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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    MyPortfolio – outside of UCL

    By Domi C Sinclair, on 1 April 2014

    Although at UCL MyPortfolio is only just starting to pick up pace, externally the system (known as Mahara) already has an extensive user base that stretches all around the world. Yesterday saw the first User Group meeting based in Southern England, and you can read a full summary of the event posted on my personal blog (please note this blog is not connected to UCL and I’m linking to it to prevent a duplication of information). The User Group also included a summary from the recent Mahara Hui conference held in New Zealand. Despite the system originating there, it was the first Mahara conference to be held in New Zealand.

    For those of us who were not lucky enough to secure flights for the Hui there will also be a Mahara UK conference taking place this summer down in (hopefully) sunny Brighton. The UK conference is a two day event, although one day ticket options will be available, over the 17th-18 July. The event will give individuals a chance to see examples of good practice, share pains and generally learn more about the e-portfolio system. The event welcomes IT professionals, academics, support staff and students – so why not consider attending? For those who are already using the system you can also submit a proposal and have the opportunity to take part in the conference and get feedback on your work.

    If you have any questions about MyPortfolio in general please contact E-Learning Environments.

    Using smartphones for filming

    By Clive Young, on 23 March 2014


    As we know there is a growing demand across UCL to create video resources for teaching and learning. However the facilities and equipment to do so are still quite limited, so some colleagues are experimenting by shooting video on phones and tablets. 

    Such devices actually turn out to be quite good tools to use to record and even edit ad-hoc short videos – if used in the right way, of course. While researching some guidance documents I came across these videos from the BBC College of Journalism about how to use smartphones for capturing news stories. I think the basic principles apply equally well for educational video and media. The first focuses on using the smartphone as a video camera.


    Some UCL colleagues are also using short audio-only ‘podcasts’ for example to give feedback. The next video provides some useful tips about recording audio.


    The final video of this series concentrates on using the phone as a stills camera, and while covering some of the same ground, includes a few useful extra stills-only tips.

    If any colleagues are using a smartphone or tablet to create media resources and would like to share their experiences and tips, please get in touch.

    Turnitin User Group – Feb 2014

    By Domi C Sinclair, on 18 February 2014

    Every six month Turnitin UK hold a user group meeting, which is usually attended by people like me who work in e-learning departments in a variety of UK universities. The most recent user group on 12 Feb 2014, at Aston University ion Birmingham was no exception.

    What was different about this user group was that Chris Caren, CEO of Turnitin, gave a welcome address – something he has not done at a UK user group for about 2 years. He also apologised for the major outages that UCL, and the rest of the UK HE who rely on Turnitin, suffered in December 2013. Mr Caren said the outages where caused by human error but termed them as ‘unacceptable’. He detailed the human error as the deployment of an underpowered master database for UK service, despite them over estimating the capacity they’d need. He continued that this meant that high, but expected, service usage overwhelmed the database and put the system into backlog and eventually outage. Mr Caren concluded that a series of additional human errors caused delays in finding the root cause of the problem and a fast recovery.

    In response to the outages Mr Caren states that they would be spending £10m on engineering and data centres, which is double 3 years ago. Turnitin UK have also removed the individual who made the sizing error, and hired a more senior and experienced database administrator. Additionally Turnitin will be using a new queuing technology to allow new submissions, even if papers become back logged, and are implementing broad system monitoring tools so faults are identified quicker and outages minimized – ideally with outages never more than 1 hour.

    On a more positive note Mr Caren stated that they were growing the UK Turnitin team – who are based in Newcastle. He also said that the UK is a R&D centre for Turnitin, as we are ahead of rest of the world in usage of Turnitin.

    After Mr Caren took questions from the floor the rest of the day was lead by Will Murry, who is the Senior Vice President, International Sales and Product Management. A lot of what Mr Murray had to say was commercially sensitive, and so cannot be repeated on this blog. However I can summarise that most of the enhancements are to do with the document viewer. I will need to wait confirmation to give any dates, but the major improvement will be a move to grading layers. This would allow and assignment to have multiple grading layers – enabling double blind marking. It would be possible to see which layers students can see. It would also make the grading tool easier to use, as everything is kept in one screen, along with the originality report. This would mean you could review matches, whilst grading a submission, and even comment on matches. Turnitin are also planning to enable any file type submission and cloud (Google Drive) submission for the Moodle integration.

    We will let you know of any new features as soon as we have the information or roll them out where appropriate.

    MyPortfolio v1.8.1 – New Features

    By Domi C Sinclair, on 10 February 2014

    On Thursday 20th March we upgraded the MyPortfolio system to version 1.8.1, which is the latest install available. There are many perks to this upgrade, most of which are listed below, and there is also a slightly different theme. Below you will see the new theme, which includes some slightly changed icons.


    The majority of functionality in MyPortfolio remains the same for the upgrade to 1.8.1, with the exception of some new icons. The main change comes in the creation of pages where the edit content bar has been moved from the top to the left of the page and the tabs have been replaced with collapsible menus.  Here is a summary of the other changes:


    • Theme changes, although the layout remains the same it looks slightly different with new icons. This does not affect functionality.


    • New theme continues with new icons, although no change to functionality.
    • Drag and drop files to upload – this is a new feature. You still need to agree to the copyright statement.
    • ‘Browse’ button now labelled ‘Choose files’.
    • CV builder now has option to add attachments to; Education and employment, Achievements, Goals and Skills.
    • Plans can now have tags.
    • Notes can now have tags and attachments.


    • New theme continues with new icons, no change to functionality (except in pages).
    • Edit collection pages now horizontal rather than vertical.
    • Edit layout now includes row. These can be added via Basic options, Advanced options or Create custom layout.
    • There is now an Import tab to allow users to import their own Leap2A files.
    Edit content (within pages) has changed considerably. The options for adding block to the page now appear to the left, rather than above.
    • What were the different tabs are now expandable menus, broken down into Media, Journals, General, Personal info and External. Text box and Image appear separate to these menus.
    • When adding a text box you may also attach a file.


    • Theme changes continue with new icons, no changes to functionality.
    • Group files can now be uploaded via drag and drop; the copyright terms must still be accepted first.

    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.

    The MyPortfolio upgrade has now been rescheduled from the 11th Feb to the 27th February 2014 from 08:00 to 12:00 to allow ample time for the upgrade to be applied. The system will be unavailable during this time.

    Five videos on UCL’s lecture capture experience

    By Clive Young, on 28 January 2014

    UCL was the lead partner for the recently-finished  REC:all project supported by the European Commission under the Life Long Learning Programme. REC:all explored new ways in which lecture capture could become more pedagogically valuable. Over the course of the project we realised that the situation in UCL was developing very rapidly. We decided therefore to explore beyond the original case studies in order to capture some of the broader issues that were emerging.

    To do this we spoke to many practitioners from across the institution and in the spirit of the project, we created five short films to  capture various aspects of UCL’s experience.

    Video 1 The Lecturecast story (11m 34s)

    Why and how UCL adopted and rolled out our Echo360 installation.



    Video 2 Student reaction to lecture capture (7m 08s)

    UCL students explain why they like lecture capture.



    Video 3 Pedagogy (10m 38s)

    The pedagogical impact of lecture recording



    Video 4 Lecture flipping (11m 01s)

    One of the most popular ‘enhancements’ of of lecture capture is flipping



    Video 5 The Future of Lecture Capture (7m 41s)

    Social media, open resources and other ideas.



    Many thanks to all UCL students and staff who agreed to be videoed for this project.

    New assessment and feedback guides from Jisc

    By Clive Young, on 28 January 2014

    jisc-logo-206Four short guides on technology-enhanced approaches to assessment and feedback are now available from Jisc. Jisc – formerly JISC (!) – supports the use of ICT in learning, teaching, research and administration in UK post-16 and higher education. One of its activities is to run projects and produce guidance on a range of learning technology related issues.

    This latest set looks particualrly interesting and practical. The guides “are built on the experiences, approaches and lessons learned from our recent work with over 30 institutions in UK further and higher education exploring a range of new approaches to assessment and feedback“.

    The four key themes covered are:

    Also available is a summary report of Jisc  recent work in this area: ‘Supporting assessment and feedback practice with technology: from tinkering to transformation’.