Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) at UVM

Ever wonder if your curricular and instructional changes are achieving their desired outcomes? Curious about how students are approaching a complex assignment outside of class? Want to know what would make your class more engaging for students?

These are the kinds of questions that serve as the basis for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL), which is increasingly being used at institutions of higher education to support faculty members’ professional learning. In partnership with the Office of the Provost, the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) recently launched a pilot initiative to support SoTL at UVM. This blog post will provide a brief overview of SoTL along with a description of our pilot initiative.

What is SoTL?

SoTL is the systematic investigation of a question related to teaching or learning that aims to generate knowledge that can be used beyond individual classrooms to advance teaching and student learning. The SoTL research process typically begins with a question that faculty members have about their teaching or their students’ learning and progresses through the following steps:

  • Identify a question or problem to address
  • Review related literature to refine research question
  • Design data collection procedures to answer research question
  • Obtain research approval from the Institutional Review Board (IRB)
  • Collect data
  • Analyze data
  • Present and/or publish research findings

As a form of educational research, SoTL can involve qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches as well as case study, quasi-experimental, and experimental research designs. With these research approaches available, SoTL offers faculty members a way to systematically investigate and answer questions that emerge from their practice as teachers.


Thirteen faculty members from across the disciplines at UVM are currently participating in our SoTL pilot initiative, which began in late-August 2017. We have representation from the Departments of Chemistry, Education, Geology, Global Gateways, Leadership and Developmental Sciences, Mathematics & Statistics, Nutrition and Food Science, Psychological Science, Rehabilitation and Movement Science, and Romance Languages and Linguistics.

Most faculty participants are in the process of designing their SoTL studies and working to obtain IRB approval to conduct their research. To support this work, CTL staff members created workshops and small learning community meetings for participants that were focused on the following topics:

  • Introduction to SoTL
  • Conducting literature reviews for SoTL research
  • Developing and refining SoTL research questions
  • Obtaining and maintaining IRB approval
  • SoTL research designs

Faculty participants will mostly collect their data during the Spring 2018 semester. Among the types of data that participants will collect are: student grades, student interviews, student survey data, and student work. CTL is planning to host a retreat in May 2018 when faculty participants will have the opportunity to work together to analyze their data.

The ultimate aim of this work for most participants is to publish their study findings in SoTL journals (e.g., College Teaching) or discipline-specific teaching journals (e.g., Teaching of Psychology or The Chemical Educator) so that they can share their research with scholars in their fields.

Please check back soon for another blog post about the specific projects on which faculty participants are working for the SoTL initiative.

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What’s New in Bb?

As Fall has begun, take a moment to peruse the Fall 2017 Blackboard @ UVM newsletter.  Highlights in this issue include:

  • New Bb Mobile apps – one for students, and  one for instructors.
  • The Respondus Lockdown Browser pilot has been extended through the end of the Spring 2018 term.
  • Beginning of the term pointers, such as making your course available to students, how to merge course spaces, and a refresher on Bb’s date management feature.

All this, plus Bb’s new Achievements/Badging tool, pre-built rubrics, and more in this issue.

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Thinking about the start of the semester

As the air outside starts to cool, we begin to focus on the Fall semester and introducing our courses to the incoming class of students. You might be wondering what to keep in mind for the first day. Traditionally, students sit down and you review the syllabus on the first day and then they leave (sometimes a bit early.)

I would like to suggest making better use of the time on the first day by doing the following:

  1. Invite students to engage with you in a discussion of the syllabus.
    Have students divide into small groups. Each student within the group is assigned a portion of the syllabus to review and then have groups fill out a worksheet together about the specifics of the course. This allows students to talk with each other about the syllabus and later ask well thought out questions that their fellow students couldn’t answer.
  2. Clarify the expectations for classroom conduct.
    Ask students to make a list of behaviors that disrupt their own learning during class. They could do this individually and then create a list together that you agree upon as a code of conduct.
  3. Be clear in articulating the mode of communication you prefer.
    How do you like to get questions and how quickly you will reply to an email from a student or a discussion post in Blackboard. For example, students are on their phones so frequently checking email, they may expect that you are like that too. (Some faculty are like that, however, if that isn’t you, set the parameters.) For example, let students know if you only check in the morning and evening and that they should allow 24 hours before contacting you again. Also, if you want then to contact a Teaching Assistant first, be sure that information is clear to them.
  4. Be enthusiastic about the course!
    This is the first impression students will have of your course and how much you enjoy teaching it. Share your love of your content, because instructor enthusiasm is often cited by students as a catalyst for their learning.
  5. Have students create a personal goal for the course.
    After going over the course goals and the content of the course, have the students write down what they would like to personally get out of the course. They could record this writing on Blackboard in a journal, or as an assignment. Revisit this goal over the semester and ask them to track how they are progressing with it and if they need any additional resources from you to accomplish it.

We hope you enjoy your first week of class. Stop by to see us at the CTL during Dr Is In with any questions or feedback about the first week.


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Faculty-to-Faculty Consulting Program

The CTL welcomes our new faculty associates, Nicole Phelps, (History) and Dianna Murray-Close, (Psychological Science).

In their roles as faculty associates, Drs. Phelps and Murray-Close will be available to consult individually with faculty about teaching challenges including those related to teaching large courses.

This new program is designed to increase faculty-to-faculty teaching support networks and expand the availability of one-time teaching consultations tailored to individual faculty needs.

To learn more about this program, please email us at

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The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: New Training and Support

The CTL is excited to welcome Dr. Steven Netcoh who will be completing a one-year postdoc with us. Dr. Netcoh will be developing materials, resources, and tutorials for faculty who are interested in conducting and publishing research on teaching and learning.

Stay tuned for workshops and new resources on the CTL Events Calendar. Dr. Netcoh is also available for individual consultations, which can be arranged by emailing

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Secure Online Testing

Respondus Lockdown Browser Pilot Program

Over the years, faculty have expressed interest in a more secure environment to deliver online exams. In response, the CTL is testing Respondus Lockdown Browser (RLB) during AY 2017-18. RLB is a stand-alone browser replacement that restricts student access to UVM’s Blackboard server. During an assessment, all other applications and websites are closed and inaccessible to students. If you are interested in learning more about RLB, contact us at

Please help us spread the word about the availability of this application.


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Video conferencing product demonstrations

UVM is exploring synchronous platforms to provide video/web conferencing and real-time collaboration services. As part of this process,  there will be four vendor demonstrations:

If you plan on attending, please RSVP to Wendy Verrei-Berenback:

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Software to help prevent cheating on Bb tests

UVM is currently piloting a tool called “Respondus Lockdown Browser” that can prevent students from opening other windows on their computers while taking a test in Blackboard. We have until May 13, 2017 to evaluate this tool so we’re looking for faculty to help us by trying it in their courses this semester.

What is the Respondus Lockdown Browser?

The Respondus Lockdown Browser is a stand-alone browser replacement that restricts student access to UVM’s Blackboard server. During an assessment, all other applications and websites are closed and inaccessible to students. For example, students will not be able to open Word documents, instant message, email, or use sites such as Google, Wikipedia, or access other parts of the course.

It is important to keep in mind that no system is 100% secure. While this tool is a deterrent, it does not offer complete protection against academic dishonesty. Students taking an assessment could still use their mobile devices, another computer, or interact with the person sitting next to them. With this in mind, remote delivery of a locked down exam may not be as effective as one delivered in a proctored environment.

Supporting students during an exam is also easier in a physical proctored environment. You can reset a student’s attempt if their computer crashes during an exam in class. If the student experiences network problems, power failures, or other problems while taking the exam at home, they may not be able to complete the exam. In such a case, you would have to decide whether to reset the attempt at a later date.

Pilot timeline

This pilot will run until after the final exam period closes. On May 13, the tool will be turned off in Bb and no further exams will be able to be deployed or taken using the Lockdown Browser. During the summer, we will review the results of the pilot and evaluate its potential for implementation. If the results are favorable and funding is available, a license will be purchased and the Respondus Lockdown Browser will be available for Fall 2017.

How to get started

We want to be sure you receive the most up to date information on this tool in case there are new updates, bug fixes, or other important details released after the pilot starts. With this in mind, we are asking that you confirm your interest in this by contacting us at Once we hear from you, we will send you a list of best practices and steps to deploy a locked down exam in your course.

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UVM’s Streaming Media Server and Online Video Platform (OVP)

An Online Video Platform (OVP) is a service for storage, management,and delivery of audio and video. OVPs are trendy, and the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative  tells us why in their December 2016 article, 7 things you should know about OVPs.

Big names in the OVP  marketplace include Ensemble, ShareStream, Kaltura, Panopto, Techsmith’s Relay, Instructure’s Arc, Sonic Foundry’s Mediasite, and Echo360’s Active Learning Platform. OVP features vary, but the core functions that allow the upload, conversion, storage, sharing, and playing of video are essentially the same for all platforms. OVP pricing varies, too, with some systems clocking in at $50,000 to $100,ooo per year. That’s one reason why we built our own. Read on …

A bit about streaming video

Streaming video is not all that new. Here at UVM, we had a RealMedia Server and a Quicktime/Darwin Server both dating back to 1999. However, these products were obscure and difficult to use. Both servers were retired around May 2015.

Not all media on the web is delivered by streaming.  A large chuck of content — in particular audio or video podcasts — is delivered by simple file download from a standard web server. This content is saved to the users device, and can be played either later at the user’s pleasure or even while the media is downloading. This latter viewing option is known as progressive download.

Streaming video is played as it is received, not stored or cached. It is always used for live events. Pre-recorded Video On Demand (VOD) features fast-start, instant seek ahead or behind. Ideally, the server can adjust sound or video quality on the fly to match available bandwidth. Media is difficult if not impossible to save or copy, and streaming requires a dedicated Streaming server, which historically has been clumsy and arcane to prepare, configure, and integrate into web sites.

Exhibit A: Progressive Download vs. streaming. Same video, different delivery. Which is which? is born

The UVM streaming server was born serendipitously in response to the STEM construction project. The Physics Department bought an IP (Internet Protocol) Network camera, hung it out a window in Cook, and pointed it at the construction site. IP cameras stream video use the Real Time Streaming Protocol, rtsp, rather than http, yielding ugly URLs like rtsp:// that most browsers can’t understand. Soon after, other offices wanted construction cams, too. It became quickly apparent that we needed some way to convert these rtsp addresses to http addresses in order to view the cameras on the web. In particular, we needed a new streaming server.

What we got was a product with a cool name: the Wowza Streaming Engine. Basic, simple, and surprisingly inexpensive. It did just what we needed: feed it IP camera rtsp streams, it spits back, well, something else. So we needed a player widget, too, which understood the something else and provided the play/stop/skip etc. controls necessary to render that something else as a video. We chose the JWplayer widget. Like Wowza, basic, simple, and inexpensive.

PhysicsCam Live


This was all well and good for the handful of IP cameras on campus. But what about the hundreds of pre-recorded video files scattered across and Blackboard or Turns out, Wowza can stream those, too, if those files were consistently constructed and uploaded to the Wowza servers content folder. We were lucky enough to stumble across an Open Source project named Cumulusclips  which again did just what we needed. It provides the business logic of file management, tagging, searching, and transcoding needed to feed Wowza content. And it was free.

Transcoding and Dynamic Adaptive Streaming

Transcoding is the process of converting a media file from one format to another, possible twiddling attributes along the way. For example, take in a .AVI or .MOV file recorded at 1024 x 768 pixels, 60 frames per second, bitrate 5100 kilobits per second; spit out .MP4 file 768 x 434 pixels, 30 frames per second, bitrate 3100 kilobits per second.

Dynamic Adaptive Streaming detects the bandwidth and CPU of a user’s device and calibrates the video stream accordingly in real time to deliver the best playback quality regardless of connection speed or device. To achieve this, any file uploaded by a user must be transcoded into two or more alternatives with varying quality metrics. The server can switch from one alternative to another on the fly.

The UVM Streaming Server transcodes every uploaded video into 3 variants:

  • High: 3000 kbps, 1280 x 720 pixels
  • Medium: 1000 kbps, 640 x 360 pixels
  • Mobile: 600 kbps, 480 x 300 pixels

This is a resource intensive process, and may take more often several minutes to less often several hours to complete. Please plan accordingly. Also note it is better to transcode a high resolution video into a lower resolution than it is to go from low to high. So when creating your videos, aim high for best results.

Back to

So now that all the pieces – Wowza Streaming Engine, JWPlayer viewer, and CumulusClips – are assembled, what exactly do we have? An OVP which mimics the YouTube experience with the following list of features:

  • UVM WebAuth authentication
  • Upload videos: Accepts mp3, mp4, flv, wmv, rm (RealMedia), mov, avi
  • Tag and categorize uploads, create play lists
  • Upload and attach SRT/WebVTT caption files
  • automatically transcodes to multiple format mp4 files for consistent viewing experience (600kbps mobile; 1000kbps desktop; 3000kbps HD theatre)
  • Dynamic Adaptive bitrate streaming via MPEG  DASH and Apple HLS
  • Automatically creates thumbnail poster images, or upload you own
  • Streamlined integration with BlackBoard and WordPress
  • optionally require UVM login to view
  • optionally hide videos from search engines
  • watch videos, search for videos, share and embed
  • Growth has been steady, with well over 2000 videos uploaded


7 things you should know about UVM Streaming Server

Back to the EDUCAUSE “7 things you should know about…” article: What are the 7 things you should know about the UVM Streaming Server?

  1. What is it? A UVM specific solution for the storage, management, and delivery of digital video.
  2. How does it work? Our server provides the core functions that allow the upload, conversion, storage, sharing, and playing of video or audio files. After NetID authentication, user can upload files up to 10Gb each. Files are automatically transcoded into 3 variants to support dynamic adaptive streaming. The server acts as a central repository for the content and provides content owners with the ability to control access to the work.
  3. Who’s doing it? The Center for Teaching and Learning in partnership with Enterprise Technology Services.
  4. Why is it significant? A centralized enterprise level campus-wide OVP – along with the LMS (Blackboard, Canvas), the synchronous learning platform (Adobe Connect, Cisco WebEx), a lecture capture suite (Mediasite, Tegrity), and learning analytics program (KlassData, SSPS) – is becoming a necessity for higher education.  We feel it is a real game changer, as do Panopto and Kaltura.
  5. What are the downsides? The downside of any in house open source software is the need to support and maintain the beast in house. Thankfully, two out of three components are commercial products, and thus far their technical support has been outstanding.
  6. Where is it going? In the words of EDUCAUSE, “OVPs are a relatively new type of system in higher education, and the contours of the market are emerging. Platform providers are working to create an experience that closely matches that of YouTube.” Are we there yet?
  7. What are the implications for teaching and learning? Distance learning, hybrid classes, flipped classrooms, universal design, international students, to name a few. Tell us what you think!


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Putting the Student Hat Back On

When the Teacher Becomes the Student” is an interesting, short read from Maryellen Weimer, PhD of Faculty Focus. Her 2 take-aways are:

I would almost guarantee that if you struggle to learn something in a course other than your own, it will change how you teach; and 20 years at the front of the room (maybe less) erases virtually all memories of what it’s like to be seated in a small, uncomfortable desk somewhere in the middle of the room.

Re-experiencing the student perspective:
Starling, Roy. “Professor as Student: The View from the Other Side.” College Teaching, vol. 35, no. 1, 1987, pp. 3–7.,

Gregory, M. W. “From Shakespeare on the Page to Shakespeare on the Stage: What I Learned about Teaching in Acting Class.” Pedagogy, vol. 6 no. 2, 2006, pp. 309-325. Project MUSE,

Why clear rationale for assignments helps students learn:
Gregory, Marshall. “Turning Water into Wine: Giving Remote Texts Full Flavor for the Audience of ‘Friends.’” College Teaching, vol. 53, no. 3, 2005, pp. 95–98.,

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