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The Moodle Flexible course format is being phased out from July 19th.

By Eliot Hoving, on 14 February 2024

Why is this change being made?  

The Flexible format plugin has reached end of life and is no longer supported by its maintainer. The plugin has multiple usability and accessibility bugs. The planned upgrade to Moodle 4.4 over the summer will further impact both the function and look of the plugin making the format unusable. 

What do staff need to do? 

Staff using the Flexible format should manually change their course format by the 19th July so they can ensure their course is correctly updated and so they can communicate guidance or notice to students on the course.  

After the 19th July, Flexible format will no longer be available and courses in this format will be automatically converted to the Topics format to ensure that the course continues to function for students and staff. This includes course from the current academic year and those from previous years. 

You can view which course format you are using by going to your course page and clicking settings. 

Course page showing the settings option.

 

Under Course format you will see the format in use. 

Editing course format menu

Research by the Moodle UX team suggests many staff switched to the Flexible format for its visual appeal and to avoid accessibility issues in the Grid format. Recent updates to the Grid format have significantly improved its accessibility and in this respect it is now preferable to Flexible format.  Staff may be tempted to switch back to the Grid format. However, further research by the Moodle UX team shows that using images for each topic/week is not effective unless you take considerable time to design your images. In most cases, images take up space without providing meaningful information to students, or worse they are confusing to students. Staff can continue to use Grid format, however Moodle UX research shows using the Topics format is a better approach for academic courses. 

Before (Flexible format) 

Flexible course format

 

After (Topics format) 

Topics course format

Changing course format will remove any section images, so staff should save these images prior to changing formats if they wish to re-use them.  

Staff can experiment with how their course looks in another course format using the 4-demo environment. 

The recommended steps for staff to complete would be to

  1. Test out new course format in the 4-demo environment.
  2. Save any section images you want to re-use on your live Moodle course (optional).
  3. Notify your students with a Moodle announcement.
  4. Change your course format from Flexible Format to the format of your choice.
  5. Re-add any section images (optional).
  6. Do a quality check.

Courses from previous academic years and snapshot should be left to automatically switch over to Topics.

Questions?  

If you have any questions or concerns, please get in touch with the Digital Education team. 

Using the Premium version of Equatio with Moodle

By Kerry, on 10 November 2023

Following my post on Using the free Equatio Chrome extension with Moodle, I have finally had the chance to explore how the Premium version works. Currently, UCL has a licence for the Premium version of Equatio for staff and students until July 2024.

Equatio can help you create accessible mathematical content without having to use any code or programming languages. You can easily add formulas and equations to your content through keyboard input, handwriting recognition or voice recording. It is also compatible with LaTeX for more advanced users. In addition, it allows some graphing input.

Screenshot of Equatio toolbar (Premium version)

Equatio toolbar (Premium version)

You may have already explored the free Chrome extension and if not, you can check out our mini guide. While the free version of Equatio can help anyone create accessible maths, it lacks features such as prediction, Equatio Mobile integration, and the screenshot reader. Here is a handy overview of what is included in the premium version compared to the free version.

In case you were not aware (and I only learnt this myself recently), the Premium version of Equatio with unlimited use for Google, Windows and Mac can be installed on any UCL machine. If you would like to try this out when creating Moodle content such as Text and Media areas (formerly Labels), Pages, Books, Discussion Forum messages, Assignment instructions, Quiz questions etc, we have now tested this and created a wiki mini guide.

This will take you through the set up for the Premium version of Equatio for Chrome, the toolbar, setting options and the main features which include the Equation Editor, Handwriting Recognition, Speech Input, LaTeX Editor, Screenshot Reader, Equatio Mobile, Graph Editor, Mathspace and STEM Tools. The mini guide also include links to some handy video guides from Texthelp as well as further information. We hope some of you find it helpful.

Using the free Equatio Chrome Extension with Moodle

By Kerry, on 14 September 2023

You may have heard of texthelp‘s literacy support tool Read&Write but did you know that they also have an education tool called Equatio which helps support the creation of accessible mathematical content online?

Equatio can help you create maths expressions without having to use any code or programming languages. You can easily add formulas and equations to your content through keyboard input, handwriting recognition or voice recording. It is also compatible with LaTeX for more advanced users. In addition, it allows some graphing input.

The Premium version of Equatio with unlimited use for Google, Windows, Mac and LMS can now be installed on UCL machines. Advice and guidance on this will follow in due course but in the meantime, we have created a wiki mini guide on what it is possible to achieve in Moodle with the free version of the Equatio Chrome Extension. This guide will be useful for anyone who would like to dip their toe in to explore what Equatio can do before installing a full version! There is also further information for anyone who is keen to learn more.

Screenshot of using the Equatio chrome extension to insert speech you have recorded and converted to Math.

Using the Equatio chrome extension to insert speech, which you have recorded and converted to Math, into a Moodle Text and media area.

 

 

Transcripts and closed captions in Lecturecast (ASR)

By Silvia Giannitrapani, on 20 September 2022

From 20th September 2022, media transcripts will be automatically applied to the closed captions track if they meet the 90% confidence score threshold.

We have activated automatic transcription and closed captions by default in Lecturecast as an additional supporting tool to provide fully accessible videos for our students as part of UCL’s digital strategy.

Aside from being an aid to viewers with auditory impairment, transcripts and captions can be extremely useful as a study tool.  Students often search large amounts of text using keywords to pinpoint passages of interest; Lecturecast transcripts, which are searchable and synchronised with the recording, allow similar searches of video presentations.

Lecturecast has built-in ASR (automatic speech recognition) to produce recording transcripts. Transcripts are automatically created for any media uploaded to Lecturecast and are available to viewers once a recording’s audio file has been processed.

Closed Captions use the same ASR file as the transcript but are not available if they do not meet the 90% confidence score threshold or until the ASR file has been ‘applied’ to a recording (until then the CC button in the player will be inactive).

Closed captions will NOT be automatically applied to:

  • New recordings with a confidence score lower than 90%
  • New Zoom videos automatically transferred to Lecturecast
  • Older recordings made prior to the 20th September 2022.

Closed captions can still be manually applied using the ‘apply to CC’ button in the transcript editor after review/corrections are made.

See below an example of what a transcribed lecture with closed captions would look like:

Lecturecast player with both transcripts and closed captions showing

Lecturecast player with both transcripts and closed captions showing

 

Further information and detailed instructions are available on the ‘Transcripts and closed captions in Lecturecast (ASR)’ mini guide.

Please contact lecturecast@ucl.ac.uk with any questions.

 

DigitalWhiteboards: the good, the bad and the ugly

By Samantha Ahern, on 23 August 2021

Digital Whiteboards can be a very useful addition to your digital pedagogy toolkit. However, they come with a number of considerations. The most important of these is accessibility. For this reason UCL does not have any institution-wide licences for any digital whiteboards featured.. It was felt that there were too many accessibility concerns.

If you are going to use these types of tools you need to have a good understanding of your audience and know that it will not disadvantage any of the participants. If there is a risk of potential disadvantage an equitable alternative should be used instead. For more information about alternatives see the Digital Education blog post: Alternatives for Digital Walls like Padlet

The video below (run time: 32mins) provides an overview of 5 digital whiteboards, their key features and key considerations for use:

Apps

The above video explored the browser versions of the digital whiteboards. There are apps available for some of the digital whiteboards. However, these have yet to be explored.

  • Miro and Mural
    • Mobile and tablet (iOS and Android)
    • Desktop (Mac and Windows)
    • Interactive displays
  • Mural and ConceptBoard
    • MS Teams

Accessibility Considerations

Many of the digital whiteboards present a number of challenges for users. The key areas for consideration are outlined below.

See also the central UCL guidance on Creating Accessible Content.

Structure

Due to the vastness of the digital whiteboards, they can be difficult to navigate and it is very easy to become disorientated whilst using them. It is important to carefully structure the board whether you are using it to share information or for collaborative tasks.

  • Make use of templates where appropriate
  • Use section tools to segment the board for different activity or group zones
  • Reduce the busy-ness

Colour and backgrounds

In many of the boards it is possible to change background colours and images, and use a variety of different coloured notes.

  • Avoid using colour alone to depict meaning
  • Is there a strong contrast between text and it’s background colour?
  • If using a background image, can added items clearly be seen?

Text

Much the same as any document containing text, consider the size and style of the font being used. Avoid use of italics and block capitals. Where required use bold text for emphasis.

Presenting

Where available make use of presentation mode, this will enable both yourself and your participants to focus on the specific sections of interest throughout the presentation.

Once more: Accessible documents from LaTeX

By Jim R Tyson, on 7 March 2021

This is blog outlines some changes to the advice I gave previously on how to produce accessible documents using LaTeX. The changes concern the production of PDFs for use digitally, and conversion from LaTeX to HTML.

ISD general guidance on producing accessible materials on its Accessibility Fundamentals pages still holds.

In that previous blog entry, I included as an aim to ‘get as close as possible to producing ‘tagged PDF’ or PDF/UA documents using LaTeX’. This is not currently doable. I replace it with the aim to ‘get as close as possible to producing reasonable accessible documents using LaTeX’. Given the long standing difficulties meeting accessibility requirements from LaTeX source in PDF the advice must be to produce HTML documents when accessibility is required.

In particular, I do not now recommend using the LaTeX package accessibility.sty to create tagged documents. Development of the package has been halted and the author no longer supports its use. If you are interested in the effort to produce tagged PDF from LaTeX source, then you should read this article from the TeX Usergroup newsletter, Tugboat. The author of the package mentioned in the article himself believes it is not yet ready for use in production. But, he writes, “with the tagpdf package it is already possible for adventurous users with a bit of knowledge in TEX programming to tag quite large documents”. I am not adventurous or knowledgeable enough to rise to that challenge.

With respect to mathematical content, I had previously recommended Pandoc which can convert to HTML with machine readable mathematical content. I have since looked more closely at this issue and I now prefer to use tex4ht which has some useful features, including the ability to include the LaTeX code for mathematical content in a page. It is also the package recommended by TUG. There is good documentation on the TUG website. However, tex4ht does not produce Microsoft Word documents from LaTeX, and so Pandoc is still the best tool if that is required. And Pandoc does still do the job if you don’t need extra features.

In the light of these and other issues, I have made the switch completely to using RMarkdown. This allows me to mix lightweight mark up, LaTeX mathematical code and HTML in one document. Using HTML to insert graphics allows me to include alt text which is not otherwise possible.

There is still to my knowledge no solution for presentations made with Beamer or similar packages. Whereas I previously suggested using the package pdfcomment to annotate images on slides made with LaTeX, I do not now since I have discovered that the comments are not well understood by screenreader software.

The current situation means that we can do very little to support colleagues with accessibility issues in LaTeX workflows and especially with respect to presentations and providing alternative text for images, beyond the advice we have already provided.