Adventures in Technology Enhanced Learning @ UoP

Tag: teaching (Page 2 of 3)

Personal Tutoring Project

As part of the OfS-funded project Raising Awareness, Raising Aspirations (RARA) staff from a number of teams – Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL), Information Systems, Academic Development, and the Academic Skills Unit – joined forces to develop a platform, website and learning resources to support tutors and tutees in the personal tutoring process.

RARA, a collaborative project between the University of Sheffield, King’s College London and the University of Portsmouth, investigated the extent to which an enhanced personal tutoring system might help reduce the attainment gap for Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) students and those from lower socioeconomic groups. The project had its roots in research (Cousin and Cuerton, 2012; Thomas, 2012; Mountford-Zimdars, 2015) which suggested that such a system could reduce the attainment gap, ‘based on evidence that the personal tutor can play a particularly important role in the academic integration of BME students and students from lower economic groups.’

We used an agile project methodology, drawing on the skills, experience and knowledge across the University. From the start we wanted to create a space for tutors, in consultation with tutors. From these consultations, it was clear that there was a varying understanding of the personal tutoring role across the university. Many personal tutors felt they were not equipped with the knowledge they needed to fulfill their role to the best of their ability, and this was especially true of those new to teaching.

TEL’s main project deliverable was to lead on creating staff- and student-based personal tutoring resources. In August 2018 we launched the website Personal Tutoring @ UoP for tutors and those that support this process. Since this initial launch TEL have been working to develop the site further – a new, more extensive version of the site will launch in February. The site provides information about the personal tutoring role, developing tutees, supporting and signposting tutees, and training resources.

Personal tutoring @ UoP Website


TEL have also developed student-facing resources within Learning at Portsmouth – a student website to support transition into higher education. As well as online provision, we also developed a paper-based guide for all first-year, campus-based students to be given at their first tutorial session.

Burke et al. (2016) found that academic staff play a key role in how students construct their feelings about capability, which ultimately lead to success or failure in higher education.

The guides include information for students on how to develop themselves whilst at Portsmouth and also provided contact details of services across the University and their faculty to support them in their studies and in times of personal difficulties.

The end of the two-year RARA project was marked by our University’s first personal tutoring conference for academic staff, and the launch of a RARA personal tutoring toolkit. As an institution we are now well on our way to implementing the recommendations made in the 2019 RARA Report. Student and staff feedback has been positive – the website has not only had an impact at Portsmouth but has formed part of a national toolkit for personal tutors. These have been presented at conferences and have received positive feedback on the clarity of their design. Looking to the future, TEL will continue to work with colleagues across the institution in the development of work in this area so that as an institution we can help tackle the attainment gaps that are prevalent nationally in higher education.


Cousin, G., and D. Cureton. 2012. Disparities in Student Attainment (DISA). York: HEA.

Mountford-Zimdars, A., Sabri, D., Moore, J., Sanders, S., Jones, S., & Higham, L. (2015). Causes of Differences in Student Outcomes. Higher Education Funding Council for England, HEFCE. Accessed July 23,,104725,en.html

Thomas, L. (2012). Building student engagement and belonging in Higher Education at a time of change: final report from the What Works? Student Retention & Success programme. London: Paul Hamlyn Foundation.


Guest Blogger: Simon Brookes – A content capture policy for the University

For several years, the University has provided staff with the technology to record video and/or audio for the purpose of extending teaching and learning activity beyond the confines of the classroom. This has included the provision of limited lecture capture technology in some large lecture theatres, as well as providing access to software that allows staff to produce learning materials on their computers.

The content captured in these ways is of particular use for revision purposes, for scrutinising difficult concepts, for students with caring responsibilities, and for students for whom English is not their first language.

In response to growing demand from our student body, the University has been investigating the possibility of expanding the availability of content-captured materials. This investigation was co-ordinated by the Content Capture Working Group, and included a full consultation with all University staff and students, via online surveys, as well as in-depth discussions at a series of “town hall” meetings, which were attended by staff and students from across the University.

This consultation informed the development of a Content Capture Policy, which is now available here, in draft format, for further scrutiny. This Policy aims to promote inclusivity and increase the accessibility of our teaching whilst reducing any potential barriers to learning. By implementing these adjustments, which would benefit all students, it should reduce the need for individual adjustments, promote good practice and maximise learning opportunities. If you would like to provide feedback please email it to Harriet Dunbar-Morris, Dean of Learning and Teaching, at

The Policy will go to the University’s Student Experience Committee, before making its way, via the University Education and Student Experience Committee, to Academic Council for final approval. It will then be published in time for the start of the next academic year.

We will be introducing staff development sessions prior to implementation. Please look out for these.

Image Credits: Photo by Forja2 Mx on Unsplash

Moodle – Teaching Block 2 Modules

One query which we often receive from students here in TEL (Technology Enhanced Learning), is a concern that one or more modules are missing from their Moodle homepage. This is usually because the modules they are enquiring about, are for Teaching Block 2.  Teaching Block 2 modules are normally hidden from student view until students return from the Christmas vacation. 

Teaching Block 2 starts this year on Monday 20th January 2020. However, this is not always the case as some modules have two different cohorts of students attached to them. These modules may have a short name that looks similar to this: UXXXXX-19SEP & UXXXXX-19JAN.  Depending how the module has been set up, both cohorts may have access to the unit in September, or maybe the January cohort have been put into a group and won’t be able to see the module until the lecturer releases it to them at a later date.

Lecturers decide when to release their Teaching Block 2 module(s). Some prefer to release them when the students leave for the winter vacation so that they can start looking at them, while others wait until the first day back or when the first session starts. Some students may be able to see their Teaching Block 2 modules now.  It really is up to the individual lecturer.

We’re often asked; ‘Why does the January code not reflect the new year?’ – for example, ‘Why does the code say 19JAN and not 20JAN, as the year would now be 2020? This is because the code is taken from the academic year in which the course started, so as this academic year started in 2019, the code you’ll see is 19JAN. However if your course starts in the new year, it will have the 20JAN code.

It can be confusing, but as long as you can see your module(s) when the lecturer says you should be able to see them,then there is no need to worry. If you can’t see your module(s), please email us at and we can investigate this further for you

In the meantime, the TEL Team would like to wish everyone season’s greetings and a healthy and happy New Year!

Image Credit: Photo by Naitian(Tony) Wang  and Aaron Burden on Unsplash


Three Useful Apps for Teaching/Learning

In this blog, I want to introduce a couple of apps that could be very useful additions to any lecturers’ teaching toolbox.


The first is Screencastify.  Screencastify is a lightweight screen recorder that can be used to capture your desktop and webcam allowing you to create videos that can be uploaded directly to YouTube and, at the same time, saved to your Google Drive. Being a Chrome extension means that there is no heavy weight software to download and it can also be used offline. There is a free version that limits the number of videos you can make to 50 per month with a maximum length of 10 minutes per video. However, you can upgrade to a paid for version, approximately £20 (it comes priced in dollars), which has no such limits.

Anyway, enough reading, here is a short demo of Screencastify in action

It does lack the functionality of a product like Camtasia, but if all you need is a quick easy screen recording it is well worth a go. You can also keep the videos on YouTube private by setting them to unlisted so they cannot be found in searches or as recommendations, students would just need the URL which can be made available via your Moodle pages.

Once you’ve made your video using Screencastify, you can have it as a stand alone resource available via YouTube or you could use it to produce an enhanced learning object by combining it with Adobe Spark.

I can see this having a variety of uses from giving video/audio feedback to forming part of a set of flipped learning sessions.


An alternative to Screencastify is Screencast-O-Matic. As with Screencastify, this app also comes in free and licensed versions. The free version of Screencast-O-Mantic will record videos of 15 minutes which can then be saved as MP4 files, this version also comes with some limited editing functionality but does require a software download and does not work quite as seamlessly with YouTube or Google Drive.


The third app, useful as a revision aid, is Brainscape . Brainscape is an online flashcard system, you can either create your own flashcards or use a pre-made set. Unlike other ready made flashcard systems I’ve seen, Brainscape does have resources suitable for HE and not just in traditional academic disciplines. This system is free (though you can pay to release a larger number of cards) and can be accessed through your Google account.

As students work through the set of cards, they can rate how confident they are in their knowledge and understanding. Staff can create classes to which they can invite students, thus allowing you to view how many cards the students used and how they themselves rate their learning.

Brainscape says that its system is grounded in proven techniques that help improve learning and understanding. Not having used this particular platform myself with learners I can’t comment on the veracity of the claims made but as flashcards are a popular learning technique this online system is worth looking at, especially given the range of topics it covers.

Credit Image: Photo by Rob Hampson on Unsplash

Moodle 3.7 – New Features

Each year, over the summer, the University upgrades Moodle to ensure staff and students have access to all the new features and fixes.

In this post I’ll give an outline of the new features in Moodle 3.7 that are most relevant to the University.

  • New Theme updates.

The new theme provides a new look to the dashboard. The courses are displayed by default in ‘card’ view. This can be changed in the drop down menu to either a list or summary view. Courses/Modules can be starred and filtered so that the most frequently used ones are easily accessible. The Timeline block on the dashboard page shows upcoming events from all your sites. This can be demonstrated by viewing the Moodle tour. Reset a tour by clicking the icon at the top of a page. Tour Icon

There is now an in-line reply box, making it quicker to respond to a post. Important discussions can be ‘starred’ at an individual level. This will sort your favourite posts to the top of your list (under any pinned posts). Discussions can also be sorted by reply, latest post or creation date.

There is a new personal messaging space, that allows conversation between users. Conversations can be ‘starred’ and filtered according to importance. The tool also allows for live chat to take place similar to GChat in Google.

When undertaking a quiz, the student is able to clear their choice and change their answer.

If a page has been hidden in a book, it will now display to an academic even with editing turned off. It will appear greyed out, showing that it is not visible to a student.


Digifest 2019

Jisc’s Digifest is my favourite educational technology conference. Spread over two days at Birmingham’s International Conference Centre it’s an ideal opportunity to meet practitioners from other institutions and this can be nearly as useful as the set programme of talks and presentations themselves. This year the focus was on practical ideas that can be taken back to the classroom or lecture theatre. To this end, I attended sessions on the use of video.

The first session, “How digital video innovates pedagogical methods”, was run by learning technologists from Havant and Southdowns College and looked at how staff and students have used video for both formative and summative assessment. Together, the technologists have worked on around 200 videos, some produced by the students themselves. It was clear that the use of video has had a significant impact on teaching and learning at the College. While claims about improved student attainment and retention lacked supporting data, feedback from both staff and students did indicate improvement in student engagement and achievement.

The importance of video in teaching and learning was also the theme of a presentation by Dominik Lukes’  (Learning Technologist, University of Oxford). In his presentation, titled “How YouTube started a revolution in learning and nobody noticed”, Dominik argued that the role of video in teaching and learning can only expand and provided this example of the power of video as a learning tool. Whilst I’m not entirely convinced by the claim that ‘video is the future’, both Dominik’s and the Havant College presentations did illustrate the usefulness and power of video if used properly. Both presentations also highlighted the ease of using YouTube as the delivery platform especially given the automatic subtitles function. It would be interesting to find out more about what students think of video as a learning tool and the extent to which benefits outweigh costs (in terms of time primarily) but from personal experience, I think a lot more use could be made of YouTube in teaching and learning.

Of the panel discussions I sat in on, the most interesting was “Listening to teachers: implications for education and digital“ The discussion was based on a piece of research by anthropologist Donna Lanclos and others the findings of which can be downloaded here. The research consisted of interviewing teachers in both the HE and FE sector with the aim “to uncover what next generation digital learning environments might look like”. Their report also came up with a series of recommendations which are well worth reading.

I was particularly interested in how terminology was being used. Many years ago when I was a student we went to lectures delivered by lecturers, in this discussion it was about “teachers” facilitating and delivering learning. This change in emphasis – teaching rather than lecturing – is something, I assume, that will become more ubiquitous given the introduction of the TEF in 2017. A number of thought provoking issues came out of the discussion not necessarily related directly to technology. For example, to provide effective holistic support to students takes time, which is one resource most staff are short of. This issue links nicely to a presentation I saw by Bolton College on the use of chatbots. But more on that in my next blog along with a look at Snatchbot!


Accessibility of digital learning content at UoP

On 15 January 2019, following a two-month pilot, the TEL team switched on the Blackboard Ally plug-in across all modules on Moodle. In brief, if a lecturer has uploaded some digital course content to Moodle (typically Word documents, Powerpoint presentations or PDF files) then Ally permits students to download that content in an alternative format (electronic Braille, html, epub, tagged pdf, or mp3). This is great for accessibility, of course, but this is also an inclusive approach: any student, not just one with a particular need, might choose to download a Word document in mp3 format (to listen to on the go) or in epub format (to get the benefit of reflowable text on a e-reader). The TEL team will be providing students with more information about Ally over the coming weeks, but in this post I want to mention a feature of Ally that is of interest to authors of digital course content.

Ally generates an institutional report about the accessibility of course content on the institution’s VLE. So we now know what the most common accessibility issues are for the 38,462 course content files on Moodle. The top five are (drum-roll please):

  1. The document has contrast issues. Just under half of all documents (48%, to be precise) have contrast issues.   
  2. The document contains images without a description. Roughly 43% of all documents commit this accessibility sin.
  3. The document has tables that don’t have any headers. Just over a quarter (26%) of all documents have this issue; I suspect that the documents without this issue are simply those without tables.
  4. The document does not have any headers. This is a problem for 24% of documents.
  5. The document is missing a title. Again, 24% of documents have this problem.

The first four are classed as major accessibility issues; the fifth issue is classed as minor.

At first glance this seems shocking: about half of all documents suffer from a major accessibility issue to do with contrast. When we compare ourselves against other institutions, however, we learn that these issues seem to be common across the HE sector; indeed, we seem to be doing slightly better than many institutions. And the important thing is, now that we know what the issues are, we can start to address them. Over time, we should be able to drastically reduce the number of documents with these common – and easily fixable – problems.

One piece of good news: we have a relatively small number of documents that possess accessibility issues classed as severe. The most common severe issue at Portsmouth – just as it is at other universities – involves scanned PDFs that have not been put through OCR. There might be good, valid reasons why a scanned PDF has been used. But accessibility would certainly improve if authors minimised their use of such files.

Header image taken from link. Retrieved from
(Assessed: 17th January 2019). Thank you to Ally for giving us permission to use their image.

Guest Blogger: Julian Ingle – The Green Zone Rabbit

In the Green Zone, a safe area where politicians live, Hajjar and his friend are hiding in a villa preparing for an attack. To pass the time, Hajjar is looking after a rabbit. When he goes to clean the hutch one morning the rabbit appears to have laid an egg. Absurd events like these run alongside moments of horror and violence in Hassan Blasim’s collection of short stories about Iraq called The Corpse Exhibition.

These stories of the everyday devastation of people’s lives caught in war zones became reality at a recent talk about the work of The Council for At-Risk Academics (CARA) by its director, Stephen Wordsworth. The talk was part of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences’ Learning and Teaching day and was, without doubt, the most moving event I’ve been to at this kind of conference. I’ve just joined the University of Portsmouth and have been fortunate that it’s the conference season. I’ve seen interesting work, met lots of people, who’ve been welcoming and friendly and been to some excellent talks.

What stands out were the accounts of their recent lives by three academics who were supported by CARA ( Each of them talked about how their academic careers were closed down by the war in Syria. CARA helped them to escape, got them visas and has found them work at the University of Portsmouth so that they could continue their careers as academics until such time as they can return to their country. Their families and friends remain in Syria.

There has been more debate recently about academic freedom in UK HE, often raising concerns about the introduction of the ’Prevent duty’ in 2015. Under threat was academics’ right ‘to question and test received wisdom and to put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions without placing themselves in jeopardy of losing their jobs or the privileges they may have’ (1988 Education Reform Act). Hearing the stories of these three people, their struggle to survive and to pursue their careers in higher education, put some of these debates – and our privileged position – into perspective.

Julian Ingle has just joined the University of Portsmouth as the new Deputy Head of ASK. Prior to this he worked at Queen Mary University of London as part of the Thinking Writing initiative, and as an educational developer and lecturer at several London universities.

Image credits: Photo by Gary Bendig on Unsplash

Student digital experience 2018 – results from the JISC tracker

For the past three years the University of Portsmouth has run the JISC student digital experience tracker – a survey that aims to capture students’ experiences of and attitudes towards the digital environment in HE. I’ve just made a preliminary analysis of the results from this year’s tracker, which ended on 20 April 2018.

One of the useful aspects of the tracker is that it enables us to benchmark our results against the sector. A total of 15,746 students at other English HEIs responded to the tracker, and it’s interesting to compare their experience with the 310 Portsmouth students who responded. (Note: the student profiles of those taking the tracker are slightly different, so the comparison isn’t perfect. We deliberately choose to avoid involving students at L5 and L6, in order to minimise any interference with the NSS. At English HEIs the distribution is ‘flat’: students at all levels take the tracker.)

The good news is that, for almost all the questions posed, Portsmouth students give more positive responses than their counterparts elsewhere! For most questions the difference is only a matter of a couple of percentage points, so it would be wrong to claim there is a statistically significant difference, but in some cases there really is a notable difference. For example:

  • 93% of Portsmouth students rate the quality of UoP’s digital provision as good or above, vs 88% for the sector
  • 85% of Portsmouth students rely on Moodle to do their coursework, vs 74% for the institutional VLE at other institutions
  • 77% of Portsmouth students say that digital tech allows them to fit learning into their life more easily, vs 70% for the sector
  • 76% of Portsmouth students use digital tech to manage references, vs 65% for the sector
  • 71% of Portsmouth students say when digital tech is used on their course they enjoy learning more, vs 62% for the sector
  • 67% of Portsmouth students regularly access Moodle on a mobile device, vs 62% for the institutional VLE at other institutions
  • 67% of Portsmouth students regard Moodle as well designed, vs 56% for the institutional VLE at other institutions
  • 64% of Portsmouth students say online assessments are delivered and managed well, vs 59% for the sector

Even more interesting than the percentages, however, are the students’ free text comments. Students were asked what one thing we could do to improve their experience of digital teaching and learning. From their responses, four clear themes emerged:  

  • Students want lecture capture and/or more use of video
  • Students want a more consistent approach to Moodle use, and a less ‘cluttered’ interface
  • Students want better training/help/support for themselves when it comes to using digital tech
  • Students want staff to make better use of existing technology  

Over the coming months we’ll be considering how best to address these challenges.


Lynda online learning – user survey

User survey

Since August 2017 all students and staff at University of Portsmouth have had access to, an online, on-demand learning resource designed to help users gain new technical, business and creative skills. can be used in numerous ways. A student, for example, might use it as part of their course, or to learn additional skills such as Excel. A member of staff might use it for personal development, or to embed its resources into Moodle, create playlists and support students. We’d really like to learn about your experience of using Lynda since it was launched – so please take a couple of minutes to complete our user survey. Results from the survey will go towards improving and tailoring our provision of digital resources.

University of Portsmouth User Survey

Never heard of

If you still haven’t used you’ve been missing out! Nearly 3,500 staff and students have used it since we launched, accumulating over 4,000 hours of instructional time. is available anytime, on any device, and as well as supporting your own learning it is possible to share courses, create playlists, and embed courses into Moodle – all helping to support the learning of students and staff.

With you get:

  • Unlimited access –  Choose from more than 5,000 video tutorials covering business, creative and technology topics.
  • Relevant recommendations –  Explore the most in-demand skills based on your interests.
  • Expert instructors –  Learn from industry leaders, all in one place.
  • Convenient learning –  Access courses on your schedule, from any desktop or mobile device.
  • Helpful resources –  Reinforce new knowledge with quizzes, exercise files and coding practice windows.
  • Relevant content – Map content to support the learning of your students and staff.

For further information:

Online Training for everyone –


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