Chameleon Programme – Blended Working

The Project Beginning

In September 2019, I started a Chameleon Programme that was tasked with reviewing how the university could support colleagues to work more flexibly. A particularly relevant topic as it turned out!

The Chameleon Programme is a year long business improvement programme that involves colleagues from across the university working together, in multi-functional teams, on specific projects set by Senior Officers Group . I was teamed with three other university colleagues, who work in different areas of the university and with different roles.  Our project sponsor was John Hogan and we had to set about devising plan and understanding our project scope.

We began by gathering information from sources at the forefront of flexible working, such as CIPD and ACAS, as well as reviewing existing university policies . Interviews with various colleagues across the university, such as School and services managers gave us a better understanding of what ​Flexible working meant in the context of our university. Consensus was that there was support for increased flexible working practices but there was a need for greater guidance to ensure fairness . 

We also had the opportunity to visit an external company, called The Thirteen Group, who are a social housing provider located in Middlesbrough.  Their belief is based on staff being in control of their working patterns with productivity measured by outputs rather than presenteeism. They invested heavily in infrastructure and technology as well as providing guiding principles, with endorsement from senior leadership, which was key to driving the changes. ​It had showcased what was possible.

Desk availability system and The Thirteen Group

We decided to try to mirror some of the Thirteen Group principle through an initiative called ‘Flexible Fortnight’ – the principle was to remove existing boundaries to working times and allow teams to manage working hours accordingly, and we were to capture staff response via a survey.

We had a plan.  We had teams ready to take part in the Flexible Fortnight and had generated recommendations that could be put forward and arranging events to present our findings.

Then, it all changed

Then COVID came along! 

COVID has been responsible in changing working patterns, for most employees, across the university; how we work, where we work and when we work. 

In March 2020, everything changed.  The majority of us were asked to work from home.   It was potentially the best Chameleon project ever! Or it might be the worst ever!

What did that mean for our project?  Well, it meant change too.  We could no longer pursue the initiatives that we had arranged.  So, we created a questionnaire to incorporate feedback about working for home.  We combined the survey results with the findings from our research and submitted a report in June 2020 to our sponsor.  We were also invited to be part of some of the Executive Board lunch meetings that touched on the new way of remote working and listened to feedback from staff across the wider University.    

Its flexible; its informal; its team specific; its build on trust.

This culminated, in December 2020, with an invitation to join a task and finishing group for blended working. The group includes representation from the Faculties, People Services, NUIT, Estates and Trade Unions with the focus on discussing how the university workforce could mix campus-based working and working remotely, post pandemic. Consultations are still ongoing, papers have been submitted to various committees, and webinars have been arranged to give colleagues the opportunity to hear plans first hand. Hopefully, this will be the start of clearer vision going forward.

The Future of working patterns

What have we learnt? A lot! One thing is certain, there is a consensus that we do not want to go back to the way we operated before. Why would we look back when we have come so far? Though the past year has been challenging on many different levels, it has also allowed many of us to gain first-hand experience of working in more flexible ways. There is an opportunity to embrace change from the lessons learnt and build a more modern approach to our working culture and behaviours. To make a change like this before COVID was hard to imagine.

As a project team, we have achieved far more than we ever envisaged; having helped give guidance and findings to potentially changes in University working patterns and policies.  The Chameleon programme lasts for 12 months and this is where it comes to an end for or team. However, we hand over the baton now and the story continues. Only time will show what the university does to progress and evolve the changes it needs to our working patterns.

We have been fortunate in terms of the timing of our project and I feel that we have taken advantage of the situation to allow us to leave a legacy from Chameleon project on the university.

From a Chameleon Project, For the University

3D Object Photography

3D object photography can have many purposes from selling products to interactive learning. It can be a complicated process, but we recently found a way to do it at home or in the office.

The thinking behind this for FMS is for the ability to show things such as models of parts of the body for example, which students away from the lab won’t have access to. They can interact with the object, and look 360 degrees around it. You can use a host such as Sirv (Links to an external site.) to create an interactive object.

Below is an example of what can be created. It can be viewed in full screen from the Sirv website:  https://tracyncl3d.sirv.com/Head/Head.spin (Links to an external site.) 

Would you like to try it yourself? You can find a guide on this in the FMS TEL Community

https://ncl.instructure.com/courses/30988/pages/3d-object-photography-at-home

Using Canvas Commons

Michelle Miller shares her learning about Canvas Commons, which she has been using to share FMS digital skills content across multiple courses in Canvas.

Canvas Commons

Canvas Commons is a repository where Canvas course creators can upload all or part of their course for easy access and sharing within their organisation or to the Canvas public. You can use Canvas Commons to store your content (for your eyes and access only) or for wider use. It is an easy way to access and import Canvas content to multiple courses. This post will walk you through the steps of publishing part of your course in Canvas Commons.

Sharing to Canvas Commons

Begin by identifying the module, assignment, quiz, page, or other module content you want to share in Commons. In this explanation we will discuss sharing a module, but the same steps can be used for sharing a part of a module like an assignment, page, or quiz.

In the module title, select the three vertical dots and choose Share to Commons.

You’ll now be taken to the Commons uploading page where you will select settings for your Commons item.

Sharing and License:

                Toggle – Is this an update to a previous shared resource? This tool allows you to make updates to items you have already shared in Commons. These updates are pushed out to anyone who has imported your Commons content, thus allowing you to make changes and updates to content globally.

                Who can use this resource? – You can choose ‘Only Me’ for content you want to be able to import into future courses, but do not want others to have access to. Or, you can choose All of Newcastle University to give access to anyone at the university, or Public to give access to any Canvas User.

                Content Type – This allows you to mark the content specifically as a template or open textbook. This is optional.

                License – Choose the level of license you wish to apply to the content. This is especially important to consider when making the content Public.

                Add Additional Information – This is where you can enter the details for attribution, such as the author to credit and date of publication/copyright.

Metadata:

                Title – Give the item(s) a short but descriptive title that would help others locate and understand its content.

                Description – Provide a detailed description of the content. This should help others understand what is covered by the content.

                Tags – These optional items allow you to tag specific words or phrases that help identify and describe the content to improve search recall.

                Image – Choose an image to display on the Commons card for your content. You can upload your own image or choose one from the Canvas photo library.

Grades:

                Grade/Level – Use the slider to mark the appropriate grade level for your Commons content. This can span multiple grades, e.g. Undergraduate and Graduate.

Press the Share button when you have completed all the settings for your Commons content. You will now find your content under the Share tab in Canvas Commons. Remember, you can make changes to your Commons content and push updates in the future. You will be asked to enter version comments when doing this. It is recommended you note the date the update is processed.

Importing Canvas Commons Material

Importing Canvas Commons material is easy to do. Simply go to the Home page of your course and choose Import from Commons button on the right side of the screen. Search for the item by title, name, institution, or tag. Select the correct item then choose the Import/Download button on the right side of the screen.

Select the course or courses you want to import the content into and choose Import into Course. You will receive a message saying the content has successfully imported.

The content will now be shown in the relevant page in Canvas, e.g. a module import will be shown on the Modules page. You can then choose to edit the module, assignment, quiz, or page as you normally would in Canvas. Imported assignments will be shown at the bottom of the assignments page under “Imported Assignments”. You can make changes to content as you would edit your normal Canvas content.

Summary

Sharing to Canvas Commons is an easy and effective way to make your course content available to yourself in other courses, others within the university, or with the wider Canvas public. It allows you to access not only your own material, but material created by others that you might find useful for your course. It also allows you to showcase your material to the Canvas public.

Using discussion boards

Discussion boards seem like a good idea, especially when students are distant to campus as posts should be able to increase collaboration as well as socialisation. But so often students fail to use them despite the work staff put in to set them up. So how can we engage our students to post on the online discussions?

What are your goals?

Before you set up a discussion board, consider what your goals are, as well as what the students might expect to get out of using the discussion board. Are you trying to check student knowledge and understanding? Develop better contact/collaboration between members of your group as a community? Answering queries? All of these and more…

Decide what you and your students should get out of discussion board use, and then think of tasks accordingly. For example, you could start with an icebreaker board to help socialisation, not necessarily related to the course, such as ‘using the student lists provided, contact two other group members and with their co-operation find out and post two facts that no-one else will know about them’. This promotes a feeling of safety when posting; without this safety students seem as shy as when being asked to talk in class.

For knowledge and understanding activities it is better to use reflective tasks rather than knowledge answers which may end up very similar to each other. For student questions on course content, and especially assessment, set up boards which can be contributed to anonymously: this provides a safe space without risk of ridicule.

Example of discussion boards in Canvas

Manage expectations

If you expect students to contribute to the discussion boards, tell them so, both in synchronous sessions and on Canvas. But make it easy for them to contribute by having tasks which encourage participation. Boards which students know will contribute to learning for assessment are likely to receive more posts. If you just ask for knowledge answers, the answers tend to be given in full by keen students, with later posts being ‘ditto’ rather than useful commentary, so make them apply their knowledge in some way.

Also remind them about netiquette; good manners online is just as important as in face-to-face situations. This also contributes to the idea of a safe space for posting in.

Teaching presence

When you set up your discussion boards you need to decide how much input you need, and are able, to provide. No input is not an option if you expect students to post because it is demotivating as a student to not receive some sort of feedback or encouragement. As part of expectations management, let students know how often you will look at the board, and if you will provide class or individual feedback. If you have a large class you won’t have time to read every post. You might like to consider putting students into groups with a spokesperson in each group to summarise the group’s posts for you to read. Or get students to peer review each others’ comments. You can weave their answers into one feedback post.

When you comment, try to keep the discussion going, rather than just providing the answer which tends to kill any further discussion: think commas rather than full stops. Ask open questions to keep the discussion moving on, and make it human (‘I always find this difficult….’ when the class is struggling).

Discussion board example (used with permission): ask questions to elicit further responses

You will always have some students who ‘lurk’, failing to post anything at all themselves. You can minimise this by making the discussion boards a safe space for posting, and providing encouragement to participate with enthusiasm for the subject and student contributions.

Overall, discussion boards are a useful tool to keep an eye on student learning and engagement, although they do require much staff input to ensure student participation.

FMS TEL Webinar – Podcasting

This webinar ran twice on 21st April 2021, and we were happy to see colleagues from across the faculty and NUMed in attendance.

The webinar covered:

  • Teaching strategies that are well-suited to audio content.
  • Types and forms of content that suit audio delivery.
  • The basics of recording audio, uploading it and making alternative accessible content (in resources).

Colleagues can find the resources from the webinar – including the recording and links to further reading – on the FMS TEL Community in Canvas. If you have trouble accessing the community, please get in touch via fmstel-enquiries@newcastle.ac.uk 

View all FMS TEL Webinars

From Blackboard and Ngage to Canvas

In the summer of 2020 Newcastle University switched from Blackboard to Canvas. In truth, some online modules had been hosted on Canvas months before the official launch, but from August 1st 2020 Canvas was the exclusive Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). The content that had previously been in Blackboard was transferred over to Canvas, creating three years’ worth of archives. For the majority of courses this was fine, as Blackboard was only ever a repository for course materials. For the e-learning courses offered in the FMS Graduate School and the School of Medical Education, there was an additional challenge.

In addition to Blackboard, e-learning courses also used Ngage, a bespoke VLE used widely throughout FMS. Quizzes, assignments and discussion boards could all be found on Blackboard, but Ngage was home to the actual content, typically released weekly to students. Where Blackboard content could be migrated en masse, anything on Ngage had to be migrated over manually. Page by page, course by course, for all three semesters.

The Ngage user interface.
The Ngage user interface. (Click the image to see a full size version – opens in a new tab)


Once the content was copied over, we had to adapt it to fit the new platform. Discussion boards and assignments were like for like, but certain Blackboard features such as blogs and eJournals had no direct equivalent on Canvas. This required creative problem solving to adapt Canvas to our specific needs, and with help from the Canvas Community we were able to find solutions. For example to create an eJournal, a staple of many of our modules, we had to assign every student to their own private group, and then set up a regular discussion board as a ‘group discussion’ and selecting the pre-prepared eJournal groups, thereby creating a private area for students to make notes on the different topics and have the module leader’s check over them.

The same page on the new Canvas VLE. A less clutter page with a built-in discussion board and a crisper overall presentation. (Click the image to see a full size version – opens in a new tab)


A lot of visual features and formatting were also lost during the copying and pasting process, meaning pages previously adorned with images and embedded materials had to be reworked. We utilised the web design skills of the FMS TEL Team and with a bit of creativity were able to create interactive features such as click and reveal, and visual aspects, such as shadowboxes, to help emphasise particular pieces of text.

As well as the migration of content, a huge effort was made to train University staff in the run up to the 2020/21 academic year. Training sessions that had originally been scheduled in-person were instead delivered via Zoom, covering areas such as Canvas essentials, assignments and quizzes. To supplement the training, a Canvas orientation module was created to help ease staff into the transition. Additionally, every member of University staff was assigned their own sandbox course allowing them to experiment with the new platform and test out features that could be replicated in real courses.

The Canvas orientation home page. (Click the image to see a full size version – opens in a new tab)

Now that we are exclusively using Canvas, the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Despite some initial challenges with the practicalities of using a new VLE – and some trial and error – new Canvas features such as Zoom integration, built in calendars and Speedgrader have enhanced the user experience.

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

ReCap – Adding an Audio file to a Video

Resulting from a few queries from FMS staff, we have added some information to the FMS TEL Community detailing how to add audio to a video using ReCap.

Staff had recorded footage of processes or experiments in laboratories which they wished to add a narration over afterwards. There was existing audio or noise on the video which they did not want to include. Rather than go through the process of removing the unwanted audio, ReCap/Panopto ignores the audio if the video is uploaded as a Secondary file. Audio can only be uploaded as a Primary file.

You may want to record your audio narration first using your mobile phone or software such as Audacity on a computer with a microphone. A common format would be mp3. Then upload your audio narration as your primary file and your video as a secondary file. Any audio in your video file is ignored and the new audio you recorded will be played instead.

See the full guide ‘Adding an Audio file to a Video‘ on the FMS TEL Community course in Canvas.

Randomness

As part of our Humanising the Online Experience webinar, we suggested the use of name selectors to take the decision-making out of selecting a student to answer a question. We recommend you use this only when you have gotten to know your students well enough to know how they respond to being asked questions by name. Using a randomiser tool can also reduce the feeling that the teacher is ‘picking on’ a particular student too often – both for the teacher and the students!

There are a lot of online tools available, such as:

The slight hitch with using these is that they are not reusable – you need to paste the names in every session.

It’s possible to create one of these yourself using Excel, which you can then save and re-use for the class time and again. A 2-minute tutorial for this, and an example file, is available on the FMS TEL Canvas Community. If you haven’t got access to that community in your Canvas yet, first enroll here.

Of course, you can use these tools for more than just selecting names. You could use this to randomly assign cases for students to study, or assign group roles. You can use them to generate lists of anything in a random order by noting outcomes.

During icebreaker games or other tasks, you may want to try a heads-or-tails or dice-roll randomiser, and there are many other randomising tools available on Random.org.

Case Study: Adapting a course for a larger cohort

Guest post by Sue Campbell from the FMS Graduate School, Module Leader for ONC8024: Chemotherapy Nurse Training.

The Challenge

In December 2020, we were informed that Lancashire Health would be sending their Nursing students to study our course, which was due to start in February 2021. We had already seen an increase in our own numbers so with these additional students we were going to be expecting a much larger cohort than usual. The increase was in part due to the COVID situation and study leave cancellation in the NHS. We needed to investigate if the course structure would be suitable for 50 students instead of the usual 10-15 we had taught in previous years.

What did you do?

We reviewed each activity and imagined how it would work with 50 students. Activities that students completed on their own such as crosswords and quizzes were fine. 

Our main concern were the collaborative wiki tasks – these are pages within Canvas, usually involving a table, that students completed together to create a resource. We wanted to keep these tasks as they encouraged teamwork, but the tasks were not suitable for 50 students to be able to contribute. After discussing the problem with others who have experience of working with larger cohorts we came up with a solution. 

With help from the FMS TEL Team we were able to separate the students into groups of 10-15 students and provide each group with their own collaborative wiki task to complete. Once the course began we experienced registration issues so students were all starting at different times. We decided to adjust the groups so the late starting students would be in the same group and would not feel left behind.

“It’s about finding solutions you are not aware of; groups was a really quick and effective fix for what I envisioned to be a much larger problem.”

We wanted to keep the discussion tasks as they worked well in the past but would they work with large numbers? We went through each discussion task and made changes. 

Where we had previously asked students to discuss three points, we changed so students could choose one discussion they could take part in but were able to view all discussions. 

Modified Discussion Board: Before and After

We decided to change the scenario discussions into branching activities instead. The questions asked in these discussions had only one right answer and were more of a fact checking exercise than something the students discussed. Students could complete the branching activities independently, so cohort size did not matter, but the objective of the task was still achieved. We also added a presentation to summarise the learning from the scenarios which replaced the interaction from the Module Leader that would have usually occurred on the discussion board at the end of the week.

Branching Activity

Tips

  • Ask for advice – I spoke with the FMS TEL and Programme Teams and they provided several solutions I wasn’t aware of. I also spoke with our DPD, Victoria Hewitt for marking help
  • Consider running the module twice a year if numbers/demand remains too high to sustain within one cohort
  • Branching activities will work regardless of numbers so we can easily roll those over year after year now
  • Groups in Canvas is easy to turn on/off and adjust depending on numbers

What might you do differently next time?

We shall wait and see the student feedback but we are currently in week 5 of the course and so far it is going well and the group work is successful. Some things we are thinking about are:

  • We have a lot of activities, but they are now largely peer to peer or independent tasks so to bring back the teacher presence I would like to include more videos and presentations
  • We do provide a general Q&A discussion board, and for the rest of the course we are also introducing fortnightly, 10 minute 1:1 Q&A bookable slots via zoom for any students preferring a one-to-one discussion with the tutor.

Resources: