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Digital Education team blog


Ideas and reflections from UCL's Digital Education team


Archive for the 'Digital literacies' Category

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.


Developing your Digital Pedagogy

By Samantha Ahern, on 6 March 2020

Much has been written about the need to develop students’ graduate attributes and employability skills, in particular students’ digital capability.

In order for us to develop digitally capable students, we first need to be digital pedagogues. For us to be able to identify, use and select or de-select appropriate technologies that support and are truly a part of our pedagogy, we need first to develop our own digital capabilities as educators.

The European Union have done a lot of work on digital capability/competency frameworks, and have produced a framework specifically for educators – Digital Competence Framework for Educators (DigCompEdu). This is much more targeted than the Jisc Digital Capability framework.

EU DigCompEdu Areas

Image source: https://ec.europa.eu/jrc/en/digcompedu

In addition, a range of open access professional development materials have been produced for Higher Education directly linked to the DigCompEdu framework. In particular, FutureTeacher 3.0 and EduHack.

Future Teacher 3.0

This is an Erasmus+ funded project that had collaborators from the UK, Netherlands, Belgium and Norway. The project produced three main tools linked to the DigCompEdu framework predominantly aimed at developing the digital competencies of those delivering or supporting teacher and learning in the UK and Europe.

These tools are:

  • Digital Thermometer
    • A self-assessment questionnaire
  • Digital Compass
    • Analysis of current compentencies based upon Digital Thermometer responses and a recommended development pathway.
  • Digital Journey
    • A series of 10 online modules for teachers who use little ICT in their lessons and 10 modules for already experienced teachers.

The online module content does not map directly to UCL specific technologies but still covers all the key content.

In the video below from a Digital Education Showcase meeting I outline why I particularly like the DigCompEdu framework and provide some more information about Future Teacher 3.0 and played Jisc’s video about their Digital Capability Framework.


This is also an Erasmus+ project, it is run by Politecnico di Torino (Italy), Universidad Internacional de La Rioja – UNIR (Spain), Coventry University (UK), Knowledge Innovation Centre (Malta) and ATiT (Belgium).

This project combines an online programme with EduHackathons where teaching professionals will learn how to produce digitally-supported learning experiences and will have the opportunity to experiment with creative models and approaches to teaching and learning, with a focus on fostering collaborative learning and student engagement.

Institutions are required to register to participate and in doing so run the EduHackathon event in the way prescribed.

However, you can access the EduHack online course without registering as an institution. You can register as an individual if you want to obtain a certificate of learning. The course has 4 main topic atreas, these are:

  • Digital Resources,
  • Teaching,
  • Assessment
  • and Empowering Learners.

Like the Future Teacher 3.0 materials, these are based upon the DigCompEdu framework.

Digital Education and Digital Skills Development

In addition to the generic resources described above, a wide range of training is provided by Digital Education. This includes UCL specific training on the teaching and learning tools that we support such as Moodle, LectureCast and Reflect. A wide range of online guidance is also available via the E-learning wiki. Full details of the E-learning training available for staff are available on the ISD website.

Digital Skills Development provide a training programme that can be accessed by all staff covering popular tools and software available on Desktop@UCL and Desktop@UCLAnywhere. For details of upcoming training please see the recent blog post Develop your digital skills this academic year – new dates released

Online resources to help support teaching continuity

As we are unable to deliver face-to-face sessions to support colleagues with the transition to online delivery of their courses we are provding a range of additional support:

Additional Resources

The Coursera hosted Mooc Get Interactive: Practical Teaching with Technology  from the University of London and Bloomsbury Learning Exchange is a 3 week course.

Each week focuses on a particular topic:

1. Using multimedia for teaching and learning
2. Encouraging student collaboration
3. Formative assessment and feedback

Seeking inspiration?

However, if you are looking for ideas on how to move towards or increase the use of e-learning tools in your teaching you might wish to review the ABC learning design process. In particular, review the learning type cards as these suggest digital approaches to learning.

There are also a number of case studies on the Teaching and Learning portal that discuss how a range of tools have been used by colleagues across the institution. Examples include:


New Digital Skills courses for 2020

By Jasmin E Mullings, on 9 December 2019

IMPORTANT: Please note that the UCL booking system closed on 15th January.

When the new training booking system (MyLearning) goes live in mid-February, you will be able to book onto sessions scheduled from 2nd March onwards. If you want to be informed about the opening of the new system, enrol on our Moodle course.

A full list of course dates for this term can be found at the end of this blog post.

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 three 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. To find out more about creating accessible content, please visit our dedicated web pages.

See below for our current schedule of courses and workshops.

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.

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.

Sessions available now:

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 (RESERVE LIST ONLY)
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 In a Nutshell: 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 (RESERVE LIST ONLY)
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 (RESERVE LIST ONLY)
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 (RESERVE LIST ONLY)
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
24/02/2020 13:00 14:00 In a Nutshell: Survey Data in Nvivo – the absolute truth
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 (RESERVE LIST ONLY)
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 MyLearning goes live:

Date Start time End time Course/workshop
02/03/2020 13:00 14:00 Software for success: Data analysis and statistical tools
02/03/2020 17:30 20:30 Introduction to Matlab (Part 1)
03/03/2020 17:30 20:30 Introduction to Matlab (Part 2)
03/03/2020 10:00 13:00 Advanced statistics with Excel 2016
05/03/2020 10:00 13:00 Introduction to Photoshop CS4
11/03/2020 16:00 17:00 Excel Essential Skills – WORKSHOP 2
12/03/2020 17:30 20:30 Introduction to Matlab (Part 3)
13/02/2020 17:30 20:30 Introduction to Matlab (Part 4)
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 In a Nutshell: 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
23/03/2020 10:00 17:00 An Introduction to R with RStudio (Parts 1 & 2)
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

LinkedIn Learning student webinar

By Caroline 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

Creating digital portfolios

By Samantha Ahern, on 7 November 2019

In the last few years I have used a number of online tools to create digital portfolios as part of my continuing professional development, both HEA Fellowship and Associate CMALT.

For these portfolios I have used both MyPortfolio (Mahara)  and Reflect (WordPress).

Both do the job well, but there are differences in the development process and how you approach the development of the portfolio. You are welcome to view the portfolio I created for HEA Fellowship, original MyPortfolio pages and/or Reflect portfolio.


MyPortfolio is UCL’s version of Mahara, an eportfolio development tool. Portfolios are created via pages that are linked together as collections.

When you create your pages you have control over the structural layout. You choose from the inbuilt layout options, or you can create your own by selecting the number of rows, then the number of columns for each row and the page width percentage allocated to each column.

MyPortfolio page layout options

MyPortfolio page layout options

This gives you almost total control of the positioning of objects on the page. Any type of object can be added to any of the ‘content boxes’ you have created.

MyPortfolio page showing different content types

MyPortfolio page showing different content types


However, you are limited with regards to the look and feel of the pages. You can select from a number of Skins, but these only change the surrounds of the main content. You cannot change the background colour of the background boxes themselves.

MyPortfolio page with Skin

MyPortfolio page with Skin

MyPortfolio page without Skin

MyPortfolio page without Skin






You do however, have quite granular control over who can view your pages and collections. By default, only you can view your pages. This is good while developing your portfolio if you’re not keen on anyone seeing your work in progress. When you are ready to share your work, you can decide who you want to share with and for how long, a set time period or indefinitely.

MyPortfolio sharing options

MyPortfolio sharing options

There are also advanced options where you can modify the settings relating to comments and copying of your pages.

MyPortfolio advanced options - Sharing

MyPortfolio advanced options – Sharing


Reflect is UCL’s blogging service for staff and students. Its primary use is for teaching and learning purposes. It is a WordPress platform provided by CampusPress. For this reason it is not possible to use the WordPress app with Reflect sites.

First and foremost WordPress is a blogging a platform, and this makes it a great tool for reflection and journalling. However, for creating portfolios it is best to make use of pages. You can set a page, as the main first page of your Reflect site giving it the appearance of a website as opposed to a blog.

In WordPress, appearance and layout is determined by the Theme that you have chosen, and will apply to all of your site. You cannot have different themes for different sections. It is therefore imperative that you choose an appropriate them for your site. Think carefully about what you are trying to achieve and the type of content (e.g. text, images and video) that you wish to include.

At present there are over 400 themes available for Reflect. For most sites I would recommend selecting one of themes identified as Accessibility Ready, this will help more users access your content.

Screenshot of Reflect dashboard showing Theme selection options.

Theme selection optionsaccess your content.

However, for portfolios I recommend choosing one of the Portfolio themes and one that best matches the mix of content you expect to include. Themes can easily be changed, so you may need to experiment with a few to find a good match.

Once you have chosen your theme, make use of the menu builder and pages to create the structure for your portfolio. You can group content using parent and child pages.

Pages can be saved as Drafts whilst they are still in development, however they need to be published before they can be added to the menu.

By default Reflect does not have the granularity of access control that MyPortfolio has. However, if you activate the “User Specific Content” plugin you can specify who can see what pages. Otherwise, your site is private or public.

Employability and Connected Curriculum

Both MyPortfolio and Reflect are great tools for Connected Curriculum activities where students are required to create content for an external audience. However, if you are looking to enhance students’ employability skills, I recommend the use of Reflect as WordPress is used widely. In 2015, 25% of all websites used WordPress (https://w3techs.com/) and its market share has continued to grow and is currently used for 84% of all Japanese websites.