This year UCL Information Services Division (ISD) is closing one of its data centres in London and relocating the technology and services that run from that location to a new state of the art facility in Slough. This is a major undertaking by ISD and nearly all services from finance and HR through to the Digital Education services such as Moodle, Lecturecast and MyPortfolio are impacted.
In order to complete this exercise all Digital Education services will be required to have a limited period of downtime to make the switch from one location to another.
To ensure we minimise the downtime and to avoid two shut-down dates, we intend to combine the migration exercise with our normal yearly upgrade and snapshot process.
As you may be aware from previous years, we normally advertise a period of 5 days of possible outage for our major Moodle upgrade (Friday evening till Wednesday Morning). This year we intend that this period will remain unchanged and that we will complete both the snapshot, upgrade and the data centre migration within the 5 day period. It will be our intention to restore services as early as possible within this 5 day window.
Moodle Snapshot and Upgrade
In response to the survey that went out to all our Moodle course tutors and administrators asking for your least inconvenient downtime window we had 201 respondents, I thank all of your who responded for doing so.
There is never going to be one date that is ideal for all users, however the survey does highlight the dates which would appear to have the least impact for the most number of users. We have also run internal reports within Moodle to identify the period with the least or no current Moodle/Turnitin submissions planned.
The selected date range is from: 6pm Friday 22nd July > 12pm Wednesday 27th July 2016
Please let me make it clear that the period that students will be without ANY access to Moodle will be less than 24 hours (Friday evening > Saturday lunch time). This is the time taken for the team to create the Snapshot which is then made immediately available.
The Snapshot is a complete copy of the live Moodle and provides students with “read only” access to ALL of the material they had prior to the snapshot being taken.
What the Snapshot does not provide is the ability for students to take part in activities, add to or change Moodle for example the following activities cannot be done:-
Submission of assignments via either Moodle or Turnitin
Quiz based activity
Posting new forum topics or replies
Please take account of this when planning Moodle activities during this period.
After the Snapshot is made available there will be a period of time when the current, live version of Moodle is unavailable to allow for the upgrade and migration to take place. During this time, students will be immediately redirected to this version upon entering the normal Moodle URL.
The publicised outage will be until 12pm Wednesday 27th July, as this “at risk period” is required in case any issues arise. The “at risk period” should be treated as if the service were unavailable and no Moodle dependant activities planned for that period.
If the chosen date range affects your course significantly in regard to Moodle usage that cannot be resolved by the use Snapshot e.g. a critical assignment submission or Moodle Exam date that cannot be altered, please contact us at email@example.com and we will work with you to provide the best possible alternative solution for your requirements.
Before the Christmas break we contacted you to say that we had identified and confirmed with Turnitin UK there was bug with Turnitin assignments set to anonymous marking.
At the time we advised against editing the post-dates on assignments as this was linked to the problems.
We are now pleased to announce that Turnitin have contacted us to confirm the problem has been resolved permanently. Last night they applied a fix to their part of the system (which is where the problem was occurring).
This means it is now safe to change post-dates without losing grades.
This is the third and final post in a series about using the Moodle Workshop activity for peer feedback, in which I’ll briefly summarise how we acted on recommendations from the second iteration which in turn built on feedback from the first go. The purpose is to interpret pedagogical considerations as Moodle activity settings.
To refresh your memories, the setting is the UCL Arena Teaching Association Programme in which postgraduate students, divided into three cognate cohorts, give and receive peer feedback on case studies they are preparing for their Higher Education Academy Associate Fellowship application. Since the activity was peer feedback only, we weren’t exploiting the numeric grades, tutor grades, or grade weighting capabilities of Moodle Workshop on this occasion.
At the point we last reported on Moodle Workshop there were a number of recommendations. Below I revisit those and summarise the actions we took and their consequences.
Improve signposting from the Moodle course area front page, and maybe the title of the Workshop itself, so students know what to do and when.
We changed the title to a friendly imperative: “Write a mini case study, give peer feedback”. That is how the link to it now appears on the Moodle page.
Instructions: let students know how many reviews they are expected to do; let them know if they should expect variety in how the submissions display.
Noting that participants may need to click or scroll for important information, we used the instructions fields for submissions and for assessment to set out what they should expect to see and do, and how. In instructions for Submission this included word count, how to submit, and that their names would appear with their submission. Then the instructions for Assessment included how to find the allocation, a rough word count for feedback, and that peer markers’ names would appear with their feedback (see below for more on anonymity). The Conclusion included how to find both the original submission and the feedback on it.
In the second iteration some submissions had been attachments while others had been typed directly into Moodle. This time we set attachments to zero, instead requiring all participants to paste their case studies directly into Moodle. We hoped that the resulting display of submission and its assessment on the same page would help with finding the submission and with cross-referencing. Later it emerged that there were mixed feelings about this: one participant reported difficulties with footnotes and another said would have preferred a separate document so he could arrange the windows in relation to each other, rather than scrolling. In future we may allow attachments, and include a line in the instructions prompting participants to look for an attachment if they can’t see the submission directly in Moodle.
Since the participants were entirely new to the activity, we knew we would need to give more frequent prompts and guidance than if they were familiar with it. Over the two weeks we sent out four News Forum posts in total at fixed times in relation to the two deadlines. The first launched the activity, let participants know where to find it, and reminded them about the submission deadline; the second, a couple of days before the submission deadline, explained that the deadline was hard and let them know how and when to find the work they had been allocated to give feedback; the third reminded them of the assessment deadline; the fourth let them know where and when to find the feedback they had been given. When asked whether these emails had been helpful or a nuisance, the resounding response was that they had been useful. Again, if students had been familiar with the process, we would have expected to take a much lighter touch on the encouragement and reminders, but first times are usually more effort.
Consider including an example case study & feedback for reference.
We linked to one rather than including it within the activity (which is possible) but some participants missed the link. There is a good case for including it within the activity (with or without the feedback). Since this is a low-stakes, voluntary activity, we would not oblige participants to carry out a practice assessment.
Address the issue that, due to some non-participation during the Assessment phase, some students gave more feedback than they received.
In our reminder News Forum emails we explicitly reminded students of their role in making sure every participant received feedback. In one cohort this had a very positive effect with participants who didn’t make the deadline (which is hard for reasons mentioned elsewhere) using email to give feedback on their allocated work. We know that, especially with non-compulsory activities and especially if there is a long time between submitting, giving feedback and receiving feedback, students will need email prompts to remind them what to do and when.
We originally had a single comments field but will now structure the peer review with some questions aligned to the relevant parts of the criteria.
Feedback givers had three question prompts to which they responded in free text fields.
Decide about anonymity – should both submissions and reviews be anonymous, or one or the other, or neither? Also to consider – we could also change Permissions after it’s complete (or even while it’s running) to allow students to access the dashboard and see all the case studies and all the feedback.
We decided to even things out by making both the submissions and reviews attributable, achieving this by changing the permissions for that Moodle Workshop activity before it ran. We used the instructions for submissions and assessment to flag this to participants.
A lead tutor for one of the cohorts had been avoiding using Moodle Workshop because she felt it was too private between a participant their few reviewees. We addressed this after the closure of the activity by proposing to participants that we release all case studies and their feedback to all participants in the cohort (again by changing the permissions for that Moodle Workshop activity). We gave them a chance to raise objections in private, but after receiving none we went ahead with the release. We have not yet checked the logs to see whether this access has been exploited.
Previously we evaluated the peer feedback activity with a questionnaire, but this time we didn’t have the opportunity for that. We did however have the opportunity to discuss the experience with one of the groups. This dialogue affirmed the decisions we’d taken. Participants were positive about repeating the activity, so we duly ran it again after the next session. They also said that they preferred to receive feedback from peers in their cognate cohort, so we maintained the existing Moodle Groupings (Moodle Groups would also work if the cohorts had the same deadline date, but ours didn’t, which is why we had three separate Moodle Workshop instances with Groupings applied).
The staff valued the activity but felt that without support from ELE they would have struggled to make it work. ELE is responding by writing some contextual guidance for that particular activity, including a reassuring checklist.
The Moodle My Feedback report is being developed as part of a UCL project to improve access to assessment feedback by both students and staff.
The My feedback report consolidates information that already exists in Moodle and displays it in a single view, in a format that is easily accessible and digestible, and therefore more meaningful for students and staff than what is currently available to them in disparate parts of Moodle. My feedback shows a view of grades and feedback for assessment activities, such as Moodle Assignments, Turnitin Assignments, Workshops for Peer Assessments and Quizzes from across modules in a single report. The report provides links to submissions and any feedback that has been released to students, including grades.
The report helps students (supported by their Personal Tutors) to better understand the variety of feedback they receive; draw ties between different assessments and modules; and allow them to reflect on their feedback to see how they can improve in future assessments.
NOTE: Unless a Personal Tutor has tutor-level access to the course where the assessments are stored, they will be unable to view the feedback directly.
The My feedback report is currently being piloted by a number of programmes at UCL, to better understand how it can be used by staff and students and to help guide future development work.
An updated version was released Saturday 5th December 2015.
The overview page shows all the assessments available for a particular student, with links to viewing the full feedback within Moodle. For someone to view the full feedback they must have access to viewing that activity on the Moodle course it resides in.
The Feedback comments page shows general feedback and grades that have been provided via Moodle. Note: feedback provided via Turnitin GradeMark can not be displayed in this report, although the grade will be displayed if entered using the standard Turnitin grading feature. The date the feedback was viewed by that student is also visible. A cross indicates the feedback has not yet been viewed.
There is further information about this tool from the ALT-Conference 2015:
ABC Curriculum tour dates for 2016 and Summary of 2015
For questions and workshops contact Clive and Nataša
Book us early! We start our ABC 2016 tour with a visit to Glasgow!
The ABC curriculum design method uses an effective and engaging paper card-based approach in a 90 minute hands-on workshop. It is based on research from the JISC and UCL IoE and designed to help module teams design engaging learning activities. It is particularly useful for new programmes or those changing to an online or more blended format. More information below.
December 2015 – ALT Winter Conference webinar
The ABCs of rapid blended course design by Clive Young and Nataša Perović. Recording of the session is available to view here: http://go.alt.ac.uk/1NIpziZ
December 2015 – A brief overview of ABC curriculum design method by Clive
October 2015 – Presentation about the ABC workshops
Consumer-ready virtual reality is just around the corner
Next year is touted as a potential for the ‘year of VR’ and as a wonderful precursor, people are already selling the hardware required for only 99p. Some are even giving it away. This will ripple into higher education with video being a likely contender for early adopters. But what is VR and how does one get it for 99p (or free)? Well you need a smartphone and around 10-15 minutes of your life…
What is VR?
Virtual reality was resting firmly in the ‘cold’ part of the ‘what’s hot’ spectrum for about 20 years; but over the last 18-24 months it has leaped from the ice to the fire in a rapid way. It is now so cheap you can have it for 99p; which smacks the technology depreciation/throw-away market so hard in the face it may have to reinvent itself too (some people already talk of throwaway tablets). But what does it mean, and why does higher education care?
If you want to find out about VR I’d point you back to a previous post, or you should search around the internet a little bit. It’s an emerging technology which places screens very close to your head, and sensors to know where you’re looking, to simulate you being in another environment. It also needs a computer to power the images you see, and the movements you make to look/move around it.
Oculus Touch – Coming Q1 2016
Oculus Rift is a simple example of a complex tech landscape. Popularised when bought by Facebook for $lots the technology plugs into your computer and can provide you with an experience which some say is immersive, and others say is nauseating or induces cybersickness. But please remember, these are developer units; they’re not consumer friendly (yet – Q1 2016 isn’t far off). This sickness is as close as you may ever want to get to experiencing a software bug!
Oculus, and many others, share a similar trait – they need a powerful computer to use them. I’ve tried it on my Macbook Air – I had forgot the machine had a fan; it became too hot to touch (near the back). The lagginess from the ultraportable didn’t help the sickness. All in all, eww & gross. Some other laptops are better, but it’s still a little off-putting when you’re new toy needs to be put away and you need to go lie down as recovery.
Enter: the smartphone.
Google Cardboard was a mini-revolution in the VR field. Being provocative, ‘not evil’ and generally idiosyncratic in their approach, Google released what seemed like the most basic VR product possible – Cardboard. This was a few years ago now but it enabled anyone with a smartphone to start playing/developing. Developers, techies and big children started buying these and exploring a new world.
Smartphone + Video = one way to VR
Your smartphone is insanely powerful for the size of it. It has a tiny display, a powerful CPU and GPU, motion sensors, location awareness, it is personalised and portable. Slotting it into a Google Cardboard now makes it a Virtual Reality device; as it can show content and sense your every movement. It’s also low-threshold, in some sense, because you are already comfortable with it. Video on smartphones is already mainstream. So what about 360, spherical or immersive video?
One example is vrse.works who released two documentaries; Clouds Over Sidra and Waves of Grace. These two UN-backed ‘films’ were two, touching, compelling and utterly enthralling pieces of cinematic content. Watchers in a UN building, somewhere nice and safe, watched in Clouds Over Sidra how Sidra, a young girl in the Za’atari Refugee Camp and having fled from Syria, would offer a chance to explore her world. Chris Milk, Director at vrse.works commented in a TED talk how VR can be a bridge to empathy for the experiences of others.
Google Cardboard wasn’t technically doing too much; it’s a complex puzzle the first time but you’re folding cardboard, adding lenses and sticking on a magnet. Children can do this; and many will this Christmas. The reason why? Cheap manufacturing has taken the cheap Google Cardboard and made it as cheap as the market can go; 99p! I have hunted on eBay and bought four of the rival offerings. I’ll report back with which is best, but from experience I am sure they’re all the same.
NYT- Free VR Kit
Just to kick it to everyone – on Sunday 8th November 2015 the New York Times gave a free Cardboard VR kit to every reader. Just to make a point? At this stage it doesn’t really matter; it got VR into another new audience, NYT readers (or their family/friends). You might even know someone with an unused voucher from their digital subscription, or willing to share theirs. NYT also released an App to share content and introduce their first documentary shot for the giveaway. Maybe, just maybe, they know it’s a part of the future landscape of journalism (like VICE News knows already) and want to break their readers in gently…
Back to the content – video first
Google Cardboard is also an app for Android and iOS. It has a video player which links to YouTube, which now supports 360 and VR video. If that doesn’t mean anything to you – STOP – and load this link (on your smartphone is best)
Welcome back to 2015
People are already making this content and there is a whole YouTube channel dedicated to it. There are also an increasing amount of apps for games, simulations, experiences, stories, social networking, explorable environments and more.
So what about higher education?
Video is the first logical step for changing HE. Who has not tried, or considered, lecture capture yet? Obiquity is likely but not so for VR, not yet anyway. To make 360/VR/spherical video you’ll need at least a 360 degree camera, which are also still quite expensive. But with this you’ll be able to capture any environment, action or event that is taking place. The trick isn’t necessarily in the editing, it’s in the experience you’re trying to capture. Imagine a researcher on a field trip; taking the watcher to a place they simply couldn’t go. Lab experiments can capture multiple synchronous events. How about an event that is so hard to replicate that you’ve only really got one shot – a rocket launching, blue moon Panda birth-type thing. The kind of event you want to capture but can’t even predict what should be in the frame, and what shouldn’t. VR video offers the playback of the whole environment, the viewer choses what to watch. It’s experimental now; but the power shifts towards the experience of viewing. Additionally; cameras can go when you can’t send a person; a volcano, to Mars or into the body – all quite tricky.
Proper VR needs a powerful amount of hardware; 99p VR does not. Video is a way in.
Limitation, there are still a few:
You need a smartphone. The cardboard on it’s own is only going to distort the back of a pice of cardboard – very real, not very virtual.
The official Google Cardboard app is for Android and iOS and it has a load of great content already (and more coming).
It’s 99p. It will not feel comfortable, it’ll break, get dirty easily and probably not hold all types of smartphone.
The really cheap ones don’t come with a strap for your head, so it’s hands-up to hold it.
They are not shaped to any head.
You’ve still got to put a thing on your head. Daftness points++
Throw it around, take it places and share it with people. It’s so cheap that 99p cardboard VR is worth the experiment if you have a smartphone. Also once used (or you’ve got bored of it) pass it on. Someone else can try it.
VR is nauseating but it also bring people right into an experience. Bugs will be fixed, hardware will improve, but this lack of gap between cheap and professional is similar to disposable cameras and SLRs. Say what you will about the smartphone requirement but it’s ever-more true that the world is connected via these devices. If they can also deliver a VR experience (and soon, capture them), imagine what’ll it be like when we’re all making the content too. It’s unlikely to become an immediate new must-have, but VR is coming and lodging itself in.
Closing thought on distance learning and virtual reality
I am learning, but the power of giving cheap VR to distance learners is certainly something to keep an eye on. This is one of my topics for exploration during 2016. I think it offers a unique and unchallenged method for connecting remote people to important things. We’ll see where it goes.