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Digital Education team blog


Ideas and reflections from UCL's Digital Education team


Archive for the 'SMS / text messaging' Category

Helping us to help you

By Domi C Sinclair, on 16 December 2014

When you have a problem or question E-Learning Environments (ELE) are always more than happy to hear from you, and will do all we can to help you as quickly as we can. However, this process can be slowed down if we don’t have all the information we need to investigate your problem, or answer your question. So here are some top tips for what to include in an email/ ticket to ELE, so you can help us to help you.

1. Course name (and link)

UCL is a large university with hundreds of courses, and even more modules. Therefore it is very difficult for us to investigate a problem without knowing the name of a course/ module, so that we can look at the problem and try to replicate it. A lot of problem solving is reverse engineered, so we will try to replicate the problem for ourselves and then figure out what is wrong, by using our familiarity with the components of the technology. It is also helpful to include a link to the course/ module in question, as sometimes these are not obvious when searching in Moodle/ Lecturecast. Asking for the course name is always our first step, and so by including this in your original email then you will save time and help us resolve the problem faster.

2. Activity/ resource name (and link)

As well as there being a lot of courses at UCL, individual courses may have more than one of a particular activity, such as a Turnitin assignment or forum. It will take ELE extra time if we have to search through all of them to find the problem, and it also means that sometimes we are not always sure if we have found the problem. By including the name and location of the activity in the original email ELE can go straight to it, and get to work determining the problem.

3. Screenshots

When we look at a course, it might not always be possible for ELE to replicate a problem. This might be because the issue is related to a particular browser you are using, or due to permissions on your account. As these parameters might not apply to ELE we may not be able to see the problem, which makes it much harder for us to help with the answer. If you can take a screenshot (using the PrtScn key) and then paste that into a document and send it as an attachment, it will help us see the problem and any error messages you are receiving. It can even mean that we can answer the question or give a solution straight away upon seeing the screenshot.

4. Error messages

Screenshots of error messages are good, but if you can’t take one then including what an error message says will help ELE to diagnose and resolve the problem. It also helps us if we have to deal with any third party suppliers (such as Turnitin).

4. Specifics

A summary of the problem is best as ELE might not have a lot of time to read a long email, and it may be possible to determine and resolve an issue with only a few key details, listed above. However it can also help to be specific. If you are reporting a problem then list what steps you are taking that are causing the problem, which buttons are you clicking and in what order? Details are also helpful if you are asking a question about a new activity you’d like to start, but you’re not sure which tool to use. If you include specific details about what you want to do then ELE can suggest the tool that fits your needs best.

By following these tips you will have an easier and quicker experience with ELE, and we will be able to get through more problems or questions in less time.

Please feel free to send your queries to ELE via our email address, ele@ucl.ac.uk

Voting with PollEverywhere

By Jessica Gramp, on 18 February 2013

graphIf you are interested in polling your students, but don’t have access to Electronic Voting Handsets (either installed in a lecture theatre or lent to students) you could use PollEverywhere instead.

PollEverywhere is an online tool that lets you set up polls that students can answer, either by sending a text message or using the Internet on their laptop or smart-device. It is free for  for up to 40 responses per poll, so for classes larger than this the free option may not be suitable. There are Higher Education plans available for those who need it.  Try it out here: www.polleverywhere.com


Online-only tools (with no text messaging capabilities) exist, but the ones I have looked at have several issues that would prevent me from using them myself or suggesting them to others.

[edit: list of systems to avoid removed]

If you are a UCL staff member you can contact E-Learning Environments (ELE) for further information about electronic voting.

SMS for teaching and learning

By Jessica Gramp, on 14 September 2012

mobile_phone_in_handSMS doesn’t need to be limited to administrative tasks. It is being used by some teachers to motivate students to continue their studies out of the classroom and is having a positive effect on student retention. Clare Killen, Rob Englebright and Matt Smith spoke about the use of SMS in Further Education at ALT-C 2012. Read more about the session here: http://altc2012.alt.ac.uk/talks/28133

While some of the uses described here can still be classed as administrative they did have a positive affect on students’ study habits. SMS was used to communicate with students to:

  • deliver homework tasks
  • send maths questions – students text back their answers
  • send presentation date & time reminders
  • send assessment due date reminders


Some of the issues that students faced included:

  • they were out of phone credit and couldn’t respond immediately
  • phones were sometimes out of range or had weak signal strength so messages came through to different students at different times
  • some students were not comfortable with texting
  • some students didn’t want the lecturer to have their phone number

Students with privacy concerns, access issues or who were not comfortable texting were able to email their responses to their teacher instead.

The trial was conducted in two forms. One method involved using SMS technology within the classroom. The other involved texting the students outside of the classroom – once or twice per week. Students didn’t like in class texting as much as out of class texting.


In the classroom:

  • signal strength issues with different students on different networks delayed delivery to some students and not others
  • students found the lessons became disjointed


Out of the classroom:

  • students liked the contact
  • some looked forward to receiving the texts

Overall students reacted positively to being sent school related text messages a couple of times a week. They said it felt it helped them stay on task and also helped them to feel part of a community. Teaching staff noticed a marked improvement in student retention because students who received text messages felt they had been able to still contribute when they were absent from school. Teachers could send messages to absent students encouraging them to return to class, so they were less likely to feel like they were too far behind to return.