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Innovation spaces at Monash University

The Innovation Studio is a purpose designed building in which staff and students may work together to design and develop innovative products and services for the university.

It is used by eSolutions and the Education Innovation Group with student innovators. Ashley Keleher was the driving force behind setting up the studio. Pasquale Stella (Senior UX Designer & Innovation Studio Manager, Digital Transformation Group) now manages the studio.

They have a focus on developing excellent student services. This set of principles is at the heart of Monash approach. They are clearly displayed in many prominent locations, in physical space and online:

Student experience design principles
We have a student-centred approach that fits student need.
Our processes are simple, consistent, intuitive and efficient.
We proactively foster student communities, capability and success.
Our services are available anytime, anywhere, on any device.
We monitor and manage our services.

The studio itself is well designed as a base for innovation projects. There are a mix of formal and informal working areas, videoconferencing, lots of writable surfaces, equipment that can be used by projects in the studio, and areas that can be reconfigured for prototyping activities. The long high table is especially useful for storyboarding. A HTC Vive VR kit is permanently set up.

The Monash Generator is an initiative designed to support student enterprise projects. They have a programme of 3 day Generator events, ongoing support, and work areas available for projects to use. This includes Monash alumni as well as current students. We met Helena Fern, Program Manager at the Generator.

Monash Teaching and Learning Building

The Education Building is a new state-of-the-art, purpose-designed, building at the heart of the Monash Campus. It seems to be approximately three time bigger than the Oculus Building in surface area, and three stories tall. Most significantly, it is home to the Office of Learning and Teaching (including the Monash Academy, the teaching enhancement unit, and the Education Innovations Group who support learning tech), who share a floor of the building with the Faculty of Education. The OLT has excellent office space, and its own dedicated facilities, including a high-specification teaching space and a microstudio set up for easy, self-service, video production. They were also actively involved in the design of the learning spaces in the building, and used design thinking prototyping methods.

The building is furnished and equipped to a very high standard. This includes one more conventional large conference-style room (above), which is especially luxurious (note the lighting). But most of the rooms are more innovative. They all share a spaciousness – seating density is lower than British universities.

The teaching rooms in the building include a full range of sizes, from small meeting rooms to large lecture theatres. They are well equipped, and feature many writable surfaces – including tables that act as whiteboards. Tables and chairs are all equipped with wheels, which along with the spaciousness of the rooms, allows for easy reconfigurability. Décor is bright, modern and well-thought-out, with attention to detail (demonstrated in conversations with the Education Innovations team, they have a very designerly approach). The spaces were developed through an iterative open prototyping process, giving staff and students real opportunities to shape the evolving designs.

The lecture theatres are designed to support peer-to-peer collaborative active learning. Clustered seating, with shared tables (and power sockets), is the default. Chairs and tables all have wheels. Chairs include a small platform for storing bags underneath.

Writable table, and chair with integrated bag storage.

We also found that a mix of furniture styles is common, with softer seating appearing alongside more conventional furniture in medium sized teaching rooms.

The big lecture theatres feature presentation tables at the front – large writable surfaces with a roof-mounted visualiser. Drawings, texts and objects may be placed on the tables and the visualiser used to display them on the big screen. The visualiser may be moved around, zoomed in and out, as needed. The presentation table also has drawers with useful equipment, including iPads charged-up and ready to use.

In smaller rooms, areas of wall space are marked with subtle corner markers, showing where a visualiser may capture and project onto the big screen. Rooms are equipped with a Solstice-style wireless projection system called MirrorOp (however, I couldn’t get it to work, even with the assistance of an AV technician).

One of the larger lecture theatres is constructed as a “lecture in the round” approach, with the audience surrounding the lecturer, who has a writable presentation table from which to operate.

Lecture live capture is used by default – at Monash the emphasis seems to be on live streaming of lectures more than recording. They are moving to Panopto, away from Echo 360, as they are unhappy with the service and attitude of the Echo 360 company – they do not like the way Echo 360 have been trying to expand the platform towards being a VLE, locking-in academic content and student data.

Videoconferencing facilities seem to be available in most rooms, using the Zoom system, which has become part of the culture at Monash (we heard it casually referred to in several conversations, it is just normal to use it).

Exploring the Monash campuses

We visited the two main campuses, both in Melbourne. Clayton seems to be a bit smaller than Warwick, with less student accommodation apparent. The buildings are more closely placed, and generally taller than Warwick buildings. The buildings are designed to a high-tech aesthetic, and are clearly intended to make a statement.

The buildings are interconnected with a network of walkways, which are well signposted and given their own unique characteristics – such as Rainforest Walk. There are small gardens and many social spaces scattered around, along with a variety of cafes and restaurants.

Navigating Clayton is quite easy. Getting to the nearby Caulfield Campus took a while by bus, and then a return by taxi. The roads are busy, but not jammed in the morning. At Caulfied we visited the design school, which has a large multi-story building. On the ground floor there are maker-space styles workshops for students, with prototyping tools including laser cutters and 3D printers. Students are allowed to use these unsupervised and in their own time.

General observations about Monash

In October 2018 I visited Monash University in Melbourne, as part of a Warwick/Monash project investigating immersive technologies in engineering education (with Graeme Knowles of WMG and Irwyn Shepherd of Monash). Here’s some general observations made during the week of meetings and exploration.

There seems to be more of an emphasis on shared spaces and facilities. Department buildings were less obvious. We had a tour of the design school facilities, which are big and well developed, but from the outset they emphasised their openness and the fact that they collaborate across the university.

The university is clean, orderly and calm. Smoking is not allowed on campus. In the evenings there were no signs of anti social behaviour. The student culture is much less oriented towards alcohol. There are fewer bars, and drinking in public seems not to be at all present.

They build spaces around people, designed to fit with practices and services.

People identify with what they do more than what there position is within the organisation. That made it hard to understand the organisation. But it looks like they collaborate better. They are much more goal oriented, and seem to have a clearer sense of why they are innovating and what they collectively want to achieve.

Kris Ryan (Academic Director of Monash Education Innovation, but also a professor in Engineering) seems to be introducing a more systematic and data driven approach to educational innovation. Service oriented. Student oriented.

There is more of a focus on live face to face events (including videoconferencing), rather than online systems.

Design Thinking, and designerly communications and activities, seem to be embedded into the Monash way. At the start of the second session of the conference, the presenter announced that we would use a “design thinking approach”, and this just seemed entirely normal to the participants.

Using a Catchbox mic to change the dynamic in a lecture

I used the new Catchbox mic (borrowed from our AV team) last week, and it was great. It is a soft throwable mic in a cube. This is now available for loan to all Warwick Uni teachers. Support was provided by Jordan Smith, who also tweaked the volume settings a little during the session to get it perfect. You can find out more here:

I used it as part of a lecture, which was recorded using Echo360 lecture capture. That means that the student voices (but not faces) were included in the recording. Throwing the mic out to the students, and getting them to throw it to each other, did change the dynamic in the classroom, positively. It was fun. Although I did have to be careful not to knock over coffee cups.

You can hear it in action in the Echo 360 recording below. You can hear a small amount of feedback noise in the recording, this I learned is caused by holding the Catchbox too close to the lavalier radio mic – I think solved by avoiding pointing the two mics towards each other.


Why study philosophy? Advice for prospective students

I was asked by our philosophy department to write an almuni profile, to be used at open days etc. This is it, with an explanation of why I think philosophy is such a useful subject to study

Dr Robert O’Toole NTF, Philosophy 1991-1994

I studied Philosophy at Warwick, gaining a first, between 1991 and 1994. In 2015 I completed a PhD on Design Thinking. I’ve worked at Oxford University and Warwick as a pioneer in the field of learning technologies. My current role as Senior Academic Technologist and National Teaching Fellow at Warwick is a kind of consultancy and strategy role, aiming to improve how we do teaching, and to enhance the technologies and services that we provide. It’s an extremely varied, exciting and challenging role that draws on my capability for seeking and synthesising information from many sources, critical and creative thinking, facilitating collaborations, and designing innovative events, systems and services. In fact, it depends upon all the skills that I first developed through studying Philosophy at Warwick!

I made sure that I got the most out of those three years, and took all of the opportunities available. I was President of the Philosophy Society for two years, and organised and chaired lectures and seminars with many guest philosophers, often big names, from around the world. I now get paid a lot of money to do very similar work. I also edited and wrote for our newsletter, helped to set up a magazine/journal, and did my own independent research – all very much like the work that I now do. I’ve got a really good, and highly paid job, with an international profile, because of this. Most importantly, I can apply those powerful philosophical skills, along with a rare combination of other capabilities (designing, IT, teaching, communications, consultancy, leadership) – the kind combination of skills that is most sought after by the best employers today.


How I fell in and out of love with the iPad Mini: a self-reflective design study

By Dr. Robert O’Toole

When I started my PhD in 2010 the bag that I carried around with me everywhere contained the following tools:

Apple iPad Mini 2
Stylus (for writing and drawing in the iPad)
Apple Bluetooth keyboard
Apple iPhone 4S
Canon Ixus compact digital camera

By the time that I finished my PhD in 2015 this had transformed into:

13” Apple MacBook Pro
Apple iPhone 7

It wasn’t that my choice of tools was somehow wrong in 2010. Rather, it was me that changed – my needs, practices, ambitions. When that happens, it’s useful to reflect on the transformation. There might be useful design knowledge to be uncovered about how tools, practices and people fit together differently over time. We might try, as Microsoft have done so, to use that design knowledge to create a device that is broad enough in functionality to the fuller range of needs, to fit in all possible cases. Or we might place more of an emphasis on optimising the fit of each device to a smaller niche. Apple are closer to this quality-first strategy. In any case, we (consumers and producers) need to drive our design decisions based upon an understanding of how tools, services, platforms and content:

  1. fits with the evolving capabilities, needs and ambitions of people;
  2. sticks with them over sufficient time to justify the cost and effort needed to choose and adopt new things;
  3. spread to other people and other contexts, so that more people are able to benefit from the advantages offered;
  4. grows our collective capability to reflect upon the designs that we use, improve them and change them where necessary.

Let’s think about my technology journey, and then think about yours and where it might go next. Back in 2010 I can remember doing a lot of creative thinking, which really means a lot of speculative exploration of ideas, information…all kinds of things, during the process of getting my research into shape. Kick-starting a PhD is in fact nothing like the deterministic process it is claimed to be – you rarely start with a research question fully formed and proceed in a linear fashion from there onwards. Some disciplines are more emergent than others – but even in science there’s great scope for things to change as research proceeds. For me, at the start, I had to capture inputs from many sources. I actually started with an iPad 2, with its bigger screen. The original iPad was of no use. It lacked a key feature without which it would never fit with me: a camera. To be able to photograph things, including pages from books, copy them onto a canvas alongside other images and content, and annotate – that was essential. Then I learned to take screenshots on the iPad. So, I could clip text from Kindle books, PDFs and web pages. Sound recordings, and even video, were occasionally added to the mix. The iPad, especially the Mini, was so convenient a digital canvas, so instantaneously accessible, that it dramatically accelerated the creative aspect of my research. It proved to be what designers call a “ubiquitous computing” device – everywhere, all the time, able to mediate between the digital and the analogue.

The addition of a Bluetooth keyboard to my iPad Mini added something even more powerful – the ability to swiftly move from creative, speculative, playful mode to a more concentrated and serious writing of texts. In her classic book Computer as Theatre, which is a seminal text for interface designers, Brenda Laurel shows how the computer may usefully contain these two modes, and provide conduits from playfulness to seriousness and back when writing (or designing) a document:

“Seriousness in human-computer activities is a thresholdy thing. “Serious” and “non-serious” or “playful” activities can occur within the same context and at different stages in the same basic activity. I fool around with the layout of a document, for instance, experimenting with different fonts and paragraph styles, the placement of illustrations, perhaps even the structural divisions of the paper. At the point at which I make a creative decision and wish to implement a certain feature of the design, I experience a “mode swing” (like a “mood swing”, only different) toward greater “seriousness”. I may then swing back to a “fooling around” mode as I evaluate the effects of a choice on the evolving document.” (Laurel, 2013)

The iPad Mini was a perfect fit when my work focussed more upon the creative side of this seriousness/playfulness dynamic. It fitted with me, my needs and my ambitions (to write an extremely original PhD) perfectly.

Another revolutionary aspect of Apple’s implementation of mobile computing proved to exploit Laurel’s design principle, with massive implications for how we now expect the world to work. The App Store, through which apps are found and installed onto iOS devices, was at the time astonishing. Every other similar mobile platform has now copied it, and transferred it to more sedentary types of computer. Before the App Store, software spread very, very, slowly. Just a few years back in time and we had to buy software by going down to a shop or ordering a CD from the Internet, or even a magazine. But that’s not the most interesting thing about the App Store. It makes innovation spread fast. Many times, I have learned about an app from someone I am talking to, sometimes even a complete stranger, and within seconds I have it on my device. I can explore it, evaluate it, and perhaps very quickly delete it. The App Store approach introduced the dynamic of playfulness and seriousness into the software (and technology-practice) retail business. Many times, I played with an app. A few times I found that it fitted perfectly, or even transformed my understanding of my own needs and ambitions. Stop-motion animation is a good example. I had no idea I would like doing it and actually find it useful, until I tried an app. And then I got serious about it. The iPad Mini proved to be a superb tool for growing my own design capabilities.

So, what happened? A thesis, that’s what. The “fit” between my needs, capabilities, ambitions shifted a little. The MacBook Pro is a little more suited to writing huge quantities of academic text quickly. The keyboard is especially good. The screen is a bit larger. And I can sweep between desktops instantly with a movement over the trackpad. This is especially useful when moving between source materials and a focus back onto the text. At the same time, I started to produce a lot of short videos for my work. There is a version of iMovie for the iPad, but the Mac version is faster and more fully featured. A few other things acted to nudge the balance, and by 2015 the iPad Mini had been donated to my son. The iPhone 7, especially with its superb camera, made up for some of the missing features. I often read and annotate Kindle books with it. I can take a photo on the iPhone, and using the cloud, get it into a canvas on the MacBook almost instantly. It’s good enough. I’ve also started using Keynote, Apple’s (much more stylish) equivalent of PowerPoint. I use it’s diagramming and image manipulation features to do playful designs that can easily become something to use seriously.

What of the future? I haven’t yet tried a Microsoft Surface device, which sits somewhere in between the MacBook and the iPad. Although the astonishing reliability of the MacBook is encouraging me to stick with it for now.

20 ways to use ResponseWare

The following activities may be conducted using ResponseWare:

1. Attendance registration – students, signed into the system using their username and password, indicate their presence in the room in response to an attendance poll, the teacher sees a list of students who are present and a list of those who are not, the data may then be analysed, downloaded, or uploaded through a VLE integration (e.g. Moodle).

2. Revision exercises – may occur towards the end of a module, near to exam time, or regularly throughout, often at the start of a lecture to revise what was covered in a previous lecture.

3. Introduction, ice-breaker, warm-up – an intensive series of questions at the start of a lecture, to get the students in the right frame of mind.

4. Maths and statistics – ResponseWare includes a ‘numeric response’ type of question, in which students must respond with the correct number, or within a specified range.

5. Enhancing student engagement by more frequently testing understanding and providing micro-feedback – the most common use of ResponseWare, the aim is to prevent teacher-actions and student-understanding disengaging, as the teacher is able to quickly judge if the students have understood a topic and are ready to move on, and the student is able to recognise their own understanding and progress.

6. Peer learning – the teacher asks the students to discuss a question before, or sometimes after, they answer it, perhaps asking them to discuss their response with someone who has a different response (the method pioneered by Professor Eric Mazur of Harvard University).

7. Confidence-based testing – the teacher poses a question, does not immediately provide the answer, asks the students to state how confident they are (via a Likert scale question in ResponseWare), then reveals the answer and gets the students to reflect on the accuracy of their self-efficacy assessment (especially important in disciplines such as medical training, but also used in Economics – pioneered by Dr Fabio Arico of UEA to address the Dunning-Kruger effect amongst students).

8. Rhetorical questioning – the teacher poses a question that is deliberately designed to highlight misconceptions, contentions, false assumptions, leading to deeper investigation and discussion, and potentially to dispelling errors that prevent students from mastering threshold concepts.

9. Gathering creative responses – ResponseWare includes several mechanisms for gathering ideas from the audience, including a system that builds a word cloud from the responses.

10. Decision making – allow students to make choices, with straightforward voting on a list of options or arranging options into ‘priority rankings’.

11. Crowdsourcing choices and definitions – questions and answers can easily be added during a session, meaning that we can gather ideas from students (for example alternative definitions of a word), add them as questions, and get them to vote on them (this has been used at Warwick in medical research).

12. Working against the clock – the teacher is in control of how long students have to respond to a question, they can do this manually, or add a countdown timer, thus encouraging the students to think fast – this can be used within a rhetorical question to force students to respond intuitively or based on perhaps unsound assumptions.

13. Enhancing student engagement through competitions – competitions may be between individuals or the class may be divided (before or during the live session) into teams, points awarded for correct answers, and scores automatically compiled into a leader board.

14. Speed scoring – when the teacher records and tracks individual student performance, or polling is used within a competition, points scored may be adjusted for speed, so that faster responses gain higher grades.

15. Gathering instant student feedback – in addition to making inferences based upon responses to ordinary questions, the teacher may explicitly ask for feedback at any time during a lecture, simply by adding an anonymous feedback question.

16. Module evaluation – more comprehensive feedback surveys may be conducted quickly and efficiently at any time, combining the benefits of gathering feedback in-class (not later online) with the benefits gained by doing this in a digital (not paper) format.

17. Learner/learning analytics – with the ability to download data into Excel or Access (as csv files) or upload data into the VLE, we may easily apply sophisticated analysis algorithms to data from individual or multiple lectures, looking at learning gain and other dimensions from an individual student or group perspective.

18. Demographic learner/learning analytics – we can create demographic groupings before or during lectures, and analyse responses accordingly (for example, if we are teaching students from two different disciplines, we can analyse the differences between their responses).

19. Evaluating the impact of specific teaching and learning activities – using the learning analytics potential of ResponseWare to evaluate the efficacy of specific teaching techniques and activities, testing (for example) the constructive alignment (Biggs) between Intended Learning Outcomes, Learner Activities and Assessment Activities.

20. Social, outreach and fun uses – we have also seen ResponseWare used in many contexts beyond the conventional lecture, as it is an easy to use and fun set of tools.