The session comprised of presentations from Pam and Christian, followed by a series of questions from the audience that they responded to. Pam’s initial presentation focused on the impact of the physical learning environments on the learning process, highlighting that while the learning environment itself doesn’t have direct influence over the learning, it can have an indirect impact – as long as the learners’ basic needs are met in terms of physical comfort (temperature, air quality, etc.). Whether or not PiP learning is preferable over online learning can be dependent on what the room is like! Physical spaces provide access to information such as body language in interactions, as well as the opportunities for chance meetings, or hanging back after class to speak to the teacher when you might be too shy to speak in front of others or send an email.
Christian covered aspects of online learning including automation of feedback, analytics and the role of the instructor in online learning. When considering MOOCs such as those hosted on Kahn Academy, for example, there is usually no direct personalised feedback for learners – it is intentionally prepared. He also discussed aspects of accessibility, both in the sense of physical access to spaces/content and the work being done to make online content more accessible, e.g. through captioning. Content needs to be planned in advance, and interactions can become purely intentional. Non-synchronous activities such as discussion boards can help students who prefer to plan what they want to say rather than having to respond in the moment.
A common theme I have taken from both of these talks is the idea of intentional vs unintentional interactions – both in terms of learning experiences and social interactions. Intentional interactions include things like seminars and talks, as well as interactive learning activities such as quizzes with feedback. These types of planned interactions are fairly easy to replicate online. Unintentional interactions are usually a side-effect of being in the same room as your teacher, or other learners. There can be a social aspect to this – such as meeting new people, or a pedagogical side, such as when teachers bring the class back together to address a difficulty they have noticed is common to all. This is much easier to do in PiP teaching.
While social aspects of teaching and learning are difficult to replicate online, there are some guides available on the Flexible Learning 2020 site that can help with this. When it comes down to unintentional interactions, if we want these to happen the best thing we can do is try to create time and space for it. While it may feel a little counterintuitive to formally schedule informal chats, in reality, it’s one sure way of ensuring they can happen.
One of the services I offer as part of the FMS TEL team is the creation of bespoke 2D animations. These are most commonly used as small parts of a bigger project, but they can also be stand-alone projects themselves.
Types of animation and choosing the right tool for the job Depending on the nature of the animation required, and also the context in which it will be used, there are three different types of animation that we can produce.
Video based animation
HTML5 (web based) animation
When looking at the source material I will first plan the animation in my head, and will usually know right away which type of animation will be most appropriate for the job. For example, if there are any user interactions to be included then an HTML5 animation would allow for that, but if there is the need for some organic shapes then that would suit a video based animation better.
Planning and Storyboarding When visualising an animation, I plan the animation as a whole from the start, rather than tackling it scene-by-scene as this gives a more natural and entertaining feel to the end result.
Once I’m happy that I have a good understanding of the content I will then create a series of illustrations as a storyboard and send this as a PDF for review.
I then discuss with the subject specialist which techniques will work best for the application, and raise any concerns. I can then start the animation process.
Creating the animation Getting things right at the concept and storyboard stage is critical and can save a lot of time, compared to how much of a time investment it can be if you have to re-do a large part of the animation.
However, understanding that I may not get the content perfect in the first draft every time, I structure my files in a way that changes can be made with minimal disruption to the rest of the timeline. This is achieved by both layering up the source Illustrator files and also separating the key points of the main composition timeline into separate sub-compositions. That way I can work on a small section without knocking everything else out of sync.
Obviously, every project is different but by focusing on the movements involved, the flow between the scenes and the basic animation principles I begin the sequence (as you may have guessed) from the start and work on each stage in sequence. This is important because elements will often carry through from one scene to another so duplication can be avoided.
I use Adobe After Effects to create video-based animation and animated GIFs, and Adobe Illustrator to create any graphic and illustration assets needed for the animation. After Effects is an extremely powerful timeline-based tool that can make almost anything possible – think of it as being a kind of Photoshop for video!
If there is to be audio narration or a musical soundtrack on the video, then I arrange for that to be recorded early on in the development rather than being added at the end, as the content and movements should be timed to fit with events in the audio.
Most of the development time actually lies in creating the assets for the storyboard (which are later used in the animation), so when it actually comes to the animating stage things tend to move along pretty quickly.
I usually render out (export) the animation after every new section is complete and upload it our Vimeo account for approval and to check that I’m on the right track before moving on to the next one.
The review process
The Vimeo Review platform we use lets the users add time-stamped comments directly onto the video and sends me a notification email immediately thus providing a good communication channel for each specific issue.
When the first draft of an animation is complete, a shareable, password-protected link to the video can be sent out for a wider review to gather comments and feedback. From there we can address any comments and fine-tune the animation for further revisions, which will in turn be sent out for review.
While there is no standard for this, normally after a first (alpha) release and review, changes are made if required and a second (beta) release is then sent for review, with any further required changes reflected in a final (gold) release.
The finished product The final render from After Effects will be a simple video file, usually in the .H264 codec (MP4) that can either be hosted on our Vimeo account and an embed code supplied, or, depending on file size restrictions, this could be uploaded directly to your target system. It can also be supplied as a file to be included in a PowerPoint presentation or other teaching material. The type of output required is discussed before we start the project to make sure we are taking the best approach.
Past examples I’ve worked on a wide variety of projects during my time at the university, including multiple MOOCs, marketing materials, and work on modules across both FMS and Engineering courses. The showreel below includes just a small sample of the projects I have been involved in.
In December 2020 I had the opportunity to attend the Association for Learning Technologies’ Winter Conference. One of the presentations at the conference really struck a chord with me and I would like to share a synopsis of what was discussed.
Presenters Sharon Flynn, Natalie Lafferty, John Traxler, Bella Abrams, and Lyshi Rodrigo sat on a panel discussing an Ethical Framework for learning technology. They discussed what they perceived as the biggest issues around ethical teaching and learning digitally.
One of the primary concerns driving the development of an Ethical Framework is the inevitable power relationship learning technologies create between teachers and their students. For example, how can monitoring work in the right way, where it is not there as a policing tool, but rather as a tool for aiding engagement and learning. One of the panellists suggested a simplified form of terms and conditions could go a long way to pacifying student concerns over any form of monitoring.
There are inherent principles about trust and reliability in the digital world. This is evident in many sectors but likely not more than in the surveillance culture of the digital world. We have, therefore, the responsibility to help protect students, and colleagues, as we become more aware of ethical challenges in the digital world.
Another concern relates to fair access. What ethical role does the institution have in ensuring all students have access to the digital tools, such as laptops and broadband internet? What is considered adequate and equitable? How logistically can this be accomplished? And, this is not simply a problem for students. Some teachers will also experience digital tools poverty. This would also include training for students and teachers in the systems, programs, and tools they would be expected to use. (Something that Newcastle University is working hard to ensure exists to support students and teachers in the unique set of circumstances following of from Covid-19.)
Another question brought up was what constitutes harm? This question would be at the heart of an Ethical Framework. How do we as institutions identify harm caused by digital teaching and learning and mitigate it? For example, how does proctoring and the use of e-resources impact students. What about productivity measures? These could potentially be arbitrary and misrepresent what really matters. Some people think these are easy solutions for the current challenges, but they invite the need for an Ethical Framework.
The implications of GDPR and its potential successor also impact the need for an Ethical Framework. Professional bodies are not necessarily thinking of the problems related to approaches like proctoring. So, any Ethical Framework must be rooted in context of principles and be ever aware of the needs and where importance lies withing various other cultures.
This all leads to the need to develop an Ethical Framework for teaching and learning digitally. The panellist suggested that we start from a position of respect and use our values to build an Ethical Framework including student voice.
This summary of the impetus and content of what may be needed in an Ethical Framework for teaching and learning online is certainly worth considering as we enter into the new normal that will likely contain more online teaching than we had pre-Covid. I would be interested to hear (reply below) what you think about what the ALT panellists had to say and what your views on such an Ethical Framework should and could be.