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Digital Education team blog


Ideas and reflections from UCL's Digital Education team


Zoom and Blackboard Collaborate gotchas – don’t get caught out!

By Eliot Hoving, on 21 October 2020

Using new technologies for the first time, or in a new way, can be challenging. Not everything goes right first time. This is certainly the case with using webinar tools such as Zoom and Blackboard Collaborate to teach online. There are numerous “gotchas” or unexpected outcomes caused by any number of often opaque settings, differing teminologies, varied scenarios and workflows, and half-way integrations. 

To assist staff in avoiding some of the common pitfalls, Faculty Learning Technologist Neil Roberts and Digital Education reached out to staff across UCL to find and share the common issues or “gotchas” that can emerge when using Zoom and Blackboard Collaborate.  We provide them below.  

If you have your own gotchas to add, please contact digi-ed@ucl.ac.uk. This guidance is subject to change as new gotchas, tips and features are discovered. For the latest guidance always check the relevant UCL staff guide, and when in doubt, contact zoomsupport@ucl.ac.uk for Zoom guidance or contact digi-ed@ucl.ac.uk  for Blackboard Collabaorate guidance.

 Zoom through Moodle gotchas: 

These gotchas refer to Zoom meetings created directly in Moodle using the Zoom meeting plugin. 

  • Only UCL Zoom account holders can be made Alternative Hosts through the Moodle plugin.  
  • You can only schedule a meeting on behalf of another user if you have obtained scheduling privileges from them. See the Zoom ‘scheduling privileges’ guide. 
  • You can only pre-assign breakout rooms and create polls in advance of a meeting if you are the Host of the meeting. You must use the Zoom web portal, as these options are not currently available in the Zoom Moodle plugin. 
  • If you receive a ‘Zoom received a bad request: {$a} error message’ when creating a Zoom meeting on Moodle, it is likely your Zoom meeting password is not secure enough. Please enter a more secure password!   
  • Students don’t need the password to join a Zoom meeting created in Moodle. All students need to join a Zoom meeting, is to click the join meeting button on Moodle. 
  • When scheduling for a guest with a non UCL email address you must be in the meeting to hand over the host access.

Zoom gotchas:

These gotchas refer to using Zoom directly, either via the Desktop app or web portal. 

  • Zoom join links include the password so don’t share these links publicly 
  • There can only ever be one host in a meeting who has full control. Adding an alternative host won’t allow more than one person to fully control session. 
  • A host can only have 2 meetings running at one time. If an alternative host is assigned host of two sessions at the same time, and one session has already been started, no one for the second session can access the session.  
  • A UCL person needs to claim their Zoom account to be designated an alternative host. 
  • You must enable polls on your account in Zoom before you can create them in a Zoom session.  
  • You can only pre-assign up to 200 people in breakout rooms 
  • If the host loses internet connection, and there is no co-host, a random participant will become the Host. If the Host rejoins, there may be some delay before Host permissions are restored. 
  • It may take up to 72 hours for a Zoom video recording to be processed during busy times.  
  • Zoom recording file sizes can often be very large, and can therefore take a long time to download for you and your students. Consider recording direct to your computer but be aware of limitations of local recording files.
  • Due to large file sizes, consider using Handbrake or other compression software before uploading to a media platform (such as Lecturecast). 
  • Zoom may not show webcam input if Teams is running in background. When in doubt, turn off Teams. 
  • The chat view is limited as there is only one text box. It is hard to search through individual conversations. 

Blackboard Collaborate gotchas:

These gotchas refer to using Blackboard Collaborate. 

  • Convert to PDF before uploading slides. This will enable you to check fonts and formatting – if you are doing this on someone else’s behalf remember some fonts may not be supported and so wording may be illegible.  
  • Uploaded files are converted to pdf type format (actually Blackboard’s internal whiteboard format) so you can’t use animations/transitions in PowerPoint. 
  • Consider using the PPSpliT plugin to preserve text reveals (such as bulletpoints) when converting to PDF. Because the plugin alters the document, use it on a copied version of the document. 
  • Let one person be in charge of creating breakout rooms. Breakout configuration is not shared with others until rooms are enabled, so another organiser could create a competing set of rooms and overwrite yours. 
  • The stop breakout rooms buttons don’t have an ‘are you sure’ interlock – very easy to end a breakout session prematurely, which loses all the rooms’ contents and requires someone to manually rebuild the groups (if the groups were random, they may not be easily recreatable). 
  • Content created in breakout rooms is lost when they are stopped – it is possible to copy things out before that, otherwise have participants make screenshots. 
  • Anything draft/not activated isn’t saved if you are removed from a session – this could be text, a poll or breakout room configurations. 
  • As a moderator, don’t enter a Blackboard session from Moodle when you are in student view. This will pull you in to the session as if you were a student so you would only have a standard participant role and not be able to control session. 
  • Using Edge as your browser can cause problems with interface – recommendation use Chrome/Firefox/Safari only.  
  • Sharing a PowerPoint presentation full screen to make use of animations means you can’t see the chat. Workaround: Get around this by using ‘browsed by an individual view’ in PowerPoint and rearrange screen accordingly. This video from BBCU explains when to use Share files with pptx, and when and how to use PowerPoint on share screen in an individual window to be able to see the chat and session controls. 
  • Sharing a video application may not always broadcast the sound – check this before start of any session. 
  • The stop share buttons don’t have an ‘are you sure’ interlock – very easy to accidentally close an activity. 
  • Chat history is not available to new participants. If you leave session and rejoin the chat history is lost. 

Overleaf now available

By anisa.patel, on 20 October 2020

ISD has purchased a site licence for Overleaf, a collaborative online LaTeX editor that is designed to make the process of writing, editing and producing research papers and project reports much quicker for both you and your collaborators. This is now available for all UCL staff and students.

In addition to standard Overleaf features, the Professional account provides real-time track changes, unlimited collaborators, and full document history.

To access your Overleaf Professional account sign up here  (or sign in with an existing Overleaf account) and verify your UCL email address.

If you have any questions about the software, please use our contact form to help us direct it to the right ISD contact.

Zoom is now integrated with Lecturecast 

By anisa.patel, on 20 October 2020

Zoom is now integrated with Lecturecast and will automatically transfer meeting recordings into your personal library. This streamlines the process for making your recordings available to students and just requires the meeting host to publish each recording into their course.

Note: Only the “Host” role in Zoom can carry out these steps.

All recordings from October 21st onwards will be transferred automatically into Lecturecast. Any recordings made prior to this date must be moved manually. Publishing into a course on Lecturecast requires you to be enrolled onto the Moodle course as a course administrator or tutor. If you have a teaching recording, but are not the course administrator, you can manually move the recording to Lecturecast

For full guidance on how to do this, please go the Lecturecast resource centre and follow the guide: Zoom Recordings in Lecturecast

Please take a moment to familiarise yourself with the data protection regulations regarding the capture of videos. Further guidance on sharing recordings is also available on the UCL Zoom Support site  


Moodle new features – Friday 16th October 2020

By Jon-Luc Holmes, on 16 October 2020

Digi-Ed is pleased to announce the following new activities are now available on UCL Moodle.

Embed Quiz Questions Anywhere is a new plugin that allows staff to embed quiz questions directly within their Moodle content. Staff can embed any question from their courses question bank into their Moodle activities for use as formative assessment. Students can then answer these questions as they work through their Moodle content. These answers can then be reviewed on a per activity or course wide basis. To learn more, see the Embed Quiz Questions Anywhere miniguide.

An example quiz question embedded directly within the contents of a Moodle page resource

Embed Quiz Questions Anywhere allows staff to embed quiz questions into any content on their Moodle course. Click the image to expand it.

Hypothes.is is a new LTI that is now approved for integration with Moodle. Staff who own a license for this product may now add the Hypothes.is activity to Moodle for collaborative annotations by students. These resources can be webpages or uploaded PDF documents. Student annotations can be individually filtered and graded with those grades carrying back to the Moodle gradebook. To learn more, see the Hypothesis miniguide.


Hypothesis allows for students to collectively annotate a document. Click the image to expand it.

Further work on a range of other enhancements, are currently underway. To stay up to date with the latest learning technology enhancements at UCL, see the Moodle Release Roadmap.

Recommended Media Platform for Teaching in Moodle

By anisa.patel, on 7 October 2020

We are receiving reports of problems with accessing some video content in Moodle.

These can be avoided if colleagues use Lecturecast for the delivery of ‘teaching related’ video content.

The Lecturecast system can be used to host and deliver media from other sources via the upload option. It is scaled to be able to cope with the current surge in the use of video and using this method should avoid any playback problems. Lecturecast is our primary platform for the delivery of teaching and learning media and it is designed with additional tools for students such as note taking, confusion flagging as well as provide insight and analytics on the content viewed for the course owner which contribute to and enhance the student experience.

Module code sections exist in Lecturecast for every 20/21 approved module and additional sections can be created upon request to support non-modular teaching material e.g. programme level sections by contacting the Digital Education Team on digi-ed@ucl.ac.uk.

The following guide will show you how to upload through Moodle all your video teaching content and/or associated presentation files: https://wiki.ucl.ac.uk/x/ewK9B 

If you would like to upload your video content directly into your personal library via the Lecturecast portal, then you will need to publish your content into the relevant module using the following guidance found here: https://wiki.ucl.ac.uk/x/EgK9B 

Connected Learning Essentials – now open to teaching staff outside of UCL

By Jo Stroud, on 7 October 2020

In Term 1 of 2020/21, UCL’s core teaching is taking place online. There has been significant planning and an extensive amount of work from across the institution to support this transition, including a range of centrally-organised opportunities for staff to learn more about online teaching and learning.

The Connected Learning Essentials programme

One such opportunity is Connected Learning Essentials, an online course that was swiftly developed by Digital Education, the Arena Centre for Research-Based Education, Library, and colleagues based in academic departments, and run in multiple two-week-long cohorts from June to September 2020. The course was developed with recognition of the challenges facing staff and what could be achieved in a short period of time, and introduced some of the most urgent and important aspects of positive and active online teaching. Programme sections include:

  • Taking a Connected Learning Approach
  • Securing student engagement
  • Ensuring a consistent learning environment for students
  • Assessment
  • Designing for students’ active learning
  • Curating and making resources
  • Knowing students are engaging and learning.

It is important to note that the course only covers the basics, and was supplemented with a range of further opportunities to broaden the scope of course topics, including a series of live sessions and localised support within departments and faculties to support distinct pedagogic approaches.

Enrol on Connected Learning Essentials

The course is now open to anyone who might like to use it, regardless of where you work. You don’t need to progress through everything in order, either. You can dip in-and-out of specific sections depending on what you need or interests you most. If you find you need to move your teaching online very quickly, you might focus on sections 2, 3, and 5, and return to others later. While some UCL-specific content has been removed or genericised for other contexts, there will be occasions upon which guidance refers to UCL policies, practice, or platforms.

To access the course:

  • Navigate to Connected Learning Essentials (open) and click the Login link
  • If you don’t have a UCLeXtend account already, click ‘Create new account’ and complete the sign up process. If you do, sign in and you should be directed to the course
  • In the ‘Self enrol’ field, enter the enrolment key: ‘CLEUCL’.

Reusing material from Connected Learning Essentials

Material and activities from Connected Learning Essentials are available to download in Word format as part of the course and are licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0. Alternatively, if you work in digital education, educational development, or a similar role at another institution and would like to reuse and adapt the course on your own platform this may be possible via a course export. If you have any questions about this please contact extend@ucl.ac.uk.