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Teaching Continuity – a Moodle Toolkit

CliveYoung23 March 2020

Getting started

As we move our teaching materials online, we have is an opportunity to make more active use of Moodle. Moodle is already familiar to students and academic colleagues, but mainly as a repository for module materials and a place to upload assignments. Moodle has many other tools that can help keep your students engaged and learning in the absence of face-to-face sessions. The environment also provides student access to Blackboard Collaborate for online ‘tutorials’, Lecturecast Universal Capture Personal for short video recordings and the UCL reading list service. Both of these tools are key in UCL’s approach to teaching continuity.

UCL already has a well over 100 step-by-step Miniguides to help you set up and use all of the tools in Moodle, but as this may be a little overwhelming, this Toolkit focuses on a few simple enhancements can make a big difference to your students’ online experience.

Baseline

The first priority is always to check courses against the E-learning Baseline. Poor structuring of Moodle is an issue in terms of accessibility and student stress. The Baseline is now well-established at UCL and applying it helps students navigate online learning activities. Attention is particularly drawn to the first five sections of the Baseline;

Surveys show these are the elements of Moodle our students notice most and are often most critical of. They are also the easiest to improve.

How can we do more with Moodle?

This short (5’) video from an earlier post offers some excellent ideas.

The video has captions and a transcript.https://mediacentral.ucl.ac.uk/Play/22870

In addition to Collaborate and Lecturecast Universal Capture Personal, both very important to replace face-to-face sessions, three Moodle-specific ideas are mentioned.

  • The first is Discussion Forums, often considered the mainstay of online learning. Many staff already use the News forum to announce exam dates and times; changes to exams, lectures or seminars; important information about coursework; and special announcements relating to events and when you post a message in the News Forum it will be emailed to enrolled students’ UCL email. The video refers to ‘Learning forums’ can be used for asynchronous discussion (i.e. not ‘real time’) and learning activities. They enable both staff and students to post and reply to posts and are usually are set to allow students and staff to choose whether or not to become or remain subscribed to a forum. We recommend that Question and Answer forums are set up for students to ask questions about the course work or assessment processes. As the video explains, make the purpose of every discussion forum clear, including how students are expected to engage with it and how often staff will reply to posts (if at all). If you want to speak to students in ‘real time’, for example for virtual Office Hours, you might want to try Moodle’s instant messaging style tool, Chat.
  • Quiz is the other popular tool for online engagement. A quiz is a useful way to test or evaluate students’ knowledge and to keep them motivated by letting them see areas for improvement. Marking can be automated on some question types (such as multiple choice). Staff can see a detailed breakdown of results, as well as statistics on how easy or discriminating each question is. It can be used for both formative and summative (credit bearing) assessment, such as in class tests or examinations, but the latter is usually done in a ‘live’ classroom, so for online learning summative quizzes are more normal.
  • Use of external resources will already be a familiar custom for many academic colleagues, but bear in mind YouTube is blocked in several countries, including China. The video also mentions LinkedIn Learning, Box of Broadcasts (log in with your UCL details) and ReadingLists@UCL, all useful enhancements. UCL Mediacentral can be used to host your own videos which can then embedded as links in Moodle.

Moodle: beyond the basics

As always, we recommend you keep it simple and prioritise the essentials, but don’t be afraid to go beyond the basics if you can. Here are a few ideas. If you want to dive a little deeper, the UCL’s ABC method of learning design can help plan how to move learning activities online in a more structured way. You may want also explore beyond Moodle, to Reflect, UCL’s blogging service based on WordPress.

Moodle Resources

  • Book displays collections of web pages in a sequential, easy-to-navigate and printable format. They are especially useful when you have a lot of web content but don’t want it to clutter the front page of your course. Pages can contain links, images, embedded YouTube videos, etc and feature a Table of Contents.
  • Lessons can be used to build structured pathways through learning materials and test knowledge as students make progress. Students usually make choices on each page area, sending send them to another specific page in the manner of a decision tree.

Moodle Activities

  • Glossary provides a course-specific list of terms and definitions. Entries can be linked to words that appear within Moodle, so the definition pops-up when someone hovers their mouse over instances of the word. A tutor may stipulate definitions or ask students to contribute.
  • Database enables tutors to set up form fields that students can then complete to contribute entries to the database. The fields may consist of images, files, URLs, numbers, plain text etc.
  • Hot Question is used to create a hotlist of popular questions or topics from a group. Could be used to seed a discussion forum or a Collaborate session.

Where can I see more?

  1. Colleagues at UCL Institute of Education (IOE) Learning Technologies Unit have put together a Moodle course Moodle Activity Examples – LTU (login required) showing you the tools above in use, together with several others.
  2. They are also in the process of  developing Moving online a very useful resource containing step-by-step workflows on how to move sessions online, with links to further support sources.
  3. The Miniguides site is the place to go to for detailed ideas and information on these and other Moodle tools. Support on other tools is available from the ISD Digital Education webpages.

Futurelearn How To Teach Online: Providing Continuity for Students (Join us!)

CliveYoung20 March 2020

A new Futurelearn MOOC is starting on Monday 23 March designed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The three-week course will explore practical ways to teach and support your students online.

Members of the UCL Digital Education team will be participating on this course and we hope the MOOC will stimulate ‘next step’ ideas for supporting our students..

To supplement the Futurelearn forums we have set up a UCL-specific Teams channel. Teams will be a place to discuss the ideas of the course from a UCL context and add a practical localisation to the UCL toolset. We hope you can join us.

To join the Futurelern MOOC, go to https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/teach-online/

To join in the UCL Teams discussion go to How To Teach Online (FutureLearn MOOC) – UCL community

Event overview: “Mapping unbundling in the HE terrain: South Africa and the UK”

JoannaStroud14 November 2019

In this seminar, hosted by the UCL Knowledge Lab Learning Technologies Unit, Dr Bronwen Swinnerton presented outputs from the UnbundledHE project: “The Unbundled University: Researching emerging models in an unequal landscape”, a cross-institutional study conducted by the University of Cape Town and University of Leeds.

The project considers the intersection of marketisation, unbundling, and digital technology and its effects on educational inequalities in South Africa and the United Kingdom. The following blog post summarises some of the issues surrounding the concept of educational unbundling and the project’s report into the current state of unbundled provision in both countries.

Marketisation

Recent years have seen a growth in demand for HE internationally but this has occurred alongside global economic shocks, such as the 2007 recession. The economic downturn has seen greater pressure placed on universities to report on the impact of central government funding streams and a resurgence of debates surrounding education as a public versus private good. This debate has tended to foreground the benefits of higher education to private individuals and consequently prompted a shift towards funding by the individual, leading to increases in fees and application of exogenous market principles to the HE environment. Such pressures have led HEIs to look to generate third stream revenue and reach new or alternative markets to fill funding gaps.

Digital technology

Digital technology is now ubiquitous in everyday life and HE, with all universities making use of technology in teaching and learning to some extent. Alongside the need to reach new audiences many have also begun to engage with online education, which has seen dramatic growth since the introduction of MOOCs. These courses have been in great demand from non-traditional audiences, such as adult professionals, with platform providers and university partners now pivoting toward the use of short online courses to deliver CPD and widening access initiatives, enhance teaching quality, and promote ‘massification’ or scalable learning opportunities. It is agreed that while universities can undoubtedly reach more prospective learners with online education it is no longer a ‘second best’ or indeed cheaper delivery method.

Unbundling

Unbundling is explained by McCowan (2017) as being either ‘disaggregation’, where what was sold together is now sold separately, e.g. tracks from an album, or ‘no frills’, a basic version of a product, e.g. budget airlines. There now exists a definitive application to HE, with the project defining unbundling as a disaggregation of educational provision, e.g. degree programmes, into component parts, e.g. modules, for delivery by and to multiple stakeholders. This is often achieved using digital approaches, and is manifesting itself through alternative digital credentials, or microcredentials, often delivered via what were MOOC platforms.

Rationale for offering unbundled educational opportunities can be multifarious and their production and delivery at odds with existing or longstanding institutional processes. The approach is typically: 

  • Internal, whereby HEIs choose how and when to break apart existing provision and offer content to learners directly;
  • In collaboration with service or platform providers, in which an HEI procures services to support specific stages of the course lifecycle;
  • By working with online programme management companies (OPMs), frequently with full service or white-labelled delivery and revenue share arrangements.

The unbundling landscape in SA and the UK

Dr Swinnerton highlighted key findings from the project, including the outcomes of interviews with policy makers, HE leaders, edtech developers, and private company CEOs. Mapping information (delivered via kumu.io software) was drawn from publicly available data, such as university, private company, and online and distance education websites, press releases, and other media. 

Interactive mapping of the HE landscape in SA and the UK demonstrated HEIs, suppliers, and OPMs and the relationships between them across provision of unbundled online education. The maps could be filtered according to league table strata, and what was immediately apparent across both contexts was disparity in coverage, with partnership opportunities broadly unavailable to lower-ranked institutions. Private companies in this space, notably OPMs, chiefly target elite institutions with established brands to drive profit-making business models. This was particularly clear in SA, with historically disadvantaged universities having little to no opportunity to engage in the online education space with support from private sector organisations, and with the suggestion that this had the potential to propagate stark inequalities already inherent within the SA HE system. Similar issues were present in the UK context, but with acknowledgement that educational inequalities and the digital divide are not quite so strong outside the context of online delivery.

See also

Dr Bronwen J Swinnerton, Senior Research Fellow in Digital Education at the University of Leeds

McCowan, T. 2017. Higher education, unbundling, and the end of the university as we know it. Oxford Review of Education 43(6); pp.733-748.

Swinnerton, B , Ivancheva, M, Coop, T et al. (6 more authors). 2018. The Unbundled University: Researching emerging models in an unequal landscape. Preliminary findings from fieldwork in South Africa. In: Bajić, M, Dohn, NB, de Laat, M, Jandrić, P and Ryberg, T, (eds.) Proceedings of the 11th International Conference on Networked Learning 2018. Networked Learning 2018, 14-16 May 2018, Zagreb, Croatia; pp. 218-226.

Alternative presentation delivered by UCT’s Sukaina Walji at WCOL19 with an increased focus on OPM relationships. “Degrees of (un)ease: Emerging relationships between OPMs and University Stakeholders in an unbundling landscape”

UCLeXtend platform migration

JoannaStroud25 October 2019

In recent months staff from Digital Education have been engaged in a project to migrate the public-facing short courses platform, UCLeXtend, to a new hosting provider. As part of this process the platform will be upgraded to a version of Moodle that offers several GDPR compliant features in addition to an updated interface.

A change of theme

As part of the migration we are also taking the opportunity to refresh the platform’s aesthetic, or ‘theme’, which in recent years has required continued investment to remain functional. This change will mean that the platform’s existing courses look different, although underlying functionality will remain the same and the content and activities present will not be changed. Course layouts will bear greater similarity to the internal UCL Moodle platform and course teams will have more choice over how their courses are structured and presented. 

The new site theme’s primary differences are as follows.

At site level

  • The UCLeXtend homepage will be refreshed with a change in colours and imagery, in addition to separate buttons for UCL and non-UCL logins (see work-in-progress screenshot below); 
  • Upon login, learners and staff will be presented with a dashboard of their courses. This dashboard can be controlled by individual users, giving the opportunity to highlight recently visited courses and ‘favourite’ or hide courses.

Screenshot of updated UCLeXtend homepage, with photograph of UCL Portico in background and log in buttons visible

At course level

  • Section navigation will move from the top of the page to the left-hand side. The left-hand navigation panel can be expanded or collapsed by the user; 
  • There will be greater control over the layout of each course with course formats; 
  • Courses can feature an illustrative image that is presented on both the course dashboard and as a background upon entry (see work-in-progress screenshot below).

Screenshot of new course layout with expanded and collapsed navigation bar shown

Key information

The migration is anticipated to be completed in the week commencing 18th November 2019 (updated: 13/11). A notice will be applied to the front page of the platform as to the precise date and time and it should be unavailable for a few hours at most. Teams with live courses during this period will be contacted separately with further information about how to manage the transition.

If you have any questions please get in touch with the Digital Education team at extend@ucl.ac.uk.

ABC LD – the next steps

NatasaPerovic13 July 2018

UCL Digital Education has been awarded two year Erasmus+ funding to develop their well-known ABC learning design workshop with a 12 European universities. Since its inception at UCL only three years ago this unique ‘rapid-development’ approach to help academics develop high tech student-focused modules and programmes has had an unprecedented impact on the sector. Dr Clive Young, the originator of ABC alongside his Digital Education colleague Nataša Perović, gives the reasons for its success, “Most universities have aspirational strategies to develop future-looking digitally rich and blended courses, but few teachers have the skills, knowledge and time to redesign their programmes”. ABC is UCL’s response, a light touch team-based approach which co-creates a visual storyboard for a module in just 90 minutes. Over 75 workshops have been run at UCL with nearly 500 academics (and students) redesigning around 200 modules. The participant response has been overwhelmingly positive and ABC was soon picked up beyond UCL, and is now used at 20 other universities in the UK alone. The Erasmus project builds a strategic partnership between UCL, six other universities from the League of European Universities (Amsterdam, Helsinki, Leuven, Milan and the Sorbonne, with Oxford as an associate) and six innovative universities from Belgium, Denmark, Croatia, Estonia, Ireland and Romania. The partnership will develop ABC as a downloadable toolkit that can be used globally by any institution in the sector.  More information…

Follow the project progress via twitter @ABCtoVLE @ABC_LD.

Gold for Icarus – UCL School of Management Simulator Scoops First Prize

JessicaGramp3 March 2018

Icarus – a simulation tool developed by UCL School of Management academics – has won 1st prize in the ‘Best use of simulations or virtual environments for learning’ category at the 2017 Learning Technologies Awards.

Lynsie Chew, Programme Director (MSc Professional Accountancy), and Alan Parkinson, Deputy Director (Education), who initiated and managed the simulator, attended the awards on 29 November where they were awarded Gold 1st place in their category.

The simulator, which is used in teaching on the School’s MSc Professional Accountancy, simulates running an airport, with users able to control a wide-range of aspects including variables such as the number of runways and the rent charged on retail units.

Icarus was one of six simulators shortlisted at the 2017 awards.

The UCL MSc in Professional Accountancy, in partnership with global accountancy body ACCA, is unique in its virtual availability to students located around the world.

The University approached Unicorn and LAS to design and build a complex and highly immersive simulation which would allow groups of learners from around the world to collaborate and work in teams over different time zones. This was ICARUS – a sophisticated, multi-layered, immersive and above all, realistic business simulation. The judges felt that the choice of an airport as the focus was inspired because of the wide range of businesses and services and the complexities they introduce, that contribute to its success or otherwise. Particularly impressive was the ease with which the simulation can be customised and updated with real world events as they happen and how the impact of what may appear as an isolated incident can affect different parts of the business in very different ways.

Focusing on demonstrable learner engagement and tangible outcomes required to secure the future of the programme, this project has been an unprecedented success: it boasts a 40% rise in uptake, and 95% student pass rate.


This post is an amalgamation of  content from the following sites: