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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  • Archive for the 'General Learning Technology' Category

    A new way of handling calls and emails to E-Learning Environments

    By Domi C Sinclair, on 28 July 2014

    As of the 29th July both the E-Learning Environments (ELE) team and the majority of ISD will be moving to a new ticketing system. At the moment ELE use a system called ARS Remedy to manage all incoming emails to our shared account. From Tuesday 29th July we will be moving to a new system called RemedyForce, where we will also be raising tickets for any issues or requested made by phone as well.

    We recommend using the new self-service portal, where you can raise tickets and monitor their progress. This is also the location you will be directed to for updates on the progress of any issues or requested you submit.

    This new system should allow tickets to be shared more easily across ISD and should help us better manage support. There is also a portal where you can view any tickets associated to you, and see what updates have been made to them. As this is a new system however we do ask that you are patient with us, as there is a transition period and so response times may initial increase, but this should be temporary.

    You can read more about the switch on the ISD News pages.

    Live lecture broadcast study at UCL

    By Rod Digges, on 22 July 2014

    Students in Lecture


    Many Lecture spaces at UCL that have been equipped with Lecturecast are now able to stream (broadcast live) lectures but this aspect of Lecturecast has yet to be introduced to the UCL teaching community.

    In light of this, E-Learning Environments will be undertaking a limited exploratory study of live streaming, inviting a number (5-10) interested academics to use streaming in addition to recording their lectures.
    If you are interested in taking part in this study or want to find out more read on..

    Where next with Mahara / MyPortfolio?

    By Mira Vogel, on 21 July 2014

    A few of us spent part of last week in Brighton at MaharaUK 2014. Mahara – the environment UCL calls MyPortfolio – allows individuals and groups to create and connect multimedia-rich pages which they can selectively publish.  E-Learning Environments gave a couple of presentations with an emphasis on how Mahara can help with assessed group work. Mahara has really taken off at UCL in this area because it is student-facing, supported by ELE, accepts a huge range of embeds from the wider web, and enables the operational tasks (setting up groups, imposing deadlines, access for assessors, etc) which can be painful on external web services. Set out in this 2013 comparison of possible group work environments at UCL, these factors contributed to a decision on the part of the History department to choose Mahara for a compulsory Year 1 course, the subject of my co-authored presentation below (PDF available).

    Domi Sinclair expanded on the different ways Mahara groups can be used for assessment.

    My conference stand-outs included the University of Brighton’s Sue Greener explaining how she uses Mahara to supervise research students, and the University of Nottingham’s personal development initiative in biosciences (Judith Wayte, from 38.20 on the first recording). As somebody usually removed from software development, I got a lot out of attending the developers’ workshop with Aaron Wells and colleagues at Catalyst (one of the Mahara Partner companies contracted by different institutions at different times to make Mahara what it is). Being free and open source, Mahara depends on its users’ community-mindedness for ideas, help for users and software code; guidance on how to contribute is available on the Mahara wiki. I missed the presentation from Eric Rousselle from Discendum Oy, a Finnish Mahara Partner, about kyvyt.fi, a Finnish government-funded intiative to extend Mahara with integration of cloud platforms, an annotation tool, web meeting and a new interface – among other things. Also supporting group work, Nadia Spang Bovey and Patrick Roth talked about their work extending Mahara in a Swiss higher education context, including wizards for operating Mahara, and a range of ways (timeline, linked map, tag cloud) to navigate a portfolio. They have a prototype and a very short survey they’d like Mahara users to take, linked from their abstract.

    As usual for a conference of tooled-up learning technology enthusiasts and galvanised by the conference game, there was an active back channel on Twitter – see Judith Wayte’s weave on Storify.

    5 Reasons to Reset your Course

    By Domi C Sinclair, on 14 July 2014

    Many of your will have seen notices come round reminding you that courses should be reset at the end of their period of use. This is ordinarily the end of the academic year, although this could vary from course to course. If you would like to find out more about getting your Moodle site ready for the next academic year please see our advice on the UCL Moodle Resource Centre.

    There are many ways resetting your Moodle course can be helpful not only to you, but also to your students and to UCL in general. The process of resetting your course, at the default level, simply involves wiping student data and setting up new Turnitin classes (should you be using Turnitin). It does not involve removing or deleting any content, other than posts or submissions made by students. Should you need to refer back to a student forum post or assignment submission this can be done via the snapshot version of Moodle available via https://moodle-archive.ucl.ac.uk/

    Here are just 5 reasons why it is important to reset your course.

    1. Make it easier to find new student contributions/ submissions – you won’t have to wade through previous years to find what is happening in the new academic period.

    2. The page will load faster – if you keep old student data then this will have to load along with the new data, causing Moodle to take longer to load.

    3. Helps to prevent confusion – if students are still enrolled on previous years course then they might be confused by any amendments for the new cohort, instead point them to the Moodle snapshot.

    4. It’s the neighborly thing to do - a smaller database means that everyone can access content faster, so it helps the whole of UCL have a faster Moodle.

    5. It will keep Turnitin working – we have a defined number of licensed users, and if we exceed this Turnitin stops working. Without resetting the student numbers simply keep adding up and will exceed the limit.

    For guidance on how to reset your course please see the mini- guide title M26 – Resetting your Moodle course from the UCL Moodle Resource Centre wiki. If you have additional questions please contact E-Learning Environments.



    How can e-learning help with student feedback?

    By Clive Young, on 20 June 2014

    feedbackI attended a teaching and learning meeting in one of our academic departments recently when someone asked if they could use technology to improve their feedback to students. Four possibilities sprang to mind.

    Online marking  – As an associate lecturer at the OU I have to use online feedback via standard forms and document mark-up (i.e. comments in Word) is obligatory. After several years I now have a ‘bank’ (personal collection) of comments I can draw on to quickly provide rich personalised feedback. Moreover the OU uses ‘rubrics’ (marking schemes) to structure feedback and make sure it is aligned to the learning outcomes. This improves the efficiency and effectiveness of marking and honestly I’m not sure I could manage without this approach now. Here in UCL many colleagues use Moodle Assignments to allow markers to bulk upload markers’ annotations on files of student work, and to set up rubrics and other structured marksheets.  GradeMark, part of Turnitin, has a particularly convenient marking environment. Its unique selling point is customisable sets of frequently-made comments which provide online marking with drag and drop and general online comments. Comment ‘banks’ are available at a click and a drag, and can be shared across programmes and they can themselves be linked to rubric structures.

    Self-assessment – Perennial favourites in UCL student surveys are diagnostic and self-assessment quizzes, usually developed in Moodle’s Quiz, which despite its frivolous name is actually a very sophisticated assessment and feedback tool. Moodle quizzes offer different question types, including multiple choice, gap fill, and drag-and-drop,  all of which can automate giving feedback, based on the settings tutors choose.  For example, feedback could be given immediately a question is answered, or it can be deferred until after the quiz is completed. Students appreciate the chance to check progress and get focused feedback based on the answer they chose.  While writing good questions and feedback takes thought and care , technically quizzes are comparitively easy to set up in Moodle. The trick is to provide good, differentiated feedback, linking to remedial or additional materials that the student can look at straight away. In Moodle these links could be to documents, items on the electronic reading lists, Lecturecast recordings, YouTube videos and so in as well as simple texts and images. Questions can be imported from Word using a template, allowing rapid quiz authoring without an internet connection, and even the Matlab GUI has been used to automatically generate mathematical question banks for later import. As an alternative UCL has also had some success using PeerWise enabling students to design their own multiple-choice questions (MCQs).

    Audio and video feedback – One interesting feature of GradeMark is the facility to provide students audio feedback. Staff at UCL have been experimenting with audio feedback for several years, adding live audio comments to text documents or forum posts, for example. The rationale is that feedback is richer, more personal, more expressive of different emphasis, and there is more of it for the amount of time spent. Since it also tends to be less concerned with particularities of grammar, spelling, etc, some markers may want to combine with word-processed annotations. An extension of this is to make a single recording giving general feedback to an entire cohort on a given piece of work. And an extension of this idea is to create simple narrated screencasts using Lecturecast personal capture (desktop recording) to record worked examples for generic assessment and exam feedback. This approach has been tried in at least one department with positive results.

    Peer assessment and MyPortfolio – Technology can of course provide whole new ways to enable group assessment and the development of rich personal portfolios, for example using the increasingly popular UCL portfolio and presentation environment MyPortfolio.  For an excellent introduction, have a look at the recent UCL case study Making history with iPads, peer assessment and MyPortfolio.

    Further reading

    Image “Got Feedback?” by Alan Levine https://flic.kr/p/nKPbtE

    Summits and Horizons, 9th June 2014

    By Vicki Dale, on 16 June 2014

    Last week saw the final session in the current series of Summits and Horizons, a seminar series jointly organised by the Centre for the Advancement in Learning and Teaching (CALT) and E-Learning Environments (ELE). Appropriately, the session focused on the predictions of the 2014 NMC Horizons Report, in the context of use of emerging technologies to support teaching and learning at UCL.

    Fiona Strawbridge highlighted the trends, challenges and emerging technologies identified in the report:

    Trends Challenges Technologies
    Near term (1-2 years):

    • Ubiquity of social media
    • Integration of online, hybrid & collaborative environments

    Medium term (3-4 years):

    • Data-driven learning (analytics)
    • Students as creators (makespaces and hackspaces)

    Far term (5+ years):

    • Agile approaches to change (students as entrepreneurs)
    • Evolution of e-learning as a viable alternative to traditional face to face teaching

    • Low digital fluency of staff
    • Lack of rewards for teaching versus research


    • Competition from new educational models such as MOOCS
    • Scaling innovation within historically conservative institutions


    • Expanding access to higher education
    • Keeping education relevant for the future workforce
    Near term (1-2 years):

    • The flipped classroom
    • Learning analytics – using big data to drive and support student learning

    Medium term (3-4 years):

    • 3D printing
    • Games and gamification

    Far term (4+ years):

    • The quantified self – using smart technology to track your daily activities
    • Virtual assistants – lifelike interactions with technology

    Fiona’s slides, and a video précis of the report are also available.

    Ros Duhs highlighted the need to consider the relevance of what students are learning at university for the future workplace, and stressed the importance of authentic learning, teaching and assessment strategies.

    Janina Dewitz considered recently emerging technologies including semantic aware applications and smart objects (predicted in the 2009 NMC Horizons report) and affective computing. Her take on these technologies was that although many are being taken up by the consumer market, they have yet to make a substantial impact on higher education. Janina also mentioned individuals’ right to privacy and the lack of trust surrounding commercial access to their personal data. Similarly, students may object to the transparency associated with learning analytics; there is also the difficulty of measuring learning online since learning happens all the time and in other places.

    Clive Young presented the results of a survey ELE conducted with teaching staff about their use of external cloud-based tools. The survey revealed that a large range of external tools, which are used personally, are also being used to support teaching, research and administration, but more support may be necessary to increase adoption beyond the early adopters. The results are being reported in more detail in another blog post.

    Nick Grindle looked back at the technologies predicted in earlier NMC Reports. While some technologies such as mobile computing and apps, cloud computing and geo-everything have materialised within the predicted timeframe, one area which has still to reach its potential is gaming and gamification, first mentioned in the 2005 report. This is one of the themes of the forthcoming call for submissions for the E-Learning Development Grants, so hopefully at UCL we can make progress in this area.

    A closing panel discussion highlighted the role of the Arena Scheme, in partnership with ELE, in promoting digital scholarship. There was also a discussion about the importance of the institutional learning environment for security and support in using e-learning. While Moodle works extremely well and is very highly rated by students, we should be alert for the emergence of other platforms which might best serve longer-term future needs. Finally, thanks were given to Moira Wright for overseeing the successful and smooth administration of all nine sessions this year.