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Ideas and reflections from UCL's Digital Education team


Archive for the 'General Learning Technology' Category

Moodle Snapshot and Course Resets Summer 2021

Jason R Norton10 June 2021

Important note:

All centrally managed exams, and any departmentally managed exams and assessments that took place on AssessmentUCL during the main exam period will continue to be held on AssessmentUCL in the Late Summer Assessment period. The guidance below is not relevant to exams or assessments on AssessmentUCL.

See the staff Exams pages for more information and guidance on LSAs and AssessmentUCL.

If you have are planning any departmentally managed exams or assessments on Moodle during the Late Summer Assessment period, you should follow the guidance below.

An annual snapshot of Moodle will be taken on the 12th July 2021, 6:30pm (BST).  Moodle will continue to be available during the period.

The snapshot is a ‘point-in-time’ copy of UCL Moodle (http://moodle.ucl.ac.uk) taken for reference purposes. All records present on this date will be included in the snapshot.

Date  What is happening  Impact 
12th July 2021, 6:30pm (BST)
  • A snapshot of Moodle 20/21 will be taken 
  • Moodle will be available during the snapshot process
  • Staff should limit any editing on courses that have ended for the 20/21 academic period until the snapshot it is made available.  
15th July 2021 12:00pm (BST)
  • Moodle Snapshot 20/21 will become available
  • Moodle snapshot 20/21 will become available. Relevant late summer assessments (LSA) for the academic year 20/21 should be completed here. Any exams or assessments that took place on AssessmentUCL during the main exam period will take place on AssessmentUCL in the Late Summer Assessment period.
15th July 2021 1:00pm (BST)
  • Moodle will have a new landing page.
  • Users logging into Moodle will be presented with a new landing page and will be able to select Moodle 20/21 (LSA) or Moodle 21/22. 
19th July 2021
  • The Reset option will be re-enabled in main Moodle 21/22. 
  • Staff will be able to start resetting their Moodle courses in preparation for the 21/22 academic year on Monday 19th July.
30th November 2021
  • Moodle Snapshot 20/21 will become read only. 
  • No more edits on Moodle 20/21 can take place. 

Two Moodles over summer

This year will be the third year running that we have implemented and maintained two live instances of Moodle over the summer period. This is done to ensure the completion of Late Summer Assessments within the correct cohorts, 20/21 courses to be closed of correctly and to enable course resets to take place for the new 21/22 session. 

Once the Moodle Snapshot is made available, users visiting moodle.ucl.ac.uk  will be presented with a landing page and will be able to choose to log into either Moodle 20/21 (LSA Moodle) or Moodle 21/22. This landing page will only be active until the start of the 21/22 session at which point users requiring the snapshot will have to access it via the Snapshot option on the services dropdown menu at the top of the Moodle page.

For full details on the use of these two Moodles and Late Summer Assessments please see Digital Education Late Summer Assessment Blog.

Course resets and getting ready for the new academic year (available from 14th July 2021)

Once the 20/21 Snapshot of Moodle is made available (no later than 1:00pm on the 15th July 2021). The Moodle course Reset option will be enabled for all staff. Staff will be able to start resetting courses that have completed and are no longer in use This would not apply to Modules such as postgraduate, medical and other non-standard timetabled courses which do not conform to the normal academic cycle. 

For guidance and detailed steps on course resetting, please see the wiki guide – Reset your Moodle course. For lecturecast sections/recordings on your courses which you may have used differently in the past year please see the guidance for reusing Lecturecast recordings.

Once you have completed your course resets, please see the Moodle start or term checklist to ensure you are ready for the new academic year.

Note that the UCL e-Learning baseline has been updated.  Reference should now be made to the UCL Connected Learning Baseline when preparing courses for the 21/22 academic year. 

Staff should also refer to the Preparing for Connected Learning in 2020-21 web page. 

If you have any questions or require pedagogic or technical support in the use of Moodle in the support your of teaching and learning activities, please contact the Digital Education team via email at digi-ed@ucl.ac.uk.

ABC learning design and the challenges of online

Clive Young26 April 2021

ABC learning design is UCL’s widely used ‘sprint’ method to help busy university and college teachers review and redesign their courses for blended modes.

Originally run as face-to-face workshops, in just 90 minutes teaching teams work together to create a visual ‘storyboard’ of activities representing the student journey. Assessment methods, programme-level themes and institutional policies can all be integrated easily. International ABC user groups soon emerged to share ideas, translations and localisations.

The Covid crisis impacted in two ways; one positive, one negative.

As even traditionally minded universities were forced to ‘pivot’ rapidly to online learning provision, the advantages of digital modes and the need for learning design suddenly became clearer. However traditional ABC on-campus workshops were impossible. The community responded swiftly by experimented with online approaches.

This academic year Clive Young and Nataša Perović, the UCL originators of ABC, created and trialled their own online version based on Google Jamboard and UCL’s Learning Designer tool.

In a popular webinar last week Clive and Nataša showed how this works and compared on-campus and online versions.

A recording of this webinar is now available via: Zoom

The presentation: ABC LD and the challenges of online Webinar, PDF 4.5Mb

You can also find earlier webinars on ABC


Marking centrally managed exams in 2021

Steve Rowett22 March 2021

On this page:

Please note that this page will be updated regularly.


As part of UCL’s continued COVID-19 response, centrally managed examinations for 2021 will be held online. Approximately 19,000 students will undertake over 1,000 exam papers resulting in about 48,000 submitted pieces of work. These exams are timetabled, and (for the very most part) students will submit a PDF document as their response. Students have been provided with their exam timetable and guidance on creating and submitting their documents. The exception to this is some ‘pilot’ examinations that are taking place using other methods on the AssessmentUCL platform, but unless you are within that pilot group, the methods described here will apply.

The move to online 24 hour assessments that replace traditional exams leads to a challenge for those that have to grade and mark the work. This blog post updates a similar post from last year with updated guidance, although the process is broadly the same.

Physical exams are being replaced with 24 hour online papers, scheduled through the exam timetabling system. Some papers will be available for students to complete for the full 24 hours, in other cases students ‘start the clock’ themselves to take a shorter timed exam within that 24 hour window.

We start from a place of two knowns:

  • Students are submitting work as a PDF document to the AssessmentUCL platform during the 24 hour window; and
  • Final grades need to be stored in Portico, our student records system.

But in between those two endpoints, there are many different workflows by which marking can take place. These are set out by the UCL’s Academic Manual but encompass a range of choices, particularly in how second marking is completed. One key difference between regular courseworks is that this is not about providing feedback to students, but instead about supporting the marking process, the communication between markers and the required record of the marking process. At the end of the marking process departments will need to ensure that scripts are stored securely but can be accessed by relevant staff as required, much in line with requirements for paper versions over previous years.

There is no requirement to use a particular platform or method for marking, so there is considerable flexibility for departments to use processes that work best for them. We are suggesting a menu of options which provide a basis for departments to build on if they so choose. We are also running regular training sessions which as listed at the foot of this document.

The menu options are:

  • Markers review the scripts and mark or annotate them using AssessmentUCL’s annotation and markup tools;
  • Departments can download PDF copies of scripts which can be annotated using PDF annotation software on a computer or tablet device;
  • Markers review the scripts on-screen using AssessmentUCL, but keep a ‘marker file’ or notes and comments on the marking process;
  • Markers print the scripts and mark them, then scan them for storage or keep them for return to the department on paper.

The rest of this post goes into these options in more detail. There is also a growing AssessmentUCL resource centre with detailed guidance on exams, which will be launched shortly and this will evolve as the AssessmentUCL platform becomes more widely used across UCL.

Overview of central exam marking

This video provides a short (4 minute) introduction to the methods of marking exam papers in 2021. This video has captions available.

Marking online using AssessmentUCL’s annotation tools

AssessmentUCL provides a web-based interface where comments can be overlaid on a student’s work. A range of second marking options are available to allow comments to be shared with other markers or kept hidden from them. The central examinations team will set up all centrally managed exams based on the papers and information submitted by departments.

The video (24 minutes) below provides a walkthrough of the marking process using the annotation and grading tools in AssessmentUCL. It also shows how module leaders can download PDFs of student papers if they wish to mark using other methods or download marks if they are using AssessmentUCL. This video has captions available.

This video (7 minutes) gives more detailed guidance on ‘section-based marking’ where different markers are marking different questions across the submitted papers. This video has captions available.


Guidance for external examiners

This video provides guidance for external examiners who are using AssessmentUCL to view papers and marks. This video has captions.

Annotation using PDF documents

Where you annotation needs are more sophisticated, or you want to ‘write’ on the paper using a graphics tablet or a tablet and pencil/stylus, then this option may suit you better.

Module leads and exams liaison officers can download a ZIP file containing all the submitted work for a given exam. Unlike last year, a student’s candidate number is prefixed onto the filename, and can be included within the document itself, to make identifying the correct student much easier.

You can then use tools you already have or prefer to use to do your marking. There is more flexibility here, and we will not be able to advise and support every PDF tool available or give precise instructions for every workflow used by departments, but we give some examples here.

Marking on an iPad using OneDrive

Many staff have reported using an iPad with Apple Pencil or an Android tablet with a stylus to be a very effective marking tool. You can use the free Microsoft OneDrive app, or Apple’s built in Files app if you are using an iPad. Both can connect to your OneDrive account which could be a very useful way to store your files. An example of this using OneDrive is shown below, the Apple Files version is very similar.

There’s further guidance from Microsoft on each individual annotation tool.

Marking on a PC or Surface Pro using Microsoft Drawboard PDF

Microsoft Drawboard PDF is a very comprehensive annotation tool, but is only available for Windows 10 and is really designed to be used with a Surface Pro or a desktop with a graphics tablet. Dewi Lewis from UCL Chemistry has produced a video illustrating the annotation tools available and how to mark a set of files easily. Drawboard PDF is available free of charge from Microsoft.

Marking on a PC, Mac or Linux machine using a PDF annotation program.

Of course there are plenty of third party tools that support annotating PDF documents. Some requirement payment to access the annotation facilities (or to save files that have been annotated) but two that do not are Xodo and Foxit PDF.

Things to think about with this approach:

  • Your marking process: if you use double blind marking you might need to make two copies of the files, one for each marker. If you use check marking then a single copy will suffice.
  • You will need to ensure the files are stored securely and can be accessed by the relevant departmental staff in case of any query. You might share the exam submission files with key contacts such as teaching administrators or directors of teaching.
  • Some of the products listed above have a small charge, as would any stylus or pencil that staff would need. These cannot be supplied centrally, so you may need a process for staff claiming back the costs from departments.

Using a ‘marker file’

Accessing the students’ scripts is done using AssessmentUCL, which allows all the papers to be viewed online individually or downloaded in one go. Then a separate document is kept (either one per script, or one overall) containing the marks and marker feedback for each comment. If double-blind marking is being used, then it is easy to see that two such documents or sets of documents could be kept in this way.

Printing scripts and marking on paper

Although we have moved to online submission this year, colleagues are still welcome to print documents and mark on paper. However there is no central printing service available for completed scripts to be printed, and this would have to be managed individually or locally by departments.

The evidence about marking online

In this video Dr Mary Richardson, Associate Professor in Educational Assessment at the IOE, gives a guide to how online marking can differ from paper-based marking and offers some tips for those new to online marking. The video has captions.

Training sessions and support

Markers can choose to mark Late Summer Assessment (LSA) exams in the same way as they marked the main round of exams. For a refresher or if you were not involved in marking centrally managed exams, please refer to the recording of one of Digital Education’s previous training sessions (UCL staff login required) and the slides used in the training session which can be downloaded.

Throughout the LSA period (16th Aug to 3rd September), drop-ins will be run Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday 12-1pm. The drop in session is relevant to markers, moderators, the Module Lead and Exams Liaison Officer. Attendees can ask questions, or see a demo of the marking options. You can find the link for these and join immediately.

You can of course contact UCL Digital Education for further help and support.

How to enrol staff in Moodle

Silvia Giannitrapani21 March 2021

As part of the continuous work on Moodle, we have been optimising the roles and enrolment procedures. Specifically we have created a new ‘Category Administrator’ role and reviewed our current roles’ permissions.

Anyone with editing permissions on a Moodle course (including Tutors and Course Administrators) can use the manual enrolment method to grant access to other members of staff to their individual courses.

To manually enrol a user onto your course, from within your Moodle course go to the Participants list and click on Enrol users. In the Enrol users pop-up window, use the Assign roles dropdown menu and choose the relevant role from the following list:

Leader Leader can do anything within a course, including enrolling students, editing content, adding activities and grading students. This role is identical to the Course Administrator/Tutor roles, but with an alternative name.
Tutor Tutors can do anything within a course, including enrolling students, editing content, adding activities and grading students. This role is identical to the Course Administrator role, but with an alternative name. Used for academic staff who require edit access.
Course Administrator Course Administrators can do anything within a course, including enrolling students, editing content, adding activities and grading students. This role is identical to the Tutor role, but with an alternative name. Used for non-academic staff who require edit access.
Non-editing Tutor Non-editing tutors can view and grade students’ work, but may not edit content or alter activities or resources. It is used for academic staff, external examiners and teaching Assistants who can grade student work but DO NOT require edit access.
Staff Observer Can view courses, including hidden courses and activities, but may not grade students, edit content or alter activities. This role may be suitable for staff such as those in the Library, Digital Education or Arena.
Student Students can view course content, participate in activities, submit coursework and view their own grades.

Staff who require access to all Moodle courses within a faculty or a department do not need to be manually added to every course individually. They can be added once to the department’s category and then have access to every Moodle course within that category. Please note: only the Digital Education team is permitted to assign this category level access. Approval from the Head of Department should be sought for any new enrolments at category level as this grants access to a large number of courses.

 To obtain Moodle access to all courses within a faculty or a department, please see the instructions below: 

  • To request Read-only / Non-editing access: A written email confirmation from the Head of Department will need to be sent to Digital Education (digi-ed@ac.uk) to request access for particular staff.
  • To request any editing roles: In order for any UCL member of staff to gain editing category level admin rights in Moodle, they will need to provide written email confirmation to Digital Education (digi-ed@ac.uk) from the Head of Department specifying the member of staff, the type of role and the Moodle category to which they require access and then, they will need to complete the ‘Administering your Moodle’ course, which is available at https://moodle.ucl.ac.uk/course/view.php?id=9682. 

Types of Moodle category roles available:

Category Administrator Course Administrators can do anything within a course, including enrolling students, editing content, adding activities and grading students. This role is identical to the Tutor role, but with an alternative name. Used for non-academic staff who require edit access. Can only be assigned at Category level.
Course Administrator (No E-Mail) Course Administrators can do anything within a course, including enrolling students, editing content, adding activities and grading students. This role is identical to the Tutor role, but with an alternative name. Used for non-academic staff who require edit access. THIS ROLE DOES NOT RECEIVE E-MAIL NOTIFICATIONS. Can only be assigned at Category level.
Non-editing Tutor (No E-Mail) Non-editing tutors can view and grade students’ work, but may not edit content or alter activities or resources. It is used for academic staff, external examiners and teaching Assistants who can grade student work but DO NOT require edit access. THIS ROLE DOES NOT RECEIVE E-MAIL NOTIFICATIONS. Can only be assigned at Category level.
MyFeedback Departmental Administrator Allows Departmental Administrators to view MyFeedback student assessment reports for their department. Can only be assigned at Category level.
Accessibility Assistant Accessibility assistants can view and edit course content, and access Ally’s feedback and course report. They cannot view or edit grades or assignment feedback. Can only be assigned at Category level.
Faculty Learning Technologist Faculty Learning Technologist can do anything within a course, including enrolling students, editing content, adding activities and grading students. THIS ROLE DOES NOT RECEIVE E-MAIL NOTIFICATIONS. Can only be assigned at Category level.

Further guidance on manual enrolments is available at UCL Wiki – M06f – Category enrolment

If you have any specific queries, please talk to your Faculty Learning Technology Lead or email the Digital Education Team at: digi-ed@ucl.ac.uk.

Once more: Accessible documents from LaTeX

Jim R Tyson7 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.

Further Digital Skills Development dates now available this term

Jasmin E Mullings15 February 2021

Signpost with 'Digital Skills' written on itHow to book

Please ensure you are using Desktop@UCL or the UCL VPN when booking.

What’s on offer

ISD Digital Skills Development has released new dates for the second half of Term 2 to be offered online via Blackboard Collaborate and Microsoft Teams.

We are offering a wide range of courses covering R, Stata, Microsoft Tools (including Forms, OneNote and Sway) and much more. Highlights this term include:

  • Introduction to Teams & Prerequisite course for Advanced workshops;
  • Excel Essential Skills programme – Orientation session;
  • XMind mind mapping tool – workshop.

This term we are bringing back our popular Software for success and 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.

In a Nutshell sessions highlight a single task in a particular application, such as starting a project in NVivo for example.

We have also adapted our introductory series of Excel Essential Skills Workshops to a self-paced programme with some interactive sessions. Learn more on the Excel Essential Skills Workshops blog post about the new format.

We are also hosting our usual weekly drop-in sessions remotely via Blackboard Collaborate for those who would like individual support on a specific issue. The dates and times of the sessions, along with the direct Blackboard Collaborate link, are available in our ISD Digital Skills Development Moodle course.

Joining a course

Please view the current schedule of courses and workshops below. Once you’ve looked at the schedule and chosen the course(s) you want to book, follow the instructions on the How to enrol on courses blog post to book. Please also view the course description carefully to ensure you have all the information, check for any pre-learning (if applicable) and know how to join the live session(s).

As we will use Blackboard Collaborate for many of our sessions, please watch the 10-minute Participant video guide which explains how to use and what to expect from the BB Collaborate platform.

Once you’ve booked on a course, please visit our Digital Skills Development Moodle course to find any course materials and pre-learning (if applicable). As some courses have pre-learning, please ensure you allow yourself enough time to complete this. Please also download any available course materials in advance of the live session.

We will send out the link to join the session the day before (or Friday if it’s a Monday course) but you can also join directly from MyLearning (see blog post for instructions on how to do this).

Also note that we have added an extra 15 minutes to the start time of our courses to allow participants to test out their audio/connection. The actual course will start promptly on the hour (15 minutes after the advertised time).

More digital skills development opportunities…

Learn online with a vast range of high-quality video-based courses from LinkedIn Learning.  These cover technical skills but also business, personal and creative skills as well.  Visit the UCL LinkedIn Learning page to find out more.

DigiLearn Online is a new library of online videos which covers UCL IT essentials. Topics include remote connectivity, data storage essentials, Microsoft Office 365 applications, and much more. Visit the DigiLearn Online webpage to access the video guides.

Current schedule

Date Start End Class title
16/02/2021 13:45 15:45 DSD: OneNote 2016 – Workshop
17/02/2021 09:45 12:00 DSD: Blogging with Reflect (WordPress-based) – Workshop
17/02/2021 13:45 15:00 DSD: LaTeX: Demo of Overleaf
18/02/2021 09:45 12:00 DSD: Intermediate Statistics with Excel 2016
18/02/2021 09:45 11:30 DSD: Microsoft Teams Workshop 3: Document Management and Collaboration
18/02/2021 10:45 12:00 DSD: Read&Write: Text-to-speech software – an overview
18/02/2021 13:45 15:00 DSD: Microsoft Forms Demo
19/02/2021 09:45 11:30 DSD: Creating accessible Word documents
23/02/2021 13:45 15:00 DSD: An Introduction to R with Rstudio – Part 1
02/03/2021 13:45 16:00 DSD: An Introduction to R with Rstudio – Part 2
12/03/2021 13:45 16:00 DSD: An Introduction to R with Rstudio – Part 3
24/02/2021 13:45 14:30 DSD: Excel Essential Skills programme – Orientation session
25/02/2021 09:45 11:00 DSD: Getting Started with Stata – Part 1 (Orientation and materials)
04/03/2021 09:45 12:00 DSD: Getting Started with Stata – Part 2 (Using Stata)
11/03/2021 09:45 12:00 DSD: Getting Started with Stata – Part 3 (Scripting techniques)
25/02/2021 09:45 11:30 DSD: Creating accessible PowerPoint presentations
26/02/2021 11:45 13:00 DSD: Software for success: Working with Bibliography and Citation Apps
26/02/2021 13:45 15:00 DSD: Pivot Tables in Excel – Demo
26/02/2021 09:45 11:00 DSD: Introduction to Teams & Prerequisite course for Advanced workshops
02/03/2021 13:45 15:00 DSD: Word tips and tricks
03/03/2021 09:45 11:45 DSD: Microsoft Teams Workshop 1: Beyond Basics Overview
04/03/2021 13:45 15:45 DSD: Pivot Tables in Excel – Workshop
05/03/2021 09:45 11:30 DSD: Sway, Microsoft’s modern presentation tool – Workshop
08/03/2021 13:45 15:00 DSD: Excel tips and tricks
09/03/2021 09:45 11:00 DSD: Introduction to Teams & Prerequisite course for Advanced workshops
10/03/2021 13:45 15:00 DSD: Excel Worksheet 1 – Review session
11/03/2021 13:45 16:00 DSD: Managing Long Documents in Word 2016
11/03/2021 13:45 15:30 DSD: Microsoft Teams Workshop 2: Managing & Participating in Meetings
12/03/2021 09:45 11:45 DSD: OneNote 2016 – Workshop
16/03/2021 13:45 15:30 DSD: Microsoft Teams Workshop 3: Document Management and Collaboration
17/03/2021 09:45 11:30 DSD: Vlookup in Excel – workshop
23/03/2021 09:45 12:00 DSD: Advanced Statistics with Excel 2016
24/03/2021 09:45 11:30 DSD: XMind mind mapping tool – workshop
24/03/2021 13:45 15:00 DSD: Excel Worksheet 2 – Review session