Educational innovation, development and discussion at ETH

New ideas for Innovedum, the ETH innovative teaching fund

With the Innovedum Fund, ETH has an extremely successful instrument for promoting innovative teaching, especially with regard to community building (cf. Reinhardt, Korner, Walter, 2019). Topics such as student engagement (Healey, Flint & Harrington, 2014) and Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (Martensson & Roxa, 2015) are increasingly being considered globally as an important part of educational development activities. With this in mind, the Innovedum application process became the focus of a rethink and revision in 2020. The application process was updated to a webform and new criteria were included in the application process. These were; inclusion of the student perspective, dissemination of Innovedum projects results and communication. 

Inclusion of the student perspective in the project design and the planned project implementation

To encourage future applicants to take the student perspective into account, a new question was added to the application form. This is to meet the express wish of the Rector to further student perspectives and involvement when developing projects that innovate teaching and learning at ETH. Since the purpose of Innovedum is to have a positive effect on teaching and learning, it is important that the opportunity to include students in the application process is available:

Student Involvement: Describe whether and how students were involved in the preparation and review of this project application. How will students be involved in project implementation?

This question provides the project applicant with the freedom to decide if and how students can be involved in a possible project, while also pointing out easy steps how this could be done. 

Dissemination of Innovedum Projects: Spreading good Teaching and Learning at ETH

Currently there is a public project database and various community events (Refresh TeachingLearning and Teaching Fair) where Innovedum projects are made visible. To compliment this an explicit expectation to systematically reflect on the effectiveness of Innovedum projects is now also part of the application and reporting process. Applicants are now encouraged to consider the impact the project will have on teaching and learning and therefore develop a coherent evaluation strategy from the beginning.

Evaluation strategy: Describe the evaluation strategy you will use to check achievement of project goals and effects on teaching. What approaches will you use? Are you planning measures for identifying interim results? If so, how will these results flow back into the project?

For help with designing an evaluation strategy apropriate lecturers can always contact their LSPs or LET.  

Project communication: Making project insights visible

Taking the findings made during the evaluation and sharing them with others will make it easier for new applicants to profit from the lessons others have learned and increase the quality of their own applications. Ultimately a clearer picture of how innovation in teaching in learning works at ETH will emerge and flow back in to educational development as a whole. 

Project communication: How do you plan to publicise and document the progress of the project? What form will the final report for the Innovedum project database take? How will you disseminate project results?

There are a multitude of spaces both at ETH and beyond where results and experiences can be shared. At ETH the following spaces are available:

  • LET-Blog. The blog is a place where effective and innovative teaching is featured as well as general projects and activities relating to teaching and learning. www.blogs.ethz.ch/letblog 
  • Refresh Teaching. A lunch-time seminar series where lecturers share and discuss their innovations in teaching.  www.refreshteaching.ethz.ch
  • Innoview and Competence view are two different dynamic websites which respectively feature innovative teaching projects or projects where cross-disciplinary competencies are explicitly fostered.  
  • Learning and Teaching Journal. The Journal publishes discussion as well as systematic reflections regarding discipline specific contributions.

Please contact LET (beratung@let.ethz.ch) if you want to share your teaching project in one of these spaces. Any kind of projects are welcome, funded and non-funded.

Beyond ETH there are frequent conferences where teaching staff are welcome to present such projects. The Swiss Faculty Development Network hosts an annual conference of this nature and scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) conferences are also a great opportunity.

The Education Developer in your Departement (https://ethz.ch/en/the-eth-zurich/education/educational-development/netzwerk-lehrspezialisten.html) can advise and support the communication of your project.

You can find further information on the Innovedum website or contact the Innovedum office. Applications deadlines for focal and teaching projects are March 1st and October 1st every year.  

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The benefits of classroom visits (and how to make them effective)

By Tommaso Magrini, PhD student, Departement of Materials

Visualisation of classroom visits in an online teaching scenario (Image: Tommaso Magrini)

It requires effort, time and theoretical preparation to be truly able to deliver a good lecture, to properly plan a class, or to assess the performance of your students. As I am writing this document, I am still in this process of learning. Nevertheless, the more I am involved in teaching, the more I can experiment with new techniques or approaches, keeping the structures that worked, adjusting those that didn’t. One technique I plan to keep is classroom visits with peers.

Over the course of my doctoral studies I enrolled in the program “Learning to Teach”. One of the most interesting things I have learnt is the concept “learning by doing”. Not only is “learning by doing” more fun and engaging for the students, but it has also been proven to be the best ally for the lecturers to reach their learning objectives. Step by step, I introduced different activities in my classes, ranging from simple short discussions to more advanced posters and presentations. Those activities not only proved to be a good way to keep the students focused and active, but were also be extremely useful for us as teachers to assess if the concepts our class has been built on, are solid and stable in the students’ minds, or if they need repetition or consolidation. To understand whether the activities I have planned are meaningful and well aligned with the learning objectives, I have asked for peers to visit my classes, sit in and provide me with feedback.

Over the last semester I started implementing a new activity at the end of each lecture. Expecting my students to build on the concepts seen in my class and restructure them into a broader and more applied context, I proposed the following activity: divided in groups the students would need to come up with a shared idea, describe it schematically on a poster and then pitch it in front of the class. This would then foster a discussion between ‘critical friends’, that would openly challenge each group’s idea, with the goal of improving it and helping its realization. The classroom visit proved to be crucial in this phase.

As a lecturer, during such vivid and intense scientific discussions, I have to occupy several roles at the same time. Indeed, not only I have to moderate the discussion, but I also have to evaluate how deep and relevant the discussion is, while I  assess whether the students have reached the milestones and the key learning objectives or not. For this reason, the presence of my colleague, that sits ‘outside the discussion’ and evaluates the classroom response to the activity is extremely important. If at the beginning he would observe only, at later stages we were also able to switch roles and evaluate the class activity in turns. Being able not only to take part in the discussion but also to observe it from outside and take notes gave me a more complete vision of the activity.

At the end of each class, I would always have a debriefing with my colleague. Its goal was to sum up the positive and negative aspects of the lecture in a constructive and unbiased way. These debriefings helped to correct the weak parts of the lecture and expand the positive ones. It was clear from the first time on, that the students were responding to the activity we planned with a positive attitude and with enthusiasm. Furthermore, through the classroom visits, we realized that we could more efficiently assess the classroom knowledge by using ‘exam-like questions’ during the discussion.

As a matter of fact, the ‘simple’ classroom visits have evolved, in our experience, into an open ideas exchange, built on honest and constructive feedback, that would help me improving my teaching style, the structure of my classes and the realization of more targeted and better structured learning activities.

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Accessible teaching at ETH

Blind person using computer with braille computer display and a computer keyboard.

Accessibility is an important topic for ETH, also in the institution’s teaching. ETH’s project in this area comprises 14 sub-projects. In the first interview below, project manager Romila Storjohann describes the central points of the project with regard to teaching. The physical givens (rooms, access possibilities, etc.) are of course crucial to accessibility, but adapting electronic information is also important. LET has invested much time and energy in this topic, and has since January been working with a project coordinator for accessible teaching and teaching materials, Anton Bolfing. He describes his initial focus in the second interview below. LET is currently drafting various measures and identifying “quick wins”; for example, Mathjax formulas can be read aloud. LET organised an Accessible Teaching Day on 3 February 2020.

Accessibility is also an Innovedum focal point theme. Projects in this area are very welcome. Taking accessibility into account in teaching platforms and documents can provide improved semantics, better-structured, more flexibly displayed content and thus better usability in general. This benefits all users and also improves searchability.

Interview with Romila Storjohann, project manager “Barrier-free at ETH Zurich”

What do you see as the long-term goals for accessibility in the area of teaching?

Seen in the long term, the goal is to offer barrier-free, inclusive teaching at ETH Zurich. This involves, on the one hand, the alteration of existing teaching materials and technologies, and on the other the readiness of teaching staff to make their teaching as accessible as possible so that all students may better take part.

What concrete links are there between ETH teaching and the three accessibility project categories “Construction”, “Technology” and “Organisation”?

The project “Barrier-free at ETH Zurich” comprises 14 sub-projects in total: nine under the category “Construction”, one under “Organisation” and four under “Technology”.

Sub-project 13, “Barrier-free teaching materials”, to commence in February 2021 at LET, is in the “Technology” category. Besides technical alterations (e.g. the subtitling of video recordings), non-technical measures will also be involved, such as as the drawing up of training concepts for teaching faculty.

Naturally measures in the “Construction” category will also contribute to barrier-free teaching by ensuring barrier-free access to seminar rooms, lecture halls and other ETH teaching locations.

Interview with Anton Bolfing, LET project coordinator for “Barrier-free teaching” since January 2021

My area of responsibility is the accessibility of electronic user interfaces. Here the main focus is on teaching and learning materials.

What do you see as the core themes for barrier-free teaching at ETH?

We envision an ETH where it goes without saying that accessibility is considered in all products and digital creations. Here information being digital is a prerequisite for its accessibility: print is not accessible!

What are your priorities?

In terms of existing accessibility issues, I see the most need for action in learning platforms and documents. Accessible teaching guarantees students access to all relevant information and systems irrespective of any physical, sensory or mental limitations. This involves not only the classical learning platforms, but also communication and information platforms and classical websites. Just as important are documents, including textbooks and lecture notes. Examinations must also become accessible.

It is clear to me that the road to our vision will be a long one. Therefore my first priorities are communication and the development of aids. All parties involved must be convinced of the need for accessible teaching.

Concretely, what will be altered on learning platforms and in documents?

Briefly summarised, there are two main points here:

  • Improved flexibility in the display of screen content (responsivity, various monitors, text enlargement, colour schemes etc.) and flexibility in the use of input devices (pointing devices such as mouse, joystick, eye-tracker etc. and serial input devices such as switches and keyboard)
  • Compatibility with assistive technologies (screenreader, language input)

How will the corona situation influence your efforts in 2021?

The corona situation is showing a broader public how important information and communication technologies are in the knowledge and service economy: think working from home. We are noticing how much we depend on these technologies. Many people with disabilities knew this even before the corona pandemic and will continue to know it afterwards. For them it is therefore even more important that these technologies are accessible.

For further information on accessibility see the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

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Moodle is more interactive than ever with H5P

Task: Mark the security measures for this aircraft

H5P is a special toolset that enables teachers to enrich their Moodle courses. Teachers can firstly add interactive elements in Moodle content and secondly adjust the visual appearance of Moodle course pages. Both can enhance the learning process.

Research shows that digital learning is most effective when students interact with content, answer questions and most importantly, get immediate feedback. The critically important feedback loop that is naturally present in face-to-face learning is often missing in digital learning environments. Students want to find out immediately if their answer was correct or not. By providing performance feedback during digital learning, teachers can provide learners with a sense of the real-world consequences of decisions students make. Therefor the vast array of available interactive elements is especially important, since it offers options for almost every learning situation.

Effective digital learning should also provide learners with realistic practice opportunities; for example, simulations, scenario-based decision making, case-based evaluations, and authentic exercises.

Use H5P’s interactive elements to support reflection, application, rehearsal, elaboration, contextualisation, debate, evaluation, synthesisation, and so on. Focus on using H5P to add interaction and attractive graphic elements. H5P is not recommended for graded activities as tech savvy students can download and analyse the resulting XML file.

Example elements to increase interactivity

Select interactive elements, such as “Agamotto” which compares images as shown below.

“Find multiple hotspots” invites students to point out important aspects in images. Example: Find all the vegetables in this picture.

Or you can add a structural element to your course by adding the element “Accordion” which enables you to create collapsable paragraphs.

How to add H5P to your Moodle course

This must happen in two distinct steps. First you must create the content and save it. Secondly you embed the new content to your course.

To create the H5P content, access the “Content bank”. There is a shortcut in the navigation to the left of your screen.

Click on the “add” button and select the type of element you would like to create.

To help you decide which H5P element is best for your needs, we have created several exemplars to help you choose. You can view these exemplars in the “Building an effective Moodle course” in the section “Using special features“. (No enrollment key necessary).

In addition you can visit the H5P website to see more detailed examples, instructions and tutorials. Important note: There are more elements listed on the H5P website than are available on the ETH Moodle system. 

After you have created H5P element, make sure you save it with a clear name so you can recognise it later. 

Now you have two options for using the H5P element.

The first option is to add it as a separate activity. Simply add a new activity and select H5P. Then choose your pre-made element. This scenario make sense when you want to focus on the element as a stand alone activity and don’t want to embed it within additional text.

The second option is to add H5P as part of a text. Navigate to the exact spot where you would like to add the element (for example in a Moodle book or in a label on the course page) and begin editing.

In the editing toolbar, first expand the view of editing tools.

Then select H5P.

This will prompt you to “browse repositories”. The H5P content bank is shown as one of the repositories. All the elements you have already created are shown here. Select the one you need. 

We recommend selecting the option “Create an alias/shortcut to the file”. This ensures that when you make a change to the original element in the content bank, it is automatically updated on your course page or wherever it has been embedded. 

Preview how it looks by assuming the student role. (Switch roles by clicking on your profile picture.) We also recommend checking out it appears in the Moodle app. To make any changes to the element, you will need to go back to the content bank using your computer (not your mobile device), edit and save. It will update automatically if you have embedded it as an alias.  

Enjoy!

More information in the “Building an effective Moodle course” in the section “Using special features“. (No enrollment key necessary).

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How meaningful are clicker data?

Contributors: Meike Akveld (D-MATH), Menny Aka (D-MATH), Alexander Caspar (D-MATH), Marinka Valkering-Sijsling (LET), Gerd Kortemeyer (LET)

Among other things, ETH Zurich’s EduApp allows instructors to pose clicker questions during lectures. Instructors can interrupt lectures to ask questions from the students and get and give feedback on learning progress. Lecturers can also trigger phases of peer-instruction, where students discuss their initial answers to a question with one another and then reanswer the question – in effect, the students are teaching each other during those phases, thus “peer instruction”. By asking students to answer a question twice, lecturers gather data on student understanding. But how meaningful is this feedback data, in particular, when answering is voluntary and ungraded?

A group of mathematics instructors at ETH’s D-MATH worked with LET to analyze EduApp data using Item Response Theory (IRT), Classical Test Theory (CTT) and clustering methods. Over the course of the semester, 44 clicker problems were posed – 12 of them twice, as the instructor decided to insert a phase of peer-instruction. The following figure shows an example of the kind of problem being analyzed:

Fig.1 Example of a clicker problem

The problem shown was used in conjunction with peer-instruction; the gray bars indicate the initial student responses, the black bars those after the discussion. A simple, unsurprising observation is that after peer-instruction, more students arrived at the correct answer. What can we learn from these responses? CTT and IRT can provide psychometrics that help understand this instructional scenario.

When it comes to being “meaningful,” the “discrimination” parameter of a problem is of particular interest: how well does correctly or incorrectly answering a problem distinguish (“discriminate”) between students who have or have not understood the underlying concepts?

CTT simply uses the total score as a measure of “ability”, but also has a measure of discrimination (“biserial coefficient”). IRT estimates the probability of a student arriving at the correct answer for a particular problem (“item”) based on a hidden (“latent”) trait of the student called “ability” – typically, higher-ability students would have a higher chance of getting a problem correct. How exactly this probability increases depends on problem characteristics (“item parameters”).

In IRT, the ability-trait is determined in a multistep, multidimensional optimization process, where the difficulty and discrimination parameters of particular problems (“items”) feed back on how much correctly answering that problem says about the “ability” of the student; “high-ability” students are likely to get correct answers even on high-difficulty, high-discrimination problems.

The results of their study were extremely encouraging: using both CTT and IRT, almost all 44 problems under investigation exhibited strong positive discrimination in the initial vote. This means that the better the student understood the underlying concepts, the much more likely they were to give the right answers – and vice versa. A low discrimination, on the other hand, means a problem provides less meaningful feedback. For the handful of problems which had lower (yet still meaningful!) discrimination, this could be explained by other problem characteristics, for example, that at the time they were posed, they were still too hard or already too easy – but even that feedback is meaningful to the instructor for future semesters.

The truly surprising result of the study was that in all cases of peer-instruction, the problem had even stronger discrimination afterwards! Yes, unsurprisingly more students answer correctly after discussion with their neighbors (the problem becomes “easier”), but: peer-instruction does not simply allow weaker students to enter the correct answer, it apparently helps them to perform at their true potential.

For the purposes of the study, the clicker data had to be exported manually, but the next version of EduApp, slated to be released in December 2020, will allow export of data for learning analytics purposes directly from the interface – the following figure shows a sneak preview of that new functionality.

Fig. 2 The new “Learning Analytics” function in EduApp

The exported data format is compatible with input for the statistics software R, and there are variety of guides available for how to analyze this data (https://aapt.scitation.org/doi/abs/10.1119/1.5135788 (accessible through the ETH Library) provides a “quick-and-dirty” guide).

The full study, including results from Classical Test Theory and clustering methods, as well an outlook for new EduApp-functionality is available open-access in Issue 13 of e-learning and education (eleed) under https://eleed.campussource.de/archive/13/5122.

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Virtual labs with Labster – Practical experience in food chemistry

Interview with Dr. Melanie Erzinger, responsible for the food chemistry practical course at D-HEST.

The food chemistry practical course at D-HEST uses the virtual laboratory simulations of Labster. Virtual labs allow students to complete laboratory experiments online and explore concepts and theories without stepping into a physical science lab. Especially now in times of Corona, this is a valuable alternative. There are many kinds of virtual lab simulations, from simple video animations to immersive 3D interactive learning environments. Other courses and departments might benefit from these options as well, mainly biology and chemistry.

Click to view demonstration video

What effects did Labster have on the practical course in food chemistry?

The use of virtual laboratories with Labster had positive effects on the practical course in food chemistry. They are now an integral part of the practical course and they were appreciated by the teachers and students. The fact that they are only available in English was accepted due to the clear added value. They have been in use there since 2017, in 2020 already in their fourth run. All 60 students received their own, fee-based semester licence.

The Labster activities enabled students to prepare for real laboratory experiments in a better and more exciting way than if they had only read an introductory document. Now they had to actively deal with a problem. This proved to be an excellent way of introducing them to methods.

What is the relationship between virtual and real world labs?

The virtual labs were never intended to replace the real labs, they are meant as an addition – to understand, practice and repeat more deeply. A three-stage setting was established which was successful because it formed a common thread: 1. preparations with Labster. 2. dealing with the topics in the Labster labs and doing the practical training in real life. 3. follow-up and repetitions with Labster. During the corona crisis, the practical middle part was replaced by virtual laboratories and so it was still possible to give the students good insights and knowledge.

What other advantages does Labster bring?

Another advantage is that Labster allows additional experiments to be carried out that would not be possible in real life. There are three reasons for this: It would take too long, the devices are very expensive and used by the researchers or the experiments would be too dangerous.

The technology has improved greatly over the years and today there are no longer any technical problems, as long as the students’ computers meet minimal and common technical standards and the technical support provided is used. With a detailed briefing at the beginning of the semester, the practical use of virtual labs works well and the Labster helpdesk is also working properly.

How could the use of Labster be expanded at ETH?

Other courses and departments would also benefit from virtual labs in certain areas (biology and chemistry, e.g. toxicology or molecular biology), and Labster has many topics and laboratories that would be a good addition. However, in courses with a low proportion of practical training, selective use of virtual labs would not really justify the expenditure of time and money, since – unlike in pure practical training – they would not be essential for the learning objectives.

More information about the use of labster at ETH can also be found here under “virtual labs”.

Labster-Website – to see the library of available simulations

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ETH Moodle App

We are proud to announce the brand new ETH Moodle App for Android and iOS available today! This app has been developed by the core developers of Moodle and is a specially branded version of the official Moodle App.

Please click on the link below to download the app:

iOS: https://apps.apple.com/app/id1521806822

Android: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=ch.ethz.ethmoodle

Easy access, work offline and much more

Students and lecturers can access all their courses directly from their smartphone or tablet. This access has several advantages:

  • You only have to login once for days and weeks at a time.
  • You can download courses and access them offline.
  • If you post an answer in a forum or solve a quiz while offline, the course will be synchronised when you are online again.
  • You can include audio, video and pictures from your phone easily into your forum answers, messages and even assignment responses.
  • The app uses GDPR-compliant push notifications for important dates (yes the Moodle calendar is placed directly on the start screen), messages and forum posts.

Similar but not equal

Although your course looks similar in the ETH Moodle App, there are some important differences (especially important for lecturers to know):

  • There is no edit possibility to the course via app. So, if you want to edit your course, please use the web browser.
  • The app doesn’t display any blocks (which you can add to your course individually).
  • Some activities are not Moodle App ready yet (or not meant to work with the app). In those cases students (and lecturers) are forwarded to a web browser. At the moment the following activities are not app ready:
    • Interactive Video Suite
    • Student Quiz
    • OU Blog
    • Fair Allocation
    • Scheduler
    • Collaborative Folder

If you have any feedback on the ETH Moodle App, please contact us at moodle@let.ethz.ch.

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Drawing by hand made easy in Moodle

Do you already use Moodle and have you ever wanted better options for capturing simple digital drawings as part of a quiz? An improved freehand drawing question type is now available for ETH lecturers.

This question type is called “Freehand Drawing (ETH)” and works on any computer device. Generally, touch-devices with hardware pens (styluses) work best although drawing with a mouse or a touchpad works as well.

Creating a quiz with a Freehand Drawing question

Start by creating a quiz in Moodle. Quizzes can include any number of any question types.

Insert your new question into the quiz, using “+ a new question.”

Choose the question type “Freehand drawing (ETH)”.

Insert a title and write a task or a question for the students to solve. This is the standard text editor used all over Moodle. In this example, we have asked a question about charging a capacitor where we want the students to sketch the electric current as a function of time.

Note that a lot of students do not own large-screen touch-devices, so we cannot expect detailed or precise drawings. Use of the question type thus should be limited to “sketching” or “drawing,” not precise activities like “graphing.”

By default, students get a white background to draw on. You can also create and upload a background image using any drawing tool. In the following example, a coordinate system was created using PowerPoint. These drawings can help your students literally by framing their answers and in the end help you grading them by standardising aspects of the image.

Upload your background image to your question. You can simply drag and drop your file into the provided field.

If it is a big image, make sure to reduce the size so it fits on the student’s screen without scrolling. While the tool allows for horizontal or vertical scrolling, this can be awkward. Also, keep in mind that Moodle itself will take up some space for its navigational elements – a width of 500 pixels is reasonable.

Save and preview your question, using the “preview” button:


Answering a Freehand Drawing question

Students can then answer the question as shown in the example below:

This answer drawing was made with a mouse. The precision of this drawing is at the limit of what should be expected, but one can clearly see what’s going on: exponential drop-off, starting at U/R. For the axis label, students could also have used the typing tool. Other tools include a simple line tool and an eraser.

Students would then submit their drawings as their answer. Answers need to be graded manually, just like essays answers.

Practice makes perfect

Although more and more students possess convertible or tablet devices with touch screens and pens, drawings are still more often made using paper and pencil. If you intend to use Freehand Drawing on exams, it is important to give your students time and opportunity to practice using it. If you already use Freehand Drawing questions in your lecture during the semester, the students have had time to practice at their individual pace and can get acquainted with the question type.

This question type will be piloted for use in future examinations. The devices used for mobile exams at ETH have touch screens and hardware pens, which work well with this question type. If you are interested in using the Freehand Drawing question type in an online exam, please contact online-pruefungen@let.ethz.ch.

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Learning Autonomy with Self-Driving Cars: Duckietown goes MOOC.

Figure  1 Tani (left) and Censi (right) in the Duckietown Lab
(Picture: ETH, Alessandro della Bella)

Jacopo Tani and Andrea Censi are senior assistants in the research group headed by Emilio Frazzoli (D-MAVT), an internationally renowned specialist in autonomous systems. Together with Prof. Liam Paull of the University of Montreal, they lead the Duckietown project, which was conceived at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2015. The goal was to build a platform that was small-scale and cute yet still preserved the real scientific challenges inherent in a full-scale real autonomous robot platform.  Duckietown is now a worldwide initiative to realize a new vision for AI/robotics education. It teaches participants to programme autonomous vehicles to navigate a structured environment using rubber ducks as the passengers of the vehicles, and has now been used by over 80 universities in 23 countries worldwide. Their next endeavor is to create a series of massive open online courses (MOOCs) focused on the science and technology of autonomy through the lens of self-driving cars. In this multi-institution project, ETH will take leadership and develop the first course of the MOOC-series.

What will the MOOC be about and what do you seek to achieve for participants?

The Duckietown MOOC series will be about autonomy, or how to make machines take their own decisions to accomplish broadly defined tasks. This topic is both intellectually fascinating and very timely given the rapid progress of robotics and AI technologies in our daily lives. Autonomy will be studied through self-driving cars, an application with disruptive social potential.

Participants will engage in a sequence of software and hardware hands-on learning experiences whose particular focus is on overcoming the challenges of deploying robots in the real world. Our hope is that participants will gain useful skills and come to appreciate and understand the challenges of this technology, while at the same time having lots of fun!

What motivated you personally to make a MOOC?

The Duckietown project was developed to make the science and technology of autonomy accessible to the broadest possible audience, not only to those learners lucky enough to have access to premiere educational institutions where these topics are addressed. Building a Duckietown MOOC experience was a logical step towards achieving the mission of the project. We are grateful for ETH-Innovedum supporting our efforts and extremely excited to bring our vision for learning autonomy to the world.   

What are the unique didactic challenges?

Teaching autonomy requires a fundamentally different approach compared to many computer science and engineering disciplines. There is extensive and diverse preliminary knowledge needed to really comprehend autonomy from the “pure” mathematics and physics to “modern” machine learning based approaches. Moreover, robots are real world machines, and theory and practice do not always play well together. To see the theory work in the real world it is necessary to translate the knowledge in software architectures, and deploy them on hardware platforms. Finally, there is a proliferation of hardware platforms and software tools out there, each with its own peculiarities, strengths and shortcomings. It is not always clear what tools are worth investing time in mastering, and how this competence will translate to different platforms.   

 How will you overcome these challenges?

To address these barriers of entry to learning autonomy, the MOOC “Self-Driving Cars with Duckietown” will have several distinguishing features, namely:

  • Competency-based topic progression
    The sequence of topics in the courses is determined by asking the question: “what is the most we can make our robot do, with the least amount of prior knowledge?” instead of “what is the best order to explain things?”. As learners progress through behaviors of increasing complexity to reach the final objective, it becomes naturally necessary to introduce new concepts and tools to address limitations to previous behaviors. This approach allows students to jump right in “the middle of things” (getting Duckiebots to do things!) and gradually re-iterate concepts through the various technical frameworks and implementation solutions that are so very important to align the theory with the practice, leading to a stronger comprehension of the how and why things happen.
  • Hardware-based hands-on learning on a standardized platform (the Duckiebot) with open-source industry-widespread software tools
    This is a robotics and AI MOOC where every participant will have the opportunity to follow along by doing real world experiments with their own robot at home. The Duckietown framework was designed, from the software stack (i.e., Python, ROS, Docker) to the Duckiebot and Duckietown city, to make the course accessible for all learners, both pedagogically and economically.
  • Remote evaluations of hardware assignments
    The last, but not least, distinguishing factor of this MOOC is the use of remote facilities (the Duckietown Autolabs) where reproducible performance assessment of hardware assignments is conducted in controlled environments. This feature enables remote grading of hardware assignment, which, to the best of our knowledge, is a first ever for a robotics MOOC.

Like to know more about Autonomy with Self-Driving Cars? Course starts at March 22, 2021 and will be published on the edX-platform.

Inspired to start your own MOOC project? Please have a look at our website and contact Marinka Valkering to discuss possibilities!

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Safe Exam Browser 3.0 freigegeben

Prüfungen am Computer (Online-Prüfungen) bieten viele Vorteile gegenüber herkömmlichen schriftlichen Prüfungen. Sie können oftmals authentischer gestaltet werden, indem Studierende in der Prüfung mit Programmen und Ressourcen arbeiten können, die sie auch in den Übungen oder später im Arbeitsalltag verwenden (z.B. durch eine eingebettete Programmierumgebung). Je nach Aufbau der Prüfung ist auch eine (teil-)automatisierte Bewertung möglich, die bei grossen Kursen eine massive Arbeitserleichterung für die Examinatoren bringt, bzw. ein Assessment überhaupt erst möglich macht (z.B. bei MOOCs).

Voraussetzung für Online-Prüfungen ist eine abgesicherte Umgebung am Prüfungscomputer, die während der Prüfung nur den Zugriff auf erlaubte Ressourcen gestattet. Hier kommt die Open Source Software Safe Exam Browser ins Spiel, die seit über 10 Jahren existiert und inzwischen international von zahlreichen Bildungseinrichtungen eingesetzt wird. Der Safe Exam Browser ermöglicht nicht nur die kontrollierte Absicherung des Prüfungscomputers, sondern erlaubt auch das Verwenden ausgewählter lokaler Programme oder die Freigabe von bestimmten Webressourcen.

Für die Version 3 wurde der Safe Exam Browser (im Folgenden SEB abgekürzt) einem umfassenden Refactoring unterzogen. Der SEB wurde von Grund auf gemäss aktueller Standards neu programmiert. Die prinzipielle Funktionsweise wurde dabei beibehalten. Wesentliche Änderungen wurden «unter der Haube» vorgenommen und sind vor allem technischer Art.

So wird nun beispielsweise als Browser-Komponente anstelle der Mozilla Gecko Engine die Chromium Engine verwendet. Die Erkennung von virtuellen Maschinen als Laufzeitumgebung wurde verbessert. Es gibt erweiterte Funktionen zur Kontrolle der Browser-Session durch das Prüfungssystem (für die SEB-Moodle Deeper Integration). Und die Zusammenarbeit mit Antivirenprogrammen wurde weiter verbessert.

Aber auch die Benutzeroberfläche wurde modernisiert. Neu verfügt SEB über ein «Action Center», ähnlich dem aus Windows 10 bekannten Seitenmenü. Man kann nun beim Umschalten zwischen geöffneten Applikationsfenstern mit ALT-TAB  wie unter Windows üblich kleine Vorschaufenster der geöffneten Applikationen sehen. Ausserdem wird die Arbeit mit Tablet-PCs besser unterstützt.

Benutzeroberfläche von SEB 3 mit links eingeblendetem Action Center

SEB wird weiterhin in Versionen für Windows, MacOS und iOS angeboten. Und mittlerweile wird für Windows neben der 32-bit auch eine native 64-bit Variante bereit gestellt.

Der volle Funktionsumfang aus SEB 2.4.x wird mit der Version 3.2 zur Verfügung stehen. Dies betrifft etwa den Zugriff auf die Webcam durch Webapplikationen (mehr Details dazu in den Release Notes).

Zudem sieht die Roadmap für die Weiterentwicklung von SEB vor, das mitgelieferte Konfigurationstool in Übereinstimmung mit dem Konfigurationstool des SEB Server zu überarbeiten, sowie die Integration mit weiteren Learning Management Systemen zu verbessern.

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