X Close

Digital Education team blog

Home

Ideas and reflections from UCL's Digital Education team

Menu

Archive for the 'Our Views' Category

RStudio v1.4 – new stuff

Jim R Tyson16 June 2021

I am a massive fan of RStudio.  Not just for R development and data analysis.  I use RStudio a lot in writing learning materials, recently for R, but also for Pyton and Stata using literate programming techniques and the learnr package (yes, you can include Stata code in markdown documents with a little work!)

There are a whole bunch of (no doubt wonderful) things in this Preview release that I haven’t yet bothered to look at, but somethings have got my immediate attention.

The visual markdown editor

I have mixed feelings about this. I know that visual editing – that is, something partway towards WYSIWYG, a la Word – is appreciated by lots of people, but I loathe it. I took up LaTeX a long time ago to get away from Microsoft Word (and, not to boast, I am a very proficient Word user). But, even I found that 90 per cent of the time, LaTeX was too complicated for what I needed. Hoorah for Markdown.

RStudio actually provided my first introduction to Markdown and I revelled in it from the beginning, especially combined with Pandoc: one source many ouputs! At last the world was beginning to understand.  Write in one simple lightweight format and get HTML, PDF, DOCX and other formats automatically.  And of course it put literate programming within easy reach of all R programmers and learners. With the learnr package writing R study materials is a breeze.

But, still some people don’t like plain text editing. Well, the 1.4 Preview shows off the new visual editor. It’s not a complete WYSYWIG offer like Word, but it does show you a live close to end-result preview and has menus to formatting, layout, tables, images, citations. If you really don’t like typing text this may be just what you are looking for to push you that last step into literate data analysis with R and RMarkdown.

Inserting citations with Zotero

Yes, zotero users can now use the source editor to insert citations with point and click – just like Word users. There is no need to first export the references to a BibTeX file first – RStudio handles that for you. Using BibTeX is another thing that people have sometimes mentioned when talking about the difficulty of writing in Rmarkdown.

New Python functionality

And then, oh joy, the new python functionality. I find that very few people are aware that it’s a breeze to combine Python and R code using Rmarkdown documents, although it may take some effort to understand all the set-up requirements for python chunks at first: it took me 15 minutes the first time I tried to run import numpy as np!

Now, this new release adds tools for configuring python, conda and virtual environments. For me the real advance though is somewhat simpler: now you can see python data objects in the RStudio environment pane and view python dataframes in the normal way.

Rainbows!

The last of the new features I know I will use is the introduction of ‘rainbow’ parentheses. Nothing to with Pride month apparently, just adding colour coded bracketing to help you balance your parentheses.

Time to give R (and Python) with RStudio another look

If the user interface has put you off moving to R and RStudio, then now is definitely a time to have another look. Especially for Stata users, complexity and ease of use really aren’t a reason to prefer Stata any more and the move to R coding really isn’t that difficult.

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.


Background

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

Digital Education will be running regular training sessions running from week commencing 12 April 2021. These sessions will cover marking using the AssessmentUCL platform and alternative marking methods including using PDF documents. The session is relevant to markers, moderators, the Module Lead and Exams Liaison Officer. This session will run multiple times at the following dates and times:

2pm-3pm Monday 12 April (this session will be captioned)
2pm-3pm Tuesday 13 April
11am-12pm Thursday 15 April
2pm-3pm Monday 19 April
2pm-3pm Wednesday 21 April (this session will be captioned)
11am-12pm Friday 23 April
2pm-3pm Monday 26 April
2pm-3pm Tuesday 27 April (this session will be captioned)
11am-12pm Thursday 29 April
11am-12pm Tuesday 4 May
3pm-4pm Wednesday 5 May
11am-12pm Friday 7 May (this session will be captioned)
2pm-3pm Monday 10 May
11am-12pm Wednesday 12 May
2pm-3pm Monday 17 May
2pm-3pm Thursday 20 May
2pm-3pm Tuesday 26 May
2pm-3pm Thursday 3 June

There is no need to book for these sessions, you can just join on the day (UCL Login required).

There is a recording of one of these training sessions that you can watch (UCL staff login required) and the slides used in the training session which can be downloaded.

There are also daily drop-ins that run from 3pm-4pm every weekday (except bank holidays). You can find the link for these and join immediately.

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

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.

Call for participants: research study investigating student advisor use of learning analytics dashboards

Samantha Ahern6 January 2021

Participants required for the following study: Uses of learning analytics dashboards / visualisations in student advising

This study has been approved by the UCL Research Ethics Committee, study: 8673/006 and is registered under reference No Z6364106/2020/11/19 social research in line with UCL’s Data Protection Policy.

Learning analytics implementations are predominantly designed for use by those supporting students there is a need to connect the literature on advising and tutoring with any research into the impacts of learning analytics on student behaviour. In terms of both learning behaviours and welfare (wellbeing and mental health).

This research aims to provide an overview of what is currently perceived as best practice in advising and tutoring. In this context, we will critically review the current literature on dashboard/visualisation design and investigate their use by student advisors with the aim of identifying any synergies and conflicts that exist. With the aim of providing recommendations on how to improve dashboard / visualisation design.
The study is looking to recruit HEI Student Advisors (incl. Personal tutors) to share their experiences of using Learning Analytics dashboards/ visualisations. This will initially be via an online survey.

For details of the study please view the study’s Information Sheet.

If you would like to participate in the study please visit the online survey.

The project lead is: Samantha Ahern, Digital Education – Information Services Division

 

 

Kindness, community and pedagogies of care

Samantha Ahern8 December 2020

Research has shown that kindness has a positive effect on the giver to varying degrees. But, how do we embed this into our communities and develop pedagogies of care? How can we use kindness as a means of combating growing social isolation and loneliness?

 

In this context I am not referring to random acts of kindness, but relational and radical kindness. Relational kindness enables deep, meaningful connections between individuals by recognising the vulnerabilities and complexities of relationships. Radical kindness perceives kindness as a collective and state enabled response to inequality. It requires connection across differences and a recognition that some people’s needs are greater because of structural disadvantage. In an educational context, state could be akin to a an inidivudal institution, department or programme.

The key theme, is relationships and communities. What is needed to facilitate kindness, how can we create kind spaces and how do we create informal opportunities? Can we create informal spaces for students to just “be”? Conversations can be very powerful in bringing people together, but rely on people feeling comfortable and agenda free, neutral, spaces.

In addition to encouraging individual kindness, we need to embed kindness into our own behaviours. In our pedagogy, teaching departments and across our institutions. In the past I have written about digital wellbeing and compassionate pedagogy. Both of these have a role to play in relational and radical kindness, in addition to resources such as Equity Unbound’s Community Building Activites.

However, this is only part of the picture. We also need to consider our culture, how can we make people more important than processes, how to build a culture of trust and how to listen and making meaningful connections.

There have been some fantastic projects from the Kindness Innovation Netowrk on facilitating kindness in communities and in their interactions with local authorities. How can we translate thee lessons to our learning communities?

Compassionate pedagogy is a good start, but we also need to provide students with spaces to be, trusting them, giving them voice and truly enable them to co-construct their learning. Teach to transgress.

Additional resources:

References: