Day 1: Module refresh checklist

Checklist on a blackboard
Reading Time: 6 minutes

The new academic session is almost upon us, modules have been rolled over and Blackboard, aka My Dundee, has gone through an upgrade cycle. One thing you’ll notice is that following this summer’s upgrade we’ve also given My Dundee a bit of a makeover giving it a fresher, cleaner theme. We’ll also be continuing, behind the scenes, to make further improvements to various aspects of the My Dundee online experience over the coming months.

Following up on the theme of improving the online learning experience our 2017/18 Learning X season kicks off this week with ‘Module Makeover’.  Over the next 5 days we hope to provide you with some helpful tips as you get your modules ready for the new semester. We’ll also put the spotlight on some of the tools in Blackboard and perhaps inspire you to try something new.  On Wednesday 9th August you can also drop in to to the Eduzone between 10.00 and 12.00 hrs for our module makeover workshop where we’ll look more at getting your module ready for the new semester.

Checklist on a blackboard

To get us started we’re going to think about a VLE module checklist.  Many UK Universities have policies in place outlining the minimum requirements in terms of the information a student can expect to find in the virtual learning environment (VLE).  These minimum requirements don’t tend to be lengthy lists but rather a short set of criteria relating to module administration, content and assessment.  Let’s take a look at the sort of things that might be considered as minimum or standard feature of a module in My Dundee.


It maybe that your School or Programme have one of these sorts of checklists already in place. However, even if that’s the case it’s useful to review your checklist from time to time and see if there’s anything that can be added whilst casting a reflective eye over how you present your module online. Presenting key module information in an accessible way can help save time for students and staff. Here are a few things to think about as you refresh your module for the start of the new semester.

Welcome Message

Students will be checking the VLE before they come back to the campus so it’s good to have a welcome message to the new year and your module.  The same applies to distance learning students who won’t see you in the flesh but will still get a sense of being welcomed to the University.  You could write your welcoming message and post with a photo of yourself, record a video using your webcam or an audio podcast.  These are all great ways to help students make that initial connection with you, particularly if they are new students.

Introduce the teaching team

Students also find it helpful to be introduced to the teaching team for a module. So here a photograph of the module lead and other lecturers involved in the course together with information about how you can be contacted is always helpful.  It can also be useful to mention something about expectations in terms of turnaround in responding to emails etc.

It’s also worthwhile introducing the admin team who support your module as students are likely to have interaction and communications from them and it’s always good to be able to put names to faces.

Module information

If you already have a module checklist, information on the module is likely top of the list.

Module Handbook – This is going to be the cornerstone of the module and you might present this in different ways.  Some modules create a Blackboard ‘Learning module’, but most typically the module handbook will be uploaded to My Dundee as a Word or PDF document.  Some Schools are sharing core module information and documents through Box and sharing the folder link in My Dundee.  The advantage here is that you can update modules without the need to keep replacing documents in the VLE.  You can also use One Drive which forms part of Office 365 to do a similar thing.  You can simply create a Group in Office and share files with your students and have a link from My Dundee.

Module at a Glance – In the module information section have a think about the common things students always miss.  Would it might be worthwhile producing something like a ‘Module at a Glance’ in the form of one side of A4 or as an infographic summarising the important things students need to remember or know. You could even involve students in creating one of these.  On a similar theme you could involve students in making similar summaries of infographics around key learning opportunities in the module and how to get the most out of it.

Response to Feedback – Finally in this section think about whether you want to communicate any changes you’ve made to the module based on student feedback from the last run.  In effect a ‘you said, we did’ piece that highlights changes you’ve made to enhance the module based on student feedback.


Students like to have clear information on how they are going to be assessed so this is an important section.  Double check that submission dates and deadlines have been updated from last year.  If students can receive formative feedback on drafts prior to submission outline the process for this.


Your content section will build up once the teaching starts but as you start to pre-populate with lecture notes and handouts double check the copyright status of content you’re reusing from other sources and that web links have been checked and still work. If you need advice on digitising content then be in touch with the Library.  Also remember to update your reading list, here again the Library can provide guidance and support and information.

This isn’t an exhaustive list but hopefully it will get you thinking. The likelihood is the there are things you’ll feel are essential that haven’t been covered here. If that’s the case please do share your thoughts in the comments.  If you’re a student reading this we’d also welcome your views on what you think is essential to include in a module in  My Dundee.

If you have a module checklist, take time to review it, are there things that you could add to help your students?

If you don’t currently have a checklist take a look at some of these examples of minimum requirements from other Universities as a starter for ten to help inform the creation your own checklist.

  • For a quick overview of what sort of things other universities have in their minimum requirements take a look at this Google Doc which, Peter Reed invited colleagues across the UK HEI sector to contribute to whilst he was working at Liverpool and doing a research audit in this area.  If you’re short on time this provide’s a helpful bird’s eye view.
  • York St John University uses Moodle rather than Blackboard and has a comprehensive set of Minimum Expectations for each module. These cover course layout and design, support for learners, communication and assessment.
  • The University of South Wales has a downloadable one page Checklist for Course Leaders.
  • The University of Leeds School of Mathematics has a discipline specific set of requirements that could serve other disciplines and  highlights the need to link to University policies that are relevant to students.
  • The University of Newcastle has a VLE threshold standard. This document is longer than the others but provides an interesting insight into their approach.

In some cases other universities have developed these minimum requirements based on feedback from their students.

Think about how you can get feedback from your students regarding the online layout of your module and the information that’s available and presented. Ask them if they might have suggestions of how the module can be enhanced. Is there key information that’s missing? Do your students get a consistent experience across the modules in your programme?

A final thing to consider in your checklist is how easily accessible the key information is to your students and fellow staff.  Here have a think about the course navigation.

One of the complaints about My Dundee is the endless number of clicks it takes to get to key information.  Sheffield University makes a suggestion that lectures should aim to have course information no more than three clicks away for students.  Again this is something you could ask students to provide feedback or you could peer review each others modules.

Share your thoughts on what you think needs to be included as standard in each module in the VLE in the comments section.  Are there things that we’ve missed?

Peter Reed who used to work at the University of Liverpool led a piece of work on minimum VLE requirements across UK Universities.  He found that drivers for these requirements came from both universities centrally as well as from the student voice. The slideshare presentation below provides a helpful summary of his work.  If you’re interested in reading more take a look at Peter’s blog post ‘Sector-wide subscription to VLE minimum standards‘ or his paper, in the journal eLearning and Digital Media, on his research with VLE mimim requirements at Liverpool – Hygiene factors: Using VLE minimum standards to avoid student dissatisfaction.

One of the suggestions in the first section of today’s session is to think about the potential of creating an infographic summarising key module information.  Infographics are an effective way to communicate information that can on the surface appear complex and there are various tools that you can use to help you create them.  Two that are worth checking out that support free accounts are

If you try them out and produce a nice graphic please share the link with us via the comments section.

Day 2: Making over your module: Inspiration?

Furnishing and decoration mood board with yellow and grey theme. Includes fabric swatches, furniture
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Furnishing and decoration mood board with yellow and grey theme. Includes fabric swatches, furniture
“Yellow Grey | Decor8 contest” by shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

Building on this week’s Learning X theme of Module Makeover take a moment to think about how you approach giving your home a makeover or doing a spot of decorating.  Some of us like to keep things simple and take the easy approach, going for cream or magnolia walls in every room.  For others giving a room a makeover is serious business.  Home interior magazines and design blogs are scoured, Pinterest boards created, interior designers and retailers are followed on Instagram whilst YouTube and TV shows serve as further inspiration. Building on all this research some individuals make mood boards, get swatches of fabric, tester pots of paints.  Meticulous planning and research goes into the makeover process. All this research helps inspire and generate ideas.  Certain designs and colour schemes standout and get copied, adapted, remixed and given a personal spin to reflect individual’s personalities.  Some follow the latest design trends, others like to freshen up with more timeless styles or create new trends to fit the function of the room and the mood they want to create.

How does this process compare with how we approach our Modules in the VLE?


As each new academic session starts in many cases modules in My Dundee just get rolled over with a splash of magnolia on the walls to cover up the scuff marks.  The reality is that often that’s all there’s time to do!  Lack of support and training are also problematic and in a sense perhaps the checklists that have sprung up in many institutions are a way of ensuring that despite these issues there’s a degree of consistency in the student experience.  VLE module checklists are important, but with so much potential to try something new and innovate it’s important that they don’t also limit us and stop us from being bold and ambitious and from experimenting with new online learning design approaches.

So what’s possible? Having thought about module checklists yesterday let’s move on from simply thinking about the VLE as a filing system housing core module information.  To do this move the focus away from the VLE and a specific technology and look more closely at how you want to teach and what you want your students to learn.  Think about whether the digital space and digital tools can help support and enhance your teaching and the student learning experience. Could the application of technology in your teaching help overcome any challenges that you currently face or help address issues raised by students in course feedback?

Just as looking at design features in magazines and blogs can inspire your home decorating we’re very conscious that the same holds true when designing your Module in the VLE.  One of the limitations we have currently is that we can’t share modules in My Dundee so it’s difficult to explore what others are doing and to see examples of creative and innovative use of the VLE and other tools to support learning.  We plan to change this over the coming year but in the meantime in the next section we’ll point you to some examples from elsewhere to see if they might help provide some inspiration and give you some ideas that you can take and remix in your own module.

Are there things you’d like to add to your online module or that you’d like to try or aspects that you’d like to improve?  Keep a list of these things or start to make a list once teaching starts again.

Perhaps you need some inspiration.  The University of Aberystwyth runs an annual Exemplary Course Award, to share good practice across the University.  Aberystwyth has been running this for several years and found that the exemplary practice is being spread to other courses as a result.  Take a look at the awards page and some of the video presentations from the award winners to see if there’s anything that you can take and apply to your own module.

Another place to seek inspiration, or confirm how not to do things, is to take a look at some of the MOOCs, Massive Open Online Courses, that are free to enrol on.  MOOCs are available across the whole range of higher education disciplines so you should be able to find something that relates to your own teaching area. It’s also worth looking at MOOCs that are outside our discipline as you might find ideas and approaches that aren’t common in your own domain but with a bit of tweaking could work well and make a useful addition to your module.  To explore some MOOCs check out the following:

For a MOOC with a difference check out CLMOOC – an open, collaborative, knowledge-building, learning and sharing experience,with a slightly more creative approach to designing and supporting online learning.

As you take a look at these various examples it’s also worth reflecting on how you learn and your own wider experience of using online learning and technology.  What have been the good experiences, what made them good, is there anything in these experiences that you can take and apply to your module?  Are there also things you’ve not liked, why haven’t you liked them?  As you think about your own personal learning consider the different aspects of your learning, knowledge, skills and professionalism.  Are there different learning theories and philosophies that can come into play and help to shape the design of the learning in these domains? Can technology also play a role to facilitate some of that  learning online to complement what you do in face to face teaching and help your students develop as more self-directed learners?

Share your thoughts with us in the comments.

One of the criticisms levelled at the use of technology in education is that its adoption and application haven’t always been informed by scholarly evidence.  There’s also a view that the technology is acting as the agent of change rather than the teacher.  With this in mind one of the objectives of Learning X is to signpost some of the educational literature. To help with this we’ve created a Learning X group on Mendeley to share some of the research that we refer to and other publications that we think might be of interest and help to inform practice.  You can join the group and add to the collection that’s that there.

A couple of papers to check out are:

Follow and join Learning X on Mendeley to explore and contribute to the collection.

Today’s link is to Jane Hart’s top 200 tools for learning.  For the past 10 years Jane has been collating a list of the top 100 tools used in learning based on the votes of learning professionals involved in academia and learning and training more broadly.  You can explore the current top tools and read how other learning professionals use them.  If you delve deeper into the site you can see how these tools have moved up and down the list over the years.  What’s interesting is how many of these tools are used by educators to support their own personal learning and their role as a teacher/trainer, they don’t just use the tools with their students.  You’ll notice that Jane is also polling for the 2017 top tools so you can also submit your own personal top 10 learning tools.  The slideshare below walks you through the 2016 top 200 tools for learning and you can also check out the best of breed across different categories of tools in 2016 on the website. If you’re interested in some of these tools and need any support to look at them further do be in touch.

Day 3: Structuring your module

Reading Time: 3 minutes

A number of years ago, a range of school templates were developed for My Dundee – and most users have continued to use them, however, it may be that format is not as appropriate as it could be for your particular module, and the way that you teach it, especially if you want to move to a more blended learning approach.

However, Blackboard offers a range of different approaches to laying out a module, and we will look at these today.


Over the last 2 days we have encouraged you to think about the types of content that should be in a module, we’ll now start to think about different way of arranging material. Typically – and this is true of Universities the world over, it’s not just Dundee – staff have put material in their VLE on a weekly basis; sometimes making a very long list of materials (perhaps they were aiming to minimise the number of clicks students have to make, or perhaps they didn’t know how to create folders). Others have created a folder a week, but then only had 1 item for some weeks – which leads extra clicking for the students.

However, not all modules are taught in clear “weeks”. You may have a theme that covers several weeks, or perhaps the module is project based, and students are building a lot of the content as they develop it.

To cater for differently structured modules (courses, in Blackboard speak) there are a number of pre-defined options. In the resources section, you’ll find a link to the range of types of structure they have pre-defined – and downloadable .pdf files explaining a little more about them.

There are, of course, conventions that you’ll want to maintain, for example, ensuring that assignment related materials, whether that’s a Turnitin dropbox, or instructions for how to upload a podcast, are all kept together, in an area with a name that your department has adopted.

Screenshot - expedition based Structure
Click for larger version


In the resources section, there’s a link to Blackboard’s descriptions of the different structures.

We have created a few examples using the sample material – they’re set so that you can self enrol. Most of the content is hidden from students, so once you have enrolled, contact Emma Duke-Williams, and I will upgrade you to Instructor (so, be careful if you have a play to not edit content that others may want to look at!)

If you want to experiment altering your own course, you have two options.

1: Request a sandbox module from elearning.
2: Have a go in your module. Note that all content the change adds is hidden from students, and it doesn’t alter your content. However, it does add new links in the left menu that students can see.


Blackboard’s information on Course Structures Includes downloadable files describing the different setups.

Iowa State’s information on Course Structures (have a look, in particular, at the Game based approach example)

One of the structures was called “Constructivist” – if that’s a term you haven’t come across before, here is a brief slideshare that summarises it. It’s highly likely that, as a good teacher, you’re already employing this approach – without calling it constructivism.

I’m sure many of you have seen Padlet – as it’s something we often recommend. For unfamiliar with it, it’s a shared white board that all can add comments, images, etc. to.

We’ve created one for this session Module Makeover and hope you’ll share ideas for what you’d like to do.

Day 4: Adding Interactivity 1 (Quizzes)

Head, full of cogwheels and a questionmark
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Head, full of cogwheels and a questionmark
Created by “Tumisu”; shared on Pixaby with CC0 licence.

Most academics know that students value having formative assessment within a module (even if they don’t always access it as often as you might like). Today, we’ll have a look at the Quiz tools that are in My Dundee, and some of the other options that you might want to us, to enable students to engage with formative assessment.

If you haven’t looked at the quiz tools in My Dundee for some time, you might be pleasantly surprised to find the range of question types that are now available.

Click larger version

Blackboard has descriptions of all the question types, and information about scoring options etc.

As formative assessment is primarily to find out what students don’t know, so that they can learn it, one useful trick can be, rather than thinking of multiple choice questions to cover key facts, to have short answer questions – that aren’t automatically graded. You can then skim the answers given by students, and give support in class for common misconceptions. (This method can also be useful to start to build up possible answers for multiple choice, as you’ll be including common errors, rather than errors you think the students might make).

Another option for involving students in this process is Peerwise. It allows you to get students to create multiple choice questions for each other – which gets them to engage with the content, and to identify what the key concepts are.

David Martin (Life Sciences) has used this, and has a playlist of videos to help you get going as a tutor. (Hint: To start, click on the “Get Started” link in the upper right of the screen, don’t try to find Dundee in the large search box!)

How would you see your use of formative assessment in your modules? Do they lend themselves well to multiple choice and other objective question types, or do you feel there are other ways that work better with your cohort?

What do you feel about peer / self assessment? Both My Dundee and Turnitin allow you to set up peer assessments for essays etc, to allow students to reflect on each other’s work – and both allow you to create a series of questions to help the students comment on others work.

If there are any students reading this – what are your feelings on self/peer assessment? Have you had to take part in peer assessment, either at University, or in school/College? What value did you get from having your work peer assessed? What  did you gain from assessing someone else’s?

Blackboard quiz creator

If you are using the basic question types in Blackboard, there are a number of sites that allow you to create a file of questions, and import them into Blackboard.

  • Newcastle – this allows you to include feedback; and it creates a zip file for import into a pool. Once you have input your text, click the “Blackboard” button to generate the zip file.
  • College of DuPage – an overview of other’s tools, (including Southern Idaho, who developed the original tool).

Supporting research

  • Kivunja, C. (2015). Why Students Don’t Like Assessment and How to Change Their Perceptions in 21st Century Pedagogies. Creative Education6(20), 2117–2126.
    Covers assessment generally, rather than just formative, but makes suggestions for approaches to assessment generally.
  • Raes, A., Vanderhoven, E., & Schellens, T. (2015). Increasing anonymity in peer assessment by using classroom response technology within face-to-face higher education. Studies in Higher Education40(1), 178-193.
    While this looks at Classroom response technology, it covers peer assessment generally. The options we have in Turnitin and Blackboard allow for the peer assessment to be anonymous.

The Distracted classroom

series of posts on The Chronicle of Higher Education, looking how technology can distract students, but also how staff can use it to engage students in the classroom.

Question the guru

Many of you will have read Phil Race’s books, and will have seen some of his presentations. In August, he’s offering to answer your questions! August Project: your questions please . So far, he’s not shared any questions on his site, could someone from Dundee be the first?!

As we all know designing MCQs isn’t as easy as it could be. You may have seen this before, as Phil Race uses it frequently – though it’s been used by quite a lot of others, and appears to have originated in Australia.

Day 5: Adding Interactivity 2 (Communication)

Figures linked by lines
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Figures linked by lines
Created by Open Clip Art Vectors, shared on Pixaby with CC0 licence.

Today, we’ll focus on communication, both between students, and from staff to students. To start, though, lets think about the welcome message. Earlier in the week, Natalie looked at a welcoming message. We’ll start by looking at some ideas for getting video communication going.


Welcome video

A welcoming video can be very powerful, not only for distance learning students, but also for campus based students, who may be looking at the module before the first class. Blackboard has a list of the type of things that work well in an introductory video – and have a look at the first link in that which is a Prezi going into a little more detail, including some practical suggestions for when you are creating them.

Student videos

One way to get students to interact could be to get them to create their own videos – we are currently investigating video platforms that would allow students to create and upload videos to a server (more on that when we have it fully up and running). For the time being, however, we have Kaltura. Students can create a video on their phones, and then upload using Kaltura to a discussion post in My Dundee. Simply click the “Mashup” link, select Kaltura, and then Add New on the next screen.

Alternatively, students may prefer to upload to YouTube, but they need to think about privacy issues; a video uploaded to Kaltura is only visible to those within the University who have the link.

Lecture preparation videos

Witton (2017), looking at pilot of video capture at Wolverhampton, found that the most useful type of pre-recorded videos, according to the students, were lab demonstrations of what they would be doing in practical classes.

Here at Dundee, we’ll be running a similar pilot this academic year – as already noted, we’re in the process of setting this up – more when we have got it all in place. However if you are interested in finding out more, comment below or contact eLearning. We also have a (very wee!) video production team, who may be able to help you – contact eLearning if you want to find out more.

Synchronous video

For a number of years now, we have had Blackboard’s Collaborate video conferencing system. This has been difficult for some users, as it involved the installation of a Java based client. For the past year or so, we have had access to Blackboard Collaborate Ultra – which has a much newer technology base. If you have new versions of browsers it will work without any need to install anything. (If you have an older browser, you’ll have to have Flash installed). It also works on Android and iOS phones/tablets.

Collaborate Ultra is updated frequently, so, even if you looked at it 6 months ago, you may well find it has newer features; below is the latest video Blackboard have produced to outline its key features (August 2017)

We have looked at video – though by no means all possible uses of video. Are there others that you have used or are considering using with students?

How else do you get students to engage with each other? How much do you find they engage with it? Do you feel it matters if they don’t?

We also have a range of tools available via Office 365, many of which can be used by groups of students. One tool that you may like to have a look at is Class Notebook. You may also have spotted that once you have signed into My Dundee – you’re automatically signed in to Office 365 (and vice versa), now that UoDIT have started to implement Single Sign On.

There are many other ways that you could get students to collaborate – we used Jane Hart’s top 200 tools as the link of the day in an earlier post; she links to many collaborative tools.

Students, if you are reading this – how to do you engage with other students? Online? Offline? Do you use different methods for communicating with classmates to those you use for communicating with your friends and family? How would you like staff to communicate with you?

Collaborate Ultra

Related research

Byrne, A. (2016). Podcasting for Learning and Assessment in Undergraduate History. Compass: Journal of Learning and Teaching, 8(12). doi: Also applies to other disciplines!

Manathunga, K., & Hernández-Leo, D. (2016). PyramidApp: Scalable Method Enabling Collaboration in the Classroom. In K. Verbert, M. Sharples, & T. Klobučar (Eds.), Adaptive and Adaptable Learning: 11th European Conference on Technology Enhanced Learning, EC-TEL 2016, Lyon, France, September 13-16, 2016, Proceedings (pp. 422–427). Cham: Springer International Publishing. This article looks at how collaborative tools can be used with very large groups, to get discussions going, without overwhelming individuals.

Other materials

The NMC / Educause have published their horizons report for over 10 years, this summarises the 2017 Higher Education report. Communication and Collaboration are seen as being key. The full report is available to download online. 


While Sugata Mitra focuses on children’s learning, the points he make apply to everyone; regardless of age. This is a TED speech he gave in 2013.



Learning X 2017-18 Season kicks off with Module Makeover

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Building on the success of last semester’s first Learning X series theme on Copyright, we’ve planned a whole Season of Learning X for the 2017/18 academic session.  If you missed our first series, Learning X is our online approach to supporting learning and teaching in a digital world and consists of short and snappy online guided learning activities relating to everyday learning and teaching practice.  By developing a themed approach we hope that groups and individuals can learn together and develop learning conversations and networks.  The beauty of delivering this online is that you can join in when you want and the content will always be available.  We’re developing Learning X as a hybrid pedagogy approach and each series will be accompanied by a complementary workshop so that staff can meet up and ask further questions, get additional advice, tips and support.

The new season kicks off on Monday 7 August with a Module makeover series designed to help you get your modules ready for the start of the new session. Module makeover will encourage you to think about developing a module checklist to ensure you have all the key information ready to view for your students.  It will also point you to online learning on the web to help inspire you and highlight some tools and approaches that you might not be aware of. There will also be a Module Makeover workshop/surgery on Wednesday 9 August from 10.00-12.00hrs in the Eduzone in the Library.

The Learning X 2017/18  season Semester 1 schedule continues as outlined below.

28 August: Copyright – this series returns refreshed for a rerun with an accompanying workshop on 7th September.

2 October: Learning Footprints – this series will explore concepts such as digital residents and visitors together with personal learning environments and networks and also discuss privacy and safety in digital learning habitats.

9 October: Digital Scholarship – here we’ll be making use of the Open University’s OpenLearn module on the Digital Scholar to help highlight how we can harness digital approaches to our work around the scholarship of learning and teaching here at Dundee.

In semester 2 we’ll go on to explore themes such as learning design and assessment and we’ll publish dates for these once they’re confirmed.  In between our Learning X series  we’ll also be publishing one-off episodes to in response to direct requests we receive from the learning and teaching community and also focussing on innovative teaching approaches.

If you have suggestions for other topics and themes that we should be looking at over the next year please let us know.