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Individual contribution peer assessment in group work

Pilar DGarcia Souto19 May 2016

UCL Engineering trains students to use engineering knowledge within extended group practical activities to better prepare them for their careers after graduation. However, despite the substantial educational benefits of getting students to work in teams, students express and experience concerns that significantly decrease the student satisfaction.

UCL Medical Physics and Biomedical Engineering in collaboration with the Institute of Education decided to look deeper into this matter and organized student focus groups across the Engineering Faculty, and spoke with various members of staff that use and assess group work. The message is clear: an element of “individual contribution” is needed, possible set by peers and tutor moderated, which improves the group dynamics and penalize the “passengers”. Otherwise students frequently express dissatisfaction if all members of a team are given the same mark regardless of the individual effort.

The concept is simple. At the end of a group work students rate the contribution of each team member, and this is used by the tutor to generate an individual mark. This encourages self-reflection, increase student satisfaction and reduce student’s complaints. The only major drawback is that the peer assessment of individual contribution is mainly collected using pen and paper, hence very staff consuming, as current e-learning tools are inadequate. From our research, this tool should be online, anonymous, preferable within Moodle and flexible so staff can adapt it and ask or value different aspects (e.g. reliability, punctuality, contribution to ideas, etc.).

This is an ongoing project. We presented some results at the UCL Teaching and Learning conference in April 2016, which attracted a lot of interest. It is clear that individual contribution assessment is something that many members of staff from across UCL want to implement, and yet we lack the appropriate system. We decided to take the lead on establishing a consortium with those interested, and seek for some funding to develop an appropriate system within Moodle that would allow us to efficiently incorporate this practice into our teaching. If you are interested on participating, discussing and/or hearing more of our results, please contact p.garciasouto@ucl.ac.uk.

Our thanks to ELDG 2015 who partially funded this project.

Bringing personalised training material to students into various IEP undergraduate modules via complex Moodle quizzes

JaninaDewitz14 December 2015

9-week Studentship Report by  Edward James | Supervisor – Dr Pilar Garcia Souto | Colleagues – Avinash Javaji, Vardan Tandon

The aim of this summer studentship was to build upon the Moodle quizzes written last summer for the Mechanics and Materials (MPHY102P) module of the new Biomedical Engineering degree at UCL. The initial goal was to improve the existing questions that had been written for the Statics part of the course, and also to write more questions for the Materials and the Dynamics part of the module. In addition to this, I would be working with two other engineering undergraduate students, who would be writing quizzes for the Mathematical Modelling and Analysis modules within the IEP at UCL.

Together, we would develop, implement, maintain and update, a new library of functions to be used within MatLab, which facilitated the production of large question bank quizzes in XML, which could be imported into Moodle’s online e-learning environment.

Having received an induction from Dr Garcia Souto on the first day of the internship, I went away and reviewed the current quizzes available to students within the Statics part of the MPHY102P module. In particular I assessed them for how user friendly they were, whether or not they gave any useful hints, and how helpful the final general feedback was once the question had been submitted. I checked the question text, diagrams, and final solutions for any errors, and also made a note of when a correct answer was deemed incorrect due a ‘precision’ or ‘rounding’ error. I also went through the Materials and Dynamics part of the module, and made a plan for questions that could be written for these sections.

The next step was to familiarise myself with Moodle, and in particular its Quiz activity. The online courses ‘Getting Started with Moodle’, and ‘Moodle for Administrators’ were very helpful in this regard. Other useful resources were the online ‘moodledocs’ page (https://docs.moodle.org/29/en/Main_page), and the book ‘Using Moodle’, available in the UCL Science Library.

I explored all of the quiz options within the Moodle Quiz setting, paying particular attention to features that allowed hints to be given to students at certain levels of questions, that controlled how general feedback was given, and that controlled the allowable error in numerical questions. I then exported these quizzes into a Moodle XML document, to see how any changes in the Moodle Quiz settings were apparent within the Moodle XML code. It was this reverse engineering of the quizzes that really allowed me to get to grips with understanding how Moodle XML worked. I was then able to write a new set of questions in Moodle XML, the Dynamics Mock Exam Questions quiz, and import this into Moodle. The book ‘XML – Visual Quickstart Guide’, which is available in the UCL library, was very useful when learning the basics of XML.

At the beginning of this internship, I had no experience of using either Moodle or XML, but I would now consider myself to be competent with both of these things.

I then reviewed the code written in MatLab during the studentship last summer for the Statics questions. This code produced a Moodle XML document, which, when run in a loop, would produce a large question bank, of say 100 questions, with randomly generated numerical variables each time, so that students could practise questions as many times as they like, without seeing the same question twice.

It was very useful to be working with Avinash and Vardan in this regard, as they wrote a library of MatLab functions that meant that images produced in MatLab code could be directly embedded into XML question text. The code that they wrote also automated the inclusion of the necessary Moodle XML language in the question text, which meant that I could make the most of using my MatLab skills to write the Moodle quizzes (which I was already proficient at at the beginning of the internship). Another useful skill which I learned at this stage of the internship was the use of LaTex to include mathematical symbols and algebra in question text and feedback.

We concentrated our main efforts on using Moodle Cloze question types throughout this internship, which can include either numerical, short answer or multiple choice style questions. Potential areas for further work in this area could include embedding images directly into multiple choice style questions, and the implementation of drag’n’drop style questions, in which students need to drag a ‘tile’ with the correct information it, and drop it onto the correct part of a diagram in the question text.

I then set about improving the current Statics questions. This was achieved mainly by improving the visual layout of the questions, hints and feedback for each question. In particular much work was put into improving the feedback that students received, which involved the implementation of a full numerical worked solution for each question, and sometimes the inclusion of a graph, such as a shear force diagram, or a bending moment diagram. This stage was very time consuming, as some of these calculations and the production of these figures were detailed and complex, with complicated calculations and many factors to consider.

Having improved the five Statics quizzes already available to students, the next stage was to produce quizzes for the Dynamics and Statics part of the course. Having been through the course material, I produced three quizzes for each section, namely: a basic and higher level Materials revision quiz; a viscoelastic materials revision quiz; a Dynamics post handout 1 and handout 2 quiz; and a Dynamics mock exam question quiz. Each quiz contains questions drawn at random from a large question bank, each with a full worked solution. I worked closely with the relevant module organisers to obtain feedback on these questions as I was producing them, so hopefully they will be very helpful and constructive to students of the MPHY102P module when then are made available to them.

It will be very interesting to see how the students’ perception of these quizzes (as assessed by anonymous questionnaires and interviews) and their performances in these quizzes, compares between next academic year, and the academic year just passed. I hope that they both increase!

I very much enjoyed my 9 week summer studentship at UCL. It has involved a lot of hard work, and I have really enjoyed working in a small team, as well as working closely with the relevant UCL module supervisors. The small team has consisted of myself (a first year Biomedical Engineering Undergraduate), Vardan (a second year Computer Science Undergraduate), and Avinash (a third year Mechanical Engineering Undergraduate). All three of us were able to benefit from each other’s experience, and to add invaluable skills to the project.

I am now proficient at using Moodle, XML, and LaTex. My MatLab skills have increased greatly throughout this internship. I particularly enjoyed being able to work both independently and as part of a team, and was impressed by how I was treated by the UCL academic members of staff throughout the internship: as a colleague, receiving prompt and helpful feedback when required.

The internship has been a very productive way to spend this summer: it has taught me some very valuable IT skills, it has been great work experience and career development for me, as well as hopefully contributing to the teaching and feedback experience that IEP students receive in the future.


posted on behalf of Dr Pilar Garcia Souto

Investigating IPython notebook servers for teaching physics

JaninaDewitz7 October 2015

To support first and third year Physics & Astronomy undergraduates in using ipython notebooks to understand important concepts in their courses, and perform complex calculations.

IPython notebooks
IPython is an interactive version of the language python, which is used extensively throughout the world; it is also now taught to all first- and second-year students on the main stream in Physics & Astronomy.  The IPython Notebook, which has evolved into the Jupyter notebook, is a web-based application that allows the user to mix code, text and visualisation.  See ipython.org and jupyter.org for more information about these technologies.

One key use in supporting learning in Physics is to make lecture notes interactive: rather than having a static diagram or graph of a process, include some code to generate the graph so that the student can adjust various parameters (corresponding to physical processes) and see the results.  This gives a new, intuitive understanding of complex physics problems.

The other key use envisaged was to enable complex problems in quantum mechanics to be solved numerically.  Standard approaches to teaching quantum mechanics rely on analytical (pen-and-paper) solution of problems, but are limited to only a few examples which can be solved by undergraduates.  The ipython notebook will allow complex, real-life problems to be tackled, again giving new, deeper insight into the subject being studied, and making the learning process active.  It will also enable students to perform calculations which parallel current research.

The ELDG provided funds for a PhD student to assist the PI in creating videos covering: the installation of an ipython notebook distribution; the use of ipython; and support of students in learning ipython.  Engagement of the PhD student in creation of new notebooks was a possible extension.

The PhD student produced several videos covering the installation and use of ipython on a Mac, which were embedded into the Moodle page for a first year Physics course.

Unfinished Business
The project did not excel in engaging either the PhD student or the undergraduates in using ipython notebooks.  In particular, the PhD student was not engaged in undergraduate support or notebook creation.  The use of notebooks in the year 2014-2015 was rather limited: in one first year course, the lecture notes were converted to ipython notebooks, while in the third year course two notebooks were produced, but there was little engagement from undergraduates.

Lessons Learned
It is clear, in retrospect, that identifying a strongly motivated and interested PhD student before starting the grant (ideally during the planning and application phase) was necessary.  Planning the engagement of the student in notebook creation and the use of notebooks in the courses would have enabled significantly more progress to have been made.

Future Developments
Despite the relatively poor outcome of the ELDG project, there are a number of exciting developments in the exploration of ipython notebooks for teaching Physics.

  • All first and second year main stream physics students now learn python (Y1) and ipython notebooks (Y2)
  • A workshop was held in Week 0 of T1 this year to introduce Y3 non-main-stream students (Natural Sciences and Theoretical Physicists) to ipython notebooks which was very well attended
  • A number of ipython notebooks have already been created for the Y3 quantum mechanics course (see http://nbviewer.ipython.org/github/davidbowler/PHAS3226/tree/master/ for examples) and the course is being taught with more reference to these
  • A new ELDG project has been funded to create a UCL-based Jupyter hub: a central server accessible to UCL students to run ipython notebooks.  This hub enables new functionality including clicker-like polls which will enhance the use of notebooks in teaching.


posted on behalf of Prof David Bowler

Using Lecture Capture to flip the classroom for students who speak English as a foreign or second language

JaninaDewitz18 August 2015

Final Report – E-Learning Development Grant

The following details the final report for the teaching and learning grant

The following sections are covered:

  • Research Aim
  • What is a flipped classroom?
  • Participants
  • Lecture Cast Videos
  • Lesson Plans
  • Activities and resources
  • Evaluation Forms
  • Findings
  • Discussion
  • Reporting

Research Aim

The aim of the project was to explore alternative methods for teaching in the Library and Information Studies program at UCL Qatar. The project’s objective was to explore if the flipped classroom was an appropriate teaching and learning method to use with students with diverse learning needs.

What is a flipped classroom?

Flipping the classroom involves, “Interactive group learning activities inside the classroom and direct computer-based individual instruction outside of the classroom” (Bishop & Verleger 2013). Video lectures should ideally give hints on how ideas and examples will be explored further in classroom (Tucker 2012), while the pre-class study should be framed in class with the appropriate activities like hands-on and problem-solving exercises, open discussions, creative projects or guest speakers (Lage et.al. 2000; Educause 2012; Kim et.al. 2014). A combination of video lectures, reading material, PowerPoint with sound and PowerPoint hand-outs allow students to choose the best method for their learning process (Lage et.al. 2000). Teachers can also urge their students to come to class with questions on the material studied at home (Lage et.al. 2000; Tucker 2012) or can start the in-class activities with short quizzes or polls to check the students’ recall. The “Flipped Classroom” meets a diverse range of students’ learning needs by allowing students to engage with lecture material in innovative and interactive ways both in and out of the classroom.


  • Masters LIS students studying collection management
  • Students studying in the LIS program range from a number of educational, language and cultural backgrounds
  • 13 students

Lecture Cast videos

The following videos were developed and trialed in the classroom.

  • PowerPoint presentation with teacher video on separate window
  • PowerPoint presentation with voice over
  • Voice over demonstration
  • Teacher and voice only

The videos were all under 10 minutes



Lessons Plans

Lesson plans were developed before each class in order to see if timing of activities and the order of activities were effective. This also helped to effectively organize the flipped classroom before the class.


Activities and resources

The following activities and resources were used in the classroom:

  • In class discussions
  • Online discussions
  • Readings
  • Guest Lectures
  • Handouts
  • PowerPoint’s
  • Group and individual activities
  • Online Quiz
  • Hot Questions
  • Practical activities

Evaluation Method

The flipped classroom was evaluated by evaluating each classroom and then doing a final evaluation at the end of the term.

Example of class evaluation form

1.      Indicate whether you agree or disagree with the following sentences:(please mark with an “x” an answer for every sentence):
Totally disagree Slightly disagree Neither agree nor disagree Slightly agree Totally agree
Video lecture was easy to comprehend
Video lecture helped me understand/clarify the readings
Video duration was of appropriate length
In-class activities corresponded to video lectures
2.      How many times did you watch the video lectures? 1 2 3 4+
3.      I rewinded the video lecture to watch/listen to certain parts twice or more Yes □ No □


4.      Which one of the two lecture videos did you prefer? (choose only one answer) □ PowerPoint presentation with teacher voice over
□ PowerPoint presentation with teacher video on separate window2
□ No preference between the two3
5.      Which one was the most appropriate/useful for you to understand the topic? □ Readings
             (Rate in order of significance from 1 to 5) □ Video lectures
□ Quiz
□ Discussion
□ Activities

 Final Evaluation Form

6.      Indicate whether you agree or disagree with the following sentences:(please mark with an “x” an answer for every sentence):
Totally disagree Slightly disagree Neither agree nor disagree Slightly agree Totally agree
Video lectures helped me to understand better the topics of this course
Video lectures were easy to comprehend
I prefer video lectures to live lectures
I prefer video lectures to readings
I prefer interactive in-class activities and discussions to in-person lectures
Video lectures decreased my studying time
7.      Please rate your preference for the style of video lecture that best helped you to learn about a topic (Please rate 1 as your highest preference with 4 as your least preferred video style) □ Demonstration with voice only□ Demonstration with teacher face□ Video with Powerpoint and voice□ Video with Powerpoint and face


For your number 1 preference, why do you prefer that style for the video lecture?



For the least preferred style (number 4), why did you not prefer this style of video?





3. What do you feel is an appropriate length for a video lecture in order for you to understand a topic? (Please tick 1 option) □  Under 5 minutes□  5-10minutes□ 10-20minutes□ Over 20minutes
Why do you prefer that length for a video lecture or demonstration?



Video Comprehension

  • In the final evaluation, an average of 90% of the students totally agreed that the video lectures were easy to comprehend.
  • There was a small increase each week from ‘slightly agree’ towards the ‘totally agree’ response.




Videos from Lecture 1 were easy to comprehend                              4,73

Videos from Lecture 2 were easy to comprehend                              4,80

Video from Lecture 3 was easy to comprehend                                4,82

Video from Lecture 4 was easy to comprehend                                 4,91

Video Lectures from all five lectures were easy to comprehend        4,90

Value 4: Slightly agree / Value 5: Totally agree.       


Video Length

  • 80% of the students believe that the appropriate length of video lectures should be between 5 and 10 minutes.
  • Students think this is an appropriate length because it is:
    • A Reasonable time
    • Enough to make the topic interesting
    • Not too long to get bored
    • Appropriate time not to lose focus



Video Viewings

  • A few students, fewer in each lecture, tended to watch video lectures for a second time.
  • An average of 52% of the students admit rewinding certain parts for better understanding throughout the course.
  • Students commented that they rewinded or re-watched the video lectures because:
    • Repetition helps them learn
    • To re-watch specific sections
    • because they were “keeping notes” while watching.


Video Style

  • In terms of video style there is no clear preference between videos with only voice combined with PowerPoint or Demonstration and videos with teacher face on different screen.
  • When students preferred voice only they commented:
  • Teacher’s face is a distraction
  • Voice only helps students concentrate
  • When students preferred videos with teacher face they commented:
  • Teacher’s face make video lecture more alive/natural/interactive
  • Students don’t feel lost looking just at a video
  • It feels more like a classroom environment and isn’t just a disembodied voice on a video
  • Students also liked the voice over demonstration as it shows students something practical and allows them to understand the points more easily by following steps.



Learning Preferences

  • Students seem not to have a clear preference between video lectures and live lectures.



  • They seem though to prefer video lectures to readings.


  • “Video Lectures” and “In-Class Discussions” were the most popular/useful elements of the flipped class.
  • Students also seem to prefer interactive in-class activities more than strictly in-person lectures.






Student Feedback

Students stated the following about the flipped classroom experience:

  • “The idea of implementing the flipped classroom was helpful”
  • “It should be applied in other courses”
  • “I liked the idea of watching videos, being told to read something mentioned in the video, coming to class and then doing activities based on the readings”



Overall the flipped classroom was a success with mostly positive feedback from the students. This style of teaching also suited a diverse range of students learning preferences as lots of different videos and activities were used in the classroom meeting the different learning needs of the group. “Video Lectures” and “In-Class Discussions” were the most popular/useful elements of the flipped class to help students understand the topic, and students indicated a preference for classes that involved interactive hands on activities rather than lecture only classes. This shows students like the more interactive or collaborative elements of the class.

Short videos that can be viewed and rewatched at the students’ own pace suited a range of students’ strategies for learning including using repetition to learn and taking notes. Videos also accommodate students’ who may face challenges understanding or remembering details from lectures. As no particular video style was greatly preferred over another, this shows that students have a diverse range of preferences for learning from visual medium. Therefore a range of videos need to be developed in order to meet those diverse learning needs. It is also recommended that it would be useful if there was an option in LectureCast for students to choose to see the lecturers’ face.

A few of the activities proved not to be popular. In-class quizzes to test students’ understanding were not popular and although they were not marked they made students uncomfortable. Hot Questions also didn’t seem to work as only one student came to class prepared with a hot question. In response to this a more informal way of using questions was undertaken in order to assess if students had watched the videos and understood the topic. The questions were asked in an informal class discussion. This approach was received more positively by the students.

There were some challenges involved during the project. LectureCast platform seemed problematic to some students as they faced a few difficulties in accessing videos. This was mostly due to the use of VPN in university computer stations, as a prerequisite to access Lecture casts. Some students also indicated that had difficulties in understanding new terms and minor sound problems. Another challenge was getting the students to watch the videos.  Students did not always watch the videos stating reasons such as technical reasons or not having time. In response to this some lectures were shown in class and different methods were employed to encourage students to watch the videos, e.g. informal and formal quizzes.

This project shows that flipping the classroom meets the diverse range of learning needs of students and successfully helps students to understand and learn about topics.

  • Flipping the classroom can accommodate a number of learners including:
    • Dependent learners (instruction led activities and readings)
    • Collaborative learners (group activities)
    • Independent learners (watching videos at own pace)
    • Visual learners (various video styles)
    • Auditory learners (listening to videos, in class discussions)

The flipped classroom also worked well in the postgraduate environment were students are expected to be more independent and use critical thinking skills and in teaching environments where there are students who speak English as a second language as it gives them opportunities to rewatch materials and work at their own pace. In this particular class, the class size was small and this was also conducive to the effectiveness of the flipped classroom.


  1. The preliminary results of the project were reported through a poster presentation at the Association Library Information Science Education conference in Chicago, USA
  2. The outcomes of the project were report on through a presentation at the UCL Teaching and Learning Conference in London, UK
  3. The outcomes of the project will be submitted in journal article form to a journal in the Library and Information Science field.


posted on behalf of Nicole Johnston and Theofanis Karafotias


Report on the project of Object-Based teaching Greek and Latin Department, UCL

JaninaDewitz6 August 2015

The project has built on the successful cooperation between the Department of Greek and Latin and the Petrie Museum. For the last couple of years the Department has organized many classes in the Petrie Museum especially linked to the teaching of Beginners Greek and Latin. The purpose of the project has been to make material available online in order to enable tutors and students in Greek and Latin to make good use of this resource at any time.

The initial aim was to create 3D-scans (with existing software) and brief descriptions (in the form of blogs) of selected objects with Greek which belong to the Petrie collection and eventually make them available online. The objects were selected by the tutor of the Beginners Greek course and they have simple writing in Greek with grammatical and syntactical phenomena which can be linked to the language courses currently offered by the Department.

This has been a great opportunity for object-based learning in language teaching. The tutor has arranged for a visit to the Petrie Museum with the teaching assistants and the students of the Beginners Greek class. A curator of the museum has helped the tutor and the students with the handling of the objects and has provided useful information about their dating, the place and the circumstances under which they have been found, etc. She has also informed the students about the latest technology used in the Museum. The tutor has prepared blogs with information about the objects and relevant exercises of grammar and vocabulary and uploaded them on Moodle so that the students could familiarize themselves with the objects in advance.

The material is now available for courses on language and literature of the Ancient World. The Petrie Museum has made these objects available for the general public online. Unfortunately it has been impossible to create new 3D-scans since the main person responsible for their creation has left the Petrie Museum in 2015.

However, objects have been identified and brief descriptions and blogs for the teaching of both terms have been created and have been made available to the students. All information is now on Moodle and the database with the material is ready to be used again this coming September. The material will continue to be used by teacher and students and additions to the web resource will be made. The material will be enriched and integrated into the course. The project has encouraged other language tutors to use artifacts in language learning and the tutors will report about their experiences to the departmental teaching committee.

[posted on behalf of Dr Antony Makrinos]

Students make documentary videos: archaeology and beyond

MarcosMartinon-Torres21 August 2014

Most students are fed up with writing essays, and most teachers are fed up with writing them. Of course they serve a purpose, but surely there are other ways to assess what our students have learned and are capable of doing, while keeping them learning, and helping us learn too.

Thanks to an E-Learning Development Grant, last year I piloted an alternative assessment for my undergraduate Archaeometallurgy course. I gave students the opportunity to produce, plan, write, shoot, and edit 5-minute documentary videos on a topic of their choice, provided that they were relevant to the course syllabus and aimed at an educated, nonspecialist audience. The result was remarkable success: a good number of students embraced the challenge of using their smart phones for something new, and engaging different parts of their brain . They produced very creative and informative videos. Together, they presented interviews, experiments, museums and archival research on a wide range of topics, such as the production of weapons in Roman Britain, Mycenean gold, crucible steel, the Benin brasses at the British Museum or the rather more modern history of the aluminium in our cans of Coke.

Without a doubt, for many of these students, who had no experience of videomaking, this assessment took longer than other options. Far from complaining, however, they appreciate the fact that they were prompted to learn new skills that will be useful outside the classroom. Needless to say, I learned a lot too, not only from their videos but also from trying to guide them in an area outside my own comfort zone. As their videos will soon be uploaded to a Youtube channel, the students will also be contributing to democratising access to knowledge – another useful lesson learned by all.

Luke Davis wrote a news item for the Teaching and Learning Portal where you can find a few more thoughts about the experience, as well as a a link to a blog by one of the students, where she presents her video as well an interesting assessment of the whole experience.

This would not have been possible without the help, stamina and creativity of David Larreina, a PhD student who was recruited as a TA to create guidelines and offer surgeries to the students. David created two sample videos as well as a detailed set of guidelines in wiki form, which the students found very informative. Importantly, these videos and guidelines are written in such a way that they should be useful for people outside archaeology, considering similar assessments for their own courses – or those simply willing to create short, documentary videos for any purpose.

I very much hope that you find these guidelines useful – if you use them, or if you would like to discuss any of this with a view to using videos as a form of assessment, feel free to get in touch.



Video lectures filmed by students: report

Jonny DEvans22 June 2014

My final report on the e-learning project “Video lectures filmed by students” is now available to download in PDF form.

The purpose of this e-learning project was to test the effectiveness and viability of getting students to film mathematics lectures and the effect on student learning of making these videos available. The project was made possible by an E-Learning Development Grant (ELDG) and by the cooperation of a large number of people who I thank at the end.

Disclaimer. The project analysis is not scientific: there is no attempt made at comparison with a control group, the data sets are not large and the statistical methods used to analyse them are crude. This report is intended to be at best a rough guide to the UCL Mathematics Departmental Teaching Committee as to what action to take on filming of mathematics lectures.

To see all my blog posts about this project, follow the following links:

1. E-learning: Video lectures filmed by students

2. Video-lecture project: weeks 1 & 2

3. December: video project update

4. E-learning project report

Lecturecasts in the Field – slowly does it.

Danuta GKaminski11 June 2014

Earth Sciences:
Michael Kaminski (videos creation)

Project Objectives.

All earth scientists agree that fieldwork is a fundamental activity in our teaching curriculum and cannot stress enough the importance of using this natural laboratory so students can learn geological skills from rock identification to solving complex 3D structures in situ.  Utilizing techniques learned in lectures and laboratory-based coursework, students are expected to investigate and identify geological features and phenomena through direct observation.

YouTube channel Fieldcasting Earth Sciences


Our project sets out to enhance these skills by capturing real time teaching in the field.  The recorded material is to be used for pre- and post-fieldtrip training.


How we envisaged this project:

We aimed to record selected parts of the field training, and started by testing various scenarios from capturing short explanations, teaching objectives, and a summary session for each locality as provided by the leader; shadowing the lecturer while he guides students doing their individual work.  We even tried “snooping” on the students to get their learning perspective.  In the 1st stage of this project we aimed to gather a large number of recordings to have the data to critically analyse the video material later and define best practice.


We learned by practice and making mistakes:

-lecturecasting in the field varies tremendously based on the filed objectives and the style of teaching by individual field leader. It needs individual approach.

– shadowing a lecturer is a skill – you don’t get the Attenborough effect by having one camera, one PhD student operator and “one shot” at the action!

– field participants get in your way all the time – they don’t stay still and move into your frame when least desired. At times the “crowds” just don’t allow you to get a good filming spot.

– terrain type and weather conditions can be challenging for taking smooth recording with the best exposure.  You cannot come back to the locality when the sun is in the right position!

– ambient noise and more noise.  There is the kind you cannot control, like the wind or waves and the kind you try to minimize – that being students going about doing their observations.

– operator’s errors – these vary from batteries that run out of juice in the middle of recording to fast panning and zooming in and out of the frame.

– time is working against you.  Fieldwork is planned to a very rigid timetable – hardly ever you get a chance to do a second take!

– budget for post-production video editing – the extent of it will vary, often depending on who will have access to view the material.  In ALL cases you will need to do some degree of editing.
– avoid using the YouTube auto-stabilizer – makes the video wavy and induces a form of sea sickness!


 YouTube Earth Sciences Fieldcasting  YouTube Earth Sciences Fieldcasting
Original video. YouTube auto-stabilized video.
YouTube increases the scales of the video and crops out the edges.  Applies a wave-stabliser to reduce ‘shaky’ motion replacing it with a fluid motion. It will affect the readability of the add-on captions.


What can you prepare for before you start?

Selecting the correct equipment is crucial! We did our research very carefully by googling, talking to UCL Video unit (Patrick and Mike – many thanks for your advice!) and visiting the specialist outlet (Calumet) to discuss our project. In the end we got that right – we purchased an entry-level camera professional Canon XA20 HD together with Canon WM-V1 wireless mics.  Don’t forget the long recording battery packs for the camera! Also buy the best tripod you can afford – our Ex-Pro Heavy Duty Professional camera tripod with pro ball head worked well on pebbles and rocks. You will be recording outside so get the weather proofs and a good carry bag to fit it all in.

What have we achieved?

After analyzing the recorded footage from two fieldtrips we have agreed on a best working practice.  The most important assumption was to get the individual objectives for each fieldtrip correct and keep it short.  Decide on the style of recording – short thematic recordings, documentary style recording, commentaries or training videos.

We have now recorded set of 15 thematic videos documenting the Cornwall part of our 1st Year South-West England trip.  We opted for short, thematic footage as best suited to introduce basic geological techniques to our “budding geologist”.   In our slightly light-hearted ‘Speed Geology’ video we engaged students to tell us about the rocks they have identified – most of them agreed to talk, as long as they are not being recorded themselves! These videos will enhance our current web-based e-learning pages for this fieldtrip.  Because of the intended wider audience and YouTube location we have used the skills of our web designer who produced the videos including standardized branded opening and closing clips.  All together it took us 5 days to produce these videos using the Adobe Premier software – a great, flexible package well worth the purchase!  In addition, we have also recorded the running summary discussion for each locality – these are longer (up to 15 minutes), non-edited videos and they were made available to students via Moodle (using UCL streamlining service).

On the same trip we have also recorded footage of 3 days of fieldwork in Dorset – we are now working on incorporating them into 3 longer commentaries – one for each day of the trip.  The field leader will record the audio separately to overlay the relevant clips for that location.  The raw footage was not suitable to utilize as is.

Where are we going from here?

Currently we are testing a new learning approach for the 4th year fieldwork in Germany.  This is the last assignment our graduating students have to do and the very last marks they are being awarded.  This is a complex fieldtrip that draws on their learning in number of aspects of earth sciences topics acquired through their studies.  We aim to provide the pre-field material that gives them enough of the relevant background knowledge “probe” to most effectively prepare them to complete their independent observations in the field, without giving the whole story away. This fieldcast will also provide an English commentaries for some of the museums/geological sites that only provide description in German language.

 Was it worth it?

Definitely – both students and staff agreed that this is a valuable learning material – so far we could only use it for post-learning revision.  We had run a little survey to ask participating students how they perceived the educational value of these videos with two themes re-occurring in their answers: “great – I actually missed that explanation/demonstration in the field” and “after the 2nd day in the field we get the image overload and the videos allow us to revisit the sites and refocus on what we have seen at each locality”. All students agreed that “this would have been great to watch before we went on the field trip, to alert us to what we will be investigating in the field”.

An iterative framework for e-learning video creation

AdrienDesjardins25 May 2014

With a previous E-Learning Development Grant (ELDG) entitled “Learning about learning,” our Department developed a novel e-learning framework that enabled students to create and revise e-learning videos for teaching their peers. This framework was implemented as coursework in one of our undergraduate courses (MPHY2002: Introduction to Biophysics; 38 students). It was described in a manuscript that was submitted to the Journal of Science Education and Technology (co-authors: Jessica Gramp from E-Learning Environments; Teedah Saratoon and Prof. Alan Cottenden from the Department of Medical Physics and Bioengineering).

With ELDGs awarded in 2012/2013 and 2013/2014, we refined our e-learning framework. Students created Powerpoint slides with narration text that answered medical physics questions chosen by the course Lecturers. Our e-Learning Coordinator (Teedah Saratoon, a PhD student who was funded by the ELDG) transformed the students’ phase 1 materials into videos by converting their narration text to audio streams and merging these audio streams with the Powerpoint slides. In phase 2, the students reviewed the presentations created by their peers and proposed changes to improve them from a pedagogical standpoint. The students were required to justify each change and to implement them in order to create revised presentations. Subsequently, our e-Learning Coordinator created revised videos based on the students phase 2 materials. For both phases, the students worked collaboratively, with 2-3 students per group.

Whereas in the previous academic year, students generated presentations that were centred on an explanation of particular topics, students in this academic year generated presentations to answer specific questions that were largely quantitative. We expected that students in this academic year would find it challenging to present quantitative material in a lively manner. Somewhat surprisingly, we observed that the students did not seem challenged by this; their presentations were engaging, with creative touches.

An important part of this year’s ELDG was the introduction of concept maps. This learning assessment technique, which was introduced by Vicki Dale from E-Learning Environments, could be very well suited to quantifying learning associated with both creation and viewing of e-learning videos. Together with Mira Vogel, Vicki kindly provided a guest lecture on concept maps, in which the students obtained hands-on exposure to the technique. The positive feedback that we received from students has motivated us to make it a key component of the course next year.

Teedah, our E-learning Coordinator, wrote: “I’m very proud to have been part of such a creative project. The e-learning videos that students have created have facilitated their learning through teaching, allowed them to exercise their critical evaluation skills and provided excellent material that can benefit future students. Taking on such an unconventional piece of coursework, together with the knowledge that their efforts may survive beyond their own learning as a study tool for others, has brought out real inventiveness and enthusiasm in the students, which has only added to the success of the project.”

The e-learning framework developed with this ELDG was presented at two events: the UCL Teaching and Learning Conference on April 3 (co-presenter: Jessica Gramp), and the Franco-British Engineering Education Workshop, which was held at the French Embassy on March 25-27.

In the next academic year, we will focus on quantitative assessment of the pedagogical value of student-generated e-learning videos. Additionally, we will start to put together a toolbox for other Module Organisers at UCL who may be interested in implementing a similar e-learning framework.

We are very grateful for the support and guidance that we received from Domi Sinclair, Vicki Dale, and Jessica Gramp from the E-Learning Environments (ELE). Teedah Saratoon, our E-learning coordinator, did a terrific job whilst in the final months of completing her PhD thesis!

The Bridge to China story

Chris JDillon23 May 2014

The Bridge to China ELDG is now long spent (many thanks!), but this is a good place to write a short account of the experiment of using wikis for language learning at UCL.

The story starts with an intuition I had in 2008 and was absolutely not based on the language-learning research of the time which generally did not mention the word wiki. The intuition was that a wiki could be used systematically to arrange the formal aspects of a language – the rules, exceptions and lists that form the nuts and bolts of a language.

I was teaching myself Norwegian at the time and had run out of reasonably priced materials. I met Margrethe Alexandroni, Teaching Fellow in Norwegian in UCL’s Department of Scandinavian Studies and a gifted author of Norwegian short stories. The stories were in electronic format on floppy discs. We transferred them to the wiki and added vocabularies, grammar, exercises, a dictionary and some MP3s. It was huge fun and now represents the world’s largest free and open resource of Norwegian language learning materials.

A change of job in 2012 made Mandarin Chinese a major part of my working life. I decided that, instead of going to a language class, I would go the wiki route again. I gathered a team of about ten around me including Selina Zheng from UCL CLIE and we collected sentences which were then analyzed into categories to build a grammar.

However, we did hit the buffers in one area. We simply could not get hold of Mandarin conversations. I dashed off an application for an ELDG and was delighted when the response was yes. For the £1,000 we got fifty conversations, written by two students who had provided huge amounts of voluntary work on the wiki and so it was good to be able to say thank you in a practical way. They produced so much, Chinese transliterating, annotating and editing was coming out of my ears for weeks. Heaven!

img: Recording conversations for Bridge to China

Recording conversations for Bridge to China

And now for two hours each week students gather in my office for recordings and we are now up to conversation 27 of 50.

One suspects that this is a robust approach. If it works for languages as different as Norwegian and Mandarin. Obviously I do all I can to promote further language wikis at UCL. I have a feeling the next one may be in India or Eastern Europe and fortunately they have bears in both locations. (We used a polar bear and a panda as a logo for the projects.)

So, conclusion “Don’t worry if there’s no research, if you know it will work, just do it!” and smile sweetly at the naysayers. How else are we going to discover new things? Others elsewhere simultaneously made the same discovery and now wikis and languages have almost become respectable.