All 14 entries tagged Arts Faculty

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April 25, 2008

About Robert O'Toole

A short profile of Robert O’Toole. Arts Faculty E-learning Advisor, to appear on the Arts Faculty E-learning Office home page.

Arts Faculty E-learning Advisor – available to help any member of the Arts Faculty.
Office: Humanities H234

Robert O’Toole is a technologist, educator and philosopher with over ten years of practical experience in helping learners and teachers to find tools that extend and enhance their capabilities. He is a HEA National Teaching Fellow, and a winner of the Warwick Award for Teaching Excellence. He believes that:

“Learning is socially and technologically mediated from the outset, and is therefore necessarily shaped by the constraints and affordances of the epistemographical environment within which it occurs. Technology therefore matters. Technological choices have a critical influence upon learning outcomes. Students and teachers who are able to consistently make good choices are far more likely to succeed.”

Robert’s practice as a learning technologist helps individuals to make appropriate technology choices, based upon personal needs, abilities and intellectual approaches. The rapid expansion in the range of available tools, driven by the development of new web technologies, has multiplied available options. The role of the learning technologist as a guide is more important than ever. Robert helps people to exploit the potential for positive change by making the right technological choices, and by developing deep competencies as self-reflective learners/researchers.

As E-learning Advisor to the Arts Faculty at Warwick, Robert has provided a popular and wide-reaching service, enabling students and teachers to achieve excellence in their own work. He provides consultations, coaching and lectures tailored precisely and thoughtfully to the needs of individuals. Having established an e-learning office within the Faculty, he is a constant and always supportive presence, open to all members of the Faculty. This has been extended with the establishment of the Arts Faculty E-Squad, a team of students supporting staff. Skills and ideas for the use of technology are cascaded out across the Faculty, through the E-Squad, to thousands of staff and students, thus incrementally developing a network of digital natives.

Alongside the many immediate day-to-day engagements resulting from his role, Robert has developed a critical approach to understanding and designing new technologies. He is creating an ‘evaluation framework’, and beginning to share his methodology and findings through journal articles and conference presentations. He plans to develop this work more formally, as an advisory body reporting upon the impact of new technologies on knowledge creation and dissemination.

Read more on my blog.

The Arts Faculty E–Squad

A brief entry about the Arts Faculty E-squad.

A team of students, trained and supported by the Arts Faculty E-learning Advisor (Robert O’Toole).

They can provide help with a range of e-learning tasks, and are currently available free to Arts Faculty staff.

For more information and to request help, see the Arts E-Squad homepage.

March 15, 2007

Live collaborative online seminar between Warwick and Witwatersrand (SA)

A brief report on an online conference using Warwick Forums.

At lunchtime today I helped Erica Carter of German Studies to run a live online collaborative seminar with a group of students here and a group at Witwatersrand in South Africa.

We had hoped to use our new web based videoconferencing tools, but unfortunately they are not ready yet. It may also be the case that the Wits net connection is too slow. So instead we simply used a Warwick Forums discussion setup. I created external user accounts for the Wits staff and students, and gave them access to the forum. We started off by posting introductory messages, with the Warwick students divided into four groups. Here are a few observations:

  1. the UK students were entirely digitally native – they instantly understood Warwick Forums, and quickly discovered how to upload images of themselves taken on an Apple laptop, or from their Facebook accounts.
  2. even so they found the live interaction to be exciting.
  3. the discussions were a little chaotic, with people posting into threads with no specific structure, the plan had been to setup threads in advance, but Forums maintanance prevented this from happening.
  4. dividing up the class into four groups, worked well.
  5. assigning threads to each group is a good model, but it would be useful if it were possible to see the thread in which one is working AND an indication of activity in other threads.
  6. being able to set up these groups and discussion threads ad hoc is useful, having a more visual representation of these relationships would be really useful.
  7. Warwick Forums no longer seems to auto-refresh, a useful feature in a live collaboration.

Most significantly, the students were asked to write extended entries as a group and then post them. A forum type setup perhaps supports this model better than Instant Messaging. I suspect that this is a good pedagogical pattern, with students taking more time to prepare their statements, but still getting the benefit of quick feedback. This may well help less confident students. It is possible for the tutor to give them personal help in drafting their statements, something that can never happen in a traditional seminar.

Steve Carpenter is working on a new interface for video conferencing seminars. Pleasingly, many of the features he is considering will work in this way.

History IT Update demonstrations

Notes for a presentation to the History Department staff – an update on recent developments.

Arts E-learning homepage

Introduction to e-learning at Warwick

Next e-learning exhibition: 11th May, 12.30 to 14.30 in the Graduate Space.

Features and techniques

  1. Files.Warwick
  2. Term planner calendars
  3. Sitebuilder thematic navigation – keyword search
  4. Blog forms and aggregations
  5. Forums
  6. Podcasting
  7. Quizbuilder
  8. Mindmanager
  9. CAS Image Database
  10. Electronic assignment submission

Investigations and developments

  1. Plagiarism detection
  2. MediaManager
  3. Module members lists and pages
  4. TOOLS Service

February 20, 2007

A successful Arts Faculty E–learning Exhibition

Follow-up to Second Arts Faculty E–learning Exhibition Lunch from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

On Friday 9th February 2007 we held the second in the series of Arts Faculty E-learning Exhibition lunches. For two hours members of the faculty visited the exhibits and talked to the team of experts from Elab and the Library.

Second Arts Faculty E-learning Exhibition Lunch

The exhibition was well attended. The poster display showcased more real examples of work from within the faculty, addressing the theme of “Supporting Students at a Distance”, with a consideration of these four issues:

  1. keeping students and tutors focussed;
  2. keeping people connected (community and communications);
  3. developing roles, responsibilities and identities, making them appropriate and well understood;
  4. supporting research, creativity and enterprise.

Technical demonstrations from Elab and the Library again proved popular, and Matt Jones from the Sitebuilder support team gave advice and guidance to a range of people.

The next event will be:

Arts Faculty E-coffee drop in
Wednesday 28th February, 2:30pm – 4:30pm, Graduate Space

February 07, 2007

Showcase: Podcast audio with Sitebuilder 2

In the last year it has become much easier for students and staff to create and share audio recordings on the web as MP3 podcasts. Both Sitebuilder 2 and Warwick Blogs make the inclusion of podcasts in web pages easy. This poster introduces podcasting as a teaching, learning and research tool. It Showcases three interesting uses of podcasting from the Arts Faculty, and gives further suggestions for how it might be useful.

Here is a screenshot from one of the examples used. It shows a series of podcasts that support vocab learning in German Studies:

German Podcasting

Here is the text of the poster:

Why podcast? – It’s a flashy name for a simple technique. Record audio into an MP3 recorder (a kind of digital equivalent of a dictaphone), upload it to the web, allow other people to play the audio either in your web page, or downloaded onto their MP3 player (e.g. iPod).

Very little or no editing is required.

The MP3 recorder automatically creates the audio files (PC, Mac, Linux).

Both Sitebuilder 2 and Warwick Blogs include podcast players that do the rest of the work for you.

Why podcast? – There are many good reasons to record and share audio, both in “traditional” courses and “distance online” courses. For example:

  • Record a brief introduction or summary to a lecture;
  • Record a seminar or a presentation to use in formative or summative assessment;
  • Present interviews with experts and academics;
  • Create an archive of your lectures, so that you can re-use them in the future.

Get your students podcasting: Students can learn a lot from producing their own audio productions. For example, get your students to interview an expert on some topic. This will improve their questioning and investigation skills, along with IT and communications skills.

February 06, 2007

Showcase: Deep linking to library resources

Follow-up to Second Arts Faculty E–learning Exhibition Lunch from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

I have just completed another showcase poster ready for the Arts Faculty E-learning Exhibition on Friday 9th February. This poster demonstrates how we can build a Sitebuilder page with deep links to online books and journals provided by the University of Warwick Library. Such links can be of great use in both on-site and online teaching.

The showcase is based around the demo deep-linked reading list created by Madeline McKerchar (now of Cambridge University) for the Online MA in History.

Deep linking demo page

The text of the poster reads as follows:

The University of Warwick Library offers an extensive range of online electronic resources, including books and journals. These resources can be accessed by students over the internet anywhere in the world at any time. You can easily build a Sitebuilder 2 page containing a list of links directly to these resources. Such direct connections are called “deep links”.

It is important to remember that many of these resources are provided by external organisations. To ensure that the web addresses that you provide stay operational over time, you should use the linking facilities provided by the Library. For example, the Build-a-Link tool can be used to generate stable urls (demo on the poster). Talk to your subject librarian for more details and guidance.

The poster gives the following useful links:

And the poster can be downloaded as a PDF from this page (login required).

February 02, 2007

Warwick Learning Environment features and your chance to tell us what you think

Follow-up to Announcement: Second Arts Faculty E–learning Exhibition Lunch, 9th February from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

In preparation for the Arts Faculty E-learning Exhibition on the 9th of February, I have created a detailled concept map that aims to document the many features of the Warwick Learning Environment.

Here is the Sitebuilder 2 node:

Sitebuilder 2 features

No doubt there are features that I have missed, as well as features that people would like to see added. As a means of capturing these extra features, I have printed the map out on A0 paper. I will display the map at the E-learning Exhibition. It will be accompanied by three sets of post it note pads. The yellow set can be used to add features to the map that I have forgotten about. The green set is for giving us feedback on current features. The pink set can be used to add suggestions of new features. All participants at the exhibition will be invited to add notes to the map.

Warwick members can download the concept map (MindManager required).

Or see the map as a PDF file.

February 01, 2007

Showcase: Arts E–learning at a glance home page

Writing about web page /rbotoole/entry/term_planners_using/

Writing about an entry you don't have permission to view

I have just completed the second of my new showcase posters, ready for the Arts Faculty E-learning Lunch Exhibition on the 9th February. This poster is one of two showcases that demonstrates ways of creating an “at a glance” page.

Arts E-learning Homepage design

It illustrates various technical features, both standard and custom, including:

  • embedded forum, with html content wrapped around it;
  • a rotating headlines feed from a Newsbuilder page;
  • a highlights panel, giving a list of the currently most interesting pages;
  • an “e-elearning talk” panel listing in date-time order the latest blog entries containing the tag “e-learning” and the latest messages from our forum.

I also talk about the need to balance getting lots of information and links in one place with the need to keep people focussed on the most important and currently relevant tasks, news and events. I don’t think my page does that particularly well, but it at least illustrates the issue.

You can see the poster as a PDF file.

And the page itself is at
(publicly accesible).

January 30, 2007

Announcement: Second Arts Faculty E–learning Exhibition Lunch, 9th February

Follow-up to Second Arts Faculty E–learning Exhibition Lunch from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

Here’s the text of the invitation that I sent out to my faculty contacts…
Second Arts Faculty E-learning Exhibition Lunch, 9th February

The second Arts Faculty e-learning lunch exhibition will be held on Friday 9th February between 12:30 and 14:30 in the Graduate Space, 4th Floor Humanities (having been postponed by a week). As before, the format will be informal, with showcase posters, demonstrations on request, hardware to try out, and experts to advise you. Please feel free to pass this invite on to others, all are welcome (but it will help if you could send an email to so that we can estimate numbers)

Even in the short time since the last exhibition, many new features and tools have become available (such as Sitebuilder page personalisation, Files.Warwick file-sharing and storage, Sitebuilder term planner calendars). Our impressive set of examples of successful e-learning work has also grown significantly, with several new showcase presentations to view. If you did come to the last exhibition, there are many good reasons to come back for more (including the excellent food).

The theme of this second exhibition is “supporting students at a distance”. We will look at how technology can be used to enhance teaching and learning whenever students are situated remotely (some would argue that students are quite often at a distance). We hope to demonstrate that these techniques are useful in all teaching contexts. If you would like to contribute to this with your own examples, then contact me for details.

The exhibition will deal with this theme by addressing four common problems:

1. keeping students and tutors focussed;
2. keeping people connected (community and communications);
3. developing roles, responsibilities and identities, making them appropriate and well understood;
4. supporting research, creativity and enterprise.

Experts will be available to provide support, including:

- Jenny Delasalle, from the Library Innovations Unit (Build-a-Link deep linking, bibliographies, online book and journal scanning project);
- Richard Parker, head of Library Arts Team (Warwick History of Arts Skills Programme, Refworks, JSTOR, Arts resources);
- a representative of the Elab Sitebuilder team;
- Robert O’Toole, Arts Faculty E-learning Advisor;
- Steven Carpenter, Sciences E-learning Advisor (video and audio expert);
- Chris Coe, Social Studies E-learning Advisor;
- a representative from the Learning Grid;
- representatives from the Centre for Student Development and Enterprise (skills Recipe Cards, Warwick Skills Programme, Graduate School, ePortfolios).

Other items at the exhibition will include:

- details of new features in Sitebuilder and Warwick Blogs;
- a map of e-learning activities in the Arts Faculty;
- leaflets from Elab, IT Services, CSDE, the Library etc;
- a suggestions board, to feedback to Elab and the Library;
- an opportunity to arrange training sessions for your department.

Showcase poster design for e–learning exhibitions

I am just about to start creating another set of “e-learning showcase” posters, for the Arts Faculty Exhibition on the 9th of February. We are also planning to create such posters for a forthcoming University-wide exhibition. Here’s a short explanation of the design and what it aims to do.

Each poster demonstrates an example of the effective use of technology in teaching, learning and research. It has four elements:

  1. A series of statements about what it demonstates, who did the work, what technologies and techniques it employed, along with a url to the showcased work.
  2. A few short paragraphs of text (100 words maximum) explaining the rationale behind the showcase.
  3. A series of annotated screenshots or photographs demonstrating and explaining what has been done (a maximum of 8 on an A2 poster).
  4. A footer containing a link to the Arts E-learning web site and details of the E-learning Advisor.

The posters are printed to A2 (we have a colour A2 printer). My method for producing them is slightly odd. I first create each text element or image within a Powerpoint presentation, and then copy them into a Photoshop file (set to A2 size). I end up with a poster and a Powerpoint show for each showcase.

Here’s a good example:

IT112 Showcase poster

If that’s too blurry on your screen, have a look at this it112_poster_small.pdf

For the next series of posters I am going to try to include more information about the processes and support infrastructure used to meet the stated objectives of each showcase.

January 26, 2007

4 essential goals in learning design

Follow-up to Second Arts Faculty E–learning Exhibition Lunch from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

I am currently planning the next Arts Faculty E-learning Lunch Exhibition (9th February), and am considering how its exhibits can be organised to address the theme of supporting students at a distance. The exhibition could be organised to show successful solutions to the common problems encountered in this area. So what are these common problems?

Four problems (or challenges) are obvious. As Sarah Richardson of the History Online MA argues, these are in fact the same challenges that must be addressed by learning design in all higher education contexts (on site and distance). The challenges are:

  1. keeping students and the tutors focussed;
  2. keeping people connected (community) – communications and relations between tutors, tutors and students, students and their peers, as well as connections between the students and their departmental, faculty, subject and university communities;
  3. developing roles, responsibilities and identities, making them appropriate and well understood;
  4. supporting research, creativity and enterprise (for a definition of what I mean by this, see this article on research based learning).

With these challenges as the basis of the exhibition, my next task is to find showcase examples that demonstrate how our learning technologies support students and tutors in meeting these challenges. For example, I will show how a Sitebuilder term view calendar can be used to help define and keep course members effectively focussed.

Here is a concept map of this, with the four challenges analysed further, some information about technologies and techniques, and some of the showcases that will be used to explain them.

4 essential goals in learning design

January 23, 2007

Second Arts Faculty E–learning Exhibition Lunch

On Friday February 9th (12:30-14:30 in the Graduate Space) we will be holding an e-learning lunch exhibition.

This second exhibition in the series will showcase a wide range of successful applications of technology in teaching, along with demonstrations of new hardware and software. Special exhibits will focus in particular upon the topic of:

Supporting students at a distance (more information below).

The exhibition is open to all staff and teaching postgraduate students within the Arts, as well as anyone else from across the University with an interest or expertise in this topic. It is an informal session, so please drop by at any time during the exhibition. A buffet lunch and drinks will be provided.

Supporting students at a distance

Students at Warwick are frequently expected to undertake work in a location away from the University campus and in less frequent contact with teaching staff and peers. This is not only true of fully distance based courses, but also of the research oriented student undertaking a project out in the field or writing a thesis. Some common examples are:

  • full distance learning courses;
  • hybrid distance and on-site courses;
  • transnational courses;
  • year abroad students;
  • placement students;
  • students in low-contact phases of a course (e.g. writing-up).

Many problems are posed by these arrangements, both to the student and to the tutor, but also to the administrator. Difficulties commonly occur in areas such as:

  • establishing and relating to a peer group;
  • connecting with the department and faculty community;
  • connecting with the wider academic community;
  • access to resources;
  • understanding (and confirming) module or activity purpose;
  • individual study guidance;
  • discussing work;
  • presenting work;
  • submitting work.

Of course these problems may occur in any mode of study, including on-site high-contact courses. The techniques and technologies that have evolved to address these problems are therefore useful in many situations.

Warwick has developed a range of sophisticated but easy to use technologies that allow us to effectively address these problems. The E-learning Exhibition will demonstrate these technologies and techniques, with showcase examples of real solutions by people at Warwick.

We will show how tools including Sitebuilder, Warwick Forums, Warwick Blogs and Perception can be applied to create a learning environment customised to your particular mode of teaching and course delivery, whether at a distance or in close proximity.

January 05, 2007

What features are useful in a module web site?

During last summer I helped an Italian Department lecturer (Annunziata Videtta) to redevelop her module web site. We included many of the features available in the Warwick web architecture, as well as some experimental features from the ELAT R&D programme. After running for a term and gathering feedback from the students, we have reviewed this and selected a subset of the features as useful and appropriate in this case. I expect that this model will transfer more widely.

Here is a map of the features that we have selected as useful…

There is a Captivate presentation about the site online. You can also view the module web site ( now updated for this term ).

The site has moved away from being an online replication of the module handbook. It’s primary functions are now:

  1. Keeping the students focussed, up to date and guided in their work.
  2. Hosting discursive responses to pre-seminar and post-seminar questions posed by the tutor.
  3. Distributing links, bibliography and files.
  4. Hosting interactive online activities.

The home page (1) retains a list of module topics (1.2) alongside essential information (1.3). These are presented in an efficient at a glance structure. A series of images is used to give a sense of the identity of the module. Links (1.4) are provided to the other key aspects of the site. This term I hope to add some code that will highlight the current topic in the list of topics.

Complimenting the ‘at a glance’ overview, this week (2.1) and next week (2.2) pages efficiently convey the most essential and relevant information to the students in a timely manner. The content of these pages is updated throughout the term. Importantly, old content from these pages must be archived (2.3). The weekly content is in fact stored in a blog. The latest entry in the blog (tagged appropriately) is shown via RSS and an XSL conversion on the ‘next week’ page, using some custom code that I wrote for the job. Such feeds are now standard in Sitebuilder 2, so I will soon switch to the standard supported feature. The ‘this week’ page gets its content from the second newest blog entry. Blog entries can be written in advance and scheduled to appear at a certain date and time. This will allow us to write the weekly entries in advance.

Each week the students are provided with important information, links to resources, and links to online activities (we have in this case written some interactive exercises). There is a resources section of the site in which these are organised. One activity last term involved the use of a podcast recorded with one of our MP3 recorders. There will be more podcasts used this term.

The most succesful and common of the weekly activities are forums based. The student is given an activity to do or some thing to consider. They are then aksed to respond to a pre-entered forum message (4.1). The students responses each week build up as a thread responding to the message. In each case I link directly to the Forums reply form for the message. This is setup to redirect the student back to the ‘this week’ page.

The responses are listed on the right hand side of the page ( To do this I again use RSS and cusotm XSL to dynamically display the latest messages. The forum is also embedded in the web site as a single page on its own, allowing students to review past discussions (4). We have also allowed students to start their own threads in the forum on any topic connected to the module (4.2). Students receive notification of new postings automatically through Warwick Forums.