E-Learning Newsletter – August 2021 Edition

Welcome to the August 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:

  • Info: Planned System Outages – Collaborate Ultra August 11th
  • Info: VLE Summer Upgrade
  • Info: Staff guidance for captioning live lectures
  • Info: Collaborate Ultra Pilot – AutoCaptioning on Recordings
  • Info: Preparing your videos for reuse
  • Update: Digital Assessment & Feedback Project
  • Resources: Blended learning design and delivery VLE site and webinars
  • Resources: Video of the month – Using discussion boards
  • Call for Participation: CMALT Cohort (2021-22)
  • Call for Participation: University of Waikato Higher Education Symposium (24 Nov. 2021)
  • Webinars: York, Texthelp, AbilityNet and JISC webinars
  • Info: Digital accessibility projects
  • Survey: Live Polling survey
  • E-Accessibility News:
    • Resource: Inclusive practice, student stories
    • Resource: Improving online accessibility for the silver surfers
    • New Software: Grackle accessibility checker and OrbitDoc
    • Training: Creating Accessible Documents, 11 Aug,10am to 12pm
    • Meetup: Accessible Documents meetup group 18 Aug, 12pm to 1pm
    • Meetup: The Distractibles, 27 Aug, 12.30pm to 1.30pm
    • Bespoke Training
    • Update: Blackboard Ally News
    • Update: Texthelp Read&Write and EquatIO
    • Standing item: Future Teacher
    • Standing item: Departmental training sessions

    Planned System Outages – Collaborate Ultra August 12th

    Remember: You can always find summary information about planned outages for all our systems on our System Availability page.

    Collaborate Ultra is updated roughly once a month by Blackboard, which requires a four hour period of down time where users cannot use the system. The next planned update is overnight between Wednesday August 11th and Thursday August 12th – 00:01 to 04:00 BST.

    We are still awaiting details of what changes/improvements are coming in this upgrade. See Collaborate’s own Release Notes page for more information.

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    VLE Summer Upgrade

    On Tuesday the 13th of July the VLE was successfully upgraded to the 3900.10 release of Blackboard Learn. This release introduced a small set of new features such as a new and improved Visual Text Box Editor, some minor improvements to workflows and the mobile architecture. There were also a number of bug fixes, stability improvements and underlying infrastructure enhancements which will ensure a strong foundation as demand on the service continues to increase. Thank you for your patience and understanding while we carried out this essential upgrade work.

    If you have any queries or encounter any issues with the new release please contact the Programme Design and Learning Technology team via vle-suppport@york.ac.uk.

    Colleagues should also be advised that we will also be carrying out further necessary system maintenance in December of 2021. This Winter ‘Mini-Upgrade’ will also take place over a two day period, requiring Tuesday the 7th and Wednesday the 8th of December inclusive. As with the Summer upgrade, the VLE and Replay Lecture Capture will be unavailable to all users. This work is to ensure that the service continues to be robust and stable for the busy assessment periods in the Spring term. We do not plan to introduce any new functionality during the mini-upgrade.

    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.

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    Staff guidance for captioning live lectures

    For many staff the next teaching year will see a return to live lecturing on campus and the creation of standard lecture-capture recordings. Staff guidance is now available on captioning requirements for recorded live lectures, which supplements the University’s existing policy on captioning pre-recorded videos.

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    Collaborate Ultra Pilot – AutoCaptioning on Recordings

    Blackboard are running a pilot here at York of a new auto-captioning service on Collaborate Ultra recordings. This new auto-captioning functionality will not be available for use during live sessions, only on recordings.

    The pilot is running from July 16th to September 15th 2021.

    Access our webpage for further information regarding the Collaborate Ultra auto-captioning pilot.

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    Preparing your videos for reuse

    In the following blog post entitled ‘preparing your videos for reuse’ you can find a simple checklist of key steps to consider when preparing to reuse video materials. An accompanying video (UoY log in to Panopto required) explains how to manage your videos in the University’s Replay/Panopto system to ensure future students can access them.

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    Digital Assessment & Feedback Project: Halfway through the piloting of WISEflow

    July marks a midpoint project milestone. In January 2021 the University began its one year long pilot contract with the WISEflow assessment platform. Over the past 6 months we have learnt a great deal about the platform – not just the mechanics of its functionality, but also about how it has been received by both staff and students in several departments. This piloting work has also helped us understand and refine what our users want and expect from a dedicated assessment and feedback tool. The project team has been collecting feedback from users of the WISEflow tool, exploring the extent to which it meets the university’s vision for a dedicated assessment platform. See the August project update for more details on our initial findings. The current recommendation is to undertake further activities over the next 4 months. We want to ensure that WISEflow can offer real benefits to the way we work before making any commitments. We also have the emerging vision and scope of the VLE transformation project to consider, which will inform whether this is the right option for us.

    Get involved and test the system!

    All members of staff have the opportunity to try out the WISEflow platform. We are keen to gather feedback as we continue to assess its suitability in meeting the University users’ needs. You can create mock assessments, take part as a student, mark the assessments and see how the system handles the assessment process.

    Request access by contacting WISEflow-support@york.ac.uk or post a request in the digital-assessment-stakeholder-group slack channel.

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    Blended learning design and delivery VLE site and webinars

    VLE site

    The “Blended Learning Design and Delivery” resource is now available for staff on the VLE. This is a revised version of “Planning for Dual Delivery 2020-21” which refocuses support for the academic year 2020/21 towards ongoing design and delivery of integrated in-person and online teaching and learning.

    The design sections of the site focus on combining in-person and online modes of delivery to best effect. They also offer support with planning assessment and evaluation of blended learning modules.

    The teaching/facilitation section focuses on supporting inclusive learning communities and groups and designing and facilitating synchronous and asynchronous learning activities in-person and online.

    Blended learning design and delivery 

    All staff should automatically have been provided with access to the site and there is also a GTA Access to the “Blended Learning Design and Delivery” VLE Site request form if needed.


    To complement the site, we have been running a series of webinars in July in collaboration with the Academic Practice team on aspects of designing and delivering blended learning:


    • Inclusive Blended Learning
    • Blended Learning Design
    • Evaluating Online Learning
    • Time-Limited Take-Home Exams


    • Weaving Online and In-Person Learning
    • Student Engagement in Discussion Forums

    Recordings and resources from these sessions are available on the PDLT webinars page

    Following feedback, we plan to provide further sessions next academic year. If you would like to suggest any themes that you would like to see included in future webinars, please let us know (vle-support@york.ac.uk). 

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    Video of the month

    In the following video (11 mins), David Beer, Department of Sociology, shares his experiences of using discussion boards in a regular pattern of activities triggered by online videos posing a key question related to weekly lectures. This facilitated contributions from many students who were less likely to contribute to in-person / synchronous sessions and provided a useful entry point for approaching challenging key concepts within the module.

    Use of discussion boards, David Beer, Sociology (UoY log in to Panopto required)

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    Call for Participation: CMALT Cohort (2021-22)

    Would you like to gain professional accreditation for your learning technology skills and experience? We will be running a programme of workshops over the autumn term, supporting staff who wish to receive CMALT accreditation.

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

    If you would like to register your interest in getting involved next term (kick-off likely to be in late September), please get in touch with Richard Walker

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    Call for Participation: University of Waikato Higher Education Symposium (24 Nov. 2021)

    We have a long-standing relationship with the University of Waikato, involving exchange visits and collaboration in professional development activities for staff engaged in online teaching. Waikato’s Centre for Tertiary Teaching and Learning welcomes proposals for their annual symposium, to share ideas related to tertiary teaching and learning and we are warmly invited to participate. The symposium will be a hybrid event, supporting both in-person and remote presentations by Zoom. The full call for proposals is available at the University of Waikato Higher Education Symposium website. Please do consider submitting a presentation proposal for a lightning talk or discussion.

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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.



    • 10 Aug, 1.00pm to 1.30pm. AbilityNet Accessibility Insights with Ursula Dolton of British Heart Foundation
    • Why not watch some recordings from previous webinars? 

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      Digital accessibility projects

      The following departments are now progressing their digital accessibility projects following their successful bid for funding:

      • Academic Integrity Tutorial
      • Chemistry
      • Economics
      • Environment
      • IPC
      • Natural Science
      • Physics
      • UYMS

      We will provide updates on their progress in next month’s newsletter.

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      Live polling survey

      We are currently reviewing our live polling options and your feedback is much appreciated

      Two Uni of York students are doing some research into the effectiveness of live polling with remote learning. This research project is sponsored by Turning Technologies who are our ResponseWare suppliers. 

      Please help them to complete their research by answering a short Educator Questionnaire. We look forward to inviting some academics to a focus group too. 

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      E-accessibility News

      Inclusive practice: student stories

      Some of our disabled students have been doing user research with us. They have also written up their stories to help you understand what has helped them and what more we can do to improve things for everyone.

      Read the student stories on our e-accessibility mini-site.

      Improving online accessibility for the silver surfers

      Read the student stories on our e-accessibility mini-site.Read Texthelp’s research paper on improving online accessibility for silver surfers (those over 50 apparently!!) and find out what more can be done.

      Grackle: New accessibility checker for Google Docs, OrbitDoc

      Last month, we announced that we now have an organisational licence for Grackle, an accessibility checker for Google Docs and Presentations.

      n a Google Doc menu, go to Add-Ons > Get Add-Ons and search for Grackle to install it.

      Read more about what Grackle can do. 

      We also mentioned a great feature of being able to export a Tagged PDF from a Google Doc, something we can’t currently do easily! 

      Are you using Grackle now? Get in touch so we can hear your story and share this with others in the University.

      We also have a new PDF Reader called OrbitDoc, rebranded from Texthelp’s PDF Reader. Read more about OrbitDoc.

      Training: Creating Accessible Documents • Online • 10am to 12pm • 11 Aug

      1361 – the number of attendees who have attended the workshop so far! Latest feedback includes:

      “Your workshop this morning was fab – really useful content and resources, thank you!”

      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 the workshop. You will be sent a Zoom link to join the online training room.

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

      Accessible Documents Meetup Group • 12pm to 1pm • 18 Aug

      “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

      The Distractibles Meetup • 12.30pm to 1.30pm • 27 Aug

      Finding it hard to focus and plagued by distractions? Join The Distractibles Meetup on the last Friday of each month, 12.30pm to 1.30pm. We are a support group of staff and students with small group chat and an ideas bank of things to try.

      View the event and add to your own calendar to get the Zoom link.

      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.

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      Blackboard Ally News

      With rollover in July, we will re-start Ally scores from September onwards. Academics can always look at their own modules’ accessibility scores by going to Course Tools > Accessibility Report. Go for quick wins like removing old materials that are no longer needed.

      Need advice on making PDF documents created from LaTeX more accessible? Consult our Accessible Equations web site. We will be publishing v1.0 of our LaTeX template in early August.

      About Blackboard Ally.

      Our Blackboard Ally spreadsheet includes the department’s average Accessibility Report score. This is linked from our Blackboard Ally mini-site

      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. 

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      Texthelp Read&Write and EquatIO, OrbitDoc

      The student interns have been using EquatIO successfully to digitise handwritten maths (usually solutions to problem sheets) into digital formats like LaTex and web pages. Texthelp have rebranded their PDF reader to OrbitDoc.

      “With OrbitDoc you can make digital documents accessible and actionable, while demonstrating and giving feedback in multiple formats. It’s a great tool to boost productivity, connections and collaboration!”

      If you want to make notes on PDF documents, highlight and keep highlights, or collaborate on PDF notes, try OrbitDoc as your PDF reader. More on OrbitDoc.

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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?/li>
      • 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 (Scott Slorach, Law)
      • 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.

      The next webinar will run on 21 October 2021 at 1pm.

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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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