Setting Up the Reading List

The course reading list as it appears in the admin screen on iFind Reading
The course reading list in iFind Reading

My second step in setting up my new module was to update the reading list.

There are a large number of books on Signals and Systems and some, like the ones recommended by my colleagues last year, are considered seminal. However, they are also very expensive and available in the library in small numbers and only on short-term loan. They also take a somewhat mathematical approach to the subject.

One of my aims for the course is to attempt to make it more accessible to my students by taking an applied approach to the material. I also want to make use of Matlab and Simulink both for illustration in class but also for homework exercises and as a project. On searching the library, I was surprised to find that there are two good e-book offerings, one of which takes exactly the approach that I want to explore. These books have replaced the original texts in the reading list as Essential and Recommended reading. The original texts have been relegated to Background reading. The eBooks are free for Swansea students to use and have no limitations of the number of students who can access them at a time. They do have the disadvantage that they have to be used via web browser but that’s a small price to pay for the cost.

(The actual value of the eBooks and the restrictions on their access imposed by their licensing will be something I may need to come back to.)

I’ve also added a couple of open educational resources to the reading list. One of these was the on-line text book from used by my colleague last year. The other is a wikibook on signals and systems that is also free.

The one none-free book that I’ve added to my Recommended reading list is a Schaum’s Ouline Series book on Signals and Systems. These books are full of worked examples and I’ve been a fan since I was a student myself. At £11.99 RRP (cheaper on-line) for the Signals and Systems book it’s a small price to pay for such a great revision aid.

To help me to refer to the books in the reading lists, I have tagged them with the course code and course title, the keyword Matlab if appropriate and the author & date.

In our institutional set-up, all this information is added automatically to our Blackboard sites as a Reading List menu item. It is also used by the Librarians to ensure that we have books in stock, etc. Local colleagues wanting to find out more about how the iFind Reading Lists work, should visit the iFind Reading pages on Blackboard.

Building a Course Site in Blackboard: Part 1

Course notebook

This year I am taking over a module EG-247 Signals and Systems from a colleague who has moved to another institution. This is the first of a series of Blog posts with which I intend to document and reflect on the process for my own benefit but in the hope that it will be useful to others.

My first step this year was to buy a hard-backed notebook. There are some nice ones with Swansea University livery in the Campus bookshop for £4.95. I’ve added a label for the course title. I’ll use it to write down my own notes as I go through the reading and jot down my ideas for the module structure and lesson plans.

Should I….?

Should I?
Heads by Chris Jobling

I’ve got a new module to deliver this session. I wonder if documenting the process of putting together the course site on Blackboard would be of interest to anyone?

Feedback in the comments please.

Walking in Your Student’s Shoes: Online Collaborative Experience

Einstein Agrees with Brian
Einstein Agrees with Brian, mashup by Andrea Arbogast “interlect” on Flickr. Image licensed under Creative Commons share alike with attribution. Some rights reserved.

In recent times, the Blackboard company has been reaching out to its community of institutional users via a series of weekly webinars in what it calls the Blackboard Innovative Teaching Series (BITS). It hosts and records these webinars on Blackboard Collaborate and then releases the recordings on the BITS Channel on YouTube.

Today, I watched episode 27 entitled Blackboard and the Online Collaborative Experience. On show was a three-week on-line course created for staff professional development by the Instructional Designers David Flora, Ericka Hollis, and Xavier Scott of Morehead State University. They demonstrated the use of Blackboard Learn’s collaborative features to get instructors to actively engage with Blackboard’s collaborative features (blog, discussion board, wiki, Blackboard Collaborate) in order to experience what it might be like for students to experience active learning through collaboration. The resulting course has also been awarded one of Blackboard’s exemplary course programme awards and you can self-enrol as a student and view the course site at (direct link).

As my institution is still climbing the early majority part of the adoption curve, with most of my colleagues using the VLE (which is Blackboard Learn) as a complex Content Management System (CMS), running such a course here might be well worth considering.

The rest of the recorded BITS series is well worth a look and you can sign up for the upcoming live webinars as well: there’s a few good ones coming up in November including Accessibility (14th November), Assessment and Feedback (18th November) and the Flipped Classroom (9 December). They take place at either 11:00 am or 1:00 pm EST (currently 3:00 and 5:00 pm UK time). Perhaps I’ll see you there!

Things that I’d like to achieve this summer

It’s summer. And of course the world believes that academics do nothing over the summer. Well, apart from the summer resit examinations that have to be set and marked, course preparation and undergraduate project allocation that has to be done, I’d agree there isn’t much to be done. But it is a period of the year for which there can be time which can be set aside for personal self-development projects.

On my list this year, I have

  • Learn to touch type
  • Become proficient in VIM
  • Find a way to use mark-down on Blackboard

For the first of these, this web site looks useful. There are a couple of books and loads of video resources for the second. Suggestions welcomed for the third.

Using iAnnotate for Marking

Just some notes on my first impressions. I’ve used iAnnotate a lot since I first wrote these notes, but reading back, my first impressions were pretty accurate.

  • It can open documents from Dropbox (registered on iPad as a send target) and iAnnotate converts them to PDFs automatically.
  • Fidelity of PDF conversion is not great (there’s an on-line service for this now). I’ve found that it’s best to save documents as PDF from desktop first.
  • Good set of annotation tools (including voice). Uses more gestures than I’m used to. I Found the text annotation most useful (with a proper keyboard!)
  • Syncs readily to iTunes Document Sharing, the provided free desktop client and Dropbox. After some usage, I found Dropbox to be the most convenient.
  • Needs Adobe Acrobat Reader to access all annotation types. On Mac, built-in Preview shows notes, highlighting and scribbles but not audio. On windows, you’d be using Adobe Acrobat Reader anyway.
  • Annotated PDFs can be uploaded to VLE (Blackboard at my institution) as attachments to feedback in grade centre.
  • You still need to record marks on paper or perhaps in a spreadsheet (with documents to go offline) or with Google docs if you’re on line.
  • There is a way to upload/download spreadsheets to Blackboard Gradecentre but it requires some preparation before hand (another article?).
  • It’s more difficult to do marking with Blackboard rubric tool unless you had an off-line version of the rubric to use on the tablet. I suppose you could flip between iAnnotate and Safari.

Tales from the chalk face


It’s summer so there must be time to blog! Right?

Ignoring the fact that I failed to follow through on my last promise to do better, I’ve decided that after surviving another year of Interesting Times (See Alleged Mandarin Curse) there are a few “tales from the chalkface” that I could usefully recount. So watch this space!

I’ll also try to reboot by 366 Crispy Things blog to provide a daily serving of goodness.

What no star?

I just noticed (because I haven’t used it seriously for a while) that Google Reader has gotten rid of the “star” which I used to use to share articles that I had read with my FriendFeed and my own Crispy Feeds feed. It’s been replaced by G+ and Share with Google+ buttons. I suppose it makes sense from Google’s point of view that the default way to share from its feed reader should be through it’s own social network, and to be fair, other sharing options are still available from Google Reader via the Send to option. But even so, now I have to find out how to add my G+ feed to my other aggregators … unless some kind soul can drop me a hint in the comments.

Stop Press

I just noticed that the star has not gone at all, it’s just fainter and to the left hand side. Still, let the post stand, this is after all a post, and posts have been few and far between of late, and the thing about identifying the feed for my G+ is still relevant.