Educational innovation, development and discussion at ETH

Learning from 18 years of fostering Teaching and Learning innovation

For more than 18 years, ETH has consistently been fostering Teaching and Learning (T&L) innovation through funding provided by Innovedum*. The funded projects have helped to transform teaching practices sustainably both in individual courses and curricula. But what else have we learned from it?

To find answers the Innovation management group at LET has reflected on how this innovation process has evolved. We evaluated 15 years of data and arrived at two key findings. The first is that community building activities (such as our lunchtime seminars and the Learning and Teaching Fair) have become the basis for fostering T&L innovation at ETH. These activities bring together project leaders, faculty members, educational developers and policymakers and provide a platform for teaching staff to share information and insights gleaned from their projects. These events are driven by the concept of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) which aims for systematic reflections on how individual teaching interventions and innovation projects improve student learning. We will continue on this path.

The second finding is that involving students in the innovation cycle has remained a major challenge. Innovedum has experimented with different approaches (e.g. Student Innovedum), but the adoption of students’ ideas within the university has proven to be difficult. So we have started a new project with the teaching commission, an advisory body of the Executive Board, looking at ways that students can be better integrated in the process. First results are expected to be implemented in the Innovedum project cycle in Spring 2020.

For a closer look, please check out the paper which was presented at the EdMedia conference in Amsterdam in July 2019.

Also, if you are an ETH faculty member, we invite you to the Refresh Teaching series, one of the community building activities mentioned above.

*Innovedum is a brand established by the Rector including project funding and community building activities open to all stakeholders of T&L. www.innovedum.ethz.ch

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Dashboard-Bilder in Moodle anpassen

(English below) Lehrende können die Dashboard-Bilder ihrer eigenen Kurse selber ändern. Dies lässt sich einfach umsetzen und hilft Studierenden und Lehrenden, ihre Kurse schneller zu finden. Darüber hinaus wird das Dashboard durch individuelle Bilder visuell ansprechender.

Vorgehen

  1. Wählen Sie ein Bild, für welches Sie die Copyright-Rechte besitzen oder eines das frei verfügbar ist. Bitte beachten Sie ausserdem, dass die Bilder auf unterschiedlichen Geräten unterschiedlich dargestellt werden. Wählen Sie also ein passendes Motiv.
  2. Ändern Sie die Dateigrösse des Bildes auf ca. 100 KB. Ideal ist das png-Format.
  3. Stellen Sie sicher, dass die Höhe des Bildes 112 Pixel und die Breite nicht mehr als 350 Pixel betragen.
  4. Laden Sie das Bild hoch, indem Sie beim Zahnradsymbol «Einstellungen» wählen, scrollen Sie runter bis zum Feld «Kursbild». Laden Sie die Bilddatei hoch und speichern Sie danach Ihre Änderungen.

Das Bild wird nun im Dashboard und in den Kursinfos angezeigt.

Demo video

Customise dashboard images in Moodle

Teachers can change the dashboard pictures of their own Moodle courses. This is quick to do, helps students as well as teachers find their courses faster and brightens up the dashboards with individualised images.

Steps

  1. Select a picture for which you own the copyright, or which is publicly available. (Please keep in mind, pictures are displayed differently on every screen, therefore consider selecting an abstract picture).
  2. Resize the image so that it is roughly 100 KB. Ideally use png format.
  3. Ensure the dimensions of your picture are 112 px tall by no more than 350 pixels wide.  
  4. Upload the picture by selecting the cogwheel in your course, select “edit settings”, then scroll down until you see the field for “course image”. Upload your file and save.

It will now be displayed on the dashboard of everyone who is enrolled in this course.  Watch the video above to see the steps in action.

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Student Innovedum inspires deeper student engagement

It was some years ago, that the Teaching Commission asked LET (the unit for Educational Development and Technology at ETH) to consider ways to involve student in teaching and learning innovation.

In response, the programme “Student Innovedum” was specifically developed. Students were invited to develop prototypes of their own ideas over the duration of a semester. It ran for three years and the results of the student projects were presented each year at the annual Innovedum event and the Learning and Teaching Fair.

A group of students stand facing the camera.
2019 Participants. Photo by Heidi Hofstettler

While this did increase awareness of the potential of involving students in educational innovation and sparked valuable discussions at ETH, the actual projects and ideas of students did not come to fruition as had originally been hoped. Supporting the students would have required more resources than were available and placed a high burden of work on the (already very busy) students.

Therefore it was decided not to continue Student Innovedum in 2019. Instead, it is our intention to continue the discussion with students, the Teaching Commission and the Rector of ETH in order to decide how to best honour the original request of integrating students in educational innovation.

A working group will be looking at the latest literature and other inspiring examples from around the world to consider ways of engaging students more deeply and in more meaningful ways in funded educational innovation projects at ETH.

We are still at the beginning of this process but would like to take this opportunity to thank all the people who helped make Student Innovedum happen. This includes the wonderful staff at the Student Project House, the Rector Prof. Dr. Sarah Springmann, Vice-rector Prof. Dr. Andreas Vaterlaus, the members of the Teaching Commission, staff at LET and of course all the students who participated and poured so much passion into the process. Thank you to all and watch this space! 

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Case Study – Peer Review Mastering Digital Business Models

As part of a series of case studies, staff at LET sat down to have a conversation with Prof. Elgar Fleisch, Johannes Hübner and Dominik Bilgeri from the Department of Management, Technology, and Economics (D-MTEC) to discuss their Mastering Digital Business Model (MDBM) course.

What is the project about?

In this Mastering Digital Business Model (MDBM) course, Prof. Elgar Fleisch, Dominik Bilgeri, George Boateng and Johannes Huebner teach Master’s level students a theory- and practice-based understanding of how today’s information technologies enable new digital business models and transform existing ones. The course contains a novel examination mode, a video group project is introduced as a core element contributing to the overall course grade. In addition, students are asked to participate in a peer-to-peer review of the videos produced by other student groups, which is independent of the grading and is geared towards giving students insights in how other groups solved the challenge. The best-rated videos are then shared with the entire class in the end of the semester.

As part of this newly created examination element, course participants (in teams of two to three students) explain one of the major lecture topics (theoretical lenses) in the first half of their video.Then they apply the same lens by analysing a company, aiming to better understand its underlying business model. Companies are pre-selected and allocated to students for fairness reasons. Every year, we choose a pool of interesting companies in the context of digital transformation, the Internet of Things, Blockchain, e-health, etc.

What motivated you to initiate the project?

The core idea was to improve students’ learning success by using an examination format that not only requires learners to reiterate theoretical contents, but also apply the theory in a practical context. The students have different backgrounds, and do not necessarily have a strong business focus, which means that many of the concepts taught in class may be rather abstract. We used the video format and specific companies as case studies, because we think this is a good way to trigger curiosity, show concrete examples of modern companies in a compact form, and force students to reflect deeply upon theoretical frameworks compared to other examination formats.

How did you do it?

Aside from the weekly input lectures, we ask students to form groups in the beginning of the semester. We then provide a list of theoretical core topics from which each group can choose one. In addition, we randomly assign each group to a case company. The theoretical topic then first needs to be explained in the first half of the video, and then be applied to the case company in the second half. Here we thus used a prosumer approach, where students become part of the course because they create a small section of the content. The best videos are shared with the class, and can be reused as additional learning materials for future cohorts. This set-up generally resulted in high-quality videos, perhaps also since students knew their videos will be used again.

Students also had to review the video projects of five other groups. They had to clearly describe whether and how their peers used certain perspectives (called “lenses” in the course) which played a role in the video and in their feedback. In this way they analysed once more how the newly learned concepts were visible in other companies – a positive side effect being that they also honed their reflection and feedback skills.

Did you have the support you needed for the project? Is there additional support you wish you had had to help you to achieve your goals?

We asked two students from previous cohorts to join us as tutors, and support this year’s groups primarily with technical questions about video-making (e.g. tools, quality considerations etc.). In addition, we designed one of the lecture slots as a coaching session during which we would further support student groups with their questions. In total, this approach allowed us to provide the students with high-quality supervision with reasonable effort.

Please describe some of the key outcomes of the project

To most students, the task of creating a video was new. We received feedback that while the initial effort for learning how to make a video was higher compared to other examination formats, it was also fun and very helpful to really understand and apply the new concepts. They said that they learned things more deeply and more sustainably because they had to consider all details and aspects – compared to the practical exercises they are familiar with in other courses. By carefully phrasing their arguments in giving feedback on peer videos, students became more aware of their own thinking and argumentation.

We observed that the questions asked by students once they start creating videos were different and went deeper, i.e. their reflections were based on many concrete examples of companies, and the concepts were put into perspective. The same sub-concepts have a different meaning in another context, and students now see the overarching principles better and can argue more precisely about theoretical aspects. Without these concrete examples, it would have been harder to concretely grasp the theoretical aspects.

How did the project impact learners or the way in which you teach?

We were surprised by the high quality of the best student videos. The teaching team is now really motivated to continue innovating on our approaches in other courses. We saw clearly that when students are very active we get better results, deeper learning and better reflection.

What lessons learned do you want to share with your colleagues?

It can really pay off to try things and to experiment. We think that nowadays the classic format of passive lectures and final exams may not always be the best choice. We believe the improved outcomes through students who were actively engaged by the video assignment justified the investment in developing new approaches and tools.

When considering videos as an examination format, you should define the entire course/project very clearly. When describing what production options students have for videos, you should be very precise. Offering too many options can be counterproductive. It is better to present 3-4 crystal-clear examples and stick to them.

Also, we would recommend managing students’ expectations clearly in the beginning of the semester, and highlighting both the benefits and challenges of this examination format. Of course, this becomes easier after the first year, when you can draw from the experience of the first cohort, and also provide examples of prior videos to illustrate what is expected of the groups. Because the students are co-creators you get new and relevant content which enriches the course and can serve to motivate both students and teachers.

What are the future plans for this work? How do you plan to sustain what you have created through the project?

We plan to optimize some details of this course, and to go even more in the direction of a flipped classroom to use this teaching approach in other courses. We will create a library of the student videos to provide it as additional learning materials in future editions of the course.

Student feedback

By MDBM Student Cristina Mercandetti (mercandc@student.ethz.ch)

  1. Your opinion about this course and the peer review & video production process – how has it influenced your learning process?
    Cristina Mercandetti: I really enjoyed both the course and the video production process. I think they complemented each other very well and we were able to directly apply the theoretical knowledge learned in the course to work on our project. It helped me to think more critically about the course content, and really dive into some of the lenses and models presented. I don’t think this would have been possible without the video production, so it definitely improved my learning process.
  • Do you think this approach could be used in other courses?
    Cristina Mercandetti: Yes, I think this approach could easily be used in other classes. However, I think part of the fun in this class was that the video production was something very new and refreshing (a side effect was that I learned how to cut a short movie). I imagine that if several classes introduced this it would lose some of its novelty and could be stressful, as it took a lot of time.
  • Final remarks about the course
    Cristina Mercandetti: I really enjoyed the whole class, and heard a lot of good things from other students too.

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Case Study – Peer Review Corporate Sustainability

As part of a series of case studies, staff at LET sat down to have a conversation with Prof. Volker Hoffmann (SusTec, the Group for Sustainability and Technology) and Erik Jentges (Educational Developer) from the Department of Management, Technology and Economics (D-MTEC) to discuss their corporate sustainability project.

What is the project about?

The course “Corporate Sustainability” aims to enable students to become advocates of sustainable business practices in their later careers. Each year it attracts 150-200 students with diverse disciplinary backgrounds and different educational levels (BSc, MSc, and MAS). We adapted the Six Sentence Argument (6SA) method for this course. The method focuses on enhancing critical thinking skills through structured writing and guided, double-blind peer-review.

What motivated you to initiate the project?

We wanted students to get a clearer picture of what sustainability really is. In the course, they develop not only a deeper understanding of corporate sustainability but also the skills to give and receive feedback.

How did you do it?

At the core are four topics that relate to the sustainability of corporations. These are assessment, strategy, technology, and finance. We developed digital learning modules (videos, some with interactive elements) that explain key concepts to support the most relevant and difficult parts of the lecture. Also, we want to develop students’ critical thinking skills. In e-modules, students learn to formulate concise and short arguments with the 6SA method. The core idea builds on the assumption that writing is thinking.

In the e-modules, students face a decision (a micro case based on the lecture content) and argue for their preferred course of action using a logical structure of exactly six sentences. Each sentence fulfils a specific function in the overall argument and has a 20-word limit. A clear grading rubric enables students to assess 6SAs in double-blind peer reviews. These have been continuously adapted and improved since 2015. The specialized online tool “peergrade” also helped us to conduct a smooth process – for both students and teachers.

Through the peer assessment, students engage critically with their peers’ arguments and receive constructive feedback on their own arguments. With the 6SA exercise, students learn to argue with clarity, and it helps them to reflect on the way they and others think.

During the second half of the semester, students work in diverse teams to prepare mock debates, consulting strategies, economic models and campaign videos. In this phase, they are coached by several postdoctoral and doctoral researchers from SusTec, the Group for Sustainability and Technology. The students then present their projects and display their skills in a group puzzle session and are debriefed in the following final lecture session. Students receive grades for both individual and group performance and can earn a bonus on their exam grade when completing the critical thinking exercises.

Did you have the support you needed for the project? Is there additional support you wish you had had to help you to achieve your goals?

The project received funding from different sources. This helped us to hire academic staff to assist the development of new teaching approaches and the production of high-quality videos. In addition, we received specialist guidance in the instructional design and production of videos.

Please describe some of the key outcomes of the project

With regard to our feedback modules, we think that the quality of the argumentation and peer reviews has increased over the years. For example, we learned that the effective design of such peer assessment exercises for students requires training on how to give constructive feedback and that it should involve several feedback loops to support the development and refinement of critical thinking skills. Overall, the course now integrates many innovative teaching elements and was a finalist in the 2018 ETH KITE award.

How did the project impact learners or the way in which you teach?

When students are able to write better and concise arguments that convince critical readers, and if they can give constructive feedback to arguments that are being made to justify strategic decisions, then they are able to actively shape good decisions in a company setting – they can be change-makers for corporate sustainability. The students were motivated by the new teaching approaches such as the supporting videos, interactive questions inside the videos, and the critical thinking exercises. Peer assessment is “homework” for the students, but they know that they can earn a bonus on their exam grade – and they are already rehearsing for some parts of the final exam.

With regard to students’ learning, the peer review process itself is convincing. What is unique to our teaching situation is the incredible diversity in the classroom. A 19-year-old Swiss environmental science student may be sitting next to a 25-year-old Chinese student who is pursuing a master’s degree in management, who in turn sits next to a 35-year-old American part-time student with a PhD in chemistry and a management position with responsibilities for 20 employees in a multinational company. Peer feedback is a powerful solution to bridge these gaps of different levels of experience and cultural backgrounds. It allows younger students to write a creative and brilliant argument without being intimidated by more senior students. It allows a shy and quiet student to gain confidence by formulating a convincing argument whose strengths are recognized in their peers’ feedback. It creates a space for older students to learn how to coach younger classmates with constructive feedback to improve their reasoning.

That is why at D-MTEC, we use peer feedback in other courses as well. Students learn more when actually giving feedback compared to when only submitting an assignment.

What lessons learned do you want to share with your colleagues?

At the beginning, it was a lot of work and many people were involved, but it was worth it. Today, with regard to the critical thinking exercises, we have continuously refined our processes. Every student writes three reviews, thereby ensuring that everyone also receives much more feedback than a single lecturer could provide. The main work for lecturers is providing an overview of the themes in the arguments and summarizing the activity for all students. This lets them know that their individual contribution becomes part of a collective intelligence. There are always truly smart and innovative solutions that need to be shared with the whole class. Also, there is little effort involved in re-grading/moderating student questions about feedback, because we train students to write helpful and considerate feedback and make them aware of that they also have to learn how to receive feedback, especially if it is feedback that they don’t want to, but need to hear.

For the production of videos, we recommend planning enough time and engaging with video experts and instructional designers early on. Especially writing a concise script for a short video requires a surprising amount of time until it effectively conveys your key points.

If you are interested in applying these concepts in your own courses please contact LET.

Note: The project received funding from different sources (Innovedum, Emil Halter Foundation, ETH Critical Thinking Initiative).

Additional resources and comments

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Flash apocalypse

(image credit: http://catayst.net.nz/flashapocalypse)

Flash

Flash in all its forms will no longer be supported by Adobe or any internet browsers by the end of 2020. This has prompted a clean-up of any Flash files on our own Moodle system. For years Adobe Flash was considered state-of-the-art for interactive web content. As time goes by new standards like html5 and webGL have been established and the Flash technology was shown to be vulnerable to attacks. Therefore it was not surprising that about two years ago Adobe announced the end of Flash by 2020.

Since this announcement, all the big and important webservices like YouTube and Facebook have updated their websites using html5 and other technologies. Therefore, it is likely that in the coming months the newest browser versions will prohibit using Flash by default and some of them will kick this functionality out completely. (Microsoft announcement, Google announcement, Mozilla announcement)

Apocalypse?

Just as most other universities did, we at ETH have seen a lot of project developed in recent years. Flash has been used to display movies, present animations or create interactive objects and simulations. Latest by the end of 2020, (but probably earlier) these will no longer work.

In the spring of 2019 we had a look at all ETH Moodle courses and contacted teachers who were still using Flash in its various forms. We have found individual solutions for each case and Flash will vanish on our Moodle server in the next weeks. ETH lecturers who use Moodle who have not been contacted by us, should not have any problem with the end of Flash in your Moodle courses. When in doubt please contact us.

If you are using flash in other websites, we recommend following the “three f”-model presented by Nikki Sinclair from Catalyst: https://catalyst.net.nz/blog/3fs-surviving-flash-apocalypse

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100 Days at ETH. An interview with Dr. Gerd Kortemeyer

The new Director of LET, the unit for Educational Development and Technology at ETH, has been at his post for 100 days. We sat down with Dr. Gerd Kortemeyer to find out more about him as a person and his first impressions of Switzerland, ETH and his new role.

We have read your official profile of course, but what would you like to tell us about yourself that might not have been in the profile?  How do you spend your time outside of work?

At the moment: watching too much TV and communicating with my family back in the States and in Munich. As I am still starting out here, I am usually exhausted at the end of a work day. What I would like to do is spend more time in nature and taking photos – photography has been my hobby ever since the days of darkrooms. I have nice photo gear (Nikon if anybody cares) which currently just sits around collecting dust. In the States, I used to volunteer for homeless charities by documenting fundraising events and doing keepsake portraiture for homeless families. I was also active in our church, taking care of the audiovisual equipment. Lastly, I started a collaboration with a Tanzanian university of science and technology, and I would like to pick that up again when I have more time and energy.

Gerd looks into the camera smiling, pointing to his coffee cup. On his cup are the words "without coffee, without me" in German.

What small things make your day better?

Coffee. Good food. Walking. I am not an athlete, but I like walking long distances in nature or around a beautiful city like Zurich. I like living within walking distance of my workplace and enjoy the time walking to and from work for processing my day.

What do you wish your brain was better at doing?

Sitting in one place and thinking. I am more of a “migrant worker with a laptop.” When I have a big project, I often have to walk around while thinking. I camp out at random desks or coffee shops – I work well on the road traveling, but cannot think well sitting at my desk.

What has been both positive and challenging about your move to Switzerland?

Where do I start with positive impressions; there have been so many. I love how friendly people are. Zurich is both very Swiss and internationally colorful, a large city that feels like a village – just an amazing mixture. And nature is incredible. Even after 100 days in Zurich, every time when I come off Seilbahn Rigiblick and see the panorama, I still go “wow!”.

My greatest challenge is clearly the language! I am not very good with languages, as failed attempts learning French, Russian, and Hebrew prove. Even in English, after 25 years in the USA, I have such a strong German accent that people recognise where I am from after hearing three words. I hope to be able to understand Swiss German more in the foreseeable future.

Tell us about your first impressions of ETH and LET?

Immediate impressions: It’s large and confusing but my colleagues are very welcoming (thank you!) and are clearly educators at heart. They immediately took it upon themselves to spend a lot of time and effort educating me through a whole curriculum of introductions to the wide spectrum of LET’s activities.

How has your understanding of LET deepened over the last few months?

My impressions after 100 days: it’s still large and confusing. No, seriously, the thing I most had to wrap my mind around is the unique “matrix structure” at LET which enables collaboration across the various teams. Many of my colleagues have told me that they enjoy the variety of their tasks and the collaborative spirit that exists here to solve problems. I came to appreciate how people just work together across the different groups. I also appreciate the level of professionalism and expertise; it’s humbling, and I can only hope to be a good enabler.

What is LET good at and you hope will never change?

The work of LET is not easy. Due to the wide spectrum of activities, it is hard to communicate to the outside what we do and what expertise we have. Outside stresses could easily lead to internal problems, but I have the impression that that’s not the case. I am so glad that we seem to have a genuine collaborative spirit, which I hope never changes.

What do you see as areas of great potential?

We need to be out there at ETH and find more ways of working alongside all groups of stakeholders. LET can walk with different groups of stakeholders and facilitate connections between them.

I make the assumption that across the institution all of us deeply care about student learning, or we would work elsewhere. We might disagree how to best accomplish that, but this is where systematic research and gathering of evidence come into play. How? We also deeply care about facts and data, or, again, we would work elsewhere. Fostering the scholarship of teaching and learning is very high on my agenda as is working with faculty and other stakeholders across the institution. LET is a service unit, and this service should include guidance, assistance, and facilitation of educational research within the departments, including the dissemination of those results.

In addition to the strong expertise we have in the science of learning, we have a strong IT group with creative people, and we are dedicated to fostering innovation. The synergy among them enables practical and applied initiatives as well as the implementation of evidence-based solutions and products. We have the right people and are at the right institution to be a global leader in the systemic approach to the development of next generation tools for teaching and learning. These initiatives can include collaborators all across ETH, and in its unique position, LET can facilitate collaboration.

What observations have you been able to make about the field of educational development and technology in Switzerland as compared to the USA?

As you know, I come from a background of physics education research. In the States, Discipline-Based Educational Research (“DBER”) has turned into a “thing.” This “thing” does not really exist in Europe, partly due to a fundamentally different understanding of what university education is about, as well as different understandings of the roles of students and instructors. A lot of what we teach in our workshops in terms of teaching strategies thus far has been imported from the States, and I believe it’s time to develop our own European variety of DBER.

Educational Technology plays in a central role in teaching and learning in the States, as flipped, blended, hybrid, and online teaching venues have become mainstream. Thus, technology platforms have become mission-critical. We are not yet at that point in Europe (online exams being a big exception where we are at the cutting edge), but I would like to work on next-generation platforms to scale our efforts and keep up with the inevitable digitalisation of teaching and learning.

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Weshalb Moodle?

Auf den Beitrag zum neuen Moodle-Design in diesem Blog im Januar diesen Jahres haben wir viel Feedback erhalten. Dafür möchten wir uns herzlich bedanken. Gerne möchten wir Ihnen im Nachgang mit diesem Blogbeitrag aufzeichnen, was eigentlich hinter Moodle steckt und weshalb sich die ETH Zürich für Moodle als strategische Lernplattform entschieden hat.

Seit rund 10 Jahren betreibt die ETH Zürich die zentrale Lernplattform Moodle. Anders als andere Plattformen (bspw. Blackboard) ist die Software Moodle ein Open-Source-Projekt. Vor über 20 Jahren hat ein Universitätsstudent aus Perth mit den Arbeiten an einer Software begonnen, um die Lehre über Distanz zu verbessern bzw. überhaupt erst zu ermöglichen. Martin Dougiamas hat dabei die Software von Beginn an offen gestaltet. So ist der komplette Source Code frei verfügbar, mehr noch: als Open-Source-Projekt fliessen immer wieder Ideen und Softwarecode in das Werkzeug ein.

Moodle bietet viele Schnittstellen, um individuelle Erweiterungen zu programmieren und andere Systeme anzubinden. Die Software ist modular aufgebaut, was es ermöglicht, neue Funktionen hinzuzufügen, ohne den Core-Code zu verändern.

Wer programmiert Moodle

Die Entwicklung des Core-Codes wird vom Headquarter vorantgetrieben, das Niederlassungen in Perth und Barcelona hat. Zur Zeit umfasst das Headquarter rund 75 Personen. Es gibt zusätzlich einige über die Welt verteilte Entwickler, die sich ebenfalls beteiligen. Meistens sind diese bei grossen Universitäten angestellt (auch an der ETH Zürich arbeiten zwei Entwickler für Moodle, dies vor allem im Bereich Onlineprüfungen). Zur Zeit hält Moodle weltweit einen Marktanteil von über 50% für Higher Education. Dies ist umso erstaunlicher, da es mit Blackboard, Brightspace und Instructure grosse Firmen gibt, die mit ihren Produkten an diesem Markt auftreten. Einige spannende Zahlen zu Moodle (Stand Mai 2019):

  • Registrierte Moodle-Installationen: über 100’000
  • Nutzerkonten: über 150 Millionen
  • Quizfragen: über 1.5 Milliarden

Entwicklungen in und für Moodle

Die ETH Zürich hat sich wie oben erwähnt, vor einigen Jahre für Moodle entschieden. Dies hatte verschiedene Gründe, dazu gehören: Die hohe Anpassbarkeit auf individuelle Bedürfnisse, eine sehr aktive und grosse Community, der Open-Source-Gedanke und einiges mehr.

Die ETH Zürich beteiligt sich in diversen Bereichen in der Moodle-Community. Speziell im Bereich Onlineprüfungen entwickeln wir didaktisch verbesserte Fragetypen (kPrime, Single Choice,…) und andere Erweiterungen (Ressilienz-Plugin bei Netzwerkstörungen) und stellen diese den anderen Nutzern – ganz im Open Source Gedanken – zur Verfügung (https://moodle.org/plugins/browse.php?list=contributor&id=91386 and https://github.com/ethz-let)

Das Moodle HQ hat einen klar definierten Entwicklungsplan und eine entsprechende Roadmap. Dies erlaubt es, frühzeitig eine stabile Serviceplanung zu machen. Die Roadmap ist öffentlich: https://docs.moodle.org/dev/Roadmap

Die zwei funktionellen Updates des Moodle-Cores pro Jahr werden an der ETH Zürich nach einigen Wochen installiert und damit auch die neuen und verbesserten Funktionen unseren Studierenden und Dozierenden zur Verfügung gestellt. Dieses Vorgehen ist auch aus Sicherheitsperspektive sinnvoll, da damit auch allfällige Bugs und security issues beseitigt werden.

«Lieber Support, ich habe einen Fehler entdeckt!»
«Lieber Support, ich habe eine tolle Idee!»

Vorteil einer Open-Source Software ist ihre Anpassbarkeit. Man kann grundsätzlich alles verändern. Da wir immer wieder die neueste Version des Core-Codes einspielen, verzichten wir darauf, diesen lokal bei uns zu verändern. In einer Community unterwegs zu sein, heisst aber eben auch, nicht direkten Einfluss auf die Entwicklung des Core-Codes zu haben. Wir sind sehr dankbar, von unseren Studierenden und Dozierenden immer wieder wertvolle Vorschläge zu erhalten. Sofern wir diese nicht direkt auf unserem System – ohne Veränderung des Core-Codes- umsetzen können, geben wir diese gerne in die Community weiter. Leider ist dieser Prozess allerdings nicht immer von Erfolg gekrönt.

Es gibt im Moodle Universum natürlich auch viele andere Entwicklerinnen, die Plugins ebenfalls Open-Source zur Verfügung stellen. Grundsätzlich lassen sich diese auf alle kompatiblen Moodle-Installationen installieren. Allerdings empfiehlt es sich hier, zurückhaltend zu sein. Einerseits weil jedes zusätzliche Modul die Software komplexer (und langsamer) macht. Andererseits muss sehr genau geklärt werden, wie häufig ein Plugin aktualisiert wird. Denn falls ein Plugin nicht mehr gewartet wird, was durchaus passieren kann, ist es irgendwann nicht mehr kompatibel. Dann muss man sich als Moodle-Anbieter entscheiden zwischen Plugin behalten und Moodle veralten lassen oder Plugin löschen und Moodle aktualisieren – beides eher suboptimal. Wir an der ETH haben einige Plugins im Einsatz, so beispielsweise Gruppenauswahl (Universität Lausanne)Scheduler (Universität of York), Open Cast (Universität Münster), evaluieren aber sehr genau, ob wir das Risiko des oben genannten Problems möglich klein halten können.

Fragen oder Kommentare? Wir freuen uns, mit Ihnen hier über darüber zu diskutieren!

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Using Polybook to create interactive lecture notes together

As a depository of digital lecture notes the Polybook has been popular among ETH teaching staff for some time. In Polybook instructors can enrich conventional lecture material with interactive elements such as quizzes and videos, and question students on particularly important material. This increases student engagement with the material and improves knowledge uptake.

From Data Collection to finished Excursion Report

The very name “Polybook” is an indication of this tool’s many functions and the large number of books and lecture notes which are stored there.

Using Polybook it is possible to work together on lecture notes or documents and to give them an ordered structure and presentation. Access to individual books is steered via a Moodle link, ensuring that all students in a course have access to its books.

The Polybook is part of LET’s eCollab Service, and can be used in a number of collaborative scenarios. These include:

  • Author and publish texts collaboratively: In Polybook students can author texts from group or project work either alone or collaboratively, and then make them accessible to others. These texts can be augmented with images or interactive elements such as quizzes and videos. Polybook can also be deployed for preparation or wrap-up of lectures and seminars.
  • Peer review / peer assessment: Student or working group texts or projects can be exchanged with other student groups and assessed. The results can be used for revision purposes.
  • Learning journal: Learning processes can be published by students or student groups for purposes of self-reflection or the evaluation of a group process.
  • Interactive lecture notes: Polybook can be deployed in place of conventional lecture notes, with additional possibilities: students can use interactive elements, or create them themselves; and they can discuss the material via the comments function.

Do you teach at ETH? Have we sparked your interest? How to Polybook contains comprehensive instructions on how you, as teaching faculty, can set up Polybook in Moodle and take the first steps towards collaborative or interactive lecture notes. We would also be happy to provide personal guidance on implementing a collaborative scenario or using Polybook: please contact Melanie Walter, the person responsible for the eCollaboration service. We look forward to working with you.

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Case study – Peer Review Food Chemistry Laboratory – Writing reports


As part of a series of case studies, staff at LET sat down to have a conversation with Prof. Laura Nyström and Dr. Melanie Erzinger from the Department of Health Sciences and Technology to discuss their food chemistry laboratory project.


What is the project about?

We introduced a new way to write lab reports, combined with a peer review method to foster collaboration and critical thinking skills among students. In the past students did not have clear criteria as to what makes a good report. Assistants also needed too much time to read the reports and give repeated feedback. Thus we looked for a way to help assistants spend less time on the review process.

We transformed the format of our Food Chemistry Laboratory Course (Food Science, BSc level, 4th semester) from a classical lecture format with lab exercises to a blended learning format. With new videos, we can achieve better coverage of basic knowledge (i.e. security, handling of equipment).

What motivated you to initiate the project?

Student numbers have increased over the past 10 years and we have been losing too much time in covering basic knowledge repeatedly. Using concept videos, students will be able to review key topics on their own. Overall, we also wanted to make the entire course more attractive. A key intention was to develop student skills in report writing and improve report quality.

How did you do it?

We defined additional, clear quality criteria for a good report. During a first round students give each other feedback, such that final review by teaching assistants and lecturer approval involve less effort. For each experiment, every student has to review another student’s report. In total, each reviews four reports over the semester.

Students don’t get a grade for the peer review (semester performance in the lab course is also ungraded). They have one week for each of the four peer reviews, and must complete each by the respective set deadline. They answer various questions related to the quality of the respective report (these involve five aspects plus overall feedback; see the annex at the end of this case study). Students do not “grade” the reports, but give feedback in their own words.

Assistants are aware of what is asked in the reports and are therefore able to provide targeted and helpful feedback in the lab which addresses the quality criteria for reports.

We provide the students with online material on how to write reports (short videos, documents etc.). Previously we had a short lecture with examples. Until now, however, we did not train them in conducting proper peer reviews. We have now realised that we need to do this (especially for Bachelor’s degree students), and will include peer review training with the short lecture next year.

Did you have the support you needed for the project? Is there additional support you wish you had had to help you to achieve your goals?

We learned about a module inside our LMS for administering the peer-review process (“workshop module” in Moodle). It would have been helpful to have had practical tips from others, but apparently not many lecturers have used this tool. Although the general instructions were useful, it took quite some time to learn all the aspects of the tool.

Please describe some of the key outcomes of the project.

Various things changed for the better. Students learned a lot by reading and reviewing the reports of their peers. They gained important input for their own reports. For many it was the first time they had had to give feedback in such a structured way. They also had to find a way to critique something in a good, constructive manner. Overall, students were introduced to a new way of critical thinking and took important first steps in this skill, which is important for their later careers.

We can say clearly that through the new review method we were able to improve the quality of reports and reduce the time needed by lecturers to grade them.

How did the project impact learners or the way in which you teach?

In general the peer review method was well received in the BSc course, and we used the same approach in an MSc-level course. We therefore realised that Bachelor’s degree students need more help and training in peer review than Master’s students.

Overall we saw that the blended learning approach and the peer review methods work to improve our courses, addressing the above-mentioned challenges of lack of student preparation and the need to constantly repeat basic knowledge. Students themselves clearly realised the value and potential of better collaboration, peer feedback and critical thinking skills.

What lessons learned do you want to share with your colleagues?

Not every cohort is the same. While things worked quite well in 2017, in 2018 fewer students adhered to the schedule and deadlines – even though everything was communicated and documented in the same way as in the previous year.

What are your future plans for this work? How do you plan to sustain what you have created through the project?

More and more assistants will become competent in providing full reviews of the already peer-reviewed reports. Currently lecturers still have to do this. Lecturers will thus gain more time to be present in the labs and to give 1:1 feedback to students in the lab and online.

We will definitely create some training material for assistants for this purpose, but it is not available yet. We also want to create a short, ready-to-use document about giving feedback in our specific context: what is constructive feedback, what are the do’s and don’ts? Students, assistants and fellow instructors can use it.

We are interested in learning whether other lab courses at ETH do something similar, and how. We also need to improve the support situation with the Moodle review tool “workshop module”. We will continue to work with it, but it is a bit tricky sometimes.

One additional idea is to make the videos interactive. Students will see in-built questions in the videos which they have to answer right away.

Additional notes regarding resources and tools used.

  • We used a programme called Labster to create virtual labs in some cases to extend the experience to experiments which were not doable in reality in our labs.
  • We learned from other courses and departments regarding effective feedback (ETH “Foundations of Teaching and Learning” course).
  • To conduct the peer review we work with the “workshop module” in Moodle.
  • To make the videos interactive we will work with the new Moodle “interactive video suite” plugin.

Student voices:

What is your opinion about this course and the peer review process (lab reports). How has it influenced your learning process?

Robert Spiess: I think peer-reviewing was a great way to see other students’ work. It gave me the opportunity to experience and compare different ways of writing. I could always detect things that I wanted to include in my reports. At the same time, I could see in which points my reports were better, where my advantages were.

I think this procedure is particularly useful when writing. But the reports should not be too long, because, otherwise, students have to spend too much time on their own report and neglect, as a consequence, the peer-reviewing of someone else’s report. Other courses usually required longer reports. But if the reports were shortened, the method could also be applied in other laboratory courses (such as in the food processing or in the biotechnology lab course).

Aline Candrian: I’m glad I did the course, I think it gives students a first impression of laboratory work. The lab report writing is an essential part of the course to understand the experiment and the obtained data. The peer review approach was fine, even though nobody was eager to do them. VERY little time was invested into peer review by most groups, as far as I’m concerned. Of course, sometimes you could benefit from your peer’s feedback but most of the times we didn’t act on them. That’s probably because it was our first time writing (semi-) real reports. We didn’t really know what we were doing and you mostly think you know better than others, especially if someone reviewed your report who you rate less familiar with chemistry.

At the same time you’re well aware that you know nothing about report writing, so how can you evaluate someone else’s work?

Additionally, motivation was minimal since you were just glad to be done with writing your report. Having to assess another report and then correct your own report again was just another ‘burden’. So, altogether, I would say report-writing was a crucial part of the course but peer review not so much since we had no experience at all. I think peer review makes more sense in the courses in our last semester.

Making the students just do a peer review on the last report might work. They’ll see how it works, they’ll have had written a few reports (and got more familiar with it) and might be more confident in providing feedback. But I’m not an expert, it may not work the way I envision it, what do I know 🙂

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