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Writing when teaching remotely

Steve Rowett22 April 2020

Updated 21 October 2020 to include graphics tablets and webcam options

We start this blog post with a short exercise for the reader: search Google Images or an image library for the word teacher.

I hope that you see a range of diverse people in the pictures. But I bet that most of them will have a pen or chalk in their hand, and a board or surface at their side. The act of writing and talking as a form of instruction is perhaps the most commonly perceived characteristic of who a teacher is and what they do.

The move to remote teaching has made writing as a form of teaching more difficult. A mouse may be great for controlling a computer, but it’s hard to use it to write smoothly on screen.

So in this post, we will look at how we might continue to use writing as a form of teaching, even from home.

Before we start, a note on accessibility. Whilst we teach remotely, so of the facilities that our students might have relied upon (like captions, transcripts, note-takers or signers) might not be available, so we may need to make alternative accommodations. Please do think about this before you plan your teaching and contact Digital Education if you would like advice.

Using a visualiser at home

In the classroom or lecture hall, many rooms will have a visualiser (also called a document camera) for showing writing and objects. These are typically hooked up to a projection screen through the AV system and are also captured by lecture capture. UCL uses a mix of table-top visualisers and ceiling mounted visualisers from a company called Wolfvision.

You can also buy more consumer-level products in this category. At home I use an IPEZO VZ-R camera, which costs about £200.

The IPEVO VZ-R visualiser - a sturdy base with a webcam mounted on a flexible hinge.

IPEVO VZ-R Visualiser (source: ipevo.com)

The camera connects via USB and can be used in two ways:

Either method works well, but I’d recommend the latter as webcam video is often heavily compressed. This method works well with all our supported platforms, including Lecturecast (Echo 360) Universal Capture Personal, Blackboard Collaborate and Microsoft Teams.

The camera is compact but sturdy. It has an in-built light, and facilities such as zoom and autofocus, and can capture a surface slightly less than A3. It also has an inbuilt microphone which is likely to be closer to you when you are speaking than one in a laptop.

Control buttons on the IPEVO VZ-R including power, zoom and focus

Control buttons on the IPEVO VZ-R (source: ipevo.com)

The software can control the features of the camera, and can make recordings that you could upload to Lecturecast, for example. The controls neatly get out of the way when they aren’t being used, so that you can focus on the content. The image below shows the auto-focus in operation, clearly capturing a book cover.

IPEVO Visualizer software showing controls and a picture of a book under the camera

IPEVO Visualizer software showing controls

The Visualizer application can easily be shared in a Blackboard Collaborate room, and you can then move the window out of the way and focus on the participants. The image below shows me writing some simple maths on a notepad, captured by the camera, using the screen sharing feature of Collaborate to show this to other participants.

Writing equations which are shared within a Blackboard Collaborate room

Writing equations which are shared within a Blackboard Collaborate room.

IPEVO offer another model, the V4K, for £100, which has a lower resolution sensor (but still good) and no light. Of course other companies are available, and I’ve heard recommendations of Genee and Aver models. These types of visualisers are often used in secondary schools, so any teachers you know may be able to give suitable advice.

One thing I particularly like about the IPEVO models is the design. The one I have folds fairly flat, so is easy to store away, so my living room doesn’t have to look like a lecture theatre. Here’s a comparison of its size when folded compared to a bottle of wine. And yes, it does fit in a wine rack.

An IPEVO VZ-R is about the size of a bottle of wine when folded

The IPEVO VZ-R folds down to the size of a bottle of wine.


Writing on an iPad or other tablet

Using an Apple Pencil on an iPad or a stylus for other devices, you can use a notes or sketch app to write on an iPad. This works fine as a standalone process, but you can also use software such as Reflector or Airserver to mirror your device to your PC or Mac and screen share it as part of a call using Blackboard Collaborate, Zoom etc., or to record it from your screen using Lecturecast Personal Capture. If you have a Mac, you can also plug in your USB to Lightning cable and use Quicktime to mirror your screen by selecting your iPad as the camera source (thanks to Dr Steven Schofield from UCL Physics and Astronomy for that tip).

The short clip below shows Steven leading a revision lecture with his students. He reports that “I gave a two hour live revision lecture today; I was able to use the screen mirroring software to share my iPad Mini screen with the class via Blackboard Collaborate. It went really well and I had good feedback from the students. I think the overall experience is so much better than just talking to prepared slides. ”


Using a webcam

If you have a webcam that isn’t built in to your computer, you can use this too. We’ve tried a couple of webcams and it can work well, but may not have the full controls or handy features like the light that the VZ-R has.

If you have a laptop webcam above the screen, there’s  further option using a mirror to give you a whiteboard surface. Again IPEVO has an option for this, or you can look at making your own using a 3D printer or just cardboard cutouts. John Umekubo has blogged about this, and John Mitchell from UCL has put it into practice. The much lower cost means it could be a great option for students to show their workings.


Using a graphics tablet

Graphics tablets are often associated with drawing and more artistic work, but can also be used for writing. It can be less natural as your writing is preserved only on screen rather than on the tablet itself, a difference between writing on paper. Wacom are the brand leader with many higher end products for artists, but for simple writing tasks more modest brands are also suitable. We’ve had good reports of the XP-Pen and Viekk brands. Feedback suggests that the size of the graphics tablet is more important than features like number of levels of pressure sensitivity for writing tasks.


Using a mobile phone or tablet

You may have seen tweets where inventive teachers have rigged up their phones to use as cameras. But how do you do this?

Well, IPEVO provide an app for that too. To make this work, you need three things:

  • An Apple or Android phone on the same network as your computer (PC, Mac, Chromebook and Linux supported)
  • An installation of IPEVO iDocCam on your phone
  • An installation of IPEVO Visualizer on your computer

Launch the app on your phone, and then the Visualizer software on your computer, and your phone will appear in the list of available cameras.

The phone can be selected from the list of cameras available in the IPEVO Visualizer software

Your phone shows as a camera in the IPEVO Visualizer software

And here is an example of it in use, with my old IPhone SE acting as the camera:

The final bit is to rig the phone up in a secure way, about 40cm above your desk. You might use a desk mount, or a pile of books, or some blu tack and string. How  you do this is up to you, but this tweet from UCL’s Matt Whyndham might give you some inspiration.

Video resources for teaching online

Steve Rowett16 March 2020

As part of our work on education planning for 2020/21, we are making a series of videos and screencasts to help you complete common tasks for teaching online. These will be linked from individual web pages for the relevant section, but we thought it might be useful to also pull them together on a single page.

We are making captions available for all of these videos, along with transcripts, but these may appear a day or two after the video is first released without them. This information will be given with each video below. Further videos will be posted here in the coming days.

More detailed guidance on the tools below is given in the Moodle Resource Centre, the Lecturecast Resource Centre and the Blackboard Collaborate Resource Centre.

Finally, this of course a difficult and anxious time for us all. Please use the communication tools within Moodle to provide reassurance and support to each other as best we can.


Simple tips for teaching online

This video (32 minutes) provides a practical guide to teaching online and gives useful advice for teachers and students. Thanks for Dr Zachary Walker from UCL Institute of Education for making and sharing this video.

This video has captions and a transcript.


Moodle

This video (5 minutes) gives five tips for adding extra content and activities to your Moodle course.

This video has captions and a transcript.
This video shows the process for setting up a Moodle Quiz for formative assessments.

This video has captions and a transcript


Lecturecast Universal Capture Personal

This video (10 minutes) takes you through the process of recording lectures or content using your own computer and the Lecturecast Universal Capture software. Thanks to Ian Calder, UCL School of Management, for giving us permission to use this video.

This video has captions and a transcript.


Blackboard Collaborate

This video (17 minutes) shows how to set up a Blackboard Collaborate room within Moodle and use it for a live seminar or teaching event. Thanks to Ian Calder, UCL School of Management, for giving us permission to use this video.

This video has captions and a transcript.

How to use Blackboard Collaborate in your teaching and learning practice

This video (26 minutes) from Lauren Clark, UCL Institute of Education, discusses how the MA in Education programme uses Collaborate to teaching both local and distance students. Lauren offers some ideas for teaching practice and hints and tips for running successful teaching events .

This video has captions and a transcript


Making a video from a PowerPoint with audio

This video (11 minutes) shows you how to take an existing PowerPoint presentation and record an audio narration on each slide. This can then be exported as a video file, which can be viewed via Moodle using Lecturecast or Media Central.

This video has captions and a transcript.

Compressing video files using Handbrake

This video (7 minutes) demonstrates how to compress video files using the open-source software Handbrake. This can be used with all videos, but is particularly useful where making narrated PowerPoint videos (see above) produces large file sizes. Such videos can often be compressed to around a quarter of their original size with minimal loss of quality.

This video has captions and a transcript.


Recording your iPad screen for Lecturecast

This video (11 minutes) takes you through the process of using your iPad to record on-screen content and uploading it to Lecturecast. Thanks to Ian Calder, UCL School of Management, for giving us permission to use this video.

This video has captions and a transcript.


Remote working

ISD has produced this video which explains a number of tools available for remote working. This includes Microsoft Office365 tools such as email, calendar, OneDrive and Teams and use of the virtual private network (VPN) and Desktop@UCL Anywhere for accessing central systems and software.

This video has captions.


Blogging with Reflect

Samantha Ahern from UCL Digital Education has created a series of video tutorials on using Reflect, UCL’s service for blogging in teaching and learning.

Accessibility of e-learning – 10 key points from the free OU course

Jessica Gramp13 June 2017

The UK Open University (2006) provide a useful introductory course, called Accessibility of eLearning, that will help you understand how to create accessible e-learning experiences that provide access for all. The course can be completed online, or downloaded in a number of common file formats, including for e-readers and as a PDF.

I would strongly suggest either completing the course, or reading the course materials, but if you don’t have time I’m going to summarise the key points in this post:

  1. In 2006, disability affected 10-20% of every country’s population, and this number is growing.
  2. In 2006, 15% of the UK population, over 16 years old, self-declared a disability.
  3. A disabled person is one who has a mental or physical disability that has a substantial, long term (12 months or more), adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.
  4. Around 1 in 10 men and 1 in 200 women have red-green colour blindness.
  5. UK Universities are legally obligated to make reasonable, anticipatory adjustments to ensure those with disabilities are not discriminated against.
  6. There are two views of disability. The medical model describes the problem of disability as stemming from the person’s physical or mental limitation. The social model sees disability as society restricting those with impairments in the form of prejudice, inaccessible design, policies of exclusion, etc.
  7. Accessibility is about both technical and usable access for people with disabilities. For example, although a table of data may be technically accessible by a blind person using a screen reader, they may not be able to relate the data in each cell to its column or row heading, so the meaning of the data is lost in the process, rendering the table unusable for that person.
  8. Computers enable even severely disabled people to communicate unaided, giving them independence and privacy that is not possible when they need to rely on human assistants.
  9. When communicating online, a disability may not be visible, removing barriers caused by people’s reactions to the disability.
  10. Creating accessible learning environments helps everyone, not just those with disabilities. For example, products that can be used by blind people are also useful for people whose eyes are busy*.

*This last point reflects my own preference for listening to academic papers while running or walking to work, when I would be otherwise unable to “read” the paper. As a student and full-time employee, being able to use this time to study enables me to manage my time effectively and merge my fitness routine, with study time. This is only possible because my lecturers, and many journals these days too, provide accessible documents that can be read out loud using my mobile smartphone.

This list brifly summarises the key points I drew from the OU’s Accessibility of eLearning course and demonstrates some of the ways we, as developers of online courses, can make better online learning experiences for all our students, including those with disabilities.

References

Open University (2016) Accessibility of E-Learning. [Online]. Available from: http://www.open.edu/openlearn/education/professional-development-education/accessibility-elearning/content-section-0 [Accessed: 13 June 2017].

Introducing the new E-Learning Baseline

Jessica Gramp7 June 2016

UCL E-Learning Baseline 2016The UCL E-Learning Baseline is now available as a printable colour booklet. This can be downloaded from the UCL E-Learning Baseline wiki page: http://bit.ly/UCLELearningBaseline

The 2016 version is a product of merging the UCL Moodle Baseline with the Student Minimum Entitlement to On-Line Support from the Institute of Education.

The Digital Education Advisory team will be distributing printed copies to E-Learning Champions and Teaching Administrators for use in departments.

Please could you also distribute this to your own networks to help us communicate the new guidelines to all staff.

Support is available to help staff apply this to their Moodle course templates via digi-ed@ucl.ac.uk.

We are also working on a number of ideas to help people understand the baseline (via a myth busting quiz) and a way for people to show their courses are Baseline (or Baseline+) compliant by way with a colleague endorsed badge.

See ‘What’s new?’, to quickly see what has changed since the last 2013 Baseline.

 

Spotlight on Engineering’s Learning Technologists in 2015: STEAPP

Jessica Gramp9 January 2016

Learning Technologies in Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy (STEaPP)

In Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy (STEaPP) learning technology support is provided by the department’s Learning Techologist (Alan Seatwo).  Part of this work involves assisting colleagues to explore the use of emerging teaching themes prior to the start of the MPA Programme. These sessions focus on implementing the UCL E-learning baseline, exploring classroom learning technology and using video for students’ presentation assessment and as a self reflection tool. Prevalent learning technologies in the department include the UCL Moodle Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), rapid eLearning development tools, video editing & production, cloud storage, webinars, screencasts, online surveys and classroom learning technologies, such as electronic voting handsets. In this post Alan explains how his department used learning technologies in 2015.

 

The department was already equipped with a collection of good quality video recorders and in August the department further invested in new hardware and software for video recording & editing, such as a range of camera/ mobile phone mounts, a tripod, wireless microphone and a copy of Adobe Creative Suite. In addition, streaming video and webinar platforms were explored during the organisation and delivery of a seminar by Professor Daniel Kammen and a written report was presented to the department for possible use in the future.

Doctoral student virtual presentation

Doctoral student virtual presentation

There have been no reports of teaching staff and students experiencing major issues using Moodle. Although there have been some maintenance down time from UCL networks, overall access to Moodle is excellent. Colleagues are supportive of the idea of using classroom-learning technology. Specifically, Word-Cloud was used in How to Change the World 2015; Kahoot! and Socrative were used in Policy Making and Policy Analysis; Communication and Project Management Skills; and the Vodafone – UCL Public Policy Intensive Programme. Feedback about the use of such software from colleagues and students was very positive.

UCLeXtend is a separate Moodle platform for external use. The Vodafone – UCL Public Policy Intensive Programme was granted the use of the platform to deliver the online learning elements. This enabled the department to experiment with organising and delivering online learning programmes to non-UCL users that might be useful for future use.

Vodafone UCL Public Policy Intensive Programme UCL eXtend course

Vodafone UCL Public Policy Intensive Programme UCL eXtend course

Students’ presentations were recorded, stored and made available for course assessment and self-reflection. The experience of exploring video streaming in Professor Kammen’s event enabled the process of screencasting, video recording and webinars to be refined. The average turn around time to deliver edited student presentation videos is around 24 hours after recording takes place.

Two Virtual Open Day sessions were conducted in Blackboard Collaborate (webinar software). A series of online interviews using BB Collaborate, Skype and Google Hangouts were also held with potential students.

Other learning technologies being used in the department include:

  • Opinio to support research activities in STEaPP Grant Research Funding Proposal Form, City Health Diplomacy and Science Diplomacy;
  • Articulate Storyline 2 to create two online self assessments in the undergraduate programme: ENGS102P: Design and Professional Skills 2015/16.

There have been no major issues reported by staff using Moodle to organise and disseminate learning content and facilitating discussion via the forums. The level of usage from students is also good. Data from Moodle shows that students responded to staff instructions to access learning content and submit their assignments electronically. One of the areas that can be further enhanced is the use of learning analytics, which can assist staff to identify usage trends of their designed activities and content.

Looking ahead: We are in the planning stage for How to Change the World 2016 and have two areas of focus at the moment: Online Attendance Recording and Reporting; and a Peer Reviewed Video Assignment. We are also making good progress on designing and developing an open-source learning object as part of a project funded by a grant from the UCL Centre for the Advancement of Learning and Teaching (CALT).

Games, gamification and games-based learning SIG

Domi C Sinclair18 June 2015

Do you have an interest in games, gamification and games-based learning?

If so we would be really interested in hearing from you, we are looking to put together a special interest group at UCL around these areas. The aim of the SIG will be to encourage interaction and discussion on these topics and others, ranging from research on games and play to their implementation within teaching practice (plus hopefully have a bit of fun along the way).

Please join via our Moodle page if you are interested in taking part along and we will arrange an initial meeting of the group soon.