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

    Thoughts from AAEEBL 2015

    By Domi C Sinclair, on 6 August 2015

    Last week I was fortunate enough to attend and present at AAEEBL 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. You might be wondering what AAEEBL stands for and what this event was all about, especially if you have never heard of it before. The Association for Authentic, Experiential and Evidence-Based Learning focuses on the usage of portfolios at their annual conference. In fact one of the key points to come out of the conference was a consensus that as a community we should stop referring to e-portflios (or eportfolios depending on your preference), which is distracting and in many cases superfluous. Instead it is time we just talk about portfolios and focus on the pedagogy. This conference was very much aimed at focusing on the pedagogy, and in most cases the tool used was almost irrelevant to the presentation. In education it is far too easy to get caught up in our own silos, whether that is a department based silo or a tool based silo. When we stop and look to the outside we can often find valuable input we would have otherwise missed.

    Collaboration was also a key theme from the conference. To make a portfolio effective involves everyone working together. It involves tutors and students having a clear dialogue about what is expected in the portfolio. It also can benefit from peer-to-peer collaboration, whether that is academics helping one another out with creative ideas/support or students giving each other tips and feedback. Of course it can also require working with the E-Learning team, and here at UCL we are always happy to offer advice or support around any platform, including portfolios. Currently we use the Mahara platform at UCL, you might have heard of it as MyPortfolio which is the name we use for our installation. If you’d like to find out more about MyPortfolio then you can go directly to the platform at https://myportfolio.ucl.ac.uk or visit the MyPortfolio Resource Centre in the wiki – although please note this site is currently under maintenance and being updated.

    The final key theme I’d like to highlight is badges. There were a number of presentations and a keynote on the use of badges with portfolios. This seems like a natural fit as portfolios are a great way of collecting evidence for a badge. A badge in turn is a nice way to recognise competencies or skills that might not otherwise be acknowledge by assessment criteria or formal credit. The McArthur Foundation have produced a video which explains the basics of what a badge is, if you are still unsure.

    At UCL we have done some pilots with badges and we’d be happy to talk to anyone about this if they wish to get in touch.

    If you’d like to get a wider overview of the conversations from AAEEBL then please see my Storify, collecting my tweets and all the best other tweets from the event.

    You can also see my presentation on utilizing the (portfolio) community: https://youtu.be/wcFBsON_-6Q.

    Should you have any questions then please contact the E-Learning Environments team.

    New cohort? Please reset.

    By Domi C Sinclair, on 21 July 2015

    With a new academic year approaching after the summer, it is time to spring clean your Moodle courses. Old students need to be removed and (if used) the Portico block needs to be re-activated to bring in the 2015/16 cohort of students. Time to reset and refresh your Moodle courses.

    Whether you are new to this process or not you might have some questions about what needs to happen and why. I will address those below. Please check with your departmental admins if they have any specific year-end procedures in place. Of course if after reading this you are still unsure, or have any other Moodle questions please contact the E-Learning Environments team.

    Why we need to do a course reset?

    Course resets are an essential part of the Moodle housekeeping process because they:-

    • Clear out old student data. (Don’t worry about this being lost – see information about the Moodle Snapshot below)
    • Remove current students’ permissions from Moodle courses (so old and new students aren’t mixed together).
    • Keep our campus licensing agreements at the correct level.
    • Makes existing/current courses easier to manage and less prone to errors.

    What happens if we do not do course resets?

    • We build up irrelevant data in the live database. Moodle still has to sort through this before returning page requests, this slows down Moodle for everyone.
    • We have to count these expired students against our Licensing for systems such as Turnitin, which increase our costs.

    But how do I do a course reset?

    Instructions on how to do a reset are located here in the UCL Moodle Resource Centre wiki.

    Please note that courses with a Turnitin v2 assignment may produce the following error message when resetting: “Default exception handler: Coding error detected, it must be fixed by a programmer”.  This does not prevent the course successfully resetting and we are currently working to stop the error message.

    The Moodle Snapshot (previously called archive)

    For anyone worried about a loss of historical data, please remember on the 17th July 2015 we took the Moodle annual snapshot. This snapshot is a point in time capture of Moodle including all the student data, that is set in a read only mode for you to access as required as a separate instance from live Moodle (previous instances are located here http://moodle-snapshot.ucl.ac.uk/).

    My Course requires a reset at a different period of the year (Postgraduate courses etc.). What do I do?

    For those courses such as Post-graduate, medical and other non-standard timetabled courses and modules please see the following guidance page.

    What about Portico mappings?

    Many courses have a mapping set up between Moodle and Portico to enable the automatic enrolment of students. Course admins can now manage this process via the Portico enrolment block.

    During the Snapshot/Upgrade period, portico enrolment mappings for all courses were deactivated. This means that the nightly synchronization between Moodle and Portico enrolments has ceased to happen. It is the individual course teams’ responsibility to manually turn on, or re-activate, their Portico mappings via the Moodle block. You can find out how to do this from the guidance in the Moodle Resource Centre wiki.

    For courses that follow a standard undergraduate timetable, it is advisable to wait until after the Portico year-end on the 3rd August to reactivate your enrolment mappings. See the reset guidance in the wiki.

    For courses that don’t follow a standard undergraduate timetable, it is up to the course owner whether you want to reactivate your enrolment mappings. If the class list is stable and you aren’t expecting any further enrolments or unenrolments, then you can safely leave them deactivated. See the alternative guidance in the Moodle Resource Centre wiki.

    In either case re-activating Portico enrolments will remove any existing students on the Moodle course who are no longer in the Portico list for that course. It is for this reason we advise you only turn the mappings on after you have reset the course.

    We greatly appreciate your help in this activity any questions please contact ele@ucl.ac.uk

    Moodle upgraded to version 2.8

    By Domi C Sinclair, on 20 July 2015

    Moodle Upgrade

    We would like to announce that the Moodle 2015 summer upgrade has now been completed successfully and live Moodle is now available.

    One of the core intents of this upgrade is to incorporate functionality for Institute of Education (IoE) staff and students who will be transitioning to UCL Moodle this academic year. Some of the functionality brought into UCL Moodle during this upgrade includes Blackboard Collaborate and the attendance activity.

    Read about these changes and others that we have included in the upgrade on the New Features wiki page.



    The yearly snapshot is now available and an be located with all other snapshots here

    This snapshot will be retained for a minimum of seven years, full details about the snapshot can be found on the Snapshot page of the UCL Moodle Resource Centre wiki.

    Those of you who have been waiting for this process to complete so you can commence your course resets may now proceed.

    Please refer to the Resetting your course guide, also available via the Moodle Resource Centre wiki.



    While the new environment has been thoroughly tested by the support teams there is always a chance that an issue or bug may well exist that we have not encountered. If you have any issues or problems with the new version please email ele@ucl.ac.uk with as much detail as possible and a member of the team will get back to you.

    Now and next from E-Learning Environments Summer 2015

    By Domi C Sinclair, on 15 July 2015

    The second edition of our new monthly vlog series, where we bring you all the most important news from UCL E-Learning Environments. This video focuses on the what ELE are doing over the summer period, as well as some future plans.

    Useful link:

    Moodle Snapshot: https://moodle-snapshot.ucl.ac.uk/

    ELE Blog: http://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/ele/
    Twitter: https://twitter.com/ucl_ele

    Game SIG: https://moodle.ucl.ac.uk/course/view.php?id=21489§ion=3

    Jisc Learning and Teaching Experts Group, June 2015

    By Mira Vogel, on 23 June 2015

    Originally comprising project fundholders from the E-Learning Programme and now more open, Jisc convenes the Learning and Teaching Experts Group three times a year. This meeting – the 35th – had sessions on the student experience, leadership, and students as partners, all with a digital focus.

    Helen Beetham introduced a new NUS benchmarking tool for the student digital experience (not yet released, but see their existing benchmarking tools), and further work on a digital capabilities framework for staff. Each table critiqued one of eleven areas of the tool, and contributed ideas to a twelfth on ‘Digital Wellbeing’.

    There followed a series of shorter presentations including two senior managers describing their respective institution’s digital strategy and approach to supporting digital leadership, along with staff at Reading College who presented on their use of Google, their ethos of ‘pass it on’ for digital know-how, and how staff can indicate that they are happy to be observed (by hanging a green or red coat hanger on the door of their teaching room – paradoxically and unsurprisingly the green one was redundant because everybody got the message and used it).  In case anybody remained unconvinced that there is any urgency to this, Neil Witt (another senior participant) tweeted a recent House of Lords report, Make or Break. The UK’s Digital Future [pdf]. He thinks that for institutions to build digital capabilities will require an HR strategy.

    During lunch I talked with Ron Mitchell about Xerte the open source suite for authoring interactive digital content, and made a note to ask for a pilot installation. I failed to find the roof garden (consulting the floor guide later, it’s close to the bottom of the building) and fretted about a very large fish in a very small tank on reception. Then came a session on cultures of partnership with a panel of students and student-facing roles. Like the previous session, this was full of tantalising ideas like staff being able to choose a student or staff colleague to observe their teaching, and Dan Derricot from Lincoln University starting to think of student engagement as a ladder where the course evaluation form is lower than, say, creating new opportunities. Partnership culture depends on visibility; at first staff need to take a lot of initiative but as students see other students’ work, they are more likely to step forward with ideas of their own. Eric Stoller tweeted this interesting-looking paper theorising student involvement. Jisc has a network of Change Agents and (separately) there is a new journal of Educational Innovation, Partnership and Change with a call for papers.

    Finally the members showcase. I attended Lina Petrakieva’s session on assessing students’ digital stories at Glasgow Caledonian. They had to deliberate about similar things to us, namely whether to require the students to use a common platform (they did) and whether to change the assessment criteria in recognition of the new modes of expression (they did). I caught the end of a talk from the Lisette Toetenel at the Open University about setting up a network to share designs for learning.

    Participants used the Twitter hashtag #JiscExperts15 mostly to amplify the event but with a few conversations sparking – including this one on helping champions and when James Kieft (a runner up for last year’s Learning Technologist of the Year) from Reading College dropped the bombshell / reminded us that they’d turned off their Moodle in 2014 and moved to Google applications. This set quite a few people off – not for reasons of rent-seeking and fear of change though I’m sure we all need to check for that, but business models, orientation, and the risk of abruptly-retired services. It also gave other people a frisson of liberation). I should reassure (?) at this point that there are no plans to turn off UCL Moodle. Then somebody asked what the purpose of learning technologists would be in the VLEless future but the session ended before another round of “What is a learning technologist today?” could get underway. Sometimes I think of these (what we’re currently calling) digital education professional services roles as midwife, sometimes I think of them as more specialised educational design roles in waiting until the ‘digital’ becomes more taken-for-granted. As long as education isn’t served up pre-programmed or decided centrally, the roles are likely to endure in some evolving form.

    Thanks to Jisc and all contributors for a stimulating day.




    Introducing the ELE vlog

    By Domi C Sinclair, on 22 June 2015

    In E-Learning Environments (ELE) we have lots of useful and important information we need to communicate with staff (and students) who use our systems. We have various different ways of communicating with everyone who uses our systems (like Moodle, Lecturecast and MyPortfolio) including email, Twitter, Moodle News and this blog. However we also recognise that these are all text based mediums, and sometimes read chunks of information isn’t preferential. To try and make this easier, and offer an alternative way of communicating we are pleased to introduce the ELE vlog.

    We are launching this new vlog (or video blog) on our YouTube channel and hope to post a new video every month informing viewers of the most interesting or important things happening within ELE and our systems. If we get a good response, or have requests, then we may increase the frequency of videos, or make videos explaining particular topics. If you have any ideas of videos you’d like to see from ELE then please comment on this blog post or send us an email to ele@ucl.ac.uk.

    So, without further adieu, please enjoy our first vlog embedded below (and don’t forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel for more educational and hopefully entertaining content!)

    ELE Communication Channels

    Moodle News: https://moodle.ucl.ac.uk/mod/forum/view.php?f=1

    Twitter: https://twitter.com/UCL_ELE

    YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/LTSSUCL/videos