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

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  • HEA Senior Fellowship Case Study Series: 2 – Bringing lecture flipping to a new interdisciplinary programme

    By Matt Jenner, on 13 August 2014

    As a four-part series I am openly publishing my case studies previously submitted for my Senior Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy. I submitted my application in February 2014. If you’re interested in this professional recognition programme, please visit their webpages and look through the Professional Standards Framework (PSF). UCL runs an institutional model for fellowships called ARENA, your institution may run one too – speak to people!

    Case Study 2 – Bringing lecture flipping to a new interdisciplinary programme

    As an experienced member of staff I have a wide range of institutional e-learning responsibilities. In 2011 I was an integral part in designing, delivering and evaluating a new teaching style called the ‘flipped lecture’. It’s increasingly thought that lectures do not provide “students a rich and rewarding educational experience”[1]. The flipped model is where “students gain first-exposure learning prior to class and focus on the processing part of learning (synthesizing, analyzing, problem-solving, etc.) in class”[2]. The first academic to explicitly flip their lectures, and put the concept in the UCL spotlight, was Carl Gombrich, director of UCL’s flagship interdisciplinary degree the Bachelor of Arts and Sciences (BASc).

    Carl wanted to put “people back at the centre of the learning”12 and I supported and advised him while we created an active learning, ‘flipped lecture’, environment (A2, A4). UCL’s institutional teaching and learning strategy envisaged the BASc providing “a model for a substantial proportion of UCL’s undergraduate teaching”[3]. Our plan was to create a teaching approach with innovative and sustainable qualities.

    Carl is a capable teacher but he was less comfortable with the technological change required to achieve ‘flipped lectures’. I mentored him through the virtues, and downsides, of the available technological landscape. A barrier emerged within institutional systems which did not support his approach. While retaining alignment with the planned learning activities, (A1, K4) I researched available options and evaluated a new tool called Hot Question[4] based on research from Purdue University[5]. My research outcome delivered a solution which matched the requirements for the BASc and was designed to scale for the institution if flipping increased in popularity. It is now used across 81 courses at UCL (A4).

    Feedback received from Carl has been “In many (most) cases it really does get students thinking about the content of the lectures” and “how sophisticated” some of the student’s questions are. A student on the course commented “once you have the additional time in lectures, you’re going to be able to take advantage of that”9. Another academic commented ‘flipping’ uncovers “the impact of the information we provide for students, and their understanding at a much finer temporal resolution than what was available previously”[6]. One issue that’s arisen is that “so many questions are submitted and so many are of a high standard that it is a bit bewildering to look through them all”.

    I have shared the flipped approach within external communities[7] and Carl’s work has become an inspirational exemplar for staff to experiment with flipped lectures. The technological changes, and teaching approaches have been shared via blog posts[8] and case studies[9], they provide evidence for colleagues to learn from, discuss and adopt. Seeing this as a potential future component of teaching at UCL, it was my role to ensure we built a sustainable model not just for the BASc but for the wider UCL community. By ensuring the flipped lecture was well supported we have seen a growth in popularity across the university’s faculties of Engineering, Social and Medical Sciences.

    (505 words)

    HEA Professional Standards Framework links referenced in this case study:

    Areas of Activity

    • A1 Design and plan learning activities and/or programmes of study
    • A2 Teach and/or support learning
    • A3 Assess and give feedback to learners
    • A4 Develop effective learning environments and approaches to student support and guidance
    • A5 Engage in continuing professional development in subjects/disciplines and their pedagogy, incorporating research, scholarship and the evaluation of professional practices

    Core Knowledge

    • K4 The use and value of appropriate learning technologies

    [1] http://www.brookes.ac.uk/services/ocsld/resources/20reasons.html

    [3] http://www.ucl.ac.uk/teaching-learning/secure-downloads/ILTS.pdf

    [4] https://moodle.org/plugins/view.php?plugin=mod_hotquestion

    [5] https://www.purdue.edu/hotseat

    [6] https://www.ucl.ac.uk/stream/media/swatch?v=5461b59f4751

    [7] https://twitter.com/AndyKons/status/278446517537353728

    [8] http://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/ele/tag/flipping/

    [9] http://www.ucl.ac.uk/teaching-learning/news/carl-gombrich-flipping-the-lecture-theatre

    HEA Senior Fellowship Case Study Series: 1 – Creating a public-facing e-learning environment

    By Matt Jenner, on 12 August 2014

    As a four-part series I am openly publishing my case studies previously submitted for my Senior Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy. I submitted my application in February 2014. If you’re interested in this professional recognition programme, please visit their webpages and look through the Professional Standards Framework (PSF). UCL runs an institutional model for fellowships called ARENA, your institution may run one too – speak to people!

    Case Study 1 – Creating a public facing e-learning environment

    With 10 years’ experience, I joined UCL’s central e-learning team in 2008. My role requires me to advise a diverse academic community traversing a diverse technological landscape. I build strong relationships with colleagues and contribute to technical developments and institutional strategies. My specialisation is distance education, an area experiencing accelerated growth across the sector due to demand for flexible learning, increasing technological grasp and the questionable future of Massive Online Open Courses.

    My activity focuses around UCLeXtend – a new public-facing online learning environment offering free and premium courses. I advocate open education and am passionate about the opportunities universities have for social enterprise, global impact and widening participation. A core component of our institutional e-learning strategy is to “raise UCL’s profile as a global education leader”[1]; by opening the rich and varied corpus of UCL to a wider audience I am enabling this reality.

    UCLeXtend is built on familiar and established e-learning software which eases the transition for staff (K4). Staff leave their comfort zones when developing distance learning so I mentor them throughout the process. Course development approaches are less familiar; so I encourage course teams to follow a customised course development framework based on an existing model named ADDIE (Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation and Evaluation)[2] (K5). I facilitate open discussion of ideas and assimilate their subject material from the outset, advising on suitable development approaches (K1).

    I struggle with the demand for ‘rapid’ (i.e. quick and cheap) course development, some colleagues need convincing that high quality interactive and engaging learning is not guaranteed by nice fonts and shiny graphics. I adapted the ADDIE course development framework to focus on the needs and approaches of individuals’ learning, tailored for the appropriate market and teaching style (K2). I encourage good practice and make recommendations for course design and structure, especially factoring in learner’s who are going to “consider the potential educational benefits”[3] of each resource or activity (K3).

    Creating courses open to the public exposes UCL, so to protect our brand and standards I developed and lead on integrating quality assurance processes. All courses are scrutinised via an academic and rigorous review process (K6). Initially this was too much like a ‘course approval’ system, creating unnecessary pressure on both sides. I therefore matured it into a critical friend review. One academic commented they were “really pleased by the positive reactions and by the very useful suggestions we got from the panel” and another noted it was “a very constructive meeting”.

    In eight months UCLeXtend has nine live courses and over 2000 learners from 68 countries. Although the evaluation phase has yet to commence, one learner commented “how fantastic the better conversations tool for aphasia is […] and has so many benefits”. In the longer term, UCLeXtend will become positively disruptive to UCL. I have senior level support and interest across the university; my challenge now is to lead UCLeXtend into a sustainable model and integral to future institutional priorities. For me, the strong start was critical to success; my on-going leadership in this area will ensure the initial quality sets the baseline for future growth.

    (516 words)

    HEA Professional Standards Framework links referenced in this case study:

    Core Knowledge

    • K1 The subject material
    • K2 Appropriate methods for teaching, learning and assessing in the subject area and at the level of the academic programme
    • K3 How students learn, both generally and within their subject/disciplinary area(s)
    • K4 The use and value of appropriate learning technologies
    • K5 Methods for evaluating the effectiveness of teaching
    • K6 The implications of quality assurance and quality enhancement for academic and professional practice with a particular focus on teaching


    [1] http://www.ucl.ac.uk/teaching-learning/strategic_priorities/e-learning-strategy

    [2] http://www.nwlink.com/~donclark/history_isd/addie.html

    [3] http://oro.open.ac.uk/10072/1/Assessment_and_student_learning-HO.pdf

    The future of Moodle is well within our grasp

    By Matt Jenner, on 17 September 2012

    Moodle is open source software and is used by millions of people around the world. Open source allows anyone to tinker with the code; adding new things, changing existing & ultimately deciding which direction their Moodle heads in. Many of these changes are shared within the Moodle community for others to freely use – this leads to the core software being developed, extended and reformed in many directions. Keeping a steer on this is Moodle HQ, a group of 20 ‘core’ developers and, tightly connected, many global developers, testers, documentation writers, really helpfulers (people who help the community on Moodle.org with problems) and many others. What’s sometimes lacking with Moodle is the input, or link to education research including academics, learners, administrators, developers, testers, researchers and everyone else.

    1st Moodle Research Conference

    Blogging from Crete – Greece, this post attempts to summarise two days of the 1st Moodle Research Conference. The conference was the first iteration of an event unlike other established Moodle, or educational meet-ups. Sold as “a unique event dedicated to the research and development (R&D) on learning and teaching carried out with Moodle”. What that actually meant evolved right though the two days as the conference delegates shared, talked and discovered the direction Moodle is heading in.

    The international conference had around 70 delegates from 22 countries. There were 23 presentations showcasing developments, case studies, new tools, learning designs, learning analytics and addressing challenging issues and introducing new ideas; all for Moodle. Additionally there were seven posters, three meals, one panel discussion and one keynote – from Martin Dougiamas, the man who invented Moodle. If that wasn’t enough, we were also in the Creta Maris – a somewhat splendid and slightly distracting conference venue with the Mediterranean Sea lapping at our feet, the sun beating down and wild cats meowing for scraps of lunch.

    The aim of the conference, at least from my perspective, was to see how educational research was influencing Moodle development. After all, we have this tool which is designed around teaching and learning but it also continual evolves. To ensure it changes along with established understanding of how people learn and what affordances technologies can offer, we must ensure a cyclic loop exists, with each feeding in the other. Or, at least that’s the idea.

    User-centred design

    Often is the case that developers say they wish to just get on with developing and that theorists are too theoretical (with their heads in the clouds). The crux of the issue seems to be that established and ratified theory must influence design, design must influence development and developers must do the same.

    User centred design (SAP, 2012)

    One argument against Moodle is that it’s not intuitive, this may be most strongly felt by academics as they mutter that Moodle doesn’t quite map onto teaching, takes too much time and isn’t always an environment which encourages alternative approaches to learning and teaching. Instead, and this is something I’m happy to agree with, Moodle is technology, this is akin to something ‘that doesn’t work yet’. If Moodle ‘worked’ we wouldn’t need so many people helping with it, it’d just ‘work’. To keep things simple, I don’t remember the last time I explained how a chair works, which was once a technology itself.

    Moodle is over 10 years old now, and along the way many innovative additions have come to the software. But, also over the years sometimes developments have not always been linked to the research and, unfortunately the emergent disconnect between designers, practitioners, theorists and everyone in the middle appears. This has resulted in both innovation and disruption. Moodle development is the output of highly skilled and passionate people all contributing towards something they want to improve. What’s being addressed here is slightly more complex, with so many developments it’s often hard to see where the edges are. Further, developments are not necessarily tied together, and we end up being back outside the cyclic process shown above.

    While there is plenty of time to disseminate the talks in the conference, I felt this blog post was better positioned to give a higher level view into what’s happening with Moodle. The simple fact is the web is evolving very quickly, start-ups can build, destroy and rebuild with minimal fear of reprise. This could be because they promote agility in their staff and in their product, or because they are nowhere near as established as something like Moodle where agility can have a negative impact for a large community of users.

    What is Moodle now

    Essentially a lot of Moodle is internally facing, tools are developed to be a part of the ecosystem of Moodle.

    What will Moodle become?

    This is harder to describe, but the value of tools external to Moodle are immensely useful. Linking intelligently to these is important, and focusing on strengthening the internal tools make sense, rather than necessarily diversifying them by adding many more. This is just one view, the route is still to be defined. The important thing is to consider Moodle as the base, the developments focus around educational developments and the wider tools linked in, rather than reinvented.

    The next direction?

    What’s most important is that the developments are fed back from users; that’s all types identified. The next few years are going to be important for Moodle, for UCL and the wider community. At some point will come the dreaded system review, comparison and evaluation. It will have to stand up against the changing landscape of tools and environments for online learning and teaching. By concentrating its developments around the best understanding of relevant pedagogical research, it’ll hopefully retain Moodle’s strength, improve the system for everyone and keep Moodle aligned as one of the world’s best learning management systems.

    Well, that’s the current plan. 


    SAP (2012).  Principles of UI Development, SAP Community Network. Last accessed 17th September 2012 from http://wiki.sdn.sap.com/wiki/display/BBA/Principles+of+UI+Development

    Moogle Analytics

    By Matt Jenner, on 20 April 2012

    We have had UCL Moodle linked to Google Analytics for the past three or so years, the data this allows us to see about Moodle usage and browsing habits is getting increasingly interesting. The concept of looking into data for measuring learning is obviously bonkers, no amount of pure data of browsing behaviour of Moodle will give indication about any actual learning taking place. Observe a classroom or people on the bus, you can see how many people are there and what they’re doing, but you won’t know what they’re thinking, what connections are being made etc. But, do not despair, there is a reason for this post – albeit it’s a bit dry and technical…

    What Google Analytics does is give us an anonymous view into what happens when someone comes onto Moodle. For example, you do this:

    1. Browse to the Moodle homepage
    2. Login
    3. View a course
    4. Send a forum message
    5. Log out

    Data Trail

    You’ve just left a data trail behind you about your computer (not you). This trail isn’t used for snooping on you personally, it’s anonymous, it also isn’t used for snooping at all. What it does, and I hope you believe me, is leave data tracks telling us something useful. For example, let’s look at the above and break it down.

    You and your browser

    Google analytics can find this information out:

    • Web browser (Internet Explorer 9)
    • Operating system (Windows 7)
    • Device-ish (only really useful for mobile devices like smartphones)
    • Rough location (London, UK)
    • Internet Provider (University College London)
    • IP Address (your computers’ address to the internet)
    • Web software capabilities (Flash, Java, Javascript)
    • Some other stuff (passport, NI number, date of birth, name – all not included!!!)

    Don’t be scared about this, none of the data can be used to identify you. As a side note: if you’re worried about UCL Moodle collecting this data, remember that for other sites (such as the big ones outside of UCL which you may use daily) your data is their product, and you give them nearly everything about you, this data is only about your computer, but let’s not go down that route, this is about learning…

    Other data collected

    Google’s Analytics also collects data about your pages you view; so for example each page you load is marked as a ‘view’ on that page. Pages with higher numbers of views are clearly more popular, for whatever reason. Then there’s unique views, one person viewing a page ten times means one thing, ten people viewing the page once each means something else. Adding to this there are other metrics, such as time on page, page exits (if they leave the page, can we see where they go) and eventually building pathways through a site.

    So, what’s my point?

    What Google reports is really hard to read into but there’s a few changes to Moodle code (really small changes) which makes this data far more useful. Over the coming year I hope we can make these changes, and next year, report back on what the data says about Moodle usage. We want to know what’s popular (read: working) and what isn’t (read: not?).

    Informative and technical links:

    Perhaps mostly useful for the technically inclined, but it’s what we work with to make Moodle more useful for you.

    More soon!

    Using files in Moodle 2

    By Jessica Gramp, on 27 March 2012


    How has file management changed in Moodle 2?folders

    • You only upload files as you need to link to them.
    • You must choose a license every time you upload a document.
    • A copy is made every time you link to a file.
    • This means you can’t currently link to one file from more than one place.
      Note: The ability to link to the same file from more than one place is in development.
    • You can not view files outside of the linking to a file / folder / image areas.
      I.e. there is no ‘files’ link in the Administration block.
    • The files in Moodle 2 are more secure.


    Why has this changed?

    Moodle is not a file repository. Only files being used in your course are retained in Moodle 2. Files not being used will be automatically removed, unless they have migrated over from the existing UCL Moodle – in this case they will be available in the Legacy course files area in the Administration block.


    • You can easily find current files using the Recent files area in the new file manager.
    • You can use your private files area to store files that only you can see – until you are ready to use them in a course.

    “But I like the old Moodle file manager!”

    There is a workaround – speak to the LTSS if you would like to know how to continue to share your old files amongst staff or follow these instructions:

    1. Go to the Legacy course files area in the Administration block and [Download all files].
    2. Create a hidden staff only area in the last topic of your course homepage – click the eye so it is closed and everything inside the topic will be hidden from students – be careful all course editors know never to make this area unhidden area, otherwise students will be able to see the files.
    3. Add a folder to this area (you can hide this too to make doubly sure students can’t see it)
    4. Upload the zipped folder (must be smaller than 160MB) and unzip.
    5. Delete the zip file.
    6. You can now share files between staff in a similar way to before.


    Making Moodle Beautiful – Part 2

    By Matt Jenner, on 15 March 2012

    Following on from a previous post we have been working hard to deliver a Moodle that’s designed for everyone and looks functional, modern and reflects UCL’s style and quality. We think we’re quite close so here’s a little more detail on what’s coming, and what our pilot users are using right now and giving us feedback on.

    Functional design

    Following on from mapping the functionality of Moodle and comparing it against many other Moodle’s from across the world we came up with some prototype designs from our designer – Huw Jones from Photographic and Illustrative Services, ISD – a group of people at UCL who can do print, web, illustrative design and photography. This design was then implemented into Moodle. A lot of [on-going] tweaking later, we have something we’re proud to show.

    New homepage

    The new homepage for UCL Moodle

    The homepage is very important, we want a simple route for UCL people to log in but we also have a space for Guests, important news and making Moodle more of a showcase of research or local imagery and promotion of interesting areas within Moodle for users (such as courses on academic writing, induction courses, staff development and more).

    Note the Help & Support button – this slides out and provides information for people who are unable to log in or looking for support.

    Once logged in – My Home

    Each person is taken to an areas entitled My Home – this is a personalised and custom space containing your courses enrolled in and some useful blocks on the right side, details below.

    My Home - a personal space

    This area contains a few things, most notable are the three navigation buttons on the left side. Help, My Moodle and Settings are used all across Moodle and are essential for getting around, changing things and getting support.

    In addition this area has:
    • My courses – a list of all the courses you are enrolled on (staff or student);
    • Search courses – find more courses to browse or enrol on;
    • Logged in user – your details (you may want to update them if they’re incorrect or add a profile image);
    • Calendar – retrieves all important dates across all your courses, such as assignment deadlines, Moodle examinations or scheduler appointments – they’re all displayed here;
    • Private files (not shown) – store temporary files on Moodle such as assignment drafts or important documents – like a USB key in the cloud (but limited to 30Mb for now);
    • Latest news (not shown) – important news and announcements from the Learning Technology Support Service about Moodle and related services;
    • Messages (not shown) – private messages from friends, colleagues and other people at UCL.

    Looking at a course

    The Student Moodle Inductions course in new Moodle

    My Moodle menu

    My Moodle is used to get you around the site, navigate to My Home, your profile and if you like, other courses.

    Settings menu

    The Settings menu is used to edit the place you're in, such as courses, your profile or a resource/activity

    Going fixed – reducing wide screen courses

    One change most will notice is that Moodle is now fixed in size, this means that it will always be the same width and doesn’t just stretch to the size of your monitor. This was a difficult decision to make, because it means some courses don’t display wide images or content as well as they used to. The reason why we did this was primarily based on accessibility; not everyone has a widescreen monitor and so while what you have made might look OK for you, it may look terrible, or worse, illegible on other computers. By having a fixed-width which accommodates to a maximum width specification it means Moodle will look as expected on most sized screens. The BBC and Facebook, for example, both do this, it’s fairly standard web design. There’s lots of ways we can quickly fix up courses which may look a little skinny from this change and more details will emerge over the coming months.  We’re also looking at a user-based width expansion button – but this is still in the early stages.

    A few notable comments

    Making Moodle look ‘beautiful’ is hard work, firstly everyone uses it differently, which is great, but it means we need a platform which can accommodate all this creativity. While this is the kind of challenge we enjoy, it means that the end results always scale differently in people’s opinions. The response we have had already is ‘much cleaner’, ‘really easy to visualise my future course developments’ and even ‘looks like facebook’ – which we’re not sure is a good thing. We’ve also already had the  ‘urgh, sicky green’ – which is a fair comment and that green colour may change to something different.

    Towards Part 3, and beyond

    Changes are still taking place, so this is not the final design. We’re also working with a few Moodle quirks which are working themselves out. Stay tuned, or get in touch with your feedback on moodle2@ucl.ac.uk

    Part 3 coming soon-ish