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Improving the accessibility of Moodle content with Blackboard Ally

EliotHoving11 September 2019

Blackboard Ally Logo

UCL has acquired a new technology called Blackboard Ally to help improve the accessibility of content within Moodle, in line with UK legislation.

Ally runs within Moodle to provide alternative file formats for students and accessibility guidance for staff.

It will be launched prior to the start of term on Wednesday 18th September.

Alternative formats on demand

Ally uses machine algorithms to convert common file types to alternative formats with no extra effort required from staff. For example, a staff member can upload their lecture slides as a PowerPoint file to Moodle, and Ally will subsequently and automatically offer students the option to download the file in its original format or a range of alternative formats including audio (mp3), PDF, ePub for eReaders, or Braille reader format.

Alternative formats are essential for certain students and provide advantages to all students. Ally’s alternative formats allow for multi-sensory learning which can have benefits to educational outcomes and well-being. For example, at universities already using Ally, students have converted lecture slides to audio for listening to during their commute and to help them revise.

However, alternative formats will only be as accessible as the original source file. You should therefore always ensure you follow best practice when creating your content.

Helping staff identify where accessibility improvements can be made

Ally also provides staff with an accessibility score and guidance on common files within Moodle including PDF, PowerPoint and Word documents.  This includes files already present within Moodle and new files as they are uploaded. The accessibility score and guidance are available to staff but not students. Using Ally and Digital Education’s guidance on creating accessible content, staff will be able to identify and improve the accessibility of their teaching resources.

You can learn more about Ally by visiting the UCL staff guide on Blackboard Ally and by watching Blackboard’s video below:

Students can be directed towards UCL student guide on Blackboard Ally.

Keep an eye on the Digital Education blog for updates.

If you have any questions relating to Ally, or you would like a demonstration for your Department, please contact digi-ed@ucl.ac.uk.

Lecturecast Update(Summer 2019)

Janice K MKiugu6 September 2019

For those new to UCL, Lecturecast is UCL’s automated lecture recording system.

It is designed for course tutors/administrators to record their lectures as supplemental resources and share them with their students via the respective Moodle course. Lecturecast is not a replacement for lecture attendance and is provided to complement lectures and provide an additional resource to support student learning.

Guidance on using Lecturecast is available via the Lecturecast Resource Centre

Preparing for 2019/2020

  1. Staff can now schedule recordings for the 2019/2020 academic year. Note that to schedule a recording, the event must be timetabled via CMIS, take place in a Lecturecast-enabled teaching space and be less than 4 hours long. Staff will only be able to schedule events taking place within the next 3 months (on a rolling basis).
  2. Ensure you unlink mappings to old Lecturecast recordings from your Moodle courses(s) and add a new link/mapping (s) for the 2019/2020 sections.

New for 19/20

You may notice a few improvements to the Lecturecast system for the 2019/2020 academic year. These include:

1. Student Analytics are now updated more frequently

The student engagement data on the Analytics tab in Sections (when viewing the list of recordings in Moodle) is now updated at least hourly (instead of once daily). Student interactions with class media and with the section as a whole are provided throughout the day, allowing staff to view data with closer to real-time status.

2. Schedule recordings for non-teaching events

It is now possible to schedule recordings for non-teaching events. The events must be CMIS timetabled, occur in a Lecturecast enabled room and be less than 4 hours long.

As these events are not associated with a module code, the recordings will be placed in the personal library of the staff member scheduling the recording. Staff can then download the recording and upload it onto a streaming server such as UCL Media Central.

Note:  Lecturecast is designed mainly for the recording of lectures. If you are looking to record a special event e.g. an inaugural lecture, conference and need a high quality recording then please contact Digital Media services video@ucl.ac.uk who provide video and editing services.

3. Universal Capture replaces Personal Capture

Action may be required:  If you are still using Personal Capture, please upload all video recordings immediately and install Universal Capture.

‘Universal Capture’ which is now available to download via the Lecturecast interface has replaced ‘Personal Capture’. Personal capture is no longer supported or available to download.  The Universal Capture tool allows staff to record audio, video and their laptop displays in much the same way as the Personal capture system but with a greater degree of reliability. Content is also packaged and uploaded as you record, meaning that the completed recording is available much sooner. To download Universal Capture, use the ‘Downloads’ link available from the settings icon in the Lecturecast section. A video demo of Universal Capture is available on the the Echo360 support pages.

4. Pilot of automatic transcripts for Lecturecast recordings

Over the next few months, Digital Education along with several volunteers from across the university will be running a pilot of the Lecturecast ‘automatic speech recognition’ (ASR) functionality. ASR has the potential to provide invaluable support for students with hearing difficulties but can be a useful additional resource for all students. However, the system needs to be tested with a range of voices, accents, and subjects, including those with discipline-specific or specialist terminology, in order to assess the accuracy of the resulting transcripts and how much work might be involved to correct them. The project has been prompted by the legislation that came into effect last autumn to ensure that digital content is accessible by everyone, and we would also like to explore how useful students in pilot groups find the service.

For more information,contact digitalaccessibility@ucl.ac.uk

Training

To sign up or register an interest in upcoming training sessions, use the links below.

Useful resources:

How to add an image to your Moodle Course Card

EliotHoving23 August 2019

You have probably noticed that your Moodle home page looks different thanks to the Moodle upgrade.

 

The Course Overview now includes a card  for each course, which includes an image. By default Moodle displays a tessellated pattern, but you can add a more meaningful image as follows.

 

Before:

Moodle Course Card View

After:

Moodle Course Card View now with image added.

First things first, get your image ready. We recommend including an image without text as text can appear distorted when the image is resized to fit the card. Your image needs to be rectangular. I used an image that was sized 900px by 600px which I found on UCL’s Imagestore – a free repository of UCL images.

You then need to:

  1. Open your course in Moodle.
  2. In the Administration block, click Edit settings.
  3. Under Course image, upload your image.
  4. Click Save and Display

If you return to the Moodle home page, your image will now display.

 

If you’d like to know more about the Moodle Course Overview, check out the Moodle Dashboard video.

 

Digital Accessibility – from Directive to DNA

SamanthaAhern22 July 2019

I have been very excited by the flurry of activity that has been triggered by The Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations (2018)   across my own and other institutions. These regulations haven’t really introduced anything new, much of it is covered by existing equalities legislation, but it has shifted the focus. Previously, we could be reactive and in our laziest moments rely on those that needed adjustments to request them. Now, we are required to be proactive. To create content that is accessible by design and follows Universal Design for Learning principles around designing for POUR (i.e., so content is Perceivable, Operable, Understandable and Robust). Aligning with the social model of disability: people are disabled by barriers in society, not by their impairment or difference.

Tweet by Danielle Johnstone describing some of the Lego activity outcomes.Many colleagues I meet are concerned about what the regulation means in terms of workload, what is required of them and how they become compliant. A range of guidance and support is being delivered to help raise awareness and develop the required skills. But, fundamentally there needs to be a mind shift.

Although there are deadlines associated with the regulations, I would argue that digital accessibility is not a compliance challenge but a cultural shift. A move from directive or requirement to part of our institutional DNA.

In a workshop I co-hosted with my colleague Leo Havemann, a participant described Digital Accessibility as being akin to Escher’s staircase, and I believe that they are correct. We will never not need to consider accessibility as part of our learning and content designs, and it may at times be impossible to be 100% accessible to everyone. However, it doesn’t mean that this shouldn’t become part of our day-to-day practice. The recently launched Student Health and Wellbeing Strategy echoes this with Action 1D: Make key concepts related to disability awareness, inclusive learning, health and wellbeing an integral part of relevant professional services staff and Personal Tutor training. Incorporate these concepts into curriculum development, design and governance.

So, how do we make accessibility part of our everyday? The aim of the aforementioned workshop was to crowd-source ideas on how to create the cultural shift, but also to identify what we can do now to help affect our institutional cultures.

Screenshot of tweet by Kris Rogers showing workshop Lego modelFor creating a cultural shift, key themes were to obtain buy-in from senior leadership teams and to embed digital accessibility in induction, training and promotion/development requirements. Making it part of the institutional language and ways of working for all. There was an acknowledgement that we needed to be honest with colleagues that it would require additional effort and different ways of thinking and doing. However, this would reduce over time as a result of skills development, cultural shift and tools to help. There should also be a bottom-up approach facilitated by peer evaluation and creating a network of champions within and across institutions.

With regard to what we can do now, 15% solution, a key theme was walking the talk – demonstrating good practice through our own behaviours and leading the way for others to follow. Training and support were also key themes, as were demonstrating good practice and cultivating empathy.

There may well be dragons to face along the way, but they are worth facing for the creation of a more inclusive and equitable institution.

If you would like to run the workshop at your institution, the materials are available under CC BY-SA 4.0 license: DirectiveToDNA-AccessibilityWorkshop

The materials are also available via OpenEd@UCL.

Compassionate Pedagogy in Practice

SamanthaAhern3 July 2019

Abstract

Compassion can be defined as “a sensitivity to suffering in self and others with a commitment to try to alleviate and prevent it”(Gilbert, 2017). Compassionate pedagogy could be viewed as a response to a growing sense of zombification of the academy. A universal design for education approach to learning design and resource selection, informed in part by learning analytics, could be considered as components of a compassionate pedagogy. However, as compassion requires an innate motivation, it is this motivation rather than a formal framework or policy requirement that makes these activities the actions of a compassionate pedagogue.

Introduction

The development of massified Higher Education and growing concerns around the increasing use of data in both the ranking and management of Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) has led to a growing body of scholarly work around the notion of the Zombie Academy (Brabazon, 2016)(Moore, Walker, & Whelan, 2013).  Neo-liberal discourse and approaches to governance and accountability are increasingly commoditizing education and reducing the role of the student to consumers whilst simultaneously stripping the function and roles of our HEIs of their social, cultural and political meanings (Moore et al., 2013).

Simultaneously, there is a growing rise in literature around and a move towards compassionate pedagogy. Compassion can be defined as “a sensitivity to suffering in self and others with a commitment to try to alleviate and prevent it”(Gilbert, 2017). Teachers are said to show compassion towards students if they endeavour to see things from the students’ perspective (Waghid, 2014), however this omits the need for motivation to act in a way that is of benefit for students. This is encapsulated in (Hao, 2011)’s definition of Critical Compassionate Pedagogy: “a pedagogical commitment that allows educators to criticize institutional and classroom practices that ideologically underserve students at disadvantaged positions, while at the same time be self-reflexive of their actions through compassion as a daily commitment”.

Being a compassion pedagogue and developing compassionate pedagogy can therefore be said to be about the day-to-day choices made by educators. These choices will include decisions about learning design, selection of learning materials and the use of data to inform learning design and student feedback.

Compassionate Pedagogy in Practice

The increase in the proportion of young adults attending Higher Education Institutions has led to an increasingly diverse student intake (‘Who’s studying in HE?: Personal characteristics | HESA’, n.d.), however this is not always represented in the curricula or in how the curricula are presented to students.

In recent years there has been growing dissatisfaction with what some students describe as ‘pale, male and stale’ curricula. This has resulted in some high profile student campaigns to decolonise the curriculum at a number of leading UK universities including UCL (‘Why is My Curriculum White?’, n.d.) and Cambridge University (https://www.theguardian.com/education/2017/oct/25/cambridge-academics-seek-to-decolonise-english-syllabus), becoming a point of discussion and debate across the sector.

Selecting learning resources and situating learning in a manner that reflects the differing voices, perspectives and experiences of those generating and consuming knowledge are a fundamental part of compassionate pedagogy.

Even if our curricula are representative, how do we ensure an equity of experience for our students? Ableism in academia is endemic and so the concern for equality and equitability is on the increase (Brown & Leigh, 2018).  In 2016/17 12% of students were known to have a disability, many of whom may not have a visible disability (‘Who’s studying in HE?: Personal characteristics | HESA’, n.d.).  Therefore, learning design and design choices made when creating learning resources are also key components of an inclusive, compassionate learning environment. Examples of these choices may include automatically adding closed captions to all videos created by an instructor, avoiding the use of colour to infer meaning, ensuring resources are created in formats that are compatible with institutionally supported accessibility tools or selecting an open textbook as the main course text.

These can both be considered as examples of universal design in education (UDE), where UDE is defined as “the design of educational products and environments to be useable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialised design” (Burgstahler, 2015).  This requires the acknowledgement and consideration of the diverse characteristics of all eligible students, these may include ability, language, race, ethnicity, culture, gender, sexual orientation and age. Therefore, the application of universal design principles can be considered an act of compassion.

For a course at a HEI, the products and environment would include the curriculum, facilities and technology used in the course.  At a macro level this may be choosing teaching strategies, and at the micro, facilitating small group discussions.  For example, when using a learning method such as UCL’s ABC method, the products and environments will include considering the variety of learning types selected, the blend of online and offline activity and the assessment load, both formative and summative. The Learning Designer tool enables you to see how much time is spent on tasks and what percentage of directed time is spent on each learning type (‘Learning Designer’, n.d.). Additionally, tools such as the Exclusion Calculator created by the University of Cambridge enables the quantification of accessibility of resources and helps to prioritise improvements.

The role of data

Learning analytics is an ongoing trend and has been identified as one of the ‘Important Developments in Technology for Higher Education’ for 2018/19 (Becker et al., n.d.). Learning analytics has been defined as ‘the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of data about learners and their contexts, for purposes of understanding and optimising learning and the environments in which it occurs’(Siemens & Gasevic, 2012).

Higher Education Institutions store and generate a plethora of data about students and their interactions with the institution’s IT services and systems. Some of this data can be leveraged by educators to inform their practice and tailor student support. For example, the Echo 360 Active Learning Platform system enables students viewing recordings to flag content that they find confusing.  This data could then be used by the instructor to inform planning for forthcoming lectures or tutorials.  Demographic data could be used to identify students who may need additional support as they may have a specific learning difficulty or be first in family to attend university. It is also possible to identify students who may be over-using resources in an institution’s Virtual Learning Environment, e.g. repeatedly completing the same formative quiz, that may indicate support is required.

This data can be collated for different purposes; automated actions (e.g. email triggers) or as data for humans (e.g. tutors or students themselves) to interpret. An example of automated actions is Newcastle University’s Postgraduate Research Student attendance monitoring process undertaken by the Research Student Support Team (RSST) and the Medical Sciences Graduate School (MSGS). Of the three emails that can be sent to a student, the Level 1 email is an informal automated reminder sent to a student if there has been no recorded and confirmed meetings within 6 weeks (‘Attendance Monitoring’, n.d.).

However, this does not mean that actionable insights will necessarily be drawn or that action will take place. Motivation is required at institutional and practitioner level to make meaningful use of the data, returning us back to our notion of compassionate pedagogy and a motivation to criticize institutional and classroom practices for the benefit of students. An added complication are concerns around HEIs’ obligation to act on any data analyses, in particular providing adequate resources to ensure appropriate and effective interventions (Prinsloo & Slade, 2017).

Conclusion

In this paper we have discussed how accessible learning design and moves to liberate curricula can be perceived as acts of compassion, however these may be undertaken by non-compassionate pedagogues in response to mandated requirements from institutional management, for example UCL’s Inclusive Curriculum Health Check (UCL, 2018), potentially becoming another part of the zombie academy.

Likewise, we have identified that learning analytics can have a role to play. However, it too needs appropriately motivated institutions and staff to utilise this technology in a compassionate manner.

The key notion that separates compassion from empathy or sympathy is the desire to help, or in some definitions motivation to act.  It is this combination of awareness of others and motivation to act in a meaningful way, that determines whether a pedagogue is compassionate or not. These are not things that can be embedded in a formal framework or policy document, but are a culture and mindset that need to be cultivated.

References

Attendance Monitoring. (n.d.). Retrieved 18 September 2018, from https://www.ncl.ac.uk/students/progress/student-resources/PGR/keyactivities/AttendanceMonitoring.htm

Becker, S. A., Brown, M., Dahlstrom, E., Davis, A., DePaul, K., Diaz, V., & Pomerantz, J. (n.d.). Horizon Report: 2018 Higher Education Edition, 60.

Brabazon, T. (2016). Don’t Fear the Reaper? The Zombie University and Eating Braaaains. KOME, 4(2). https://doi.org/10.17646/KOME.2016.21

Brown, N., & Leigh, J. (2018). Ableism in academia: where are the disabled and ill academics? Disability & Society, 33(6), 985–989. https://doi.org/10.1080/09687599.2018.1455627

Burgstahler, S. (2015). Universal design in higher education : from principles to practice / edited by Sheryl E. Burgstahler (2nd ed.). Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard Education Press.

Gilbert, P. (Ed.). (2017). Compassion: Concepts, Research and Applications (1 edition). London ; New York: Routledge.

Hao, R. N. (2011). Critical compassionate pedagogy and the teacher’s role in first‐generation student success. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 2011(127), 91–98. https://doi.org/10.1002/tl.460

Learning Designer. (n.d.). Retrieved 17 September 2018, from https://www.ucl.ac.uk/learning-designer/index.php

Moore, C., editor of compilation, Walker, R., editor of compilation, & Whelan, A., editor of compilation. (2013). Zombies in the academy : living death in higher education / [edited by] Andrew Whelan, Ruth Walker and Christopher Moore. Bristol : Intellect.

Prinsloo, P., & Slade, S. (2017). An elephant in the learning analytics room: the obligation to act (pp. 46–55). ACM Press. https://doi.org/10.1145/3027385.3027406

Siemens, G., & Gasevic, D. (2012). Guest editorial-Learning and knowledge analytics. Educational Technology & Society, 15(3), 1–2.

UCL. (2018, May 11). New checklist helps staff rate inclusivity of their programmes. Retrieved 17 September 2018, from https://www.ucl.ac.uk/teaching-learning/news/2018/may/new-checklist-helps-staff-rate-inclusivity-their-programmes

Waghid, Y. (2014). Pedagogy Out of Bounds: Untamed Variations of Democratic Education. Sense Publishers. Retrieved from //www.springer.com/la/book/9789462096165

Who’s studying in HE?: Personal characteristics | HESA. (n.d.). Retrieved 9 September 2018, from https://www.hesa.ac.uk/data-and-analysis/students/whos-in-he/characteristics

Why is My Curriculum White? – Decolonising the Academy @ NUS connect. (n.d.). Retrieved 10 September 2018, from https://www.nusconnect.org.uk/articles/why-is-my-curriculum-white-decolonising-the-academy

Improving Inclusivity – observations from the UCL Education Conference 2019

EliotHoving9 April 2019

I had the opportunity to attend the 2019 UCL Education Conference on Monday 1st April 2019. The conference was themed around:

  • Widening participation
  • BME (Black Minority Ethnic) Attainment
  • Assessment and Feedback
  • Supporting student success
  • Digital education and innovations

Although it was April Fool’s day, and Brexit loomed large, the conference was full of sober analysis and creative initiatives.

The opening plenary by Anne-Marie Canning MBE challenged Universities to play a greater role in promoting inclusivity in their internal practices, and in the broader public sphere as powerful and influential institutions capable of bringing about change. A subsequent panel discussion raised plenty of questions over the structural and everyday challenges to inclusivity, including whether inclusivity was a process or an outcome. This set the tone for the workshop sessions for the remainder of the day. I attended three sessions, which were part of the Digital education and innovations stream of the conference. Each session demonstrated a creative and pragmatic way to improve inclusivity in the classroom.

Photo by Kane Reinholdtsen on Unsplash

Multisensory and personalised feedback

Maria Sibiryakova presented her approach to teaching writing in Russian. She highlighted the challenge of teaching to a diverse cohort where students can have different experiences of living in Russia and different interests in learning Russian. In the course, students complete seven mini-essays (500 words each) and Maria provides audio and written feedback to students, which combine to “feedforward” into the next assessment.

Maria presented some of the benefits of using audio feedback, including:

  • Multisensory feedback – hence more accessible,
  • Improves teaching presence – students hear you and your voice,
  • Conversational and personalised feedback, and
  • Often quicker to produce.

Maria used a tool called VoiceThread, which has some intriguing features. It’s also possible to deliver audio feedback using Turnitin Assignment.

Photo by Adi Chrisworo on Unsplash

Open in class discussion with Moodle Hot Questions

Rebecca Yerworth and one of her students, Xu Zhao, demonstrated how Moodle’s Hot Question activity can facilitate in-class discussions.

The Moodle Hot Question activity allows for students to submit questions and/or answers via Moodle on their phone or laptop. This facilitates class discussion by increasing the participation of students who otherwise wouldn’t speak up in class due to personal or cultural reasons. Rebecca moderates the discussion live in class, answers questions, and draws out connections between different student answers. She also finds the Hot Questions activity flexible to use as it can be enabled in Moodle and switched on with a click of a button when a new discussion is needed.

Photo by Belinda Fewings on Unsplash

Welcoming new Chemistry students through a Moodle module

Dr Stephen E. Potts presented on the development of a Moodle module for welcoming new Chemistry students.

The UCL Chemistry Undergraduate Welcome Page introduces students to the Department, their degree programme, a typical timetable, Lab safety, and even how to submit an assignment on Moodle. It also includes some fun stuff like how to join the UCL Chemical and Physical Society and a collection of molecules with silly names. The module is designed to be delivered completely online, so is Baseline+ compliant, and is released to students when they are registered but before they arrive on campus.

I found the module was a great example of making Moodle look good (yes, it’s possible!). It was visually enticing, clearly structured, and combined quiz activities, video, text and image to engage students. The course has received positive feedback so far, and Stephen plans to build on the module, possibly to include multi-lingual content. I was also really impressed by the virtual tour of the Department. Students click through main buildings and labs, in a similar manner to Google maps, and can also click on information points to view location specific information. The tour was created using a 360 camera and Google Poly.

These three presentations demonstrated some of the everyday ways that inclusivity can be improved through teaching practice and technology. They also showed that improving inclusivity can often be accomplished as part of improving student engagement overall. There was much more to the conference than can be summarised here, and you can read the conference Abstracts to find out more. A tremendous thank you to all the organisers and presenters!