Sunday, 29 November 2009

Progress update

From within the press of the taught semester, it's hard to find space to reflect on longer-term projects and work still in progress. So, apologies for the silence on the blog; and many thanks to those who have commented on and supported TASH via the uSpace group.

The resource is now live, and a number of specific groups of students are being targeted as beta-testers for the site. These include:
  • TILL students who have the misfortune to be taught by me and Willy, especially in study skills contexts;
  • Engineers, with whom Linda Gray is working; and
  • English Literature students, who Bob McKay is supporting.
There are also other students working with staff associated with TASH who have been pointed towards it in less systematic ways; and bits of feedback are reaching us from different colleagues about how useful they've found it. We're hoping to arrange more formal evaluations of the resource next semester (1) with (or via) the Union Links, and (2) with the Study Abroad / Erasmus students arriving for the spring semester. This formal evaluation will sit alongside the uSpace area for feedback and comments from all users of the site, which will remain open and vibrant during the next semester.

Behind the scenes, we're working to ensure the stability of the resource. In the short term, this stability involves someone doing some technical work at the back end, a someone we're close to appointing. It also involves continuing to respond to the uSpace feedback, tidying up the resource, and adding new links when they are suggested. Medium term, we will be designing the promotion strategy for the spring semester in the next few weeks. Strong ideas already on the table are (1) a Faculty-specific approach, making sure there's engagement and awareness on this level, and responses to requests to feedback; and (2) sitting with departmental Learning and Teaching Advocates, offering hands-on tuition for the resource, and exploring how it might be embedded in different learning contexts.

And longer-term, ensuring stability means creating a post to look after the whole kit and caboodle. We're getting there with this project, although such things will always take a certain amount of time, and are of course subject to the whims of future internal and external policy demands. And the future is, for everyone, currently looking rather whimful.

Friday, 2 October 2009

It’s alive!

It's been a little longer in gestation than we'd intended, but version one of the TASH resource is now online and ready for beta testing. You're most welcome to play around with the beta version of the site, and share your feedback with the TASH team. The best way to do this will be via the TASH uSpace group, which is open to all staff and students, and is intended as a space for thinking and discussing the resource. We are inviting all past and present friends of the project to take a good look around, trial the site with their students, and let us know what you did and what you thought about it over the coming weeks and months. The resource is still in beta testing, and we're aware of a couple of glitches – so please be charitable!

We'd also like to invite you to a brief "soft launch" of the resource at 1pm on Monday 19th October in CILASS Collaboratory 1 in the Information Commons. Project members will be on hand to talk you through where we're at with the resource at this point, and how we hope to improve upon it in the future. The meeting will last no more than one hour, and there will be sandwiches.

We are particularly hoping that Sheffield staff will be willing to pilot all or part of the site with existing students so that we can obtain feedback on how the site can be improved, how resource gaps can be plugged, and what you'd like to see from the resource in the future. We'd also like to hear from colleagues with ideas about how they might or have used the resource over the course of semester one.

If you are able to come along to this launch, please let us know by emailing, and we'll look forward to seeing you then. Thanks for your support so far, and have fun with the site!

Friday, 14 August 2009

Summer school

Despite appearances, I'm told it's currently summer; and like most of the University, the TASH project has been both trying to tidy up from the previous year, and look ahead to the next. In our case, this has meant a lot of editing and writing of pages, and location of suitable academic skills resources. The bulk of the work has been done here by Bob McKay, who, from his secret Arctic base - well, his house in Glasgow - has been lovingly crafting and smoothing numerous pages for the site, and locating high-quality academic skills development resources to support them. Danny and Karen have also been carrying on with the technical side of the site, both making it look pretty and that it all works; and trying to make sure it fits together in the most comprehensible way. That structural side is still something we're working on, as it looks like from our original plan of seven skills / seven hills, after the processes of writing and finding resources, we're left with five skills / five...erm...rivers? Much of the content has stayed the same, we've just found other ways to locate it that we think will be more comprehensible to users.

We're aiming for a soft launch at the end of September, offering promotional material and support to key personnel, such as Level One tutors, staff who look after induction processes, and support and academic staff who have shown a commitment to TASH as it has developed. Keeping this initial launch relatively small will enable us to gather high-quality feedback on the resource and its uses, and enable us to improve it for a more full-blooded launch at the start of the second semester. So if you're reading this, we're likely to be in touch in the next month or so with information about that soft launch, and quite possibly a range of promotional goodies. The site launched in September will be version 1.0 of the resource; and we hope that this phased release will enable us to amend and update the site in response to user feedback. I hope you'll be part of that conversation!

Monday, 29 June 2009

HE Preparation Project

Tim and I met with Jo Laycock from SRAM last Friday. Jo is heading up an Aimhigher funded HE Preparation Project through which she hopes to engage a number of cohorts of year 12-13 students in schools and colleges in the region through a range of workshops on and off campus. The specific focus is upon developing study skills which will stand students in good stead when they progress on to degree courses here at TUOS and elsewhere.

Jo is currently meeting with colleagues around the institution to pick brains on the most appropriate ways to tackle and present study skills work of this kind - and she will shortly be consulting with teachers in the region to see how her project can best complement their work in the classroom. One suggestion to emerge from our meeting was the organisation of a workshop in the autumn at which TUOS colleagues who teach study skills in a variety of different guises might come together to swap ideas, techniques and research to inform one another's work on this and related areas.

We wish Jo well with her important work and look forward to her pulling off this workshop in the academic new year ... it would certainly be of interest to TASH as we move to embed the online resource in a range of different face-to-face teaching contexts.

Employability Learning Objects Project

Marcus Zientek and Hilary Whorrall have been hard at work in the Careers Service developing a range of "re-usable learning objects" with colleagues in Animal and Plant Sciences, ScHARR, Human Communication Science, Human Nutrition and Town & Regional Planning. These MOLE courses are designed to help undergraduate students identify and refine their employability skills, covering a range of subjects which include Learning Styles, CV writing, Skills self-assessment, preparing for Psychometric testing and Interviews.

In each case the learning objects have been embedded within specific modules at a range of levels and attract a small proportion of credit toward students' final marks. The amount of time required to complete the worksheets and other interactive tasks within the learning objects ranges from 2 to 20 hours.

Three additional RLOs, covering proactive job searching, commercial awareness and enterprise, can be accessed by all TUOS students via the graduating in a recession pages here.

To find out more, email Marcus at or Hilary at

Friday, 26 June 2009

Pilot testing 25 June

Thanks to the students who kindly gave up their time yesterday morning to run a critical eye over the TASH site as it now stands. Still very much a work in progress, but I think all of the project team present shared my relief when we were offered an overwhelmingly positive set of responses; and plenty of helpful suggestions as to where we might tinker with the design and feel of the site to make it better still.

It seems then that we are not barking up the wrong tree - quite the reverse in fact from what a number of the students had to say - and will, with renewed confidence, get on with the substantial work that remains to be done in developing and refining the site in preparation for a "soft launch" to interested parties and likely key users in mid-September.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Preparing for pilot testing

It's been a very busy month or so, with a lot of work going into the design and structure of the TASH resource. It currently looks really nice, albeit with a few rough edges; and we're at a stage now where, by the end of June, we're hoping to pilot test the site with students (more info at the end of the post). The pilot testing should identify issues of structure, content, navigation, and design that will help us develop the resource further, and make sure it meets the needs of its core users, the students. Building on this testing, there will be a student read-through of the revised resource later in July to make sure that the authors haven't come on like disco vicars, trying to be down with the kids, but revealing themselves to be the crusty old men they actually are.

What seems most likely at the moment is that the TASH resource will be launched softly and selectively in September 2009, to key stakeholders such as Level One tutors, learning and teaching advocates, professional services staff involved in induction and transition support, and so on. We'll use the first semester of 09/10 as an extended beta testing phase, gathering feedback and adding resources and materials to the site. We'll then have a more public launch at the start of the second semester, at a time when hopefully students will have more time and space to engage, and perhaps even the direct motivation if their autumn semester experiences haven't been all they expected. We're also clear now, as we have been all along, that the TASH site that gets signed off is only version 1, and it will be expected to develop and grow as more uses and needs are recognised. The aim is to create a simple site with room to grow, and that aim still looks to be achievable in a realistic timeframe.

If you're a Sheffield student and would like to pilot test the resource, some time in the last week of June, please contact us. Your feedback will be essential for making sure we get the look, feel, and content of the resource right, and we will be able to reward you for your time.

Friday, 8 May 2009

National Learning Network materials

One of the pleasures of working on TASH is people contacting you with interesting ideas and resources that they've found useful, and want to share. Victor Guillen of the ELTC did just that, by calling our attention to the National Learning Network, or NLN. This is a JISC-funded repository for e-learning materials, targeted primarily at FE institutions and programmes, but with possible cross-over for some aspects of HE provision. Victor's found it particularly useful in terms of ESOL and literacy materials, but was keen to show us more generic resources about, for example, critical thinking, problem solving, and learning to learn.

The resources are SCORM-compliant Reusable Learning Objects, which, to put that in terms I can understand, means you can pick them up complete, and drop them into MOLE, Moodle, and other VLEs or platforms. They are also finished to a high degree of professionalism, with some of them looking really nice, and presenting the material in a very accessible way. The flipside of this professional finish is that they can't be easily tinkered with or adapted to fit new contexts; but, as Victor was keen to note, they are just as useful for inspiring your own ideas for resources and activities as they are for being used directly.

Sheffield's only the second HEI in the region to request access to the NLN, so it's still largely uncharted territory. This, plus Jorum, points to the growth of e-repositories for sharing learning resources; and while there are a range of arguments, from grounds as diverse as pedagogy, politics, and pragmatism, against a wholesale adoption of the strategy, it's certainly useful to have access to other people's ideas and ways of working out solutions. If anyone's interested in looking more closely at the NLN materials, or learning more about how they've already been used, then Victor would welcome you getting in touch.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

What we did on our Easter holidays...

...and for quite some time around that. Despite the blog silence, the TASH project is alive and well, and developing in a robust and sustainable direction. Indeed, it's a measure of how busy things have been that blogging our progress has taken something of a backseat.

There have been a few main areas of efforts, with our ever-expanding team distributed across them. These include:
  1. Creating the structure. Obvious, but essential. What academic skills are we finding resources for, and how are we bundling them together? How much choice are we giving users about the ways they navigate the resource? In what's likely to be a sizeable end-product, how do we make sure users know what's there?
  2. Writing the pages. Again, this isn't rocket science; most bits of the structure mentioned above need to have some words / pictures / videos / dancemoves attached to them, and it's been a job of work to get those created.
  3. Finding and analysing the resources, from both within and outside the university. The whole point of TASH was to help students and staff more easily locate high-quality resources, so that's clearly something we need to prioritise.
  4. Designing the look and feel of the resource, along with all the other technical things involved with creating a website that I don't really understand. A huge amount of effort and time has gone into making TASH friendly, funky, and easily-navigable, and the experience of LeTS colleagues has been critical here.
Where we're at now is bringing those four threads of work together into a pilot version of the site. We're hoping to have this ready, and run tests / feedback sessions with staff and students, by the end of June. If you've ever attended a TASH meeting or expressed interest in the project - and, let's face it, you're unlikely to be reading this blog unless you have - then you'll be invited to take part in these pilot tests. If you're especially keen to get involved, please contact us and we'll add you to the list. Thanks for your interest thus far, and we hope to be in touch again soon!

Friday, 6 February 2009

Dec 16 meeting notes available

The briefest of updates to say notes from the last TASH update meeting on December 16th are now available from here, the main TASH webpages. You can download Willy's PowerPoint, including exciting diagrams, from the same page, or from the SlideShare button to the left.

As per my last post, the core team have all been beavering away with their various tasks. Linda and Jen have been officially joined by Diane Rossiter, and all three are looking at how other institutions structure their academic skills resources, especially any interactive execises. Steve and Danny are working on the design and structure of the site, while Chris carries on tagging, analysing, and ordering the numerous skills resources we've discovered. Louise is making sure we're meeting all our deadlines and liasing with our elders and betters; and myself, Willy, and Bob are writing the damn thing....It's slow, hard work, condensing all we want to say into a few hundred words: to quote Henry Thoreau, "Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long while to make it short." And Kath has, temporarily at least, gone off to be a full-time mum, which I don't *think* is a measurable output of the project, but is certainly a cause for celebration.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Small is beautiful

I wanted to report on two small-scale TASH meetings this morning, the first with Steve Collier and Danny Monaghan; the second with Luke Desforges, all of whom are from LeTS in various guises. Willy, Chris, and myself discussed with them the structure of the resource, and made some really good progress on thinking about how it can achieve what we want.

Essentially, we've simplified and stripped back the structure to make it easier for users to navigate and find what they want. This has involved slightly re-thinking our division of skills and clarifying what fits where (sometimes, understandably, in more than one place), and drawing up rough typologies of users of the site. We guess there will be people coming to it for the first time, and needing to see what it does overall; those who will be familiar with the general idea, and wanting to develop specific areas; and others who will come in very focussed, looking for something to help them solve a particular problem. The ways we offer to navigate the site should cater for all of these (and more), and getting the structure right is essential for making sure it's used in the most effective ways. We also (excitingly and a little geekily) discussed some of the add-ons we could use for the site - stars for users to review resources (a la Amazon), tag clouds (an idea filched from Canterbury Christ Church), this week's top ten resources, and so on.

The meeting with Luke sketched out a Theory of Change for the project, so we know what we want to do, and how we know whether we've done it. This is in its final draft stages, so will be available from the main project pages in the next few weeks. What I gained from the process is a clearer sense of the timescale of the project, and also of the scope - there's plenty it'd by *useful* to do achieve through it, but they're not necessarily all *essential*. Doing the Theory of Change helped filter out the essential from the useful, and keep our ambitions more grounded in reality - less Napoleon, more Nye Bevan.

There are lots of small things for us to do next, and plenty of hands to do them. The next immediate deadline is the end of Feb for creating content that Danny and Steve can turn into a testable resource. We'll see how things go from there...