‘Getting stuck in with Xerte’

Last week the students really got to grips with Xerte and made good progress with their learning objects (LOs).

Some groups have updated their blogs and it has been interesting reading their comments. There’s definitely light at the end of the tunnel for them now that they’ve handed in their dissertation projects and a notable change in the tone of their posts.

After getting a bit stuck and worrying about how they would bring their ideas to fruition in Xerte, some groups really began to play about with it and as such have gained confidence in making Xerte do what they want it to do and in their ability to overcome any issues. They are also accessing support from John and Lina more now.

Some students have found working toward the end goal of producing a learning resource for other people very motivating as it has made the process of researching and collecting information and thinking about the best way to convey this information for a particular group, very different from researching other coursework, e.g. an essay. Not only are they becoming competent with using Xerte but they are also thinking about the value of the resource that they are producing and how useful it will be for other people and how easy-to-use. One group have even been conducting their own usability testing by asking students in the lab to try out their LO and give them some feedback – great idea.

Other groups have reported difficulties with working with Xerte and not understanding some of the page types and request for code etc. However, John has assisted with this and is helping students with some of the problems they’ve had with images and showing them how to work with images they’ve taken themselves and screen shots. One group managed to solve their own problem by watching YouTube videos with Xerte tutorials.

Some students have mentioned the wider skills that they feel they have developed since working with Xerte, such as information literacy and information seeking on the internet, time management skills and also group work. The group work element has been particularly challenging due to them not being able to access Xerte off-campus, forcing them to find alternative ways to work on this project remotely.

Finally, one group noted a ‘major problem’ as they were unable to work on their LO until another group member went back into university to log in and back out as they were wary of doing any edits while Xerte said that a group member was currently logged in and editing (but apparently they weren’t as they had all gone home). This delayed their work slightly.

The 8 groups will be submitting their final LOs next week. I can’t wait to see them!



And we’re off to a slow start…

It’s been a while since my last post. Our Xerte project is going well but there have been some ups and downs over the last month. We ran the second lot of formal lab sessions with the student groups about a month ago (Week 6). This was when we realised that, despite their initial enthusiasm for using Xerte; the students hadn’t made much progress with their learning objects. Most groups seemed to still be working with the storyboard templates or making mind maps and gathering information, as opposed to working with content directly in Xerte.

Discussions with the individual groups were promising in that they had definitely developed the focus for their learning objects and were thinking about the content with a clear idea of the target audience. However, it seemed to me that they were trying to do their own individual research with a view to coming together to create the ‘perfect’ learning object (LO) in theory or on paper, as opposed to the ongoing, iterative process of reading, adding, reviewing and editing content in Xerte as a group, which I suppose is how I had assumed the students would work naturally with digital content in Xerte. However, I appreciated that a major disadvantage for the student groups is not being able to access Xerte off-campus due to the lack of an external-facing server and I think this is having a negative impact on their group work and the way in which they are approaching the creation of their learning objects.

I explained that they would probably end up gathering too much information and that perhaps it would be better to create LO pages using what they already had and then they could view and review it; then try to take a step back and think about what else they needed. They needed to make that leap from paper and discussing ideas to actual content creation in Xerte. We made arrangements for two Xerte drop-in sessions to take place the following week (Week 7). This was a designated reading week for the Cyberpsychology module so no formal classes and time for them to work on their learning objects, and of course other coursework. I wouldn’t see them again for a few weeks.

It was disappointing when Lina and John told me that not one group turned up to the Week 7 drop-ins. Of course, this could mean that they did not need to access support because they had encountered no problems when working away on their LOs in Xerte. However, I suspected that it was more likely that they had not progressed their LOs, as they were busy with other coursework and looming deadlines, not least their final year dissertations.

I had kept an eye on their project blogs (and activity was relatively slow here too, both in terms of the number and length of posts and the group activity reflected in the content) so I had read about the last minute dissertation panic. The students referred to continuing their ‘individual research’, keeping in touch via Facebook and putting slides together in Xerte in the future (I noted the use of ‘slides’ as opposed to ‘pages’ and wondered how much their prior experience with PowerPoint was influencing their approach to and use of Xerte). Students also mentioned not knowing how to translate their ideas into Xerte content, but this is where John and Lina were available to help and only one group had been in touch with them.

In Week 8, we had the next formal lab session in which 90 minutes would be devoted to working in Xerte with John and Lina present. Only half the class was present (so lots of absent group members) and they were the most worried faces that I have seen in a while. It was the week before hand-in for their empirical project and they admitted that they hadn’t had much time to meet up in their groups and work on Xerte. One student even mumbled ‘I hate Xerte’. Their enthusiasm for Xerte and creating their learning objects was apparently dwindling and I was starting to get a bit concerned. We had a chat and I agreed to push deadlines back to give them more time to work on their Cyberpsychology coursework including the Xerte LOs.

So when the groups then got in their groups and logged into Xerte and learning objects began to appear on screens across the lab, it was a very pleasant surprise! Some groups had made what appeared to be significant progress. Phew! John had put together a ‘Xerte Tips Sheet’ for them with some guidance on adding background images etc. and their pages were looking really good. Some groups had added, or attempted to add, some interactive content using e.g. the ‘Hotspots’ feature and had questions for John and Lina. There were other queries over the use of You Tube content and copyright issues.

One student raised an interesting copyright related query as she had purchased an instrument for use in her empirical project, which let her use it with up to 2000 participants. She wished to know if she could use some items for a quiz in her LO. She had corresponded with the authors of the instrument already so we suggested that she ask them directly about usage in this context and the terms of the licence. A group had experienced difficulty uploading an image, but John was able to resolve this problem, as the picture was not in the correct format. There were also questions relating to how to change the order of the pages so Lina showed them what to do.

We felt that the students were gradually starting to get more confident with working the Xerte Online Toolkits and that they were learning that they had another toolkit available to them to help and support them in this novel task – us, their ‘Human Toolkit’! We arranged additional drop-in sessions for the students in Weeks 9 and 10.

Regarding my progress with other aspects of the project, I am waiting on ethical approval for analysis of the student blog posts. Lina and I submitted the Pecha Kucha slides for the presentation HEA STEM conference at the end of April. The Students as partners in learning enhancement workshop at the University of Strathclyde was useful from my perspective in terms of thinking about future ways to involve students in the process of active content creation using Xerte and the possibility of student internships to work on jointly producing learning resources with staff. Last week, I attended part of the JISC inclusive elearning forum workshop on creating inclusive content using Xerte Online Toolkits at the University of Glasgow. This proved really useful in learning about accessibility and inclusivity when using Xerte. It was highlighted that despite some useful features and inbuilt accessibility, Xerte is only as accessible as the content that is put on there and I learned about the value in adding audio descriptions to images and ways to improve navigability. Finally, I have set up the rubric for the peer marking of the final LOs; however unfortunately this can’t be used in GCU Learn, as the peer assessment tool does not permit this, so I’ve had to set it up as a Blackboard Survey instead. We are still deciding on the best way for students to submit their final LOs.

Progress and reflections so far…

As part of their assessment, the students make weekly group posts to their Xerte project blog in GCU Learn. The end of last week was the deadline for their first blog posts. Each of the eight groups made their post and I have just had a read through them. The groups appear to be getting on well after a relatively slow start in finalising the topic and target audience for their learning object (LO). Some groups have really moved on with their thinking about content and how to develop their LO.  They have worked out how they are going to get their learning object done and work together, including meeting up, working on the LO and contributing to the blog. I got a sense of their interest and enthusiasm in this project. I think that they are finding the novelty of this assessment to be quite motivating, especially as they head towards the end of what will be four years of writing essays and exam scripts.

There are eight groups in total and all of them have decided on their topic and target audience. More than half of the groups indicated that GCU Learn (Blackboard) does not meet their communication needs in that they want a more direct and immediate form of communication. In hindsight, I should have enabled the collaborate pm tool and will do this now and talk to them about it on Thursday. However, I get the impression from their blog posts that they wish to have a way to communicate outside of GCU Learn and at least three of the groups have either swapped phone numbers and/or created their own Facebook group to discuss the Xerte group work.

One group has noted that they are finding it difficult to arrange group meetings outside of class time (and being a blended-learning module, we only meet up face-to-face for seminars/labs every fortnight) and working on the learning object in Xerte can only be done from on-campus as there is currently no external-facing server. A few of the groups have noted this as a significant disadvantage. One group are getting round this issue by making a list of the edits to be done and sharing this via Facebook and then one member of the group volunteers to make the changes when they are next in the university.

Most of the groups said that the class in Week 4 in which they were shown the Xerte demo was very helpful and that they were impressed by what it can do and the level of interactivity that can be achieved is ‘much better than PowerPoint’. One group commented that it is a challenge to learn how to use the toolkits to produce a learning object that looks professional and not too basic, but is still fun and usable. Terry McAndrew who is leading the wider Digital Literacies in the Disciplines project pointed out ‘how are the students aware of the skills that they are picking up?’ and this is an important question that has been playing on my mind. I held the implicit assumption that this would be something that they would become aware of in time and through reflection in their blog posts but I think that I will have to do some work here to make this explicit and facilitate their awareness.

Finally, one group have noted their interest in using the green screen technology that we are hoping to have available for them soon. They are keen to produce their own videos and aware that this is preferable in terms of originality and avoiding copyright infringement.

I’m really looking forward to seeing the groups in class on Thursday/Friday this week. Lina and John are coming in to do 90 minute sessions where they will be available to give advice and help the groups move on with their LO creation.

Getting Started with Xerte

The Digital Literacy in Cyberpsychology Project Team: (left to right) Jane Guiller (Lecturer in Cyberpsychology/Psychology, Social Work and Allied Health Sciences Blended Learning Lead); John Smith (Learning Technologist) and Lina Petrakieva (ICT Skills Tutor)

The Digital Literacy in Cyberpsychology Project Team: (left to right) Jane Guiller (Lecturer in Cyberpsychology/Psychology, Social Work and Allied Health Sciences Blended Learning Lead); John Smith (Learning Technologist) and Lina Petrakieva (ICT Skills Tutor)

Students in the lab for the first Xerte demo session (Week 4)

Students in the lab for the first Xerte demo session (Week 4)

Students in the lab for the first Xerte demo session (Week 4)

Students in the lab for the first Xerte demo session (Week 4)

Students in the lab for the first Xerte demo session (Week 4)

Students in the lab for the first Xerte demo session (Week 4)

We have made a reasonable amount of progress since my last post. I introduced the new cohort of 40 Cyberpsychology students to the new assessment briefly in Week 1 (we are now in Week 4) and discussed it in more depth in the seminar in Week 2. The students decided to form their own groups and began to think about a potential focus for their learning object (LO) and the target audience. I was impressed by their enthusiasm and willingness to discuss not only ideas for their own LO, but also to contribute to the development of other groups’ LO ideas. I explained that they should try to make some decisions and firm up their plan before the Week 4 Xerte session and distributed storyboard templates for them to use if they found these helpful in constructing their LO.

During the next fortnight, I set up the groups in GCU Learn and created project blogs for them to use. I also began to create my own Xerte LO. The original plan was for me to make a guide to the assessment to communicate the aims, objectives and marking criteria and serve as an example for the students. However, a whole load of text on rationale and criteria is not the most engaging content. I didn’t want to put the students off Xerte from the outset and have an adverse effect on their creativity. Still, it gave me the chance to get acquainted with Xerte and so far, so good. It’s easy to create basic content and there are lots more advanced options for interactive content. Like any new tool, there is going to be an initial learning curve but I feel that investing time in Xerte will pay off as I can see a lot of scope for using it in many aspects of my work.

We had our first Xerte sessions with the students in the lab this week (Week 4). First, we had to spend some time sorting out the groups due to absences. This resulted in 8 groups of between 4-6 students in each. The groups then shared their ideas for LOs. These included a guide to social media use for the elderly, a resource for parents to learn about social networking and cyberbullying, a cyberbullying intervention aimed at teenagers and a dos and don’ts resource for those entering the world of online dating. We also had a group consider doing a guide to surviving a zombie apocalypse. It could have been fun but I swiftly reminded them of the need to meet the brief of a clear psychological focus and content that is informed by psychological research. I did point out that there may be a way to bring both zombies and cyberpsychology together, perhaps in the context of a LO that focuses on online gaming but I felt that I had rained on their parade. They soon moved on to the alternative topic of digital security.

Lina did a great job of populating the GCU Learn (Blackboard) Xerte content area with links to examples of learning objects and online tutorials and John had already emailed them their Xerte logins. John and Lina took the students through a demo of the Xerte Online Toolkits in the lab. Students then accessed the internal link to the Xerte Online Toolkits via GCU Learn and began a simple test LO that they then shared with the other members of their group. The students appeared to find Xerte fairly usable and reasonably straightforward. It helped that they now had a sense of what Xerte looked like and what was possible. We encouraged them to aim high and bring any challenges to John. We also suggested that they make their own images and video using their smartphones (not least to avoid some of the complex copyright infringement issues). One group expressed interest in making use of the green screen technology that we hope to soon have available for staff and student use in the School of Health and Life Sciences following a successful internal bid from the Blended Learning Team.

In terms of my actions outlined in my last post, I have developed criteria for the assessment of the group project blogs in GCU Learn, which the students will use to record their progress and experiences in creating a Xerte learning object. I found some literature and examples from other academics and used these to guide the formation of a simple 6-point scale to assess the required five weekly posts from each group in terms of evidencing progress, reflection, evaluation and planning future action. I have still to formalise the process and criteria for the peer assessment of the final LO, but this has been discussed with the students in class and criteria include accessibility, usability, evidence of psychological theory and research, usefulness and appropriateness for the intended target audience. The learner should be able to complete the LO in 5-10 minutes.

I need to apply for ethical approval of the analysis of the content of the blogs. This data will allow the identification of barriers and enablers to the student creation of online content using the Xerte Online Toolkits.

Finally, I have registered for two upcoming Xerte-related workshops. First, The HEA STEM: Students as partners in learning enhancement at the University of Strathclyde on 12th March and the JISC inclusive elearning workshop on creating inclusive content using Xerte Online Toolkits at the University of Glasgow on the 28th March.

I’ll post some pictures that we took today at the Xerte sessions. Our next sessions are scheduled to run in two weeks (Week 6).

Dateline 27 Jan 2014 – Welcome!


We are just getting started on our project since receiving notification of our successful bid as I have been on leave since May. I did make the trip down to York in July to meet Terry McAndrew, the HEA Advisor for Educational Learning Technologies, and the other project partners. It was really good to meet everyone, discuss the choice and use of Xerte for the Digital Literacies in the Disciplines project, and hear about the other funded projects across the disciplines as we each gave a 10 minute project outline. I also enjoyed the critical discussion around what we mean by digital literacies (I will reflect on this in a future post) and Helen Beetham from JISC gave a useful background to digital literacy projects. It threw up an interesting question for me to keep in mind – ‘what does it mean to be a digitally literate psychologist?’

John, Lina and I had our first official meeting last week to discuss the project and plan the activities and workshop sessions. The new Cyberpsychology students will be starting the module this week and will be introduced to the new assessment. I am very much looking forward to meeting them and getting started.

Students will form small groups and create an online interactive resource for an identified target audience using the Xerte Online Toolkits. Their content must be informed by psychological literature and research in cyberpsychology. Each group will keep a project blog and record their progress. This will form part of the assessment for the students, as well as capturing their learning experience of creating a learning object using Xerte.  The final product will be peer assessed.

We began our meeting by discussing student access to Xerte. John pointed out that we do not yet have an external facing server so students will only be able to use Xerte internally and wouldn’t be able to work individually, or as a group, on their learning objects off campus. It will be interesting to see if this is a problem from the students’ perspective and how the students decide to work on their learning objects. John shared possibilities for how students could submit their final assessment and how they will be able to view the final learning objects off campus in GCU Learn (Blackboard) either via links or direct embedding.

We planned out how the students would be introduced to the Xerte Online Toolkits. We decided to not get them started on Xerte immediately, but gradually introduce them to the toolkits and give them time initially to work on ideas for potential content. We will recommend that they find a visual means to plan out their content such as a storyboard or mind map. I have begun to source templates that they may find useful.

Then in Week 4 they will be in the lab and given an hour to explore the Xerte software and begin to build their learning objects. Myself, John and Lina will be in attendance to discuss their ideas and facilitate their work on Xerte. Another session is planned for Week 6, this time 90 minutes to work on their learning resource. Drop-in sessions will be offered in Week 7. Then we can assess progress and whether future formal or more informal drop-in sessions are required.

John and Lina are going to be working on materials for the workshop sessions. Meanwhile I am going to start work on my first learning object. This will let me get to know Xerte better and go through the same process as the students. It will serve as an initial example for the students and guide them through the activities and assessment, the criteria and what makes a good learning object. I am really looking forward to getting started and producing my first learning object!

So here is a list of my actions over the next fortnight:

  • Create my first Xerte learning object
  • Create a content area for the activities and assessment in GCU Learn (Blackboard) and put up some links to information and learning objects for the students to view
  • Introduce the students to the assessment and ask them to form groups of 4 or 5 and select a module sub-topic and target audience for the learning object
  • Set up the project blogs for the student groups in GCU Learn
  • Discuss marking criteria with the students and finalise the rubrics for both the assessment of student blogs and the peer assessment of the final learning object
  • Apply for ethical approval for the research

I will let you know how I get on in my next post!

Finally, we have just received notification of our abstract for an oral presentation at the HEA STEM 2014 conference in April at the University of Edinburgh (the prescribed format is Pecha Kucha, which I only know about in theory and I am looking forward to the challenge!) and we submitted an abstract for a poster session for the HEA Annual conference in July at Aston University, Birmingham.