Learning Technology

4 good reasons to optimise the size of your images in documents

May 5th, 2016

When creating documents, it’s always good practice to include in them only images that are of an appropriate size. For example, there’s hardly ever any need to upload the original 10MB photograph that your modern camera or smartphone took. Reducing the size BEFORE adding it to the document is good practice and will keep the size of your document low. This is particularly important if you are storing or submitting it online, e.g., to a Moodle or Turnitin assignment dropbox.

Two ways of reducing that image size are

  1. to crop the image or make it smaller and
  2. reduce the file quality and thus the size.

The online quality of an image doesn’t need to be as high as if you are printing it onto paper.

There are a number of reasons why you should compress images in Office files.

  1. Saves space on your disk storage.
    In this day and age of having many hundreds of Gigabytes of storage readily available, this would seem a non-issue. However, large files have an increased risk of data corruption due to disk failure than small files. Also whilst hard disks are generally very large, USB storage can be much smaller, so to be truly portable file size is very important.
  2. Saves space on institutional disk storage.
    Even corporate or University systems have finite disk storage space, and each person has a finite amount allocated. In your personal file share, in Moodle or as electronically submitted assignments, a smaller file takes up less space.  There are also upload limits built into online software.
  3. For Turnitin assignments for example, 20 MB is the largest file size allowed (40 MB is on the way…).
  4. Documents load faster, and presentations run faster.
    Logically, if you have a number of big images in a document, it will take longer to load into the system, so using small files will mean you (or your readers) have to wait for less time for the file to open. Also large images take longer to draw on screen and when doing presentations this can cause a lag on screen. When students submit assignments, they are quicker to mark if kept as small as possible. Students might even get feedback quicker!

With thanks to Claire Chambers, School of Geography, for the initial document on which this post is based.

Video team wins Learning on Screen Award

April 29th, 2016

Congratulations to Learning Technology’s Video Production team for their success in 2016’s Learning on Screen Awards. The team have scooped this prestigious award for the film From the ‘Just War’ to the Unjust Peace which was produced as part of a suite of films made for the FutureLearn MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) Propaganda and Ideology in Everyday Life.

The free course, which was developed with Professor Maiken Umbach from the School of History, and Professor Mat Humphrey from the School of Politics, as well as colleagues at the British Library, attracted over 12,000 learners on the FutureLearn platform when it first ran last year. If you missed the course the first time round it will run again this spring starting on 16th May: sign up for this award-winning course at futurelearn.com.


This is fantastic recognition for the team who have been consistently praised for their professionalism and the high quality of the service they provide to the University.  If you’d like to work with the team please get in touch.

Submitting assignments through Moodle and successfully using Turnitin

April 22nd, 2016

Coursework submission period has come round again and it’s time to offer you some tips to successfully submit assignments through Moodle including Turnitin.

  1. There is a current known issue that Turnitin GradeMark does not load in Safari browsers – it affects both staff marking and students viewing feedback and the workaround is to use a different browser, such as Chrome. This will be fixed next time we upgrade the Turnitin plugin
  2. We’ve put together a Turnitin and Moodle assignment checklist – checking this BEFORE  submitting will help reduce the chances of your submission not being uploaded.  Particularly check file sizes and file types.
  3. If you have submitted the wrong document it’s usually possible to re-submit it if it’s still before the deadline. Go back to the submission page and overwrite your original submission. It will not match in Turnitin against your previous paper. (It does depend on how the assignment dropbox has been set up.)
  4. (University of Nottingham only for this one)  You can test your essay in the Test Your Text module (it won’t count as a match in your real module). The link is at the top of every Moodle page. This won’t match against your real submission. But remember students have only one originality report in each 24 hour period, so if you are going to test your text, do it well in advance of the deadline.
  5. Give yourself plenty of time – submit well before the deadline to allow for problems and so that the system isn’t as busy as it can get two minutes before the deadline passes.

If you do encounter an issue please contact: learning-technologies@nottingham.ac.uk

Looking at a Turnitin assignment for your receipt and feedback:

Teaching & Learning seminar (9 Mar 16): Copyright and e-learning: Recording

April 20th, 2016

On 9 March 2016 our Teaching and Learning Seminar was on Copyright and e-learning: everything you need to know but were afraid to ask, with Tony Simmonds as our speaker, aiming to bust myths about copyright and map out the real dos and don’ts, giving staff confidence to reuse images, video and text to support online learning. This was followed by a panel session during which the panel members – academics who have faced copyright challenges – fielded questions from the audience.

Will it be OK to use this image in my slides?  If something’s free to view online, can’t I do anything I want with it?  How can I put a copy of this article on Moodle? 

Seminar – Gamification and Ludology: 6 April 2016: Recordings

April 19th, 2016

The theme for our 6 April 2016 Teaching & Learning Seminar was Gamification and Ludology, and their application in teaching and learning.

Games industry veteran Andy Chambers (Games Workshop, Activision-Blizzard) spoke about gamification within commercial settings and its value in maintaining the player base of long-running games such as  World of Warcraft, Warhammer 40,000 and Starcraft. Players have repeatedly shown themselves capable of ‘mutating’ the micro and macro elements of game architecture in these functional environments to produce unexpected results. What could we learn from this about motivation that we can apply ourselves?

Ivan Lombardi, tutor, joined us virtually from Japan to talk about two uses of gamification. Firstly at the University of Fukui (Japan) where Fukudai Hero is a video game-like English class for students of Engineering (with low motivation to take compulsory English classes). It aims to  strengthen the students’ engagement with the class content (usually a range of topics for basic communication in English) by using core game elements like quests, a point system, and free choice. At Nottingham, the online MA Programme in Digital Technologies for Language Teaching includes a gamified module on Game-based learning. Both capitalize on different game elements.

Inspiration from the Xerte conference 2016

April 18th, 2016

Last Thursday’s Xerte conference (14 April 2016) proved to be a motherlode of inspiration and examples of wonderful Xerte projects from diverse contexts.  Xerte is used by institutions large and small. This map of users is just the beginning (tweet @patlockley to be added to the map if you’re not on it)

The first keynote was from Ian Dolphin who talked about the future, for technology and Apereo and its projects and community members. Sal Cooke, recently Director of TechDis, credited the developers and others involved in the journey of Xerte.

The Xhibitapp was popular. From Joel Reed and James Roscoe, it’s a simple way to create a look and feel – a theme – for your Xerte Toolkit – still in development. They created custom themes for the AgriFood ATP students.

Xerte is used at Abertay University as a mechanism to support students and disseminate information  – it’s easy to embed media content. Alison Christie talked about Raising the profile of Xerte.

At the University of Liverpool Xerte has been used for interactive tutorials in study skills and information literacy since 2009.

Julian Tenney told us how to use Xete’s RSS feeds to create a feed aggregator which could be used as a learning hub for a distributed and connected online course, perhaps along the lines of ds106.us

Accessibility has always been a strong feature of Xerte, and Alistair McNaught reminded us of the key elements. Accessibility requires moving beyond multimodal design to include interactivity & social media. Alt tags on images, key point summary on audio, subtitled videos, scene description and using heading styles are all  ways to format documents appropriately to be accessible.  Xerte has many built-in accessibility features.

Inge Donkervoort (@12ChangeLearn) warned us that 90% of all information learned in traditional classroom settings is lost within a year, and recommended flipped learning, spaced repetition, micro- and nano-learning. The Media Lesson pagetype in Xerte can be used to synchronise video with text and other items (such as Google maps) and finishing up with assessment via multiple choice questions. A five minute nano-lesson could be sent to learners in a responsive form for their mobile devices.

Kent Fire and Rescue Service, Jason Bardell told us, uses Xerte for training for fire service staff and for the public.

In Cardiff, Xerte is used as an ePortfolio assessment solution: an integrated Moodle-Xerte platform is used for the creation and submission of candidate evidence and the corresponding online assessment and external moderation of that evidence.

Student-created learning materials produced in Xerte were also very much to the fore.  When using Xerte with students a certain amount of support is needed to get them up and running – and it helps to give a bit of an introduction to learning design, too.

Kerry Pinny from Lincoln gave their example in the Making Digital History project: “an opportunity for students to communicate their learning to a public audience, using a Xerte object, in the process developing a range of digital and other skills.” “We learn better when we relate our learning to others.”   Xerte’s simplicity is one of the advantages when using with students.

In Nottingham Biosciences students were using Xerte in a compulsory professional skills module  (about a third of the 150 students decided to use Xerte for the final learning object creation assessment). Task details and example: Where can a degree in Nutrition take you?

Liz Mossop is using Xerte in the Vet School, Nottingham, and Michael Randall in the School of Health Sciences, Nottingham, is using it, both  in problem-based learning, to drip feed information in order to help groups make a clinical diagnosis, and then making medication recommendations, with students also creating virtual cases.  The decision tree template comes in useful here.

Steve Stapleton was making ebooks with Xerte about Business Sustainability – which raises the question – what IS an ebook? A Xerte object has moved a good way from the traditional book format – but shouldn’t we embrace these possibilities? Ebook is a contradiction in terms perhaps?

In the last session of the day, the community was joined by Marcella Oliviero who has won the Apereo Atlas prize with a Xerte object for language teaching. Many congratulations!

Teaching & Learning Seminar: Facilitating online learning: Wed 4th May

April 12th, 2016

Our next Teaching and Learning Seminar is our annual visit to Sutton Bonington to coincide with the monthly Farmers’ Market. The speakers will all focus on facilitating online learning, both in wholly online and in blended courses.

James Roscoe is part of the AgriFood Advanced Training Partnership (AATP). The AATP offers a number of distance learning courses for professionals working in the agrifood industry. Many of the courses consist of standalone learning resources, but recently more active facilitation techniques have been brought in. James will report on the impact these have had on the students as well as the implications for facilitating their forthcoming MOOC on ‘Antimicrobial Resistance in the Food Chain’. [Edited as Joel Reed is no longer speaking.]

Christine Lee, who recently completed a PhD in the School of Education, has taken part in facilitating and evaluating NOOCs. She will talk about her practical experience and how it could inform facilitation of blended and online learning within the University.

Sally Chappell is involved with both distance-learning and blended MSc courses in the School of Life Sciences. She will talk about her plans for gamification within Moodle to encourage student participation (including geo-based treasure hunts), as well as touching on other approaches she has tried over the last year or so.

Date: Wednesday, May 4th, 2016

Time: 12.30 p.m. with hot drinks from 12:15 p.m.

Location: Room A33, Food Sciences Building, Sutton Bonington Campus

To be sure we have enough tea and coffee, please email laura.dominguez@nottingham.ac.uk if you intend to be present.

The Hotseat #2 Advantages, disadvantages and tips

March 31st, 2016

Yesterday’s post introduced the idea of a Hotseat – by no means a new idea – it’s something we adopted and adapted rather than invented!  A way to have a time-limited but not entirely synchronous discussion.

Features of a Hotseat include that it involves a special guest or is lecturer-led, it is clearly time-limited, it is a discussion – often with a presentation or position paper – and focused around a particular topic. It is scheduled and well planned in advance, and it contains elements of both synchronous and asynchronous.


  • Avoids no-one turning up to synchronous sessions in situations where students are unable or unwilling to attend wholly synchronous sessions
  • Easier for a beginner to manage than a synchronous chat, especially where no experienced backup is available
  • Can even be managed with facilitators asking the guest questions face to face and typing for them if they are very busy or inexperienced online
  • Can be used to qualify as contact time in academic settings, e.g., where an online learning opportunity replaces a face to face session, or with flipped learning
  • The forum format means the record of the discussion is easy to access and archive.
  • Avoids embarrassment of an empty synchronous online classroom
  • Gets students used to “turning up” online in a low stakes environment, can be used early in a course with truly synchronous events later on


  • Discussion can move very fast, for a forum, and be difficult to keep up with, especially for those unfamiliar with the format
  • On the other hand, it can end up as a simple question and answer rather than a proper discussion (if not facilitated and engaged with)
  • May not have the same sense of immediacy and conversation as a truly synchronous technology
  • Still needs facilitation

 Tips for running a Hotseat

  • Ensure that the timing meets the needs of the students AND the guest
  • Ask for questions to be posted before the Hotseat starts
  • Questions can be added in advance by facilitators if students are slow to start posting, or the guest/lecturer can post prompts/questions for students to respond to in the run up to the Hotseat
  • A facilitator, where available, should support the guest and make sure they know what to do
  • Facilitators should be present in the forum beforehand, at the time of the Hotseat (letting the guest lead) and afterwards
  • Hotseat guests should start with the earliest posted questions (that may mean starting at the “end” of the forum thread as posts tend to be in reverse chronological order)
  • While the Hotseat guest is running through answering the questions, facilitators can keep discussions going where they start up.
  • Concentrate on the most appropriate questions (rather than off-topic ones) if time is short.
  • Facilitators should draw the guest’s attention to lively discussions to return to, or particular questions, especially where the answer is specialist or particularly appropriate

Somewhere between a synchronous and an asynchronous event: the Hotseat #1

March 30th, 2016

During our online and blended courses in Moodle and in FutureLearn, we often hold synchronous events such as webinars, in Adobe Connect, Google Hangouts, Skype, or other appropriate technologies. However, it is sometimes not appropriate for one reason or another to hold a short synchronous event – for example, because the speaker isn’t comfortable with the format, or the students are too scattered about the world for a single time to be effective. In these cases we have found an effective alternative is the Hotseat – a type of forum or social media discussion that has an element of synchronicity.

Typically a Hotseat is used in a course to bring in an expert or special guest who has limited time to engage in the whole course, but can focus on a particular topic or answer a series of questions. Examples include a government minister talking to participants in a professional development course, a Vice-Chancellor talking to students, a world expert joining in with a MOOC. It can be an effective alternative to a synchronous chat, hangout or webinar. The asynchronous element allows students who cannot participate at the set time (through time zone mismatches, work commitments or other reasons) to interact with the guest  It can also be used in any online course as a timetabled event qualifying as contact time, particularly where learning is flipped.

A Hotseat can last any length of time from an hour to a couple of days or even a week, but a key feature is that the expert’s time is limited and this is advertised to participants beforehand.  Discussions may (in fact probably should) start beforehand, and finish afterwards with participants and facilitators, but the expert or lecturer’s involvement is limited.

Every Hotseat should have a clear purpose and topic. Participants should be encouraged to start posting questions in advance of the set time, to respond during the core Hotseat if at all possible. Discussion can move very fast in the limited time, especially if it is only an hour or two. It can be difficult for the guest to keep up in a really busy Hotseat, especially when trying to return to threads that have a lively discussion going. The Hotseat guest should answer as many initial queries as possible but also return to previous threads to engage in the ongoing discussion as much as they can.  Where discussion in a thread is lively can be a good point for facilitators to become involved. The Hotseat will end with some kind of plenary or summary. A Hotseat can also be run as a Tweetchat or similar social media events.

It’s a simple idea, but one which has worked in a number of scenarios. In our next post on Hotseats we’ll look at advantages and disadvantages and give some tips for success.

Get to grips with Moodle – Introductory training dates April and May

March 24th, 2016

Whether you’re completely new to Moodle, have had a bit of use of it and want to understand it better or need a refresher, the Key Moodle Basics course is for you. Two hours of intensive demonstration, discussion and hands-on practice in the basics of creating and maintaining a Moodle module with lots of opportunities to ask questions.  It’s suitable for academic staff or anyone administrative or technical who supports teaching in Moodle at the University of Nottingham.

Upcoming dates

Friday 1st April   10 am – noon   University Park

Tuesday 26th April    2 – 4 pm University Park

Tuesday 24th May   10 am – noon   Jubilee Campus

More information and booking