X Close

Digital Education team blog


Ideas and reflections from UCL's Digital Education team


New Digital Skills courses for 2020

By Jasmin E Mullings, on 9 December 2019

ISD Digital Skills Development has released new dates for the first half of Term 2. As usual, we are offering a wide range of courses covering Excel, Photoshop, R, Stata, and more..

This term we have our Software for success sessions again and two new In a Nutshell sessions.

Software for Success sessions are aimed at those starting a new research project, thesis or dissertation and unsure what tools to use for writing up, citation, data analysis etc. These short, lunchtime sessions will help you answer these questions and determine the best way to get up and running.  Book a place on a ‘Software for success’ presentation.

In a Nutshell sessions highlight a single task in a particular application, such as loading survey data into NVivo for example. Book a place on an ‘In a Nutshell’ presentation.

We have added new sessions for our highly popular  Creating accessible documents course.  Making documents accessible is important for everyone, whether or not they have a disability or impairment. In this session you will learn how to make your PowerPoint, Word, Excel and PDF files more accessible.  Book a place on a Creating accessible documents course. To find out more about creating accessible content, please visit our dedicated web pages.

See below for our current schedule of courses and workshops or go straight to book now.

More digital skills development opportunities…

Digital Skills Development at IOE offer training in a wide range of digital tools.  Sessions are open to all UCL staff and students.  Highlights this term include:

  • Creating Accessible PowerPoint presentations,
  • Presentation Translator – add live subtitles to your presentations,
  • Introduction to Stop Motion Studio animation (iPad app).

Other sessions include Microsoft tools such as OneNote, Sway, Teams and SharePoint.  You can also learn more about EndNote, Pivot tables and VLookUp in Excel, mind mapping, infographics, video editing and much more.

The draft schedule for Digital Skills Development at IOE courses in Term 2 will be released by Thursday 19th December. Bookings will open on 6th January. Visit the Digital Skills Development at IOE booking system for details and to book.

Learn online with a vast range of high-quality video-based courses from LinkedIn Learning. This is the new platform on which we are now hosting Lynda.com content. These cover technical skills but also business, personal and creative skills as well.  Visit the UCL LinkedIn Learning page to find out more.

Not sure what you need or have a more specific issue you would like help with?  Come along to one of the Digital Skills Development drop ins for more individual support.

Current schedule

For a full list of courses and workshops take a look at our course catalogue. Visit the UCL booking system to book on the sessions listed below.

IMPORTANT: Please note that the UCL booking system will close on 6th January, therefore, you need to enrol before then. When the new training booking system (My Learning) goes live in mid-February, you will be able to book onto sessions scheduled from 2nd March onwards.

If you want to be reminded about the current booking system shutting down and informed about the opening of the new system, enrol on our Moodle course.

Date Start time End time Course/workshop
13/01/2020 13:00 14:00 Software for Success: Bibliography and Citation
21/01/2020 10:00 13:00 Getting started with Stata (Part 1) (RESERVE LIST ONLY)
22/01/2020 10:00 13:00 Getting started with Stata (Part 2) (RESERVE LIST ONLY)
22/01/2019 16:00 17:00 Excel Essential Skills – WORKSHOP 1 (RESERVE LIST ONLY)
24/01/2019 11:00 12:00 Word Essential Skills – WORKSHOP 1
24/01/2019 12:00 13:00 Word Essential Skills – WORKSHOP 1
27/01/2020 14:00 16:00 Creating accessible documents (RESERVE LIST ONLY)
28/01/2020 10:00 13:00 Getting started with SPSS (Part 1)
29/01/2020 10:00 13:00 Getting started with SPSS (Part 2)
03/02/2020 13:00 14:00 Software for Success: Better Tables in Markdown
04/02/2020 10:00 13:00 A Quick Introduction to UNIX
04/02/2020 14:00 17:00 Excel 2016 Essential Skills (STAFF ONLY) (RESERVE LIST ONLY)
05/02/2020 16:00 17:00 Excel Essential Skills – WORKSHOP 1
07/02/2020 11:00 12:00 Word Essential Skills – WORKSHOP 1
07/02/2020 12:00 13:00 Word Essential Skills – WORKSHOP 1
06/02/2020 10:00 13:00 Getting Started with Markdown
10/02/2020 13:00 14:00 Software for success: Writing tools
11/02/2020 14:00 17:00 Further UNIX
12/02/2020 16:00 17:00 Excel Essential Skills – WORKSHOP 1
14/02/2020 11:00 12:00 Word Essential Skills – WORKSHOP 2
14/02/2020 12:00 13:00 Word Essential Skills – WORKSHOP 2
13/02/2020 10:00 12:00 Creating accessible documents
18/02/2020 10:00 13:00 Intermediate statistics with Excel 2016 (STAFF ONLY)
19/02/2020 10:00 13:00 Using Excel 2016 to manage lists (STAFF ONLY)
24/02/2020 10:00 12:00 Creating accessible documents
25/02/2020 10:00 13:00 Managing Long Documents in Word 2016 (STAFF ONLY)
25/02/2020 14:00 17:00 Charting with Excel 2016
26/02/2020 16:00 17:00 Excel Essential Skills – WORKSHOP 1
28/02/2020 11:00 12:00 Word Essential Skills – WORKSHOP 3
28/02/2020 12:00 13:00 Word Essential Skills – WORKSHOP 3

Sessions available to book from mid-February once the My Learning goes live:

Date Start time End time Course/workshop
02/03/2020 17:30 20:30 Introduction to Matlab (Part 1)
03/03/2020 17:30 20:30 Introduction to Matlab (Part 2)
04/03/2020 10:00 13:00 Advanced statistics with Excel 2016
05/03/2020 10:00 13:00 Introduction to Photoshop CS4
09/03/2020 13:00 14:00 Software for success: Data analysis and statistical tools
09/03/2020 17:30 20:30 Introduction to Matlab (Part 3)
10/03/2020 10:00 13:00 An Introduction to R with RStudio (Part 1)
10/03/2020 17:30 20:30 Introduction to Matlab (Part 4)
11/03/2020 10:00 13:00 An Introduction to R with RStudio (Part 2)
11/03/2020 16:00 17:00 Excel Essential Skills – WORKSHOP 2
13/03/2020 11:00 12:00 Word Essential Skills – WORKSHOP 4
13/03/2020 12:00 13:00 Word Essential Skills – WORKSHOP 4
16/03/2020 13:00 14:00 Software for success: Survival analysis in R
17/03/2020 10:00 17:00 An Introduction to R with RStudio (Parts 1 and 2)
18/03/2020 10:00 13:00 Data Manipulation in R with Rstudio
19/03/2020 14:00 16:00 Creating accessible documents
24/03/2020 10:00 17:00 LaTex with NatBib
25/03/2020 10:00 13:00 Introduction to Visualising Data with Matlab
25/03/2020 16:00 17:00 Excel Essential Skills – WORKSHOP 2
27/03/2020 11:00 12:00 Word Essential Skills – WORKSHOP 5
27/03/2020 12:00 13:00 Word Essential Skills – WORKSHOP 5
26/03/2020 14:00 17:00 Data Visualization in R with ggplot2

Dynamic teaching using Active Learning Platform tools

By Janice K M Kiugu, on 22 November 2019

Active learning refers to any learning activity which involves the active participation of the student and it’s not a new idea – Active learning: Quick guide

Beethan H. (2007) notes that  students learn more effectively when they:

  • are activedecorative
  • are motivated and engaged
  • can bring their existing capabilities into play
  • are appropriately challenged
  • have opportunities for dialogue
  • receive feedback
  • have opportunities for consolidation and integration

There are a wide range of learning technologies that can that help support the process of active learning. Among those available to UCL staff are the engagement tools within Lecturecast. Staff don’t need to be using Lecturecast for recording to take advantage of these tools. Existing presentations such as PowerPoint slides can be uploaded, and interactive elements e.g. polling slides easily added.

Before, during or after the delivery of the lecture, students are be able to:

  • Flag confusing content;
  • Bookmark slides they may want to revisit during their revision;
  • Take notes – these are personal and only visible to the specific students. Students can later download these notes;
  • Ask questions and engage in discussions;
  • Respond to interactive question slides.

Staff are able to:

  • Deliver lectures with interactive question slides thus making classroom sessions more engaging;
  • View points in the lecture where students may have been confused;
  • View questions raised in class and respond to these either during or after the lecture;
  • Generate in class discussion while lecturing or after the lecture;
  • After the lecture, view student engagement with lecture slides and recordings;

To find out more or to organise bespoke training for teaching staff in your department/programme team, please contact Digital Education: digi-ed@ucl.ac.uk

Useful links

Video: Lecturecast Active Learning Platform tools


Beetham, H. (2007) ‘An approach to learning activity design’, In: Beetham, H. and Sharpe, R., Eds. Rethinking pedagogy for a digital age: designing and delivering e-learning, Abingdon: Routledge. (pp 26-40.)

Higher Education Academy and Centre for Materials Education, 2008, ‘Active Learning’, Higher Education Academy, available from https://www.advance-he.ac.uk/knowledge-hub/active-learning-quick-guide , last accessed 21st November 2019

Event overview: “Mapping unbundling in the HE terrain: South Africa and the UK”

By Joanna Stroud, on 14 November 2019

In this seminar, hosted by the UCL Knowledge Lab Learning Technologies Unit, Dr Bronwen Swinnerton presented outputs from the UnbundledHE project: “The Unbundled University: Researching emerging models in an unequal landscape”, a cross-institutional study conducted by the University of Cape Town and University of Leeds.

The project considers the intersection of marketisation, unbundling, and digital technology and its effects on educational inequalities in South Africa and the United Kingdom. The following blog post summarises some of the issues surrounding the concept of educational unbundling and the project’s report into the current state of unbundled provision in both countries.


Recent years have seen a growth in demand for HE internationally but this has occurred alongside global economic shocks, such as the 2007 recession. The economic downturn has seen greater pressure placed on universities to report on the impact of central government funding streams and a resurgence of debates surrounding education as a public versus private good. This debate has tended to foreground the benefits of higher education to private individuals and consequently prompted a shift towards funding by the individual, leading to increases in fees and application of exogenous market principles to the HE environment. Such pressures have led HEIs to look to generate third stream revenue and reach new or alternative markets to fill funding gaps.

Digital technology

Digital technology is now ubiquitous in everyday life and HE, with all universities making use of technology in teaching and learning to some extent. Alongside the need to reach new audiences many have also begun to engage with online education, which has seen dramatic growth since the introduction of MOOCs. These courses have been in great demand from non-traditional audiences, such as adult professionals, with platform providers and university partners now pivoting toward the use of short online courses to deliver CPD and widening access initiatives, enhance teaching quality, and promote ‘massification’ or scalable learning opportunities. It is agreed that while universities can undoubtedly reach more prospective learners with online education it is no longer a ‘second best’ or indeed cheaper delivery method.


Unbundling is explained by McCowan (2017) as being either ‘disaggregation’, where what was sold together is now sold separately, e.g. tracks from an album, or ‘no frills’, a basic version of a product, e.g. budget airlines. There now exists a definitive application to HE, with the project defining unbundling as a disaggregation of educational provision, e.g. degree programmes, into component parts, e.g. modules, for delivery by and to multiple stakeholders. This is often achieved using digital approaches, and is manifesting itself through alternative digital credentials, or microcredentials, often delivered via what were MOOC platforms.

Rationale for offering unbundled educational opportunities can be multifarious and their production and delivery at odds with existing or longstanding institutional processes. The approach is typically: 

  • Internal, whereby HEIs choose how and when to break apart existing provision and offer content to learners directly;
  • In collaboration with service or platform providers, in which an HEI procures services to support specific stages of the course lifecycle;
  • By working with online programme management companies (OPMs), frequently with full service or white-labelled delivery and revenue share arrangements.

The unbundling landscape in SA and the UK

Dr Swinnerton highlighted key findings from the project, including the outcomes of interviews with policy makers, HE leaders, edtech developers, and private company CEOs. Mapping information (delivered via kumu.io software) was drawn from publicly available data, such as university, private company, and online and distance education websites, press releases, and other media. 

Interactive mapping of the HE landscape in SA and the UK demonstrated HEIs, suppliers, and OPMs and the relationships between them across provision of unbundled online education. The maps could be filtered according to league table strata, and what was immediately apparent across both contexts was disparity in coverage, with partnership opportunities broadly unavailable to lower-ranked institutions. Private companies in this space, notably OPMs, chiefly target elite institutions with established brands to drive profit-making business models. This was particularly clear in SA, with historically disadvantaged universities having little to no opportunity to engage in the online education space with support from private sector organisations, and with the suggestion that this had the potential to propagate stark inequalities already inherent within the SA HE system. Similar issues were present in the UK context, but with acknowledgement that educational inequalities and the digital divide are not quite so strong outside the context of online delivery.

See also

Dr Bronwen J Swinnerton, Senior Research Fellow in Digital Education at the University of Leeds

McCowan, T. 2017. Higher education, unbundling, and the end of the university as we know it. Oxford Review of Education 43(6); pp.733-748.

Swinnerton, B , Ivancheva, M, Coop, T et al. (6 more authors). 2018. The Unbundled University: Researching emerging models in an unequal landscape. Preliminary findings from fieldwork in South Africa. In: Bajić, M, Dohn, NB, de Laat, M, Jandrić, P and Ryberg, T, (eds.) Proceedings of the 11th International Conference on Networked Learning 2018. Networked Learning 2018, 14-16 May 2018, Zagreb, Croatia; pp. 218-226.

Alternative presentation delivered by UCT’s Sukaina Walji at WCOL19 with an increased focus on OPM relationships. “Degrees of (un)ease: Emerging relationships between OPMs and University Stakeholders in an unbundling landscape”

Check your Moodle course with Ally’s course accessibility report

By Eliot Hoving, on 13 November 2019

Blackboard Ally now includes a course accessibility report for every UCL Moodle course.

The course report shows you:

  • a course accessibility score,
  • a summary of the different types of content on your course, and
  • a list of all the issues identified on your course, including an “easy to fix” summary and a “low scoring content” summary.

Decorative image showing Ally's course report

To view Ally’s report on your course, tutors or course admins simply go to their Moodle course and click Accessibility report under the Navigation block. You can also run the report in the Administration block by clicking Reports and then Accessibility report.

Ally helps you prioritise work and track your progress:

The report allows staff to work through a series of files with low accessibility scores or focus on a single issue that may appear in multiple files.

From the report, staff can view “easy to fix” issues, such as documents that are more easily editable (PowerPoints and Word Documents). Ally considers adding alternative descriptions to images as “easy to fix” because you can add alternative descriptions directly using Ally without the need to download, edit and upload the file. This is a nice time-saver but writing alternative descriptions can be challenging, for advice see our guide on Visuals and use of colour.

The Ally course report will also update over time to allow staff to track their progress.

Ally also flags HTML content on your Moodle course:

HTML content refers to content that is written into Moodle such as text added to a Moodle section, page, book, or label through Moodle’s text editor. Ally can help identify text with insufficient colour contrast and unused formatting that can arise when Moodle content is copied and pasted from Word. However, fixing HTML issues can be challenging so, for now, we suggest staff focus on Ally’s guidance on their documents.

If you have any questions, please see the Blackboard Ally UCL wiki or get in touch with digi-ed@ucl.ac.uk.

LinkedIn Learning student webinar

By Caroline E Norris, on 8 November 2019

This webinar takes place on each of the dates below, all sessions cover the same topics:

  • Monday 18th Nov 1:00 pm
  • Thursday 21st Nov 4:00 pm
  • Friday 22nd Nov 8:30 am

Join any webinar

LinkedIn Learning is a library of over 7000 courses covering study and research skills, personal effectiveness, technical training, leadership skills, and much more.  All courses are delivered by experts and are of a consistently high quality.  UCL offers LinkedIn Learning free to all staff and students; you just need to use your UCL user ID and password to log in and you are good to go.

LinkedIn are offering a series of webinars to help you get the most out of using the platform.  Just choose any date and connect to the online session.  Anyone can attend but they are aimed particularly at students.

The topics LinkedIn will be covering are:

  • benefits of LinkedIn Learning,
  • benefits of Connected Profiles,
  • employability opportunities
  • deep dive into LinkedIn Learning Features and Functions.

Join any webinar

Reviewing our digital learning environment – get involved!

By Steve Rowett, on 7 November 2019

Earlier this year, I celebrated a decade at UCL.

Just as I joined, there was another new recruit to UCL – Moodle. This open source virtual learning environment had recently replaced WebCT which we used before, and my initial task was to support the migration of 300 courses from one to the other. Since then we’ve regularly upgraded Moodle and added new facilities such as Turnitin, Lecturecast and Blackboard Collaborate into it. It now has 7000 live courses and is used by nearly every teacher and student at UCL.

We also have other services – from voting handsets to portfolios. And we also know that there’s lots of other web-based services that people use.

Time flies by, and after ten years we think it’s right to ask if this environment is right for us? Does it need to change? Are we making the most of what we’ve got? Is there something better we should be doing instead?

To help us answer these, Digital Education has been listening and learning. We’ve started the process by conducting detailed interviews with 10 staff and 13 students about how they teach and learn. These have raised issues from our spaces and technologies, to our culture and organisation. It’s a rich source of viewpoints, and reflects the diversity and breadth of UCL’s education and people.

We’d like to share some of these findings with you, and give you an opportunity to contribute and prioritise our future developments. To do this, we have arranged four Town Hall meetings:

  • Wednesday 27 November 3-4pm, Cruciform LT2;
  • Tuesday 3 December, 10-11am, Cruciform LT1;
  • Monday 16 December, 12-1pm, Medical Sciences AV Hill Lecture Theatre;
  • Wednesday 8 January 2020, 3-4pm, Cruciform LT2.

There’s no need to book – just turn up to any that you wish to attend. The events are aimed at teaching staff but students and other staff are welcome too.

Any questions, please contact Steve Rowett in Digital Education.