All posts by Thomas Mansfield

King’s Online Goes West!

It was recently announced that the King’s Service Centre in Cornwall will host King’s College London’s newly founded ‘Technology Innovation Hub’.

The poet Betjeman, had, to the knowledge of the King’s Online Blog, no strong feelings regarding the building of immersive eLearning experiences and the adoption of cutting-edge gamification techniques. This, one must assume, is chiefly down to the fact that he passed away thirty-four years ago this past May.

That being said, both he and King’s Online are very much united in our shared belief that the celebrated county of Cornwall is a perfect place to spend some time. For indeed, it is within the excellent King’s Service Centre in Newquay that King’s have founded our brand-new ‘Technology Innovation Hub’.

Firstly, some background: The King’s Service Centre (KSC) was established a stone’s throw from Cornwall’s northern coast in May 2015, and has proved an invaluable resource to all of King’s College London, providing indispensable, 24/7 IT support to some 35,000 King’s College London students, academics, researchers & professional staff.


Newquay, in many ways the Silicon Valley of the Southwest

“Technology services are vital to King’s as we need a first-class Service Centre to support ongoing needs and ensure future success,” says Gareth Wright, the Managing Director of KSC and Director of King’s IT Services. “The work we do here enables King’s to maintain its position as a world-leading university, and supports its strategy for growth and King’s Vision 2029.”

What is more, as a “proud Cornishman”, Mr Wright is particularly pleased with the centre’s south-westerly location and the impact it has had on the local economy:

“Our centre in Cornwall offers the perfect package; a highly skilled local workforce, good connectivity and the benefits of Superfast Cornwall’s ongoing investment in fibre optic broadband. I’m thrilled to see the Service Centre bringing fantastic job opportunities to the county, as well as high quality vocational training through our apprenticeships.”


These Cornish buildings are different to the King’s Service Centre; but that is not to say that they are inferior…

King’s Online are delighted to be able to contribute, in our own way, to the good work already done within the Cornish community by the KSC. In staffing the Technology Innovation Hub, we have the opportunity to recruit from the expanding tech community in the county (including graduates from game design courses at Falmouth University), furthering the excellent work the KSC has done recruiting locally; bringing highly skilled IT career opportunities to the area.

Speaking of highly skilled IT career opportunities, various roles within King’s Online’s Technology Innovation Hub are now being advertised. Please click on the following links for more information:

Additionally, by basing our new Technology Innovation Hub within the Centre, we have embedded the team within a technology-focused unit which serves the whole of King’s, taking advantage of the KSC’s fantastically innovative and forward-thinking culture.

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But what will the King’s Online Technology Innovation Hub actually do, and why have we planned this investment? Chiefly, our new Cornwall-based team will be dedicated to producing game-based learning and other experimental technologies to support our online programmes, ensuring that King’s Online’s offerings remain at the very top of the eLearning field. More and more evidence suggests that game-based elements help learners remain engaged with their online courses, and this has been an area our unit has been particularly interested in exploring for some time now.

To begin with, one can expect the games we create to be web-based, single session and single-player, with predominately 2D graphics and various ‘branching scenarios+’ style gameplay. However, that is not to say that our gamification offerings will not expand in scope and complexity as time goes on. After all, with this new, dedicated team established, there really is no upper limit to our innovation potential!

We will keep further details of our plans and gamification ideas underneath our chapeau for now, but watch this space for developments and future game trailers – and if you’re interested in joining our new and expanding team down in Newquay, please click on the links above for more information on the exciting new roles!

The Future is Micro

Our colleague Duncan Smith has swung by the KO Blog and has been kind enough to jot down his thoughts on a particular eLearning preoccupation of his – micro-credentials. Do enjoy his reflections on a particularly fascinating development in edtech and higher education, and please let us know what you think in the comments section below!

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We are at a moment of unprecedented change in higher education. Policymakers are taking an ever-closer view of what universities do, via metrics, frameworks and regulators; private capital and providers are increasingly influential; and technology is challenging the established order of things. Elsewhere in this complex eco-system, the needs of students and employers are also changing.

Whether we like it or not, the intersection between the qualifications that universities offer to our students and the needs of the employers who hire those students is incredibly important to the ability of universities to fulfill their mission.

Micro (on the right) is the future, claims Duncan

This change is being played out in various ways. Our students will no longer have a single career or employer; they will follow multiple different pathways, and in doing so their skills will be more important than their knowledge. Even for those students who work within a distinct profession, the churn of knowledge is such that every student we graduate will need to be a lifelong learner in order to continue to be productive and employable.

There are also signs that employers are moving away from the degree as the main credential for recruitment. Ernst & Young changed its recruitment policy in 2016, so that applicants were no longer required to evidence academic qualifications; instead, they would use a suite of online strengths assessments and numerical tests to assess applicants. And more and more companies are signing up to platforms like Coursera for Business, where they can provide online training to their employees – provided by universities, but not with a traditional credential attached.

If all of this represents a challenge to the traditional university, then disrupting the current system of qualifications and credentials is part of the solution. Degree programmes are not going to disappear – they will remain a requirement in many disciplines, and even where not required, they will still be an important rite of passage at undergraduate level. However, the way in which we offer those degrees and other types of qualification can and should change.

The future lies in a more flexible form of learning, enabled by online platforms and technologies, but in a way that can also be transferred to the physical campus. It will involve moving away from knowledge-based learning and assessment, dictated by a number of hours of study, towards units of learning that are based on the development of skills. The ability of student to conduct a systematic review will be more important than the knowledge of the content that went into the review.

Flexibility is very much key to new learning

We should be able to offer small units of learning in specific areas, focused on specific skills, which can be taken individually or in order to contribute to the eventual award of a more traditional qualification like a certificate or degree once enough units have been built up. This is the stackable credential model, pioneered by EdX and now increasingly adopted by other platforms and universities.

What do we need to make this happen? Online is already a key enabler; the ability to deliver a course at multiple points during the year to students located around the world, with asynchronous instruction and technology to automate simple tasks. Beyond that, deeper relationships with employers are needed. We need to understand what they need from employees, and to involve them in the design of qualifications as collaborators rather than just eventual customers.

Our governance needs to evolve too, beyond the current quality assurance frameworks of hours of study and exam- or essay-based assessment. We need to be quicker to approve and launch new credentials and courses, without losing the quality expected of a university. We need to challenge the false dichotomy that is drawn between arts education and practical study, and make the case for an arts education that equips students with transferable skills. And there needs to be cooperation between universities. We are all grappling with the same challenges, and will come to similar conclusions about how to solve them.

A shared nomenclature for credentials, a shared approach to recognising prior learning so that credentials can be stacked, and shared investment in technological solutions – like block-chain transcripts – will all ensure that the entire sector can respond to these challenges.

This is a time of disruption and change for universities, but it is also an opportunity to do better: to educate in a way that is relevant for the world we live in now, to develop deeper relationships with the world outside academia.

King’s is in a unique position to capitalise: we are forging ahead with online study and partnering with key private collaborators; we are located at the centre of a world city, with access to countless employers and companies, as well as policymakers; we have an outstanding academic community across a broad range of disciplines; and we have an ambitious vision for the future to ensure that we remain a leading university. The future, our future, is micro.

 

Duncan is Head of Strategy, Planning & Business Management at King’s Online. Follow him on Twitter @duncansmith67

King’s Online Learning at Work Week, 2018 ~~ Part Two

This May at King’s Online saw the team throw themselves into the latest iteration of ‘Learning at Work Week’, a superb initiative co-ordinated by the Campaign for Learning and supported by King’s College London partners, Pearson. It is the biggest festival of workplace learning around and King’s Online were very much involved, putting on three separate eye-opening and engaging sessions.

These lunchtime classes were organised by King’s Online staff members, for King’s Online staff members, sharing out some of our superabundance of multi-discipline expertise a little more equally around the team. Be it in the arts, technology or educational pedagogy, our unit is blessed with experts across the board, and it was fantastic to be able to grab a quick taste of this learning in the midst of one’s working day.

Natural-born educators as we are here at the King’s Online Blog, we cannot, in good conscience, go on any further without now apportioning some of this fine learning on to you, dear readers! We have, therefore, distilled some of the information presented in our classes into blog form:

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Data Visualisation Workshop – with King’s Online’s E-learning Content Developers (16/05/18)

King’s Online Learning at Work Week continued with a genuinely useful and engaging visual design session run by Sam Hodgson and his fellow E-learning content developers. Chief amongst the workshop’s ambitions was to impart to the wider team some of the key techniques in the production of infographics – how to visually represent complex data and information, and improve the retention of this data.

There are, in Sam’s view, five main types of infographics:

  • Illustrative (highlighting facts, giving viewer a ‘way in’, breaking up text)
  • Proportional (graphs and suchlike, numerical comparisons, providing context)
  • Timeline (change over time, history, projections)
  • Map (geographic patterns)
  • List (rankings, highlighting commonality, categorisation)

With this in mind, the workshop began in earnest, with the King’s Online team split at random into groups to try and crack out some top quality visual representations of their own. Results, it is safe to say, were mixed…

Then the professionals showed their own infographics, for an amusing bit of unequal comparison. It turns out that the wider team have some way to travel before we can hope to rival our visual designers:

We also explored how we, as eLearning professionals, might look to implement infographics going forwards. For example, where large blocks of academic writing are identified within a module, content developers could put in arresting visuals, in order to break up the text or highlight specific data. While all such creativity is necessarily time and resource dependent, the workshop highlighted the value in exploring infographics to enhance our students’ comprehension of complex information.

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Programming basics for the code-phobic – with Simon Date & Danielle Johnstone (17/05/18)

Our final session of King’s Online Learning at Work Week took us into the world of code and the misty, mysterious lands of computer programming.

According to our resident coding experts, Simon Date and Danielle Johnstone, programming can be boiled down to three things:

  • Writing clear instructions
  • Creating detailed plans
  • Non-verbal description

It is, therefore, conceptually-speaking, very similar indeed to the work done by many members of the King’s Online team – be they project managers, instructional designers or content developers.

This session began by watching and then discussing a section of the Harvard CS50 introductory session on the basics of binary. This was followed by a hands-on ‘crash course’, utilising Scratch’s online platform to move sprites around a plain using basic commands – preloaded functions which helped us learn the theory of putting the building blocks of code together in a simple visual way.

In short, an entertaining informative end to a fascinating and worthwhile King’s Online Learning at Work Week! Thanks for reading, and please contact King’s Online on Twitter with any comments/stories of your own #LearningAtWorkWeek experiences.

King’s Online Learning at Work Week, 2018 ~~ Part One

This May at King’s Online saw the team throw themselves into the latest iteration of ‘Learning at Work Week’, a superb initiative co-ordinated by the Campaign for Learning and supported by King’s College London partners, Pearson. It is the biggest festival of workplace learning around and King’s Online were very much involved, putting on three separate eye-opening and engaging sessions.

These lunchtime classes were organised by King’s Online staff members, for King’s Online staff members, sharing out some of our superabundance of multi-discipline expertise a little more equally around the team. Be it in the arts, technology or educational pedagogy, our unit is blessed with experts across the board, and it was fantastic to be able to grab a quick taste of this learning in the midst of one’s working day.

Natural-born educators as we are here at the King’s Online Blog, we cannot, in good conscience, go on any further without now apportioning some of this fine learning on to you, dear readers! We have, therefore, distilled some of the information presented in our classes into blog form:

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3D Printing Design Challenge – with Paul Gillary (15/05/18)

Paul kicked off the first King’s Online Learning at Work Week session by asking the question, “If you could make anything you wanted, what would you print with a 3D printer?”

Outlandish as the King’s Online Blog’s suggestions were – including 3D printed Wagu steaks, a significantly bigger flat, more aesthetically appealing clothes and (finally) a half-decent smartphone – the vast majority of the session’s 3D dreams had already become reality, such is the transformative nature of this technology.

Paul, himself, has owned four different printers over the last few years (two currently operational) and has, interestingly, purchased them all from Kickstarter. However, he noted that one must be careful when purchasing such kit from this site, as would-be investors have been ‘burned’ before. iMakr in London’s fashionable Farringdon is a good option for those who prefer to do their shopping in the flesh. Either way, printers vary in price from just a few hundred pounds to thousands upon thousands.

The printer he brought along was the tidy little unit pictured above, which he uses with his small business, ‘Teach Kidz Tech‘ – a fantastic enterprise where he shows his technological wonders to primary school children, to get them hooked in to such futuristic matters when their minds are still young and impressionable.

While it is highly debatable whether we at the King’s Online Blog still qualify as ‘young’, Paul easily impressed upon us the innumerable possibilities 3D printing could bring about – not just printers printing out affordable, repeatable houses, but printers printing out ‘more printers’, which could in turn can print these houses. Bionic exoskeletal suits? Already happening in the world of prosthetics. High fashion clothes? Also being 3D printed. True, low-cost housing will be a massive, transformative 3D printing endeavour, but filament printing, melting into a concrete mix, might also give these buildings a smart, multi-material appearance of metal or wood, or whatever the designer desires.

So how does one ‘build the designs? What software should one use? Google Sketchup is a good choice for those looking to get into the field; Tinkercad is particularly useful for primary school students; Autodesk’s Fusion360 might be more suitable for more seasoned 3D print-merchants.


A masterpiece of design…

Regarding the physical methods of 3D printing, there are four main ways one can go about it:

  • FDM (fused deposit modelling)
  • SLA (stereolithography)
  • DLP (digital light processing)
  • SLS (selective laser sintering)

In terms of one’s 3D printing process, there are a half dozen stages one should go through:

  1. Think of something you need/want
  2. Sketch it out freehand (if necessary)
  3. Create a 3D model using one of the aforementioned online software options
  4. Export the resultant STL (a standardised 3D printable)
  5. From this create a Gcode file (which contains all the layer information that ‘tells’ the printer where to print)
  6. Print that thing!

Now that we were properly grounded in the theory, it was time for a practical. Our task was to create a keyring with an additional function using Tinkercad that could be printed on Paul’s printer – which had been merrily printing medals and rings and suchlike all through the session – once the task was over.

Some of the rival suggestions are somewhat ‘out there’ – and Tinkercad messed up parts of our vision somewhat – but we are delighted to relay that the team which included the humble King’s Online Blog won the day, with our ‘genius’ idea of a multipurpose, keyring-attached cup-holder, which one can clip onto plates at parties. Beyond, your champions:

In short, an entertaining informative beginning to a fascinating and worthwhile King’s Online Learning at Work Week. Click here for the concluding section of this bumper, two-part blog!

Global Accessibility Awareness Day 2018

Our work at King’s Online is inspired to a significant degree by how online learning can extend access to education by breaking down the restrictive boundaries of time and space to allow our global cohorts of students to incorporate learning into their lives.

So what about those students who are excluded from learning because of the ways in which traditional educational materials/ experiences cater only for those with certain abilities? Surely, to be properly invested in more inclusive education, we must pay attention to how our digital formats and tools increase (or restrict) accessibility?

Today (the 3rd Thursday in May) is Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD), a day designed to “get everyone talking, thinking and learning about digital (web, software, mobile, etc.) access/inclusion and people with different disabilities” (GAAD website). We at King’s Online are determined to make sure our online materials are accessible for people with different abilities, and we welcome the challenge of GAAD to work harder to improve accessibility.

Figure 1: This sample demonstrates that it’s best to avoid using pea green with soft pink and also sky blue with teal in data visualization, as these hues are not so clearly distinguishable from each other.

What are some of the ways we are already working to make King’s Online learning experiences more accessible?

  1. We have an accessibility working group which meets to discuss new research on accessibility and how to make our resources more accessible, and to train and encourage the whole team in accessible practice.
  2. Our chosen development tool, Adapt, has a variety of features that encourage the accessible design of online learning. This includes fields in which one can add “alt” text — textual descriptions of images that are read aloud by screenreader technologies — to ensure that visually-impaired users can access graphical content.
  3. We are focussing on moving text content out of static images and into the main part of the webpage, so that it can be accessed by screenreaders. This includes increasingly delivering tables in html rather than jpg or other forms. To find out more, visit this WebAIM resource about the structure of html tables and why this is important.
  4. We consider the needs of differently abled users early on in the prototyping stages of our module design. Our UX design and web development team use a variety of tools to test the colours, fonts and structures that will be used for any given programme, before we start development of learning content. One aspect of this is running potential colour palettes through colour-blindness filters. How different colours will appear and compare to colour-blind users is not always obvious for those without visual impairment, so testing is vital. (See Figure 1 above.)

Get involved:

  • You can use Photoshop’s colour-blindness filters by selecting View > Proof setup > Color blindness. Give it a try!
  • What are you doing to increase accessibility? What more should we be doing? Let us know by tweeting @kingsonline. Follow us on Twitter or on Instagram to see how our team members are embracing the call to make online learning more accessible.

 

And now, the end is near…

It’s been a mildly emotional time here at King’s Online Towers.

After many a month of honest, loving toil, two of our key projects and flagship programmes – our MSc in the Psychology & Neuroscience of Mental Health and our International Corporate & Commercial Law LLM – are almost, almost done and dusted.

Yes indeed, we are happy to relay that the final Ts are currently being crossed and the very last dots are being added to the very last lower-case Js of the final week of the final ‘PNoMH’ module, much to the delight of King’s Online’s psychology project team:

“It’s just wonderful,” remarked a key manager of the highly successful PNoMH project. “It’s been quite the journey!” These sentiments were echoed by one of the talented members of the project’s technical team: “It feels good – a real feeling of satisfaction and completeness!”

To date, some 455 students have accepted places to study the Psychology & Neuroscience of Mental Health online with King’s College London and it’s world-famous IoPPN, making it the most successful King’s Online course to date. At this very moment 426 learners are studying one of the nineteen available PNoMH modules, and our very first cohort of graduating master’s students will soon be donning their mortarboards and receiving their degrees.

[A small caveat: another optional module for PNoMH – in Child & Adolescent Mental Health – has been confirmed for September ’18 (bringing us to a nice, round twenty), so technically speaking some of our peerless psychology team have not yet seen the last of this box office endeavour – but I won’t tell them if you won’t, readers!]

Similarly contented emotions are felt over in our crack ‘legal team’, as the final fortnight of market-leading online content is slotted into place within the twelfth and final module of the ‘ICCL’ LLM.

Fun fact: So far in 2018, at any one time one will find over 150 Dickson Poon School of Law students studying online – on either the ICCL programme; on its sister course, our International Financial & Commercial Law LLM; or on our fabulous Executive LLM.

One of the team’s key content developers, who has been working for over a year on the project, had this to say: “I’m delighted! Not just because the project is all finished, but because these last weeks’ worth of content are really interesting – lots of interactive tasks and great animations. I really think that this final module is the best one we’ve done so far!”


Bruce Springsteen – not currently a King’s Online student

These are, therefore, as ‘the Boss’ once famously suggested, ‘better days, my friend’. Yet, as the King’s Online Blog wandered around the KO offices, gathering quotes and reactions from happy instructional designers and from project managers in veritable paroxysms of glee, a lone voice, heavy with experience, offered the following monition:

“It’s only the end of these first runs. Soon they’ll be starting all over again, so back to work with you!”

Alas, readers, it seems an eLearning instructor’s work is seldom ever truly done! Back then to the grindstone, to the coalface and to the Trello boards – after all, those difficult second albums are most unlikely to compose themselves!

Creating an authoring tool for Higher Education

When King’s Online was established at the start of 2016, our central aim was to become a UK leader in postgraduate online learning. As our team was to be created basically from scratch, we required the latest technologies to help us meet our lofty ambitions within one of the fastest growing industries in the world.

We needed a modern eLearning authoring tool which offered easy collaboration between our team and which enabled remote-working. We wanted rapid templating features and for our courses to look great on any device; we wanted something which might scale from a team of ten to forty, and which might even be rolled out across an institution of higher learning with almost 5,000 academic staff.

And which authoring tool did we choose? Adapt.

If you look at the authoring tools available, you will notice that most providers market their products chiefly to the corporate sector, and Adapt is no exception here. The Adapt ‘Open Source Project’ was in fact established as a collaborative effort by some of the largest eLearning companies in the UK – companies whose primary business is to sell eLearning content to corporations which require learning solutions as part of their staff training.

The corporate learner and the student, however, are two very different beasts – and when an instructional designer is creating content for a corporate learner he or she will often take the following considerations regarding their learners on board:

  • They require motivation to learn.
    • Most corporate learners are more reluctant to ‘engage’. This is usually down to a combination of the subject matter being rather stale and the fact they are told they ‘must’ do it.
  • Completion needs to be monitored.
    • Indeed, it is often for legal reasons that, for example, compliance learning is a major aspect of corporate eLearning. A company needs to ensure all its staff finish a course to meet its legal obligations.
  • Courses need to be translated.
    • For a multinational corporation with offices around the globe, courses often must to be translated into several different languages to be fully effective.

Authoring tool providers have listened to the needs of their users and create features to address considerations such as these. Gamification features can be applied to their content, to ensure that learners stay more engaged; SCORM and xAPI allow each learner to be tracked for completion, so reports can be created for end of year auditing; multi-language support is now a standard feature in all authoring tools.

However, for students such those studying at King’s College London, features like these are much less relevant. Our students have ‘opted into’ study, to learn something which they have perhaps spent years studying before – they do not need to be coerced into learning like some corporate learners. While King’s lecturers might be curious regarding which of their students have engaged with their content, there is less of a need to ensure a student has completed a piece of learning – if they haven’t, after all, it will show up clearly in their final grades! Lastly, English proficiency is required for all King’s courses, so multi-language support isn’t needed here.

While criticisms have been levelled against Moodle, the largest open source LMS – that it is too focused on the needs of educational institutes, for example – when it comes to eLearning authoring tools the reverse seems to be true: The corporate world very much comes first.

For there are, of course, many student needs which are less relevant to corporate learners. King’s Online instructional designers, therefore, always keep the requirements of further education students in mind when creating suitable learning experiences for King’s students. And thanks to the open, plugin-based hierarchy of Adapt, King’s Online have been able to create new features to address these student-centric considerations:

  • Students want to annotate: They need to be able not only to ‘take in’ information, but also to draw and note down their own conclusions ‘on the page’ – extending their knowledge and understanding still further.
    • To enable students to annotate content in this way, we created the Print page and My Notes. Print converts an Adapt course into a printer-friendly PDF document, which students can print out and mark up as needed; My Notes causes a notepad to pop up, onto which students can copy text from the course directly. This text is accessible later on in the LMS, and links back to the place in the course the quote/note came from.
  • They want to discuss their ideas: It is important that students have avenues to discuss and share new ideas with their peers, so that they might gain a better, more rounded understanding of the subject.
    • To facilitate student discussion we’ve created the Social extension. This extension adds a Facebook-style commenting system into Adapt which allows for conversations in context, similar to that of a MOOC platform.

Additionally, we at King’s Online have re-imagined what course navigation can look like in Adapt by creating the Contents extension. This extension lists all the pages of the course in an accordion running along the side of the screen, which can be expanded to jump directly to any component in the course. As the student scrolls down the page, the component in view is also highlighted in the Contents, so he or she knows how much progress they have made. What is more, since content is no longer ‘mandatory’ in nature, the student always has freedom to explore the materials at his or her own pace.

We at King’s Online want our future developments to be driven by direct feedback from our students. We have therefore implemented Google Analytics tracking into our latest extensions so we can track how often our students use these new features. We are also going to run user group sessions with on-campus students: By testing our new plugins with these students, in-person, we can ensure that that which we have created is effective, and gather feedback on what additional features might be included in future courses.

Being part of an open source community has meant that we have benefited greatly from the core platform and plugins developed by other companies and organisations, and accordingly we are very keen to share our own work. Our team is already one of the most frequent publishers of Adapt plugins, and in the next few months we will make the new plugins listed above fully open source. We will also look to share the results of our Adapt course tests on on-campus students.

King’s Online are, in short, dedicated to working with the Adapt community to create the best learning platforms – both for the corporate learner and for the higher education student.

 

This blog post was the basis of a talk given by Simon Date, Web Developer at King’s Online, at the Dev.ac.uk Conference on the 15th to 16th of February, 2018.