E-Learning Newsletter – March 2021 Edition

E-Learning Newsletter – March 2021 Edition

Welcome to the March edition of our newsletter, which summarises the latest news on technology enhanced learning provision across the University. You can use the links in the contents below to navigate through the different sections of the newsletter.

You can stay up to date with us by visiting our website: https://elearningyork.wordpress.com/ or following us on Twitter: @UoY_Yorkshare (Service) & UoY_TEL (Pedagogy)

VLE Outage, Course Reports and Video

Apologies for the disruption to service on Monday the 22nd of February when the VLE was offline between approx 11:10am and 11:30am. Swift action by PDLT and ESG (IT Services) returned the VLE to service within 20 minutes. After some investigation it was determined that there were two contributory factors which caused the VLE to fail:

  • The primary factor was the running of many concurrent course reports across many courses during peak usage hours of the service.
  • A further pressure on the service was caused by students attempting to access video which had been stored by module leaders directly within some VLE sites (video should be hosted on the Panopto service), also during peak usage hours.

Inappropriate usage of course reports and inappropriate uploading of video direct to the VLE are both issues that we have regularly advised on, as they can unfortunately put the service at risk of failure (as we have now seen).  We realise that course reports in particular can be important in the current circumstances, particularly whilst there is no face to face teaching in place. We cannot, however, directly control how both these areas of functionality are used nor constrain the frequency of their use with any granularity; we have thus attempted to manage these areas with regular guidance on how they should be used in an appropriate way so that the service remains functional for all users.

Please see the following guide for information on what you should consider and do before running course reports:

VLE Course Reports in Detail

The following blog post also covers the appropriateness of using VLE data for attendance tracking.

Usage data: VLE, video, webinars and more

Additionally please see this guide on video usage within the VLE:

Video – Uploading/Sharing Methods to Avoid

Given the recent unscheduled downtime, we will now need to take a different approach. To maintain the ongoing stability of the VLE service and prevent further outages we must take some steps to control these areas of functionality. Initially we have had to withdraw course report functionality for all users and all courses. If you need information from the VLE that you would usually get by running a course report you should read the blog post and guide above and then contact vle-support@york.ac.uk letting us know exactly what data you need and the purpose or reason for needing this data.

We will also be conducting an audit of video stored directly within the VLE (including video embedded within other containers such as Powerpoint presentations) and will be contacting departments about this shortly for action to be taken. Video content in the VLE will need to be moved from the VLE to the Replay (Panopto) service.

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Planned System Outages – VLE Summer Upgrade July 13/14th and Collaborate upgrade March 11th

We are currently testing and configuring the target release for the summer upgrade of the VLE. We will be providing further information on the specifics of the new release over the coming months, but at this stage we would like to remind Departments the VLE and Replay Lecture Capture will be potentially unavailable to all users all day Tuesday the 13th July and Wednesday the 14th of July 2021. Please ensure that these dates are shared widely within your Department. If you are aware of any planned teaching and learning activities that are running during these upgrade periods, please contact the Programme Design and Learning Technology Team as early as possible at vle-support@york.ac.uk and we will endeavour to find a solution for you.

The Collaborate Ultra webinar platform is upgraded roughly once a month by Blackboard. They’ve just announced their next update window: Thursday, March 11, 2021 from 00:01 Midnight GMT to Thursday, March 11, 2021 4:00 AM GMT (ie. 4 hours).

Collaborate should not be used during this window, even if it appears to be available.

Release notes for feature changes in this update have not yet been shared, but they should appear on the following pages in the next few days: Collaborate Release Notes.

This outage plus others are all detailed on our new “System Availability” web page.

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CMALT Successes

Congratulations to Lou Stringer in the Learning Enhancement Team, Academic Support Office, on her success in achieving accreditation as a Certified Member of the Association for Learning Technology (CMALT) and also to Jonathan Ayto for his recent successful revalidation. Please see the following blog post if you would like to read more about Lou’s experiences of CMALT and view her completed portfolio:

CMALT writing group reflections


CMALT is a portfolio-based peer-reviewed accreditation scheme, organised by the Association for Learning Technology, for which the University of York is an organisational member. CMALT aims to foster an appreciation of the interplay between learning and technology as well as provide a platform to allow educators and those involved in supporting education to learn from each other and evidence that they have done so.

If you would like to know more about CMALT, please take a look at the information on our CMALT group information page.

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Newsletter suggestions

We are interested in finding out whether you would like to see some other regular items in our monthly newsletter in addition to the updates we currently provide. We would appreciate it if you could let us have your suggestions and priorities by completing a short survey, available from the following link:

PDLT Newsletter Suggestions 

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Blog post: Inclusive learning: What have we learned from the Coronavirus Pandemic and what next?

A new post has been made available which is the second of a series aiming to explore themes from the event Learning and teaching @York in the Coronavirus Pandemic: A conversation, following on from the recent posting that explored the theme of academic community building and attention to social/affective aspects of learning. This post focuses on inclusive learning which was a recurring theme through the panel presentations and discussions. It highlights some of the presentations that explored this theme and points to some relevant resources and projects:

Inclusive learning: What have we learned from the Coronavirus Pandemic and what next?

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Learning and teaching @York in the Coronavirus Pandemic: A conversation – Wednesday March 17th 2021, online, 2.00-3.30pm

Organised by the Learning and Teaching Forum, this session follows on from the Autumn event held in December 2020 which brought staff and students together to share experiences of learning and teaching during the coronavirus pandemic. We invite contributions from staff and students focusing on the lessons learned during this period and highlighting practices that we intend to continue with as and when we move beyond the pandemic. You can join the discussion by contributing a short (5-6 minute) reflection on the day to stimulate conversation and/or a 10-15 minute recording to add to the resource materials for future reference. If you would like to take part, please refer to the call for contributions webpage for information and sign-ups (deadline 10th March).

Please highlight to staff and students who you think would be uninterested in taking part and save the date for the event 17th March) if you would like to join in on the day.

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Tutoring Online – self-study resource now available

This resource has been developed by members of PDLT to support staff delivering online learning. The focus is on approaches to supporting student activity/engagement with online materials, rather than designing the materials themselves.

The resource draws upon established approaches to online pedagogy supplemented by ideas from experienced online tutors at the University. You should find beneficial ideas for your own practice whether you are new or experienced in this form of teaching, and whether you are delivering a fully online programme or have temporarily moved into online teaching due to the pandemic.

It is a self-study resource, which should take approximately 4 hours to work through in total. The resource is currently accessed through Canvas (the Virtual Learning Environment used by the University’s fully online programmes). To request access, please add your details to this short form: Form – Request Access to “Tutoring Online” Materials

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Research: Student experience of digital accessibility

A project completed in March 2020 just as we went into lockdown, this paper gives us some insight into the student experience of digital accessibility. Do have a look at this and see if there are steps you can take to improve the student experience further, from using Department VLE site templates to streamlining communications with students. Top tip: Instead of uploading files, consider adding any short text content directly into the VLE instead. A web page is usually the most accessible content you can provide to students.

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Webinars and meetups: York, AbilityNet, Texthelp and JISC webinars

Each month, the University of York, AbilityNet and JISC run webinars on digital accessibility and related topics.

View the e-accessibility calendar for these and other events.


10 March, 10am to 12pm. Creating Accessible Documents workshop.

16 March, 2pm to 4pm. Creating Accessible PowerPoints and Slides.

17 March, 12pm to 1pm. Accessible Documents meetup/drop-in.

17 March, 2pm to 3.30pm. Learning and teaching @York in the Coronavirus Pandemic: A conversation.

Internal and external

31 March, 1pm to 2pm. Future Teacher – Getting Savvy with Digital Tools.


2 March, 11.30am to 12.30pm. JISC – Supporting wellbeing through inclusive use of technology and inclusive digital pedagogy.

4 March, 2pm to 3pm. Approaches to Inclusive Online Practices.

5 March, 10am to 12.10pm. Pedagogy and Practice when Teaching Online.

9 March, 6pm to 7.30pm. DMLab Online – Music & Tech meetup.

17-18 March Xerte conference. More about Xerte at UoY, more about the Xerte event.

24 March, 4pm to 4.30pm. CALL Scotland: Accessibility, assistive technologies and lived experiences from an HE environment.


Why not watch some recordings from previous webinars? 

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E-Accessibility News

How have the accessibility workshops changed what you do?

Answer three survey questions to help us evaluate the impact of the accessibility workshops and events: Impact of accessibility workshops survey

Looks like our ‘R’ rate for digital accessibility has gone up from 5.3 last year to 5.5 this year! This means that each workshop attendee went on to talk to an average of 5.5 people about digital accessibility. Do keep the conversation going! Pass the workshop survey link to others in your department.

Training: Creating Accessible Documents • Online using Collaborate Ultra • 10am to 12pm • 10 March

1246 – the number of attendees who have attended the workshop so far! The workshop demonstrates how ‘universal design’ can help everyone, and not just those with an accessibility need. Practise creating accessible documents using your own documents or using sample documents.

Find out more and sign up for workshop (HR LMS). You’ll have to login to the HR LMS and search for ‘accessibility’ to view the events. Or workshop sign up for those who cannot access the HR LMS. You will be sent a Collaborate Ultra link to join the online training room.

Find other events at http://bit.ly/eaccess-calendar.

“Taking your workshop has made me much more aware of the importance of correct document formatting. Yesterday morning, I was proof reading a document prepared using a template that I had downloaded from the internet. I converted the finished document from a Word document into PDF before sending it to my tutees, I then checked the bookmarks in the PDF, and noticed a problem with the formatting of the original template. With my new knowledge from the workshop, I was able to fix this by applying Headings in the correct places. I have used this template with my tutees for the past year, and now is the first time I even thought to check. Awareness is everything!”

– Julie Tucker, Biology and HYMS

Accessible Documents Meetup Group • 12pm to 1pm • 17 March

“I really enjoyed this session and I think it is very useful…You can learn so many new things.”

Interested in making accessible content and resources? Join our online monthly meetup to share resources or discuss a challenge you would like help with.
Accessible Documents Meetup Group information and sign up

Bespoke training

If your department has specific questions about the kind of documents you produce and how accessible they are to users, why not book a bespoke training workshop where we go through the principles and use your documents as examples? Contact lilian.soon@york.ac.uk to make arrangements.

Xerte Conference 17-18 March

We’ve increased Texthelp users again! We now have465 users, up from 434 last month.

The Xerte Conference is free and open for registration now.

Find out more about Xerte (and how to pronounce it!).

Texthelp Read&Write Gold and EquatIO

We have a new resource on how to use EquatIO. It’s still work in progress but the guide on using it with Chrome is quite comprehensive and the Desktop version is almost identical.

Head over to http://bit.ly/eaccess-equatio to make your equations accessible!

Keep promoting the tools to colleagues and students and do try it out yourself!

View the playlist of Read&Write videos and the playlist of EquatIO videos.

Blackboard Ally News

About Blackboard Ally.

Up to 28 Feb 2021, students downloaded an average of 7,240 files a month from 1,724 courses. Find out more interesting statistics on our BB Ally site linked above.

Please help us find out more about how students use alternative formats by asking them to complete our survey on student use of Ally. We really appreciate it.

Digital Accessibility Tutorial

Our Digital Accessibility Tutorial has been made mandatory across the University. It introduces you to the 2018 regulations and why it’s important to reach certain standards in digital accessibility. Find out how you can create accessible documents and create your action plan today! Login to the HR LMS and search for ‘accessibility’ to find the online tutorial.

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Future Teacher 3.0 Webinars – Getting Savvy with Digital Tools, 31 Mar 2021 1pm

The February Future Teacher webinar was on the topic Rich Media, Video and featured a recorded interview with Martin Suckling from Music (and his puppets) as well as speaker Sally Quinn from Psychology on video feedback. View the recording on the Future Teacher website (likely to be on the site from 3 March).

Our next webinar on Getting Savvy with Digital Tools on 31 Mar 1pm will hopefully feature another speaker from the University. We’re looking for presenters willing to share their experiences. You can also contribute by reviewing the content from the previous webinar and providing a fresh literature review! 

The Future Teacher series of webinars has been running for nearly 3 years. We are re-running the topics from the beginning, adding fresh input by guest speakers and updating resources as we go, to ensure that these open source materials continue to benefit everyone.

If you have a minute to give us some feedback (feedback form), just let us know what you’ve gained from the FutureTeacher sessions or how they’ve influenced your teaching.  

If you are interested in presenting your work on any of the topics, please do get in touch with lilian.soon@york.ac.uk and see below for information about the webinars.

Future Teacher Webinars

Future Teacher webinars have been running once a month at lunch time for over two years. Previous sessions have featured various University of York staff or resources and covered:

  • Online learning – what works?
  • The Flipped Classroom
  • Knowing what they know – getting feedback from students (Alex Reid, Psychology)
  • Collaborative teaching and learning – inside and outside the classroom
  • Strategies to support reading
  • Strategies to support writing (Lou Stringer, Learning Enhancement, Jenny Threlfall, SPSW)
  • Self-assessment and mastery learning (Stefan Wytwyckyj, IPC)
  • Using Social Media in Teaching and Learning (Glenn Hurst, Katie Lamb, Chemistry)
  • Inclusive Practice (Emily Brunsden, Physics, Penny Spikins, Archaeology)
  • Working with Rich Media – Images (Sandrine Devlin, LFA)
  • Working with Rich Media – Audio (David Beer, Sociology, Barry Lee and Chris Jay, Philosophy)
  • Working with Rich Media – Video (features our Replay guides)
  • Getting Savvy with digital tools and resources
  • Designing appropriate assessments
  • Designing for technology enhanced programmes
  • Designing and Creating Online Learning Activities and Resources (Sociology’s resource ‘The Bureau of Applied History’ was added to the inspiration board)
  • The wonderful world of webinars (Amy Eyre, PDLT)
  • Future Proofing Future Teacher – including sharing and reusing our Journeys
  • Learning Analytics (Jess Wardman, TYMS and James Youdale, PDLT)

Access previously recorded webinars and the interactive learning resources from our Future Teacher WordPress page or directly from the Future Teacher web site.

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Standing Item: Departmental training sessions

As part of our remit to provide advice and support to academic Departments, we can work with you to design and deliver sessions focused on a range of programme design and learning technology matters.  

You may be planning some specific programme developments or looking to explore the potential benefits of different approaches or tools within your learning, teaching and assessment within and across modules.  Or you may want to address some particular learning, teaching and assessment challenges or opportunities within your Department. Themes that we have helped to address recently include:

  • Facilitating interactivity and engagement within large lectures using Electronic Voting Systems and synchronous discussion tools
  • Enhancing student engagement with learning outside class contact time and between scheduled sessions using the VLE

We can provide bespoke input informed by case studies on subjects such as: 

  • Learning and teaching in large groups or in small groups
  • Supporting independent study
  • Maximising the benefits of live learning and teaching activities through activities carried out in between sessions (front-loading, flipped learning, ‘blended’ learning)
  • Enhancing formative assessment
  • Enhancing feedback processes
  • Developing assessments to maximise learning (e.g. assessing process elements as well as end products; incorporating collaborative working; integrating skills)
  • Approaches to ‘engagement’ in assessment: Active learning and assessment; ‘real-world’ / authentic assessments; integrating transferable skills

You can also view a comprehensive list of the professional development opportunities that we offer for staff on our E-Learning Blog. To request a session for either yourself or to make a booking for your department, please contact us at the earliest possible convenience at: vle-support@york.ac.uk

Information on available induction information for staff and students can be found here: Induction Resources for Staff and Students.

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As always, we welcome any feedback and suggestions on how we can support e-learning and use of the VLE and other technologies within your departments. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch at vle-support@york.ac.uk.

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