UOC Research Showcase 2017

On 31 May 2017, the UOC held its Research Showcase for 2017 at CosmoCaixa in Barcelona. The aims of the research showcase are to foster collaboration among the University’s researchers and educators and to improve the visibility of the University’s research and research projects.

21 research and innovation projects were selected to be showcased. These were grouped into three different streams:

  • Living and learning with technologies
  • Our society in a smart world
  • Research unboxed: Health, Culture, Tourism

I attended the living and learning with technologies session. Here is a short summary of my notes of each of the 7 presentations in this stream:

Emotions in Context: Estimating how People Feel

This research focuses on looking at how machines can process and understand visual images to be able to estimate emotional states. This can be applied in situations with empathetic machines such as personal robots, self-driving vehicles, gaming and medical areas). The research created an algorithm to analyse faces and estimate 6 basic emotions and 26 secondary emotions. The algorithm does not only look at the facial characteristics, but also looks at the circumstances or surroundings in the image to help estimate emotions. In order to train the system, crowdsourcing was used to build up a database of 18 000 images that people annotated with the emotions. This database has been used to train the machine to estimate emotions. (This presentation won the best presentation in our stream).

The Intelligent Industrial Internet

In an increasing digitised society, this research looks at industries (such as manufacturing) that use machines and components that were designed before the advent of the internet (e.g. in the 1960s or 1970s) that cannot take advantage of possibilities related to the Internet of Things. An open source component device was designed and developed that can fit onto components of existing machines to make them have an element of “smart deviceness”. The device can be solar-powered or even powered with a lemon “battery”.

The Use of Feedback to Improve Learning in Online Environments

In universities, lecturers often complain that students do not incorporate their comments or feedback to improve their writing, while students frequently complain that the feedback that they receive is too general or not helpful. How can these issues be resolved as lecturer feedback can play an important role in the development of the student? This research looks at the use of feedback as a support tool to improve student writing. Feedback can be considered as a circular process where the feedback is generated by the lecturer or even the student (with different characteristics), this feedback is processed (comprehended and used), and then the feedback is implemented (changes are made), which then gets sent for review again, starting the cycle again. The research has found that the type of feedback and when it is given matters. Feedback should promote discussion, it should consist of questions and suggestions that promote critical analysis and that the feedback should be provided during the writing process (and not at the end).

Returning to Studies After Taking a Break

This research looks to address the problem of dropout at UOC, which is a major concern. After the completion of the 1st semester at UOC, almost 30% of students take a semester break. Of those students that take a break in the 2nd semester, only 20% enrol in the 3rd semester again (although some do enrol at a later period). This research looks at being able to predict student dropout so that student dropout can be prevented. It takes a holistic approach to encourage student continuance. The research looked at the dimensions that affected dropout such as student issues (motivation, learning experience), external issues (work or family) and how these dimensions can be factored in to encourage students to continue.

The Use of Learning Analytics to Inform Decision Making in Higher Education

Similar to the previous presentation this presentation focused on the use of data to reduce student dropout. This research focused on the design and development of a teaching dashboard that helps lecturers make informed decisions to help monitor students and avoid dropout. The dashboard consists of different sections. One section checks updates are done at different times of the course (instructor emails sent out, calendars updated etc). Other sections of the dashboard focus on assessments (tracking of submissions of assignments, a plagiarism map that looks at similarities between the written assignments of students, and an overview of marks for different assignments), interactions (students connecting to the VLE, number of messages read and number of messages posted). It also has an abandonment tracking section where it looks for issues where students are no longer connecting to the VLE, or where students are still connecting to the VLE, but have not yet submitted their assignments.

Lifelong Learning Ecologies

This research looks at the context of learning changing as it becomes a lifelong and lifewide necessity. It focuses on the development of learning ecologies that incorporate physical and virtual aspects. A learning ecologies framework sees learning occuring across a dimension of formality (informal, non-formal and formal) and a dimension of space (Face2Face, Blended, Online). The research will focus on the identification of learning opportunities and improving learner self-awareness.

The Use of Short Novels to Spark Learning

This research looks at the use of novelettes to encourage learning, instead of the use of textbooks as learning materials. The aim is to take advantage of the power of stories to facilitate learning In a Criminology course, 2 short novels were used to facilitate learning about youth crime and immigration issues. The novelettes incorporated teaching aspects such as highlighted concepts that were linked to further descriptions. The novelettes were found to be able to transport students into the worlds described (sustaining their engagement and interest).