Adventures in Technology Enhanced Learning @ UoP

Category: Information (Page 2 of 2)

New Moodle theme

Over the past academic year members of TEL have been talking to people across the University about what Moodle should look like and what it should do.

We’ve conducted focus groups and had meetings with students, academics, support staff, “powers users”, IS, Marketing and Department of Student and Academic Administration (DSAA). This has allowed us to produce a requirements list of what Moodle users need in terms of the interface.

Drum roll please… we’re very pleased to announce that early adopters can now switch to the new theme for their Moodle units. This will enable academics and Online Course Developers to start developing content in time for September. Units will be automatically switched to the new theme when they are rolled over this summer.

(click image to enlarge)

To switch to the new theme manually press Course administration > Editing Settings > Appearance > UoP Boost

You can also view a demo course featuring the new theme by visiting this link.

We’d very much welcome your feedback on the new theme. Please complete this form if you have any ideas for us.

Interactive Classroom Tools – Some Advice for Students

In some classroom situations your lecturer might decide to use interactive tools that require you (the student) to have access to a connected device (phone, tablet or laptop). When lecturers do this, the work traditionally reserved for in-class teaching can be done outside of lesson time. For  example, you could be asked to watch and investigate the subject of a lesson before even entering the classroom – then in class you are in a position to contribute and shape discussion. This approach is not about a lecturer talking at you for two hours – it’s about you being an active part of the process. This might require a shift in your working practice. This can be daunting at first – but don’t let it worry you!

Some people assume that if anyone starts university today having grown up in the 21st century then they must be an expert in all areas of technology. This assumption is, of course, false. While you may be technically proficient with a range of electronic devices, the question for you is: “Have I used my devices for more than just social media or games? Have I used them to develop my higher level thinking skills, or for more in-depth researching techniques than Google and Wikipedia can provide?”

The answer might be “possibly not” – but if it is, don’t worry: you need to learn to ask for help in areas where you are unsure or uncertain of how to proceed. Even seemingly ‘simple’ problems regarding Word, Excel or similar software might pose challenges. To this day I am a limited Excel user; although I’m definitely not a technophobe, my capabilities with the software are not what many would expect. However, now that the University has a full campus licence for I am able to develop my skills at a time of my choosing. Asking for help should not be seen as a problem or as an admission of failure: it’s a means of  making your life easier for the next three  years (and indeed for life after university). The finest minds are always asking questions and attempting to learn more to better themselves and by extension of those around them.

Two areas that lecturers are investigating are Social Media and Collaborative Learning – but it is down to you, the learner, to help shape the platform on which material is being delivered. Would you engage with course material on Facebook? Can you help develop an academics idea of how best to use Twitter in the classroom? These conversations are taking place and you should not be afraid to take part in them.

If you are unsure of how to participate in these conversations then please contact us and let us help. We deliver training to academics about future technologies and how they can be used in class, but we don’t always get the responses of how that has worked from the student perspective. We’d love to hear from you!

Image Credits: Photo by Ross Findon on Unsplash

Ross Findon

JISC Student Digital Experience Tracker for 2018

From January 2018, the JISC Student Digital Experience Tracker survey will once again be available for Level 4 students.

The survey is designed to help education providers understand more about their students’ experiences of the digital learning environment.

It aims to allow institutions to:

  • Gather evidence from learners about their digital experience, and track changes over time.
  • Make better informed decisions about the digital environment.
  • Target resources for improving digital provision.
  • Plan other research, data gathering and student engagement around digital issues.
  • Demonstrate quality enhancement and student engagement to external bodies and to students themselves.

This will be the third time Portsmouth has implemented the survey, and the Tracker has grown since it was first introduced in 2016. Portsmouth was one of only 12 HE institutions chosen to deliver the first iteration of the survey. In 2017, 74 UK colleges and universities ran the Tracker and some international institutions were involved as well. This year, 160 institutions have confirmed that they intend to run the Tracker. There is now a thriving community of people who are committed to understanding the digital experience of learners – and empowering them to work for change.  

The results of the Portsmouth surveys are available elsewhere, but here it might be worth looking briefly at some of the overall findings of the 2017 Tracker. These findings represent the voice of over 22,000 UK learners.

  • Students are generally positive about the use of digital technology in their learning.
  • Some education providers have problems with the basics – such as ensuring decent on-campus wifi provision. (One of the great things about the Tracker is that it allows institutions to track changes over time. In 2016, UoP students were highly critical about wifi access on campus. In 2017, following significant investment in infrastructure, students were much more satisfied with wifi.)
  • Students are likely to own portable digital devices (laptops, smartphones etc) but also to use institutional devices (typically desktops). This highlights the need for content to work on all sizes of screen.
  • Technology is more commonly used for convenience than to support more effective pedagogy. (What can we do to improve the situation? Thoughts welcome!)
  • 80% of HE students feel that digital skills will be important in their chosen career – but only 50% agree that their course prepares them well for the digital workplace. (Again, this finding raises the question: what can we be doing to improve matters?)

The more students complete the survey, the more confidence we can have that the results are robust. So if you have dealings with Level 4 students – please do encourage them to complete the Tracker!

The New Features of Moodle 3.3

Moodle has successfully been upgraded to version 3.3, improving functionality and stability for all users.

New features:
  • Integration of H5P – a content-authoring tool that allows you to quickly create interactive resources for your Moodle units (you can use H5P to upload or create: audio recordings; charts; drag-and-drop words or images; flashcards; interactive videos; quizzes; and timelines).
  • Stealth activities – activities and resources that are accessed only through other items or links, and are not visible from the course page (previously Orphaned activities). Stealth activities and resources can now be hidden in a standard topic space but made available (under Edit, Make available) to a student / participant. This will hide resources / activities from the course page completely, but still be accessible to students through a link or item within the Moodle unit.
  • Drag and drop media – when in editing mode, for quickness, you can now drag and drop media files (images, audio recordings) directly into topic spaces in your Moodle site and select whether to make them either a downloadable file or viewable resource without having to add a label, book or page file to contain them.
  • Atto editor – Atto has become the default editor. Staff and students can change their preference to Tiny MCE via Editor Preferences in their profile. However,  Atto does provides auto-saving functionality (useful for exams) and formats content in a much more accessible way. Tiny MCE does offer a few different elements of functionality that some staff may find useful, for example – whilst using Tiny MCE in the FireFox browser image resizing can be done by dragging the image corners, rather than having to specifying the require image dimensions.
Moodle assignment:
  • The Moodle assignment tool has been dramatically improved to include inline commenting features similar in nature to Turnitin’s Feedback Studio. PDF conversion of student-submitted Word documents is handled automatically by Google Drive, making the new Moodle assignment much more robust than last year’s version.
  • When setting up a Moodle assignment it is now also possible to restrict which file formats students must submit their work in. You can do this by adding in the extension name (e.g. .docx) to ‘Accepted file type’ field. However, please note that the system will then not allow uploads of any other file formats, including versions of the same software such as Word (.doc and .docx). To set multiple file formats just use a comma to separate them in the field box. If you wish to allow students to upload any file type then simply leave the ‘Accepted file type’ field blank.
  • By turning on the Activity Completion option (the default is off) you can now bulk edit Activity Completion settings. An example would be that if you want all your quizzes to have a new passing grade, you are now able to set this for all activities and not manually change each instance.
Moodle theme:
moodle theme

New Moodle Theme

  • The Moodle theme has been improved over the summer, with a full re-design planned for summer 2018/19. Staff can now upload a unit cover image (under Course Administration, Course Summary Files) to quickly and easily illustrate what a unit is about. The upload also triggers the inclusion of a new content filtering and navigation system.

A plan for the visual revamp of Moodle

Moodle is based on open source technology which along with it’s thriving support community is one of the big reasons it’s so successful. It’s relatively straight-forward to mould Moodle to fit the organisation delivering it. In our case Moodle is branded inline with the University style guide but we go further than that and include usability customisations and features to improve the overall user experience and accessibility of the site, with the aim of making it a useful tool for all.

Our Moodle site is due a visual revamp. The University is currently in the middle of a re-brand consultation which will produce a new logo and visual identity to our websites. Moodle HQ are also re-working the user interface to make it more modern and user friendly. The TEL team are working with IS to migrate Moodle to a new POSTGRES database system to keep pace with increased usage of our site. We’d also like to include some handy new features in our Moodle theme (the theme is where we customise the look and feel of our Moodle site).

We’re taking a staggered approach to the visual revamp of Moodle, here’s our rough road map.

  • June 2017 – Moodle 3.3 environment available to staff with helpful new features
  • August 2017 – New UoP logo is incorporated into the UoP Bootstrap theme design along with re-worked unit header
  • September 2017 – Work starts on our new Boost based Moodle theme
  • January 2018 – Student and staff usability testing of the new UoP Boost theme
  • April 2018 – Advance preview of the UoP Boost theme is available to staff
  • June 2018 – UoP boost theme in Moodle available to staff for 2018/19 

So what are these handy new unit features for 2017/18 and how will they help students and staff?

Re-worked unit header

Online Course Developers in UoP Faculties have come up with some great ideas to give Moodle units a common look and feel for each department and provide easy access to individual topics. We’d like to make this process easier and lessen the need for customisation on a unit-by-unit basis which can be very time consuming. The new unit header will allow staff to upload a cover image quickly and easily. There will be a ‘jump to’ box allowing users to skip straight to a topic further down the page and a filter box to help track down an activity hidden amongst the unit content. We’re also going to make accessibility options more visible and improve editing features for staff with a simple editing on/off switch.

At the top of this post you’ll see a mock-up of what we’re working on. It’s worth mentioning that the new header layout will only be invoked if a member of staff uploads a cover image, if not the existing unit header layout will remain, meaning customisations created by OCDs will be left intact.

Bootstrap elements front and centre

Degree Apprenticeship programmes are on the way. They will mean a lot more of our learning content is delivered online and students will likely be studying units from multiple University faculties at once. It’s important that these units have a unified look and feel along with common sign-posting. A quick an efficient way to achieve this is to make a library of common element templates available within the Moodle text editor. A member of staff will be able to add a styled text box to highlight further reading, an assessment brief or an accordion of categorised content which is styled in a way which makes it easy to spot whichever unit a student is on. Tom Cripps in TEL is hard at work putting together the library of common elements which should prove to be a really useful tool.

My Home (Dashboard)

Moodle 3.3 features a new ‘My Overview’ block which was developed to give students and staff a better view of their upcoming activities, and course progress and completion. We’re currently investigation whether the new block will be useful as a central part of the My Home page alongside or as a replacement for the current ‘My Sites’ block.

Inspiration from Snap

I was really lucky to be able to attend Moodle Moot UK in London in April. One session that really inspired me was on the Snap theme. Snap has some great ideas for modernising the Moodle interface. It’s probably fair to say that some of the features are too much of a departure from the existing user experience but we’ll certainly be looking at some of the clever features in Snap as inspiration for our own theme.

Big stuff for summer 2018

The navigation within Moodle is changing, blocks are being limited to dashboard and unit pages and the Moodle interface is generally moving closer to the Moodle mobile app. A nav draw on the left of the site will be introduced with only the most important navigation elements of units displayed. The course administration block is becoming a cog with drop-down menu, freeing-up screen real-estate and standardising where you go to make changes to units or resources. In summer 2018 Moodle should ship with a much improved dashboard (My Home page) which focusses on activity, course and assessment completion. This should become a useful tool for helping students and staff keep on track.

We hope this gives you a flavour of what’s to come in Moodle from an interface point of view (we’ll blog again with new Moodle 3.3 features coming to our Moodle site this summer). As always we’re all ears if you have ideas about how Moodle can be improved (feel free to leave a comment below or give us a call). We’ll also be looking for staff and student volunteers for theme usability testing early next year so if you’d like to be involved please get in touch.

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