Building Student Digital Capability In Computing And Digital Technologies Through A Hackathon Community

My first Staffordshire University Teaching and Learning Conference proved to be a useful day and a good chance for me to find out more about the digital initiatives in progress around the institution.

I presented on the benefits of hackathons and community for students, based on my previous work and observations of developments since, which I’m pleased to say are driven directly by students. I also discussed how hackathons could provide for elements of authentic assessment, an initiative which is often recommended as a solution for contract cheating.

You can see the slides used in the presentation on my SlideShare account. They are also embedded below.

The conference itself was interesting, sharing much good work going on around Staffordshire University and featuring a keynote presentation from Eric Stoller. Eric reminded the audience how useful it is for them to be active on social media and many of the great discussions taking place on Twitter to improve teaching and learning. I was glad to see one of my contributions featured in what was really a portfolio of tweets.

It seems that social media can bring a new zest to teaching and learning for even the most seasoned academic. Tony Bickley used the phrase “Twitter has changed my life” in his discussion, where he talked about all the new connections he’d made and the new ideas he’d had. There is certainly real value to developing a learning and support community outside of an internal university group.

I’ve also collected together a Storify with many of the tweets from the day.

Using Social Media For Academic Staff As A Component Of Continued Professional Development

A tweet of mine from Social Media for Learning in Higher Education 2016 conference, for which the tweet was well-received across the academic community, sums up a change with the potential to benefit academic staff appraisal processes for those involved with teaching and learning work.

Taken out of context, as short tweets so often can be, the tweet doesn’t fully capture the detail from a rewarding presentation on the weekly #LTHEchat Twitter chat. These weekly Wednesday evening sessions have now grown into essential activities for many in the higher education teaching and learning space.

I often follow #LTHEchat live (or catch up on the Storify summary afterwards) as the chats are interesting and wide-ranging. I also try and add to the chats when I have something useful to share, although my direct teaching and learning role is now rather diminished compared to the classroom activity I was involved with a few years ago. The timeslot also doesn’t always work for me, although participating during the scheduled live hour doesn’t seem to matter, as many of the tweets chats continue well beyond the official 21:00 at Wednesday finish time.

The tweet I quoted from #SocMedHE16 reflects that some attendees of the weekly #LTHEchat said that they had asked for this social engagement to be included in their annual appraisals as part of their Continued Professional Development (CPD) activities. There was no indication that this is yet a widespread activity, but perhaps pushing this as an extension of current and recommended CPD best practice is a way forward?

In my experience, current expectations of CPD for staff appraisal processes tend to focus on tangible activities with training elements. This can include attendance at internal or external staff development and training courses, including those taken online. They can include presenting at and attending suitable conferences. Other closely related areas, such as gaining professional certifications or fellowship of the Higher Education Academy, are also often included.

I believe that an important part of staff appraisal processes is to ensure that teaching active staff are thinking of themselves as reflective practitioners. Activities like #LTHEchat fit the bill for this for me.

The #LTHEchat allows people to share teaching and learning approaches that they have tried, as well as to discuss and question ideas and approaches in a safe and communal environment. Much localised good practice is shared, which would otherwise not be officially published. Chat topics can also push attendees to consider aspects of teaching and learning that would not otherwise form part of the their CPD. For instance, a previous #LTHEchat looked at contract cheating, an area close to my heart. I would like to think that this led a new group of academics to consider their assessment design and to think about how they could verify student involvement during the assessment completion process.

In these days where budgets for traditional forms of CPD can be limited, I do encourage those managers and peer reviewers involved with staff appraisal to consider alternatives to the traditional approaches. I wonder which universities will be brave enough to more formally list engagement with social media based teaching and learning activities such as #LTHEchat as part of the official metrics that can be considered during staff Continued Professional Development reviews?

Contract Cheating – Exploring The Online Market For Original Student Work

I was invited to present some of the latest findings on contract cheating and what can be done about it to the Pedagogic Research Group at the University of Wolverhampton as part of their lunchtime seminar series. The session went well, presented to a packed and eager audience, and ran well over the scheduled one-hour slot with all of the discussion.

As well as overviewing some of the key research in the field and the subject areas being research on, I shared some of my early findings on some of my new areas of interest, including looking at the marketing profiles behind contract cheating services and the type of people who are ghostwriting and providing undue support to students. I also shared a whole host of new and recent examples within the talk.

The slides for the University of Wolverhampton talk are available for access online. These can be viewed on my SlideShare account, or you can also see the slides below.

Due to the nature of this talk, I don’t have a video version available, but I anticipate that the ideas will make it into some of my forthcoming publications and blog posts. As always, I’m also always happy to share ideas at research seminars, teaching seminars and training events around the UK (or further afield if travel funding is available).

Some of the interesting aspects on the discussion focused on the legality of essay sites (most of them are very careful to stay on the correct side of what is allowable) and the issue of translation plagiarism – not strictly contract cheating, but an area that I have explored in the past and need to do more work on.

I was also alerted about the potential for grammarly, an online grammar checker that is available for students to use to try and improve their work, being used as part of a potential marketing funnel towards students using contract cheating sources. That’s certainly a development that I need to investigate further.

The Implications of Plagiarism and Contract Cheating for the Assessment of Database Modules

As part of our research into contract cheating, we collect a lot of examples of the ways that students have tried to cheat in different subject areas and academic disciplines.

Along with Robert Clarke, I wrote a paper for the International Teaching Learning and Assessment of Databases workshop (also known as TLAD). This paper looked at contract cheating and the wider area of plagiarism as it applies to database teaching and database modules.

Although I have a broad knowledge of the plagiarism literature, I’m not a database specialist, so this paper preparation was useful as it allowed me to explore this field. Two factors immediately grabbed me. First, there’s relatively little research into technical methods of detecting plagiarism in database modules, despite this being a large part of Computer Science and other Computing degrees. Second, where there were reported figures relating to the extent of cheating in database modules, these seemed high.

You can see more about what I discovered in the slides for the talk, which can be accessed on my SlideShare account, or viewed below.

I do think that there’s a lot more to do be done regarding plagiarism research specific to database modules. Some of the techniques used for text and for source code could be converted across to work with databases. There’s also a whole area relating to assessment design that’s worth a further look.

As often happens, the verbal presentation led onto an interesting discussion about the wider areas of plagiarism and contract cheating, including a chat about how easy essay spinning is (where a piece of text can be converted into a new version through an automated process). Another discussion looked at how reliable Turnitin is for computing education. Lots of areas to continue to explore.

Teaching Undergraduate Research Methods Using Action Learning Sets – Video Post

This video presentation explores the methods that I’ve been using with my undergraduate students to help them to gain a practical understanding of research methods and to become prepared to use research within their final year project.

The presentation is part of the current Higher Education Academy project on Innovation In The Assessment Of Social Science Research Methods. Although my approach is geared around my experiences with Computing students, I do feel that the techniques are applicable to other academic disciplines, and I’ll be interested to hear any thoughts and ideas.

The slides are also available on my SlideShare account.

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