Adventures in Technology Enhanced Learning @ UoP

Author: Jerry Collingwood

Becoming an Online Course Developer

Given various constraints experienced by both learners and training providers, online learning appears to be a growth opportunity. I have lost count of how many ‘online course developer’ (OCD) positions have been advertised over the years within the University and similar vacancies regularly appear elsewhere. Each vacancy is hotly contested, so what does it take to get into online learning as a developer? How can you give yourself the best chance of being offered the position? And is it really the dream job that many applicants claim it to be?

Firstly, I should say the various ‘online course developer’ positions are not all the same. Tasks and responsibilities can be very varied, depending on the team/department/faculty/institution you are in as well as the types of courses you support. So it is worth finding out more about this beforehand. Strictly speaking, the role is to create courses which are studied (either wholly online, or partially as blended learning delivery) via the internet. You are not expected to be a subject expert writing the materials, although an enthusiasm or understanding for a particular subject will make your role a lot easier and more enjoyable. Your expertise should lie within learning technologies – beyond that you will need to read the job specification…

Factually, that’s about all I can say. However, this post would be a little on the short side if I were to stop there – so I’d like to offer some insight drawn from my own work experience. Note: I make no promises and bear no responsibility for your application (especially if I am on the interview panel)! Still, what have you got to lose?

Firstly, why do I feel I can offer advice on this topic and why should you listen? After all, throughout my working life I have written fewer application forms and attended fewer job interviews than statistics suggest that I should have (reference ‘dream job’ from paragraph 1). What this does mean is that I have experience in the role, as I have worked for the University of Portsmouth for over a decade starting in an administrative position that gave me a great basic understanding of University operations. This is something that is reflected in how often I refer OCDs back to their course administration teams to follow procedure, rather than agreeing to apply what might appear to be a quick fix – if a shortcut was the way a task was supposed to be done then it would already be the way to do it.

In July 2008 I became the University’s first ‘eLearning System Support Officer’ taking responsibility for the day-to-day operations of our first virtual learning environment (VLE) – WebCT. Since then our VLE’s have changed (from WebCT, to Blackboard, and then to Moodle) and so have my job titles (eLearning System Support Officer, Online Course Developer, Educational Technologist and Senior Educational Technologist). I have witnessed first-hand the growth of online learning and the increased requirement for the online course developer role. When the University switched from Blackboard (which we branded Victory) to Moodle for the 2012 academic year, we recruited 20 online course developers and the number of posts has continued to grow since then.

Candidates for those original positions had to endure an Excel numeracy/spreadsheet test, a paper-based proofreading task and an online assessment before their formal interview. The selection process has changed since then and usually now requires candidates to give a presentation before a formal interview. That said, do not underestimate the importance of proofreading and attention to detail as mistakes in your application form and/or presentation will be noted – so be warned! The spreadsheet test has also been removed, although interviewers will be expecting to see evidence of digital literacy and organisational skills, so if these are not evident in your presentation make sure you bring examples of each into your interview answers. Another topic that often comes up at interview is ‘communication’ – chances are you already have some answers prepared for this, do they involve communicating online via forums and web conferencing tools such as Webex, Skype or Google Hangouts?

Moving away from ‘transferable’ skills, what specific knowledge or skills do you require for online course development? I would be very surprised indeed if you had never encountered issues with access to online material. This statement from Tim Berners-Lee, W3C (look this up!) Director and inventor of the World Wide Web, describes the ambition of accessibility “The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.”. For a ‘development’ role you should familiarise yourself with ways to negate visual, hearing or other sensory impairments, limitations of mobile devices e.g. screen sizes (if these are your intended audiences), bandwidth limitations and requirements for internet connectivity. There may also be other geographic or political limitations placed upon accessibility. If you are required to give a presentation at your interview make sure it is accessible to you, or you will have to give a very good interview to get the job!

Another consideration that should always be at the forefront of your mind is copyright. This is a large subject, and one in which I don’t pretend to be an expert, so if in doubt – look it up. There are various helpful sources online, and the University Library also has some friendly staff who can advise on copyright. You would not be silly enough to include anything in your presentation without copyright clearance, would you?

Creativity is an attractive quality in a developer – however don’t lose sight of functionality. A lack of creativity and design flair may leave materials dry and unengaging, whilst a lack of functionality will not just lead to a lack of engagement but complaints and demands for refunds! Why not check out H5P and let your creativity run wild on HTML5-compliant browsers.

Many appointable candidates show an independent drive for self-enhancement and as a result many skills are ‘self-taught’ – the University’s site-wide licence for may help with this! However, if you cannot evidence particular skills or experience in answer to an interview question the panel will not know that you possess such a skill. Utilise your application form to display evidence of skills by attending training sessions. The Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) team offer a diverse range of training to staff on all of the technologies we use at the University – much of it aimed at development of materials that would be  particularly useful if you do not already work in that area. Evidence of undertaking ‘online learning’ via a massive open online course (MOOC) could also differentiate you from other candidates. Check out Coursera or Futurelearn for a list of courses from a range of providers.

For some OCD posts you will be required to give training sessions. Presentation skills are a transferable skill and are receiving great emphasis within many of the courses offered at the University these days. Based on requests over the last couple of years, I have had a need to develop a system and workflow to facilitate the recording and assessment of student presentations in a simple and timely manner, so that lecturers may provide written feedback to students enabling them to review their own performance. Check out Assessed Video.

Many years ago I was a participant on a course to develop skills in training others. What I took away from that training was that the key to presenting is confidence. You acquire confidence by having faith in yourself and what you are saying – so do your homework. Preparation is everything. If you work through the job specification and can answer ‘yes’ or ‘I have that’ to everything, then you have a right to not only be in that room but to be confident that you deserve to be there auditioning for the role. Run through your presentation beforehand at home, you may find it helpful to record yourself – phones make wonderful video cameras these days (you might even try the TechSmith Fuse app). The first time you watch it back you will probably be horrified by the number of times you ‘um’ and ‘er’, so try the presentation again and speak more slowly. Do not be afraid of silence, as natural pauses help your audience follow what you are saying. If you need a little help why not try one of the ‘presentation speaking’ workshops run by the Academic Skills Unit.

You must be aware of delivery methods for the materials you produce. This may be via a SCORM package, but will most likely be delivered via the University’s VLE. We use Moodle, which is an open-source package so there is no excuse for not being familiar with it. You can download a copy ( and play with it yourself on your personal computer or play around with a demo site from

Finally – technology moves fast! I hope you have found what I have written to be a good starting point, but that you are already thinking about what the latest developments are. After all, you want to be a developer, don’t you? Good Luck.



Tim Berners-Lee. Retrieved from 25th July 2017

Turnitin – What’s in a number?

The University of Portsmouth uses the Turnitin service to provide facilities for plagiarism detection, online marking and as a development tool for academic writing, although most users are interesting in one thing – a number.

Contained within the Originality Report is a Similarity Score out of 100, which many users wrongly believe to a be plagiarism score with a magic number, at which in can be conclusively determined whether plagiarism has or has not occurred. The problem is, this figure can be manipulated, there will also be mitigating circumstances and lastly let us not forget the system is not perfect either – there will be some margin for error.

Crudely speaking the Similarity Score number is a percentage of the words in your document which matched text from other documents that Turnitin searched against. For shorter assignments with a direct question and consequently a more concise correct answer may well therefore see higher score when compared to a longer assignment with more scope to include to include diverse material.

The number of students in your class and whether the assignment has been set in previous years (or at different institutions) may limit the scope for truly original material, that’s not to say a very high score is necessarily acceptable however it does mean that the latest content may not be unique for genuine reasons. An assignment based upon group work is also a recipe for a higher than usual Similarity Score since students are likely to be working from the same research, data and figures so will in all likelihood draw the same conclusions.

What does Turnitin check an assignment against? There are stored student papers in both a global central repository and the University of Portsmouth own repository (where we might store more sensitive documents). Turnitin also searches against material found on the internet and can check journals, periodicals and publications. Personally I would check against everything, if the service is available, use it.

Turnitin offers several filters which may be toggled, for example whether to include or exclude bibliographic references. Personally I cannot think of a reason why you want to include bibliographic references in the Similarity Score as citing sources is a requirement of good academic writing. That said if the assignment were a lab report and references were not expected then it might be safer to include bibliographic references just in case the Turnitin software incorrectly identified a bibliography and consequently excluded all of the text that followed. You can also toggle quoted material, quotes would not normally be considered within a plagiarism report although the volume of them may indicate a lack of original content from the author. Where quoted material is excluded from the Originality Report, Turnitin helpfully points out when more than 15% of the paper is quoted material. The final filter is for small matches, usually matches of 3-4 words are rather inconsequential, you may also have longer phrases that appear repeatedly throughout the assignment – you can exclude this from being repeatedly matched and skewing the Similarity Score using the ‘exclude small matches’ filter. Personally I use all the filters, excluding bibliographic references, quoted material and small matches – I can always turn them back on later when reviewing a paper if I am suspicious.

So after searching against all of the available material, excluding bibliographic references, quoted material and small matches, what is the magic number? Well, the magic number is… the number at which you become suspicious of course!

Finally, to wrap up this post, and just in case a concerned student has stumbled across this blog post, I would like to emphasise that if they know they have not deliberately plagiarised then they have nothing to worry about. If they are concerned that they have used another source and may not have referenced it properly, then guidance is available from the Academic Skills Unit (



Telephone: +44 (0)23 9284 3462

Or, visit the Academic Skills Unit in person during our opening hours:

Third floor Reception, The Nuffield Centre

St Michael’s Road



UbiCast Lecture Capture

Credit image: UbiCast

The University has selected the UbiCast Lecture Capture system for producing high quality recordings of lectures. The system has been designed to be seamless to use, with your only input being to start and stop the recording, or to request in advance that the lecture is recorded – in which case the entire process can be automated for you! You then need only do what you would normally do in that room to begin your teaching, such as ensuring the microphone is switched on and can be heard by the audience.

The system captures audio from the desk and/or tie microphone depending on the room configuration and plays it back to users alongside the content you have projected for the students and/or the output from a video camera. To make the video of your presentation more engaging, the camera can digitally track you as you move within the presentation area. The compiled output will also sense when it is appropriate to display either the camera or the presented content in full screen mode to draw the viewer’s attention.

Although the high definition camera is fixed in each room, our editing software automatically recognises upper-body shapes within the defined presentation area and frames (tracks) these as they move about, hence the final output is similar to that achieved by a camera crew filming the event. To achieve the best results, we recommend wearing clothes that will contrast against the backdrop in the room. If possible you should also remove any ‘shapes’ from the presentation area which may interfere with the recognition process such as empty chairs.

Once the recording has been stopped it will automatically render and upload to our Media Server, which is accessible at using your UoP login details. You should then contact the TEL team at with details of your presentation (title, date, time, room) and we will make your recording available to you. Ultimately, we hope that all you will then want to edit on your recording is to trim it, though  before you actually trim anything we recommend that you watch through all the parts that you intend to use and let the TEL team know if there are any issues with camera tracking as we can fix these first. You will have access to trim the recording yourself, whether this is just top and tailing or cutting out sections from the middle is up to you, you can then merge all of your parts together as one recording or split them into separate videos should you wish. Once you are happy with your recording, let the TEL team know and we will ‘publish’ the video making it accessible to other users on the server. Should you wish you could also then embed the recording within Moodle.

UbiCast is currently only available in a limited number of rooms across campus – Eldon West 1.11, Park 2.23, Richmond LT1, Dennis Sciama 2.02 and The Graduate School 4.09 in St Andrews Court. We also have a mobile unit that the TEL Team can set up in suitable rooms around campus –- but please contact the TEL team well in advance to check room suitability.

If you like UbiCast spread the word, as we can then look at an investment proposal to expand the service.

TechSmith Relay

Many of you will be aware of the TechSmith Relay service as the University has been using it for a number of years, but are you making the most of it for your students? The service is available on all UoP machines via MyApps and you can also download the software free from our TechSmith Relay server (log in with your UoP details) for use on any other compatible machine – see

TechSmith Relay allows you to record your screen with an audio voiceover, which is currently considered suitable to meet the requirements of the Disabled Student Allowance. Incorporating TechSmith Relay into your teaching need not be just about meeting these requirements however, as all of your students can benefit from being able to hear what was said during contact time. Students’ attention can be disrupted while making notes during a lecture, and knowing they can refer back to the recording rather than having to rely on their own notes afterwards means students can concentrate fully on the lecture.

To use this software in a lecture theatre you will require a microphone to be connected to a PC, in some rooms the desk microphone has been linked up in this way, but not all. To ensure you can record your session in this way we recommend the purchase of a USB microphone which you can quickly set up in the various teaching rooms.

This can take the form of a simple USB wired microphone if you do not stray too far from the microphone during your lecturing, such as:

Or, if you like to wander around the presentation area, a microphone such as the RevoLabs X-Tag could prove useful although it will cost significantly more:

Of course, rather than recording your entire lecture, if you do have time at your desk to create a lecture summary suitable for revision then this may well prove more effective to complement your teaching. Research has shown that short recordings of 5–15 minutes are far more effective for student engagement and learning.

PLEASE NOTE that it can take a few minutes to upload your recording (particularly at the end of a lecture) so allow 3–4 minutes before logging off the PC otherwise your recording will not complete uploading even if you receive a message saying it has been ‘submitted’.

You may also find Relay a helpful tool for providing feedback. When marking an essay you could have the essay on screen and use the mouse as a pointer whilst talking about an assignment, thereby providing audio feedback in addition to written feedback. Why not check out the Assessed Video tool!

Assessed Videos

Assessed Videos is a solution developed by the TEL Team to simplify the administration processes of recording a student (or group of students) for assessment. Recordings are shared privately between the assessor and the student just as a written assignment would be. The process is so simple it has been used in class whilst students have given short presentations one after the other with the recording available to the student for review before the end of the session.

Utilising our TechSmith Relay Server (formerly Camtasia Relay) and the TechSmith Fuse mobile app (available on Android, iOS and Windows devices), a video is taken by the mobile device and uploaded to the central server where metadata such as the student’s ID number and details about the recording are stored in a database and used to assign viewing rights. As a lecturer on a really basic level, all you need to do to use this service is start a recording, stop a recording, select the appropriate profile from a dropdown list when uploading the recording and enter the student’s ID number in the description field. After five minutes (longer for high definition video, longer recordings and at peak times) the recording is available for both you and your student to view at where you can both log in using your standard UoP details. All of your videos will be available from one simple navigation page, so no need to remember lots of URLs or save numerous emails.

Whilst working closely with early adopters of this technology/solution, it has become clear that sometimes we can save you even more time by batch processing some of the metadata for you. For example between X and Y dates you might like all of your recordings to have similar titles .e.g ‘U12345 Assessment 1 – student number’. This can be arranged for you so that all you need to do is enter the student number in the description field as described above, rather than completing the title field each time in addition. We can also ensure that all of your recordings are shared with a colleague and vice versa – particularly useful if you team teach. Have an external examiner? No problem, we can create an account for them and share either all or just a selection of your recordings with them.

For each recording, the owner (and any markers) have space to enter a numerical grade out of 100 and also complete a comments box, but that is no reason to limit yourself with the type of feedback you could be providing. Why not film yourself talking to the camera? Simply enter the ID number for the student you are providing feedback to in the description field. Or if you are a little camera shy you could use Relay on your computer to record your screen, perhaps allowing you to add an audio comment alongside a marking grid that you might be completing for the student? If you make a number of recordings throughout the year, you can even set a written reflection exercise with your students who can reference each recording with the direct URL – their recording is still private between you and them as nobody else can view that URL without permissions.

There is both a ‘quickstart’ and a more detailed user-guide available to download from but if you have any questions or would like a demonstration of the system please contact the TEL team at for assistance.

Flipping the classroom

“The Flipped Classroom” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by AJC1

Over the last few years the convenience of creating a multimedia recording has improved to such an extent that it is now very feasible to enhance the interactivity of contact time with students by recording content that can be passively consumed by students and providing it to them in advance of the valuable timetabled contact time. It requires an initial investment of time but with a bit of careful planning the recordings can be used for a number of years without the need for revision, potentially saving you time in the future as well as removing some of the stress of trying to squeeze all your teaching content into a finite number of lectures and also creates a resource for students to revise from and a reference you can use when providing feedback.

The concept is that you can pre-record content that would normally be presented as a lecture. This can be done without the audience of students which can be a stressful environment, with large lecture theatres, disruptive murmurings in the audience and  audio-visual equipment not always performing as expected. This content can then be viewed by the student at their leisure, at a time when they are receptive to learning, fitting in around part-time employment and other commitments. Time that would normally be spent lecturing can then be repurposed as an engaging student-led session, affording the students time to ask any questions that may have arisen from consuming the content or by working through examples in class – important reflective aspects of learning which are all too often sacrificed in order to cover the all the content of the curriculum. Some may argue that lecture time is not saved as it is invested early in the process to make the recordings, which is true. However, producing a recording of a lecture that is presented multiple times (for example, in large courses), which can also be reused in the following semester or year, can save time on delivering content.

Here at the University of Portsmouth we have a variety of technologies that can assist you with ‘flipping the classroom’ and making your content more engaging, which will both enhance your teaching, and more importantly, improve the students’ learning.

New for the 2016 academic year we have a full lecture capture system for the first time. The UbiCast system is available in a limited number of venues and is now fully operational in the big lecture theatres of Park (Room 2.23 and Eldon West (Room 1.11). It is also available in the Grad School (Room 4.09, St Andrew’s Court) and there is a small seminar room equipped in Dennis Sciama (Room 2.02) where it is intended that content could be created in a ‘studio’ environment without the audience, i.e. for a flipped classroom. DCQE also have a mobile recording unit that can be requested via:

Members of Technology Enhanced Learning will setup the equipment in a suitable venue (please note 30 minutes setup time is required). The UbiCast system will record audio, the content of your screen and video of you presenting – which in the large lecture theatres of Park and Eldon will track you as you walk around the presentation area.

Well established at the University but often underestimated is Relay, a system for capturing screen and audio. In many cases this is all that is required for flipping the classroom – a video of the presenter does not always add value to the content. Relay is available on all standard build PCs via the MyApps portal or can be downloaded from: to your personal PC or Mac.

Please note to use Relay you may require a microphone (if the one in the classroom is not connected to the PC), we recommend a simple USB microphone that is easy to carry around. If you need to walk around whilst presenting try a wireless USB microphone such as the RevoLab X-Tag. If you have a webcam, then this can also be incorporated into the Relay recording as a picture in picture (appearing over the content in the bottom right-hand corner) although we would not normally recommend this as it can block some content and may be distracting to the viewer.

Fuse is a free mobile app developed by TechSmith (the developers of Relay), compatible with Android, iOS and Windows mobile devices. Fuse utilises the camera and microphone of your mobile device to record video and upload it to the Relay server where it can be processed and hosted in Compass to easily embed into your Moodle unit(s). If you don’t need a visual from your computer screen or document camera to get your message across why not utilise Fuse to add an introductory video or an interview of a subject specialist to your Moodle unit?

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