Mar 232016
Screen Capture of the Data Design and Society website

Today I attended the University of Edinburgh Data, Design & Society (DDS) course’s final presentations session, having been invited by Ewan Klein, who is the course organiser.

Data, Design & Society is an innovative programmes across three departments of Edinburgh University: the School of Informatics; the School of Social and Political Studies; and Design Informatics. Students on this programme (which is a 20 credit bearing Level 8 course) have been focusing on specific real world projects which, this time, have been focusing on food and food sustainability. All of the course materials are available publicly online, along with more information on all of the projects.

The format for this session was group presentations of the projects and for each of these I’ve captured the group name and comments, but not all of the students names. If you are interested in following up with any of these do feel free to contact the teams via Ewan (ewan [AT]

Please note: I took these notes live during the presentations so please do be aware that there may be some corrections to come, and that there is much more information about all of the challenges and responses on the DDS site

Good Eats

Good Eats wants to encourage students to consume healthy wholesome food. On the whole students are not getting the nutrition they need. The Healthy University Project found that only 25% of students at UoE get five fruits or veg per day. They ran their own survey on undergraduates and postgraduates. We looked at factors influencing decisions and found that price was by far the most important factor (over 80%) but convenience was also important (45%). We did find interest in healthy eating though, and around 50% of students were preparing food at home for themselves at least 5 days a week.

Good Eats also ran a focus group. There is general concern about their food and would like healthy and sustainable eating. But they consider eating healthily is more expensive, takes more time, and energy. So we wanted to ensure that we designed a solution that was healthy, quick and cheap. We looked at ways to convey information – brochures, website etc. But we thought that a tailored personal solution was going to be key, including some interaction, so we focused on an app. The app would enable convenience, it would be accessible, versatile to engaging on different levels, interactive, and it also allowed us the potential to include other types of media.

So, the app would act as “a cookbook in your pocket” with interactive shopping list, and a wide variety of information suiting students from different backgrounds and cultures.

So, we started to design the app. We had a main screen, and you could look at settings – metric and currency conversion; favourites list. For each recipe there is an ingredients list, methods list with integrated timers, and there is also a shopping list that you could customise – or add directly to from the recipes.

We then ran a participatory design session with users. We had really good feedback – they particularly liked the idea of being able to add ingredients to their shopping list, and the convenience. We asked students if they would really use this app and they indicated that they would look up recipes, and prepare lists the night before cooking so that they could pick up ingredients around lectures.

During the project we looked at lots of ideas, we built on our feedback from our survey and focus group and also from our mock presentation. We think this has great potential and really enjoyed working on this project.

And finally, a quick demo of the app store listing, the main menu, the settings screen, the recipe pages – that helps you navigates. There is a favourites list. And we have an information on recipes – cost per serving, timing, etc.

Q1) Can I download it?!

A1) Not yet but, we wish!

Q2) Did you look at other food and recipe apps and resources to build that and were there particular things you chose to take or not take from those?

A2) We did look at other apps and sites but didn’t directly take anything from that. We did use Spoon University, which is sort of a similar idea as a website, but that is focused on cooking and eating at college and not so much focused on nutrition. So we kind of used that and other sites as foundation for what we wanted to do.

Q3) How much of a behaviour change did this involve? Are students cooking?

A3) That first survey indicated 75% of students were cooking 5 times a week or more. So we wanted to improve the cooking, not change how often they cook. Talking to our focus group we asked what they cooked… They said easy things like macaroni cheese, cookies, burgers – things they could make for friends so we specifically looked for healthy recipes.

Q4) You said that students are not getting enough fruit and veg – did you integrate ways to encourage this in your design of the app?

A4) We looked at using the database to recommend healthy ingredients and alternatives. We also talked to food managers about improving on e.g. Sainsbury’s recipes.

Q5) Content – recipes customised like that. Also financial sustainability.

Q6) Might be good to talk about how to find some of the healthy food – so you don’t waste time on trying to find kale etc…

A6) We did discuss what could be in there… Like social media and local settings, stores to buy healthy foods etc.

Save the cups!

Right now, as consumers, we knew that coffee cups are not being recycled. More than 3bn coffee cups are thrown away in Britain each year, and fewer than 1/400 are recycled. So we wanted to see what we could do to address that, and also to look at what University of Edinburgh could do.

At University of Edinburgh over 2 million coffee cups are sold, only 2000 keep cups are sold. Coffee cups are not recyclable, keep cups are not well publicised.

From our focus group we found people are concerned at the situation but they are also not clear on what to do – they have to dry out a cup before putting in the recycling. We considered adding a 5p charge for cups, or to decrease the cost of keep cups. Give discounts on keep cups or give first years a coffee cup when they begin their studies. But we were told that making policy changes can be slow so we focused on behaviour change. So we decided upon a poster, which would highlight the 20p discount per drink sold if you use a keep cup.

So, for our design ideas we got together a group of four people to critique our design ideas. Our first posted highlighted that if you took all disposable cups wasted at University you could make 200 keep cups – that was a bit too bland. We also tried to focus on what happens to coffee cups after being wasted – that coffee cups thrown away a year could fill a whole classroom – but that was too abstract. We had a further design focused on global impact of waste – featuring a polar bear – and people cared but felt it was far disconnected from coffee cups.

So our next poster design was “Do you like coffee?” and highlighted the 20p saving. People felt motivated by saving money – it was the most effective of the posters – but they felt 20p was too little. But we knew we couldn’t change pricing. So we decided to focus on the economic angle but highlight the savings more clearly. So we developed a poster that continued that message, saying “if you drink coffee every day you save over £50 a year”. And our previous posters were on a brown paper background, that was associated with environmental issues, so we went for a cleaner look and feel more in line with economic angle.

So, if we compare our final design with a current UoE design… That highlights waste and cost (£7) of a keep cup. From our research we think our poster would be more effective. Our participants thought £7 sounded expensive so could be a deterrent rather than a motivator, whereas we highlight savings per year.

So our conclusion is that by putting up more and particularly better posters the University could do more to contribution to waste, and maybe make a dent in that 2bn coffee cups wasted per year.

Q1) Did you think about using the poster in a virtual space such as Facebook – where you could click to buy… Maybe removing barriers to buying.

A1) We didn’t think about that. The one that is up in the library is actually in the queue area in a cafe… You see it as waiting in line, highlighting what you could save.

Q2) The numbers are kind of staggering, so if you get it right it could really make it a different. Did you think about that price – it does seem a lot – but also on carrying keep cup around and that being a potential behaviour change that is needed.

A2) In our research we did talk to people who had keep cups… a lot did it for financial reasons and a lot of buyers are staff members who using them on desks. Students can be more reluctant to do that, concerned with spills in laptops. And we did ask about policy change – e.g. for disposable cups being recycled cups – but that is really slow. But we did suggest reducing the keep cup price, or handing out to first year.

Q3) Do you think students would actually carry these around?

A3) We think so and they indicated that they might.

Q4) What about the branding of the cups themselves – there are lots of coffee shops in Edinburgh, each with their own branded keep cups. Did you look at all at the branding of the cups, or of the issue of people actually using their cups across different shops – since students (and staff) don’t just frequent one place.

A4) Looked at reduction of usage of cups, we focused on within the university and policy in place… Didn’t think about interacting with the city as well as the university.

Pimp My Pollock

Pollock halls is the main catered residence halls for UoE students, serving around 2000 students a day in a buffet style self-service restaurant (JMCC). They have a number of initiatives to try and eliminate food waste. They have a zero waste to landfill policy, they compost and use that on campus. They do good stuff but they don’t engage students in that. So our goal is to foster student awareness and engagement.

There is an issue to solve here, There is a cost of around £2000 and 8000 kg (the weight of a Tigon!) waste per month because students put too much food on their plate. They are cooking almost twice the food that is eaten. They do try to highlight waste on screens – but that isn’t totally credible and the maths isn’t quite correct when comparing waste to number of food items.

So we looked at 9 different ides – including things like smaller plates or no trays – but the feedback was that change like that is difficult and slow to do. So we looked at communicating to and involving behaviour change in students. Our focus groups fed back though that being served food might help with the waste, that the environment looking better might make the difference too. Students also said that they didn’t know what a good job the university already does with waste, and again talked about the environment. And that they wasted food because it didn’t taste good. So we need to change environment to change behaviour. So, we decided on… drumroll…

Pimp My Pollock. A video/presentation, social media campaign and redesign of JMCC to change attitude and behaviours. We wanted a video that could be played during freshers week, to include RAs (staff/senior students that support students in the accommodation), to help raise visibility of staff and the good work already being done. The social media campaign would build upon existing interest. There is already a very popular @sexdrugsjmcc Instagram account with images of the food that is used playfully and is managed by the community – definitely not the university. So we thought of perhaps using Facebook to highlight reductions in food waste, fun images, maybe Spotify playlists for the JMCC too, to engage students more.

There is also a perceived behavioural control issue if you have two conflicting views of the same thing so that our impressions match up with positive work taking place – hence redesigning the space. We also want to make the space itself so it is more inviting, makes better use of space, and help highlight waste through infographics/posters etc.

Q1) Is anyone working on behaviour change in the management of this space? I am particularly surprised about the size of plates thing – that’s a proven thing.

A1) I work at the sustainability department and what we’ve tended to find from accommodation services, managed separately and differently. Trying to manage infrastructural changes are not met well. So with coffee cups… When we found recyclable coffee cups they said not cost effective. Haven’t personally tried with plate size but happy to feed that forward to that team…

Q2) Had you thought about ambassadors approaching people when eating about how much on their plate – I know staff do that sometimes when trays are put away…

A2) We thought about that… Hence the idea of the Facebook page… Hopefully that would help without that issue of it being staff. In terms of the policies already in place students don’t know about that so an induction, and engagement with food waste issue coming from students rather than staff would be more effective.

Q3) On small plate and trays I know that the service team see the plate size as reasonable… And they see that plate size as reasonable… and returning going up again when having so many students going through, student satisfaction.

A3) RAs who have lived there longer they didn’t think that plat size etc – popular in focus groups – was realistic. They felt that being served was more likely to be successful as then you can take smaller portions without needing to negotiate that.

Trayless Dining in Pollock Halls

Our idea is trayless dining in Pollock Halls. They have 2000 students eating at the JMCC dining room but they are currently catering for nearer 4000 because of waste. We wanted to help address that, and reduce the waste going to compost. There are some pre-existing initiatives. The JMCC Love Food Hate Waste initiative – more for retailers and producers – so we wanted to focus on students.

We canvassed student opinion. Many didn’t know how much they were wasting, even returning a second time with trays. So our idea is simple but there is supporting evidence that removing trays would have an impact. We had a focus group of 4 students at Pollock Halls – they weren’t aware and didn’t care, there was apathy to waste. Students were more positive to outsiders changing their behaviour, rather than coming from them. We wanted changes to environment. Students in our group saw plate size changes as too aggressive. Removing trays seemed acceptable.

So, we did participatory design process with 20 volunteers and got them to photograph their results. We asked them to go trayless and we did see a reduction in food waste… But there were logistical challenges. We think a few days of doing this would get them to adapt. We followed up with an online survey – 40% were happy for that change; 25% didn’t care; 35% were unsure. That seemed prety good compared to initial apathy.

Generally students were willing for some changes, and would have little influence on dining experience as they get the same product, and this could have a long term impact. The American University saw a major improvement on waste and washing trays etc. San Diego State University saw a 4.9% cost reduction from going trayless – including food waste and cleaning. And this can have a health impact too.

But we did see some contrasting opinions. We asked about whether removing trays would be inconvenient – we did have someone saying that multiple trips back and forth would be inconvenient. A staff member suggested that JMCC is too small of an area to implement trayless dining compared to US food halls. Main issue was behavioural changes towards waste from front of house. And their conveyor belt is build for trays not plates.

We didn’t see immediate fixes here so we thought about implementation – could be trickle down and trickle up. For Trickle Down we found a 6 point plan for going trayless: keep them available in case required; provide trays for disabled students; convert staff and employees – they must be onboard; gather feedback – there are concerns to hear and engage with; create a smooth transition – we think that implementing programme at the beginning of the academic years because that will be their first experience, as freshers, with JMCC; audit – and make available so students and staff can actually see the impact and the positive impact.

Bottom up implementation is preferred by the staff… It is supposedly already happening in Love Food, Hate Waste campaign… But we didn’t see much evidence. So, in conclusion… Trays are the solution to the JMCC waste problem because its easy and cheap to implement.

Comment 1) I think these suggestions are great and I’ll feed them back to colleagues, will keep trying to persuade people to pilot schemes…

Q2) You talked about starting at the beginning of the year – that’s more bang!

A2) Actually when change is implemented mid year, students are initially upset. Think you can avoid that when no other experience…

Q1) So maybe a pilot in Freshers week

Q3) You guys took on feedback from previous session for today, really great.

Q4) The comment about JMCC being too small to go trayless was intriguing… Was there any evidence of the actual layout in use at the US universities cited, or of the size of some of these and why that makes a difference?

A4) Evidence of smaller cafeterias that have successfully implemented this. One of us has personal experience

Ewan) Part of argument was throughput… As for 2000 students they need 3 sittings.

A4) Staff were happy for students to lead the change themselves, they were fine with that so if we can persuade students to do that that could work!

For these last three presentations there was no time for questions after all of the earlier discussion and engagement – but there were definitely people keen to ask questions and discuss all of the projects presented. 

Healthy Meal Deals

We wanted to increase consumption of healthy packaged foods on campus. We looked at several solutions: healthier alternative meal deal; adapting store layouts; healthy loyalty cards. There are meal deals on campus but we wanted to add to these with healthy meal deals. There are various current surveys that find students gaining weight during their university time, and the food and behaviours during this time guide them later in life. And surveys have shown that students relied too heavily on convenience foods because – grabbing food between lectures etc.

And in the UK there is a well known health crisis around BMI, it’s across all classes – it’s not as high in highly educated groups but still highly effected.

So, before we introduce our suggested deal we want to show you current meal deals. Currently you can select a sandwich from a range, crisps from a range, and sugary and/or caffeinated drinks. The meal has more sugar and fat than you should, but most calories come from the crisps and sandwiches. The sandwiches are high in fat but many are actually proportionately low in calories. Similarly sugar and calories – way worse. 30g is maximum sugar per day, many options have more than the appropriate 10g/meal. Looking at nutrition labels you can see those sandwiches are high in fat and sodium.

So, we wanted to look at switching out options here using what’s already easy to supply. So we considered alternatives where sandwiches are wholemeal bread – not ideal but more balanced; water or tea and maybe fresh juice; and fruit or yoghurt instead of crisps.

Promotion wise we wanted to persuade students to make those healthier choices, and to have that campaign actually across campus, not just in shops/cafes. We tweaked designs a lot with focus groups. The price isn’t concrete – couldn’t chat with manager until today – but likely £3 area and students indicated willingness to pay up to £4. And we also found good responses to comparing the healthy meal deal to the standard meal deal on nutrition rather than price basis. Then in-store we wanted to promote e.g. mixed nuts (rather than chocolate) they’d give protein and good fats – with a wee monkey but also a real citation – which students said they wanted as evidence. We also had some playful posters highlighting the benefits of fruit, of tea, etc. As well as promotion of wholemeal bread, to make it healthier….

So, our next step is to have discussion with retail managers – we meet him today! So that will be in our report. But we wanted to find out if it was realistic enough. But we expect obstacles to be commercial interests – if school has contract with providers of goods in the deal that good be a barrier; bureaucratic procedures; price.

In conclusion we wanted to include a meal deal that was inclusive of healthy options and that would increase demand for convenient but healthy food options. And it competes with but doesn’t replace current meal deals.


We will talk about the fast hack (all teams took part in) at the beginning and how we progressed from there. We were given the task of increasing the rate at which students select healthy food options on campus and engage with sustainable food initiatives. During our work we had a three part survey – two parts focused on our ideas, a third part focused on awareness. That awareness section was where we had most interesting data – there was apathy, the campaigns felt quite insular in terms of who was aware and engaged etc. We felt there was poor promotion on campus and students couldn’t name sustainable food initiatives on campus. We also found students had a lot of priorities and sustainable food wasn’t high on that list.

We suggest FoodHub, a united front for all of the many existing initiatives around sustainable cheap healthy food on campus. We thought about delivery through Facebook, app, text, etc. And we also wanted to consider active vs passive information – looking information up is time consuming, but prompts can be invasive. We went into a participatory design process with this in mind. So, we ran a trial text service as part of this, sharing messages from existing initiatives on campus. Then we did one to one feedback with participants.

We had great focus group qualitative data but we wanted something more quantitative data too, and to understand how texts might work and how. Our survey showed that a third of students don’t plan food but buy on the day; but we also wanted to accommodate those planning in advance. People found finding cheap food on campus relatively doable, cheap sustainable food more challenging.

So, we ran this for a week and we had results. 37% attended 1 or more event and all said they’d attend again; 100% would recommend to friends; 91% thought it provided a cost effective alternative; 63% indicated they might seek out food themselves. But what didn’t work? Well we sent 14 notifications and one 1 to 2 responses – this was either people who already had plans, or who were out at KB where events were less accessible. But we also saw 100% no change in attitude towards sustainable food options. People have busy schedules, we had a number of individuals already engaged in sustainable foods already in our group – so events not novel.

When we went into participatory design process we were thinking about an app, but actually texts seemed more effective – more embedded in day etc. And for an app they would have to download, use, keep on phone. In terms of active vs passive platforms. The majority of people wanted Facebook for more passive service, and text for more active materials. The combination was definitely the most possible. People also wanted some sort of review of events that could help guide peers (Yelp style), probably part of the Facebook component.

So, where to go from here? We are running it for a month to see if attitudes change; we want to add more features; and we want to promote and share the service to a wider range of students on campus.

The RA Connection

We are going to talk about what we did, the way we approached this. We made a toolkit for RAs (Resident Assistant) to help them support students to make healthy decisions on campus. We talked to students, RAs, Foodsharing, SRS office, and we engaged with surveys, focus group, informal interviews, and participatory design workshop with RAs.

When we throw away food we could be eating it has a financial and environmental impact. The University has a policy for zero food waste – but students are not included in that. Students care about this but when asked what they consider when purchasing foods students say convenience and costs are main concerns when considering buying sustainable food. So, our idea was to work with Edinburgh Food Sharing. So, what is Food Sharing?

Food Sharing takes unused or unsold food from individuals and businesses, that is passed to Food Sharing, is then redistributed to Food Sharing. This is mostly still edible (e.g. day old bread) – half of all food waste is edible, and 40% of UK students report skipping meals because of costs – so these can be complimentary issues. In terms of changing behaviour there are personal, social and material environment aspects. We thought that changing individuals isn’t the best route, but that changing social would be more effective, hence using the RAs.

The RAs help students when they first arrive at university. 170 RAs are based at 35 sites across the University and they are obligated to run at least one sustainability event per year. And free food is a great way to engage students. So we decided to educate RAs with sustainability by helping them running their events, we used our participatory design session to engage with RAs. We set SMART goals for this: Engage 50 students from multiple halls in (1) food collecting and distribution based on but not overlapping with FoodSharing (2) events to cook, prepare and share that food.

To help RAs we wanted to do some work for then – handouts, posters, and event forms for their Learn space run by ResLife. The handout explains food sharing. The event forms cover Cooking from Scraps – a workshop attendance followed by running their own; and Food Sharing Month – to raise awareness. The posters highlights workshops. The second is about food sharing to raise awareness.

So, we wanted to raise awareness, support RAs and make it easy for them to do more. And it was received really well by the RAs we spoke to.

And with that all the presentations were concluded and we’d hit our 11am finish time.

Huge thanks to Ewan and the whole DDS student and staff community for having me along – there were some fantastic ideas presented and I really enjoyed seeing the different approaches taken – some much more design orientated, some much more technical. The projects will now go on to write up their work into reports and the projects will be shared on the course website.

Mar 262012

This afternoon I’m here at the University of Edinburgh Business School in George Square to see Professor John Lee, of ESALA, Edinburgh College of Art and School of Informatics giving his inaugural lecture Learning Vicariously with Rich Media.

This is a liveblog and so all the usual caveats apply about typos, errors, etc. Please do comment below if you have any corrections you’d like to add.

We are being introduced to the lecture which celebrates the appointment of Professor John Lee to the post of Personal Chair of Digital Media. John works across both the School of Architecture and Informatics and blends those areas of expertise effortlessly. His interests include areas of design and cognition in design and learning and he has devised a method in order to film events and seminars by students so that they can be viewed again to reflect and engage that lecture which seems to have application across the university. And now over to Professor John Lee.

So this might be a confusing title on various levels so I will be coming back to that on various levels. I’ll start by talking about rich media, what they are and why we don’t make better use of them. Then I will be talking about vicarious learning, a topic that I and a number of other people have been working on for quite a while. And I’ll be talking about how this interacts and connects and can exploit rich media and technology for learning. I’ll talk about the system mentioned in the introduction, YouTute. And then I will talk about some further possible applications and future directions.

Rich Media Resources
What do I mean by that? Mainly audio and video really. Obviously there are many other types of media one might work with but I’m really interested in media which may be available, especially on the internet, media we can engage with. Audio and video are key but these media can be augmented by various other types of information – but they may be augmented by links, say to each other, or other forms of information or data. So annotation is a form of linking of media to other data. Tagging and cross referencing can be included. Commentary and discussion can be included. And there are a wider variey of internet resources that they can be connected to.

So when I talk about rich media I mean video, perhaps audio, but with these sorts of associated materials. And really rich media are not very common. The potential exists for exploiting these far more than they are being used at present, particularly in education. I think it would be useful to develop the potential for using these in a far more substantial sort of way. So I will not just be talking about my work in the past but also how we may use this sort of research to take forward these media in more fruitful ways.

Examples of rich media include YouTube which includes lots of less well known functionality such as annotation. So if we look at the video “hug the world” for instance we can see text and hotspots throughout the video. And those hotspots link to completely other videos. That is potentially quite useful type of thing that could be exploited, for instance in education. But they don’t seem to be widely used. You don’t see that many videos that use this functionality in videos on YouTube. Even those using video in teaching tend not to use these.

YouTube Preview Image

The other thing we see now is the capture of University lectures in video – like this one. Most lectures in Informatics, many others across the University and tools like iTunesU collate collections of videos of lectures. But it seems to me that these are not easy to use collaboratively or creatively. Looking at this video – it happens to be me lecturing – we can see indexes into the video automatically provided by seeing when the image changes. You can jump to various points in the lecture or a point where something is discussed in the notes. There are various different things one can think of that you could link to. So there is a useful layar on top of the lecture here – that’s quite a useful layar of rich media. So we can watch the video and move around it but we can’t do much else with it, we cant take pieces of that video and use them somewhere else for instance. The technical barriers seem overcomeable but something is stopping people making more creative use of this sort of video.

So I think we need new models of how to do this. Models of reusing materials in elearning is hardly a new topic. The old models are based on teacher-led creation of “learning objects”. There are standardised systems for development and re-use but they have never really become ubiquitous. You can find all sorts of collections of these but people don’t really use them that much. I think that’s partly because they are not always that easy to use but also because they tend to be built by teachers and particular ways that teachers think. Quite often teachers differ on these things. So often you find that University teachers have a strong tendency not to reuse other University teachers’ materials.

But i think we need to move away from that model and towards a kind of learner led recruitment of materials – from the web in particular. Learniers can search and discovery materials, to rework those materials and to share and collaborate around these materials to achieve search and discovery. And this is where we can see improvements. And technology can assist with the recruitment process here. So Google can help, the semantic web can help. But also within rich media there are opportunities opening up – such as the automated indexing of a lecture video. But there is more we can do as that’s just quite a simple example. But perhaps we can look at the speech in the video, at what’s happening in the video, what’s on screen to automatically interpret rich media.

So we can move away from passive consumption and use rich media to support activity, reflection, construction in an inquiry-led processes and to support the development of distributed collaborative learning through social networking. In particular what learners need to be able to do with these materials is to get engaged with these materials in some way. And we need to enable this engagement for distributed learners – they may be distributed geographically, distant learners, or they may be distributed in a more social sense. But tehse learners may be those that it can be difficult to get engaged in the learning process. And one of the things we’ve looked at in the past is using engaging learners through vicarious learning…

So what is vicarious learning? Well it’s learning from exposure to the learning experiences of others – e.g. students learn by watching other student’s problem solving in class. e.g. mast classes, design crits, etc. So this is where students discuss a problem and there is an audience – that might be a small or a large audience. Even without active participation vicarious learning arises from active listening and watching, it’s not just observational learning but active listening and watching, but it differs from observational, it’s not solely about observing expert performance. So the audience doesn’t just watch passively, but may not be part of the dialogue, but they are an active part of the process. So it’s somehow based on access to the learning process.

And vicarious learning is something that is perhaps done using technology. For instance a learner can watch another person engaging in a learning process.

We had a research project that aimed to attack this problem, this was some time ago. This was work with several collaboratoes funded by ESRC/EPSRC with Terry Mayes, Jean McKendree, Richard Cox, Keith Stenning, Finbar Dineen. And the project focused on capturing dialogue around specific problems – so in such a dialogue the process is exposed. These dialogues would be rated for the quality of learning content, matched to specific needs of learners, implies use in a controlled perhaps “intelligent” environment, which was difficult, and often based on “task-directed discussion” (TDDs) – which don’t always arise in tutorials.

The outcomes of this work kind of highlighted things like the benefit of exposure to student-student discussion. We were able to comapre these with tutor-student instruction, so if the tutor expounding material to students it was much less valuable to the students than a discussion in which the students perspective on the material was highlighted. If students discussed the material one found out how they were processing and understanding it. And students found watching “strugglers” most useful of all, though an uncomfortable thing to view.

The vicarious learning was effective in promoting reflection/discussion. And there seemed to be both cognitive and social benefits. And impact especially from modelling of dialogue skills and empathi identification with other students. There was less clear cut evidence for “domain” learning but there was potential importance for distance learning (and others), and it was an aid to “enculturation” into a disciplinary framework – exposure to the language and culture is harder to do in distance contexts on the whole. c.f. Laurillard, Schon etc.

Another collaborative project, VL-PATSy, funded by ESRC TLRP and working witH Richard Cox, Susan Rabold, Rosemary Varley, Julie Morris, Kirsty Hoben.

There was already a system called PATSy used with trainee speech therapists for diagnostic practice/training. This might include video, medical history, test results etc. These kinds of things could be augmented with other resources. And we augmented the materials with vicarious learning materials – TDD-based dialogues and interventions based on sophisticated student model. It was fairly effective but it was complicated and expensive to construct – it was a major 3 year project to set up and to repurpose it would also have been complicated and expensive. So we thought it might be more fruitful to try another approach.

So this other approach was around the idea of recycling stuff. Collating video recordings, of tutorial groups for instance. Then make these videos available to other learners – either automatically or manually by topic. And students could customise through selecting and annotating those videos. This is the idea which has become, with funding through the Principal’s eLearning Fund, “YouTute”. For this project we had Susan Rabold, Neil Mayo, Jon Oberlander, and Stuart Anderson involved.

So the idea was to recycle tutorial activity, captured on video. And then students would themselves be responsible for highlighting the useful aspects of these. We thought the effects might be enhanced if learners could edit the videos to pick out specific points, to annotate the videos to highlight issues, to rework the content for deeper learning. So looking at a capture of the main prototype system – this includes various video clips, notes from the session, topic and tags etc. This is an old version from perhaps four years ago but you can see we can view video of the whiteboard, we can see the tutorial roomm and we can see a camera looking at the smartboard. The students can actually use this to relive the tutorials in some sense. Either tutorials they were involved in, or those they weren’t involved in but on a topic they are looking at.

One of our undergraduate students, Marcin Bot, suggested a redesign of the system – a more student friendly interface intended here, bigger buttons, access to segments of video etc. But he didn’t feel this material was easy to rework particularly. This interface does help you access shared “tutes” (or create new ones) – these are the nuggets of tutorials on particular topics etc.

So this was quite a useful resource. We worked with it for several years whilst funded to do that. And some useful observations came out of that process. In particular that it was especially good for students who had failed the exam – they found it very useful for revising when away from Edinburgh. That seemed to be very useful for them. So I think this system could be taken forwaerd and developed. And improved with individualised tute collections, more developed social networking model, more interactive virtual editing of tutes, integration with recorded lectures, more streamlined collection and back end process etc.

So, I just wanted to finish by going back to the idea of really rich media. It’s not really new. There is plenty of work on mashup and remix culture. There are things like iMovie, the Open Movie Editor, Diver (stanford) – this was developed in Stanford and it’s quite a nice idea, it allows you to focus in on parts of videos, on some elements of a video and share that, – used to allow you to edit online, it was purchased by Yahoo! and subsequently disappeared. But recently a thing called Adobe Premiere Express lets you do something similar – an online video editor. That’s the sort of thing we should pay more attention to but this is proprietary and probably expensive [note from Nicola here: YouTube does also include the facility to edit video online now].

So in future I’d like to see the development of integration of these sorts of ideas with learning systems – I have an EU proposal in train at the moment. I’d like to see improved automated annotation of video – recent and current work in Informatics on segmentation etc, using speech and/or image processing. And we could see this applied elsewhere, such as in schools, such as work with Tom Kane of a local company called Prescience Communications. So recently I’ve been working with Tom’s project and playing with the idea of a sequence of clips which you can move through, capturing the feel of This ability to personalise media in different ways would be useful for schools students in particular.


Q1 – Richard Coyne, ESALA) Seems to me there is an issue of professional presentation or lack of. These days you have kids recording themselves in their bedrooms with great charisma, great thought of setting. Does a lack of professsionalism in these environments matter?

A1) I don’t think it does. So this work here is bringing external organisations into schools – in this case it was a discussion of the classification of films. It seems to me the important thing there is the quality of the discussion. The visual presentation isn’t neccassarily a concern. So we had a top quality of speaker here, these are the things that matter really. Exactly how the film appears isn’t neccassarily the first consideration here. If part of the discussion itself is

Q1) You and I might think that but what about the poeple this is directed at, the audiences.

A1) Well we’ll find out. It seems to me that students and audiences etc. it seems to me that audience are hugely accepting of varying quality of recordings. That first content on iTunesU you’d have very mixed quality filming, discussion of tutorial arrangements etc.

Q2 – Simon Higgs, BPA) Play, we all know how important play is in early learning but presumably it is also very important in vicarious learning and I was wondering how this relates to rich media learning and virtual worlds and games as a rich media space for vicarious learning.

A2) Certainly many people have looked at games and learning, Serious Games etc. In the rich media context I’m not familiar anything specific on this but in this area it certainly seems to be important, mashing up materials is about learning and about play at the same time, there would be an inevitable element of play that would be motivating in that activity. But how one seeks to exploit that more actively I’m not sure.

Q2) I think Richard’s comment about design is important there.

A2) Yes, you might be right. And one of the things that Marcin altered our design was to perhaps make it more playful.

Q3) I wanted to ask about incentives. Often things are most successful around examinations – so we get huge downloads of materials near exams, Youtube is heavily used then etc. What do you think you would need to incentivise wider use of these things? How do you reward students for co-producing materials that have high production values perhaps?

A3) One way of incentivising students is to give them some sort of credit for doing something, so that was one possibility that we considered at one point, that we could built some of these activities into their assessment. I would like to think that just the idea of sharing and co-create these things between each other, that this would be a resource to be their own in their own way would be motivating in itself. But I think it’s an unsolved problem really in this area generally, as to how to get those online activities of community to work properly and then stop working – they fizzle out, people drop out of the activity. But that is an interesting and unsolved problem in elearning I think.

Q4) On that point it seems to me that this seems to be something we would develop top down, that we’d need to develop special systems for this. Don’t you agree that this idea of students learning together and sharing artefacts is commonplace and is happening almost in a bottom up way, with people following each other on Twitter and so on.

A4) I agree to some extent but it’s patchy. I think with better tools and better context we could help them to do that. I think with things like Twitter and specific Facebook groups etc. these things exist but they are isolated phenomena to some extent.

Q5) Some of your interfaces are very media rich, how easy is it to divide attention when you have that going on – notes, lecture video etc. What’s important here?

A5) It’s a good question here. The interface I showed to the online lecture, often you don’t need the picture of the lecture, that’s probably not what students will watch, mainly they will focus on the main screen, probably the smartboard. Sometimes you want to see what’s being pointed at. The audio and main presentation screen are the main thing.

Q5) And diver with it’s zoom in?

A5) Yes, I’d like to built that in. None of these things are terribly hard to do. It’s not hard to code these things. It’s interesting in a way to me that we don’t see more being done with them.

Q6) I was quite interested in your comment about students learning more from struggling students – what going on there – is it that they make their process more obvious? is it about comparing your own understandings?

A6) Some of all of those. You benefit from seeing correction, from comparing understanding. It seems to me there is something quite useful about the affective side of this – empathy draws them in to focus on the solution in a way that a tutor with a blackboard wouldn’t do.

Q7) It seems emplicit in the name rich media that these are good, these are rich! But I find I use video as little as possible – I’ll see it if there isn’t a paper that they’ve written. I’d love to think that students watch me lecturing on video as the best medium but I’m not convinced that that’s not as valuable as looking the same thing up in a textbook.

A7) That’s fair, not all media needs to be rich. There are a lot of situations in which various elearning tools are in use where a blackboard might be equally effective or better. I’m not saying these are the only or always the best way to do education but they do have a value. But they do have a value for distance learners and it seems to be that seeing video of an experience is useful for those that were not there in person. It’s an attempt and not totally supplant other types of approaches but to make the best use of them that they can.

Q8 – Bruce Currie, formally of the Digital Design course) Enlightenment philosophers defacing images of god, the modern version of which might be the Taliban defacing images of Buddha in response to which it has been suggested that laser projections of Buddha to build peace. Do you see students using rich digital media to solve big world problems?

A8) I don’t know, I hope they may.