 2022.

Structured reflective templates are currently being piloted in NU Reflect. This article outlines the rationale for scaffolding reflection and describes the developments, which will be available across the University by September 2022.

Scaffolding

A picture containing scaffolding, roof. Royalty free image from Pixabay

Scaffolding provides a great metaphor in Education. In the construction industry, scaffolding provides temporary support and helps shape the developing building. Scaffolding was first used as an educational concept, by Wood, Bruner, and Ross (1976) to describe the support given by an expert in one-to-one tutorials – something akin to a semi-structured interview.

Scaffolding is also a useful metaphor in reflective practice. A series of questions or prompts can provide the learner with a structure to reflect on. There are many structured frameworks which can be used to scaffold reflection. Perhaps the best known are Gibb’s reflective cycle (Fig 1). This involves 6 stages, each with questions to encourage the learner to go beyond purely descriptive accounts, to incorporate reflective self-evaluation and also make plans to improve future performance.

Overview of Gibb’s Reflective Cycle

Over time, it is hoped that the use of such frameworks will progressively increase learners’ reflective capabilities. This may be enhanced by sharing, discussion and guidance from educators, particularly in the early stages of developing reflective skills. However, like the use of scaffolding in construction – eventually that structure and support may no longer be needed, after developing as an independent reflective practitioner.

Structure can be a double-edged sword though. Too much structure can reduce engagement (everything else being equal) and long ‘forms’ may be potentially intimidating or off-putting to some. Motivation is key. Aside from the obvious use of summative assessment (itself bringing challenges to ‘authentic’ reflection) – learners need to perceive value and purpose to developing reflective practice. Is reflective practice seen to be valued by the course – is it embedded in the module/programme and referred to by teachers and in course documentation?

In some contexts, particularly many vocational subjects, reflective practice is explicitly required by professional bodies, with clearly defined process which have reflective elements, such as annual appraisals and CPD. In other contexts, without this driver, there are challenges to avoid reflection remaining an ‘abstract’ concept, particularly if there are limited ‘practical’ activities to reflect on. Obviously, clarity of purpose is important. Reflective frameworks can be used (or adapted) for a range of purposes, such as reflecting on an assessment, perhaps before and after feedback, with actions to prepare for the next assignment.

Sharing and discussion of reflection is another dimension – in some contexts, reflection may be purely private, in other contexts sharing with a mentor may be mandatory. Where shared, fostering a ‘safe’ environment for sharing and discussing reflections is particularly important for younger students, whist many (but not all) mature students are more comfortable with this.

Reflective Templates in NU Reflect

NU Reflect https://reflect.ncl.ac.uk is developed and maintained by FMS-TEL, has pedagogic support from LTDS, with academic lead (Patrick Rosenkranz / Katie Wray) and governance via DEC. NU Reflect was launched in September 2021 following a strategic review of ePortfolio. The redesign and rebranding was intended to help promote its core purpose of supporting reflective practice and transferable skills after may years of prioritising developments to support Personal Tutoring. As part of the strategic review, a recurring theme in the staff consultation was the desire for a prospective system to support reflective frameworks. Gibbs reflective cycle was the most widely used framework, used in contexts across all 3 Faculties – though often with minor adaptions for specific courses.

As such reflective templates were developed in NU Reflect and are being piloted in Semester 2 this year, with a view to being made available University-wide for 2022/3. The pilots have three ‘global’ templates available:

  • Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle
  • Driscoll Model of Reflection
  • Four Fs of Active Reviewing

Also, staff can create new templates to meet their particular module or programme requirements.

Pilot of structured templates in NU Reflect

Structured templates are nothing new, and were common in paper-based portfolios. However, there are some key advantages to integrating them in NU Reflect. For example, the reflections can be linked to skill(s) or competency(s) (either the Graduate Framework or programme-level frameworks), which integrates them in the ‘My Skills’ section of the Website . Reflections can also be tagged with course-specified or personal categories. The tools support longitudinal use throughout the student journey, rather than been restricted to an episodic learning event or being compartmentalised in a particular module. As such a learner can accumulate reflections and achievements against skills/categories over time. They also provide choice in sharing (or not).

The pilots are ongoing, but feel free to get in touch if you want to try them out.

References

Wood, D., Bruner, J. S., & Ross, G. (1976). The role of tutoring in problem solving. Child Psychology & Psychiatry & Allied Disciplines, 17(2), 89–100. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-7610.1976.tb00381.x

Gibbs G (1988). Learning by Doing: A guide to teaching and learning methods. Further Education Unit. Oxford Polytechnic: Oxford.

New Digital Exams System: Inspera

Inspera is the new Digital Exam System available at the University. Inspera offers a wide range of features covering a large variety of exam styles. Colleagues wishing to learn more about Inspera are strongly encouraged to attend the event below, and explore the online guidance available on the LTDS website.

Have you seen the latest updates on Inspera?

Come along to one of the online events for live demonstrations, the chance to speak with our Inspera colleagues and to find out more about uses for digital assessments.

The first rollout will involve modules already using digital assessments.

Find out more

Digital Exams with Inspera Assessment webpages.  

Inspera Guidance Canvas course, simply click the link to self-enrol.  

LTDS blog post about Inspera

If you have any questions about the launch events or Inspera Assessment, please email digital.exams@newcastle.ac.uk

Dealing with extra sensitive data in the Medical Learning Environment (MLE)

Most FMS sites run by the unit contain and maintain personal data that needs to be kept private. Techniques such as securely certified websites and authentication/authorisation portals are usually sufficient in keeping this data safe.

The Challenge

With the introduction of the new year 4 in the MBBS curriculum and the move to more blended learning, a higher degree of sensitive data was required to be stored on the Medical Learning Environment (VLE for MBBS). Year 4 students are now asked to keep electronic records of patients and interactions as part of the Advanced Clinical Experience module. This data contained personal contact details such as address, telephone and email of patients the students would follow on the clinical journey, and let them reflect upon this experience throughout year 4.

So before the start of Year 4, in the summer of 2020, we investigated and implemented an enhanced way of storing this patient information in the MLE.

The Solutions

First we investigated how the data was stored in the backend database. Most information is stored in databases as unencrypted data due to the lack of sensitive nature of the data.

This new data required something else. It was decided that parts of the data that could contain personal patient information should be encrypted, both in transit and at rest.

For parts of the ACE model (the data structure we use for the ACE section of MLE) we replaced the open text fields with this new encrypted field. This now meant that when data was entered and saved, before it was added to the database, the system would replace the open text with a encrypted data set using a secure key. To read the data again it would need the use of the decrypt method, that only the MLE could do by using the secure key.

The second part we investigated was to detach any personal patient information from the student’s reflections. Once the student had completed the recording of the patient’s details, the direct link in the website was removed and generic patient information used from that point onwards to identify the individual records. This kept the sensitive information separate from the day to day recording of patient interactions.

The students also uploaded consent forms signed by patients who agreed to take part in the ACE module. Final versions of consent forms highlighted that these would also contained sensitive information.

After further investigation the development team included these static files in the encryption methods used to support ACE. In order to allow students to verify the uploaded consent forms, the MLE allows a short window before encryption and archiving of consent forms takes place. Once this process completes the consent forms are no longer accessible via the website (MLE) and recovery if required is performed by a limited number of staff in FMS TEL.

These methods used may be a little extreme for the day to day data stored on most FMS sites, but the investigations and lessons learned from the ACE data has provided us with options for other sites in the future.

If you are interested in this topic and wish to learn more, please contact:

Dan Plummer, Learning Technologies Developer, dan.plummer@newcastle.ac.uk

John Moss, Technology Enhanced Learning Manager, john.moss@newcastle.ac.uk

New Zoom Features Released

Some new Zoom features have been pushed today, a few of which have some clear benefits for users in FMS.

Share Multiple Programs at Once allows you to share more than one window with your audience, without having to share the entire desktop. This will be particularly useful if you need to go between a PowerPoint and a webpage, or another piece of software. You can now do this without worrying about accidentally having your emails pop up! The windows are arranged on the participants’ screens exactly as you have them arranged on your desktop, allowing you to rearrange/overlap or change their relative sizes. The image broadcast will update as you do this. To start sharing multiple programs, select the screenshare of one window as usual, then hold Ctrl and click on any additional programs you’d like to include. When you’re ready, click ‘share’.

Suspend Participant Activity acts as a sort of emergency brake in case of serious disruptions. You can disable all microphones, screen sharing and videos at once to stop any disruptive behaviour and give yourself time to remove the unwanted user without the pressure of ongoing interruptions.

Click ‘security’ and then ‘suspend participant activities’ to halt participant input.

To update your Zoom client, click on your profile picture/initials in the top right of the main Zoom window and then click ‘check for updates’. Follow the prompts to complete the update.

The full list of changes can be seen in detail on the Zoom website.

The FMS Community has more detailed walkthroughs relating to security settings and managing disruptions in Zoom, including downloadable guides.