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ALT Online Winter Conference 2015

I will be presenting at the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) Online Winter Conference 2015. The talk discusses the research into teaching and assessment that has led me to argue that project-based curricula make better use of our time in education than traditional curricula.


There are many practitioners who support my argument. Consequently, Finland is moving to a cross-disciplinary, phenomena-based curriculum. But there are also those who don’t. For example, teacher and author, Daisy Christodoulou, argues that discovery-based learning is letting down our students.

The thrust of the talk is about moving the balance of educational goals from a selection process of “those who can” to a supported teaching and learning environment for everyone. I argue that content-heavy curricula do not work for anyone, including those who achieve good grades in these environments, because they do not require us to engage in challenges that will be useful in the future.

In contrast project-based curricula give students a handle to understand the theories being presented to them. They develop their resourcefulness and inquisitiveness about the topic and gives everyone in a cohort a unique perspective. This perspective gives the cohort a natural talking point on disciplinary-based topics, and the discussions that ensue between students cannot be claimed to be collusion. It requires them to apply theories to their own contexts and gives them a personal perspective on disciplinary theory.

Register for the free online conference here to attend my talk.

Integrating learning tools with our learning platform

The more learning management systems (LMS) are used for assessments, the more the stakes in the system grow and the more security becomes a serious issue. Iframes are an html technology that is frequently used to share learning objects within institutional systems such as LMS but they can represent a security issue.

At Sussex we are in the second year of a three year project to bring all text-based submissions online using our customised Moodle LMS. This year first and second years’ work will be submitted through the assignment tool. This means that we are now much stricter about our security and the use of iframes by tutors. We have built functionality which allows us to create a whitelist of iframes we allow and we blacklist the rest.

In many cases we have gone to the trouble to create custom interfaces to some services (youtube, vimeo, box of broadcasts and so on).

Recently we engaged in project providing a custom integration with Padlet.

Padlet is an easy-to-use, visually appealing tool for listing and embedding content. It has been used by some of our tutors around campus to create informal online spaces to support their teaching.

In the following video you can see how we integrated the plugin and what user interface decisions we made.


Lucy Robinson and Chris Warne used Padlet to create a space for student-owned online seminars. They say by giving students a space to “chuck stuff on an online wall” unforeseen possibilities were created to alter the direction of their module teaching and improve student engagement and learning. For more on the their experience read their blog post titled “DIY Digital: First steps to selling out“.

The Sussex Technology Enhanced Learning team have been espousing its value too in blog post titled “learning together“.

As always comments are welcome.


Developing passion in your students about your discipline

People do not only use their hearts when deciding which university degree to choose, but they always have an affinity and curiosity for their subject. My research has revealed that most first year students have a high level of enthusiasm and determination to succeed. We would all like to see successful graduates that maintain this level of enthusiasm and determination. We would like graduates to be:

  1. Inquisitive and wish to explore deeper into their discipline
  2. Resourceful and have the ability to find things out through primary and secondary research
  3. Critical and able to challenge existing theories

So in order to get graduates to develop these attributes during their degrees we need to employ teaching and assessment methods that cultivate them. But what do these methods look like?

How to create discipline experts

Firstly, it is important to note that university education often does not achieve this. Many people graduate from university having lost their passion for their choice of study and happily move away it. Educational research has found students’ motivations often get squashed as a result of their educational experiences. The common culprits include:

  • The amount of content
  • Lack of control they have over the experience
  • Feelings that they were not progressing

Education needs to stop doing this. We can learn many things in life, but only some things are useful for our long term development. These are things we want to concentrate on in education.

Secondly, it is important to note it is not just the content or the methods of our teaching we need change. In fact, teaching is not even half of our problem. It is the content and methods of our assessments.

Assessments are key to student motivation. Students are not unlike anyone else. We are all motivated by what gets recognised and rewarded. There are different ways to recognise and reward student work – the grade is probably the crudest – but that doesn’t make it any less motivational. The trouble with using a crude recognition tool, such as a grade, is that it can’t effectively reward inquisitiveness, resourcefulness or criticality. Instead it tends to motivate narrow and tactical approaches to assessments. We need to change assessments so that they motivate the kind of learning we want to see. They need to draw upon human motivations. We want students look for face-to-face feedback from experts, peers and even people more junior than themselves in return for their effort – not a grade in the form of a number.

The good thing is that whatever one’s background people starting a university degree for the first time expect their educational careers to change. They do not expect their approach to study to be the same as that they had at school or in vocational courses they have taken at work. We therefore have a great opportunity to recreate the educational rules.

My research revealed methods through which this could be done and I have extended my findings to create a template for good practice teaching and assessment. The basic tenets of my argument are as follows:

  1. Develop a project-based curriculum
    • Projects maintain the students’ control over their learning
    • Projects demand that the students are resourceful
    • Projects develop the students’ inquisitiveness in the discipline
    • Projects enable the students to take a critical stance with regards to the relevance and usefulness of the disciplinary theories and practices
    • Students tend to become experts in their project area
  2. Expose learners to theories & practices
    • Being exposed to academic theories and practices inspires students and encourages them to become experts
    • The theories and practices need to be incorporated into their personal projects
  3. Assign personal projects early
    • Giving the project at the start of the module allows the students to apply the theory to their immediate problems
    • Projects may overlap with other students projects and there may be elements of group work
  4. Create opportunities for peer collaboration
    • Conversation, debate and argument with peers promotes reflection
    • Peer feedback is received more critically by students than tutor feedback and this develops their criticality
    • Peers share their knowledge openly without fear of collusion in a project-based curriculum, because in order for their ideas to be applied they need to be moved to new contexts
  5. Create opportunities to share project outcomes
    • Sharing of ideas with experts (tutors), peers and more junior students is motivational and encourages students to know their topic in detail
    • Sharing of ideas requires students to reflect upon the important elements of their learning journey
    • Reflection develops a critical engagement in the subject material

I have presented my research and my conclusions at a number of conferences. The presentation has always been received with enthusiasm and generated discussion and interest. However I was surprised when I saw the twitter feeds filling with what they called my “synthesis slide”. 

the future of learning2

I realised I hadn’t captured the full complexity of the solution I was proposing so I developed a new synthesis slide or infographic with my colleague Dave Guest. You can see it above.

The assessment challenge – an end-to-end solution

As some of my last posts have documented, Sussex University has been engaging in the provision of an end-to-end solution for online assessments. Our solution uses Turnitin and GradeMark as the technical infrastructure to support the project. We have presented the project at the Dublin Moodlemoot conference and the Assessment in Higher Education conference and have a poster describing it.


All first year undergraduate modules with text based assignments are now using this system which runs through our learning management system (LMS). Next year all first and second years will be submitting online and the following year all undergraduates will submit online.

For students we have created a one stop shop.

For staff we have employed technology which adheres to write once, read anywhere philosophy.

Our technical development put the user experience at the top of the design considerations. Students submit through our LMS where they also see Turnitin similarity reports and pick up grades and feedback.

Staff find their students submissions and the Turnitin similarity reports in the LMS. They link from these into Grademark where they grade and leave feedback for the students. They update the LMS and student records system (SRS) with their grades at the click of a button.

Final calculation and conflation of the marks is done through the SRS which holds all the business rules, but these marks accessible to students through the LMS interface.

The system we have produced is easy to use, robust and removes duplication of effort.

Please contact us if you have any questions or comments.

Project-based learning: the future of teaching and assessment

I am giving a keynote at the Moodlerooms Teaching & Learning Forum branch of the Blackboard Teaching and Learning Conference.

Thank you Moodlerooms!


Content-based curricula which require students to have facts at the tip of the tongue has had its day. Multiplication tables, historical dates, scientific formulae and so on are all important, but they are never further than a search engine away. More important is the application of facts in real world scenarios. Their application gives them context, makes them useful to the learner and makes the concepts transferable. The challenge for higher education is to move from content-based to project-based curricula. Technology will be an enabler in this process delivering content and the communication medium for students to participate in disciplinary-based learning practices.

Supporting learning autonomy and curriculum coverage in university teaching: three case studies of formative assessment

My thesis is now available at http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/51389/



This research investigates formative assessment at a UK research-intensive university,
considering the aims and effects of their deployment. The research spans three
academic disciplines broadly within the sciences and considers the influence of their
history and culture on the approaches taken.

It reports on three case studies originally chosen because of their innovative use of
technology in teaching and assessment methods. Each case included mid-term
summative assessments that were intended to have a formative function for the
students. A triangulation of research methods was used that included documentary
analysis, interviews and focus groups. Cultural historic activity theory was used to
interrogate the data that emerged from the research. Bourdieusian theory was also used
to understand and explain some of the findings.

The thesis explores commonly held ideas about what constitutes desirable learning
outcomes. It concludes that teaching and assessment practices do not always deliver on
their promises nor support their intended objectives. Even within innovative
educational methods it finds deeply rooted practices which fail to support the graduate
skill sets that the tutors are hoping to develop in their students. It suggests that
formative assessments which only reward curriculum coverage encourage narrow and
conformist thinking and such thinking is at odds with the behaviours we should be
developing within our educational environments.

However, this thesis also describes educational practices that do meet their primary
aims: to develop students’ learning autonomy whilst they cover the course curricula.
These practices are constructed around formative assessments that build community
within the student cohort, engage the students in authentic tasks requiring critical
reflection and give students a chance to develop expertise within niche areas. The thesis
suggests that these practices are applicable in all academic disciplines, independent of
the subject, and provides approaches to teaching and assessment that encourage
autonomous learning and develop high-level transferable skill sets. We all forget facts
and procedures over time, and so it is our students’ capacity to know that we must
develop within education.


Reducing paperwork: Electronic Submission of Written Coursework

Giving teachers more time for teaching and students more time for learning

Life just improved for our tutors and our first year students. Sussex University has introduced the policy and technology for online submission of essays and return of feedback, removing administrative tasks and making time for value-added activities such as teaching and learning. This is the start of a phased implementation of a three-year initiative to have online submissions for all undergraduate text-based assignments.

Ever since we have had a Learning Management System (LMS), Moodle, it has been possible for tutors to set up a “dropbox” (also known as the “assignment”) feature which allows students to upload essays online. Many of our tutors used the dropbox for formative exercises.

However, up until this year the University did not have a policy that allowed the dropbox to be used for assessments that would contribute to the students’ grades (aka summative assessments). The students had to print their essays and submit paper documents to their department office. This required them to spend time and money printing and coming on to campus to just submit their essays. Sometimes this was during assessment periods when no actual teaching was going on and they had no other reason to come on to the University. Tutors had to pick up their paper-based essays, mark them up with feedback and manually match candidate numbers to input grades on to the student record system.

The University has now rewritten its policy so that all suitable text-based assessments of first year students are submitted online. The policy specified that:

  • Our LMS would be used by students as the interface to upload essays

Assignment block
Student view of the Assignment block

  • Turnitin software would be used for plagiarism detection
  • Grademark would be used for tutors to give a raw mark and leave feedback for students
  • The grades and the institutional rules for grading would remain in our student records system and be passed to the systems that need it

We have been engaging in the technical development of this project since February. The University made funds available for a project manager, Catherine Jones, and a technical consultant with an infrastructure background, Stuart Nixon, to help us with the job. It went live at the start of the 14/15 academic year and we are now moving on to phase two of the project.

Integrating Turnitin

Turnitin is online software that compares submitted texts with texts that already exist on their databases. The primary purpose of the software is to find similarities between student texts and text that already exist in order to find cases of plagiarism.

At Sussex we already had a neat integration with Turnitin. We had a site in our LMS that students could use formatively. The purpose of which was to allow students to become familiar with the expectations within Higher Education with regards to referencing other people’s work, while avoiding plagiarising.

The Essay Checker site, a site available to all students for learning about academic standards and referencing

However, we did not have a policy for tutors to use Turnitin to check for the originality of students’ work. This project introduced that policy.

Students upload files to the Moodle assignment tool. On refreshing the Moodle page the student gets access to the report which shows which parts of the text Turnitin has detected matches. Students then get the opportunity to delete and reupload the file up until the due date for the assignment.
Student submitted file
Student view having uploaded their file

When the due date is passed the tutor sees the uploaded file in Turnitin with the originality report. This report can help them find where and how students have used texts that were not their own.

Integrating Grademark

Grademark is software developed by Turnitin for online marking and giving students feedback. In some respects it is very powerful. It allows tutors to leave a grade for their students, leave general text or audio feedback, comment directly (in-line) on the student’s submission, and set up marking rubrics.

At Sussex we haven’t used it in earnest before, but the policy created in this project expects all first year text-based submissions in all departments and schools be marked using this system. Student submissions become available to tutors after the assignment due date through Moodle submission list, which links to Grademark where the tutor can mark them and leave feedback. The marks are returned to Moodle when the tutor selects to update marks.
tutor submission list
Tutors’ list of submissions marked in Grademark (anonymised by candidate number)

Integrating our student records system

Much of the logic around summative assessments exists in the student record system (SRS), including who has permissions to mark, conflation of grades, which students have extensions and which have special circumstances. Trying to recreate this logic in Moodle seemed pointless, so with our colleagues, Martin Scolding and Karen Tiernan, we developed web services to reference the rules that were needed within the Assignment interface.

Submission dates and times were passed from the Moodle Assignment tool to the SRS. Grades too were pushed from Grademark, through Moodle into the SRS. The view of conflated grades were already available through Moodle. This integration had already been carried out in an earlier project.

Ensuring robustness, scalability and good performance

To ensure the smooth running of the service there are a number of technical details that are worth highlighting.

During assessment periods we are catering for times when there may be thousands of assignment submissions. This will require our server infrastructure to be robust at times of high load. The standard Moodle uploader uses the same Apache web server for serving web pages as it does to handle assignment uploads. This means the two compete for resources. We therefore decided to use Nginx to process submission uploads leaving the Web server free to process web pages.

The Moodle integration that we had with Turnitin used their old API. In order to ensure the long term future of our system we updated our integration. We have two separate automated cron jobs running in the background to retrieve the similarity report, one which sends the file to Turnitin and returns an identifier so it can be linked to, and another that returns a percentage similarity score.

We use web services (Glassfish) to retrieve data from our SRS rather than direct queries. This allows us to be confident that if the SRS changes its database structure it is the responsibility of the providers to ensure that the webservice still returns the same data. It also means that other services can use the service and they will get the same data. The disadvantage is that a web service has a slight hit on performance.

In order to reduce the amount of calls we made to the web service we use memcache technology to store the data. Depending on the substance of the data the time we store it varies from a minute to fifteen minutes.

Further improvements

In general we have a drive towards asynchronicity. This is the processing of multiple jobs at the same time. Stuart Nixon, our consultant, has put together this neat presentation (scroll down on the second slide). Although we haven’t implemented all the ideas in the presentation that is the direction we are going.

One idea we are in the process of implementing is the queuing of background jobs to send files to Turnitin and receive similarity scores. Submitting files to Turnitin scores can take up to 20 seconds. This means that on a day when we were expecting 4000 submissions it could take upto twenty four hours for them to be submitted to Turnitin and even longer for them to get a similarity report. We are therefore looking into replacing our automated crons with a queuing system that will be able to pick off jobs and run them in parallel.

Monitoring and error handling

Because of the criticality to students and institutions of assessments it was important that we had a good audit trail of what was happening. We therefore added more advanced logging than is possible in native Moodle. We stored all logs together including Apache logs, upload results and performance, Web service responses and Turnitin and Grademark processing. In order to query these logs we used an advanced logging interface tool called Kibana which allows us to query the logs quickly and easily.

Image showing Kibana

Lessons learnt

A lessons learnt blog post is definitely warranted for this project and we will keep you updated on how it is going. Maintaining a highly critical system has certainly had its challenges.

As always comments welcome.

Had I anything new to say?

How I became a Doctor of Education

I turned the corner. In front of me was a fifty metre corridor at the end of which were two examiners who would determine my future in academia. They had left the door ajar, probably by accident rather than design, but it meant that I would need to walk the length of the corridor in full view of the two of them.  I felt a sense of dread combined with a sense of amusement at the situation. This was the day of my doctoral viva.

Since starting work as an Educational Technologist at Sussex, I have focused on enabling tutors to provide resources and run activities for their students over the internet. My aim has been to improve students’ educational experience harnessing the power of the web.

In 2003 I worked within the School of Life Sciences where I implemented an online system which allowed tutors to upload supporting documentation for their modules. In 2004 I replaced this with an open source system, called Moodle, which had a strong community and a number of teaching, learning and assessment tools. This system got adopted by the whole University in 2006.

I always realised the system would change the workload of the tutors, their delivery of module resources and the tasks they would set for their students. However it wasn’t until 2006 I decided to initiate some research into the subject. I started a part time Professional Doctorate in Education researching the use of technology in university teaching.

A Doctorate demands that the candidate makes a claim to knowledge which is accepted by his or her examiners. That means my research needed to have some thing new say – of consequence – a daunting prospect.

little prince geographer

The structure of this Professional Doctorate was untraditional and required me to produce four mini assignments before embarking on a larger research project which would constitute the evidence for my doctoral thesis. These four initial assignments enabled me to get familiar with the subject area, the research practices I could adopt and the kind of claims to knowledge I could hope to contribute to the domain.

The research

Originally I wanted to make far-reaching claims based on large data samples obtained from questionnaires and data-driven sources. I wanted to quantify and weight view points and experiences of teaching, learning and technology. I imagined the outcome of my research would allow me to make objective, irrefutable claims based on concrete evidence derived from these data sources.

However, my experiences in these research exercises led me to realise that such a project may not be as rewarding as I had originally thought. During the process I came to realise I knew less and less about the subject, and that while quantitative research would help me prove things I already knew (or thought), it was unlikely to tell me something new. In contrast, I came to realise that qualitative research would allow me to understand the issues at a more profound and personal level.

With this scope in mind I decided to run case study research in teaching, learning and technology in different disciplines. I decided my research would focus in detail on a small number of university modules that were already using the software platform my colleagues and I had implemented in innovative ways. I put together a number of research questions that the thesis hoped to address.

I contacted a number of tutors and asked if they were willing to be part of my study. I ended up with three willing tutors each in a different discipline which spanned soft, hard and applied sciences. Each had used the software system to engage the students in activities that would be formally assessed and contribute to their end-of-year marks.

I spent the first few months of my research project reading relevant journals and books. I took extracts of the readings, and coded and grouped them into theoretical arguments. I drafted a literature review for the thesis which was subject to change according to my findings.

In preparation for my research I reviewed the analytical frameworks which I could use to interpret the results. At the end of this process I had identified a well-established framework which would help me understand the issues that were emerging from a “system’s view” rather than that solely of the individuals I was speaking to.

I then conducted the research, which included interviews with the tutors, interviews and focus groups with the students, documentary analysis and online observation. I triangulated my results examining how they related, where they supported and contradicted each other and where the parallels made the evidence more robust. I coded my findings using my chosen analytical framework and matched these with my readings.

Making my argument

At this point I found that my research findings did not adequately answer my original research questions, but had revealed answers to even more interesting questions, such as why some educational modules inspire learning autonomy and others promote a culture of rote learning. I therefore revised my questions and went back to my literature review removing, and adding pieces, and ensuring that it related to my arguments. Once I had developed an argument which was evidenced by my research and by the research of peers within the field I wrote up the results of the research processes highlighting areas that supported my argument.

I then started writing up other parts of my thesis. In the introduction I presented myself, my history and why the field interested me. In the discussion I detailed the analysis of the findings and the interpretations that could be drawn using the framework I had chosen. In the conclusion I responded directly to my research questions and put forward a claim to knowledge that contributed to the domain.

Just as I was about to submit my thesis for examination personal circumstances arose which meant that I had to intermit for a period. Consequently my thesis lay idle for nearly two years. Returning to it was difficult, but actually this gap gave me a chance to make an even stronger and clearer argument. Furthermore I got more time from my department to complete it, which was useful as well.

Finally, eight years after I had started the Doctorate and six years after I had started my thesis I was ready to hand it in. On the very last day possible I  gave it to the Research Student Administration Office.


Defending my argument

The final step before receiving my Doctorate award was to have the thesis assessed by experts in the field and make an oral defence of it to them. This is called a viva. The viva is conducted with an “internal” academic who works at the University where you have completed your study and an “external” academic in the field.

So here I was at the end of the corridor about to meet my fate.  I walked towards the examination room with trepidation – my supervisor, Doctor John Pryor, at my side. I finally reached the door and presented myself myself to Doctor Andrew Chandler-Grevatt and Professor Kay Sambell, two academics I respected highly in the field. They had both read my thesis and proceeded to interrogate me about it, asking me probing questions such as why I had approached in such a manner and how I had come to this conclusion.

Happily they felt I had something new to say. We had an in depth conversation about it and they saw its contribution to knowledge in the field. Kay even suggested I make a paper out of the piece of work. I hope to contact Kay again soon and ask if she and my supervisor would be happy to be co-authors. They gave me a few minor corrections for which I am very grateful.

Contribution to domain knowledge

Research produces domain knowledge. It provides evidence for theories which are used to explain observations in knowledge domains and academic disciplines.

Doctoral research such as mine is usually the first attempt someone has at contributing disciplinary knowledge to a domain. A doctoral degree demands that the student says something new within a conceptual field – that they make a “claim to knowledge”. In order to do this they use established research methods to produce data, and analyse that data using recognised theoretical frameworks which give meaning to the data. This analysis provides credible evidence for the new knowledge that they produce.

The claims to knowledge that are made in the thesis are compared to the claims made by peers in similar research exercises. Within the thesis they are expected to highlight research which supports their findings and give accounts for research which give contradictory evidence and/or interpretations of that evidence.

I am pleased to have entered the world of research. I have made a useful contribution to the field of Higher Education teaching and assessment. Teaching and assessment methods used in Education are amongst our most embedded practices and it is a struggle to change them, but they are far from optimised. Consequently the more evidence we can acquire regarding the need to change the better. Policy-makers and practitioners need a clear steer regarding methods to improve it.

My research provided evidence of the desirability to change educational practices in order to improve student learning and enthuse our young people within Education. It also provided evidence of the importance of teaching and assessment method and provided examples of ways teaching and assessment can be optimised, with and without the use of new technologies.


Here is my secret,
It is very simple:
It is only with the heart that one can see rightly;
What is essential is invisible to the eye
Antoine De Saint-Exupery

Where is my feedback?

Tutors give feedback to formal assessments via our student administrative system. Up until March this year the students accessed this feedback through the same system. Now we have now added a new view of the data through our learning system (Moodle).

Why did we bother?

We feel assessments are core to students’ learning. They’re often the motivation for study and guides their focus.

Feedback to assessments is also important. It gives an indication of the quality of the students’ performance in the task and offers insights in what they can do to improve.

Consequently, we recognise that assessments and feedback to those assessments sit as comfortably in the institutional learning system (Moodle) as the administration system.

We have implemented the new feedback pages within our Moodle at the same time as the new student home pages which focus the students on their entire degree programme.

We provide access points to the feedback from our student home page through a recent feedback panel. In this panel feedback is listed according to the time when they received it, merging feedback from different courses (modules *).

The purpose of the panel’s display choice is to emphasise the crossover points of their learning between courses and the relevance of feedback to their whole educational journey, rather than feedback having isolated relevance to particular courses.



Strategically the project has been designed to help improve results in the UK National Student Survey (NSS); a survey which gathers data about the students’ overall perception of their degree programme. Year on year the students from all UK institutions, but particularly Sussex, have reported not receiving adequate feedback about their assessments.

It seemed to us that the the tutors were doing their bit in providing the feedback, but due to problems in our information hierarchy the students were not finding it. By creating a degree programme landing page in our Moodle with links to more detailed feedback pages (the notifications panel) we hope to maximise on the tutors’ efforts to provide feedback.

What do the feedback pages look like?

Feedback pages are accessed from the recent feedback panel and a tab in our navigation bar. The pages group feedback by course and include:

  • The status of the course assessments
  • Assessment marks
  • And general and specific feedback

The pages also includes a panel which links them to further help, such as the academic advisors’ contact details.

Like the new front page, the feedback pages simply integrate the data that already exists within our student system into the students’ learning space, aka Moodle.


Although we don’t yet have any hard evidence, we hope that by representing the students’ feedback through their learning system it will increase its relevance, the students’ perception about the amount of feedback they receive will improve and, because of its improved presentation, perhaps even their perception of its quality.

There are two more important projects in the pipeline too.

Online submissions

The next stage of this project will be to allow online submissions for all first years. These submissions will be checked against the Turnitin database for similarities with other papers and will be graded online using Turnitin’s Grademark tool. The grades will be synced with Moodle and sent to the student assessment system for conflation and applying administrative rules.

We will blog more about this as the project progresses.

New first course section

The final stage of the project will be integrate course level information with our Moodle including the course outline, learning outcomes, tutors, assessment deadlines and recent feedback. This will populate the first section of Moodle courses with institutional data before the tutor even starts adding learning materials and activities.

And we will also blog more about this as the project progresses.

As always comments and feedback welcomely received.

* Note: For the purposes of this blog post we have called Sussex courses “degree programmes” and Sussex modules “courses” to make it easier to understand for people familiar with Moodle nomenclature

A new Moodle home page: “I am studying towards a degree, not a group of related courses”

At Sussex University we have taken steps to reconceptualise our learning space from the point of view of the students. Students understand their educational journey to be one towards accreditation in a degree programme, but in the past our online space only reflected the compartmentalised courses (modules *) that made up their studies. As of March 2014 we created a new home page that included information about their overall degree.

Why did we bother?

The idea behind the project is to help consolidate student learning and provide a bridge between courses. Whilst success in each course represents a milestone in the students’ educational journey, this home page is intended to represent the bigger picture, in line with the way in which students think about their studies. We even included degree programme (intended) learning outcomes – what they might hope to get out of their three years of study!

Strategically the project has been designed to help improve results in the UK National Student Survey (NSS); a survey which has an influence on UK universities desirability to prospective students. It gathers data about the students’ overall perception of their degree programme. This page provides a holistic view of their degree programme.

What does it look like?

The students have a new Moodle front page with the title of their degree and a summary of programme information.

course page title bar

The page includes a number of panels with different information types. The first section of panels (at the top of the page) are likely to be of most interest or most commonly used by the students.

These include:

  • A list of this year’s courses – basically links to their taught Moodle courses.
  • Their week’s timetable (including deadlines for Moodle activities)
  • And their recent assessment feedback across all modules. By clicking on a feedback item within the panel they are given a dialog box with more information about the notification and links to all the course feedback.

course page first tier

The second section of panels includes:

  • a list of academic advisors
  • A list of expected degree programme learning outcomes
  • And their assessment deadlines.

course page second tier

And the third section of panels lists students reps and other Moodle courses.

course page third tier

There is also a footer that includes links to their University portfolio system, a skills help centre, the careers centre and any subject societies.

course page footer

The project has been largely an integration with our student system where the information otherwise resides. It has included the addition of degree level assessment and feedback pages. A blog post about these pages will follow.

* Note: For the purposes of this blog post we have called Sussex courses “degree programmes” and Sussex modules “courses” to make it easier to understand for people familiar with Moodle nomenclature