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Digital Education team blog


Ideas and reflections from UCL's Digital Education team


Archive for the 'Digital literacies' Category

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.



Do your students have essential Excel skills?

By Caroline Norris, on 30 January 2023

This blog post is aimed at teaching staff who might wish to promote Excel workshops to their students. However, the workshops are open to all students and can be booked by students by following the links below.

people at computersThe Digital Skills Development team in ISD run a series of three Excel Essential Skills workshops designed to ensure that they do.  These cover creating calculated worksheets, data management and using in-built Excel functions.  They are facilitated by fellow students in small groups of 10 – 12 in computer workrooms on campus.

The workshops take a new approach to learning by presenting students with a problem to be solved and encouraging them to use prior experience, web searches, in-application help and fellow participants to find a solution to the task.

By the end of the session students have improved problem-solving skills, an increased knowledge of the topic, a ‘suggested solution’ to the problem they worked on and some resources and guidance for further learning.

Students take the workshop at their own pace so they can leave when they have completed all the tasks and either finish the tasks in their own time or come back to another session if they don’t have time to complete.

Why not share details of our upcoming workshops with your students and encourage them to attend? Places on these workshops can be booked here:

To see our full schedule of courses for this term, see our most recent newsletter.

Alternatively, bring the Excel Essential Skills workshops to you!

We can arrange workshops specifically for your cohort and our materials are also available for you to offer these workshops yourself, facilitated by you or your teaching assistants.   Please contact us isd-digiskills@ucl.ac.uk if you are interested in either of these options.

Do more digital with your teaching and assessment

By Caroline Norris, on 17 January 2023

Table with laptop and person in foreground gesticulating. Person in background.Do you want to try something new in your teaching or assessment?  Are you concerned that your materials aren’t as accessible and inclusive as you would like them to be?  Why not come along to one of our short online* training sessions to learn a new skill, improve your teaching materials or explore new assessment methods?

Add more interaction to your course by using polling software like Mentimeter for Continuous Module Dialogue or to engage students either during class or asynchronously between sessions.  You could also Use online whiteboards to encourage student interaction or ask students to collaborate on projects using Microsoft Teams: get a Beyond Basics Overview or learn about Document Management and Collaboration.

Digital Accessibility is a vital part of making your course inclusive and we have courses on Enhancing the Accessibility of your Moodle Courses, Creating accessible PowerPoint Presentations  and  Creating accessible Word documents.  You might also want to ensure you are following Best practice for video captions and transcripts when sharing multimedia.

Liven up your course with more multimedia content by learning how to do Basic video editing using iMovie on a Mac or Record a narration over your PowerPoint on a PC to convert your  Mixing deck and microphonepresentation to video.  You could also come on our Podcasting made easy workshop or our series of workshops for making a film using your iPhone (Planning, Filming advice and Make a short film) and pass these skills on to your students so they can create multimedia content as part of their course.

If graphical content is a challenge, our beginners courses in Basic image editing using free tools can get you started with existing content while An introduction to free graphic design tools and Creating Infographics using free web-based tools are a great way to start creating more original content without having to buy expensive software.

Finally, if you’ve never done Digital book-making, it can be great for digital storytelling and Sway, Microsoft’s modern presentation tool is another interesting option for presenting your material in new ways.  These can also open up new possibilities for your students and the ways in which they present their coursework.

We’ve cherry picked a few courses below that might be of particular interest, but for our full schedule of upcoming courses visit Digital Skills Development News on the Digital Education blog.  If you subscribe to the blog you’ll get regular updates from us and our other Digital Education teams. Click on the link(s) below to book a place or add yourself to the interest list to be informed about upcoming dates.  More details about how to book, how to join sessions etc. can be found on our Practical Course Information page.  If you aren’t sure what training you need and would like individual support and advice we also have a regular drop in during term time.

*All sessions are online via Microsoft Teams unless otherwise indicated.

Add more interaction and collaboration

01/02/2023 10:00 11:00 DSD: Mentimeter for Continuous Module Dialogue (CMD)
08/02/2023 10:00 11:00 DSD: Use online whiteboards to encourage student interaction
02/02/2023 10:00 11:30 DSD: Microsoft Teams Workshop 1: Beyond Basics Overview
08/03/2023 10:00 11:30 DSD: Microsoft Teams Workshop 3 – Document Management and Collaboration 

Make your content more accessible

24/01/2023 14:00 15:30 DSD: Creating accessible PowerPoint Presentations
02/03/2023 10:00 11:30 DSD: Creating accessible PowerPoint Presentations
24/01/2023 14:00 15:00 DSD: Best practice for video captions and transcripts
31/01/2023 14:00 15:30 DSD: Creating accessible Word documents
09/03/2023 14:00 15:30 DSD: Creating accessible Word documents
02/02/2023 14:00 15:30 DSD: Enhancing the Accessibility of your Moodle Courses

Use more audio-visual content

25/01/2023 14:00 15:00 DSD: Basic video editing using iMovie on a Mac
25/01/2023 10:00 11:00 DSD: Record a narration over your PowerPoint on a PC
02/02/2023 14:00 15:00 DSD: Podcasting made easy – workshop
07/02/2023 10:00 11:00 DSD: Planning a short film
07/02/2023 14:00 15:00 DSD: Filming advice for a short film
14/02/2023 10:00 11:00 DSD: Make a short film using your iPhone

Create and edit graphical content

31/01/2023 14:00 15:00 DSD: Creating Infographics using free web-based tools
15/02/2023 10:00 11:15 DSD: Basic image editing using free tools (Demo)
21/02/2023 14:00 15:00 DSD: An introduction to free graphic design tools

Present material in new ways

08/02/2023 14:00 15:00 DSD: Digital book-making
25/01/2023 10:00 11:30 DSD: Sway, Microsoft’s modern presentation tool – Workshop
21/02/2023 14:00 15:30 DSD: Sway, Microsoft’s modern presentation tool – Workshop

Please note that the above dates and times were correct at time of publication but are subject to change.  Follow the links provided or check our latest schedule for the definitive current schedule.

Hybrid meetings – how to do them successfully

By Caroline Norris, on 19 October 2021

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last year or so (well ok, lockdowns did feel a bit like that sometimes) you probably know what a ‘hybrid’ meeting is. Just in case, though, it’s a meeting where some of the participants are in the room and some are joining via a digital platform like Teams or Zoom and are therefore ‘remote’.   

One school of thought is that you should avoid hybrid completely, but realistically it’s going to happen, especially now we are gradually going back into the office and most of the people attending a meeting may well be in the same physical location.  In this case it would be absurd for them all to join remotely from their separate desks when they could be sat in a room together.   

So how do you ‘do hybrid’ well, so that everyone feels included? 

Disclaimer: Note that this guidance is focused on meetings rather than teaching, which is covered in Steve Rowett’s very comprehensive blog post on Basic hybrid teaching in UCL spaces.

Meeting preparation 

Wherever possible, share resources such as presentations or documents beforehand.  This is good practice for meetings anyway and makes them more inclusive and accessible for everyone.  Make use of collaborative platforms such as Teams to start a discussion and get input prior to the meeting.  

aerial view of laptops and mobile devices on a table with people sitting around themTechnology 

Getting the technology right is key.  For the richest experience, everyone in the room should join via Teams or Zoom, not just the remote participants, so that everyone can be seen on camera.  However, it is vital that there is only one microphone and one set of speakers in use to avoid the dreaded feedback cacophony!  If the number of people in the room is small and you are quite close together, you can usually just use the audio equipment on one person’s laptop, the obvious person being the chair of the meeting.  If the meeting is bigger or people are very far apart, you can use a conference speaker, such as those made by Jabra (other brands are available).  Practise the setup in advance of the meeting and check people can be heard at the furthest distance from the microphone.   Some UCL meeting rooms also have room cameras, microphones and speakers which can be used and some are even ‘Teams enabled’ so the room itself can join the Teams meeting.

It probably goes without saying, but don’t forget to share your screen for remote participants.  It’s easy to forget this, especially if you are using a large monitor or projection to share your screen in the room. If you want to share ideas using a whiteboard or post-its then opt for a digital interactive whiteboard for everyone to use.

Starting the meeting 

  • Set clear expectations of what is expected from people at the start of the meeting.  How should people indicate they wish to speak? Are you using the chat and if so, for what?  If everyone is on a device you can ask everyone to use the raise hand feature in Teams/Zoom.  Another option is for people to actually raise their hand or use both, particularly if not all remote participants are visible on camera.  Make sure that the people in the room know to speak loudly and clearly. 
  • Do introductions if it is a first meeting of the group or membership has changed.  This can help everyone to feel included in the meeting. 
  • Encourage everyone to participate and to let you know straight away if there is something they can’t see, hear or understand due to being remote. 

four people sitting in a booth looking at a laptopIncluding remote participants 

It’s important to make a special effort to make remote participants feel included.  Depending on the size and nature of the meeting and the balance of remote and in room participants, you may find the following helpful: 

  • Have a ‘co-pilot’ who can read out any questions or feedback in the chat and alert the chair to anyone who wishes to speak or if anyone is unable to hear something being said. 
  • Call on remote participants by name to check if there is anything they wish to add to the conversation, especially if the matter being discussed is particularly relevant to them.  You may want to ask them first, so they don’t feel like an afterthought. 
  • Describe what is happening in the room if remote participants won’t be able to see it.  You may also need to repeat some of what is said in the room or say who is speaking if they are not on camera.  Even things that are irrelevant to the main business of the meeting (like someone fumbling around with cables to connect to the projector) should be explained so that remote participants don’t feel left out.   
  • Be aware of what remote participants see. Even if everyone in the room is on camera, remote participants can’t see where people are in relation to each other or other objects in the room. Non-verbal interactions between people or pointing to something in the room probably won’t make sense to remote participants.  Make a point of looking at the web cam especially when you are speaking to help make remote participants feel connected. 
  • Set aside a bit of social time, either at the beginning or the end of the meeting, for participants to chat to each other.  Traditional meetings where all the participants are in the room usually have a few minutes where people are arriving and can say hello to each other before the meeting begins so find ways to incorporate this into your hybrid meeting too.  Starting meeting a few minutes after the hour can give people time to have a comfort break, move between rooms etc. but also allow for this social element to happen. 

Most importantly, be ready to adapt and change as you go along and find what works best for you.  Expect a few hiccups to begin with, but in the long run hybrid meetings can give you the best of both worlds so it’s worth persevering!

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.

Access to Coursera for a limited time only

By Caroline Norris, on 13 May 2020

UPDATE: As of October 2020, UCL is now on the Campus Basic Plan

This allows you access to one free course per year and unlimited ‘guided projects’.

To explore guided projects:

  1. Go to the Browse page in Coursera
  2. Choose a topic or skill e.g. Data Science
  3. In the Filter by: area, choose Guided Projects from the Type menu.
  4. Click Apply.

coursera logoCoursera is an online platform providing courses on a wide variety of subjects, created in partnership with universities around the world.  During the Covid outbreak, Coursera is offering free access to some courses to universities for a limited period and Digital Education has set this up for UCL staff and students.

To take advantage of this limited time offer, go to UCL’s Coursera page and register using your UCL email address by 31 July 2020.  You must complete your learning by 30 September 2020.  It is possible that this offer might be extended beyond this but no further information is available at this stage.

Important notes

  • This offer does not include ALL courses on Coursera, only about 90% of courses.  If you choose to sign up for a course outside of the offer and there is a cost involved it is up to you to meet that cost.
  • UCL is not a formal partner of Coursera and does not currently offer courses on the platform.
  • Coursera is not available in Iran, Sudan, Crimea, Cuba, Syria, North Korea for legal reasons.

Detailed instructions for signing up

  1. Go to UCL’s Coursera page
  2. Click on Join for free and then switch to SIGN UP as shown below:
    Important: do not try to LOG IN if you are registering to use UCL’s Coursera for the first time.
    This service isn’t linked to your UCL account in any way – you need to use your UCL email address to sign up but you are creating an independent account with its own password.coursera sign up message
  3. Submit the form by clicking Join for Free.
    You will be asked to agree to terms and conditions and will be sent an email with a link to confirm your email address.
  4. When you next log in you may see a banner message asking you to join the UCL program.
    coursera join UCL program message
    Click Join Program.

Accessing UCL’s Coursera program

When browsing courses, make sure you are always looking at UCL’s Coursera program.  You may need to switch from seeing all of Coursera’s courses to the UCL program in the top left corner.  You will see a small pink UCL logo next to the Coursera one if you are in the right place.

screenshot of coursera dropdown menu

If you have followed the steps above and you still have queries then please contact us at isd-digiskills@ucl.ac.uk and we will endeavour to answer them.