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Digital Education team blog


Ideas and reflections from UCL's Digital Education team


Goodbye to Moodle Snapshots!!

By Jason R Norton, on 11 May 2022




From this summer (2022) there will be NO Moodle snapshot taking place. The current “live” Moodle will be the only Moodle going forward and all courses (past, current, and future) from this point will be located within that single instance of Moodle.


What does this mean?

  1. There will not be a Late Summer Assessment (LSA) Moodle instance. All Moodle related LSA work will take place in the main Moodle.
  2. A new category structure will be created based on SITS categories each Academic Year in Moodle.
  3. All courses starting within a particular Academic Year will be located within the new category structure for that year.
  4. The course “rollover” functionality will shortly be made available in Moodle. This tool will facilitate the “Rollover” of courses from one year to another.
  5. Moodle Courses will no longer be reset, they will be “rolled over” into the next academic year and the original kept as a historic record of assessment and for student access.


Why are you getting rid of the Moodle Snapshot?

Moodle Snapshots have been taken historically for two key reasons: –

  • Provide students with access to their previous years course content.
  • Meet our statutory obligations to hold electronic assessments and feedback in line with the UCL data retention policy.

However, creating a Snapshot Moodle generates a series of issues, especially since the introduction of Late Summer Assessment period in 2018.

  • Confusion by both staff and students over which Moodle they should be accessing
  • Two live platforms to support and maintain
  • Complex administration processes
  • Duplicate courses in “live” and Snapshot Moodle
  • Fixed deadlines for course teams to complete Snapshot activities so the Snapshot can made read only.

By moving to one instance of Moodle with a new annual category structure we can accommodated the two primary reasons and reduce or mitigate the associated issues.

It will also allow us to build on exisiting features in Moodle such as Global Search, and allow staff and students to eventually search across multiple years of content. Using the now mandatory course start and end date will enable us to enhance and develop the Moodle user dashboard, so users will be able to view past, current and future courses at the click of a button.


The New Category Structure

The new structure will be created annually by the Digital-Education team as soon as taught Modules are confirmed in SITS as being available in the next academic year. The structure created will be based on SITS data. This should ensure that courses are created within their correct location based upon the selection of the Module occurrence/mapping within the CLC-Tool. An example of this new structure is displayed below:

an image of the new moodle catagory structure

The Course Life Cycle (CLC) Tool (first release)

This plugin will allow you to “rollover” any single course into the new category structure, based upon its SITS module occurrence. Course Administrators and Tutors will access this tool from the administration block, and will be walked through a series of steps to confirm information such as course mappings, catagory and course start/end date, before activating the “rollover” process.

image showing the course rollover menu icon

Course Rollover will be located in the Course administration menu

The previous “original” course can then continue to be used until the course completes. In previous years using a snapshot this would be restricted to the end of November when we would make the entire Moodle read only.

Below are the three steps of the course rollover tool (please note these are development screenshots and layout and text is still subject to change)

course rollover tool page one - selecting your mappings

course rollover tool page two - choosing your course type

course rollover tool page three - confirm rollover options and start process

Guidance and support documentation for the Course Rollover plugin will be released shortly. We plan to make the plugin live in Moodle on the 1st June 2022


Development of the Course Life Cycle Tool?

The CLC tool that we are releasing is our “Minimal Viable Product”, this version contains all the features and functions that we believe are the essential for course teams to Rollover their courses.

This however is not the final version, and our development team will continue to enhance the current functionality and add new features.

On our development roadmap we have the following features to add post initial release.

  • UI/UX changes based on intial release feedback
  • Bulk “rollover” of courses group and/or selection
  • Automated new course creation
  • Course level read-only function and automation
  • Lecturecast link “rollover” function

Removal of the Course Reset Function

As part of the move to course “Rollover”, the Moodle course reset function will be removed on Friday the 13th of May.  Using the Course Life Cycle tool will include reset functionality to create the new version of the course, while maintaining the data integrity of the originating course.

General Questions

What about the existing Snapshot Moodles?

The existing Snapshot instances will be maintained inline with the UCL retention policy of six plus current academic year before being deleted.

How do I make my course read only?

Courses cannot at this point be made read only. Our development team is currently working to release an addition to the CLC-Tool to do this function. Courses can still be hidden.

Why can I not reset my course?

To ensure that we do not suffer any accidental data loss, we will be removing the course Reset function as courses will now be “rolled over” with the CLC-Tool and not reset. If you feel that you require a specific course reset please contact digi-ed@ucl.ac.uk

Who can use the new Course Life Cycle Tool?

Access to the Course Life Cycle Tool and rollover functionality will be restricted to the Course Administrator and Tutor role in Moodle.

Getting better at Stata and R!

By Jim R Tyson, on 9 May 2022

It’s possible that some Stata and R users are like me: I am much more likely to spend an hour exploring a new package for k-means clustering or time series techniques or panel data, than I am to look in any detail at new features in graphics routines or learning how to format tables. I tell everyone that the most important part of data analysis is communicating results, but I don’t follow my own lead.

So, in an effort to improve my own knowledge in both Stata and R, I have designed three short new workshops/demonstrations:

  • Scripting Stata Graphs
  • Scripting Stata Tables
  • Better Tables in R

The first of these covers a topic that I have some familiarity with – I have always created simple graphs from do files. I decided to take a more systematic approach and so I’ve created this workshop to cover the most common options and settings when using the graphing commands, but also to demonstrate efficient ways to export the output of these routines from scripts. Scripting more fully leads to a much better experience of visualising data with Stata.

The same goes with tabulations in Stata. From Stata 16 the table command itself has changed and from Stata 17 and on, Stata Corp have been promoting the use of collections in conjunction with tables as the best way to customise tables and then to export the results. While some of us may still prefer to export default tables, and then edit them in Word, for most situations it will be worth at least considering scripting more of the process.

In R, there are too many different table packages, and they differ in what outputs they support (PDF, HTML, etc) and in how much customisation you can easily achieve. Some packages are fine for a limited range of purposes – I have always used Stargazer for regression outputs, for example, but I do often end up taking either the LaTeX output or the Microsoft Word output in a knitted document and doing the formatting myself. For custom tables, until now I felt stuck with HTML or LaTeX since RMarkdown doesn’t have a powerful table language. Now, I’ve committed to learning gt() which although new and presently lacking some small things and still needs simple, reliable cross-referencing, looks to be going in the right direction for a reasonable table language built in a modular, systematic way.

So, if you like the sound of improving your Stata scripting skills or of learning the basics of gt(), sign up!



Moodle STACK Quiz question type: deploying variants to avoid quiz crashing

By Aurelie, on 4 May 2022

Questions in STACK can contain randomly generated elements. A student will be given a random variant of a question generated by a pseudo-random seed.

Why deploy variants?

The tutor is strongly advised to pre-generate and “deploy” variants of a question. Not pre-generating question variants Forces Moodle to generate them on the fly – for quizzes with larger numbers of participants this can cause quizzes to crash/freeze.
When a student attempts the question, they will be given a random selection from the deployed variants.

Other reasons for deploying variants of a question:

  • STACK runs all the question tests on each deployed variant to establish each variant of the question is working. This aids quality control. By using question tests, it is unlikely a student will be given a random variant which does not work correctly.
  • The tutor can decide if each deployed variant appears to be of equal difficulty. The tutor can easily delete variants they do not like.


  • If an author does not deploy any variants (not advised!) then the student gets any random variant.
  • Questions that don’t use randomisation cannot be deployed explicitly. STACK automatically detects randomisation.

How to deploy question variants

The deployment interface can be found by editing a question and clicking on question tests and deployed variants.

  1. The easiest way to do so is to preview the question
  2. Then click the Question tests & deployed variant link on the top right corner.
  3. Click ‘deploy’ if not already deployed.
  4. Next to Attempt to automatically deploy the following number of variants, enter the number of variants  you would like and click Go.
    (depending on the question and the question note content you may be able to deploy various amount; if possible deploy over 30)
    You can preview results and either exclude variants, or return to the quiz question settings to revise the randomisation you have used in the question.
  5. Check variants as required.
  6. This will show the list of currently deployed variants, and links to undeploy all or a specific variant.
  7. Optionally, click ‘Run all tests on all deployed variants (slow):’ and check/undeploy any variants you don’t want to use.


There is currently no way to loop systematically over all variants and deploy them all.

Find more details and advice on using STACK question types on the M57 – STACK online assessment for mathematics and science.

Office for Students blended learning review

By Jo Stroud, on 25 April 2022

As many of the UCL community will be aware, the Office for Students (OfS) has launched a review of blended learning. Although the experience of the rapid and unplanned pivot to remote learning has been mixed, in the longer-term blended learning must be seen for its inclusive, positive, and facilitative qualities beyond the pandemic context. UCL teachers have demonstrated some outstanding practice in the past two years, and we are conscious of several strong arguments or narratives in support of effective blended teaching.

Make a contribution

The OfS has suggested that there are two key themes upon which the review will focus:
  • Effective delivery of a high-quality academic experience through a blended approach to teaching and learning
  • Resources to support a high-quality blended learning experience.

To support our engagement with this review alongside UCL initiatives such as the Education Priorities and Programme strategy, we would like to invite staff from across UCL to contribute an informal micro case study evidencing effective examples of blended learning. These can be drawn from any time period, either prior to the pandemic or during it, and should ideally underscore an intervention’s value and impact, highlighting key points such as the benefits to students and staff, effects on pedagogy, examples of practice, and so on. As a guideline, a response should be no longer than 250-300 words and submitted by COP 11th May.

Submit your case study

Develop your digital skills this term – new dates released

By Jasmin E Mullings, on 20 April 2022

How to book

Please ensure you are using Desktop@UCL or the UCL VPN when booking.

What’s on offer

ISD Digital Skills Development have released new dates for Term 3. Most of our sessions will be offered remotely using Microsoft Teams, however, this term there are a couple that will take place on campus. These are marked in the schedule as ‘campus based’ in bold. See our latest schedule below.

We are offering a wide range of courses covering Stata, Matlab, Unix, Microsoft apps (including Teams, OneNote and Sway) and much more. Highlights include the following brand new additions:

  • DSD: Best practice for video captions and transcripts
  • DSD: Explore the potential of UCL Media Central
  • DSD: Scripting Stata Tables
  • DSD: Scripting Stata Graphs

As a reminder, please note that most of our events are interactive training sessions and are not recorded. Therefore, we ask that you please ensure you are able to attend before booking and cancel your place if you are no longer able to attend. If you have any accessibility requirements, please let us know by emailing the ISD Digital Skills Development mailbox in advance: isd-digiskills@ucl.ac.uk

Find out more

For more information on how to book and join a session on the day, please visit our Practical Course Information page.


We are also hosting our usual weekly drop-in sessions both remotely and in person for those who would like individual support on a specific issue. The dates and times of the sessions, along with the joining link, are available in our ISD Digital Skills Development Moodle course.

More digital skills development opportunities…

Learn online with a vast range of high-quality video-based courses from LinkedIn Learning.  These cover technical skills but also business, personal and creative skills as well.  Visit the UCL LinkedIn Learning page to find out more.

DigiLearn Online is a library of online videos which covers UCL IT essentials. Topics include remote connectivity, data storage essentials, Microsoft Office 365 applications, and much more. Visit the DigiLearn Online webpage to access the video guides.

Latest schedule

Date Start End Class title Delivery mode
04/05/2022 13:45 14:30 DSD: Excel Essential Skills programme (self-paced) – Orientation Remote classroom
04/05/2022 13:45 15:00 DSD: Filming advice for a short film Remote classroom
04/05/2022 09:45 12:00 DSD: Managing Long Documents in Word 2016 Remote classroom
04/05/2022 09:45 11:00 DSD: Pivot Tables in Excel – Demo Remote classroom
04/05/2022 09:45 11:00 DSD: Planning a short film Remote classroom
04/05/2022 13:45 15:00 DSD: Word tips and tricks Remote classroom
05/05/2022 09:45 11:30 DSD: Creating accessible PowerPoint presentations Remote classroom
05/05/2022 09:45 11:00 DSD: An Introduction to R with Rstudio – Part 1 (Remote classroom) – WAITING LIST ONLY Remote classroom
12/05/2022 09:45 12:00 DSD: An Introduction to R with Rstudio – Part 2 (Remote classroom) – WAITING LIST ONLY Remote classroom
19/05/2022 09:45 12:00 DSD: An Introduction to R with Rstudio – Part 3 (Remote classroom) – WAITING LIST ONLY Remote classroom
26/05/2022 09:45 12:00 DSD: An Introduction to R with Rstudio – Part 4 (Remote classroom) WAITING LIST ONLY Remote classroom
05/05/2022 13:45 15:00 DSD: Getting Started with Stata – Part 1 (Orientation and materials) Remote classroom
12/05/2022 13:45 16:00 DSD: Getting Started with Stata – Part 2 (Using Stata) Remote classroom
19/05/2022 13:45 16:00 DSD: Getting Started with Stata – Part 3 (Scripting techniques) Remote classroom
26/05/2022 13:45 16:00 DSD: Getting Started with Stata – Part 4 (Modelling and reporting) Remote classroom
05/05/2022 13:45 15:30 DSD: Managing your digital profile and social media presence Remote classroom
06/05/2022 11:45 13:00 DSD: Software for Success: Winning with charts Remote classroom
10/05/2022 13:45 15:00 DSD: Excel tips and tricks Remote classroom
10/05/2022 09:45 11:00 DSD: Microsoft Teams Introduction (Prerequisite Course for Advanced Workshops) Remote classroom
10/05/2022 10:00 17:00 DSD: Think like a computer programmer Campus based
11/05/2022 09:45 12:00 DSD: Intermediate statistics with Excel 2016 Remote classroom
11/05/2022 09:45 11:30 DSD: VLookup in Excel – workshop Remote classroom
12/05/2022 09:45 11:00 DSD: Basic video editing using iMovie on a Mac Remote classroom
12/05/2022 13:45 15:00 DSD: Record a narration over your PowerPoint on a PC Remote classroom
17/05/2022 13:45 15:45 DSD: Pivot Tables in Excel – Workshop Remote classroom
18/05/2022 09:45 11:15 DSD: Basic image editing using free tools Remote classroom
18/05/2022 13:45 15:00 DSD: Excel Essential Skills programme (self-paced) – Worksheet 1 Review Remote classroom
18/05/2022 09:45 12:00 DSD: Scripting Stata Graphs Remote classroom
19/05/2022 09:45 11:30 DSD: Microsoft Teams Workshop 1: Beyond Basics Overview Remote classroom
19/05/2022 13:45 15:00 DSD: Podcasting made easy – workshop Remote classroom
24/05/2022 09:45 11:00 DSD: Creating Infographics using free web-based tools Remote classroom
24/05/2022 13:45 16:00 DSD: Getting Started with SPSS Remote classroom
24/05/2022 09:45 12:00 DSD: Scripting Stata Tables Remote classroom
24/05/2022 13:45 15:15 DSD: Styles and table of contents in Word – Workshop Remote classroom
25/05/2022 09:45 11:30 DSD: Creating accessible Word documents Remote classroom
25/05/2022 11:45 13:00 DSD: Introduction to REDCap for research (demo and Q&A) Remote classroom
25/05/2022 09:45 11:00 DSD: Microsoft Forms Demo Remote classroom
26/05/2022 09:45 12:00 DSD: Blogging with Reflect (WordPress-based) – Workshop Remote classroom
27/05/2022 11:45 13:00 DSD: In a Nutshell: Excel functions we should all know Remote classroom
30/05/2022 17:00 20:00 DSD: An Introduction to R with Rstudio (Campus-based) – Part 1 Campus based
31/05/2022 17:00 20:00 DSD: An Introduction to R with Rstudio (Campus-based) – Part 2 Campus based
30/05/2022 13:45 15:45 DSD: Charting with Excel 2016 Remote classroom
31/05/2022 13:45 15:30 DSD: Sway, Microsoft’s modern presentation tool – Workshop Remote classroom
01/06/2022 13:45 16:00 DSD: Advanced statistics with Excel 2016 Remote classroom
01/06/2022 09:45 12:00 DSD: Better Tables in R Remote classroom
01/06/2022 13:45 15:00 DSD: Excel Essential Skills programme (self-paced) – Worksheet 2 Review Remote classroom
07/06/2022 10:00 17:00 DSD: Introduction to Matlab – Part 1 Campus based
09/06/2022 10:00 17:00 DSD: Introduction to Matlab – Part 2 Campus based
07/06/2022 09:45 11:45 DSD: OneNote 2016 – Workshop Remote classroom
08/06/2022 09:45 12:00 DSD: Data Manipulation in R with Rstudio Remote classroom
08/06/2022 13:45 15:00 DSD: Excel Essential Skills programme (self-paced) – Worksheet 3 Review Remote classroom
08/06/2022 13:45 15:00 DSD: Explore the potential of UCL Media Central Remote classroom
08/06/2022 09:45 11:30 DSD: Microsoft Teams Workshop 2: Managing & Participating in Meetings  Remote classroom
09/06/2022 09:45 11:00 DSD: Excel tips and tricks Remote classroom
10/06/2022 09:45 12:00 DSD: Data Visualization in R with ggplot2 Remote classroom
14/06/2022 09:45 11:00 DSD: Word tips and tricks Remote classroom
15/06/2022 09:45 11:45 DSD: Pivot Tables in Excel – Workshop Remote classroom
15/06/2022 13:45 15:30 DSD: Microsoft Teams Workshop 3: Document Management and Collaboration  Remote classroom
16/06/2022 13:45 15:00 DSD: Best practice for video captions and transcripts Remote classroom
21/06/2022 13:45 15:30 DSD: OneDrive for sharing files Remote classroom
22/06/2022 13:45 15:30 DSD: Photo editing with Pixlr X – Workshop Remote classroom
23/06/2022 09:45 11:30 DSD: VLookup in Excel – workshop Remote classroom

MyPortfolio upgrade: what’s new?

By Aurelie, on 11 April 2022

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

On 22 April 2022, we’re upgrading MyPortfolio to Mahara version 21.10. This means we’re bringing you new functionalities and improving features such as competency frameworks, general usability improvements as well as making MyPortfolio more user-friendly.
Here’s a non-exhaustive list of improvements:

SmartEvidence (competency framework) for group templates

A SmartEvidence framework can be added to a group portfolio used as template for the creation of personal portfolios.

Exports improvement

Decide whether you want to include or exclude private comments from your portfolio export to retain the original setting on private comments and not make them viewable by others.

Collapsible page comments

When you open a page, the comments area at the bottom of a page, when the portfolio author allowed comments, is collapsed per default to save space.

MyPortfolio collapsible comments feature

             MyPortfolio collapsible comments

Skin stays with copied page

When you copy a page or a collection that has one or more skins applied to its pages, the skins come along with the pages if they are public or site skins that you are allowed to use.

Accessibility bug fixes

Accessibility bugs were fixed towards compliance with WCAG 2.1.


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

21.10 Mahara video from https://manual.mahara.org/en/21.10/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 .