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Digital Education team blog


Ideas and reflections from UCL's Digital Education team


Archive for the 'Innovation' Category

Eye eye! 👀

By Janina Dewitz, on 20 April 2021

People often ask me: what happens after #LearnHack? – And often I don’t quite know how to answer this question. So much of what happens with the projects depends on the enthusiasm and stamina of the project teams. Some find funding to develop their ideas further, either through Change Makers or through departmental support. Often projects disappear in the ether of the university and I only find out by complete chance that a project or collaboration is still going years later!

The last #LearnHack, while a bit strange, has had the major benefit that online chatter is easier to continue after the event and keep up with, and so I checked in with Marcus Pedersen a few days ago to see what happened with his AR Eye Model project proposal. Here is what happened:

1. What did you do/what happened?

Remote education has become increasingly popular over the last year due to the ongoing pandemic. This inspired me to think about how we could educate patients and students about the anatomy of the eye and certain eye diseases. From here I set about sourcing some funding to build an Augmented Reality app. After successfully applying for a grant, I then set about developing content for the education app. Firstly, I needed a model eye that could be used as part of the AR environment. Secondly, I needed to develop content on the eye diseases we were going to highlight. Thirdly, I needed to think how I could make this accessible to all.

These three key aspects were supported by attending the Hackathon where I pitched my idea and interested parties then got involved. Ideas that came from the new advisory board then set up after the hackathon allowed for fresh ideas (as well as some well needed editing my spelling as never been great).

Once the group was set up, I could get to work on developing the content.

2. Who has been involved?

I outsourced the app development so I could focus on developing the accessible nature of the app. I contacted the service director at Moorfields Eye Hospital and asked them to write a script on Age Related Macular Degeneation (AMD), glaucoma and uveitis. From here I then found fellows at the hospital to help translate the material. The fellows come from all over the world so I knew we would be able to help many more patients than usual. I then edited these videos including some animation. For AMD we were able to create 33 multilingual introductory videos.

3. Was this in reaction to an issue or request? How did this come about?

The app came about from some research I conducted on remote education. Knowing that post pandemic aspects of remote medical care would continue I thought I could further bolster patients learning from home. Students studying the eye could also use the app to refresh their understanding of the eye as well as learn about the key eye diseases.

4. Why did you take this approach? Was there anything novel in your approach?

I decided to use an App as part of a larger project that includes other modalities of educating patients, careers and family members about eye diseases and the anatomy of the eye. There is nothing novel about using AR in education as it has been around for a while

however, I am interested to see the feedback form those with sight impairment and their ability to interact with the app.

5. What next?

Collect feedback from the audience and develop the app for future patient education. Expand the list of eye disease’s so we can assist more people all over the world.


Have you got a #LearnHack story? Let us know in the comments below.👇

#LearnHack 6.0 – Reflections

By Janina Dewitz, on 16 December 2020

Like so many things in 2020, #LearnHack, our UCL community hackathon, also went virtual for the first time this year. Instead of running over an intense weekend, we stretched our usual structure across an entire week to accommodate people’s schedules, participants in different time zones and potential tech problems. As usual, the event attracted participants from across the institution (some statistics here). Unusually, we had more staff participants on this round than ever before. Even more unusually for #LearnHack, a lot of the staff came from Professional Services.

In a year of distance, a motto of “Building Bridges” for #LearnHack 6.0 seemed appropriate. We had three broad themes:

  • Teaching & Learning
  • Mental Health & Well-being
  • Community & Connections

A total of nine project proposals were submitted across all three themes. Not all projects managed to attract enough interest to form a team. Although a number of projects didn’t make it over the project submission line, the topics nonetheless generated conversations and connections that might not have taken place without the event. As always we hope that these connections, conversations and projects will continue in some form long beyond this edition of #LearnHack.

Projects that made the submission deadline

Coffee Roulette and Virtual Quad combined forces as there was significant overlap in aims and sharing skills and resources made more sense than having two individual much smaller teams. Virtual Quad/Coffee Roulette spent a morning working in Miro, pulling together research, a long list of desirable features and potential solutions. Next, we managed to get a survey out to sanity check our idea of what such an environment should look like. The survey received 43 responses in total and revealed that we were largely on the right track with our ideas (details here).

The overall project was far too ambitious to come up with any actual product in the very short time we had, however, the conversation about virtual social spaces is ongoing and we’re happy to talk to anyone who’d like to know more or get involved.


The Winning Team

Games Workshop proposed by Ellie Bates, School of Pharmacy scooped the top spot in our community vote. The team managed to develop an actual game: “Click University

Here are some #LearnHack reflections from Kitty:

Why did you join?

I’d been wanting to participate in a hackathon for a while, and LearnHack’s emphasis on inclusivity and being open to people from all backgrounds with any skill set (not just those technically-minded), to both staff and students, really appealed to me. I also liked the sound of the themes and projects that had been proposed, and that it was UCL-based – I’d be able to see any positive change we might make as a result of the hack right here, in this very community.

What was your team/project?

My team was the Games Workshop team, which aimed to use a games format to address some of the common issues we’d all faced this challenging year, when we’ve had to transition large parts of our life online. Issues like what it feels like to be a faceless name joining a lecture full of other faceless names; not knowing whether it’s better to turn your camera on/off; whether to contribute via the chat; how to make friends when there are no face-to-face social opportunities. Of course, we couldn’t solve these complex problems over one week – but what we did do was create a game that presented optimistic online futures and modelled scenarios in this strange new online world, which we hoped would help players feel less alone and more empathetic towards each other.

How did you find the week?

To be honest, the start of the week was a bit awkward as it was my first time joining a hack and I had no idea what I was doing or what was meant to be happening. But once I met my team and we started drafting ideas and talking about our project, time just flew by. My teammates and I met every day to discuss our progress and work on our game.

It was really fun, not least because we got to play games (for research purposes, of course!). By the end of the week, my team had a small but functional game that we hope to be able to develop further next year. I’ve also personally learned a lot, and not just about games. I’ve learned about practical problem-solving, been reminded of how useful it can be to work through ideas with others, and learned how to use a bunch of new software tools that I’d never heard of before, which I have since continued to explore and use. I may even work on something related for my final year Master’s project.

If I had anything to say to anyone thinking about joining a future LearnHack, it would be: why not? It’s a great way to do something out of the ordinary.

– Kitty Ho
Quality Assurance and Governance Officer, Joint Faculties, UCL
Final Year MSc Computer Science (Part-time), Birkbeck


Thanks to everyone who took part in this year’s event. Special thanks to Paul Bailey from Jisc for being our independent project judge.

Reviewing our digital learning environment – get involved!

By Steve Rowett, on 7 November 2019

Earlier this year, I celebrated a decade at UCL.

Just as I joined, there was another new recruit to UCL – Moodle. This open source virtual learning environment had recently replaced WebCT which we used before, and my initial task was to support the migration of 300 courses from one to the other. Since then we’ve regularly upgraded Moodle and added new facilities such as Turnitin, Lecturecast and Blackboard Collaborate into it. It now has 7000 live courses and is used by nearly every teacher and student at UCL.

We also have other services – from voting handsets to portfolios. And we also know that there’s lots of other web-based services that people use.

Time flies by, and after ten years we think it’s right to ask if this environment is right for us? Does it need to change? Are we making the most of what we’ve got? Is there something better we should be doing instead?

To help us answer these, Digital Education has been listening and learning. We’ve started the process by conducting detailed interviews with 10 staff and 13 students about how they teach and learn. These have raised issues from our spaces and technologies, to our culture and organisation. It’s a rich source of viewpoints, and reflects the diversity and breadth of UCL’s education and people.

We’d like to share some of these findings with you, and give you an opportunity to contribute and prioritise our future developments. To do this, we have arranged four Town Hall meetings:

  • Wednesday 27 November 3-4pm, Cruciform LT2;
  • Tuesday 3 December, 10-11am, Cruciform LT1;
  • Monday 16 December, 12-1pm, Medical Sciences AV Hill Lecture Theatre;
  • Wednesday 8 January 2020, 3-4pm, Cruciform LT2.

There’s no need to book – just turn up to any that you wish to attend. The events are aimed at teaching staff but students and other staff are welcome too.

Any questions, please contact Steve Rowett in Digital Education.

Looking back at #LearnHack 4.5

By Janina Dewitz, on 20 June 2018

Guest post by Teodora Lazar

On the 2nd of June, UCL’s Digital Education ran #LearnHack 4.5, a day of problem solving, tackling challenges around technology and learning. Students and staff from different departments in UCL came together in BaseKX to solve a challenge, share their ideas and make new connections. What started as being an event that aimed to explore how technology is being used for teaching and learning, became a common ground where students and staff can work together towards achieving a common goal.  

#LearnHack 4.5 tackled 3 challenges, pitched and voted before the event. Two of them where technical challenges, and the other one was conceptual. The different formats of the challenges were chosen democratically in order to ensure that students from all backgrounds can contribute to the final outcome. Mixed teams, formed on the spot, worked towards bringing forward the best solution for the challenge, competing against each other at the same time

Kicking off with a presentation of all the challenges, the participants got the chance to understand them, ask questions, and form their teams. The challenges were:

UCL Intranet for Students by Saskia Cebrian Guerrero & Fabian Urban

“As a new student at UCL, it was very difficult for me at the beginning to find the library services, where to pay my bills, maps, my schedule, events from the UCL Union and Moodle, since they are all in different-not linked platforms. I think its necessary that students know from the very beginning all the important links and information from the university in an integrated platform. And that is my idea, to create an Intranet designed by and for students.”

Predicting when assets will fail by Peter Jones & Rebecca Allen

“To use data from UCL’s Estates team to build a predictive model that will assess which assets are likely fail, enabling predictive/preventative maintenance.”

Hacking #LearnHack by “the #LearnHack organising gang”

“The aim of #LearnHack is to bring the whole of the UCL community together to solve some of its problems from the bottom up or the inside out (however you prefer to look at it). Every event is an opportunity to make a real difference to how we do things in the areas of teaching, learning and campus life. While both ticket sales for the  event and feedback by past attendees have been consistently great, attendance hasn’t always been so fantastic. Why is this and what can we do to build a more self-sustaining community moving forwards?”


The rest of the day was a good opportunity to have a lot of fun while debating, prototyping and working as a team. The participatory format and the friendly environment enabled collaboration and lots of discussion about ways to tackle the challenges. Even if the day was very labour intensive and tiring, the food, snacks, drinks and sweets provided kept everyone going. Also, the wonderful culture of community and collaboration remains a constant characteristic for each and every #LearnHack.

Being an event that explores the topics of learning and technology, two optional workshops were delivered throughout the day in order to nourish the learning and knowledge sharing atmosphere. The first workshop, ‘Primer on Visual Abstracts’, explored how to increase the impact of one’s publication, through image conceptualisation. Meanwhile the other one, ‘Putting it all together: R and R Markdown’, investigated how one can combine formatted text and analysis code to build up-to-date reports. These workshops were a good way to learn some new skills, but also to take a  well-deserved break from all the hard work to solve the challenges.

The final presentations were the moment when each team introduced their solutions, ideas and prototypes and told everyone about their findings. Through presentations of just a few minutes, the teams managed to prove that they came up with tangible, creative and useful solutions to every challenge. Even more, they all handled the questions coming from the public and the jury like pros.

The solutions to the challenges were:


Make #LearnHack Great Again by Team ‘Something Cool’

This team responded to the challenge Hacking #LearnHack by creating a strategy plan to improve the reach, recognition and impact of future #LearnHacks. They also responded to this conceptual challenge through a technical measure, by creating a prototype for a brand new website.

Maintenance System by Team Regatta

The app that Team Regatta came with responded to the ‘Predicting when Assets will Fail’ challenge. They decided to tackle the issue by creating an app that could be used by the UCL staff to report maintenance issues. They designed a centralised system through which data could be stored in a easy to use, and easy to analyse manner.

Predictive Analytics by Team Broken Assets

This team decided to build a model to evaluate the probability of assets failure, so the problems could be fixed before even happening. They analysed the data by taking into account the historical maintenance and the environmental factors. The approach that this team took was very data heavy, since they managed to map out most data sources throughout the day.

Intranet for Students by Team Lime Pair

Responding to the challenge of building an intranet for students, team Lime Pair built their prototype that would incorporate on the same website page, all online resources that are vital to all UCL students: Portico, Moodle, Library Services and others.


#LearnHack proved once again that it not an event for techies only. Don’t be fooled by the name. This one day hackathon brings together researchers, creators, artists, visionaries, thinkers, designers, inventors, dreamers and many others.

You don’t identify with any of these? No problem, we are always open to new suggestions.

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

By Jessica Gramp, on 3 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:

Introducing StepShot Manuals

By Jim R Tyson, on 8 February 2018

For a while now, I have been quietly promoting StepShot Manuals (StepShot for short) to my colleagues in ISD. StepShot is a rapid documentation development tool. Which is not nearly as bad as it sounds. StepShot allows you to record an on-screen process – for example, formatting a table in Word or filling out an expenses form – taking screenshots, adding callouts and annotations and writing explanations as you go.

Some key uses for StepShot include

  • rapid development of training materials and technical documentation
  • developing test scripts for UAT
  • recording test results or bugs
  • creating knowledgebase articles
  • recording process for business analysis and process review

If you have ever done these jobs, then you might have combined several tools, for example

a screenshot tool (Windows has one built in), Word, an image editor (Paint or Photoshop), with a workflow like this: take all your screenshots, insert them into word editing, cropping etc as you go, adding explanatory text.

Stepshot brings all this together in one tool. You set it up to record the activity and select to create a screenshot for mouse clicks or keyboard actions or to use a specific hot key combination for screenshots. As you go through the activity recording images you can also give each a descriptive title and a comment. When you stop recording StepShot opens its editing tool. This latter looks a bit like PowerPoint: your images are listed vertically down the left while the main window allows you to edit an image and add text.

Click to see the animation!

This is already a vast improvement on hacking documents together with separate applications, none of them specifically designed for the job, but wait there’s more! StepShot can export your document when you have finished, as Word, PDF, HTML, XML or DITA and can publish directly to Confluence, SharePoint or WordPress. (If they add a PowerPoint option I’ll throw a party). There are simple built in templates for output and with a little effort you can create a customised or branded template.

So, currently about a dozen people at UCL have taken up a license (UCL staff members can contact ISD Training Administration for licensing information. To use StepShot you do need admin rights on your Windows or Mac PC.). It has been used to create training materials for lecturecast (published on Confluence), it has been used in UAT creating test scripts, it has been used by software testers to record bugs and communicate them to developers. No one currently using it has had more than a two minute informal introduction to the product but people seem to pick up its basic use very quickly. Users report that they enjoy using it as well. The most commone response using it for the first time has been about the immense time savings you can achieve and next about the simplicity of use. One or two people have commented that they don’t really like the look of the output, but this is largely because they haven’t learned how to customise output. I have offered a short workshop on customisation and hope to run it again.

I have created a Microsoft Team site and I will be keeping in touch with people using it since I have been asked to feedback our experience to the developers.