T-SPARC Technology Usage & Uptake

We’ve been piloting the use of various technologies for several months now, such as the Flip cameras, Voxur units and MP3 voice recorders in many projects here at Birmingham City University. These have mainly been curriculum design based projects but we have had interest from a number of diverse areas from within the institution and always keen not to miss an opportunity we have also been collaborating with these slightly off scope projects.

Collectively, these projects are helping us to establish usage patterns, usage and user preferences (voice Vs video), how projects influence course structure, how students experience feedback, the delivery of course / placement outcomes, how students with disabilities perceive their induction programmes and first year at university and a range of other interesting any worthwhile projects.

To give you an idea of uptake, we purchased 70 Flip cameras, 60 of which are currently being used by 13 unique projects. 2 of our 3 Voxur units are currently being used with the 3rd being used for 8 weeks from mid-March by our Library & Learning Resources Team. In the past 6 months the 3 Voxur units have been used to collect data for 11 different projects and have generated around 90 hours of footage collectively.

Interestingly, we purchased 30 MP3 voice recorders which we thought would be useful to certain projects where participants were uncomfortable with being videoed. However we have only loaned out 12 of these at the moment, and despite some reports of initial reticence from individuals to being videoed, it seems that many project organisers are still keen to push this means of data collection.

We’ve had a lot of interest in using the technologies from participants of our Student Academic Partners Scheme which is generating an increasing amount of feedback data (both written and video) that we are beginning to collate for the purpose of sharing with future users in the form of a ‘how to guide’.

If you’d like more information on these projects please post in the comments section below, alternatively you can visit our Student Academic Partners Scheme website and blog here.


Is Meaningful Engagement Without Risk?

Readers of this blog will be aware that we have been ardent advocates for meaningful stakeholder engagement in curriculum design. As we have progressed through the project we have become aware that although the benefits far outweigh the risk, it does exist.

If course designers do a really good job of getting stakeholders involved, it is very likely that those stakeholders will actually come to care about that in which they are investing their time. It is therefore very important that we carefully manage the expectations of those stakeholders we engage.

This is well illustrated through the reflections offered below from one of our pilot partners, Kate Chadwick:

A downside to using Survey Monkey/VOXUR?
One phenomenon I have experienced in the use of survey monkey and VOXUR in order to gain information from potential students for our proposed MSc Radiotherapy is that it has created a good deal of interest in the programme.  This would have been extremely useful if we hadn’t hit a stumbling block in the approval process and been forced to alter the proposed structure of the course.  Those potential students who expressed interest initially after the survey monkey/VOXUR use were eager to find out more information, yet we were unable to say at that point even which topic areas would be included in the final structure of the MSc programme or when it might actually be running.  This has led to some potential students becoming disheartened and frustrated and we may end up losing these students to our competitor institutions.  Fortunately, so far, these potential students have been placated through close and frequent communication but it has been a difficult situation to manage and one which, had we anticipated it, we might have been able to take steps to avoid when conducting our information gathering stage.

Kate Chadwick
Joint Postgraduate Lead for Radiotherapy

As can be seen, the radiotherapy team had done enough to involve people to such an extent that they created a situation in which potential students felt they had a vested interest in the developing course. This is an excellent indicator of effective engagement; but there is certainly food for thought here in relation to our need to manage expectations of stakeholders and to alert them to the potential for positive and less positive progress in relation to course design.


VOXUR, Uni of Greenwich, T-SPARC Pilots and an example VOXUR clip from one of our pilot teams!

voxurApologies that this post is a little delayed!

In early December I had a trip down to meet the UG-Flex project team and colleagues at the University of Greenwich to give them a tech-demo with one of T-SPARCs VOXUR units. UG-Flex wanted to showcase the equipment to a group of colleagues to generate interest in the use of video based technologies such as the VOXURs that T-SPARC are advocating the use of during stakeholder engagement activities in the course design and approval process at BCU. UG-Flex borrowed the unit for several weeks over the Christmas period, hopefully long enough for it to have made an impact on potential users and highlighted the benefits to them that are achievable through the effective use of this type of technology.

A link to the Greenwich blog can be found here.

To give you an example of the types of rich response you can expect to gather from this type of stakeholder engagement activity, I’ve hyper-linked (bottom of page) to a video edit produced in collaboration with our pilot course team, the Psychology Graduate Diploma that is being developed here at BCU.

During this particular exercise, 20 students responded to a series of 15 questions (on curriculum design related issues) on the VOXUR units over a 5 day period when it was convenient for them to take 15 minutes or so out of their day. The results speak for themselves and will be an invaluable source of data to the course team whilst they progress through the course design process. Although these responses may not be surprising in their content, the ease of capture is hard to replicate and the transparent authenticity of student opinion is represented in a way that is difficult to achieve by other means such as a questionnaires. The videos will be shared back to the students at some point in the near future (using view profiles on our e-portfolio Mahara) to show them how their input was used in the shaping of the new course. This will demonstrate to students what it means to have their voices represented authentically.

In this example video edit, students were asked for their opinions on:

‘How can assessment feedback mechanisms be improved on your programme?’

Click here for a link to the .wmv file

Click here for a link to the .mp4 file

All comments welcomed.


Flip Camera Project is Showcased in BCU Student Services Newsletter!

The Flip camera diary project focusing on students with disabilities experiences (of issues such as curriculum design) has received internal recognition in the Birmingham City University Student Services spring newsletter. The article at the top of the newsletter informs staff and students of the interesting and worthwhile work we are undertaking in collaboration with our 2 Student Academic Partners. This is a great showcase that we are hoping will generate more internal interest in the project .

We also feel that these type of projects are a great way to engage with a range of staff and students to encourage the use of video equipment to capture stakeholder opinion and get them used to recording and being recorded.

An excerpt from the newsletter can be found below:

The Student Experience: Life as a disabled student

Building on the successful use of Flip video cameras for students to give their feedback on our first ever Welcome Day, the Disability Support Team is working with disabled students and CELT on a Student Academic Partners Scheme project. From induction to the end of their first year, disabled students are using Flip cameras to record their thoughts about life as a student, including any social or academic challenges they meet. The information gathered will enable the Disability Support Team to produce a film for applicants and new students. We also hope to learn more about the challenges of the first year, and thus develop new ways to support disabled students.


An Award for the Student Academic Partners Project

Student Academic Partners is a scheme which employs students to work in partnership with staff on learning and teaching development projects across the University. T-SPARC team members have been heavily involved in the development of the scheme and we are encouraging T-SPARC pilot projects to engage students through the scheme. Initial projects have engaged student academic partners in curriculum design as researchers working with staff to collect and collate student views and to trial particular technologies and we hope to employ further students to engage with other course design teams at the University.

Given the success of the project internally we were delighted to receive external recognition in the form of a Times Higher Education (THE) Award at the recent 2010 awards ceremony. The scheme was given the award for ‘Outstanding Support for Students’ category. In their summary, the impressed judging panel said the scheme was a “truly outstanding example to others across the sector”.

SAP photo1


A Stuffed Brummy Camel

Birmingham City University CAMEL Meeting

28th – 29th September 2010

Day 1

On day one of our CAMEL meeting, we welcomed Cluster B* to our rather scenic City South Campus, where our Faculty of Health is based, set in the leafy outer suburbs of the city centre in Edgbaston.

We had a quick catch up and an introduction to David Lloyd, the new project manager of the PALET project from Cardiff University and then got down to the project updates. It was good to hear how the projects were progressing, as it had been 6 months since our last CAMEL meeting, although we have tried to stay in touch through Twitter, email and the odd programme meeting.

After our obligatory ‘Calzon quitao’ discussion, (which roughly translates to ‘with pants down’ but is used in this instance more as ‘The naked truth’) we had a session to consider our reflections at this mid way point. A few people spoke about how things had changed a lot since first starting out on the project, but that was not necessarily a bad thing as so much had been learned from these experiences.

After a break we then split into 3 discussion groups and went on to identify a number of common themes emerging from our projects using mind mapping software XMind. It was quite a valuable session as it put into perspective a lot of the outcomes that we are experiencing that would not have been obvious from the start of the project.

After quite an intensive day reflecting on where we are and how far we have come, we had a nice relaxing time strolling around the beautiful botanical gardens with a drinks and canapés reception. We even met a few parrots on the way.  Unfortunately managed to over order on the canapés so this ended up as our starter rather than a pre-starter! So the Birmingham Camel meeting will forever go down in history as the ‘Stuffed Brummy Camel!’

Day 2

On the second day we wanted to introduce the rest of the cluster to the work that our department, the Centre for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching (CELT) has been doing around the learning community. For a while now we have been exploring the concept of students as equal collaborators and partners rather than as consumers and that was the basis for the creation of the Student Academic Partners scheme (SAP).

Beccy presented an introduction to the scheme and how it fits in with T-SPARC to the rest of the cluster. We hope that through the SAP scheme we can encourage students to become more engaged in curriculum design. Since this CAMEL meeting the SAP scheme has won the Times Higher Education award for ‘outstanding support for students’ so it is a project that we are all very proud of. You can find out more information on the SAP scheme in our blog post.

During this session we also introduced the cluster to one of our students, Tom, who is currently taking part in a SAP project with Oliver. They’re working together with various technologies to log student experience throughout the induction period.

Whilst this discussion was going on, Paul worked on the mind maps the three groups had created from day one and merged them all to create a huge cluster B mind map of emerging themes.

We are looking forward to seeing Cluster B again soon.

*City University London, University of Greenwich, Cardiff University and Cambridge University


Stakeholder Engagement Update – Students

The past few weeks have seen some increased activity using the VOXUR video units, and some initial planning for the deployment of two batches of Flip cameras into two separate student populations. The aim of these activities is to capture student expectations and experiences of university life, and identify areas where we can influence the design of curricula to better suit the needs of the students. This preliminary work is looking into the induction processes here at Birmingham City University, but it is envisaged that this work will go on to inform further investigative projects into ongoing student experience.

The project has been bolstered by a successful (internal) application to run the project as a Student Academic Partners (SAP) scheme. We were lucky enough to be able to identify two media students before the start of the new academic year with expertise in video editing techniques to take up the rolls of the SAPs. They have been an integral part in the development of the methodology for capturing the video data and will continue to collaborate with other university staff through the collation, analysis and evaluation of the data collected. This work is also in keeping with the principles outlined in our stakeholder engagement model, giving students a powerful voice, allowing them to work alongside members of staff undertaking curriculum design activities.

Details of the activity:


  • Several groups of students are being approached to use the VOXUR units to offer narrative accounts relating to induction and transition:
    • Faculty of Health
    • BIAD (Birmingham Institute of Art and Design)
    • TEE (Technology, Engineering and the Environment)
    • Students with disabilities
    • International students
    • Student parents
    • Mature students
  • Students are asked a series of generic questions on student induction (co-written and presented by one of the SAPs), followed by more specific questions to be asked relating to faculty/support services specific areas of interest.

Flip cameras

  • Being deployed to a group of five international Students – we will identify five students at the start of each intake to take part in the study:
    • July/ August
    • September
    • November/December
    • January/February
  • Being deployed to a group of between five and ten students with registered disabilities
    • This will be an ongoing study with the students for approximately ten months

Early Feedback from VOXUR Units

After conducting a ‘pilot day’ within the Faculty of Health (with around twenty five respondents engaging with the VOXUR questionnaire), we have now identified a number of factors that we are considering and deciding how best to address them when redeploying the VOXURs.

  • We asked our SAPs  to approach students and explain what the project is about in an effort to put respondents at ease and encourage them to take part.
  • Location
    • Students appeared to be more at ease responding to questions when they were approached and were able to respond in a bustling social environment such as the Students Union. They seemed less at ease responding in a quiet, empty room.
    • They seemed to be less averse to being approached in this environment compared to an empty corridor.
    • However, although the respondents seemed more amenable to Voxur in a social atmosphere such as the Students Union, they did prefer to answer the questions with a degree of privacy, separated from their peers. To accommodate for this we erected some large notice boards in a U configuration in the SU to allow them this privacy. As the event became busier, we began to have issues with higher levels of background noise, and we discovered whilst playing back some of the videos during the morning that the background noise was becoming increasingly distracting and was beginning to drown out the voice of the respondent. We feel that engaging with students in a comfortable environment, on their terms is vital, and for this reason we are now looking into the purchase of an inflatable interview pod to help reduce these background noise levels whilst maintaining a presence in a social space.

All of these issues will be followed-up on and reported back initially via this blog.

Finally, do you have any experience of using inflatable interview pods or any similar alternatives? If so, let us know your thoughts and your experiences of using them. Did you find the noise reducing properties adequate? Were there any other issues you came across whilst using them?

Any feedback would be much appreciated


Updating Our Stakeholder Engagement Model

Some people may be aware that as part of the T-SPARC project we have adapted a model of stakeholder engagement to support the development of our work in this area. We’ve been having another look at the model this week and tweaking it a little bit so it seemed a good time for a blog post.

Through some previous work at the University we came across a model for learner engagement by FutureLab, an organisation which works with the schools sector in the UK. I’d found the model really useful in my work on student engagement in HE and we felt that it could be adapted to inform the way we engaged stakeholders within the context of the T-SPARC project.

Our model ranges from ‘notify’ in which stakeholders may encounter some publicity around a project, to ‘empower’ in which stakeholders set agendas for change. The model can be used to consider the most appropriate strategy for engaging stakeholders in a particular context. Where possible we’ve aimed to locate engagement at the right hand side of the table as this offers long term project sustainability.

Since the development of the model we’ve found that we consistently use the model to benchmark our activity. We’ve used the model in a number of ways so far within the project:

  • To shape our philosophy for involving staff and students at the University in the development of the project design and its priorities
  • As a resource to encourage staff to think about their engagement with students and employers in the development of programmes
  • To consider our approach to the use of technology with stakeholders. The model has helped us to consider the level of involvement required at a particular level. Through Twitter and the blog we are able to keep in touch with those stakeholders at the ‘inform’ level. Whereas through the Student Academic Partners scheme students will be employed to use Flip Cameras, Voxur units and other technology to develop curriculum in collaboration with staff.

I’m really interested to hear about ways that others are engaging stakeholders so please feel free to leave comments.


New Post (2) from Kate Chadwick, Joint PG Lead for Radiotherapy

The first of our Voxur units went out to a clinical department last Thursday to gain the opinions of clinical staff on what they want out to get out of postgraduate study.  I had found recording the questions onto the Voxur unit very simple and it took me only 30 minutes from start to finish although I did encounter some issues with reviewing the questions as they would appear to the respondent.  However, working around this only took me another 30 minutes then the unit was ready to take out.  I did feel that people unfamiliar with the unit might need some prompts on how to get started so I devised a prompt sheet to go out with it.

Six staff members did take part and the responses received were very useful with some interesting, unexpected information.  Comments from the respondents suggested careful wording of questions was necessary to avoid single word yes/no answers although this is not always possible depending on the type of information you wish to gather.  Many clinical staff refused to participate due to a fear of appearing on camera, not due to anonymity reasons.

The unit went out to another clinical department today so I will post an update once we have some more respondents and we come to collate the data.

Kate Chadwick

Post from Kate Chadwick, Joint PG Lead for Radiotherapy – Experiences so far

As a pilot for the T-SPARC project, myself and my colleague Clair Brackstone have been implementing some of the new technologies in the approval process for our proposed MSc in Radiotherapy.  We used a flip camera to record a meeting with clinical Radiotherapy colleagues from across the Midlands to document their views on which proposed modules would be viable, what content they would like to see in the modules and any areas we haven’t covered which could become new modules.  We gave the clinical staff members the opportunity to refuse to be videoed but no-one did.  We did experience some teething problems, such as our suboptimal placement of the camera due to our concerns over the sound quality, but we found that we could place the camera at the opposite end of the room and still capture voices in good enough quality to be heard once transferred to the computer.

We have also found the free website Survey Monkey to be an invaluable tool to collect similar information from our clinical colleagues nationwide and this has given a far better response rate than the back-up paper copies we also distributed.  This website also has the facility to analyse data (for a small fee) which will drastically reduce the time we will spend converting the information into a more useable format.

Currently we are in the process of sending a VOXUR unit out to our local clinical departments to gain feedback from radiographers so watch this space for an update on their usefulness…!

Kate Chadwick