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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:

Randomising Questions and Variables with Moodle Quiz

Eliot Hoving8 December 2020

One of the strengths of Moodle Quizzes is the ability to randomise questions. This feature can help deter student collusion.

There are several ways to randomise questions in a Moodle Quiz, which can be combined or used separately. Simple examples are provided here but more complex questions and variables can be created. 

Randomising the Question response options

It’s possible to shuffle the response options within many question types, including Multiple Choice Questions and Matching Question. When setting up a Quiz, simply look under Question behaviour, and change Shuffle within questions to Yes 

Randomising the order of Questions

You can also randomise the order of questions in a Quiz. Click Edit Quiz Questions in your Quiz, click the Shuffle tick box at the top of the page. Questions will now appear in a random order for each student. 

Randomising the Questions

It’s possible to add random questions from pre-defined question Categories. Think of Categories as containers of Quiz questions. They can be based on topic area, e.g. ‘Dosage’, ‘Pharmokinetics‘, ‘Pharmacology’, ‘Patient Consultation’ or they can be based on questions for a specific assessment e.g. ‘Exam questions container 1’, ‘Exam questions container 2’, ‘Exam questions container 3’. 

The first step is to create your Categories.

Then when adding questions to your Quiz, select add a random question and choose the Category. You can also choose how many random questions to add from the Category. 

Under the Add a question option in Moodle Quiz, you can select Add a random question.

For example, if you had a quiz of 10 questions, and you want to give students a random question out of 3 options for each question, you would need 10 Categories, each holding 3 questions e.g. ‘Exam Q1 container’, ‘Exam Q2 container’ … ‘Exam Q10 container’. 

Alternatively, if you want a quiz with 10 questions from ‘Pharmokinetics‘, and 10 from ‘Pharmacology’ you could create the two Categories with their questions, then go to your Quiz and add a random question, select the ‘Pharmokinetics‘ Category, and choose 10 questions. Repeat for ‘Pharmacology’. You now have a 20 question quiz made up of 50%  Pharmokinetics and Pharmacology questions.  

After saving a random question/s you can add further random questions or add regular questions that will appear for all students. Simply add a question from the question bank as normal.  

Be aware, that randomising questions will reduce the reliability of your Moodle Quiz statistics. For example the discrimination index will be calculated on the Quiz question overall, e.g. Q2, not on each variation of the question that may have been randomly selected from, i.e. all the questions from the Exam Q2 container. Each question variation will have fewer attempts compared to if the question was given to all students, so any analytics based on these fewer attempts will be less accurate.  

Randomising variables within Questions:

In addition to randomising questions, certain question types can have randomised variables within them. 

The STACK question type supports complex mathematical questions, which can include random variables. For example you could set some variables, a and b, as follows:

a = rand(6)  (where rand(6) takes a random value from the list [0,1,2,3,4,5,6]).

b = rand(2)  (where rand(2) takes some random value from the list [0,1,2]).

Variables can then be used within questions, so students could be asked to integrate a×xb which thanks to my random variables will generate 21 different questions for my students e.g. integrate 0×x0, 0×x, 0×x2, x0, x, x2, 2x0, 2x, 2x2 …  5x0, 5x, 5x2, 6x0, 6x, 6x2.

Random variants can be generated, tested, and excluded if they are inappropriate, in the above case I might exclude a = 0 as the question equation would evaluate to 0, whereas I want students to integrate a non-zero algebraic expression.  

The Calculated question type also supports randomising variables as well as  basic calculation questions for maths and scientific assessment. Calculated questions can be free entry or multiple choice. For example you could ask students to calculate the area of a rectangle. The width and height would be set to wild card values, let’s call them

{w} for width, and

{h} for height.

The answer is always width × height or {w} × {h} regardless of the values of {w} and {h}. Moodle calls this the answer formula.

The tutor then sets the possible values of {w} and {h} for the student by creating a dataset of possible values for Moodle to randomly select from. To create your dataset, you first define your wild card values e.g. {w} will take some value between 1 and 10, and {h} to take some value from 10 to 20.  You can then ask Moodle to generate sets of your variables, e.g. 10, 50, or 100 possible combinations of {w} and {h} based on the conditions you define. For example, given the conditions above, I could generate the following 3 sets: 

Set 1: {w} = 1, {h} = 14 

Set 2: {w} = 6.2, {h} = 19.3 

Set 3: {w} = 9.1, {h} = 11 

Creating a dataset can be somewhat confusing, so make sure you leave enough time to read the Calculated question type documentation and test it out. Once complete, Moodle can now provide students with potentially 100s of random values of {w} and {h} based on your dataset. Using the answer formula, you provide, Moodle can evaluate the student’s response and automatically grade the student’s answer regardless of what random variables they are given. 

Try a Randomised Quiz

To learn more, take an example randomised quiz on the Marvellous Moodle Examples course.

Speak to a Learning Technologist for further support

Contact Digital Education at digi-ed@ucl.ac.uk for advice and further support.

Lecturecast: what analytics should you use?

Samantha Ahern22 October 2020

There are two types of analytics available from within Lecturecast (Echo360), these are:

The course analytics will provide information about student use of the ALP tools, in addition to interactions with the inidividual media resources. The individual media analytics only provides analytics about the specific media item.

Which set of analytics you use, will depend on how you have added Lecturecast materials to your Moodle course.

If you have embedded recordings in your Moodle course using the Atto editor:

Atto editor toolbar highlighting Echo360 plugin

 

 

Then to obtain accurate viewing data for the recording you should use the Individual media analytics.

Please note that students will not have access to the addiitonal tools such as confusion flags and note taking if recordings are added in this way.

Whereas, if you have linked to recordings ore presentations via the Lecturecast activity in Moodle, you would use the Course and student analytics.

Zoom and Blackboard Collaborate gotchas – don’t get caught out!

Eliot Hoving21 October 2020

Using new technologies for the first time, or in a new way, can be challenging. Not everything goes right first time. This is certainly the case with using webinar tools such as Zoom and Blackboard Collaborate to teach online. There are numerous “gotchas” or unexpected outcomes caused by any number of often opaque settings, differing teminologies, varied scenarios and workflows, and half-way integrations. 

To assist staff in avoiding some of the common pitfalls, Faculty Learning Technologist Neil Roberts and Digital Education reached out to staff across UCL to find and share the common issues or “gotchas” that can emerge when using Zoom and Blackboard Collaborate.  We provide them below.  

If you have your own gotchas to add, please contact digi-ed@ucl.ac.uk. This guidance is subject to change as new gotchas, tips and features are discovered. For the latest guidance always check the relevant UCL staff guide, and when in doubt, contact zoomsupport@ucl.ac.uk for Zoom guidance or contact digi-ed@ucl.ac.uk  for Blackboard Collabaorate guidance.

 Zoom through Moodle gotchas: 

These gotchas refer to Zoom meetings created directly in Moodle using the Zoom meeting plugin. 

  • Only UCL Zoom account holders can be made alternative hosts through the Moodle plugin.  
  • You can only schedule a meeting on behalf of another user if you have obtained scheduling privileges from them. See the Zoom ‘scheduling privileges’ guide. 
  • You can only pre-assign breakout rooms and create polls in advance of a meeting if you are the host of the meeting. Whilst you can create your Zoom meeting in Moodle, to configure breakout rooms and polls you must edit your meeting in the Zoom web portal. These options are not currently available in the Zoom Moodle plugin. 
  • If you receive a ‘Zoom received a bad request: {$a} error message’ when creating a Zoom meeting on Moodle, it is likely your Zoom meeting password is not secure enough. Please enter a more secure password!   
  • Students don’t need the password to join a Zoom meeting created in Moodle. All students need to join a Zoom meeting, is to click the join meeting button on Moodle. 
  • When scheduling for a guest with a non UCL email address you must be in the meeting to hand over the host access.
  • Zoom recordings will be automatically transferred to the host’s personal library on Lecturecast. This process is usually quite quick but can take 72 hours for Zoom to prepare the recording, plus an additional 24 hours for the transfer to Lecturecast.

Zoom gotchas:

These gotchas refer to using Zoom directly, either via the Desktop app or web portal. 

  • Zoom join links include the password so don’t share them publicly 
  • There can only ever be one host in a meeting who has full control. Adding an alternative host won’t allow more than one person to fully control session. 
  • A host can only have 1 meeting running at one time. If you want to run multiple meetings beginning at the same time for different groups of students, you should create one meeting and use breakout rooms. If you definitely need seperate Zoom meetings, ensure there is a different host for each meeting. Note. having a different alternative host per meeting does not get around the restriction that a host can only have 1 meeting at one time. To schedule meetings on behalf of another user, see Zoom ‘scheduling privileges’ guide.
  • A UCL person needs to claim their Zoom account to be designated an alternative host. 
  • You can only pre-assign up to 200 people in breakout rooms 
  • If the host loses internet connection, and there is no co-host, a random participant will become the host. If the host rejoins, there may be some delay before host permissions are restored. 
  • If you have paid for a live transcription service, the ‘ api token’ required to transcribe a meeting can only be generated 24 hours before the meeting. There are many more accessibility tips for using Zoom.
  • It may take up to 72 hours for a Zoom video recording to be processed during busy times.  
  • Zoom recording file sizes can often be very large, and can therefore take a long time to download for you and your students. Consider stop-starting your Zoom recording to create multiple files of more manageable lengths and file sizes. 
  • Zoom may not show webcam input if Teams is running in background. When in doubt, turn off Teams. 
  • The chat view is limited as there is only one text box. It is hard to search through individual conversations. 

Blackboard Collaborate gotchas:

These gotchas refer to using Blackboard Collaborate. 

  • Convert to PDF before uploading slides. This will enable you to check fonts and formatting – if you are doing this on someone else’s behalf remember some fonts may not be supported and so wording may be illegible.  
  • Uploaded files are converted to pdf type format (actually Blackboard’s internal whiteboard format) so you can’t use animations/transitions in PowerPoint. 
  • Consider using the PPSpliT plugin to preserve text reveals (such as bulletpoints) when converting to PDF. Because the plugin alters the document, use it on a copied version of the document. 
  • Let one person be in charge of creating breakout rooms. Breakout configuration is not shared with others until rooms are enabled, so another organiser could create a competing set of rooms and overwrite yours. 
  • The stop breakout rooms buttons don’t have an ‘are you sure’ interlock – very easy to end a breakout session prematurely, which loses all the rooms’ contents and requires someone to manually rebuild the groups (if the groups were random, they may not be easily recreatable). 
  • Content created in breakout rooms is lost when they are stopped – it is possible to copy things out before that, otherwise have participants make screenshots. 
  • Anything draft/not activated isn’t saved if you are removed from a session – this could be text, a poll or breakout room configurations. 
  • As a moderator, don’t enter a Blackboard session from Moodle when you are in student view. This will pull you in to the session as if you were a student so you would only have a standard participant role and not be able to control session. 
  • Using Edge as your browser can cause problems with interface – recommendation use Chrome/Firefox/Safari only.  
  • Sharing a PowerPoint presentation full screen to make use of animations means you can’t see the chat. Workaround: Get around this by using ‘browsed by an individual view’ in PowerPoint and rearrange screen accordingly. This video from BBCU explains when to use Share files with pptx, and when and how to use PowerPoint on share screen in an individual window to be able to see the chat and session controls. 
  • Sharing a video application may not always broadcast the sound – check this before start of any session. 
  • The stop share buttons don’t have an ‘are you sure’ interlock – very easy to accidentally close an activity. 
  • Chat history is not available to new participants. If you leave session and rejoin the chat history is lost. 
  • If you use the eraser while using the Blackboard Collaborate whiteboard it erases everything on the whiteboard immediately.