Wednesday, 18 December 2013

e-Portfolios for the reflective learner - How did it go?

From the 9th to the 16th of December we ran an online course entitled 'e-Portfolios for the reflective learner'. This course has emerged from UCS' new Digital Literacies Programme -, along with another online course based around LearnUCS' quiz engine and objective testing.

For this course however, we used our Mahara system to help and guide students in building an e-portfolio and raising their awareness of being a reflective learner.

You can see the pitch for the course here -

And take a look here to see how we structured the course -

The interest in this course was surprising, accumulating 30 signups, mainly from the student base here and given just a week to signup, I feel this is quite an achievement and I think highlights the effectiveness of our communication channels and use of social media.

We opted for the manual administration of user accounts and group access as we have just undergone a large upgrade and authentication shift with Mahara and wanted to adjust to the new processes first.

Once the student accounts had been created and added to the course group in Mahara they were all notified by email about their new accounts, a video introduction from the course facilitator and a means of communicating back to the facilitator if they had any issues logging in.

Where the course was concerned, there were 8 pages in total, the first page being an introduction to the course, support models and a light touch approach to answering the question, what is an e-portfolio? After the introduction the students are now into the tasks and activities, weaving the students through the why's and how's of being reflective and using the different tools in Mahara to help facilitate this, such as, the journal tool, the planning tool and finally bringing it all together into an e-portfolio page which they submit to the course group.

After submission, they are introduced to the 'Where next?' page which detailed where students could go to find out more about being reflective or other digital literacies programmes they might find helpful.

The support model consisted of the facilitator monitoring the discussion forums (which were used) and messaging through Mahara, which wasn't used much, students were expected to manage their own time with the tasks and had access to all the content from day one.

I'm pleased to say that 43% (13 Students) of the cohort submitted a brilliant array of portfolios, I was even more happy with the fact students had begun to experiment with other elements, such as adding images and videos even though this was not a task or assessed in any way.

Here are some comments from students about the course:

Student 1:
When I first opened Mahara, I had absolutely no idea where to start, however following the tasks has helped me find how easy it actually is to use. I think that I will use mahara more often[sic] in the future, as it will probably help me de-stress and clear my head a little better.
Student 2:
I wouldn't have used Mahara without the e-Portfolios for the reflective learner course. I found it quite confusing at first and wasn't really sure what was meant by terms such as 'pages' and the different content.
I found working through the main features during the short course very useful, and by understanding the main features, the use of other features became clearer.
Student 3:
This experience has been positive for me as I have been able to understand how to become a more reflective learner in a effective and efficent[sic] way. Furthermore, I have been able to identify my learning style, which has benefit me in identifying what skills I need to develop to improve. Although the experience has been positive I did struggle with getting used to the programme, at which some face to face contact would have been helpful in supporting my learning.

You can infer from the above that some students struggle with simply picking up a system and running with it as I guess we wrongly assume the latest generation of tech savvy students should be able to do. I think the way we guided the students through the 'why' as the first priority helped with this transition. Once a student could see the benefits of using the system and being reflective, they were happy to move forward to the 'how' section.

One of the things we were keen to track was how much time was spent not only facilitating the course and supporting students but also the creation and administration of the course, you can see a rough tally for our online courses here -

All 13 students who submitted their portfolios before the end of the course received a Certificate of Achievement for completing the course.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Blackboard Issues (16th Dec) Update 1

Following up from the earlier issues:

  • Inline Grading - Staff - The tool is now functioning as expected
  • Text Box Editor - The tool is now functioning as expected

  • Inline Grading - Students - We are continuing testing submissions

Sorry for any inconvenience this has caused.  We will update when we know a timeframe.

If you have any questions, please email the Elevate Team (

Blackboard Issues (16th Dec): Update

We are aware people may be encountering a few issues with inline grading (assessments) and text edit boxes. We are sorting through the issues and starting discussions with Blackboard. We will rectify the situation in as quick as possible.

Sorry for any inconvenience this has caused. I will update when we know a timeframe.

If you have any questions, please email the Elevate Team (

Monday, 9 December 2013

Elevate Team Staff Development Videos: December, 2013


Given we are all becoming multi-modal learners - The Elevate Team are organising some support material through a featured videos series. These videos will be created by either the Elevate Team or other people, including other e-learning teams, or software vendors. We are organising these by month, and focussing on how to use the tool, or learning design considerations.

Our selection criteria will be to focus on one tool which is used regularly at UCS, and one which is less well known tool.

How to use the tool

Creating and entering a blog entry: Blackboard created

Elevate Team Notes: The blog tool in LearnUCS offers a number of really useful learning applications. For instance, literature / article review, or reflections on student lessons from a face to face teaching session.

Learning design considerations

An introduction to e-Portfolios: Desire-2-Learn created

Elevate Team Notes: This introduction video to e-Portfolios gives a good context around what is an e-Portfolio and how you might include it within teaching, learning and assessment models. Although it discusses the Desire-2-Learn e-Portfolio tool, the ideas are transferable to UCS's Mahara e-Portfolio tool

Friday, 6 December 2013

Wondering about a course design which joins up the face to face and online learning spaces?

Have you been pondering about how you might use the Clickers? or how you might use clickers and LearnUCS? or why do you need to write all the MCQ questions?

If yes to any of the above you might enjoy reading the linked article by Barry Ryan.

Ryan, B (2013) Line up, line up: using technology to align and enhance peer learning and assessment in a student centred foundation organic chemistry module (

The case study walks through the why and the how they applied a range of learning technologies to enhance their module. The article is particularly accessible as it provides tangible ideas and advice around technologies which are available at UCS, and provides additional support to the flipped classroom.

After reading it, if you are wondering how you might design and implement similar ideas within your course at UCS, simply email the Elevate Team (

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

OWLET Cancelled

Unfortunately due to unforeseen circumstances this months OWLET by Dr Stephen Bostock on 'Feedback for Learning' has been cancelled. This may be re-scheduled in the new year.

Please check back next month for our 'Quality Enhancement of teaching and learning in the Scottish HE context' OWLET by Professor Terry Mayes from Glasgow Caledonian University.

We apologies for any inconvenience.

Learning technology: what is it good for? Elevate presentation at the ASS TALC Event

The School of Applied Social Science ran its Teaching and Learning Assessment Event on Wednesday 27th at UCS. The Elevate Team was involved as both presenters and attendees. I ran a 30 minute session on "Learning technology, what is it good for?"

The main thrust of the session was for the attendees to think about what is needed for an effective implementation. For instance, the actual technology has a relatively small role to play in effective deployment. The session focussed on;
  • outlining a framework to assess our technology enhanced activity (I used Nicol & MacFarlane-Dick's 7 principles)
  • timeline perspective to effectively blend the learning activities 
  • operationalising the timeline through the learning design sequence
This was based on two levels: the individual activity, and the module design

The slides are available below (note: speakers notes are available the settings cog)

During the rest of the session a number of how might we design ... will technology offer opportunities for ... questions were raised.

A user requirement which we are taking away to mock up for one course team is as follows:
Students work in small groups, on a cross discipline module to create a poster. This poster with supporting presentation is assessed. One of the problems with this activity is some students in the group contribute less than others, and this needs to be identified and considered within the grading.
In further discussion with members of the course team, we thought the poster activity could be further enhanced, through the inclusion of multimedia, if it was an electronic poster (web page). This could be approached as a wiki page, within a group area on LearnUCS. One of the benefits of the wiki is it tracks the actual contribution of individuals. The benefit of the group area is it allows the use of group blogs, which can be used as project reporting tools to evidence contributions.

Relating their activity back to the session I delivered, we'll incorporate the use of the Rubric (mark scheme) for the wiki graded activity, and more continual formative feedback with lecturers accessing their wiki resource.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

UCS online digital literacy programme: December 2013 offerings

The Digital Literacy programme at UCS is a collaborative approach from a number of teams who focus on staff and student support and development. Including, the Elevate Team, The Library and Learning Development.

The work is strongly influenced by the Digital Literacy initiatives at other UK HEIs. In particular, the JISC funded SeePoD project at the University of Plymouth (

The programme provides face to face events (workshops, masterclasses, drop in surgeries), with online sessions (courses, webinars, faqs) with the intention of providing both breadth and depth for learners.
The underlying learning design for the online digital literacy programme is;
  • Effective learning requires the inclusion of all learning models, with particular importance on social (situated - communities of practice) learning
  • Effective online learning requires the student to be active within the process
  • Effective online learning is driven through effective individual feedback
The courses for December 2013, are;
  • e-Portfolios for the reflective practitioner
  • Introduction to the LearnUCS (blackboard) quiz engine
For more details, see the UCS Digital Literacy programme area. If you have any questions, please email Andy Ramsden (

For background information of the Digital Literacy Programme, see

Friday, 29 November 2013

LearnUCS Quick Hit: Item Analysis - Tests

A little know feature that was added during our upgrade is the "Item Analysis" tool.

Item analysis provides statistics on overall test performance and individual test questions. This data helps you recognise questions that might be poor indicators of student performance. You can use this information to improve questions for future tests or to adjust credit on current attempts.

The video below shows how to use this very straightforward but powerful feature:

New students in the School of Arts and Humanities take a quick test after having a health and safety briefing.  This year the test has been created in LearnUCS and the students have started taking the test, below are some screen shots showing the results of the Item Analysis in the test.

The image below shows the quick break down of the test, giving a summary to date.

The image below shows the more detailed information of all questions.  You can see the question at the bottom students have had more problems answering correctly than the others.  From this screen you can click on the question to check that the answer is setup correctly, or to decide if it needs amending.  If you were to make a change you can have the question auto-marked again to correct the scores. 

This tool offers a powerful feature for those that are already using the Test/Quiz engine or a new incentive for those thinking of using it.

As always please email if you would like to discuss your use of LearnUCS.

Out & About: Aaron at the JISC Eastern VLE Forum

I spent the 15th November at the JISC Eastern VLE Forum, hosted at City College Norwich's rather nice St Andrews House campus.

The programme (below) looked interesting and I was especially interested in the Badges session.

Session Name
Arrivals and refreshments
Arrivals and refreshments
Welcome Introduction
RSC Eastern News Update
RSC Eastern News Update
Around the region
Around the region: Informal achievement use of badges?
Refreshment break
Show and Tell
Charlie Williams: Conditional activities and badges in Moodle
Bedford College
Moodle Grade Tracker: project outcomes
Blackboard course integration
setting up Blackboard for course integration. Chris boon
Show and Tell
Making courses on your learning platform more engaging
Jaki Houston, British Racing School

Unfortunately there were some changes due to travel and illness problems, but the day started with a good update from Malcolm and Ryan from Jisc Eastern.

The session that had caught my eye was sadly one of those that had fallen foul of illness, Charlie Williams was unable to attend.  So we started the pre-cursor discussion, there was a good 'Around the region' chat that was focussed on 'Informal achievement use of badges'.  This was very interesting, my very first thoughts on badges last year was that they might not fit into HE and that they would work better at a much younger age group.

Another thought I have had for the couple of years that I have been attending the Jisc Eastern's VLE Forum, was how different I/UCS felt, the majority of attendees are either FE or Adult/Work-based education providers.  Often being the only university attendee I feel that that has allowed UCS to research, develop and try things that other institutions don't get the opportunity to.

Therefore I was expecting badges to get a cheer and a huge pat on the back, but I was quite mistaken, as my tweet from the event below shows:

Those that contributed thought there was little value to badges and how they could be implemented.  I spoke about how UCS was developing its new digital literacies provision and that we are planning to use Open Badges as a way of certification.

Staff and students at UCS will be able to sign up to a number of core workshop and then pick and choose from a selection of specialist workshops and masterclasses.  Badges will be awarded for attendance and a number of these badges will add up to completion of the course.

Our VLE - Blackboard - has the ability to award badges that are compatible with Mozilla's Open Badge framework, meaning that anyone that is awarded with a badge can submit that to their Mozilla Back Pack that means they can be centrally stored in the cloud and show whenever the user chooses.

After the 'Around the region' chat, Malcolm did a great job at short notice in giving a more general presentation about badges and what his experiences were (the night before) of creating some.  One of the resources that Malcolm found informative was  Below is a (very poor) photo of some of Malcolm's resources.

There were also good sessions from the chaps at Bedford College showing off their impressive Grade Tracker plugin for Moodle and an informative show and tell from the British Racing School talking about creating more engaging content.

Overall, it was another interesting day and I am looking forward to the next.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

UCS based case studies which share emerging ideas around technology enhanced learning at UCS

One of the aims of the Elevate Team is to help facilitate a community of practice around the appropriate use of technology enhanced learning at UCS. To help achieve this (and the requirement to assess the impact of the Elevate Team) we have authored a number of case studies around specific themes which draw on practitioner stories.

So, if you are lecturer at UCS, what can you gain from these? I'd suggest these offer an excellent heads up on the diverse range of technology enhanced learning being developed at UCS. As a counter balance to LearnUCS, and reflect the diverse e-Learning Landscape, these case studies do not focus on LearnUCS.

For instance, Dr Kulbir Birak, Senior Lecturer, Psychology, comments
The OMR (paper based exam) has allowed us to evaluate and assess students understanding of a wide range of biological and behavioural psychology topics that other types of assessment would not allow us to do. Equally, with large cohorts in the IMDPSY111 Foundations of Biological and Cognitive Psychology module where we incorporate the OMR it allows us to assess a wide number of students and provide grades in a relatively quick time, as well as identify areas that we can provide general feedback on.
You can access the case studies as follows:

Impact of the Elevate Team (2013): Facilitating technology enhanced learning at UCS

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Mahara Upgrade Complete!

Good news everyone! The Mahara Upgrade this morning went well and we are now running a latest stable version of the Mahara e-Portfolio software.

A few notes to users:

If you already had a Mahara account but never logged in, you will need to register for a new account again as all 'Never logged in' users have been removed to help with statistics tracking with current users who use the system.

All UCS staff or students can now register for an account, all you have to do is go to and follow the on-screen instructions.

As we have moved to a new registration model where you can choose your own username, current users who still have an 'S' or 'E' number can change their username by clicking on their 'Settings' option to the top right of the screen when logged in.

If for any reason you have forgotten your password you can have it reset by clicking on the 'Lost username / password' option under the login box. You will then need to put in your username or UCS email address in the format of 'S' number followed by, e.g -

Encountered a problem after the upgrade? Email the Elevate Team for support or use the 'Contact Us' option at the bottom of the Mahara page.

Start building your e-Portfolio today by following the link below and registering for an account!

UCS' Mahara e-Portfolio Service -

Monday, 25 November 2013

Mahara Upgrade Tomorrow!

Just a gentle reminder that UCS' e-Portfolio Service Mahara ( will be put into maintenance mode just after midnight tonight (25th Nov) and the service will not be available until midday on the 26th of Nov.

This will mean you will not be able to login, please make sure all work is saved prior to the switch off.

An announcement will be made when the service is back up and running.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

How might the integrated use of Rubrics in LearnUCS enhance feedback and student learning?

The Elevate Team have been discussing ideas around assessment and feedback models with lecturers using the seven principles of good effective feedback as the framework. The following outlines how LearnUCS Rubrics might be used, and maps this back to the following principles:

  1. helps clarify what good performance is (goals, criteria, expected standards)
  2. facilitates the development of self-assessment (reflection) in learning
  3. provides opportunities to close the gap between current and desired performance
  4. provides information to teachers that can be used to help shape the teaching

So, before we start, what is a LearnUCS Rubric?

They are a marking scheme, which can be made visible to the student before they submit work, and you can use when marking the assignments. A Backboard quick guide is available: Rubrics

The following illustrates their potential. It is based on a formative assessment for Level 4 students. The activity is intended to reflect on the potential of technology to enhance their learning in a safe and sustainable manner.

It can be argued the provision of a rubric (marking scheme) will help student clarify what is good performance, through making the goals, criteria and expected standards transparent.

So, how can the Student see the Rubric (mark scheme)? When you associate a rubric with an assignment or activity, and ensure you have set visibility to yes, a button will be accessible for students. See below;

If the student clicks "View Rubrics" the Rubric Detail will appear.

Therefore, if you have provided a detailed rubric, the more information the student will receive. Note, in my example, as it is formative assignment I am only focussing on a broad pass or fail. However, you can add as many columns and rows as you like.

As you'd imagine the creation of the rubric is time consuming process compared to simply uploading the marking scheme as an item in LearnUCS. However, there are a number of other benefits from the use of rubrics. For instance, when you are marking the work you can use the Rubric, with a free text box to base your feedback around. This is illustrated below, where the assessor selects the individual criteria, adds the grade and provide written feedback.

Importantly, this will still allow you to use the other feedback options associated with the assignment tool. Such as file upload, or inline grading.

This approach will help the student more effectively collect and understand their feedback as it maps to various the elements of the marking scheme, their text and your feedback.

In terms of the seven principles, it will,
  1. facilitates the development of self-assessment (reflection) in learning
  2. provides opportunities to close the gap between current and desired performance

The student view of the marked Rubric, with your text based feedback is illustrated below. This will give a quick indicator of the works strengths and weaknesses.

Finally, how might the use of marked rubrics help provide information to teachers to help them help shape their teaching? It is possible to access a Rubric Report for a particular assignment which will give you the breakdown by criteria and spread of grades. This will provide evidence of performance across the cohort based on your marking criteria.

So, where next? Hopefully this has made you more aware of the what Rubrics are, and how you might use them within your teaching, learning and assessment models. If you'd like to get started using Rubrics, then email to start exploring their potential.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Important Mahara Upgrade Update!

Due to unforeseen circumstances our host ULCC will NOT be upgrading our Mahara installation tomorrow as planned. 

This has been rescheduled for next Tuesday, 26th November.

Google Hangouts & Hangouts on Air

We are currently investigating alternative options for our paid-for video/web conferencing tool, we didn't have to look far to see what Google Hangouts could offer as each of us in the team use a fair amount of Google tools as it is. After experimenting with both Google Hangouts and Google's Hangouts on Air we were astonished with it's ease of use and feature sets.

For those who are unaware, Google Hangouts are private areas where communication can be purely text, multimedia or a video hangout which can be done with up to 10 people, all while being able to share desktops, collaborate on Google Drive documents and watch YouTube videos together. You can find out more using the link at the end of the post.

Google Hangouts on Air however allows the above to be publicly broadcast live from the hosts public profile with the added bonus of the whole video being archived direct to YouTube where people will always be able to access it for future reference. There are also added apps which are available for the on Air version, most to compliment the now 'live' status.

One of these feature's we'd like to focus on is the Q&A tool. This tool essentially allows the public, as long as they have a Google Account, to ask questions to the host/s of the hangout using a very simple interface. The user doesn't need to be invited and can't participate in the hangout discussion, however when a question has been asked it gets sent to the host of the hangout to review. Other users can also ask questions but also +1 other peoples questions, the highest rated questions climb to the top. The host can dictate what questions to answer and simply clicks the question when they are ready to answer it, once answered the host simply clicks 'Done' on the question and that's that, the question has been answered.

If you don't have a Google Account you can still access the live video feed and all of the questions, now here it gets really clever, the user can now click on any of the answered questions and the video will automatically skip to the relevant section in the video where that particular question was answered.
You can see below the publicly available Hangouts on Air we conducted to demo this simple but incredibly powerful feature.

And here you can see the view from Aaron who was asking the question.

The whole process from setting up a mock event, scheduling the Hangout, running the hangout and using the Q&A tool was incredibly simple.

After an initial install of a small plugin which is necessary for anyone hosting or participating in the video broadcast, there was little reliance on heavy technology (It was ran from a cheap small Chromebook, accessed on institution laptop, etc).

Once the hangout had finished it was automatically available for viewing within YouTube making an archive incredibly accessible to anyone. There wasn't a complex setting up of mics or webcams and there was zero clutter on the screen from tools or settings that weren't used. The interface was effective and really intuitive.

Hangouts at it's very basic level, with its quick and easy features, whether its text or video, would be a great communication tool for lecturers who want to use video conferencing for personal tutorials or support.

Plus what we have learned using Hangouts on Air we feel this would also cater brilliantly for Webinars, distance learning, group tutorials, knowledge bases, video FAQs, visiting lecturers and more besides.

If you would like to find out more about the benefits of Google Hangouts and Hangouts on Air, you can check this link -->

Friday, 15 November 2013

Elevate Team Staff Development Videos: November 2013


Given we are all becoming multi-modal learners - The Elevate Team are organising some support material through a featured videos series. These videos will be created by either the Elevate Team or other people, including other e-learning teams, or software vendors. We are organising these by month, and focussing on how to use the tool, or learning design considerations.

Our selection criteria will be to focus on one tool which is used regularly at UCS, and also focussing on a less well known tool.

How to use the tool

How to create and manage an announcement in your LearnUCS course: Blackboard created

Elevate Team Notes: This does not just illustrate how to create an announcement, but also how to manage them. This is important as the announcement is a key tool to communicate and provide support in your LearnUCS course.

How to create a rubric for grading student work: Blackboard created

Elevate Team Notes: The rubric feature is seldom used at UCS. The tool allows you to include a marking criteria with in a LearnUCS activity. It has potential for peer review and assessment activities using the Blog or Wiki tool.

Learning design considerations

Supporting the seven principles with LearnUCS: Blackboard created

Elevate Team Notes: This focussed on Chickering and Gamson (1991) seven principles of effective undergraduate teaching practice. An interesting approach around the learning design and navigational structure. I did think it lost its way in terms of the seven principles. Lots of tips and ideas are available. It is very long, however, the content is covered in about 30 minutes.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Have you thought about Laurillard's Conversational Framework in yourTEL learning designs?

I recently attended the Heads of e-Learning Forum meeting at City University (

There were a number of presentation aimed at my role, however, one with a much wider audience was the keynote was by Prof Diana Laurillard. This covered a wide range of topics, and one which I had forgotten around the Conversational Framework. The presentation did make me reflect we are not using this within our effective learning design workshops.

To give a context, Laurillard proposes the business of effective education is based on a client relationship between the lecturer and the learner. This should be viewed more in the context of a personal trainer or solicitor, than a mass consumption approach.

However, this creates a point of tension within the learning design. How can we design a personal learning experience within increasing classes, especially as more learning is being undertaken online. The conversational framework can be used to help design appropriate learning activities which use appropriate tools.

I have included the slides, the conversational framework starts on Slide 7. The session was recorded and this should be released soon.

On a more practical perspective, for those who are working with objective testing for both summative and formative processes a discussion emerged around the concept of concealed MCQs. This flips the learning design of MCQs to make the student more active in the process. This is important as MCQs are often criticised for not making the learner work (think) hard enough.
Another useful resource for lecturers and staff developers was the Pedagogical Pattern Collector (

This (so the web site states) is an online tool that has been developed as part of the LDSE project. It provides (1) a 'Browser', for exploring a set of pedagogical patterns (lesson designs/learning designs) in their generic form, and also interpreted for 3 different discipline topics; (2) a 'Designer', for either creating or adapting a pedagogical pattern, which then analyses the overall nature of the learning experience you have created.

The Elevate Team will be exploring this resource over the next month.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Masterclasses: what we covered ...

We ran our Masterclass events on the 12th and 13th of November.

These covered a range of topics, in a number of different formats.

However, some people are wondering how the Masterclass differs from a taster session or a workshop or drop in. So to help people understand the difference, and in preparation for the next set of institutional wide Masterclass sessions. I've included a few links to the supporting documents below. As is evident they are intended to open discussions in the group to enhance the opportunities for us to learn from each other. We do map these ideas to certain technologies, and we try to have the information case study focussed.

For instance;
I hope that helps to clear up some confusion between our different staff and student development formats. If you have any questins, please contact us,

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Mahara Upgrade Spotlight - Week 3.. Part 2!

Following from our earlier post about the changes to the portfolio editing section, here is a quick update about some housekeeping, and an a little bonus!

This upgrade, apart from introducing new features and streamlined functions, gives us an opportunity to tidy up the current set of user accounts and settings. Part of this process will be to purge all user accounts that have never logged in.

By default every student at UCS has an account on Mahara, however this model is changing to a self-registration process where staff or students can register for an account if they wish to use the system.

To tidy up any redundant accounts on Mahara we will be deleting any account that has never logged in to the system.

If you are a current student who wishes to use Mahara after the upgrade, instructions will be available on the front page on how to register for an account.

As an added extra for those who do use the system, we will be increasing your upload limit to 250MB, currently users have a set 50MB limit :)

Mahara Upgrade Spotlight - Week 3

Only one more week left until Mahara gets upgraded on Tuesday 19th of November!

In the meantime though we'll have a quick look at how portfolio editing has changed.

The way you create each portfolio page hasn't changed, simply a few interface changes and some streamlining has taken place with the upgrade to make sure the process is and easy one.

Firstly when you used to create a portfolio page in the old version of Mahara the first page you were presented with was the adding of content page, however this left many people with an 'Untitled' page until they changed it. Now with the upgrade, when you create a new portfolio page the Title and Description are the first bits of information you edit. See Figure 1 below

Figure 1

When editing a portfolio page after the upgrade, you will notice that the main menu now persists throughout the editing process, making navigation seamless throughout using Mahara, to make this possible, more room was needed to make the editing space not feel cramped. This has been done by consolidating the portfolio artefacts into a side menu instead of the usual menu in the middle of page, see Figure 2 below.

Figure 2
 The process of dragging and dropping each element you require into your portfolio won't change.

We hope these changes, although small will help streamline the portfolio creation and editing process.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Technology Enhanced Learning Masterclasses: 12th & 13th November

The Elevate Team are running two masterclass sessions this week. These sessions are designed to give more focus on specific approaches or tools. They will cover both the rationale for the enhanced learning activity as well as the how.

Each topic is designed to last 30 mins, and we are rolling three topics into each session.

12th November, 10.00 to 11.30 in W315

  1. Using the peer assessment tool in LearnUCS
  2. How might I use a tablet (iPad or equivalent) in my teaching, learning and assessment?
  3. What is the LearnUCS retention centre, and why might it be useful for a lecturer?

13th November, 14.00 to 15.30 in W315

  1. How can I extend my teaching and assessment using web conference tools?
  2. I've used clickers for multiple choice questions in class, so what else can I use them for?
  3. What does LearnUCS offer as a learning and teaching tool?

These are drop-in sessions, so there is no need to book. If you need any additional information, please email

Thursday, 7 November 2013

LearnUCS (Blackboard) Video Guides

Blackboard have released some new video guides on the latest features in the Learn platform.

A selection of these videos can be seen below, it is well worth reviewing some of these features and tools, at the bottom of the page are further links to more videos.

Below are links to some more videos from other channels within Blackboard TV.

Are you a student where English is your second language? If yes, thisfree online course might be for you :-)

Are you a student at UCS and is English your second language? If yes, the University of Reading are providing a free course on "A beginner's guide to writing in English for university study". As mentioned this course is free, and provided as a MOOC (massive open online course), through the Future Learn platform (

The short course is a 3 hour commitment for four weeks, and on completion you will receive a certificate of achievement.

This course will provide you with a brief introduction to academic writing, enabling you to gain an awareness and understanding of some key features of this kind of writing. You’ll learn using a mix of video, on-screen examples, discussions, and quizzes.

You will develop some proficiency in a few key areas of ‘academic’ grammar, learn about the stages in essay writing, and produce an essay of your own. We will teach you how to organise an essay, use academic writing style and cover key areas of grammar, so that by the end of the course you are able to write a good, basic academic essay.

Throughout the course, we will analyse some examples of academic writing that have been produced by some of our former students, to show the improvements that can be made to an essay. These improvements are made by guiding and instructing the writer in the areas of content, organisation, language and the process of planning and drafting an essay.

The Elevate Team have not evaluated the course, however, given this is developed by the Univeristy of Reading, this implies it should be appropriate.

If you sign up and complete the course the Elevate Team would love to hear your thoughts and experience of this form of learning.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Mahara Upgrade Spotlight - Week 2

Only two weeks until Mahara gets upgraded!

This weeks spotlight we'll have a peek at the new look and feel of Mahara. This time around we have decided to go completely standard with the graphical user interface (GUI). Before we had a UCS branded blue theme as seen in Figure 1 below.

Figure 1
The new upgrade will revert back to what we call a 'Vanilla' theme, basically the default theme the Mahara software comes with, this has several benefits:

  1. With it being a standard theme we can utilise already available tutorials and video guides.
  2. Alleviate any extra development work when upgrading having to make sure a custom theme still works.
  3. Makes moving between potential Mahara systems easier.
Mahara's default theme is green in colour and has the enhanced dropdown menus to aid navigation as seen in Figure 2 below.

Figure 2
As you can see the main menu structure has persisted throughout. We hope this upgrade will bring a slicker and smoother navigation experience.

Upgrading to the latest version also brings with it a new responsive framework which detects the screen size you are accessing the site in and adjusts the layout accordingly. If you were to access the site from a mobile device it will adjust the menu and content to a more easily viewable and manageable size as seen in Figure 3 and 4 below.

Old - Figure 3
New - Figure 4

As you can see from the screenshots above, taken on a mobile device, the current UCS Mahara install on the left (Fig 3) half the content is off the screen, however Figure 4 shows that with the new software content has been adjusted to fit into the screen meaning the user will not have to scroll across the screen to access features.

Friday, 1 November 2013

JISC - ebook challenge: Lessons for UCS

The JISC have recently published the findings (ongoing) of the challenges of eBooks in Academic Institutions (

The goal of the “Challenge of ebooks…”project is to help orientate senior institutional managers (our primary audience) and to support institutions in the effective adoption and deployment of ebooks and ebook technology. As a consequence the project helps to support the wider ambition to enable improvements in the quality and impact of teaching, learning and research and meet rising staff and student expectations.

A key message from the project to date, in terms of the creation of ebooks is the need to take a cross team approach, based around Learning Technologists, Academics and Librarians. Interestingly, we have started this at UCS with a discussions Heritage resource (ebook). This has introduced an very exciting dimension with the need to include dynamic content within the ebook.

The intention of this project will be to develop a workflow, and UCS style as a proof of concept for course teams to follow. The expectation is to develop this resource, and document the lessons learnt during December 2013.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Mahara Upgrade Spotlight - Week 1

With the upgrade of UCS' Mahara happening on the 19th of November, we have decided to fill the following weeks with updates to what will be changing and highlighting new features.

This week we'll be looking a quite a small change but certainly an important one! Before when you used to click on 'Portfolio' you used to get a submenu when the page loaded and an option called 'Share' which would take you to your sharing page.

With the upgrade this has been made a whole lot easier to navigate, for starters all you need to do is hover over the menu item 'Portfolio' and a dropdown menu will now appear showing you all the available options, of which the usual 'Share' option has now been replaced with two separate options, one being 'Shared by me' and 'Shared with me' as shown in figure 1 below.

Figure 1

This will let you quickly navigate to either option and have a more clearer view of what you have shared and with whom.

The dropdown menus are also another feature that will come with the upgrade, this small but effective update will help streamline the navigation within Mahara.

An illustration of why and how you might flip your classroom

The following post outlines how I flipped my classroom session on the 25th October, for a lecture on IMDSCF003-13S1D (Communication and Study Skills). This post should answer the following questions;
  • why did I need to flip my classroom?
  • how did I do it?
There are a number of aims within my session which would mean it would be very difficult to cover the practical aspects within a 90 minute lecture. In particular, there is a peer assessed formative assessment task (500 words). The topic suites peer assessment as not only will students learn the skills associated with peer assessment (see Race 2006), but they'll also learn from each other in terms of case studies and application.

Given many of the students would not have any experience of peer assessment, and needed practical experience of applying the marking scheme to student work. It was important to dedicate time in the class for students to mark some examples. Therefore, to cover some key knowledge points I flipped the classroom as follows.

Pre-session Activity

The pre-session activity should take around 1 hour. The screenshot from LearnUCS illustrates my approach.

This model covered some knowledge transfer tasks (videos), gathering information from the students (quiz) and scaffolded reading (journal article).

I included a quiz (task 3) which was an open question which aimed to gather what social media people are currently using in their learning.

It could have been enhanced by better self reflection questions for the videos. This would give the students some scaffolding in terms of what they should take from the video.


A key point within a flipped classroom model is to use the material in the pre-session activity within the lecture. This is strongly associated with the need to provide feedback and student motivation.

Therefore, I applied a number of approaches to encourage (sign post) a re-visit on the pre-session activity within their assignment. For instance;
  • on one slide I included the names of those who had completed the pre-activity quiz (reference a big hands up), and on the same slide the percentage of the students who hadn’t logged in (easily identified using the LearnUCS Retention Centre).
  • the next slide was a selection of response to the quiz question which I discussed within the framework of the question.
  • I encouraged all students to visit LearnUCS where I’d added an item which listed all the quiz responses so they could learn from each other (apply ideas of Nicol & MacFarlane-Dick (2006) - 7 principles of good feedback).
  • I made reference to the referenced article when discussing a framework for effective implementation
This approached should have motivated students and linked the importance of the pre-session activity.
It also created a significant amount of time in the lecture session for the peer assessment activity. This included, talking through the marking criteria, and group work to mark a number of exemplars (using the clickers to quantify the discussion).

The post-session activity was to include an item in LearnUCS which summarised how I had marked the work and why. This would give a comparison for students when reflecting how they marked the work.

If you would like more information on how you might design effective flipped classroom activities, please contact the Elevate Team ( to further discuss your ideas.


  1. Nicol & MacFarlane-Dick (2006) Rethinking Formative Assessment in HE: a theoretical model and seven principles of good feedback practice (
  2. Race (2006), A Lecturer's Toolkit,