Saturday, 7 December 2013

Is Internal Moderation lagging behind on the technology front?

I admit defeat.  I'm sorry to say that this term, I've submitted work for internal moderation in the traditional, paper based format.

I teach Photoshop and Web Design classes in an adult education / community education based setting.  I've been teaching various web design classes since 2008 and or so, and when I first started teaching them, I always submitted learner portfolios as printed sheets.  These rapidly became very cumbersome and didn't truly reflect the student's skills.

So for the past 3 years I've been using electronic portfolios.  This makes perfect sense to me - yes, the internal moderator can look at printed code and check to see if there are the expected tags in a document, but the real test of whether a website does what it's supposed to do is to look at it on a browser.  I've tried to make these portfolios as accessible as possible, getting the learners to put their work together in an overarching website, with clear links to all the criteria.  Where the work has been done, but the portfolio isn't clear in it's signposting, I've added tutor links to help guide the internal moderator through the sites to find the criteria. The files has been submitted on a memory stick, with simple printed instructions on how to locate the first file.

It has always caused problems.  The first stage of internal verification isn't too difficult, as I can be on hand to answer any questions.  However, it's when the files go to formal internal moderation away from our teaching centre that the trouble starts.  Firstly, we have to request a lap top and sometimes a network connection if a learner has uploaded work to a live server.  Should we really need to request a lap top at these events?  Surely in the digital age, the need for at least one lap top is without question.  Then, the moderators take the portfolios for assessment.  I have seen instances where my files have been collected, and then returned to the in trays, unmarked, once the memory stick has been spotted.  On occasions where I have not been at the event, I have had the work return unmarked, with comments such as 'the files couldn't be accessed', when I know darned well that they could be - having asked a colleague to see if they could 'find' the files on the memory stick.  I have even witnessed portfolios being signed off without the memory stick even being put into a computer because it was clearly just too much trouble to look at the electronic version.

So this term I've printed all the paperwork out.  I suppose in many ways it has been easier.  I've marked up the criteria with a pencil, and added the page numbers manually to the criteria list.  I've sat at a desk and reviewed all the work, and I can flick through the mountain of papers and check each and every criteria without leaving my chair.  Furthermore, I know that the portfolios will go off to moderation without any issues whatsoever.  I won't be waiting with baited breath to see if they got moderated at all, and if they did, were they successfully accessed.

What is sad is that I don't believe the moderators are getting a true flavour of what my learners have achieved.  A paper printout of website or digital graphic is no substitute for the online version in all it's multicoloured, interactive glory.  The moderator cannot comment on how great the drop down menus were, or how professional a website looks if they only see the static, black and white printout.

Does the moderation process need kicking into the 21st Century?  Should we, as tutors, be able to expect that IT facilities will be available for viewing IT projects at moderation events, without having to make special requests for such facilities?  In an age where, as tutors, we are encouraged to embrace digital literacy, and to encourage our students to do the same,  we are surely letting them down if we then get them to print out all their work, just so that someone less digitally savvy can sign it off at the end of the course.

I'd be very interested to hear others comments on this topic.  In the meantime, I apologise to all those trees for failing to hit my eco targets this term, and to the poor tutor who has to lug all those heavy files to moderation.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Password Security

I teach on the Foundation Degree in IT Security.  As you can imagine, a lot of my time is spent researching and looking into issues relating to IT security.  As a result of teaching on this course, I have reassessed my own use of passwords, and most of them are now unique in a format that only I would remember (I hope!).

Today I have tried to register for online access to a banking institution.  I was sent a secure password, in a separate letter to my account number.  The secure password was hidden by a peel off sticker, so that it couldn't be read through the envelope.  Next to the sticker, the letter said 'if you think anyone else has tried to remove the strip, please call us straight away'.  Clearly this organisation takes security very seriously.  All good so far.

I log onto the website using a variety of personal information and my new account number.  I'm asked for several characters from the sticky strip, and then I'm taken straight to a screen to change my password.  Here's where things begin to go downhill.

I try my usual method of creating a unique password, using an algorithm I've invented which can work with any website, but the resulting password is too long.  I can see that I can only use 8 characters for this password - that seems a little short.

I try a shortened version of the algorithm, now I'm told that I need to have a capital letter - that would normally come later in my method, so I have to do a rethink.

I try again, this time, putting my capital letter earlier in the algorithm, but now I get a message saying I need a special character.  No problem, I put a special character in, but the one I have chosen is not allowed.  Rethink again.

After all this messing about, my next attempt says that the confirmation password doesn't match.  I'm not surprised - I've got myself in a complete knot by this stage.

I retype both the password and confirmation, but this time i'm told that the minimum number of numeric characters hasn't been met.  Ok, I'm getting fed up now.  I take a breather to gather my thoughts.

A few minutes later I give it another shot, but now I've been timed out and have to start the whole process again.  Finally, I pick a short, random jumble of characters and I'm allowed in.

I'm then required to submit answers to 5 (yes, 5!) security questions digging into my deep and distant past - Mother's middle name, Grandfather's job, first house, first car etc etc, and then I'm asked for 3 phone numbers that they can contact me on.

Finally, I feel I'm getting somewhere, and I'm asked to choose a picture and a welcome phrase so I know when I've logged in that it really is the site I intended to be on, and not a spoof website.  This part I like, and I've not seen before in this format, it would certainly be reassuring if I clicked on a link from an email to check my account (something I would never normally do, by the way!).

This example begs the question:  has security gone too far, or is this how it should be in the age of cyber-crime?  In addition, why didn't the website give me some examples of what was required in the password?  It wasn't until after I'd sorted it out that I realised such guidance was on the letter I received in the post.  One thing's for sure, I feel fairly confident that no-one will ever break into my account, probably not even me, I doubt I'll ever be able to remember all those details again!!

Endnote:  The precise details of what the website required have been changed in the interest of security ;)

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Another new year - here's to evaluation

It's the start of a new academic year.  I've been allocated several courses that I haven't run for a year or more - Web Design Level 3, and Photoshop Level 2.  I've also got a new Photoshop Level 3 course starting, along with all my foundation degree stuff as usual.

I've dug out my old files for the first two courses.  Firstly, I'm pleased that the folders are pretty much in order - Scheme of Work and student record at the front, and a poly pocket for each lesson, complete with lesson plan, handouts and if it's something a bit tricky, my own tutor notes to refer to.  This means all I've got to do is skim over the lesson plan, check I still feel comfortable with delivering what's on it, and perhaps spend 20 minutes or so refreshing my memory on the tools and tips I want to include.

What's really been useful though is the evaluation I added at the end of some of these lesson plans.  For example, in Web Design Level 3 I've got a partner activity for the first lesson, where the learners will pair up, find out some information about each other, and then create a simple website on that person as a refresher in Dreamweaver.  As part of the process, the learners must show each other something from their mobile phone - a ring tone, photo, or text for example, that tells their partner something about themselves.  I read through  the activity sheet and thought 'hmmm, I wonder if that will work...'.  Then I noticed that on my evaluation for that session I put 'Worked really well in one centre - mobile phone task was great fun; was concerned about using it in the other centre but actually very successful'.

It reminds me how useful evaluation can be - it's not just a tick box exercise for the inspectors - it really does help us as tutors when we come to delivering the session again.  I must now make an effort to continue recording this information for my future classes.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Children and technology

A couple of things have made me chuckle this week.  Firstly, my son - 8 years old, who likes to play Minecraft with his friends online.  At 8am in the morning, when the rest of us are bleary eyed and trying to rustle up enough energy to eat breakfast and psyche ourselves up for the day, he is chasing spiders and digging holes and building monumental structures with his friend.

People often say that technology renders our children unable to socialise properly, because they spend all their time looking at gadgets and games.  I would beg to differ: when I was eight years old, there is no way I would have been chatting to my friends, plotting our next move, or creating wonderfully imaginative lands at 8am on a school day.

The other thing that made me laugh this week was when I was Googling something.  I can't even remember what it was, but my 15 year old daughter was with me and we were looking for something together.  When we couldn't find what we wanted, I suggested we look at page 2 of the Google results.  My daughter laughed out loud, stared at me in amazement, and said, incredulously "who looks at page 2???".  Personally, I often look at page 2 and beyond, but it struck me as interesting that a teenager would view this as an epic fail, both in terms of Google's ability to 'know' what I'm looking for, and in terms of the user's inability to have chosen the right search terms in the first place.

That's all, really, I just thought it was interesting how these digital natives differ to me, especially given that I consider myself almost a digital native as I use the internet so much.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Peer Assessment


I tried an interesting (albeit not groundbreaking) experiment with my Level 4 learners yesterday.

After marking their recent assignments, it was clear that some of the learners were not quite on the ball with their academic writing skills.  Amongst the problems which cropped up most commonly were:

  • frequent use of unsubstantiated observations or comments
  • fragmented sentences
  • lack of referencing
  • failing to answer the questions posed
  • inaccurate content

As the group are well ahead of schedule in terms of module content, I decided to run a slightly different type of session, which had the following structure:
  • First half an hour - feedback on previous written work, with pointers and advice for improvement
  • An hour researching a given topic (which had already been covered in class previously) and writing up 300-400 words, complete with references, diagrams and citations as appropriate.  All learners being given different questions
  • Submission of the report to Turnitin (plagiarism checker) for their own review
Learners were then asked to print out their reports with a unique reference number on the top.  I then sent them for a well earned break.

In the latter half of the lesson I gave each learner another learner's paper to mark.  This involved their own research on the new topic of the report that they had been given, which they then had to mark with a letter grade, taking into account accuracy of content, structure, grammar, spelling, citations and referencing.  Learners could not identify whose work they were marking because of the unique reference number, which I hoped would avoid favouritism, or more importantly embarrassment if someone felt they had not done well.


I was really pleased with the results of this session.  When I asked the learners how they found marking someone else's work they all agreed that it was very difficult - partly because they had to be sure that the content was accurate, partly because in some cases they couldn't identify what content was original and what was quotes (because of poor referencing), and partly because they found it really hard to grade a fellow student - especially if they felt the student had done badly. 

Reviewing the papers myself has also given me a great insight into how individuals work given the constraints of what was basically a timed assessment.  I found it particularly interesting to review the marking carried out by the learners on each other.

This was definitely a worthwhile exercise, and I hope that by showing the learners what happens when their work is marked, it will improve how they present their own reports in the future.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Wider reading

Yesterday I had a bit of a rant at my level 4 students.  They have started work on a group project, but as yet I have failed to see any evidence of research and wider reading.  I didn't intend to have a go at them, but when I turned up to class, and many of them were late, I felt I needed to remind them that reading takes time and can't be done the night before an assignment needs submitting.

I demonstrated how it could be done.  Last week I spent 20 minutes retweeting information relevant to our subject on Twitter.  It wasn't difficult - I skimmed through the last few hours of posts, clicked on any interesting looking links, skim read the text and then retweeted if appropriate.  It meant that the following day I was able to review my own tweets and add links to the articles in question to our college Moodle pages for all the students to see.  These links can now be reviewed at their leisure any time up until the assignment deadline.

Having just marked a set of assignments, it's clear how beneficial wider reading is.  It teaches the students how to write academically, how to quote text or embed references, but overall, it gives them a much greater breadth of knowledge to draw on, which dramatically improves their understanding.  I think I made an impression on them, as I noticed a few had started posting messages up on a shared resource since yesterday.

Now all I need to do is resume my own wider reading for my dissertation.  It's rather a case of do as I say, and not as I do at the moment!!

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Embedding Digital Literacy

I'm currently involved in a project on Embedding Digital Literacy in a Community Education setting.

As part of this, I have been asked to create resources on things I do with my learners, and this in turn has prompted me to be a little more organised in how I go about things.

I've created a few resources as a result:
  1. How learners can use Evernote in the classroom
  2. Using Screencast-o-matic (screen recording software) to create quick tutorials on skills learnt in the classroom.
Here's my Prezi on Evernote

And here's an example video I've created using Screencast-o-matic:

Both ideas have been very well received by the learners, particular the screencast videos, as it means learners can review what was covered in class at their own leisure.

Any comments?