Friday 27 February 2015

A blog about a project...

A blog about a project…
Hardly a captivating title but that’s pretty much what this is.  As the first Graduate Trainee taken on in UCS Learning Services I have been charged with developing a project that will encourage student engagement within Learning Services.  After discussions with Ellen Buck (Head of Learning Services) I opted to research the development & delivery of a SOOC (Small Open Online Course).  The SOOC would take the form of a 20 minute tutorial that would provide students with skills to enable them to undertake essay writing in a much more effective way.  As a UCS History graduate this was an area completely out of my comfort & knowledge zone but as Ellen reminded me my post within Learning Services was as much about my continued learning journey as it was about just coming to work & doing a job.

Areas of research have included cost & ease of installation, ability to incorporate the multi-media requirements & interactivity to keep it interesting & engaging for students, ease of use for students & accessibility across the board for all students including students with disabilities or specific learning difficulties.  Once the research was complete a suitable software platform was needed.  It was Sarah Robinson (Academic Skills & Resources Manager) that put forward the idea of Xerte, discussion with David Mullett & Aaron Burrell (UCS E-learning developers) confirmed that this would be the best & most accessible platform (plus Xerte is free to use!!). David & Aaron loaded Xerte onto the UCS computer system & gave me a quick tutorial on how to use it.  Sarah also provided me with some crib sheets & further guidance on the ‘building of things’ on Xerte.

The next step was laying out the story boards for the tutorial content.  Fabulous help & support with this was provided by Becky Blunk (Academic Liaison Librarian).  With the storyboard completed for the first tutorial it was on to Xerte & commencing the building!  This has not been easy & I feel like I have gone round the houses a bit to get as far as I have but we are on our way & all being well within the next couple of weeks we should have the first of the four complete & usable UCS SOOC’s.  Follow up blogs on this project will contain a link for individuals to have a go & hopefully feed-back how useful they think they are.   Although I have used the term SOOC during this blog, in the wider academic world the resources are more probably an Open Educational Resource (OER) & will be used as such, OERs are high-quality, openly licensed, online educational materials that offer an opportunity for people everywhere to share, use, and reuse knowledge, (thanks to Andy Ramsden, E-Learning development Manager for sharing his knowledge in this field). The great thing about this project is that it also feeds into the wider UCS vision & compliments the work of the pilot group being led by Kay Thompson (Quality Project Manager) that is currently looking at effective student guides.

Ellen was right; this project has been excellent to be part of.  I have & continue to develop new skills that will enable me to contribute fully to the Learning Services team.  However, one thing I am acutely aware of is just how well the Learning Services team work together.  Lots of people have been & continue to be involved in this project, my colleagues have been supportive & generous with their time when helping me work my way through this new area of learning.  It is definitely another string to my bow with the arrows & quivers being provided by my colleagues.  Team Learning Services rock!!

Thursday 26 February 2015

Holywells Park AR Project

Holywells Park stables
The Elevate Team have been working closely with the Holywells Park Heritage Lottery Funded project run by Ipswich Borough Council.

The project is restoring some of the original features to the park as well as making more of its history available to the visiting public. We are supporting the project by offering our technical expertise around the use and creation of location aware activities.

We are developing two activities for the park and supporting the UCS students on a third. The two activities we are developing are both utilising augmented reality to bring the park to life. The first is a learning activity that augments video-based material over a static information board near the parks water feature.

The scenario is:

A park visitor has been and visited the information point and see the advertising material mentioning the hidden digital materials around the park, they have downloaded the required app to their smartphone.

They have walked to the water feature and looked at the information board, explaining some of the features of the pond, and what creatures they might see. They have noticed the icon on the board that indicates there is more to find out. They load the app on their smartphone and then they view the board on their phones screen.

The board then comes to life, with a video displaying over the board, and the video asks them if they would like to participate in a quick quiz. The person then touches the ‘yes’ button their phone screen. The video then displays some information and asks them a question about what they have just heard. Buttons appear on the screen and they can then choose an answer. The video will then tell them the if they are correct, and it will ask if they would like further information.

The second activity we are working on is a GPS based ‘Tree Trail’, where park visitors will be able to use their smart devices to view the park and find out about the trees and features around the park. If the visitor has the app open when they walk near one of these features they will be alerted by an audio introduction, when they can then find out more information.

Ipswich Borough Council are using a drone to video fly-throughs of the park. With the drone taking off and filming along the paths, these videos will be used to augment over another one of the information boards. Drones an area of interest to us as we believe they have great potential in other areas of working with the UCS Heritage team.

One thing we need to be careful of with the use of all this technology in an open space is, mobile signal and its strength. The new information point and cafe that are in the newly refurbished stables will have free wifi. We have spoken with the project manager about how they might extend this into the park. Extending the wifi is an option, but not one that will be 100% successful, to this end we undertook a mobile phone signal survey all around the park. Signal strength and speed tests were run at all points of interest in the park. These results were very encouraging as the area is now covered by 4G by two of the major operators, the others offered a fast 3G services.
Mobile phone signal survey

We are very exciting to be working with Ipswich Borough Council on such an innovative project and we will update this blog over the coming weeks and months.

Sharing good practice: PSYC Routes: Online marking, moderation and feedback guide

We'd like to share the following piece of good practice from the PSYC Routes around online marking, moderation and feedback. A big thank you to David James for agreeing to allow us to share it.

Most written assignments for PSYC routes are marked online, within LearnUCS. The linked file discusses how the academic team have developed guidance around online marking, moderation and feedback. 

If you would like to discuss how you might include this good practice, as an individual or across a team, please contact the Elevate Team (

With thanks: Images:

Tuesday 17 February 2015

Mahara Upgrade Complete

UCS' e-Portfolio system, Mahara, was successfully upgraded this morning to the latest stable version 1.10.2.

The upgrade went smoothly with only 10 minutes of downtime at 8:15am.

After our testing and checks, Mahara is now back open for staff and students to use.

If you are a student and wish to utilise Mahara to keep an e-Portfolio or a reflective journal, simply head over to and register for a new account using your UCS email address.

If you are a staff member who would like to use Mahara with your students, please contact the Elevate Team in Learning Services -

Future blog posts will detail some of the new features and functions.

Monday 16 February 2015

Mahara Upgrade Tomorrow!

This is the last reminder that UCS' e-Portfolio system, Mahara, is being upgraded to the latest stable version (1.10.2) Tuesday 17th of February between 7am and 9am.

The whole of Tuesday is seen as an at risk period and it is advised to only use Mahara after we have verified the upgrade has been successful and have completed all of our testing.

If you wish to view some of the new features the new version brings, please follow the link below:

Friday 13 February 2015

Flipping in study skills: ICT Literacies for Science Students

The following describes the latest iteration in our flipped classroom approach for the effective deployment of study skills within curriculum. This outlines the need to ensure students had the skills and competencies to create flow diagrams (decision trees), as they need to apply them in an assessed piece of work on Biology of Disease (Level 5 module).

In the previous year, this session was run as a two hour computer based Microsoft Visio workshop for around 40 students.

However, we have been challenging this traditional model, on a number of issues;
  1. is this really the most effective way to teach some one how to create a flow diagram?
  2. it doesn't account for their previous knowledge and skills. Why does a person need to attend a teaching session if they already have the skills, and can demonstrate them? Surely, we should focus our limited resources on those who need the greatest help?
  3. in the increasingly fluid, cloud based, "world of software", should we be so prescriptive about the software they have to use? Surely, we should develop their digital literacies to enable them to make appropriate and informed choices which align with their needs.
Firstly, I'd like to thank Tom Ranson (e-Learning, UCS Science & Technology) for co-developing this implementation.

What did we do and why?

The following learning design outlines the workflow. The embedded video walks through the online aspect.

How did the online learners find the learning experience?

Very encouragingly, 29 completed the pre-session activity, and eight attended the face to face workshop (13 students were invited to attend given they'd not submitted).

A short follow up survey was undertaken for those who submitted online. There was a response rate of 28% (8 out of 29), so the caveat holds, take the following with a pinch of salt. The survey results indicated "their knowledge and skills of using the software to create flow diagrams has improved since completing the online activity" (3 strongly agreed, 5 agreed). This was against a backdrop of 6 out of 8 respondents never having created a flow diagram using software (such as visio, powerpoint etc).

Overall, when asked, having completed the online activity, how would you prefer to learn the skills,
  • seven opted for completing the online activity to cover the skills
  • one opted for attending a one hour workshop to cover the skills
When asked to justify their answers, the majority of responses can be summed up as;
  • "I feel the online activity was sufficient for me personally, as I felt the background learning (self-study) helped me to understand the process"
  • "I don't feel I need to attend the workshop as I have learnt independently enough to use visio to my requirements"
The response which would have preferred the workshop was the need to ask questions and address any difficulties faced. This theme was mirrored in discussions with those who attended the face to face workshop. Where (2 out of 8) made reference to broader ICT digital literacies, so preferred to have the safety net of a facilitated session to gain the required skills.

How can we improve it?

The current position has been an iterative development of implementations in other subject areas. Therefore, the overarching learning design is fine. On reflection, areas of further improvement would include;

  1. clearer instructions on the choice they need to make in terms of the delivery style. When we discussed with the group who attended the workshop, a common theme was they were not aware of the online option (2 out of 8), while some thought the face to face would best because they might have questions which need answering (2 out of 8). More effective communication and expectation management at the start of the activity might have meant these people would have completed online.
  2. encourage more flexibility in terms of the flow diagram they can create. Our expectations where they'd submit a flow diagram which looked like the one we provided, plus some personalisation. Interestingly, very few actually submitted the suggest flow diagram, and either an iteration of their assignment or topics aligned to their decisions. However, these all meet the requirements. Therefore, for next year, we will relax the conditions, and allow them to submit a decision flow diagram on any topic.
  3. feedback from the online survey indicated some people spent a significant time researching the meanings of the different shapes used in a decision tree / flow diagram. For next year we'll explore the inclusion of FAQs around what do the different boxes mean.

If you have any questions, about how Learning Services at UCS can help include study skills into your course, please email us.

With thanks - Image -

Mahara Upgrade - New Features Spotlight

With UCS' e-Portfolio system (Mahara) being upgraded next week on Tuesday 17th of February between 7am-9am, we thought we would take this opportunity to focus on a key new feature/change that will come with the upgrade.

This new feature is the updated easy to use drag and drop navigation for editing portfolio pages.

Currently you have a set of tabs which run horizontally across the screen with icons depicting elements which you can use in your portfolio page. There is then a quite small area below where you drag those icons.

This has proved to be a little confusing at times, especially users who are working in Internet Explorer or those who have smaller screen resolutions.

The new interface condenses the elements into more readable text rather than icons for quicker navigation and a larger working area to the right of the menu.

This is how the new portfolio page editing will look like:

As you can see from the image above, the design is a lot easier to read and hopefully in a more sensible area to work with.

If you wish to get a head start with some of the changes and what they mean to you, here is a link to Mahara's support pages of the new version.

Graphics Design and AR

The Elevate Team were asked to speak to a group of level 5 Graphic Design students who are currently working through their 'Interactive Screen Design' module.

The idea was to introduce the students to augmented reality, most had heard the term, but very few had seen or used it.  +Aaron Burrell  and +David Mullett led the session, from what the Elevate team do and why, to the earliest thoughts of AR and the early 1950s inventions from Morton Helig.  All the way through to the work that the Elevate Team are doing, and what might come next.

The students were very engaged and one student in particular had already been thinking of using this technology in his project.

As well as looking at augmented reality, the students were also introduced to virtual reality and the idea of the Oculus Rift.  An area that Aaron believes will grow is the blurring of the lines between AR and VR, if the ability to connect a camera to a VR headset, allowing camera's view to be layered within the VR world.

To show an example of the VR headsets the students were shown how this can be done at a low cost, starter level with a head mounted smartphone holder (as seen below).

The team left the students very enthused and are hoping to return to speak with the students again soon.

Below is the slides from the session:

Wednesday 11 February 2015

e-Safety Update: Social Media at UCS

As the dust settles, and given I've updated UCS Internal Comms, and presented on the issues at UCS's Safer Internet Day, I thought it might be useful to update on "social media at UCS".

The following outlines the implementation of an institutional wide e-safety awareness campaign for students and staff, who are using social media for various reasons. The project has been running for 18 months, and is divided into two phases.

  • Phase 1: Develop the information hub (area on UCS intranet)
  • Phase 2: Integrate message within wider development activities
Phase 1: Develop the information hub (area on UCS intranet)

The first stage was to review and re-write our existing policies, and guidelines from various groups at UCS who have responsibility for some aspect of e-safety and social media. These where integrated within one area, which streamlined our messages and the support mechanisms.

This design enables individuals to efficiently make connections between policy, guidelines and support mechanisms. It also includes discipline specific guidelines, and scales with future enhancements around the positive impact stories. 

Phase 2: Integrate message within wider development activities

This phase has been ongoing since Sept 2014. The broad approach is outlined in the diagram. 

A few key approaches from the implementation model is;
  • inclusion within the Student Induction Programme. The Using Social Media at UCS page was demonstrated within the technologies for learning session run by the Elevate Team, and an A5 flyer was included within the Year Planning, which is provided to all new students (
  • getting started guides: Learning Services are rolling out a number of getting started guides which are designed to support people on actually setting up accounts and completing tasks within the technology. These include a generic section on using social media at UCS (
  • in curriculum study skills: Increasingly, Learning Services are providing in curriculum study skills, where appropriate these include reference to using social media at UCS. For instance, the Scientific Study Skills course includes a formative assessment, where students are required to complete an assignment. This assignment focusses on finding effective uses of social media for learning, and discussing strategies to reduce the risks of use (
Where next?

Phase 3 (Summer 2015) will focus on finalising the following developments in time for the next set of student inductions;
  1. collect video stories of the successes of social media to enhance learning
  2. roll out an online course (equivalent to a workshop) on reaping the rewards of social media: the connected learner.
  3. work closely with UCS Careers to link their developments around social media within the new model

Image - Linked - with thanks:

Monday 9 February 2015

Mahara Upgrade - Update

This is just a small post to remind everyone that UCS' e-Portfolio system, Mahara, is getting upgraded on Tuesday 17th of February.

The upgrade has been scheduled between 7am - 9am, the rest of the day will be seen as an at risk period.

Here is a small video detailing some highlights of the new Mahara 1.10 upgrade.

You can also see the individual features at the following website -

Friday 6 February 2015

Mahara Upgrade - New Features

We thought we would take some time to post some of the new features coming with this months Mahara upgrade. (Tuesday 17th of February)

Mahara will be upgraded from version 1.7.3 to 1.10.2 This means we will be upgrading a full 3 stable releases, this will naturally bring with it lots of new features and functions.

There is an extensive list of updates, however we will list the new features relevant to the end user below:

New Features
  • Streamlined easier-to-use "Text" block 
  • The new "Note" block retains all the removed features of the Text block 
  • Streamlined rich text editor, with a toggle button to access advanced features 
  • "Messaging" profile tab replaced with "Social media" tab with newer options 
  • Added a "sent" box alongside the inbox for user messages 
  • Groups: "Objectionable content" button for forum posts 
  • Groups: Forum moderators can relocate forum posts between forums 
  • Groups: Option to auto-create a LEAP2a archive of submitted pages 
  • Groups: More control over which group members receive feedback & shared page notifications 
  • Accessibility! W3C WCAG 2.0 level AA (except for some admin pages)
  • Profile completion progress bar
  • "Post now" option for forum posts, to bypass post delay 
  • Support for Creative Commons 4.0 licenses 
  • New "Feedback" block, allows placing feedback as a block instead of at the bottom of the page 
  • Can now show image descriptions in "Image Gallery" block 
  • Can specify the sort order of files in a "Folder" block 
  • "Folder" block can now have "Download all as zip" link 
  • Improvements to watchlist notifications 
  • "New group page" notification
  • Turned the block chooser vertical and scrolling, to accommodate longer Pages 
  • The Image block and Text Box block are now conveniently at the top of the block chooser 
  • Page layouts can now have rows as well as columns 
  • Users can import leap2a files into their existing Mahara account
  • PDF block allows PDFs to be viewed in-line in a Page 
  • Resume elements can have attachments 
  • Notes (and text box blocks) can have attachments 
  • Users are notified when they try to navigate away from a page with unsaved changes 
  • Many more types of user content can have tags 
  • Resume entries for electronic publications can now be hotlinks 
  • Drag-and-drop to upload files 
  • Page skins, which give individual users the ability to change the CSS of their Pages 
  • “Additional HTML" config option for things such as Google Analytics

We will have a deeper look into some of the new features in a blog post next week.

Thursday 5 February 2015

Learn: Copy Quizzes from One Module to Another

Quizzes are a very useful tool in LearnUCS.  The more complex the quiz, the longer they take to make.

For lecturers that use quizzes, there are two quick and easy ways of copying quizzes from one module to another, meaning you do not need to remake them each time.

The video below shows the two processes to copy them, one if you only want to copy one quiz, and the other if you have multiple.

UCS' Mahara Upgrade 17th February

UCS' e-Portfolio tool, Mahara, will be upgraded on the 17th of February to the latest stable release of the Mahara software, version 1.10.2.

The upgrade will take place between 7am and 9am on Tuesday the 17th of February. The rest of the day will be seen as an 'at risk' period while we complete our checks.

This upgrade will bring with it many many new features and abilities, including but not limited to:

  • Many new blocks for portfolio pages
  • Enhanced feedback routes
  • Enhanced multimedia functionality
  • Ability for users to archive and restore Leap2A files
  • Inline PDF viewing in portfolio pages
  • Drag and drop uploading of files
A blog post will come in the near future detailing a full list of features and changes.

Along with these new features, the upgrade will also make sure Mahara is up to date with it's security patches.

We would advise users of Mahara to not attempt to log in during the upgrade period. We will notify users via MyUCS when Mahara has been fully upgraded and our checks are complete.

If any users would like to get in touch with the Elevate Team about the use of e-Portfolios and Mahara, please contact us - 


LearnUCS Stats: January 2015

Application Insight

Below is the continuation of the publishing of monthly statistics for LearnUCS.  These stats cover the period from January 6th 2015 to February 5th 2015.

As mentioned last month, December is always a quieter month, due to the end of semester and the festive break.  Having said that, December 2014 was the busiest month for LearnUCS since we moved to a managed hosted system.

The stats set out below show a large jump from December as you would expect, but these are higher than we would have thought, especially the large spike on January 12th.  This spike is currently being investigated with the Academic Services team to see if it fits with the first day of a new intake and/or submission period.

Total Page Views1,593,635
Average Page Views Per DayNon course - 32,826

Course - 16,768
Most Active DateNon Course - 84,323- 12 January 2015

Course - 71,417 - 12 January 2015

Applications Metrics

Total Monthly Logins37,373
Total Number of Courses9718
Total Number of Active Courses2129

Our active course count has risen dramatically this month, by almost a quarter, this is due to the start of semester 2 and those module areas being unavailable until the lecturers are ready to release them.

LearnUCS Mobile Statistics for 6 January 2015 to 5th February 2015

Total unique logins for the period was 450 which is over 100 more than last month, with 2862 logins by those 450 users.  That number of logins is almost double that of the previous month.

iOS is still the most popular operating system for those devices by far with 386 of the 450 being on iOS.

It will be interesting to compare these with the next set of statistics to see if there is continued growth.

Tuesday 3 February 2015

LearnUCS Review 2015

Learning Services is about to start its LearnUCS (VLE) Review for 2015.

UCS has agreed to fund Blackboard as an externally hosted VLE solution for the next 3 years 2015 to 2017.

The starting point of this review will be: Blackboard (LearnUCS) is fit for purpose for Teaching, Learning and Assessment at UCS, and we should continue the license and externally hosting arrangement.

The intention of this review is to challenge the above assumption to ensure Blackboard meets UCS needs in the short term. The review will address;


Academic staff are being asked two questions for this review:

  • How are you currently using the VLE within your teaching, learning and assessment?
  • How would you like to use the VLE to enhance your teaching, learning and assessment?

The intention is to complete the review in a relatively short time period to answer the broad questions.

Data Collection Methods

Data collection will be undertaken in two formats during February 2015:
  • Face-to-face
  • Online Form
The face-to-face data collection will be undertaken by a member of the Learning Services team that is not connected to the LearnUCS service. This is to ensure a “neutral” collection of data with no bias.

A selection of twelve academic staff will be chosen to participate in the face-to-face interviews. The twelve staff will be selected from a pool of staff that are known to be:

  • Expert users
  • Intermediate users
  • Novice users
Alongside the twelve academic staff, each of the heads of department will also be asked to participate individually, Learning Services will also be able to attend department meetings.

An approach to staff at UCS Great Yarmouth to participate in the interviews as well as providing two academic staff for interview has also be made.

The intention is to also liaise with The Students’ Union to access the Student Council to ask two reworded questions in a student context. A fall back position for this is to speak with Course Reps directly.

An online form is available below to allow all other academic staff to participate if they choose:

LearnUCS Review 2015.


Analysis of the data is to be undertaken during March 2015 with an initial report being available early April 2015.