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Digital Education team blog


Ideas and reflections from UCL's Digital Education team


TechQual+ Survey at UCL

By Moira Wright, on 13 October 2017

In early 2016, ISD (Information Services Division) carried out the first Staff and Student IT Survey using TechQual+. Over 1,000 of you completed the survey, and over the past 16 months we have been working hard to improve our services in response to your comments.

Below are just a few examples of changes that have been made as a result of the feedback received from the TechQual+ survey run in 2016:

Wi-Fi                        Three speech bubbles

A substantial investment in replacing and upgrading our Wi-Fi technology infrastructure

Service Desk

We’ve invested in staffing, tools and training to speed up response times and improve quality.

We’ve partnered with an external organisation and altered shift patterns to provide additional out of hours’ support.


We’ve rolled out 170+ additional printers over the past 18 months, targeting the busiest areas. This takes the current total to 660 printers. In areas of high usage, we’ve introduced new high capacity printers.


We have invested in storage and now all staff and students can store 100GB for free.


We are continuing to invest in additional cluster PCs, and loan laptops where there isn’t space for desktops. We added a further 550 desktops and 60 laptops by September 2017.
We operate one of the largest laptop loan services across UK universities – 266 laptops across 12 locations – and this year a further 60 laptops were added.


We delivered 221 courses last academic year, that’s nearly 1000 hours of training with about 3000 people attending.  We are working hard to publicise the courses we offer.

Audio Visual

In 2016 ISD invested £2.5m into improving the technology in teaching facilities. Approximately 70 centrally bookable spaces had their facilities updated; this included bringing 43 spaces in 20 Bedford Way up to the standard spec including installation of Lecturecast in approx. 30 spaces.  Lecturecast was also installed at 22 Gordon Street and Canary Wharf (3 spaces each).  We also refreshed the Lecturecast hardware in 12 rooms.

Drawing of a tablet with 5 stars

Based on the findings of focus groups at participating institutions, the TechQual+ project has articulated a set of generalised IT service outcomes that are expected of IT organizations by faculty, students, and staff within higher education. The TechQual+ core survey contains 13 items designed to measure the performance of the following three core commitments: 1) Connectivity and Access, 2)Technology and Collaboration Services, and 3) Support and Training.

The TechQual+ survey will be run again at UCL in December 2017 and we’ll be asking for your help to advertise it to your students, encouraging them (and you!) to complete it. All respondents will be entered into a prize draw with a chance to win some great prizes!

We’ll be providing more information and communications about the survey closer to the opening date.


Could you repeat that please? – Lecturecast at UCL

By Rod Digges, on 30 March 2011

Lecture_theatre - L. de Voltolina, 1350s (Wikimedia)

Two terms into the Lecturecast trials at UCL and we already have well over a two thousand hours of recorded lectures  available to students from a range of subject areas and disciplines including, Marketing, Genetics, Computer Science, Biosciences,Chemistry, Economics, Physics and Astronomy, Electronic Engineering and others.

A recent survey of students that included questions about the use of IT in teaching and learning gave Lecturecast an overwhelming ‘thumbs up’ with comments like –

“It would be useful to have all the lectures recorded as a matter of course.”

“The recording of lectures could be more widespread.”

“More videos of lectures should be uploaded to Moodle.”

“I would like to see more videos of lectures on Moodle, as this will be very useful come revision in March and April.”

Figures of 21,000 views for Biosciences alone suggest that these are not idle comments and a large number of students are actively engaging with Lecturecast recordings.

But we’re not resting on our laurels. Plans for upgrades to the system this year mean that users can  look forward to a host of improvements – look out for a new player coming to a browser near you in April.

You can find more general information about Lecturecast at UCL on this page: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/lecturecast

If you want to see an example of a Lecturecast stream, click here – with the kind permission of Professor Steve Jones (UCL userID/pw required)


Apps and the end of lectures?

By Clive Young, on 8 February 2011

Why should we spend so much time memorising this much when the information is easily accessible?

Interesting article in this months medicalstudent – Are iPhone apps replacing traditional lectures? It’s on page 5.

Echoes the comments of Prof Sugata Mitra, star of TED and ALT-C (hole-in-the wall computers etc) when asked asked last year to make three predictions  – in just 2 minutes – about what universities would be like in 2025 – one of the areas he obviously felt quite strongly about was how mobile computing might change medical education.

Guardian Article on Lecture Capture

By Jason R Norton, on 18 January 2011

I saw this article “Will video kill the lecturing star?” by Jon Wolff about the use of Lecture recording in higher education. What makes this one different is that it isn’t about how good or bad lecture recording is, but is about how the academic experienced the system, his reaction to seeing himself in playback. What made this even more of an interest is that when I reached the end of the article I saw that he is a UCL academic. So as a follow up I have emailed him to find out if his experiences relate to Lecturecast or another system.

Will video kill the lecturing star?

A different way to connect.

By Rod Digges, on 15 November 2010

Over breakfast at a recent conference on the use of the Echo360 (Lecturecast) system, I found myself talking to an LTA (Learning Technology Advisor) from a small US community college. He had recently been working with teachers from the Math School at the college, helping them transform their existing paper-based courses for online delivery.
One of the last, and most reluctant, members of staff to go online was a senior member of the school’s teaching staff, who met with the LTA regularly to discuss ideas for the new course. As the course’s live date approached, the LTA suggested that an online discussion forum be included; a place where students could share ideas, or give feedback about the course – the LTA also advised that it was good practice to prime a forum with one or more initial posts to ‘get the ball rolling’. The Maths teacher doubted the value of ‘this kind of thing’ but said that he’d think about it.
The new term began, the course was made live but it was a couple of weeks before the LTA and the Maths teacher had a chance to meet and review how things were going. When they did finally meet the LTA was pleased to hear that the course had been well received and asked his colleague what he had found most useful.
The Maths teacher said that he had taken up the suggestion of including a discussion forum and to get the ball rolling had posted the question for all students – ‘What does Maths mean to you in your life?’. This was a question. that over his years of teaching, he always asked every group of students at their first lecture – observing sadly that he rarely got much of a response.
The teacher said that asking the same question in an online forum had made a big difference, the LTA told me that there were tears in his colleagues eyes as he talked about the many messages in the forum and how a number of students had talked about the beauty and elegance of mathematics, describing a passion for the subject that matched his own – he said the replies had inspired him and that his teaching with this group had an energy and enthusiasm he hadn’t felt for years.

The Lecturecast conference covered many interesting uses of this very impressive technology, but a few months later, trying to think of subject for this blog, it’s the story of the Maths teacher and his students that sticks in my mind and how the use of a much simpler technology gave them a different way to connect.

'Don't lecture me' – the case for abolishing the lecture

By Fiona Strawbridge, on 14 September 2010

This year’s ALT-C (Association for Learning Technology) conference opened with a bang – echoes of which continued to resound for the rest of the week. The source was an entertaining and provocative talk by Donald Clark about why the lecture is not fit for purpose (prefaced by an apology for delivering a lecture about why we should not deliver lectures). Clark noted that the word lecture originally meant ‘sermon’ and argued that although some teachers claim interactivity in their lectures often this is an illusion with questions tending to be rhetorical. There is a pretence that critical thinking is being taught; the lecture was never intended to promote critical thinking – it evolved from preaching where the audience was not expected to question material. Clark argues that if you’re going to lecture then make sure you do it well and think about going ‘stadium style’ to huge numbers – using technology to broadcast it if you want.

Many of Clark’s examples come from physics – a subject he is fascinated by but was unable to engage with as a student. It is difficult to understand and to teach, and so was a good basis for his talk. He recounted how he had embarked on a degree in physics but gave up after a year as he had failed to learn from the lectures he was given – typically a lecturer would walk into the auditorium and write long series’ of equations on panels of blackboards without any real attempt at explanation or engagement. Often all would be done without even facing the students. Clark told how even Isaac Newton was a dreadful teacher – no one would turn up; in contrast Richard Feynman was a superb teacher who cared deeply about teaching; Feynman even published his lectures but was critical of lecture as method. Eric Mazur noticed that lecturers revert to anecdote when talking about teaching (great quote – ‘data is not the plural of anecdote’). Academics can be disparaging about undergraduates; they are typically very far ahead of the undergraduate level – especially in physics – that they can’t easily get back to that level. When thinking about and discussing teaching they typically do not use scientific method and persist in using ineffective approaches. Mazur developed a revised approach involving pre-reading, getting students to take notes, seating weaker students at front and smarter ones at the four corners – this was demonstrated to bring up overall standards.

The Institute of Theoretical Physics in Trieste recognized the issue of introverted lecturers and adopted a policy of recording all lectures to ensure that students had a second chance to watch. The recording was initially taking photos every few minutes and recording audio throughout. This approach was judged to be a big improvement.

Clark quoted MIT’s Walter Lewin who has produced some fantastic videos for teaching ‘it’s better to see a first class lecture on video than a mediocre one in the flesh’ – for any teacher a drop off in attendance over the term should ring alarm bells. He also quoted from Donald Bligh’s book ‘ ‘What’s the use of lectures?’ which cites ten pedagogical problems with the lecture:

  1. They tend to be 1 hour.
  2. There is the tyranny of time (ie specific time and place) – why not use YouTube, OCW etc.
  3. And the tyranny of location.
  4. It can be difficult to maintain psychological attention – boredom sets in…
  5. Cognitive overload – too much info too quickly – teachers should simplify materials and pare back radically.
  6. Episodic and semantic memory – lectures shove semantic stuff at you which is unlikely to stick unless something in there is really striking or memorable; teachers need to learn how to use media.
  7. Learning by doing – doesn’t happen in a lecture.
  8. Spaced practice – Ebbingham demonstrated that we need repeated practice to learn – how does this relate to lecture-based learning?
  9. Not collaborative – people don’t want to sit next to each other – as evidenced by the typical practice of leaving an empty space between you and your neighbour – let alone talk to each other in this kind of environment.
  10. Personality problems – we should not don’t assume every teacher has go be a researcher and vice versa; some academics are simply not cut out for teaching.

Clark’s final words of advice is to aim for transformation of your approach – redesign the whole course, don’t just bolt on technology. Oh and abolish ‘lecturer’ as a job title.

Twitter – @donaldclark


The talk was entertaining, lively, thought provoking, and indeed provoked a number of the audience quite effectively – the Twitter backchannel was buzzing with protests that Clark was being condescending to academics, and that whilst some of his criticisms were valid he failed to offer any clear solutions. Some of the tweeting was pretty abrasive and a couple of people managed to put together fairly substantial blog posts outlining their criticisms within hours of the talk.  It did seem – as someone put it – that the wisdom of the crowd had turned into the baying of the twittering mob… Clark himself has posted a blog posting about being tweckled in this way – https://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=21077063&postID=2355649275760409611 (and the comments, and his responses…).