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    Archive for the 'Digital literacies' Category

    New Matlab and Software Carpentry dates and help with your dissertation

    By Caroline Norris, on 29 June 2017

    Develop-text-summer-photofunia-crop2It’s the summer holidays but there are still opportunities to develop your digital skills this July and August.

    Places are still available on our two-day Matlab course on 20 and 21 July.  If you are interested, visit the UCL training booking system to find out more and book a place.

    Need help with your dissertation?  We are running two drop-in clinics on 8 and 21 August from 2 – 5 p.m.  There is no need to book, just turn up.  If the session is busy you may need to wait to be seen so bring something to do.  Staff can help with formatting your disseration and bibliographic referencing using Word, LaTeX, NatBib, Endnote and Zotero.  Location details will be provided on our drop in page and please check the page before travelling to a session in case any details have changed.

    Research IT Services are running their ever-popular Software Carpentry  on 25 and 26 July.  This intensive course is designed to help researchers  become more productive by teaching them basic computing skills like program design, version control, testing, and task automation using Unix, SQL, Python and Git. Visit the UCL training booking system to find out more and book a place.

    Finally, don’t forget, wherever you are this summer you always have access to a vast range of high-quality video-based courses from and you can even download content to view offline. There are videos covering technical skills but also business, personal and creative skills as well.  Visit the UCL page to find out more.  We also have a range of technology-focused online courses available from Microsoft Imagine Academy








    Accessibility of e-learning – 10 key points from the free OU course

    By Jessica Gramp, on 13 June 2017

    The UK Open University (2006) provide a useful introductory course, called Accessibility of eLearning, that will help you understand how to create accessible e-learning experiences that provide access for all. The course can be completed online, or downloaded in a number of common file formats, including for e-readers and as a PDF.

    I would strongly suggest either completing the course, or reading the course materials, but if you don’t have time I’m going to summarise the key points in this post:

    1. In 2006, disability affected 10-20% of every country’s population, and this number is growing.
    2. In 2006, 15% of the UK population, over 16 years old, self-declared a disability.
    3. A disabled person is one who has a mental or physical disability that has a substantial, long term (12 months or more), adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.
    4. Around 1 in 10 men and 1 in 200 women have red-green colour blindness.
    5. UK Universities are legally obligated to make reasonable, anticipatory adjustments to ensure those with disabilities are not discriminated against.
    6. There are two views of disability. The medical model describes the problem of disability as stemming from the person’s physical or mental limitation. The social model sees disability as society restricting those with impairments in the form of prejudice, inaccessible design, policies of exclusion, etc.
    7. Accessibility is about both technical and usable access for people with disabilities. For example, although a table of data may be technically accessible by a blind person using a screen reader, they may not be able to relate the data in each cell to its column or row heading, so the meaning of the data is lost in the process, rendering the table unusable for that person.
    8. Computers enable even severely disabled people to communicate unaided, giving them independence and privacy that is not possible when they need to rely on human assistants.
    9. When communicating online, a disability may not be visible, removing barriers caused by people’s reactions to the disability.
    10. Creating accessible learning environments helps everyone, not just those with disabilities. For example, products that can be used by blind people are also useful for people whose eyes are busy*.

    *This last point reflects my own preference for listening to academic papers while running or walking to work, when I would be otherwise unable to “read” the paper. As a student and full-time employee, being able to use this time to study enables me to manage my time effectively and merge my fitness routine, with study time. This is only possible because my lecturers, and many journals these days too, provide accessible documents that can be read out loud using my mobile smartphone.

    This list brifly summarises the key points I drew from the OU’s Accessibility of eLearning course and demonstrates some of the ways we, as developers of online courses, can make better online learning experiences for all our students, including those with disabilities.


    Open University (2016) Accessibility of E-Learning. [Online]. Available from: [Accessed: 13 June 2017].

    Excel Tips and Tricks

    By Caroline Norris, on 8 June 2017

    The following are accompanying notes for an InEDITA lunchtime session on Excel.

    Sharing spreadsheets

    Make sure shared spreadsheets are as self-explanatory as possible.  Clearly label with appropriate row and column headings.  Add additional text either in cells or as comments.  Set up the spreadsheet so it is easy to view on screen and print:

    • Freeze panes (View tab) – column and row headings remain visible as you scroll a large sheet
    • Orientation (Page Layout tab) – set to landscape or portrait according to the shape of your data
    • Page Break Preview (View tab) – insert or drag page breaks to appropriate places
    • Print Titles (Page Layout tab) –  select rows/columns to repeat on every page
    • Fit to (File > Print > Page Setup) – scale your data to fit to a certain number of pages

    Naming cells
    Name a cell containing a fixed value (e.g. rate of VAT) and then use this name rather than the cell reference in your formulas.  This can reduce errors and make your formulas easier to understand.

    • Define Name  (Formulas tab) – to name the selected cell or type a name in the Name Box (where the cell reference normally appears)
    • Name Manager (Formulas tab) – to view, edit or delete names in a workbook.
      Note: if you delete a name already referenced in formulas you will break them!

    Working with datasets

    A dataset is a block of related values (text, numbers, dates).  A good dataset will have no completely blank rows or columns but leave a blank line between the dataset and any formulas (e.g. a column/row with totals) and include the blank column/row in the formulas.  This makes it easier to extend the dataset later.

    Rearrange data method 1

    1. Select the columns to be moved and hover your mouse over the right hand edge of your selection (note the cursor changes to four arrows).
    2. Hold down the Shift key and then click and drag to the new position (a solid black line will indicate where your text will move to).

    To move rows follow the same process but hover your mouse over the bottom edge of your selection.

    Rearrange data method 2

    1. select the columns to be moved and Cut them
    2. right-click on the column to the right of where you want them to go
    3. select Insert Cut Cells

    To move rows follow the same process but right-click on the row below where you want them to go.
    Tip: a similar process can be used to Copy cells

    Keyboard shortcuts to select cell ranges

    • Ctrl + * to select the current range (stops at first blank row or column)
    • Ctrl + Shift + arrow keys to select adjacent data

    Selecting visible cells
    If you select a range of cells, hidden or filtered cells are usually included in the selection.  To select only the visible cells:

    1. Select the data you want to copy
    2. Press ALT + ; (this changes the selection to only include visible cells)

    Analysing selected data ‘on the fly’

    • Status bar (green strip at the bottom of the sheet) provides SUM, AVERAGE and COUNT information for selected cells (non-numeric data is ignored)
    • Quick Analysis (icon appears in bottom right of selected range) to quickly apply formatting, add formulas, create charts etc.

    Cleaning up your data

    The following features can help to find and remove errors, duplicate values and erroneous spaces in your data:

    • Filter (Data tab) – apply Filter and then click on the drop-down arrow to see unique values in that column
      Misspelt entries are easier to spot alongside correctly spelt versions. Note that leading or trailing spaces are ignored.
    • Conditional Formatting > Highlight Cells Rules > Duplicate Values (Home tab) – to highlight duplicates or unique values within a selected range
    • Text to columns (Data tab) – splits column into two or more columns (e.g. when column contains first name and surname)
      Specify that the data is Delimited and that the Delimiter is a space

    TRIM function – removes all leading and trailing spaces and any extra spaces between words (leaves one space between each word)

    1. Insert a new blank column 2 to the right of column 1 (that you want to trim)
    2. Fill column 2 with the formula =TRIM( ) referencing the adjacent cells in column 1 in the brackets
    3. Copy column 2 and use Paste Values to replace the data in column 1
    4. Delete column 2

    Customising Excel

    Add frequently used (or difficult to find) commands to your Ribbon or Quick Launch toolbar.

    • Right-click on a command on the ribbon and select Add to Quick Access Toolbar
    • File > Options > Customise Ribbon – to add new commands
      You need to create your own custom Group on a Tab first.
      Tip: Make sure you know the exact name of the command. Under Choose commands from: select All commands and then find it alphabetically.

    Student Training Assistants wanted

    By Caroline Norris, on 19 May 2017

    We have a number of vacancies for UCL students to assist on our IT training courses.  This is casual, part-time work at £12.40 per hour (UCL spinal point 15).  The number of hours available will vary and you can choose whether to accept work at any given time.  You will need to be a UCL student and available for work from October 2017.

    You will have an in-depth knowledge of a range of software applications including Microsoft Office.  A good knowledge of any of the following would be highly desirable: data analysis software (SPSS, Stata, R, Matlab), Unix, programming (HTML & CSS, SQL and Python).  Patience, confidence, excellent time-keeping and an ability to explain concepts simply and clearly are essential skills. Visit for more details of the courses we provide.

    If you would like to know more, please read the full job description.  Please contact if you have any further questions about the role.

    Closing date for applications is 4 June and interviews will be held on 19 and 20 June.  We will let you know by 13 June if we wish to interview you.  To apply, please complete our job application form and email to

    New Digital Skills Development dates for summer 2017

    By Caroline Norris, on 5 April 2017

    PhotoFunia-1486390268ISD Digital Skills Development has released new dates for the summer term.  As usual, we are offering a wide range of courses covering Excel, Matlab, LaTeX, Photoshop and more.

    As well as the popular Introduction to R we also have courses in data visualisation and manipulation in R.  Our new Reproducible Research series consists of three lunchtime sessions and will demonstrate how to use R, Git, Markdown and make.  You will need to bring your own laptop for all of our R and Reproducible Research sessions.

    For a full list of courses and a link to the booking system visit the student course catalogue or the staff course catalogue (you will need to follow a further link to get to the actual booking pages).

    If you can’t attend any of the dates we are currently offering or there is no date available for the course you want, enrol on our Moodle course to be the first to be notified about any new sessions.

    Don’t forget….

    IT for IOE offer training in a wide range of digital tools including screencasting, blogging and Twitter, mind mapping and presentation tools, with some sessions specifically aimed at Mac users. You can also learn about text-to-speech software, how to make audio files from text and much more.  The summer schedule is already published and sessions will be available to book from 24 April.  Visit IT for IOE IT Course Booking for details.

    We have a vast range of high-quality video-based courses available at These cover technical skills but also business, personal and creative skills as well.  Visit the UCL page to find out more.  We also have a range of technology-focused online courses available from Microsoft Imagine Academy

    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 if you want more individual support.











    Review: Automate the Boring Stuff with Python

    By Jim R Tyson, on 4 April 2017

    Author: Al Sweigart
    Book  $29.95 print, $23.95 e-book or from Amazon £15.54 print, £11.39 Kindle.
    Youtube fifteen free videos from the Udemy course
    Udemy: £50 (Discounted to £10 as at 4/4/2017 ) fifty one lectures following the book

    Python is often said to be a fun language to learn. Programming is sometimes said to be fun to learn. The combination ought to be fun too.  My lasting impression of these materials is that they are fun.

    Learners often find that resources for beginners self-tuition in programming are either daunting, or badly designed, or too simple minded to be of real help. This set of resources scores highly on all of these.

    Automate the Boring Stuff with Python is a book that is accompanied by a website, some youtube videos, and (for pay) a Udemy online course. There are eighteen reasonable length chapters and three appendices. The first ten chapters cover the absolute basics of procedural programming starting with simple interaction with the interpreter (do some sums!) through variables and assignment, flow control, writing functions, complex data structures, strings, input and output and debugging. There are one or two other topics that it was interesting to see dealt with relatively early such as searching with regular expressions and file manipulation – including compression, bulk filename routines – but they are simply explained and they make sense given the intention of the material (automating stuff). The book is well designed and clearly written. The website has the same material but includes an in-line interpreter so that you can type code as you go, make mistakes and correct them, and see the results when, finally, you get it right. I watched the free youtube videos and they were well made with clear explanations as were the other free tasters of the Udemy course.  The youtube videos get a big thumbs up in their comments sections.

    Overall, I think these materials are a good start for a beginning programmer who isn’t intending to become a software engineer. It would suit a learner whose aim is to write programs intended mainly for their own use. It doesn’t cover some topics that are increasingly included in early training for programmers, for example version control or test driven development, but for many learners overcoming the initial barrier to writing some effective code is more important than these aspects of best practice. The use of object methods, defensive programming and more can be tackled later.

    The second part of the book and course introduces the use of python libraries for some common and useful tasks. This section includes a variety of projects including web scraping, working with spreadsheets and word processor documents, integrating email in programs. In a higher education context you might want to include numpy, scipy, matplotlib but there are good tutorials for these – good at least for someone who already has basic coding skills and is familiar with the use of libraries – exactly where someone would be after finishing this course.  They are good choices if you want to learn scripting to automate the boring stuff, maybe periodically grabbing data from a website or a spreadsheet and transforming it before writing to a new file for example.

    It’s particularly nice that the website has an embedded interpreter, but I think you would want learners to move onto an IDE eventually and perhaps in some contexts you might want to replace the use of the in-line interpreter with iPython notebooks.

    Overall this is one of the best resources for beginning programmers I have seen and as a suite of resources it could be easily supplemented and adapted to meet an expanded or amended set of objectives.