X Close

Digital Education team blog


Ideas and reflections from UCL's Digital Education team


Archive for the 'Samantha’s Scribbles' Category

Is it time to get wiki’d?

By Samantha Ahern, on 21 April 2020

The Wikimedia Foundation is a nonprofit organisation that hosts Wikipedia amongst other free knowledge projects. At present there are 12 projects, but the projects of particular interest to educators are:

  • Wikipedia – the online encyclopedia;
  • Wikidata – an open database and central storage for structured data;
  • Wikimedia Commons – a host of media files and their metadata;
  • Wikibooks – a collaborative, instructional non-fiction book authoring website.

These can be used in a variety of ways to develop skills. Wikimedia UK have produced a report mapping engagement with the projects to existing digital skills frameworks in the UK, which can be read on Wikimedia UK’s website: https://wikimedia.org.uk/wiki/Education.

Wikimedia at UCL

UCL has hosted a number of Wikipedia edit-a-thons, recent events have included:

  • Teaching translation through Wikipedia, 2015;
  • WCCWiki Workshop, September 2018;
  • International Women’s Day wiki edit-a-thon, May 2019;
  • TrowelBlazers Wikimedia Edit-a-thon, November 2019.

The interdiscplinary BASc  course  core module BASC0001 Approaches to Knowledge requires students to contribute to the wikibook ‘Issues in Disciplinarity’. This assessment was first introduced in 2018/19 with publication of the initial Open Education Resource and Open Access book: Issues in Interdisciplinarity 2018-19. This assignment has become an ongoing assessment and this year’s students have been contributing to Issues in Interdisciplinarity 2019-20. More information about the project is given in the Wikimedia UK blog post University College London undergraduates will create their own course text using Wikibooks.

However, Wikimedia projects are not generally used within a teaching and learning context. This is unfortunate as Wikimedia projects can be used to create authentic tasks and assessments that align with the Connected Curriculum.

Wikimedia in Education

Wikimedia UK and the University of Edinburgh recently combined forces to produce the ebook Wikimedia in Education. This ebook outlines how Wikimedia projects can support the development of students’s digital capabilities. But, more importantly, it provides 14 case studies from a range of disciplines and institutions on how they have embedded Wikimedia projects in their courses.

It is hoped that these case studies will inspire further use of Wikimedia projects in Higher Education. I am hoping that this will be the case within UCL.


If you are interested in Wikimedia projects or open education more generally you are invited to join the OpenEd@UCL community. You can do this by joining our MS Teams team OpenEd@UCL. The purpose of the team is to share ideas and resources. It will also be a communication channel between the OpenEd@UCL core team and the wider special interest group. This will include information about upcoming meetings and updates on activities.

To find out more about UCL’s institutional repository for uploading, publishing, storing, and sharing Open Educational Resources visit the Open Education at UCL pages.

Lecturecast: Viewed and understood?

By Samantha Ahern, on 16 April 2020

For many staff and students Lecturecast is a regular feature of their teaching and learning experience. With the transition to remote provision, it has become one of the core tools. Either via new captures using Lecturecast Universal Capture Personal or the release of previous captures to current cohorts.

How are students interacting with these captures and what could this tell us about their understanding?

The Active Learning Platform (ALP)

Lecturecast is UCL’s internal branding of Echo 360, the service that we use for lecture capture. The Echo 360 Active Learning Platform, ALP, provides a range of features, not just the hosting of lecture recordings.

The interactive features of the platform include:

Recently a number of UCL academic colleagues, Prof Andrea Townsend-Nicholson, Prof John Mitchell and Dr Parama Chaudhury, took part in the webinar Live Panel Discussion: Is it Time for the University Lecture to Evolve?. During the discussion the system’s interactive features are touched upon.

These features can help students manage their learning, but can also provide you with an insight into your students’ understanding. Most of these features can be used for re-released and personally captured content, they do not neccesarily rely on a live teaching event.

More information is available in the ALP Resource Centre.

Analytics Reports

The Active Learning Platform, much like Moodle, collects a lot of data about interactions with the platform. There are a number of analytics reports available to you as the course instructor.

These are:

Video analytics

Screenshot showing the video analytics and overlaid heatmap for an example video

Example: Video analytics and heat map

Particularly useful information is the unique number of views, average view time and the heatmap overlay. The heatmap identifies the most commonly viewed segments of the video.

Course analytics – Classes data

Screenshot of Course analytics - Class for an example course

Example: Course analytics – Classes data

This gives an overall view of video and slide deck views, student interactions and confusion flags enabled. The confusion flags are particularly useful as it allows you to gain an insight into what students are potentially not understanding. You are also able to review students’ performance in embedded polling activity. These could then be used to inform future sessions or the provision of additional resources.

Course analytics – Student data

The same information as for the class, but for individual students.

Screensot showing Class Analytics - Students for an example course

Example: Course analytics – Student data


All of these data will enable you gain an insight into how your students are interacting with resources and potentially identify any sticky topics. However, as always they only tell part of the story and should be used with caution. For more guidance on using these analytics please review Digital Education’s Lecturecast Data Analytics Guides.


Moodle: How do students use yours?

By Samantha Ahern, on 15 April 2020

Moodle is what UCL uses for it’s institutional Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). It is an important part of the student experience and facilitates blended learning. How integrated Moodle courses are with the overall delivery of  modules vary, but all courses should meet UCL’s E-learning baseline.

Your Moodle courses will contain a variety of resources and activities, but how do we know what students are engaging with and when? Are any changes you’ve made to the course having the desired effect?

This is where Moodle reports can help.

Moodle reports are available to tutors and course administrators of a Moodle course. There are six reports available in the Course administration block in your Moodle course. These are:

  • Accessibility Report,
  • Logs,
  • Live Logs,
  • My feedback,
  • Activity Report,
  • and Course Participation.

The four reports that are most useful are Accessibility Report, Live Logs, Activity Reports and Course participation.

The Accessibility Reports is the report produced by Blackboard Ally and will open in a new window. It will give you an overview of the accessibility of your course, a breakdown of the content types and show you the accessibility scores and number of issues for each item in your course.

Information about the Live Logs, Activity Reports and Course participation report are available in the UCL Moodle Staff Guide. 

Why should we be interested in these reports?

By regularly reviewing reports we are able to identify the following:

  • Identify which resources students are using
  • The pattern of student usage
  • An indication of student engagement

I’ve said indication as Moodle interaction in and of itself does not determine how engaged a student is with their course or the course materials.

Resource use

Activity report example - how views of a resource and how many unique users have made those views.

Activity report examples

This a section of the Activity report for one of the Moodle courses I administrate. The report shows how many views each resource has had and the number of unique users who have viewed it.

We can see that Share Accessibility Ideas has had 24 views by 7 users, on average each user has looked at the page 3 times. Although it is as likely that 1 person has viewed it 18 times and everyone else just the once.

Although we won’t know the exact usage, it does give us an indication of what recources are popular and what is revisited. This will enable you to identify what resources students are accessing and what they are not choosing to access or unable to identify as being important.

As always, statistics only tell part of the story, but they give you a jumping off point for further investigation including student feedback.

Keeping on track

Activity completion tracking will give you an indication of your students’ activity within the Moodle. It will help you identify those students that are potentially off-track.

Course participation report showing activity completion for a section of the course

Course participation report example

Activity Completion report showing with students have completed which tasks.

Activity Completion report example

The Activity Completion report is available on courses where course completion is enabled. Where this is the case you can specify the tasks to have a completion status. A completion tick box will be located next to the activity. These can be set to manual or automatic completion. This can be especially useful where there are core activities you want students to complete or access.

The Course participation report is available for all courses. The report enables you to review who has completed All Actions for each Activity module within the course. The Activity module optins will vary depending on the content of your course, as shown below:

Activity Module list for Course participation report illustrating inclusion of Books and Lessons in addition to Forums and Quizzes

Activity Module list for Course participation report for Course A

Activity Module option list for Course participation report of a course with less variety of resource type.

Activity Module option list for Course participation report of course B

As you can see for some items on this list there is no real notion of completion. So in some cases this may indicate that a student has accessed that particular resource. In this report so can also specify the time period of review, from 1 to multiple weeks. From this screen you are able to send a message to a student or group of students, providing a feedback opportunity.

Note of caution

Moodle reports enable course administrators to monitor activity in the course and to see what resources in the course are or are not being accessed. These may be used by course teams to support your teaching and learning and must be used in compliance with the UCL privacy policy for students.

Although they may be used to identify students that potentially need additional guidance or support, this should not be done in an automated manner and should not be the sole data used for this purpose.

UCL does not have a definition or policy relating to “engagement”, in addition, attendance with regards to Moodle is not associated with UCL’s attendance policy. These data therefore cannot be used in  a punitive manner with regards to Personal Tutor interventions or any of the academic regulations, policies and procedures applicable to all UCL taught and research students (UCL Academic Manual).







Digital Wellbeing: A guide for staff and students

By Samantha Ahern, on 27 March 2020

Tea pot with sugar pot & milk jug

To borrow some words from Dickens:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

No doubt, this is very much how the current period feels for many of us. There are some fantastic things happening in local communities and in our sector, but for many of us it is also the worst of times. Some of us are away from home, or our usual support networks, our routine has been disrupted and there is a constant air of uncertainty.

Its ok, to not be ok. More now than ever. We are being asked to increasingly engaged with digital tools and media, some for the firat time, and this can have a massive impact on our wellbeing. So how do we support our wellbeing whilst adapting to new ways of learning and working?

Teaching Continuity

Guidance for staff

One of the recurring themes in the wellbeing literature across all student groups, K-12 and Higher Education, is the importance of being known by their teachers. Students who feel that their teachers know them and their capabilities are less anxious and perform better than those that do not. Being seen.

With many students distributed across the globe, how do we let them know that they are seen? Both in our support for them and in planning our teaching continuity activities.

It is hard to know where your students may and what technologies they will have access to. They may have a laptop, but may also have limited access to a good internet connection. You also need to consider what additional needs your students may have, see our post on Accessibility and Teaching Continuity.

At the same time, you will be working from home, often not at a proper desk and may be looking after others in your household. It’s important to factor in and support your own wellbeing.

Some things to think about:

  • Be kind. To yourselves and your students. Expect to be less productive, there’s a lot going on.
  • What are the key things your students need to know – the key learning objectives and threshold concepts?
  • What is the simplest way of enabling that learning to happen?
    • Talk to Arena and Digital Education colleagues. Check what support is available via the Teaching Continuity pages.
  • Video is great but its exhausting and requires good internet access.
    • Does the session need to be live? Pre-record where you can, its both less stressful and exhausting.
    • Keep videos short.
    • Do you have students that need captions or transcripts?
    • Can you provide the information in an alternative way e.g. a reading or set a research task.
  • Show your students you care – send them an email, arrange virtual office hrs – doesn’t have to be video, could be an advanced forum or chat in Moodle.
  • Don’t try to replicate everything online, it isn’t the same and shouldn’t be.
  • Be clear with your expectations.
    • Remove or hide any unneccessary content on your Moodle course. Some of your students will try do or read everything.
  • Write yourself a schedule, include plenty of breaks and non-screen time.
  • Talk to your colleagues – virtual coffee mornings or meetings, make use of the chat in MS Teams. Why not take part in an #LTHEChat or catch-up on previous chats?

Guidance for students

First, breathe. There’s a lot happening and a lot changing on a daily basis. We understand that you are doing your best in very difficult circumstances. Keep in contact with your friends and loved ones as much as possible, remember we are physically distancing.

We recommended that you regularly check the Contunuing to learn remotely guidance as it is being regularly updated. It provides some basic guidance around how to get started and learn effectively online as your tutors switch to teaching in a digital format.

The student mental health charity Student Minds have produced some additional coronavirus guidance on looking after your mental health.

Please also check the Support for Students FAQs on the UCL Advice for staff and students who may have concerns about the outbreak of coronavirus web page.

There is additional guidance and support available from Students’ Union UCL including FAQs.

Staff wellbeing

Working from home can be difficult. Whether you’re teaching, researching or in an academic-related role things can be difficult and at times isolating. It’s ok to be less productive than usual.

Firstly, check out the Support for Staff FAQs on the UCL Advice for staff and students who may have concerns about the outbreak of coronavirus web page. This is the key information hub.

Review the Remote working – tools and best practice guidance, this is generic guidance for all those working from home. In addition, UCL Workplace Wellbeing have produced some support resources. In addition, SLMS have collated some nice resources for coping with Working in a Crisis.

Childnet International have a range of guidance on digital wellbeing for children and young adults, including a Digital Wellbeing pack for parents. It is increasingly important that we are mindful of everyone’s digital wellbeing at this time. Especially as we are spending increasing amounts of time online. You may also want to review this Jisc blog post Looking after your own, and others’, digital wellbeing .

General guidance

5 ways to wellbeing: Connect, Be Active, Take Notice, Keep Learning and Give

Taken from: https://whatworkswellbeing.org/about-wellbeing/how-to-improve-wellbeing/

At this time its important to remember that we are actually being asked to physically distance ourselves from colleagues and loved ones, not socially distance. Remain socially connected is essential to our wellbeing and will help reduce and sense of loneliness or isolation.

The first thing is to limit your exposure to the news. Only check the news once or twice a day for key updates, any more than this is unneccessary and may only increase any anxiety.

Secondly, take a break from your smart device. Put it in a box for an hour. Go do something else: read a book, do some colouring, if you have one go out into the garden. This will help reduce the sensory and cognitive overload.

Thirdly, if you are fit and healthy and its permitted, get outside. Exercise, even if it’s just a walk around the block can work wonders to enhance your mood.

Fourth, check out the Blurt foundation’s resources, inparticular the Coronavirus Helpful Hub.

Fifth, the NHS Every Mind Matters website now has 10 tips to help if you are worried about coronavirus.

UCL has published a range of guidance aimed at both staff and students to support you during this time:


  • Dickens, C. (1859). A Tale Of Two Cities By Charles Dickens. With Illustrations By H. K. Browne. London: Chapman and Hall.
  • “Not by degrees: Improving student mental health in the UK’s universities”. (2017), IPPR, 4 September, available at: https://ippr.org/research/publications/not-by-degrees (accessed 6 September 2017).
  • O’keeffe, P. (2013), “A Sense of Belonging: Improving Student Retention”, College Student Journal, Vol. 47 No. 4, pp. 605–613.
  • “PISA 2015 Results (Volume III): Students' Well-Being”. (2017), , Text, , available at: https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/education/pisa-2015-results-volume-iii_9789264273856-en (accessed 13 November 2019).
  • https://whatworkswellbeing.org/about-wellbeing/how-to-improve-wellbeing/


Games and Learning

By Samantha Ahern, on 23 March 2020


Image by Eric Perlin from Pixabay

I recently attended an Educational Technology Masterclass organised by the Moorfields Education Hub about Graduate Skills and Game-Based Learning presented by Dr Matthew Barr from the University of Glasgow.

During the session Dr Barr spoke about research he had undertaken on the use of commercial video games to develop graduate skills, in particular:

  • communication,
  • adapatability
  • and resourcefulness.

In order for the students to persist with the games, the games selected needed to meet the following criteria:

  1. provide a variable feedback system,
  2. enables less experiences students to get something out of the game whilst they develop skills,
  3. and failure needs to have a cost, even though games give us a safe place to fail.

For the study, the students taking part participated in 14hours of total game play across 8 different games. The game playing took place in a specially equipped room. The games used in the study were specifically chosen and played in ways designed to require effective communication, adaptability and resourcefulness.

More information is available in the following papers:

The game play enabled students to develop both tacit and articulated knowledge, but also facilitaed the act of becoming re: graduate attributes.

This session had me thinking about my own practice. I have always used games (usually boardgames or puzzles, sometimes online games) or playful / experiential learning experiences when introducing or explaining concepts. I have also had the opportunity to test a breakout box experience designed by colleagues for their students. The premise of a breakout box experience is that there are a number of locked boxes that you need to unlock. To do this the students need to use what they have been learning to help untangle the clues that will help them unlock the boxes. This is designed to encourage teamwork and critical thinking.

Why should we use games and ‘play’ in higher education?

There are three dimensions of learning: knowing, making and playing.  Play can be defined as trial and error with no fear of failure, we do not neccesarily know what is going to happen, the outcome, but that is of little interest. It is the process of playing that is important, not the result as it may be unexpected or  something thst cannot easily be measured but is learning that affects your personal development. We can tap into this with games.

Gee (2014) talks about the “Game/Affinity Paradigm” (GAP), what is required for this is a well-designed and well mentored problem-solving space. This can be provided by games. An example of this is the game ‘Portal’ and the online community built around the game.  The game itself is not about learning Physics, however players need to develop and apply an understanding of the physics of the game to solve a number of problems and be successful in the game. A tacit, embodied understanding, but neccesarily and articulated knowledge of physics. However, the tacit embodied understanding can give situated meaning to articulated knowledge, developing / enhancing understanding Games as a media are affective, providing a much richer interaction with the content and ideas presented in the game(s) compared to other media, allowing the player(s) explore and discover things about themselves and the world around them. This can be a very powerful learning tool, opening up richer reflection and critical analysis opportunities. This illustrated in the examples below of games-based learning.

Applications of Game-Based Learning

During the talk Dr Barr also provided a number of examples of where video games were being used as part of regular teaching, with many more discussed in Chapter 6 of his recent book Graduate Skills and Game-Based Learning. These included:

  • Kurt Squire’s use of ‘Civilization III’ as the basis for a module on world history. Students developed conceptual understandings of history, geography and world politics, but also questioned the interpretation of these in both the game and their own understanding.
  • Sherry Jones’ use of the mobile game ‘Fallout Shelter’ to teach moral philosophy at Colorado Technical University. In particular ideas around egoism and surveillance.
  • Steve Connelly’s use of ‘Cities: Skylines’ in the teaching of sustainable development at the University of Sheffield. In addition to using the game to model considerations such as the economics and the environment, students were encouraged to critically reflect on assumptions made by the game and what was missing e.g. social concerns re: sustainable development.
  • Tom Boylston’s use of ‘The Long Day of Young Peng’ to elicit empathy amongst Social Anthropology students at the University of Edinburgh. Students became more confident in their understanding of the course material and associated reading as a result of interacting with the text-based game.


Barr, M. (2019). Graduate skills and game-based learning : Using video games for employability in higher education / Matthew Barr. (Digital education and learning).

Etchells, P. (2019). Lost in a Good Game: Why we play video games and what they can do for us. London, UK: Icon Books.

Gee, J 2014, Games, passion, and “higher” education. in Postsecondary Play: The Role of Games and Social Media in Higher Education. Johns Hopkins University Press, pp. 171-189.

Koster, R. (2005). A theory of fun for game design / by Raph Koster. Scottsdale, AZ: Paraglyph Press.

Squire, K. D. (2004). Replaying history: Learning world history through playing “Civilization III” (Order No. 3152836). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (305195950). Retrieved from https://search-proquest-com.libproxy.ucl.ac.uk/docview/305195950?accountid=14511

Thomas, Brown, & Brown, John Seely. (2011). A new culture of learning : Cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change / Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown. United States]: [CreateSpace].

THE Journal article: Breakout! Gaming to Learn

Wired article: Meet Fallout’s philosophers who are obsessed with the game’s intense political feuds

Developing your Digital Pedagogy

By Samantha Ahern, on 6 March 2020

Much has been written about the need to develop students’ graduate attributes and employability skills, in particular students’ digital capability.

In order for us to develop digitally capable students, we first need to be digital pedagogues. For us to be able to identify, use and select or de-select appropriate technologies that support and are truly a part of our pedagogy, we need first to develop our own digital capabilities as educators.

The European Union have done a lot of work on digital capability/competency frameworks, and have produced a framework specifically for educators – Digital Competence Framework for Educators (DigCompEdu). This is much more targeted than the Jisc Digital Capability framework.

EU DigCompEdu Areas

Image source: https://ec.europa.eu/jrc/en/digcompedu

In addition, a range of open access professional development materials have been produced for Higher Education directly linked to the DigCompEdu framework. In particular, FutureTeacher 3.0 and EduHack.

Future Teacher 3.0

This is an Erasmus+ funded project that had collaborators from the UK, Netherlands, Belgium and Norway. The project produced three main tools linked to the DigCompEdu framework predominantly aimed at developing the digital competencies of those delivering or supporting teacher and learning in the UK and Europe.

These tools are:

  • Digital Thermometer
    • A self-assessment questionnaire
  • Digital Compass
    • Analysis of current compentencies based upon Digital Thermometer responses and a recommended development pathway.
  • Digital Journey
    • A series of 10 online modules for teachers who use little ICT in their lessons and 10 modules for already experienced teachers.

The online module content does not map directly to UCL specific technologies but still covers all the key content.

In the video below from a Digital Education Showcase meeting I outline why I particularly like the DigCompEdu framework and provide some more information about Future Teacher 3.0 and played Jisc’s video about their Digital Capability Framework.


This is also an Erasmus+ project, it is run by Politecnico di Torino (Italy), Universidad Internacional de La Rioja – UNIR (Spain), Coventry University (UK), Knowledge Innovation Centre (Malta) and ATiT (Belgium).

This project combines an online programme with EduHackathons where teaching professionals will learn how to produce digitally-supported learning experiences and will have the opportunity to experiment with creative models and approaches to teaching and learning, with a focus on fostering collaborative learning and student engagement.

Institutions are required to register to participate and in doing so run the EduHackathon event in the way prescribed.

However, you can access the EduHack online course without registering as an institution. You can register as an individual if you want to obtain a certificate of learning. The course has 4 main topic atreas, these are:

  • Digital Resources,
  • Teaching,
  • Assessment
  • and Empowering Learners.

Like the Future Teacher 3.0 materials, these are based upon the DigCompEdu framework.

Digital Education and Digital Skills Development

In addition to the generic resources described above, a wide range of training is provided by Digital Education. This includes UCL specific training on the teaching and learning tools that we support such as Moodle, LectureCast and Reflect. A wide range of online guidance is also available via the E-learning wiki. Full details of the E-learning training available for staff are available on the ISD website.

Digital Skills Development provide a training programme that can be accessed by all staff covering popular tools and software available on Desktop@UCL and Desktop@UCLAnywhere. For details of upcoming training please see the recent blog post Develop your digital skills this academic year – new dates released

Online resources to help support teaching continuity

As we are unable to deliver face-to-face sessions to support colleagues with the transition to online delivery of their courses we are provding a range of additional support:

Additional Resources

The Coursera hosted Mooc Get Interactive: Practical Teaching with Technology  from the University of London and Bloomsbury Learning Exchange is a 3 week course.

Each week focuses on a particular topic:

1. Using multimedia for teaching and learning
2. Encouraging student collaboration
3. Formative assessment and feedback

Seeking inspiration?

However, if you are looking for ideas on how to move towards or increase the use of e-learning tools in your teaching you might wish to review the ABC learning design process. In particular, review the learning type cards as these suggest digital approaches to learning.

There are also a number of case studies on the Teaching and Learning portal that discuss how a range of tools have been used by colleagues across the institution. Examples include: