E-Learning Newsletter – April 2021 Edition

E-Learning Newsletter – April 2021 Edition

Welcome to the April 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)

For an entry point to our key resources, please see the following pages:

PDLT Easter Support

As Easter is very nearly upon us we thought it would be useful to clarify our support offering around the Easter bank holiday weekend where the University will be closed on the Good Friday and Easter Monday bank holidays. Service teams have been encouraged to take additional holiday days around the bank holiday weekend on Thursday the 1st of April and Tuesday the 6th of April and as such we will be offering a reduced service on those days.

Thursday the 1st of April:

We will be offering a reduced level of service, there will be no telephone support on this day, please submit all support requests to vle-support@york.ac.uk

Friday the 2nd of April to Monday the 5th of April:

Along with the main University and service teams we will be closed over the Easter bank holidays and weekend. You may continue to submit support requests to vle-support@york.ac.uk but these will not be responded to until the morning of Tuesday the 6th of April.

Tuesday the 6th of April:

We will be offering a reduced level of service, there will be no telephone support on this day, please submit all support requests to vle-support@york.ac.uk

Our colleagues in the IT Support Office (ITSO / itsupport@york.ac.uk) will also be offering a similar service to this.

Wishing you all a restful Easter break.

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SITS/e:Vision Upgrade affecting VLE

Student Services have now confirmed that this year’s SITS/e:Vision Live upgrade is scheduled for Wednesday the 7th of April to Friday the 9th of April 2021. The SITS and e:Vision Live systems will be unavailable during this time, but another instance of SITS and e:Vision will be made available for view-only access. If you have any queries about the SITS/e:Vision upgrade itself or access to the view-only instance please contact Student Services at sits-support@york.ac.uk

Over the three days the VLE will be affected in a number of ways due to the SITS/e:vision upgrade:

  • Students will be unable to submit to anonymous assignment submission points
  • Staff will be unable to download submissions whilst the work is carried out
  • Student user account and enrolment changes made the day prior to the start of the upgrade will not be reflected in the VLE until the work is complete
  • Changes to the membership of VLE group users will not be actioned during this time

We have directly contacted departments who we determined could be affected but to check if your department has any anonymous assignments due around/during the SITS upgrade period you can use the View Scheduled Anonymous Assignments report of the SelfService Dashboard. The dashboard has been updated such that you can now view the due dates of all your departmental anonymous assignments over any date range.

If you do require updates to be made to VLE student accounts or their enrolments during the SITS upgrade please contact the Programme Design and Learning Technology Team at vle-support@york.ac.uk

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Planned System Outages – VLE Summer Upgrade July 13/14th and Collaborate Upgrade April 8th

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 also upgraded roughly once a month by Blackboard. They’ve just announced their next update window: Thursday April 8th, 2021 from 00:01 Midnight BST to Thursday April 8th 2021 4:00 AM BST (ie. 4 hours).

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

These outages plus others are all detailed on our “System Availability” web page.

Blackboard is advising that this update should introduce the base Video Gallery functionality to the platform; something that we’ve been waiting on for some time! 

A mock up screenshot of Collaborate demostrating the video grid, where (in this example) 20 live video streams are arranged in a 5 by 4 grid.

Please see the following for more details:

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Managing video in the VLE and Replay/Panopto

The past year has witnessed a dramatic expansion in the use of online video in teaching and learning at York. Over the next few weeks, the PDLT will need to work with departments to coordinate several key steps necessary to ensure the continued stability of our platforms, and to enable staff and students to make effective use of video materials in the future.

The key changes planned are outlined below. More information can be found in our VLE and Replay Video Changes blog post.

  1. Phasing-out video uploads to the VLE:
    The VLE is not designed to deliver streaming video at scale, and the volume of new and legacy video files within the VLE and the large scale simultaneous playback of these files now presents risks to the system’s ongoing stability. Over the coming weeks, departments with 20/21 modules that contain a large volume of media within the VLE will be contacted and asked to transition video materials to platforms specifically designed to stream video (e.g. Replay and GoogleDrive) before this year’s module rollover. Direct upload of video files to the VLE will be disabled soon (a date for this will be announced shortly), and we plan to phase out the playback of video content hosted within the VLE before the end of the current academic year.
  2. Introducing support in Replay/Panopto for “ongoing” media within departments
    Updates to the folder structure in Panopto/Replay to be rolled out in the next few months will give staff more options for how they can manage “ongoing” teaching materials such as self-recorded presentations and other video resources that are re-used from module to module. In particular, the PDLT will be working with departments to establish an additional “ongoing” folder structure within Replay/Panopto, alongside the existing module folders. This will provide a space where videos can be managed and embedded in a module in the VLE, without subsequently needing to copy across videos in Replay each time the module rolls over and re-embed them within the VLE.

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Panopto Feature Updates

Following the release of the latest version of Panopto (10.0), the following updates are now available:

  • Subscriptions feature is now generally available. Users can subscribe to content owners and tags, as well as specific folders – See our student facing guide on subscribing to content.
  • Panopto for Mac latest release added support for MacOS 11.0 (Big Sur). (Note: devices with the M1 chip will still fail, so continue to refer to Panopto Capture)
  • Smart Chapters — Panopto’s innovative Smart Chapters feature uses artificial intelligence to automatically generate a table of contents for any video with a screen capture, including recordings from Capture and  Zoom. – Staff guide on using Smart Chapters
  • Delete Streams in the Editor — Users can now delete or replace video streams from within the video editor.
  • Multi-language ASR captions (Beta) — We have switched on the ability for multi-language captions. This feature is only available by request directly by emailing PDLT

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Collaborate, captioning and you

Providing captions on media resources is important for inclusivity and accessibility, and regulatory and policy frameworks state that all video resources currently in use should be accurately captioned before release to their intended audience. This applies equally to recordings of live teaching and learning sessions as it does to pre-recorded resources.

Whilst not explicitly required by current regulations, providing live captioning during live sessions is also good practice for the same reasons as recorded resources.  This posting provides details on current best practices for captioning using collaborate and highlights Blackboard’s plans for future development in this area:

Collaborate, captioning and you

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Learning and teaching @York in the Coronavirus Pandemic: Continuing the conversation – March 17th

The second Forum/PDLT session ‘Learning and teaching @York in the Coronavirus Pandemic’ took place on 17th March.  A group of around 60 staff and students from across a range of Departments engaged in panel presentations and discussions organised by scope and focus on the department/programme level, the level of the module and the level of the individual. 

To find out more and link to the recordings and resources, please see the following blog post:

Learning and teaching@York in the Coronavirus Pandemic: Continuing the conversation – March 17th recording and resources now available

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Flipped Learning Toolkit

Flipped learning refers to the redesign of teaching and learning activities in ways that change the traditional relationship between what happens during ‘class’ or ‘contact’ time, and what happens outside of that time. 

One of the most common applications of flipped learning is to invert the standard approach to classroom/’face-to-face’ learning such that teacher-led content that might have previously been delivered to students as live lectures are supplied to them in advance and staff-student contact time can consequently emphasise higher-order activities that encourage students to apply and analyse their learning. 

Experiences of teaching and learning this year have led to increased interest in flipped learning and, responding to demand from Departments, we have produced a new Flipped Learning Toolkit in collaboration with the Academic Practice team.  This is designed to provide a concise, searchable introduction to the core principles of flipped learning, and how to approach introducing flipped learning to your module or programme of study.

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Newsletter suggestions

Many thanks to all those who responded to last month’s poll.  As a result of your feedback we are making two immediate changes:

  1. At the top of every newsletter, we will include a link to our ‘one stop shop’ page as an entry point to our key resources.. 
  2. We will be including a regular ‘video vignette’ from teaching staff highlighting practices in blended/online learning.  This month Michael Thornton from the Department of Economics (UoY log in to Panopto required) talks about how the department responded to the challenges of online learning this year. He outlines how the Department supported staff to rethink their teaching and assessment approaches and reflects on the feedback from students, finishing by considering how the experiences this year might influence future approaches to blended learning within the Department. 

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Have your say: Collaborate and Learn mobile (aka the mobile VLE)

Do you have a suggestion for an improvement to the Collaborate Ultra platform or the Blackboard Learn mobile experience (either via the apps or mobile web browser)?

If so, we’d love to hear from you. 

We have created two surveys to allow our user community to suggest new features/enhancements, and to vote on suggestions already made by others in the community. 

We feel that it is important that we give feedback to Blackboard about the products that they make: suggesting fixes, tweaks and changes. The results of these surveys will greatly help us with this when we next meet with related Blackboard Product Managers, towards the end of April 2021.

If you have ten minutes, please complete the relevant survey(s) if you have thoughts to share:

2021 Survey One: Mobile Experience Enhancement Requests & Voting

2021 Survey Two: Collaborate Ultra Platform Enhancement Requests & Voting

These forms will close on April 20th 2021 (23:59 BST).

If you would like further information, please see the following blog post:

Suggest Improvements to Collaborate and Learn Mobile

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Research: Facilitating peer led group research through Slack – a collaborative team based environment

A research article by PDLT team leader Richard Walker, Setareh Chong (Department of Biology) and James Chong (Department of Biology) has recently been published in the ‘Research in Learning Technology‘ journal.  This article reports on a study of the use of Slack to support students engaging with independent research projects in the Department through peer-led learning approaches.  The findings demonstrate the potential of collaborative platforms such as Slack to support near-peer learning and agile problem-solving support in response to individual queries. The peer-led support contributed to high levels of engagement with the project work and deeper learning, helping less confident students to learn from group members and achieve positive outcomes in their own project work.

In the article, Richard, Seterah and James discuss the necessary conditions for effective peer-led learning to take place within a virtual space – identifying the clear communication of instructional roles, socialisation of students and responsiveness of near peers as factors influencing the adoption of the targeted learning methods. These findings are intended to serve as a guide for how we manage future group-based research projects within a team-based environment. With the rollout of Slack across the institution, it will be interesting to see how learning and teaching use cases evolve within different disciplines – drawing on the affordances of the group-based learning tools.

If you would like to find out more, please see the following blog post for further information and a link to the article and supporting resources.

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Research: Content-specific differences in Padlet perception for collaborative learning amongst undergraduate students

Colleagues who use Padlet may be interested in this research article by Kings’ College London about specific digital tools supporting collaborative learning and whether there are content-related differences in students’ perceptions. Padlet was used to mediate collaborative learning. Journal article about Padlet.

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

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

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


13 April, 10am to 12pm. Creating Accessible Documents.

20 April, 12pm to 1pm. Accessible Documents Group meetup.

21 April, 12.30pm to 1.30pm. Search for Toolkit for the distractible student on the Academic Skills Community events page.

Internal and external

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

27 April, 1pm to 2pm. Future Teacher – Designing Appropriate Assessments (sign up form will be available from 1 April). 


1 April, 10am to 12.25pm. University of Kent. Digitally Enhanced Education Webinars: What can we learn from distance learning?

6 April, 1pm to 1.30pm. Abilitynet – BBC tips to help bring web accessibility to the centre stage of your business.

13 April, 1pm to 2pm. Abilitynet – Promoting an accessibility agenda within a university

Why not watch some recordings from previous webinars? 

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E-accessibility News

European Accessibility Act

The European Accessibility Act comes on the heels of the 2018 Digital Accessibility regulations and sees the implementation of regulations in June 2022 that will focus on ensuring that technology products and services are accessible to all. This Act covers private sector companies as well so long as they employ more than 10 people and have an annual turnover of more than 2 million euros.

Why is this of interest?

Anything created by our budding graduates or resourceful staff that may end up being sold or used in the EU will have to meet the standards from June 2022. You may wish to reflect this in your curriculum content if you are in departments like Computer Science, Electronic Engineering, UYMS and so on. See Fast Facts about the European Accessibility Act.

Captioning policy

We are encouraged to ensure we have live captioning when we have meetings in Zoom. To do this, you have to have live transcription turned on in your personal Zoom settings and for each meeting, you have to click the CC button and turn on live transcription. This gives users the choice to turn on closed captions. Read more about Zoom live transcription.

Collaborate users: Amy has written a blog post on captioning on Collaborate that you will find useful. 

Training: Creating Accessible Documents • Online using Collaborate Ultra • 10am to 12pm • 13 April

1277 – 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.

As well as learning a lot that will help me prepare accessible documents for others, the sessions also prompted me to use dark mode / reader view / larger text on my own devices, which has been a huge help!

– Amy Muckersie, UYMS

Accessible Documents Meetup Group  • 12pm to 1pm • 20 April

“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.

Texthelp Read&Write Gold and EquatIO

Exciting news: paste equations directly into Blackboard! [Video, 1m37s].

You can now paste equations you make with the EquatIO Chrome toolbar directly into any content editing area on the web. Simply call up the EquatIO toolbar which will appear at the bottom of your Chrome browser, click in the text editing area and the option to Insert Maths will appear. This will add a high quality svg version of the equation to the text area with alt text. The image retains its crispness even when highly magnified and screen readers will read out the equation. For complex equations, we still recommend that you paste in the mathml so that users can interrogate the equation.

p>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 30 Mar 2021, students downloaded 13,229 ePubs from 1,790 courses. Find out more interesting statistics on our BB Ally site linked above.

ePub reader

With so many ePub downloads, it makes sense to ensure our university machines have an ePub reader available. We’ve asked IT to make the Thorium ePub reader available from the Software Centre. Look out for it to make your reading experience more enjoyable!

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, 27 Apr 2021 1pm

The March Future Teacher webinar was on the topic Getting Savvy with Digital Tools. Want to understand things like longevity (will the tool disappear in 6 months time?), copyright and privacy issues, licensing, ownership and transferability, accessibility etc? View the recording on the Future Teacher website (likely to be on the site from 3 April).

Our next webinar on Designing Appropriate Assessments on 27 April 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 over 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.  

Interested in presenting? Please do get in touch with lilian.soon@york.ac.uk.

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Standing item: 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, Martin Suckling – Music , Sally Quinn – Psychology)

  • 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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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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