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Digital Education team blog


Ideas and reflections from UCL's Digital Education team


Students’ intellectual property, open nitty gritty

By Mira Vogel, on 19 May 2015

Brass tacks by MicroAssist on FlickrWhat happened when staff on one module encouraged students to openly license the online products of their assessed group work?

Object Lessons is a module on Bachelor of Arts and Sciences at UCL. In keeping with its object-based nature and emphasis on inquiry and collaboration, part of the assessment is a group research project to produce a media-rich online exhibition. Because the exhibitions are lovely and shine a light on multimodal assessment, the teaching team are frequently approached by colleagues across UCL with requests to view them. In considering how to get students’ permission for this, Leonie Hannan (now at QUB), Helen Chatterjee and I quickly realised a few things. One, highlighted by an exchange with UCL’s Copyright specialist Chris Holland, was that the nature of the permission was hard to define and therefore hard to get consent for, so we needed to shift the emphasis away from staff and the nuances of their possible use scenarios, and onto the status of the work itself. Another was that since the work was the product of a group and could not be decomposed into individual contributions without breaking the whole, consent would need to be unanimous. Then there was the question of administrative overhead related to obtaining consent and actually implementing what students had consented to – potentially quite onerous. And finally the matter presented us with some opportunities we shouldn’t miss, namely to model taking intellectual property seriously and to engage students in key questions about contemporary practices.

We came up with four alternative ways for students to license their work ranging incrementally from open to private. We called these:

1. Open;
2. Publish;
3. Show;
4. Private.

You can read definitions of each alternative in the document ‘Your groupwork project – requesting consent for future use scenarios’ which we produced to introduce them to students. As part of their work students were required to discuss these, reach a unanimous consensus on one, and implement it by publishing (or selectively, or not at all) the exhibition and providing an intellectual property notice on its front page. That way staff would not have to collect consent forms nor gate-keep access.

Before we released it to students I circulated the guidance to two Jiscmail discussion groups (Open Educational Resources and Association for Learning Technology) and worked in some of their suggestions. A requirement that students include a statement within the work itself reduces the administrative overhead and, we hoped, would be more future-proof than staff collecting, checking off and filing paper records. While making it clear that students would not be at any deficit if they chose not to open their work, we also took a clear position in favour of Creative Commons licensing – the most open of our alternatives, since as well as flexibility and convenience it would potentially lend the work more discoverability and exposure.

What did the students choose? In the first iteration, out of ten groups:

  • Five opted for Open. Between them they used 3 different varieties of Creative Commons licence, and one submitted their work to Jorum;
  • Two opted for Publish;
  • None opted for Show;
  • Three opted for Private (including one which didn’t make a statement; since the group kept the work hidden this defaults to Private).

We haven’t yet approached the students to ask about their decision-making processes, but from informal conversations and reading some of the intellectual property statements we know that there are different reasons why half the students decided not to make their work open. One was the presence of elements which were not themselves open, and therefore could not be opened in turn. From evaluations of a number of other modules, we know that the students were not generally all that enthusiastic about the platform they were asked to use for their exhibition (Mahara, which is serviceable but vanishingly rare outside educational settings). This may have contributed to another factor, which was that not all group members felt the work reflected well on them individually.

Then there’s the matter of deciding to revoke consent, which is something individual students can do at any time. In the context of group work we decided that what this would mean is that if any group member decides at a later date that they want to reduce openness, then this effectively overrides other group members’ preferences. That doesn’t work in reverse though – a student can’t increase openness without the consent of all other group members. So here we are privileging individuals who want to close work, although we do encourage them to consider instead simply ending their association with it. We have yet to find out how this state of affairs works out, and it may take quite a while to find out. But so far it seems stable and viable.

We would be very interested in your views, suggestions and any experiences you have had with this kind of thing – please do comment below.

Particular thanks to Pat Lockley and Javiera Atenas for their input.

Image source: MicroAssist, 2012. Brass tacks. Work found at https://www.flickr.com/photos/microassist/7136725313/. Licensed as CC BY-SA.

Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge v2?

By Matt Jenner, on 24 September 2013

One of UCL’s founders, Henry Brougham (yes we had more than one) founded the Society for the Diffusions of Useful Knowledge (SDUK) in 1826 (wound up in 1848). SDUK had the mission of publishing inexpensive texts intended to adapt scientific and similarly high-minded material for the rapidly expanding reading public. It was established mainly at the instigation of Lord Brougham with the objects of publishing information to people who were unable to obtain formal teaching, or who preferred self-education (Wikipedia).

In one example, they produced maps. As the aim of the Society was to reach as many people as possible they achieved this by keeping cost of production down. This then enabled a low selling price. These maps, however are could today be considered a work of art (see image) as they are accurate in their detail, finely engraved and printed on a good quality paper (Antique Maps).

Russia in Europe Part IX and Georgia. Caucasus, Circassia, Astrakhan, Georgia. Published under the superintendence of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. Engraved by J. & C. Walker. London, published by Baldwin and Cradock, 47 Paternoster Row Augt. 1st. 1835 . (London: Chapman & Hall, 1844) – Wikimedia

Surely the printing press enabled these ideas, and the advent of educational technology can, and for MOOCS/OER, is, enabling a wider audience to enjoy the riches of shared and accessible knowledge. It leads me to the question of whether such a task is still achievable in our modern day? Given UCL’s foundations, and the culture of openness in higher education, is it time for SDUKv2?

It makes me wonder if someone with enough gusto to try this would be shot down, well received or reassigned…

Being an MIT 6.002x student

By Matt Jenner, on 15 March 2012

Armed with my intrigue for exploring new ways to learn and absolutely no real knowledge on Circuits and Electronics I signed up for MIT’s 6.002x open, public, free course – which started last week. This blog post aims to break down my discoveries of what I learnt so far on this course, and what the experience may lend for UCL’s more open learning initiatives.


Eight years ago I created an online free open educational resource for learning about electronic circuits. The only difference is my course was powered by myself and a University friend building content in Flash and this one is powered by MIT’s soon-to-be open source package for open learning. The other, nearly insurmountable point to note was that mine was for 8-10 year olds studying Key Stage two little scientists and this one is for very real and slightly bigger scientists and engineers.

Starting out

Looking at the homepage of this course I can’t help but feel excited. It’s a clear and crisp platform specifically made for me to get into this course. I can read about the course outline and get to know the teachers more.

Before you log in is a shop-window into the course

Logged in

Now that I’m logged in I am taken to the default Course overview page. This shows me important information about the course such as notices and announcements. There’s some links to a few areas, but really I want to get into the learning and explore this online learning environment.

Logged into the course

Courseware – the resources and materials

The courseware section contains a weekly view into the learning materials offered in this course. Each week contains a series of video lectures which are mostly annotated slides. This feels very different to a recording of a traditional lecture, it feels like someone has specifically made these for this module and gone to some effort in putting it together. Anyone would struggle to just watch videos and feel like their learning but videos are a big component when teaching is delivered online, especially in self-paced areas such as this courseware part. MIT have implemented a couple of tricks to enhance this experience, which is shown in the image below.

The main courseware area - broken down by weeks

Video playback is important, and MIT have all their lectures/recordings hosted on YouTube. In addition, they have overlaid extra video controls on top of the video which allow me to change the playback speed. Studies show that humans can listen (and understand) at a much faster speed than the spoken word, for example you’ll generally read quicker than you talk. For this reason the playback speed controls are fantastic, as they permit a 30 minute video to be played in 15. Realistically this isn’t how it may pan out, being a total novice I paused the videos a lot, went back and tried to understand what was being said. When it was clear I could carry on in 2x speed. On top of the speed controls were closed captions on the side of the video. These highlighted as they were spoken on the video – very helpful when trying to make a note, or attempt a problem.

Course Textbook

Perhaps more popular in American Universities, but still used across educational institutions is the textbook which the course can often follow. For 6.002x the textbook is a part of the system. It’s really just an embedded PDF. Sadly it doesn’t fit well in the screen and I think just downloading it would be easier. I didn’t explore it much, I think we’ve all seen PDFs before and know their strengths and limitations.

The course textbook


On a more interesting angle is the discussion area of the course. Taking the StakeOverflow or Yahoo Answers approach; questions can be asked and then a series of votes and responses from other learners highlights their validity and visibility in this area. There are a lot of students on this course (thousands) and they’ll all have questions. Managing this requires some level of intelligent system, helping to sift the useful from the less so. Questions can also be tagged and there’s a lot of user-customisation here to help the sifting of questions which are of a level you’re not interested in.

The Discussion part contains a space to post, tag, rate and answer questions

Example question

The example below shows a question which has a discussion building on it. This level of engagement for students should (in theory) help the teacher out, as common questions can often be answered by fellow students who know the answer. With enough students moderation can often be self-sustaining, but sometimes a teacher may want to drop in and give a more directed response. Adding to this, peer’s instructing themselves via guided, or totally free, discussion can help the learning process. Students talking in their own language to one another has shown to help generate the understanding of concepts or the building of knowledge – independent of other learning resources or activities.

A sample discussion within the course


This course started with a few wiki sections already set up and a strong encouragement for students to create any new pages they liked. As this is a wiki it also encourages anyone to come and edit existing pages. With all changes saved and marked against the learner it helps ensure that pages generally improve in quality throughout their duration, rather than turning into useless resources. The simple idea of building on initial concepts can clearly be useful for learners as they progress through from understanding concepts to building on their knowledge, learning new things and using their existing knowledge to leverage themselves into new areas.

The Wiki area of the course

As this is an electronic and circuits course, it also comes with a wiki-style circuit builder. This was useful for testing out concepts that I clearly had no understanding of! I have no doubt that the circuit below could kill me or do nothing, if it were real.

The wiki tool comes with a wiki-esk circuit builder


Profile and personalisation

Lastly, on our technical run-down, is the profile space, which encourages you to make the course feel like you are really in it (bar moving to USA, or the internet…)

The really neat part of the profile is it details the progress of the student through the course. This seems like such an obvious option, but seeing map of your learning, even if it’s just the content you have looked at or interacted with, can be really helpful, especially for me as I have no understanding of the materials.

The profile space - personalise the area and view your progress


It’s week two, I haven’t spent enough time in the course to have learnt much but it’s still very exciting (for me anyway). I have previously taken online courses from other institutions only to find the result is a batch of iTunes U videos. Alongside some really innovative ideas of opening up education there still seems to be a real lack of understanding in how people actually learn. I don’t think YouTube Edu, for example, offers much pedagogy independently. Both services, do of course, offer excellent resources for a teacher, or group of learners to reuse and build upon. The Khan Academy is a good step forward as it’s clearer, shorter videos are more instructional and visually more compelling. What seems missing, however, is the interaction with other learners. My impression of 6.002x so far is that it’s really trying to mix the learning material with the learners themselves. The discussions being a very strong part of this course, even though I’d not said a word, yet.

In the future

In a way, this is all heavily Moodle related. By seeing this open course I’ve found another platform which seems to clearly help deliver learning. MIT have stated the platform will be released as Open Source (like Moodle) – this is encouraging as it’ll mean teachers, learners and educational technologists will all have this to play with, remix, adapt and that is always a positive step forwards. What’s coming in the future we don’t yet know, but this is encouraging to see. What’s coming to UCL we still are yet to find out, but the trend is that education is opening up, not closing down.

Open Educational Resources University

By Matt Jenner, on 15 February 2011

Kindly grabbed from this week’s Times Higher Education:

A group of universities are in the planning phase of merging already existing Open Educational Resources (OER), aka free online learning materials, to create a degree programme which can be studied online, for free.

The project brings together the OER Foundation, the University of Southern Queensland in Australia, Athabasca University in Canada and Otago Polytechnic in New Zealand. ‘If we get this right…an OER university degree could be ’10-15 per cent’ of the cost of a traditional degree.’


With news like this we sometimes wonder what the reaction would be at UCL if such an movement were to happen more locally, either in other institutions or perhaps our own. Technically we have the tools required to do this, but it takes much more than just Moodle to teach, and learn, entirely online. But this is already happening in some modules at UCL and has been for some time, but not degree level, yet… (plans are already being drawn up for entirely online courses and more supporting technologies).

The most significant part of this is the fees, or lack thereof. The universities involves are awarding bodies and less involved in the teaching process.  This is another step in the direction of independent learning.