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    Archive for the 'Our Views' Category

    A tale of two cities, or five

    By Samantha Ahern, on 7 April 2017

    March was a very busy month, 8 events over 31 days in 5 different cities, one of which was on a different continent. My poor suitcase did suffer a little, but I also got to do exciting things for engineers such as travel on different types of aircraft, cross a 150m suspension bridge and hear about pit stop optimisation in Formula 1 racing.  The events themselves were a combination of seminars, workshops and conferences; some academic, others more industry focused.

    The main event: LAK’17, 13-17 March, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver

    This was the eight meeting of the International Learning and Knowledge (LAK) Conference organised by the Society for Learning Analytics Research (SoLAR). Conference website:

    On the 13th & 14th March I had the opportunity to be involved with the LAK17 Hackathon (GitHub: For the Hackathon I worked with colleagues from the University of British Columbia (UBC), University of Wollongong (UoW) Australia and JISC.  During the Hackathon we created Tableau dashboards to visualise staff and student interactions with courses in a VLE (Tableau workbook can be viewed and downloaded from:!/vizhome/LAKHackathonv1/Student). The staff pages focus on identifying the contents and activities incorporated in a course, when it was created, who it was created/edited or added by and the usage of that content or activity.  The student pages focus on how students interact with and navigate through courses. For the hackathon we used dummy data, initial small files were hand crafted but larger files were generated by JISC’s Michael Webb ( I am hoping to use these dashboards to gain some initial understanding of the structure of UCL’s Moodle courses for taught modules and how students interact with them.

    The main conference ran from 15th to 17th March with inspirational keynotes from Dr. Sanna Järvelä (University of Oulu, Finalnd), Dr Timothy McKay (University of Michigan) and Dr. Sidney D’Mello (University of Notre Dame).  The overall conference theme was Understanding, Informing and Improving Learning with Data. Concurrent session talks were organised by sub-theme, these sub-themes included Modelling Student Behaviour, Understanding Discourse and LA Ethics, the talks on ethics were so popular that there was barely standing room only.  Many of the papers presented still focused on LA research but there is a growing number of implementations. During the conference SoLAR launched the Handbook of Learning Analytics, hard copies were available to preview. This will primarily be freely available as electronic download, for more information please see:

    Data Fest Data Summit #Data Changes Everything, 23rd & 24th March, Edinburgh and Big Data Innovation Summit, 30th & 31st March, London

    Of these two events, the one I probably enjoyed the most was the Edinburgh Data Summit which was part of Data Fest (, a week long series of activities organised by the Data Innovation Lab.  The Data Summit had a nice buzz about it and this was helped along by the hosts Phil Tetlow (Director and Chief Architect, Three Steps Left), Day 1, and Georgie Barratt (Presenter, The Gadget Show), Day 2.  Social good was a key theme of the event with talks from NHS Scotland and Transport for London, with humanitarian applications of data science discussed in talks from Nuria Oliver of Vodafone discussing Data-Pop Alliance and Natalia Adler from Unicef discussing DataCollaboratives. The Big Data Innovation Summit ( also featured a number of public sector talks from HMRC, Department for Work and Pensions and Camden Borough Council.  A highlight was Camden’s approach to open data.

    The key message from both events was that Data Science is not magic, there is no alchemy. Exploratory data analysis is great and has its place, but the main function is to support the decision making process, and in order to this you need to understand the business questions you are trying to answer.  This is echoed in Step 4 of Jisc’s Effective Learning Analytics On-boarding, Institutional Aims (

    And everything else

    Other events attended focused on collaborative working in the sciences (, testing and validation of computational science ( and some more theoretical probability days (

    In summary it was a slightly exhausting but very informative month. Many of the ideas percolated at these events will find their way into the work I am undertaking in Digital Education over the next few months.

    UCL 2034: Improving the ‘Student Experience’ with Digital Exams

    By Karen A M Shackleford-Cesare, on 6 April 2017


    One may argue that UCL students are over-assessed. But, regardless of your take on this, it stands to reason that where examinations are used to assess learning, it is worth investing in delivery systems that give students the best possible experience and outcomes. These systems could conceivably have the following aims, to:

    1. Improve the functionality, usability and accessibility of the questions on the exam
    2. Offer greater flexibility in terms of the time, place and resources needed to host an exam
    3. Improve the support given to both students sitting exams and the staff facilitating and/or grading them
    4. Potentially reduce the time between sitting some exams and obtaining results/feedback
    5. Potentially increase transparency in marking and confidence in the grades awarded
    6. Reduce potential for errors in marking and from transcribing/transferring marks
    7. Reduce the workloads of both academic and administrative staff
    8. Reduce costs around printing, transporting, securing and storing paper

    Acknowledging that assessment and feedback are ongoing areas of student concern, and that the Education Strategy commits us to addressing and resolving persistent challenges in this area (, Brunel University’s approach to digitising some examinations is interesting.

    E-Assessment Management at Brunel

    Whereas UCL uses the quiz tool in Moodle for online exams, Brunel University has subscribed to a cloud-based digital exam platform called WISEflow for theirs. Like Turnitin this subscribed service can be linked to various VLEs including Moodle. In the case of Brunel, this happens to be Blackboard. Tutors create their quizzes/exams, which can be accessed indirectly via a link on a course page in their VLE or directly by logging into the secure WISEflow website.

    WISEflow-Select Login

    WISEflow provides tutors with 50 varied question types with quite sophisticated features allowing for different media to be embedded and for example, virtual tools, such as a ruler and a protractor to be used to measure the lines and angles of diagrams in questions. It also supports essay questions that allow a student to respond with a 1,000 to 3,000 word essay. This advantageous for exams in subjects such as law, history and literature, etc. WISEflow also has a number of features to ensure that student’s responses aren’t lost whilst being written.

    According to Niels Berg Conradsen of UNIwise,

    “WISEflow features a very robust lockdown browser module. It carries a text editor in the lockdown browser that also serves as a word processor. The students can structure their essay with headlines and even embed pictures from their webcam. Moreover, the student has a revision tool at their disposal, so they can revert the essay to former editions if they so desire”.

    This platform is sufficiently secure to support bring-your-own-device (BYOD) examinations. At a 1-day event at Brunel on March 17, 2017 attendees, (myself included), had an opportunity to hear positive feedback from Brunel’s staff and students about their experience using WISEflow, and to use it ourselves on our own devices.

    WISEflow enables tutors to create and manage digital exams, which they can assign to specific students. They can then mark the materials that the students submit in WISEflow. The marking tools are similar to those in the Moodle and Turnitin assignments. WISEflow can also be used for the submission of coursework.

    Benefits of digital exams generally for various stakeholders are listed below and may be also achieved with Moodle quizzes, (although in Moodle’s case additional software would be needed to lock the browser).

    Advantages for students:

    • It’s feasible for students to take exams remotely
    • No need to write long hand for hours (increasingly students may have little sustained handwriting practice)
    • It’s much easier to correct mistakes and make changes to responses on online exam scripts than on paper
    • It’s feasible for students to get feedback beyond just a grade on exams taken
    • Students may be able to get their results faster
    • It’s feasible to take the exam on a familiar device, their own laptop
    • Accessibility features easier to incorporate

    Advantages for tutors, administrators, invigilators:

    • Exam papers don’t have to be printed, packaged, secured and distributed to exam centres
    • No challenging handwriting to decipher
    • No paper scripts to collect, secure or transport
    • No scripts to store for the short to long term
    • Scripts can be printed as required
    • Tools exist for invigilators to monitor students’ progress through a paper they’re sitting
    • Tools exist for tutors to analyse students’ responses to each question
    • Easy to facilitate access to scripts by moderators, second markers and external examiners
    • The cost of a streamlined infrastructure for online exams may not exceed that of the current paper based examination system in place.

    Importantly, Brunel also benefited from the involvement and support of their Registry and Examinations Office in the launch of this project.

    What WISEflow can do for you…

    There are other Providers of Digital Examination Systems that may also be considered.

    Some Cons of Acquiring Another App

    This piece has highlighted many of the pros of acquiring specialist, purpose-built kit. However, some of the problems that would need to be addressed include:

    • Providing students with a “one-stop shop” for accessing their results and feedback. UCL has part sponsored the development of the MyFeedback tool in Moodle for this purpose but could it retrieve this data from a third party product?
    • Additional training and support needed
    • The integration of a new app with Moodle
    • Identifying and equipping enough rooms with adequate WiFi and power points to support BYOD
    • Adequate provision of suitable computer suites
    • Cost

    Cost Differentials

    It would be informative to compare the estimated cost of running paper-based exams with that of online exams. Instinctively, one may focus on the costs associated with the actually staging of an exam. By so doing, the paper option may seem much cheaper, if only because computing paraphernalia isn’t required. However, costs may start to even out when preparatory printing, storing and distribution expenses, (not to mention the man-hours needed), are taken into account. Plus, cost associated with moving, securing and storing hard-copy exam scripts.

    Where the computing infrastructure is exists for other purposes and would be present even if no online exams to use it, then one could argue in favour of discounting the cost it may otherwise present.

    Observations by Attendees

    See what others had to say:

    Review: Automate the Boring Stuff with Python

    By Jim R Tyson, on 4 April 2017

    Author: Al Sweigart
    Book  $29.95 print, $23.95 e-book or from Amazon £15.54 print, £11.39 Kindle.
    Youtube fifteen free videos from the Udemy course
    Udemy: £50 (Discounted to £10 as at 4/4/2017 ) fifty one lectures following the book

    Python is often said to be a fun language to learn. Programming is sometimes said to be fun to learn. The combination ought to be fun too.  My lasting impression of these materials is that they are fun.

    Learners often find that resources for beginners self-tuition in programming are either daunting, or badly designed, or too simple minded to be of real help. This set of resources scores highly on all of these.

    Automate the Boring Stuff with Python is a book that is accompanied by a website, some youtube videos, and (for pay) a Udemy online course. There are eighteen reasonable length chapters and three appendices. The first ten chapters cover the absolute basics of procedural programming starting with simple interaction with the interpreter (do some sums!) through variables and assignment, flow control, writing functions, complex data structures, strings, input and output and debugging. There are one or two other topics that it was interesting to see dealt with relatively early such as searching with regular expressions and file manipulation – including compression, bulk filename routines – but they are simply explained and they make sense given the intention of the material (automating stuff). The book is well designed and clearly written. The website has the same material but includes an in-line interpreter so that you can type code as you go, make mistakes and correct them, and see the results when, finally, you get it right. I watched the free youtube videos and they were well made with clear explanations as were the other free tasters of the Udemy course.  The youtube videos get a big thumbs up in their comments sections.

    Overall, I think these materials are a good start for a beginning programmer who isn’t intending to become a software engineer. It would suit a learner whose aim is to write programs intended mainly for their own use. It doesn’t cover some topics that are increasingly included in early training for programmers, for example version control or test driven development, but for many learners overcoming the initial barrier to writing some effective code is more important than these aspects of best practice. The use of object methods, defensive programming and more can be tackled later.

    The second part of the book and course introduces the use of python libraries for some common and useful tasks. This section includes a variety of projects including web scraping, working with spreadsheets and word processor documents, integrating email in programs. In a higher education context you might want to include numpy, scipy, matplotlib but there are good tutorials for these – good at least for someone who already has basic coding skills and is familiar with the use of libraries – exactly where someone would be after finishing this course.  They are good choices if you want to learn scripting to automate the boring stuff, maybe periodically grabbing data from a website or a spreadsheet and transforming it before writing to a new file for example.

    It’s particularly nice that the website has an embedded interpreter, but I think you would want learners to move onto an IDE eventually and perhaps in some contexts you might want to replace the use of the in-line interpreter with iPython notebooks.

    Overall this is one of the best resources for beginning programmers I have seen and as a suite of resources it could be easily supplemented and adapted to meet an expanded or amended set of objectives.

    You said, we did

    By Jessica Gramp, on 22 March 2017

    A number of recommendations emerged from the E-Learning Reports developed in 2013 across the Bartlett, Engineering and Maths and Physical Sciences (BEAMS) departments. Here’s what you asked for and what the Digital Education Advisor for the faculty arranged in response, in collaboration with staff from across the Information Services Division.


    quoteYou wanted to import module timetable information from the Common Timetable into Moodle.
    We developed a Common Timetable iCal feed to import module timetables for displaying in the Moodle calendar.


    quoteYou wanted a simplified quiz creation process with guidelines and checklists for importing questions.
    We purchased the Moodle Word Table format plugin to help staff quickly develop quizzes with simple question types (not calculated or drag and drop) in Word, including those with images and LaTeX.


    quoteYou wanted us to run staff workshops and demos to increase knowledge of e-learning tools & their potential use.
    We ran workshops across the faculties and in individual departments catered to the needs of the departments.


    quoteYou wanted to simplify the process for exporting grades out of Moodle and into Portico.
    We imported the UCL student number into Moodle and added this column to the Moodle Gradebook export, simplifying the uploading of grades from Moodle into Portico. A video explaining how to move grades from Moodle to Portico is now available on the UCL E-Learning Wiki – a space for staff to share their e-learning practice:


    Creating a Moodle Template based on the UCL E-Learning Baseline 2016

    By Jessica Gramp, on 14 March 2017

    The Digital Education Advisor for BEAMS, Jess Gramp, worked with the E-Learning Champion for Science and Technology Studies (STS), Christina Ogunwumiju, to develop a Moodle course template that meets the UCL E-Learning Baseline 2016.

    Christina then applied this baseline to every Moodle course in the department using the Moodle import feature. This means students now have a more consistent experience across modules. They can now easily find their learning resources and activities because they appear in common sections across their Moodle courses.

    Jess developed a guidance document for staff, to show them how to meet the baseline when using the template. You can view and download this below.

    Download (PDF, 298KB)


    If you would like to develop a Moodle template to improve consistency in your own department, please contact Digital Education at

    Engaging the E-Learning Champions in the Bartlett

    By Jessica Gramp, on 13 March 2017

    At this term’s E-Learning Champions in the Bartlett Faculty of the Built Environment I suggested a new approach where members were asked to answer a few questions on slides about their use of e-learning in their department. This really helped engage the staff, however the questions were a bit repetitive, so I’ve since streamlined the slides.

    The student experience officer who arranges and minutes these meetings agreed that:

    “…they seemed much more engaged, and I think this presentation format works well. It felt as though some real breakthroughs were made for people, which was great.”

    I’m hoping to try this approach in the other faculties within BEAMS: Engineering and Mathematical and Physical Sciences.

    Download (PPTX, 40KB)