Requirements gathering: listen, challenge, playback

Requirements gathering, sounds easy. Ask people what they want and gather their answers together. But how do you know you’ve got the right information?

People are creatures of habit and it’s harder than it may seem to take Picyourself out of the here and now. Not everyone is a natural futurist. That’s why understanding existing issues is so important.

Challenging the absolute

Everyone knows what’s wrong with their current set up. This is valuable information. The activity can be done in a one-to-one or a facilitated group discussion.

Either way, face-to-face is definitely best as requirements gathering isn’t writing up a wish list. It’s a conversation.

By challenging absolute statements you can dig deeper and transform an issue into a requirement. When recently working with staff reviewing their teaching spaces the following statement was made

‘I can’t see what’s going on around the lab’.

We then used the following questions to probe deeper

  • What do you need to see?
  • Why do you need to see it?
  • How do you get round this issue?
  • Do others share your view?

The answers to which provided the requirement for a clear line of sight from teaching position to the whole lab.

Playback and challenge further

It’s imperative not to be side tracked by solutions at this point. What does need to happen is to loop the conversation back round. Playback the requirement and challenge further.

A useful activity is to keep a log of the requirements detailing where it originated along with the narrative to any decisions. Tracking tools like JiRA or Trello are great but Excel will also do the trick.

As there will have to be a prioritisation of requirements at some point, mapping each requirement to a benefit will really help. Will this save time, money or improve student experience?

With all this focused review of the detail we mustn’t loose sight of the bigger picture. Make sure your low level requirement doesn’t conflict with your department or institutional strategic goals.

Is there an app for that?

A requirement to enable large numbers of students to practice simple lab techniques led us to consider virtual labs.  This would solve some logistical issues e.g timetabling and resource management. However, in this particular example the bigger picture illustrated by data from the National Student Survey (NSS) indicates that students value lab time, as it provides more contact opportunities with teaching staff. This isn’t to say that virtual labs should be ruled out as a solution. Just that the requirement still needs to be worked through.

There’s not an app that can do this activity for you. It’s all about communication and a repeatable process of listen, challenge and playback.

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Posted in Technology Enhanced Learning

Making learning accessible through technology

How can we make learning easier for everyone?

We all experience barriers to learning, but for some of us these challenges mean that we require additional support in order to complete everyday tasks pertaining to work or study.

While everyone working in education has a responsibility to promote inclusivity and make learning as accessible as possible, it is also important to recognise that accessibility tools can be used by anyone to increase their productivity.

Here at the University of Sussex, we recently invited Alistair McNaught from the Joint Information Systems Committee (Jisc) to deliver a workshop on how technology can enable us to increase productivity and overcome barriers to learning.

This blog post will attempt to summarise some of the most important tools introduced in this workshop and provide some brief suggestions about how these could be used in academic contexts.  

  1. Make text more readable

Learners struggle with reading for a variety of reasons, such as dyslexia or visual impairment, but giving students the ability to customise the format and appearance of a text allows them to experience it in a way that is more accessible to them.

Readability, available both as a browser extension and multi-platform app, transforms any webpage into a cleaner format for reading. This is particularly useful for making text on crowded or ad-heavy websites more readable.

Before Readability:

Daily Mail news image

Busy text excerpt taken from Daily Mail

The same article after Readability:


An easier to read version

If you want to convert text files, websites or plain text into another more accessible file type, then RoboBraille provides a useful service with a wide variety of output options.

  1. Adjust contrast and colours to be easier on the eyes

The High Contrast extension for Chrome allows you to use high-contrast color filters which make it easier to read text. To achieve a similar effect, you can also use high contrast mode in Windows or the invert colours feature of the magnify tool in Windows.


Original article

F.lux makes your computer’s display adapt its colour to the time of day. This is easier on your eyes and helps improve your quality of sleep by reducing the amount of blue light that your eyes are exposed to in the evening. For mobile devices, the Twilight app on Android and Night Shift mode in iOS 9.3 and above serve a function.

If you just want to magnify the size of the text, then Virtual Magnifying Glass or ZoomIt are useful applications. This can be very useful when teaching or giving presentations, especially when displaying small text which cannot be resized or enlarging a particular part of an image.

  1. Increase your reading speed

Spreeder, and the Chrome extension Spreed, increase reading speed by displaying text rapidly, one word at a time, in the centre of the screen. They improve accuracy by highlighting particular letters and allow you to read without your eyes scanning across the page.

Demo of Spreed:


  1. Listen, rather than read, with text-to-speech

Text-to-speech software allows you to have a computer generated voice read the text aloud for you. This allows you to continue reading while riding your bike or cooking the dinner, but is especially useful for proofreading your writing, because you often hear errors that your eyes would unconsciously correct.

Balabolka is a fantastic text-to-speech app which has a portable version and allows you to convert any text into an audio file.

If you want text-to-speech in your browser, Chrome Speak and Claroread are both good options. If you want text-to-speech in Microsoft Word, the Speak function is great, but very well hidden: it can be found under File > Options > Quick Access Toolbar > Choose Commands from: All Commands > Speak.

Introduction to Balabolka

  1. Use your voice to type

Sometimes being able to dictate to a device and have it transform your speech into text can be a very useful feature. A number of solutions exist for this, including the voice typing function in Google Docs, Dragon Naturally Speaking and Voicenote II. See our previous post ‘Speak’ your documents with Google Voice Typing’.

  1. Use tools that predict words as you type them

Dicom is a word completion tool designed to make it easier to type words with fewer keystrokes. As you type, it predicts the words you are typing and displays possible options; this can speed up your typing, but can also assist with spelling and variation in word forms. See a short video clip

  1. Use Portable Apps to bring your customisations with you

Portable apps are software applications which run, without installation, directly from your USB stick; this allows you to bring a custom package of software with you to run from any computer. The Portable Freeware Collection is perhaps the most comprehensive repository available.

However, if you want a suite of apps which comes with a launcher and app manager, then Portableapps and Liberkey are an excellent place to start.

Finally, My Study Bar provides an all-in-one package of portable accessibility apps tailored for academic study.


My Study Bar: a tool to help students with studying, reading and writing.

Overall, these tools can empower educators to make learning easier, more productive and more accessible. If accessibility applications can help us transform academic study into something that is not exclusive or difficult, but easy and accessible to all, then why don’t we make them part of the environment at all academic institutions?

Do you have any other accessibility and productivity apps to suggest? Or do you have any questions about the apps presented here? Join the discussion by replying to this post or emailing us at

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Posted in Technology Enhanced Learning

Doing it Digitally – Summer

flickr photo by Martin Snicer Photography shared under a Creative Commons (BY-ND) license

One way to develop your digital capabilities is to carry out familiar activities using digital tools. We already offered some examples of this approach in Doing it digitally – presentations and in this post I’ll be looking at a range of ways that you can have a digital summer.  Read more ›

Posted in Learning Design, Technology Enhanced Learning

Get even more from Poll Everywhere – LaTeX, Surveys and more…

Polling and quizzing tools can be a great way to increase interactivity and engagement in classes, in particular in large lectures. 

Poll Everywhere is a useful tool which takes advantage of the mobile devices that students already use, affords students anonymity and encourages interaction between peers.

To learn more about the benefits of in class voting systems, read our post from September 2015, Encouraging student engagement through interactive lectures. Read more ›

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Posted in Learning Design, Polling tools, Technology Enhanced Learning

Constructively aligning criterion feedback using Turnitin

Reinforcing feedback. flickr photo by Jurgen Appelo shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Implementing processes to support the electronic management of assessment has been a priority for many universities and colleges in recent years, with many making use of Turnitin as a means of checking the originality of submitted work and providing feedback to students.  

The University of Sussex have been using Turnitin in this manner since the introduction of e-submission and e-feedback at the start of the 2014-15 academic year.

The following article will look at ideas and best practice for using Turnitin’s GradeMark software (soon to be renamed Feedback Studio) to constructively align marks and feedback to a module’s intended learning outcomes.  Read more ›

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Posted in Marking and assessment, Technology Enhanced Learning

Get connected – engaging with online communities

The connected learner

The Networked Teacher, flickr photo by courosa shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

‘Connectedness’ is the very essence of the social web.  Digital technologies have an important role in mediating connections but it is important to recognise that it is the connections that these tools facilitate that are important and not the tools themselves.

This notion was at the heart of Alec Couros’ seminal work on The Networked Teacher emerging from his PhD research and which has framed much of the discourse around connected education and the value of professional learning networks (PLNs).  Read more ›

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Posted in Digital scholarship, Technology Enhanced Learning

Conference Tweeting and Storify

Twitter is a great companion for academic conferences – before, during and after the event, the micro-blogging platform can expand and deepen the experience.

Building a conference community with a hashtag # 

Conference organisers will usually identify a suitable hashtag and start tweeting messages in advance of the big day. Twitter can be used to publicise the call for papers, the programme and registration. In the process it can begin to build a community around the conference. If you are organising an event, these Tips on Using Twitter for Conferences and Events by Sue Beckingham (@suebecks) include advice on selecting and using a conference hashtag.


On the day there are likely to be some people ‘live-tweeting’, that is, reporting on the conference as it happens by tweeting. There is an etiquette around conference tweeting:

  1. Ask permission – unless organisers or presenters have explicitly said it is okay to tweet about what is being presented.
  2. Always attribute quotes – preferably using the speaker’s Twitter name (handle).
  3. Always include the conference hashtag.
  4. Remember tweets are completely public – so be polite and professional.

For more on how to tweet at conferences see:

Before you start tweeting at a conference warn your Twitter followers. For example:

Using Twitter and Storify in conferences.

Building the conversation

For those attending an event, Twitter provides an additional space for interaction and networking. Delegates can compare notes about parallel sessions, continue discussions and develop the conversation by linking to related resources.

Using Twitter and Storify in conferences.

If you cannot be at the event, following a conference hashtag is a great way of participating remotely. It is also good to bring other voices into conference conversations (see ‘Being there – or not?’). As this visualization of the #openbadgesHE hashtag shows, there can be varying degrees of interaction. This conference had 150 delegates attending, but the visualisation shows nearly 3 times that many nodes – each representing a use of the hashtag.

Using Twitter and Storify in conferences.

Click on the image to view

If you are speaking at a conference, you might want to consider sharing your slides on Twitter at the start of your session (services such as Hootsuite and Buffer will let you schedule tweets in advance).   

Tweeting as note-making

Live tweeting from a conference can be an engrossing activity and you may be wondering how to find time to tweet whilst listening and making notes. I use Twitter as my note-making system. Key messages I want to take away, I tweet. If others make good points or ask interesting questions I want to think about later I ‘like’ or retweet them. At the end of the event I have a collection of tweets that sums up the event for me.

Using Twitter and Storify in conferences.

To collect my Twitter notes and present them in a useful format I use Storify.


Storify is a free service that lets you create stories from social media posts (a paid version for teams includes the option to make stories private). It is most commonly used to collect everyone’s social media interactions around an event, but you can also use it to create your own story of a conference.

Once you sign up with an email address and choose a username and password you can start to create a new story. The first time you create a story from tweets you will need to connect your Twitter account, but this only takes a couple of clicks. You can also use Storify to gather content from other social media. Watch this video clip to find out more (1.22). 

Using Twitter and Storify in conferences.

Select the Twitter icon and enter your search term.

Storify will then find the tweets using that hashtag for about the last 10 days. You can select just the ones you want or choose to ‘add them all’. You can reorder to show the oldest or newest first, shuffle or delete individual tweets and add some text. Once you have given your story a title you are ready to publish. Storify will add the first image from the tweets you have included as a header image.

Once your story is published it will be public and anyone can find it by searching. You can share your story on social media and/or export it in a number of formats, most usefully as a pdf. If you want, you can notify the people you have quoted in your story.

Here is one I made earlier – it is my Twitter notes from the #openbadgesHE conference mentioned above.

Using Twitter and Storify in conferences.

Storify can also be used as another tool for learning through finding, choosing, sorting and sharing.

If you would like to discuss ways that you can use Twitter and/or Storify in your teaching and learning at Sussex please contact your school learning technologist or


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Posted in Social media, Technology Enhanced Learning

Plickers! An easy-to-use quizzing tool

Plickers 3

Demonstrating Plickers with the question ‘what do you think Brighton pier should be called’?

The TEL team recently demonstrated Plickers at the annual University of Sussex Teaching and Learning Conference 2016

The theme of the conference was inclusivity. To build on this theme, we demonstrated how to use technology to encourage participation with two TEL favourites, Padlet and Plickers.

Padlet is an online wall that students can add to with just a double-click (text, a document, a video clip or audio file). Plickers are paper voting cards that combine with a clever little app to receive feedback. We will look at Plickers in more detail in this post. 

Why use Plickers?


Print your own Plickers (available in sets of 40 or 63). C is selected by this Plicker as C is at the top.

You can use Plickers in a variety of situations such as teaching, training, research  – any time that you want to get feedback or encourage interaction within a group. 

Plickers are readable paper shapes. You distribute these to students who then interact with a question that you ‘push’ to a LiveScreen view. Each student uses the Plicker to indicate their answer/opinion which you can receive by scanning your students with the Plickers app.

The great thing about Plickers is that only you, the tutor needs a working Smartphone. Even if students all have their own Smartphone, they may have phones that don’t work effectively to participate in an activity that relies upon an app. For example, they may have limited memory with no space for a new app or a battery that doesn’t last the length of a seminar.

There are additional issues that you need to be aware of when using polling technologies that rely on Smartphones:

  • A lack of (or intermittent Wi-Fi) to download the app.
  • Individually downloading apps taking up seminar/session time.
  • Tutors not wanting to use mobile phones in sessions.

The steps to using Plickers

Here is an outline of the steps involved in using Plickers with your group. The diagram below demonstrates what is happening and how the Plicker cards are being read.

  1. Give out Plickers
  2. Ask a question
  3. Student holds the shape up to represent their answer
  4. Tutor takes a ‘picture’ (students not captured, just Plickers) through the Plickers app
  5. Voila! Student responses are immediately displayed on the Plickers Livescreen view on your slide

Plicker 2

Questions, questions, questions

Asking questions using Plickers

flickr photo by Fred Seibert shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

Questioning students in seminar time is a great method to engage students and check that they are keeping up with your lesson. You could use the Plickers for all sorts of activities. Here are ideas for using Plickers with students in seminars. 

  • Exit tickets (or immediate feedback on the session)
  • Check learning in session
  • Debate! Discussion questions (not just for right and wrong answers)
  • Decide upon revision topics

Plickers can work without Wi-Fi. You won’t be able to display the resulting graph data through LiveView but you can still scan your students and see the results and save for your own data. So it could even be used outdoors for field trips. 

You can add your class list to Plickers so that each student is personally identified or you can distribute randomly to make the voting anonymous. Students can reuse the Plickers for as long as they last. You can also collect data and export if you would like to keep a record of responses. If you want to create your own set, print them from the website. Remember to laminate in matte laminate or the shine from lights can prevent the card being read by the app. You can also buy a set from Amazon


The maximum number of students you can use with Plickers is 63. Sometimes the Plickers are not all picked up within one scan. However, you can re-scan the room and the stray Plickers will be registered without duplicating previously captured responses.

Plicker, the punk rock clicker

Dr Lucy Robinson tried Plickers shortly after the conference and blogged about it. Here is an excerpt…

‘When I attended Sussex’s Annual and Teaching conference I was introduced to the idea of using Plickers (paper clickers) in teaching and I knew this was something we could play with.’

Read more of Lucy’s exploration with Plickers in her blog post Plicker the Punk Rock Clicker.

Give Plickers a try! You only need one person in the room to have a working Smartphone. Plickers are unlikely to let you down as even if you are without Wi-Fi you can still capture your students responses. It’s a fun activity that everyone can join in and it gets your students engaged and moving.

Here are help guides for Padlet and Plickers if you would like to try these for yourself:

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Posted in Polling tools, Technology Enhanced Learning

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