Digital Education team blog
  • We support Staff and Students using technology to enhance education at UCL.

    Here you'll find updates on institutional developments, projects we're involved in, updates on educational technology, events, case studies and personal experiences (or views!).

    Subscribe to our elearning newsletters.

  • Subscribe to this blog

  • Meta

  • Tags

  • Creative Commons Licence

  • A A A

    Archive for the 'Jessica’s Journal' Category

    ABC LD – the next steps

    By Natasa Perovic, on 13 July 2018

    UCL Digital Education has been awarded two year Erasmus+ funding to develop their well-known ABC learning design workshop with a 12 European universities. Since its inception at UCL only three years ago this unique ‘rapid-development’ approach to help academics develop high tech student-focused modules and programmes has had an unprecedented impact on the sector. Dr Clive Young, the originator of ABC alongside his Digital Education colleague Nataša Perović, gives the reasons for its success, “Most universities have aspirational strategies to develop future-looking digitally rich and blended courses, but few teachers have the skills, knowledge and time to redesign their programmes”. ABC is UCL’s response, a light touch team-based approach which co-creates a visual storyboard for a module in just 90 minutes. Over 75 workshops have been run at UCL with nearly 500 academics (and students) redesigning around 200 modules. The participant response has been overwhelmingly positive and ABC was soon picked up beyond UCL, and is now used at 20 other universities in the UK alone. The Erasmus project builds a strategic partnership between UCL, six other universities from the League of European Universities (Amsterdam, Helsinki, Leuven, Milan and the Sorbonne, with Oxford as an associate) and six innovative universities from Belgium, Denmark, Croatia, Estonia, Ireland and Romania. The partnership will develop ABC as a downloadable toolkit that can be used globally by any institution in the sector.  More information…

    Follow the project progress via twitter @ABCtoVLE @ABC_LD.

    BLE/UoL User Experience Conference 2018

    By Jessica Gramp, on 12 May 2018

    Thurs 28th – Fri 29th June

    Hosted by Birkbeck, University of London

    Following the University of London’s successful conference Demystifying User Experience Design & Testing last year, the Bloomsbury Learning Environment (BLE) in partnership with the University of London (UoL) is holding a free, two-day event for staff based at UoL member institutions on Thursday 28th and Friday 29th June.

    On these two days, we are offering three distinct workshops, which are each focused on different applications of UX. Come along to all three or select those that interest you. Places are limited, so don’t delay registering your place!

    Day 1: Thursday 28th June

    am: User Research: focus groups, user testing and user feedback
    pm: User Centred Content

     

    Thursday 28th June: Morning workshop

    User Research: focus groups, user testing, surveys and user feedback

    A practical session with guest speakers sharing their insights into user research and associated applications.
    Led by Naomi Bain, Web Officer (Training and User Experience) – Birkbeck, University of London

    0930 Coffee & Registration
    • Introduction (Naomi Bain)
    • Keynote: conducting f2f user testing (Jane Lessiter, Goldsmiths)
    • Case studies: sharing experiences of user research
    • Practical session: how to conduct a web user testing session. This session will include tips, discussion, sharing experiences, questions and trying out the roles of tester and testee (Naomi)
    End by 1300

    Thursday 28th June: Afternoon workshop

    User Centred Content

    An overview of the online tools available to help you to plan and review your own content. Mapping users against online content – bring along a piece of your own content to review! Finishing with a panel Q&A discussion around content strategy and governance.
    Led by Melanie Read, Head of Digital – University of London

    1345 Registration, with a prompt start at 1400
    • Welcome, Introductions and icebreaker
    • Content planning – what tools do you use for planning content.
    • Content mapping – against the difference users types and then creating content suitable to that user.
    • Content strategy and governance
    • Panel discussion: how to manage governance
    End by 1630

    Day 2: Friday 29th June

    am: Moodle and Accessibility

     

    Friday 29th June: Morning workshop

    Moodle and Accessibility

    This workshop will focus specifically on Moodle and the considerations and requirements to ensure courses are accessible to all users.
    Led by Sarah Sherman, Service Manager – Bloomsbury Learning Environment

    0930 Coffee and registration
    • Welcome & Introductions (Sarah Sherman, BLE)
    • Presentation 1: Birkbeck For All (Leo Havemann, Birkbeck)
    • Presentation 2: Policy for Accessibility (Nic Charlton, University of London)
    • Presentation 3: Working with Moodle (Nic Christodoulou, SOAS)
    • Presentation 4: Accessibility initiatives at UCL (Jess Gramp & Paul Thompson, UCL)
    • Presentation 5: Checking for accessibility in Moodle (Herve Didiot-Cook, Blackboard)
    • Panel discussion
    • Workshop activity: developing Moodle accessibility guidelines for practitioners
    End by 1300

    Book your place now.

     

    For further details about the event, please contact Sarah Sherman or Melanie Read

    Sneak a peak at the new (more accessible) UCL Moodle theme

    By Jessica Gramp, on 9 October 2017

    As part of a wider Accessible Moodle project, a new UCL Moodle theme is being designed to make it more accessible for those with disabilities. The theme is like a skin (or a wallpaper) that changes the way the text and colours are displayed, without changing any of the content that exists on each Moodle page. As well as changing the look and feel of all Moodle pages, it will provide additional navigation aids in the form of menus, blocks that can be hidden and potentially also docked blocks, which sit to the left of the page for easy access.

    The new theme will be rolled out to all staff and students in the next major upgrade of UCL Moodle in summer 2018. The Moodle theme is applied to a user account and in Summer 2018 everyone will be switched to the new theme automatically as part of the UCL Moodle Summer Upgrade. The theme is not to be confused with Moodle course formats, which allow you to change the way a Moodle course is laid out.

    I wrote earlier on how the new theme will address accessibility issues. A number of staff across UCL provided feedback on the proposed theme and after a number if iterations, we have now agreed on a design that foremost meets the needs of staff with particular disabilities, as well as being more usable for everyone. As well as working with individuals who participated in the project’s initial focus groups, the E-Learning Champions were also given the opportunity to feed in their comments on the proposed theme and forward this to interested colleagues.

    The proposed new UCL Moodle theme showing collapsed topics format

    The proposed new UCL Moodle theme showing collapsed topics format. Click to enlarge.

    We had contemplated a pink theme, however, blue proved to be a better option for a number of staff with particular disabilities. The blue version was also more popular with those staff without disabilities. The below design shows how the tabbed course format will look, but with blue, instead of pink tabs, menus and links.

    Tabbed course format but the pink tabs, text and menus will be blue

    Tabbed course format but the pink tabs, menus and links will be blue. Click to enlarge.

    The UCL Moodle homepage will be simplified and will provide more space for news relating to teaching and learning at UCL. The menus will be blue instead of the pink shown in the design below.

    New more accessible UCL Moodle homepage, but with blue instead of pink menus

    UCL Moodle homepage, but with blue instead of pink menus. Click to enlarge.

    The Accessible Moodle project team at UCL worked closely with designer Ralph Bartholomew from St Albans Web Design and developer Pat Lockley from Pgogy Webstuff to implement the new theme.

    If you have any questions or comments about the new theme, or would like to be involved in the pilot, please contact Jessica Gramp.

    [Edited to remove reference to the theme pilot, which was not able to go ahead as planned].

    Applying Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Principles to VLE design

    By Jessica Gramp, on 16 July 2017

    Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Principles describe how educators can cater to the needs of students with differing needs, including those with disabilities (CAST 2011). It stems from the social model of disability, which places the problem within the environment, rather than with the individual who has the disability (Collins 2014).
    Technology enables the quick modification of learning materials to meet the specific needs of students (Pisha & Coyne 2001) and online communication can even hide a disability from others. For example, a deaf student who participates in an online discussion forum does not need to reveal they are deaf in order to communicate with peers. This can lower the social and communication barriers that may be experienced when communicating in person. Also, there are many modern technologies specifically developed to help people with disabilities engage with online environments. This means online learning environments are particularly well placed to address the goal of Universal Design for Learning. It is the responsibility of the institutions and developers who maintain these environments to ensure they can be accessed by all.
    While most of the UDL guidelines apply to curriculum design, some of them are relevant to the design of the broader virtual learning environment (VLE).

    UDL principles (CAST 2011) mapped to how a VLE might meet relevant checkpoints

    To learn more, click on one of the Guidelines in the boxes below.

    I. Provide Multiple Means of Representation

    PerceptionLanguage, expressions, and symbolsComprehension

    II. Provide Multiple Means of Action and Expression

    Physical actionExpression and communication
    Executive function

    UDL Principle 1 aims to ‘provide multiple means of representation’  by ‘providing options for perception’, which includes ‘offer[ing] ways of customizing the display of information’ (CAST 2011). This means the VLE should offer the ability to do things like resize text and enable screen-readers to read aloud text to those who have visual impairments or dyslexia.

    Within UDL Principle 2, guideline 4: aims to ‘provide options for physical action’, which includes ‘vary[ing] the methods for response and navigation’ (CAST 2011). This means ensuring all navigation and interaction can occur via a keyboard and using assistive technologies such as voice activated software like Dragon NaturallySpeaking, which recognises speech and converts it to text.
    UDL Principle 3 seeks to ‘provide multiple means of engagement’ by ‘recruiting interest’, including enabling the learner to choose colours and layouts (CAST 2011). There are a number of tools that enable users to change the fonts and colours on a webpage and it is important these are able to be applied. The VLE should also offer the ability to customise the interface, in terms of re-ordering frequently accessed items, placement of menus and temporarily hiding extraneous information that may distract from the task at hand.
    These three principles and the specific checkpoints mentioned above are being addressed as part of the Accessible Moodle project, which aims to make UCL Moodle more accessible. The main ways these are being addressed are through the development of a more accessible Moodle theme, as well as the development of Moodle code itself. Although the project has limited ability to develop this code, suggestions for improvements are being raised with the Moodle development community via the Moodle Tracker. You can sign up and vote for accessibility enhancements to help these get prioritised, and therefore resolved more quickly, by Moodle HQ and other developers within the community.
    The remaining UDL principles are intended to guide the development of more accessible content and curriculum designs, and therefore these will inform the development of the Universal Design for Learning course that is being developed at UCL, to help educators understand how to design accessible learning tasks, environments and materials.
     
    You can read more about the Accessible Moodle project on the UCL Digital Education blog.
     
    References
    CAST (2011). Universal Design for Learning Guidelines version 2.0. [online]. Available from: http://www.udlcenter.org/sites/udlcenter.org/files/UDL_Guidelines_Version_2.0_(Final)_3.doc [Accessed 16 July 2017].
    Collins, B. (2014). Universal design for learning: What occupational therapy can contribute? [Online]. Occupational Therapy Now, 16(6), 22-23. Available from: http://eprints.bournemouth.ac.uk/21426/1/Collins.pdf [Accessed 16 July 2017].
    Pisha, B. & Coyne, P. (2001) Smart From the Start: The Promise of Universal Design for Learning. Remedial and Special Education. [Online] 22 (4), 197–203. Available from: doi:10.1177/074193250102200402.

    Accessible Moodle Theme

    By Jessica Gramp, on 10 July 2017

    As part of a wider Accessible Moodle project, a new UCL Moodle theme is being designed to make it more accessible for those with particular disabilities.

    The new theme will address some accessibility concerns by using:
    • Larger fonts and icons.
    • Off-white backgrounds to reduce glare.
    • High contrasting and brighter colours.
    • Making the main content areas more prominent.
    • Using icons, alongside or in place of text, to de-clutter the screen and make it easier to identify important links and information.

    If you work or study at UCL and would like to provide feedback on the initial designs, please contact j.gramp@ucl.ac.uk as soon as possible, using your UCL email account.

    Accessible Moodle wishlist

    By Jessica Gramp, on 20 June 2017

    The following outlines recommendations from the Accessible Moodle project to improve the accessibility of UCL Moodle for disabled students and staff, as well as improve usability for all users. These have been informed by focus groups with disabled students and staff; analysis of how UK websites adhere to accessibility guidelines; and research of relevant journal articles and accessibility guidelines.

    Our primary aim is to ensure Moodle is technically accessible using assistive technologies including ZoomText, JAWS screen-reader, Read & Write, Dragon NaturallySpeaking voice recognition software, as well as other assistive technologies commonly used at UCL. In addition, keyboard-only access should be fully supported. It is also important that UCL Moodle is usable for those with disabilities, as well as the wider student and staff community.

    In order to develop these recommendations, the project team ran focus groups with UCL students and staff with disabilities, to find out what they found difficult to use within Moodle and what suggestions they had for improvements. I have blogged previously about the background to the project and the outcomes of these focus groups.

    A number of sources were also referenced to see how Moodle could be made to better adhere to accessibility guidelines. The most important of these are the following three guidelines from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) :

    • Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level AA for making Moodle and its content more accessible.
    • Web Accessibility Initiative – Accessible Rich Internet Applications Suite (WAI-ARIA) for designing Moodle so users of assistive technologies, like screen-readers, can navigate and read its pages.
    • Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG) for making the Moodle rich text editors more accessible.

    A number of websites were also analysed to compare how each of them implemented W3C guidelines.

    The list that follows is a wish list, which may not all be implemented, but gives us a guide for how we might improve Moodle. Although there are many other elements that are important, but not mentioned below, the following makes a start of improving the interface for disabled  and non-disabled users alike.

    We are taking a multi-faceted approach to resolve the issues identified, and work is likely to be ongoing, but here’s a list of changes we’d like to see made to make Moodle more accessible.

    Assistive Technology compatibility.

    The following recommendations are likely to require implementation at multiple levels, so don’t easily fit under any single development areas below. The project aims to achieve the following:

    • Content and editing features are available to screen-readers, or suitable alternatives are available – e.g. offline marking in Word enables in-line marking for assessments.
    • Navigation is straight-forward, with content appearing before menus and appropriate headings, links and lists being utilised to enable easy navigation using common screen-reader features. E.g. the list of module tutor names under every Moodle course name in the search results means that hundreds of links are listed to screen-reader users and sighted users are overwhelmed by irrelevant information which needs to be scrolled past, and which is particularly problematic for those with dyslexia.
    • All images have alt tags (even if these are empty), or in the case of icons that supplement text, they use ARIA tags to tell screen-readers to ignore them.
    • Accepts user input using voice recognition software, like Dragon Naturally Speaking.
    • Enables magnification by ensuring the pages display well when the browser is zoomed in or when zooming software is used.
    • Visible focus when using the keyboard (tab, space, enter and arrow keys) to navigate.
    • Supports the use of OpenDyslexi font, available as a browser plugin to help those with dyslexia read text.

    A multi-faceted approach

    The following five areas outline the different ways in which Accessibility improvements can be made to UCL Moodle.

    1. A new, more accessible UCL Moodle theme for use on desktop and mobile devices.
      • Minimise clutter, by enabling blocks to be hidden and removing extraneous information.
      • Position elements for optimal access. E.g. ensure the login is prominent and important course features are easy to access.
      • Simplify the menus, by showing relevant links only to relevant users. E.g. staff see different links from students.
      • Improve the course icons by making them larger and clearer. E.g. the maximise block link is not intuitive.
      • Show alerts to users – e.g. explaining that editors can drag and drop files, warnings of Moodle outage periods.
      • Improve navigation, e.g. by enabling links to key areas that users expect.
      • Use high contrasting colours on a pale background that is easy to read for those with dyslexia (e.g. not white).
    2. Changes to Moodle configuration.
      • Configure text editors so they encourage accessible content design. E.g. offering heading styles 3-5, removing the inclination for people to add heading 1 and 2 tags when these are used at higher levels within Moodle pages.
      • Enable global search (assuming this does not negatively impact performance).
      • Allow students and staff to personalise the interface by enabling courses to be moved up and down on the My Home page, hide and show blocks, maximise the screen or use a default width better for reading and dock blocks.
    3. Enhanced Moodle features.
      A number of plugins to Moodle exist that make Moodle more usable and improve accessibility.

      • Implement and configure user tours to help users understand how to use Moodle and point to help with accessibility features.
      • Install the course checks plugin to help staff create an accessible Moodle course – e.g. checks for assignment due dates in past, courses not reset, broken links.
      • Implement a Moodle course site map so students can easily see what is available on a course on one page.
      • Enable importing content from Word, which some users find easier to edit within than Moodle.
      • Pilot the Blackboard Ally plugin to help in the creation of more accessible learning resources and course structures.
      • Install the Office 365 plugin to make it easier to author, organise and link or embed content into Moodle (coming to Moodle core in v3.3).
      • Enable staff to add icons to help signpost particular areas of their course and help people who prefer these visual cues, as opposed to having to read excessive text.
    4. Improved training, staff development and support.
      • Develop a course for Moodle editors so they understand how to develop accessible Moodle resources and activities.
      • Develop an online course to explain how Assistive Technologies can be used with Moodle (e.g. regions for JAWS, browser plugins to show a reading ruler, change fonts to OpenDyslexi font, improve colour contrast).
    5. Improved interfaces by proposing enhancements to Moodle HQ and iParadigms (who provide Turnitin).
      • Adequately signpost links showing (new window, document, external/internal etc) automatically.
      • Enable users to personalise their experience by allowing them to choose their own course format, set blocks to particular colours.
      • Improve assessment interfaces, such as the Moodle Assignment rubric functionality and display.
      • Flag new items on the Moodle course page (allow this to be enabled/disabled in user preferences).
      • Improve the Moodle calendar – e.g. size, reliance on colour, clicking month to access full screen.
      • Improve the discussion forums – e.g. showing the entire thread when replying, the accessibility of the email alerts it sends.
      • Fix Moodle heading tags.

    The UCL Digital Education team, staff in Disability Support teams and staff from IT for IoE  are slowly working through each of these five strands to make improvements to virtual learning experiences at UCL for those with disabilities. Many of these improvements will also benefit other Moodle users, since accessibility cannot be considered in isolation from usability, so this means an enhanced user experience for everyone!