E-Learning Environments team blog
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    We support Staff and Students using technology to enhance teaching & learning.

    Here you'll find updates on developments at UCL, links & events as well as case studies and personal experiences. Let us know if you have any ideas you want to share!

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  • Assessment & feedback – links from the Joint Faculty E-Learning Forum

    By Mira Vogel, on 20 November 2014

    This morning UCL’s Joint Faculty E-Learning Forum – that’s Arts & Humanities and Social & Historical Sciences – met for the second time. The first meeting had focused on assessment and feedback, so ELE gave a brief presentation on our actions since then and recommended avenues colleagues in departments could pursue.

    This post provides some resources to support those, which you can also find in the presentation from the meeting below.

    Student engagement with assessment feedback

    Our discussions with students suggested low awareness of feedback release dates and our investigations revealed patchy engagement with feedback.

    • What can we find out about student engagement with feedback? Turnitin provides some basic information to staff about student engagement with feedback. Each assignment inbox has a student response column containing either a dot (no engagement) or in the case of students who reviewed their graded paper in GradeMark for longer than 30 seconds, an icon of a person with a check mark. For a fuller picture of how long it takes students to visit their feedback, check more than once – for example, one day, one week and one month after feedback is released. Moodle Assignment has a different process: in each assignment’s Settings block, click Logs and filter actions by View.
    • Since Moodle and Turnitin don’t alert the students automatically, it’s important to use the News Forum or other communication channel to draw students’ attention to feedback when it becomes available.
    • ELE have guidance for Moodle Assignment on how to delay providing a numeric mark, to encourage students to engage with feedback. With Turnitin this cannot be done as a bulk process, though there are workarounds.
    • Turnitin UserVoice and Moodle Tracker are available for users to contribute and vote for ideas (to create an account on Turnitin UserVoice, enter your UCL email and you should get an option to create account). For example, on Turnitin UserVoice see ‘Feedback released prior to grades’, with a corresponding item on the Moodle Tracker. Do contribute your ideas and votes.
    • The solution to low engagement may lie in rethinking assessment design so as to incorporate dialogue about earlier feedback. Jisc has gathered assessment and feedback principles and provides support for the design of assessment such as the University Of Ulster’s Viewpoints. Where there is anonymous submission, ELE has guidance on Turnitin aligned with the marking policy which enables you to lift anonymity between marking and external examining, so as to enable dialogue with students. We are in the process of preparing corresponding guidance for Moodle Assignment.

    External examining

    Efficiency gains? Efficiency losses?

    Advocacy with third party software providers






    MyPortfolio Upgrade 25 Nov 2014

    By Domi C Sinclair, on 13 November 2014

    MyPortfolio will be unavailable on 25 November 2014  from 08:00 to 10:00 whilst we carry out a routine upgrade.
    On 25 November we will upgrade MyPortfolio to version 1.10. There are many benefits to this upgrade, including A new editable dashboard, social media block and Open Badges backpack integration.
    New editable dashboard – The dashboard now has new icons for Create, Share and Engage, which help promote the key benefits to the system. You can also now customise your dashboard so it had the information and look you want.

    MyPortfolios dashboard




    Social media block – There is now a social media section of the Profile which allows you to link to your sites easily. You can then include these links on any page as a nice easy series of button thank link directly to your content.

    Social media block




    Open Badges backpack integration – Display your public Mozilla Open Badge collections from your backpack on your MyPortfolio page.

    Open Badges in MyPortfolio






    If you have any questions about the upgrade please email ele@ucl.ac.uk and we would be happy to answer your questions or address your concerns.
    All times are for the UK (GMT or BST), for other locations please convert: http://www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/converter.html

    BoB (Box of Broadcasts) National

    By Natasa Perovic, on 1 November 2014


    How are you getting on with BoB?

    Short videos on how to record programmes and create clips and playlists:




    Recording a programme


    Creating Clips


    Additional features

    To access BoB, log in with your UCL user details http://bobnational.net/

    BoB user guide http://bobnational.net/faq

    A day In the Life

    By Mike J Allinson, on 31 October 2014

    Woke up, fell out of bed
    Dragged a comb across my head
    Found my way downstairs and drank a cup
    And looking up I noticed I was late
    Found my coat and grabbed my hat
    Made the bus in seconds flat

    abbey rd

    I was invited by Revolabs to give a presentation to their European distributors, from the perspective of an end user using their audio products in higher education. This was my inaugural presentation outside UCL. I thought it might be interesting to share this so others can understand some of what I do. I have to say what follows is not every day but does capture some of the more interesting aspects of my role.

    The group meeting was held at Abbey Road Studios in studio 2 which in the 60s and early 70s was where the Beatles recorded all of their albums, hence the title and opening lyric on this blog
    In 2010 due to the growth of the mobile and smart phone industry the demand for extra bandwidth for these products became clear. So the Government seeing an opportunity for lucrative revenue gathering started looking at the radio-frequency bandwidth to see how they could achieve this. They decided the sensible thing to do was to move the bandwidth currently occupied by radio microphones.
    Along with the entertainment industry this put huge pressure on higher education who were seeing a growth in the use of radio microphones for medium to large teaching spaces. At that time there were two channels we could operate radio microphone frequencies in. Channel 69 (854-862MHz) and Channel 70 (863-865MHz). In 2012 the government sold off Channel 61-69 to the telecoms industry for their expansion into G4. This subsequently moved licensed radio frequency of channel 69 to channel 38. This meant that any microphone equipment that was bought to operate on channel 69 was now obsolete. Providing you had been using this bandwidth with a licence there was a government refund to help towards replacement equipment operating on new channel 38. Some Universities took advantage of that offer but it was and administrative nightmare. Many universities operated on the free channel, Channel 70. The problem operating on Channel 70 was the systems is in close proximity to channel 69 where there was potential for interference from the G4 network.
    Channel 38 required people to restock the radio microphone systems and be drawn into a recurrent costs for licensing. From UCL’s perspective  location in central London had drawbacks of being relatively close to the West End theatre. Therefore after much deliberation we decided to look to alternative technology. This is where our partnership with Revolabs began.

    Revolabs are Unified Communications Company based on the east coast  of the United States. Their microphone systems operate on the DECT system (Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications) as opposed to UHF (Ultra High Frequency). DECT has a dedicated license-exempt band in most countries worldwide and also ensures that the microphone platform has high spectral density, allowing up to 40 microphones in a single space without mutual interference or spurious effects. DECT delivers high quality 15 kHz audio bandwidth with automated set-up and frequency management. It also extends the range of radio microphones up to 100 metres without requiring line of sight to the transmitter. Many users of other radio microphone systems are faced with significant frequency management issues that are difficult to solve with limited budgets or in-house expertise. DECT’s automatic frequency band allocation ensures that microphones can be ‘paired’ with the receiver(s) with a simple button press.

    We started to replace our UHF mic systems with the Revolab solo proved effective in medium size teaching spaces and was a good solution for sound capture when using lecturecast. We found the early solo versions were not suitable or powerful enough for larger teaching spaces so kept our legacy UHF systems in those larger spaces. Over the past 3 to 4 years Revolab have significantly improved the technology and quality of their mic systems, the HD executive and now the HD elite have an excellent remote management systems that allows us so much more control and flexible management that we are happy to install these in all teaching spaces.

    The response from the audience, who consisted of major distribution partners for Revolabs from all across northern Europe as well as senior executives of Revolabs from the US was very positive. One of the largest HE institutions in the US to embrace this technology is MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). So I think we are in good company.Pleas feel free to check to the products we are using athttp://www.revolabs.com/products

    Mike Allinson

    Learning Spaces AV specialist
    University College London

    Facebook assassins?

    By Mira Vogel, on 27 October 2014

    Four protesters about Facebooks real name policy

    There is a lot of social media use in higher education – see Rey Junco’s research, for example. One reason for this is summarised by David Wiley:

    Q: What would happen if Facebook worked like Blackboard?
    A: Every 15 weeks Facebook would delete all your photos and status updates and unfriend all your friends.

    So here’s bit of a comparison of four social networking services Facebook, Google+ and two upstarts Ello and Tsu – far from the only alternatives, but four of a kind. As a comparison it’s pretty one-dimensional because rather than what the services allow members to do I’m focussing on the preliminary but fundamental matter of how they turn a profit, pieced together from a quick scan of articles.

    All are venture capital funded and consequently they either rely on member subscriptions or they commoditise their members by putting pricetags on their biographical data, shares and relationships. In the latter case they depend on members to befriend and be befriended, follow and be followed, feed news and be fed news. Google+ is Google’s answer to Facebook. Facebook probably needs no introduction, and rumours of its death may or may not be exaggerated. At any rate there is currently a disaffection with advert-saturated intrusive business models where members generate profitable content and everybody but the members seems to profit. Ello and Tsu are two such responses. So how do they compare?

    Business model

    Ello is set to become one of a small number of public benefit corporations in the US – this broadly relates to who owns the assets, how much profit is reinvested in the company, and constraints on the future direction of the company. Ello managed to raise more venture capital investment than usual for this type of business. Its freemium service offers members a basic service for free and charges for advanced features – Ello founders point out that this is basically the successful iPhone app business model, except there’s no need to buy anything at all. Ello don’t mine members’ data.

    Tsu calls itself a “combined social network and payment platform”, and members can share from it to Facebook and Twitter. Tsu revenue comes from page views (so favours members who post lots, find lots of new members, and have lots of friends sharing their posts), but members keep a stake in their data and “therefore they own the royalties generated from advertising, sponsorship and partnership dollars wrapped around their content”. Data here includes a member’s network – a portion of the revenue goes to the person who invites a member to Tsu – this ‘parent’ is in line for a kind of finder’s fee every time the member gets a payout, as is their parent, their parent’s parent, in diminishing fractional payouts. There are questions about motivation to join in and share, and the revenue-sharing processes are said to be rather complicated for the average punter – but they are the main innovation.

    Facebook uses member data to personalise and target advertising to them. It also has its members advertise to each other by default. It has a real name policy – one account per member, using their own name. For some time there have been privacy concerns about Facebook, such as Instant Personalization which shared members’ demographic data with selected commercial partners.  At the same time, for those whose networks are already established in Facebook there tends to be profound inertia about migrating elsewhere. In 2013  a Facebook user was reportedly (methods subject to debate) worth $98, and a Facebook Like, $174.

    Google is an advertising company which seeks to collect user data over time in order to refine its contextual advertising algorithm. To do this, Google wants you to log into one or other of its services. Some have commented that Google+ is less a social network and more a demographic research tool – for some time you only had to be logged into, for example, Android, or gmail, or Chrome, or YouTube) to be passively using Google+, with resulting privacy concerns.  Google+ recently eased up on pressurising users into the service, abandoned its real name policy, and stopped requiring a Google+ account to use Google Hangouts. It’s currently hard to work out its business model, and this has led some to question its future.

    On screen advertising

    Facebook depends on its members’ profile and user data to serve demographically-targeted adverts to its members which appear throughout the site. Its terms require members to use one account in their own name and be truthful in their profile. Because members use Facebook to socialise rather than view content, it has a relatively low rate of clicks on the adverts it serves but its sheer numbers of members compensates for this. Contextual advertising is also Google’s line – although Google+ doesn’t itself currently have on-screen ads, they aren’t ruled out and in any case there are ads on Google Search and other Google services. Ello‘s charter [PDF] commits it to be free of “paid advertising on behalf of a third party” and it doesn’t mind what you put in your profile. Tsu has advertising.

    What’s at stake?

    There has been a recent spate of class actions against intrusive, exploitative practices by social media companies with advertising-driven business models – not least this humungous one – and these are meeting with some success. Concerns about algorithmic manipulation were popularised by Eli Pariser in his 2012 book The Filter Bubble, and are a major theme in technology commentary – see for example Zeynep Tufeksi on Twitter’s roll-out of algorithmic curation. The problem (which is particularly antithetical to academia) is that algorithms opaquely serve members things they are calculated to like, and people tend to prefer agreeable or affirming stuff over challenging or troublesome stuff (you won’t be surprised to learn there are algorithmic answers to that; there are also alternatives such as Pariser’s Upworthy which piggy backs on other algorithms, although that’s a balancing act). The question is the same one people are asking about learning analytics: is the algorithm secret and commercially sensitive or is it available for scrutiny? It’s very early days for Ello – it is currently nowhere near as lubricated as the leading social networks in terms of sharing between networks, for example, but Ello’s is the only business model where members will explicitly not be subjected to data manipulation. Some commentators urge a more dispersed form of social networking – for example the POSSE, or ‘Publish (on your) Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere’ approach allows members to share posts from one place (here, their own) to many other places.


    Are any of these things a factor in your choice of social network? Perhaps not. Feel free to poke holes. On Facebook privacy see this snappy guidance from Sally Burr at the University of Sussex. Finally, how to join. With Tsu you need to be invited – it’s very easy to get invited but given the money involved I’m not going to recommend any one or other Tsu parent, so search for somebody you’re happy to generate revenue for. At this stage with Ello you also have to be invited, but you can request an invitation from its homepage. You can join the million-plus waiting list, or look out for somebody to invite you. Google+ and Facebook are open to anyone over 13.

    *Image source: Facebook forces drag queens and trans people to use “real names” – marked by Google Image Search as ‘Labeled for reuse with modification’.

    HT Natasa Perovic and Niv Setru for some of the links

    Test Moodle accounts for staff to experiment with

    By Mira Vogel, on 14 October 2014

    Find the link in your Moodle course area's Settings block.

    Moodle now gives any staff member in an editing role the ability to create up to 15 test accounts for up to 15 days. These are easy to set up from any Moodle course area. They are assigned a student role in the Moodle course area where they are set up, but their creator can use them across other course areas they edit.

    What’s the point of these?

    As Moodle editors, test accounts can help you understand the how the materials and activities you set up in Moodle will be encountered by your students, beyond what Moodle’s ‘Switch Role To’ function affords. Specifically they let you:

    • anticipate students’ needs when making design decisions in your Moodle area.
    • reassure yourself about exactly what students can access, eg when you’re hiding or revealing elements, when using Groups and Groupings, or using the Gradebook to give assessment feedback.
    • familiarise yourself with the way things display to students eg Quizzes, the Gradebook, Forum posts, email alerts.
    • anticipate student questions and author instructions accordingly, for students from their point of view.
    • discover important insights when experimenting with something new in Moodle; interacting with the new thing in one or more student roles, then logging back in as editor to see whether it works as intended from a tutor point of view.

    How can they help?

    • you can test and check as you go along – in other words you can play, experiment and build your confidence within Moodle.
    • you’re independent and don’t have to rely on colleagues to pose as students.
    • you can design your Moodle areas from an authentic student perspective, which hopefully makes them easier to use, which in turn means fewer student questions and more student satisfaction.
    • if you want to persuade your colleagues to try something new in Moodle, you don’t have to rely on their imaginations or optimism so much – you can actually show them, and even let them log in and play.

    What can you do with them?

    A few of the things you can only do with confidence if you can log in as Test Students.

    • Testing bulk enrolment into Groups.
    • Testing the difference between separate and visible Groups.
    • Testing what privacy looks like for your private Forum.
    • Testing whether the things you need to be selectively hidden are displaying as anticipated (and whether they are available when the time comes for them to be revealed).
    • Testing whether your Grouped resources and activities are displaying to your different Groups and Groupings as intended.
    • Testing whether emails from news/announcement forums are working, and how they behave, so you can instruct students about settings in a way appropriate for your course.

    How can you get some?

    There are instructions in the Moodle Resource Centre.

    Anything else to know?

    The accounts are only for Moodle and cannot be used to access other UCL services requiring full user accounts.