The transformation of our digital estate must keep pace with that of our physical estate, if we are to deliver a world class education, says Professor Anthony Smith, Vice-Provost (Education and Student Affairs)
Our students expect a blended education, with easy online access to lecture materials and further reading, recordings of lectures, as well as opportunities for virtual collaboration with their peers. Our Digital Education team has developed the ABC (Arena, Blended, Connected) ‘rapid development’ workshop for curriculum design so that blended learning can be systematically embedded into formal programme and module planning and I warmly encourage colleagues to get in touch with the team, firstname.lastname@example.org, to arrange a workshop for your programme. So far 173 modules and 28 CPD courses and MOOCs have been designed or redesigned through 69 ABC workshops with academic teams.
Of course, key to blended learning is Moodle, our digital learning environment. Moodle is widely used by students and staff and I am pleased that we have agreed on the UCL E-Learning Baseline, a set of minimum standards for every Moodle course, including the desirability, requested by the Students’ Union, that lecture materials be made available online 48 hours in advance, where that is practicable.
After a huge increase in use by students, the Digital Education team is preparing to reconfigure Moodle for the start of session 2018-19, to make it more responsive and accessible, and to make sure that it reflects accurately the module data currently being collected by the Academic Model Project (see below). I recognise that this will place an additional burden on teaching and teaching support staff, at a time when they are managing other new initiatives such as the Late Summer Assessment period and I would like to thank everyone in advance for their support for this urgent and necessary work. The new Moodle will bring a new, more accessible theme (the look and feel that sits on top of Moodle), that will enable those with disabilities to better use the VLE, as well as making it easier for all staff and students to navigate and use. Read more about the Accessible Moodle theme and the project that made it happen on the Digital Education blog.
Lecturecast, where students can revisit all or part of their lectures, is one of the services that receives very positive feedback from students. The accessibility it affords strengthens the inclusive nature of our education, and helps our students to direct their own learning. There has been a five-fold increase in the use of Lecturecast this year – 50% of classes held in Lecturecast-enabled spaces are now being recorded. I encourage departments and individuals to use the system wherever possible – students are clear that this is what they want and increasingly expect. We are planning to install the technology into smaller classrooms in addition to our large capacity lecture theatres over the next few years to meet student demand.
Technology supporting assessment and feedback
Digital technology is already bringing improvements to assessment and feedback across our taught programmes. Introduced nearly ten years ago, Turnitin is a digital system that works via Moodle to manage all stages of the assessment process for written assessments, including submission, marking and returning work, giving feedback and supporting good academic writing. Turnitin is now used in nearly all departments and more than 200,000 pieces of work have been submitted already this year.
MyFeedback, a tool within Moodle, allows students to view all their assessment feedback in a single view, which means that they can compare and identify common areas for improvement, with the support of their personal tutors. MyFeedback provides quick access to feedback provided in Moodle Assignments, Turnitin Assignments, quizzes, workshops (for peer assessment) and feedback within the Moodle gradebook. The MyFeedback report was developed at UCL and is now being used by more than 400 other institutions worldwide. But many UCL modules do not provide electronic feedback within Moodle, which means MyFeedback cannot be used by these students. Assessment and feedback is the one area where we have struggled to demonstrate consistent improvement across UCL. Students tell us this and it was reflected in last year’s Teaching Excellence Framework and will come into even sharper focus in subject-level TEF. The MyFeedback tool is one approach to help with feedback. Please take a look at it or ask for a demonstration. It is a powerful tool that we need to adopt more widely across UCL.
The digital spine of UCL education
Thank you to everyone who has been collaborating with Academic Services on the Academic Model Project, through which we are making urgent improvements to Portico. This comprehensive exercise to gather module data, programme summaries, and teaching and assessment data will result in the streamlining of many processes – for example, students will find module selection much more straightforward. This project touches on other services including Moodle and Lecturecast, and we are working to avoid disruption to these key services at start of session. Preparations for the next phase of the project has already begun, focussing on the delivery of further process improvements to key areas including module registration, progression and award. Again, I would like to thank everyone involved in the collection and processing of this data. These projects add to your already substantial workload, but the dividend will be efficient systems with quick access to accurate data that will improve our teaching delivery.
Our ambition is to deliver exceptional teaching and learning: giving all our students the opportunity to conduct original research, to learn across disciplines and to develop, through their programmes and extracurricular opportunities, the skills that will help them towards rewarding and exciting careers. A digital infrastructure that is robust, reliable and user-friendly is vital to meet this ambition. Thank you for all your work with our digital environment – it will greatly enhance the student experience.