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Digital Education team blog


Ideas and reflections from UCL's Digital Education team


Working with the Connected Learning Baseline for 2021/22

By Clive Young, on 29 July 2021

A major challenge faced  by our learners studying online last year was simply orienting themselves; understanding what tasks to undertake next in a module and how much time to spend on them.

As we move back into more blended delivery, students will have to navigate a rich mix of online and campus-based activities. Clear ‘signposting’ of resources and activities becomes ever more important to reduce stress and guide learners though often quite complex teaching sequences. Pre-Covid, directions could be given verbally during on-campus sessions, but over the last 18 months much of this signposting has had to be provided via Moodle. In this sense, a Moodle course becomes a ‘map’ of the student journey, displaying the structure of each module while also allowing access to its online material and activities. 

We know students who are learning partially or entirely online may feel isolated or ‘disconnected’ from the learning process. It is not unusual for them to be unsure whether they have all the information they need and are doing the right things at the right times. A consistent and ‘friendly’ Moodle course design, with clear labelling of links will students help find specific resources quickly and easily. Learners also appreciate simple instructional direction, describing where, when (and why) to look for resources and how to complete activities. Students can especially benefit from suggestions on how long to spend on each task in order to prioritise and avoid overload. These simple adjustments can reduce students’ confusion and anxiety, enabling them better to focus on learning. 

To make this simple redesign even easier, many departments have aligned with the UCL Connected Learning Baseline which establishes the minimum expectations, or baseline, for Connected Learning in Moodle in 2021/22. Its 10 brief sections address the practicalities of how to arrange and present a course so that it is easy to use, how to help students get the most out of it, how to manage communications, as well as a digestible overview of legal requirements, particularly accessibility. A general, baseline-aligned template (see image) was created by Digital Education which has been adapted by many departments. While there is no requirement to present the course in a specific way, your Faculty Learning Technology Lead (FLTL) will be able to advise if a local template is available. 

Whether a template is used or not – and given everyone’s time constraints – we suggest focusing initially on the first five sections of the Baseline, covering structure, orientation, communication, assessment and resources. These five sections make recommendations for making your course more ‘friendly’, useable, and navigable.  For example, we know that simple welcome videos that provide an overview of the module and/or sections within it are much appreciated by our students. 

Beyond these basics, a real positive outcome of the last 18 months is that staff and students have become much better at using Moodle to its full potential, including for example using quizzes to help engagement and of course including pre-recorded short lectures in Moodle as a springboard for seminars (on campus or online). If you are interested these and other approaches, there is a wealth of help available online  (linked from the Baseline page) and again, your Faculty Learning Technology Lead (FLTL) or Digital Education Advisor should be able to assist. 

Reusing Lecturecast Recordings from previous academic years

By Rod Digges, on 13 July 2021


Following course resets it’s important to remove old Lecturecast section and class links unless the recording has been embedded in the course, in which case you do not need to relink. After this has been done staff may want to review existing recordings for potential re-use e.g. short recordings used in flipped teaching, module introductions etc.

The way recordings are reused depends on their ownership and the way in which they’ve been published. The table below illustrates different scenarios which may apply to your course. Please use the relevant method to re-share your recordings onto your new course. Please note: Currently there is no method for the bulk duplication of recordings from one year’s Lecturecast section to the next.


Way recording was previously shared Owner Method for re-sharing
From Echo360 library embedded in a Moodle course using the Echo360 plugin tool in Moodle’s text editor Member of staff who uploaded Generally no action needs to be taken to re-use recordings published in this way.  These recordings remain in a course along with other course content even after a course has been reset. These recordings are independent of Lecturecast sections.  Note, that analytics for these recordings will simply accrue as they are not re-set.
Recordings shared from staff Echo360 libraries into a previous year’s Lecturecast section that now need to be published into a new academic year’s section. Member of staff who uploaded In these cases recordings which will still be available in staff’s Echo360 libraries need to be re-shared into the new year’s Lecturecast section. The method is the same as that used to originally share the content and identical to the steps from 4.1 in the guide Reuse recordings from previous academic years
Recordings shared from staff Echo360 libraries into a previous year’s Lecturecast section who’s classes are then individually linked to different areas of a Moodle course. Member of staff who uploaded This is identical to the scenario above but requires the additional steps of recreating Lecturecast activity links to individual classes. A short video on linking to individual classes is available in the guide Create a Link on a Moodle course to a Lecturecast Recording.
Recordings made in Lecturecast equipped teaching spaces and automatically shared into a section. Owned by the section and not available in any Staff Echo360 library. Any staff member who is an instructor in the section in which the content sits will have the capability to create a copy of the recording in question, this copy will be available to them in their Echo360 library from where it may be re-used using any of the methods above. The process is outlined fully in the guide Reuse recordings from previous academic years

Please see our guide for more information and video guidance on: Preparing for the new academic year – Lecturecast rollover

For any questions or concerns regarding Lecturecast please email: digi-ed@ucl.ac.uk

Dissertation and Thesis Clinics in July and August

By Jasmin E Mullings, on 28 June 2021

Neon sign which reads "Develop your Digital Skills"Need help with your dissertation or thesis?

We are running six weekly dissertation and thesis clinics throughout July and August. There is no need to book, just turn up. Staff can help with formatting your dissertation, using statistical software and bibliographic referencing using Word, LaTeX, SPSS, R, NatBib, Endnote, Mendeley and Zotero.


The clinics will take place on the following dates/times:

Wednesday 7th July from 14:00-16:00
Tuesday 13th July from 10:00-12:00
Tuesday 20th July from 14:00-16:00
Wednesday 28th July from 10:00-12:00
Thursday 5th August from 10:00-12:00 (note that support with statistical software will not be available on this date)
Tuesday 10th August from 14:00-16:00

What to expect

Staff are able to help with a wide range of software but we can’t promise that we will be able to answer every question and support is on a ‘best efforts’ basis. We can respond to specific queries or guide you as to which software to use but we can’t provide individual training in how to use the software.  If you need training you will be directed to self-paced materials or scheduled courses.  Please note that our usual Drop in terms and conditions apply so please check these for full details.

How to access

Our clinics will be held remotely via Moodle using Blackboard Collaborate. To access to the Blackboard Collaborate session, please enrol on our ISD Digital Skills Development Moodle course and visit the ‘Dissertation and Thesis Clinics – July/August 2021’ section.

Additional resources

Library Services have developed a useful guide to resources and support for undertaking dissertations or research projects which covers all stages of the research process.

What’s new in MyPortfolio

By Aurelie, on 18 June 2021

Our eportfolio system MyPortfolio is powered by the open-source platform Mahara.

On 24 June 2021, we’re upgrading MyPortfolio to Mahara version 21.04. This means we’re bringing you new functionalities and improving features such as accessibility and competency frameworks as well as making MyPortfolio more user-friendly.

Here’s a non-exhaustive list of improvements:

Improved portfolio page layout:

    • You can now add any type of content to the page from a click of a button through a placeholder block.
    • You can easily move and resize blocks, at any time, as you add content.
    • You can add instructions to template pages to help learners with structuring their eportfolio pages.

Improvements for assessments:

    • Portfolios can be declared as a template and can have instructions locked as well as a peer-assessment block.
    • Portfolio can have a completion/cover page (using the sign-off block) .

More accessible site with a better look and feel:

    • A new portfolio theme is available.
    • You can now add a feature picture for each portfolio page and collection, which allows you to better navigate your pages.
    • Heading styles are now consistent and accessible.

For more details, you can review the MyPortfolio Mahara Manual.

21.04 Mahara video from https://manual.mahara.org/en/21.04/new.html 

If you have any question regarding setting up eportfolio activities or assessment, don’t hesitate to contact me : a.soulier@ucl.ac.uk .


RStudio v1.4 – new stuff

By Jim R Tyson, on 16 June 2021

I am a massive fan of RStudio.  Not just for R development and data analysis.  I use RStudio a lot in writing learning materials, recently for R, but also for Pyton and Stata using literate programming techniques and the learnr package (yes, you can include Stata code in markdown documents with a little work!)

There are a whole bunch of (no doubt wonderful) things in this Preview release that I haven’t yet bothered to look at, but somethings have got my immediate attention.

The visual markdown editor

I have mixed feelings about this. I know that visual editing – that is, something partway towards WYSIWYG, a la Word – is appreciated by lots of people, but I loathe it. I took up LaTeX a long time ago to get away from Microsoft Word (and, not to boast, I am a very proficient Word user). But, even I found that 90 per cent of the time, LaTeX was too complicated for what I needed. Hoorah for Markdown.

RStudio actually provided my first introduction to Markdown and I revelled in it from the beginning, especially combined with Pandoc: one source many ouputs! At last the world was beginning to understand.  Write in one simple lightweight format and get HTML, PDF, DOCX and other formats automatically.  And of course it put literate programming within easy reach of all R programmers and learners. With the learnr package writing R study materials is a breeze.

But, still some people don’t like plain text editing. Well, the 1.4 Preview shows off the new visual editor. It’s not a complete WYSYWIG offer like Word, but it does show you a live close to end-result preview and has menus to formatting, layout, tables, images, citations. If you really don’t like typing text this may be just what you are looking for to push you that last step into literate data analysis with R and RMarkdown.

Inserting citations with Zotero

Yes, zotero users can now use the source editor to insert citations with point and click – just like Word users. There is no need to first export the references to a BibTeX file first – RStudio handles that for you. Using BibTeX is another thing that people have sometimes mentioned when talking about the difficulty of writing in Rmarkdown.

New Python functionality

And then, oh joy, the new python functionality. I find that very few people are aware that it’s a breeze to combine Python and R code using Rmarkdown documents, although it may take some effort to understand all the set-up requirements for python chunks at first: it took me 15 minutes the first time I tried to run import numpy as np!

Now, this new release adds tools for configuring python, conda and virtual environments. For me the real advance though is somewhat simpler: now you can see python data objects in the RStudio environment pane and view python dataframes in the normal way.


The last of the new features I know I will use is the introduction of ‘rainbow’ parentheses. Nothing to with Pride month apparently, just adding colour coded bracketing to help you balance your parentheses.

Time to give R (and Python) with RStudio another look

If the user interface has put you off moving to R and RStudio, then now is definitely a time to have another look. Especially for Stata users, complexity and ease of use really aren’t a reason to prefer Stata any more and the move to R coding really isn’t that difficult.

Late Summer Assessments 2021

By Jason R Norton, on 16 June 2021

Important note:

All centrally managed exams, and any departmentally managed exams and assessments that took place on AssessmentUCL during the main exam period will continue to be held on AssessmentUCL in the Late Summer Assessment period. The guidance below is not relevant to exams or assessments on AssessmentUCL.

See the staff Exams pages for more information and guidance on LSAs and AssessmentUCL.

If you have are planning any departmentally managed exams or assessments on Moodle during the Late Summer Assessment period, you should follow the guidance below.

This summer (20/21) sees a repeat of the processes introduced last year with regards to the running of Late Summer Assessments (guidance will be added to the Academic Manual in due course).

A snapshot of Moodle 20/21 will be taken on 12th July 2021, 6:30pm (BST).  Moodle will continue to be available during the period.

Two live instances of Moodle will then be available:

  • Moodle LSA(snapshot) 20/21 – to be used ONLY for Late Summer Assessments. This will remain live until 30th November 2021.
  • Moodle 21/22, which should be used for all continuing courses and new courses commencing after 13th July 2021.

Moodle use and Late Summer Assessments

To facilitate the combination of required end of year tasks and the running of Late Summer Assessments, some Late Summer Assessments should take place within the 20/21 Moodle Snapshot (called Moodle LSA 20/21).  This will be created on 12th July 2021 and made available no later than 12pm on 15th July 2021. If your exams or assessments took place on AssessmentUCL during the main exam period then this will be held on AssessmentUCL in the LSA period.

Why are we asking you to follow this guidance?

  • All associated course content and student/cohort data will remain consistent and associated with the correct Moodle snapshot, in this case Moodle 20/21.
  • Completing Late Summer Assessments within the 20/21 snapshot allows all the “live” Moodle courses to be reset and normal end of year course activities to take place from Monday 19th July 2021 (subject to change). Course teams will therefore be able to begin preparing courses for the 21/22 academic year.
  • Additional Moodle course creation is kept to a minimum within the Moodle 21/22 instance and aids in Moodle housekeeping activities (reducing dead/unwanted courses, improving long term database performance).

What are we doing to facilitate this change?

  • The Moodle 20/21 Snapshot will remain read/write until the 30th November 2021.
  • Digital Education will make a landing screen/hub available as we did last year with a two Moodle selection page to direct students to snapshot Moodle for Late Summer Assessments.
  • Digital Education will create a global banner within “live” Moodle directing students to the snapshot for the duration of the Late Summer Assessment period.
  • Digital Education will place other redirection adverts/links within “live” Moodle to highlight to students that Late Summer Assessment activities can be found within the 20/21 snapshot.

How can you prepare for Late Summer Assessments?

If you have Late Summer Assessments taking place and you wish to prepare assessment material/submission points in advance of the Moodle snapshot being taken on 12th July 2021, we recommend the following:

  • Within any course where Late Summer Assessments will be taking place, create a hidden section and place any material or submission points within that section. This can be done in Moodle 20/21 up until the 11th July 2021. Alternatively, it can be done within the 20/21 snapshot, which will be available at 12pm on the 15th July 2021.
  • When you are ready to make Late Summer Assessment material/submission points available, simply unhide the section within the course on the 20/21 snapshot.

Details on how to create and hide sections within Moodle can be found in the miniguide – Moodle Course Structure .

A list of commonly asked questions about Late Summer Assessments is also available.

For any questions regarding Moodle and Late Summer Assessments please email digi-ed@ucl.ac.uk.