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Minimise eye-strain with the BeeLine Reader alternative format

EliotHoving31 March 2020

The BeeLine Reader alternative format is now available on UCL Moodle for students and staff.

You and your students have almost certainly felt eye-strain from too many hours reading online, or confusion at staring at a wall of internet text and not knowing where to begin.

The BeeLine Reader provides an innovative solution. It works by adding a colour-gradient to text which allows the eye to focus and move along one line to the next. It designed to make reading online quicker and easier on the eyes. Here’s an example.

With the BeeLine Format:

Beeling alternative format. Font colour of text has a colour gradient to help with reading.

Without: 

Text before Beeline format. Font colour is black.

Example Text: Aerogel by Dr Zoe Laughlin licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

I personally found that it took a while to get used to the BeeLine colours, but thereafter I was able to identify key headings and sentences much more effectively.

You can try out the BeeLine Reader on your UCL Moodle course now. Simply locate a Word or PDF document, click the Ally download icon net to the file name and select BeeLine Reader. Ally will convert the document to an HTML file for you to read in your browser with the BeeLine colour gradient.

Due to COVID-19, students are likely to be reading more content online now that they don’t have access to UCL printing services. BeeLine Reader and Ally’s other alternative formats can greatly assist all students, especially those with specific needs, to effectively engage with digital content whilst supporting their health and wellbeing, so please recommend Ally’s alternative formats to your students. You can learn more about Blackboard Ally by reading the staff guide or promote it to students using the student guide.

New Accessibility Tool lets you customise Moodle

EliotHoving20 January 2020

A new Moodle plugin, the Accessibility Tool, will be available on Wednesday 22nd January 2020 for staff and students.

The tool allows students and staff to customise the appearance of the Moodle platform through changing Moodle’s colour scheme, font style, readability and text size. The tool can help reduce eye strain and improve concentration. Changes made using the tool only apply to the user, and only apply to the Moodle platform, not documents uploaded or stored on Moodle.

Green on Black Colour Scheme:

Moodle platform where 'Green text on a black background' colour scheme has been selected via the Accessibility Tool.

White on Grey Colour Scheme:

Moodle platform where 'White text on a grey background' colour scheme has been selected via the Accessibility Tool.

Text Size – default

Default Text size on Moodle.

Text Size – Massive text size

Massive text size, which is larger than the Default text size.

How to edit your accessibility preferences?

To customise your preferences, simply:

  1. Log onto Moodle
  2. Click on your name on the top right of Moodle to open up the user menu.
  3. Select Accessibility Tool.

Moodle's user menu contains the Accessibility tool option where you can customise Moodle's appearance to suit your needs.

The release of the Accessibility Tool follows on from Digital Education’s efforts to improve the accessibility of Moodle content through training and support and releasing Blackboard Ally. See the Creating accessible content webpage for more detail.

Students and staff can be directed towards this blog post to learn about the Accessibility Tool, or alternatively to the updated Staff guide or Student guide.

If you have any questions please contact Digital Education at digi-ed@ucl.ac.uk.

Check your Moodle course with Ally’s course accessibility report

EliotHoving13 November 2019

Blackboard Ally now includes a course accessibility report for every UCL Moodle course.

The course report shows you:

  • a course accessibility score,
  • a summary of the different types of content on your course, and
  • a list of all the issues identified on your course, including an “easy to fix” summary and a “low scoring content” summary.

Decorative image showing Ally's course report

To view Ally’s report on your course, tutors or course admins simply go to their Moodle course and click Accessibility report under the Navigation block. You can also run the report in the Administration block by clicking Reports and then Accessibility report.

Ally helps you prioritise work and track your progress:

The report allows staff to work through a series of files with low accessibility scores or focus on a single issue that may appear in multiple files.

From the report, staff can view “easy to fix” issues, such as documents that are more easily editable (PowerPoints and Word Documents). Ally considers adding alternative descriptions to images as “easy to fix” because you can add alternative descriptions directly using Ally without the need to download, edit and upload the file. This is a nice time-saver but writing alternative descriptions can be challenging, for advice see our guide on Visuals and use of colour.

The Ally course report will also update over time to allow staff to track their progress.

Ally also flags HTML content on your Moodle course:

HTML content refers to content that is written into Moodle such as text added to a Moodle section, page, book, or label through Moodle’s text editor. Ally can help identify text with insufficient colour contrast and unused formatting that can arise when Moodle content is copied and pasted from Word. However, fixing HTML issues can be challenging so, for now, we suggest staff focus on Ally’s guidance on their documents.

If you have any questions, please see the Blackboard Ally UCL wiki or get in touch with digi-ed@ucl.ac.uk.

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.

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.

 

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!