How to enhance your assessments with video presentation

In this blog post, I will explore the potential and possibilities for assessing students’ presentation skills through the medium of video.

With the affordances of modern technology, the possibilities for students to create video presentations are now much more accessible. Most new computers, mobile phones and tablets include both a camera and a microphone which can be used to record talking-head style videos. There are an abundance of free to use animation, screen recording, multimedia presentation and video editing tools available on the web which are aimed at presenters (not multimedia professionals) and produce high-quality video presentations.

Much like face-to-face presentations, video presentations can be completed individually or as a group project and are typically given a time limit instead of a word count. A typical assignment might involve the following steps.

  1. Tutor sets an assignment brief and assessment criteria.
  2. Students research a topic and produce an idea or argument for their presentation.
  3. Students produce a script, storyboard or plan to distil and clearly communicate the ideas within a set time frame.
  4. Students record to camera or use specialised presentation software to compose mixed media and create a visual representation to communicate the idea.
  5. Students submit their work online through the online study platform
  6. Tutors watch the recordings online and provide marks and feedback using the online study platform

What are the benefits of video presentations?

Whether asking students to record talking-head presentations or create mixed media presentation videos,  there are a number of benefits which come from video presentations which build on the skills required for traditional face-to-face presentations.

  • Reflection: students can reflect on their presentation skills and refine their work by recording, watching and revising their performance.
  • Feedback: students can view their own work and review it alongside tutor feedback to gain a deeper understanding of how they performed and how to improve.
  • Efficiency: presentations can be completed outside of class time and shared easily online with tutors and other students enabling more opportunity for practice and feedback. Room bookings and coordination of presentation times are not necessary.
  • Perspective: students can be encouraged to express ideas and concepts using mixed visual and audio media to enable new and different means of exploring a topic.
  • Digital literacy: students get an opportunity to develop new IT skills and competencies using modern means of communication.

What are some of the tools and technologies available?

I have recently been exploring various technologies with the School of Business for use in video presentations. Recommendations for what to use have varied between different use cases and learning objectives. Here are a few of the many apps and software out there that we have looked at.

  • Screencastify can record your computer screen, microphone and/or webcam. This can produce similar results to a lecture recording video or a talking-head video but from your personal computer. It is a simple and easy to use tool which includes basic editing, allows you to record up to 10 mins per video with longer times and more advanced editing available through a paid subscription.
  • Adobe Spark uses templates, stock images and motion video from the Adobe library and your own content and narration to produce mixed-media presentations. This tool makes complex design and production tasks easy to achieve with great results. It’s also completely free to use.
  • VideoScribe lets you compose your ideas on a whiteboard using clip art or your own images, voice-overs and text; the software will then turn it into a whiteboard drawing animation video. Videoscribe offer a free 7 day trial of their software, longer use requires a paid subscription.
  • Adobe Clip is a simple video editing app for smartphones and tablets that students can use to edit and combine recordings, clips and images from their mobile device and add title slides, voice-overs and text. This is another free app from Adobe

How to manage the assessment?

Canvas, the University of Sussex online study platform, includes a range of tools for creating and managing assessments. The assignment tool includes the option to enable ‘Media Recordings’ as submissions which mean that students can upload video files which they have created using presentation software, or they can record a video for submission directly from their webcam, microphone or mobile device.

Further options will allow students to produce group submissions, or for tutors to manage peer-review-assignments so that submissions can be allocated to other students to review and provide feedback.


Further information

Please contact for more specific advice on any of the topics mentioned in this post and support with integrating the use of technology into your assessments.

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Posted in Apps and tools, digital skills, Marking and assessment, Mobile learning

Peer feedback for student learning

Professionals in all fields are constantly giving feedback to, and receiving feedback from, their peers. This blog post, for example, was reviewed by one of my colleagues before it was published and they made suggestions for ways to improve it. Next week, I will be reviewing someone else’s post.

In educational settings, however, it tends to be assumed that only the teacher can provide useful feedback to learners. In this post I will outline the benefits to students of engaging in peer feedback, and some of the ways that digital tools can facilitate peer feedback.

Photo by Štefan Štefančík on Unsplash

Photo by Štefan Štefančík on Unsplash

How does peer feedback benefit learners?

When students review and give feedback on each other’s work, everybody wins.

It may seem that the person receiving the feedback is the beneficiary, but the process of looking critically at someone else’s work can help develop analytical skills as well as providing insights into your own approach to a task. If the review is based on specified criteria then the act of providing feedback also helps the reviewer gain a better understanding of the criteria.

How might digital tools facilitate peer feedback?

There are a few ways that colleagues at Sussex are using digital tools to get their students giving each other feedback.

Drafts of written work

It can be incredibly useful to get peer feedback on a draft of a piece of writing. This is something academics are doing all the time when they write books or journal articles, and students can gain just as much from the process.

In Canvas it is possible to set up an Assignment as a Peer Assessment. This can be used to gather peer feedback for drafts or outlines of essays, reports etc. Submissions and reviews can be set as anonymous and automatically or manually assigned between students. Tutors can create rubrics to guide student feedback and, if marks are used, the tutor has the final say.

Alternatively, a word document created in Office 365 could be shared and commented on.


When students are presenting during a seminar, time is sometimes short and gathering feedback from the group can be difficult. Poll Everywhere may help in this situation, with the ability for students to give quick short feedback via mobile devices that can be displayed as a wordcloud.

For more detailed, considered feedback presenters can share their materials after the session. This can be done in a Discussion in Canvas. Tutors need to change the setting to allow students to upload files to a Discussion (via Settings / More Options) and then students can upload their presentations and all the others can add comments.

For something more visual, you could try using Padlet. Students can upload their slides which are viewable by their peers who can add comments. The whole Padlet can be embedded in a Page in Canvas making it easy to access.

Another option would be to use PowerPoint online, where comments can be added to each slide. An online PowerPoint could be shared via Office 365 with named individuals or a link can be shared via a Canvas Discussion or on a Padlet.

Where can I get help setting up peer feedback activities?

If you would like to discuss options for peer feedback please contact



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Posted in feedback

Immersive Storytelling: Using new technologies to make your teaching stick.

Immersive Storytelling

Humans have been telling stories for thousands of years, to entertain, inform, teach and inspire. Storytelling isn’t reserved to fiction, stories are used in mathematics, across the sciences, art history, in music and so much more. We remember good stories, they make us feel something, they immerse us in their narrative. Like good stories, our best learning experiences also stick with us. There are similarities, we tell stories using the tools at our disposal so that they stick with the receiver. Similarly when we are teaching, we want our lessons to stick with the students. To do this we utilise the available tools; language (verbal and non-verbal), physical location, technology and pedagogic understanding.

I don’t think it would be a stretch to suggest that good teaching can be seen as having similar traits to good stories. They use the tools and techniques available at the time to create a picture of the intended learning and allow the student to make new connections and be inspired or excited by what they are learning. As such I think it is fair to say, the more immersive an experience of teaching is, the more it sticks with us and helps to learn something new. We have seen through the ages that technology has always been there to help tell stories. Of course at the very beginning we only had the spoken word. As the technology of our ancestors developed we saw cave drawings and in recent history we’ve seen stories told through the first still images, through recorded audio and  motion pictures.

The evolution of technology brings with it more ways to tell stories and virtual reality and 360º cameras are no different, if anything they are able to take immersion in learning and storytelling to a whole new level.

Filmmakers, documentary makers, scientists, musicians and more have all found value in being able to tell their stories in this fantastic new medium. With a step change in immersion comes a unique opportunity not only for building empathy but also for giving unique perspectives into areas that are physically inaccessible.

Until recently the equipment required to view, let alone produce, high quality immersive content made it largely inaccessible to many. However with a recent influx of mid-priced, high quality 360º cameras and some high resolution stand alone headsets (that  do not require a computer), we see a much lower barrier to entry.

In a recent new initiative between Professor Rorden Wilkinson ( Pro Vice-Chancellor for Education and Innovation) and Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL), we have created a fantastic opportunity exclusively for staff and students at the University of Sussex by creating GoBags.

Each GoBag has a GoPro Fusion, a high quality 360º camera that is easy to use and extremely versatile. To preview content we have also included an iPad Pro. Also in the bag are a remote control and tripod for the camera. In addition to being able to create your own 360º content, there is a mobile phone and a Google Cardboard for you to view existing content. TEL are on hand to support you as much as you need, equally we can be fully hands off if you’re happy to explore on your own.

GoBags are now available to borrow for free, for you to create your own immersive experiences, to tell your story in 360º. We already have some great examples of how they are being used.

These bags are designed to be mobile, easy to use and available to staff and students. We invite you to get in touch and start telling your stories with immersive technology. We can’t wait to see what you create.

To borrow a GoBag or for more information email the TEL team at

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Posted in AR/VR/360

Are electronic examinations the future?

Electronic examinations are exams that are carried out on computers or mobile devices rather than on paper. Paolo Oprandi shares his insights from the ‘Remaking Marking: Electronic Management of Assessment’ event in Reading on emerging practice in this area across the UK HE sector.

Why are universities considering electronic exams?

There are a number of reasons why institutions are looking at electronic exams. Arguably the main reason is that electronic examinations reduce, and in many case completely remove, the need for paper handling and as a result are usually far more efficient for passing around grades and moderating marking.

The other reason is that throughout their studies students use word processors, but one of the few times we expect them to hand write is under examination conditions. Therefore it is argued electronic examinations provide a more realistic environment. Furthermore, there are studies which indicate that students’ grades can be subject to handwriting bias and electronic examinations overcome this problem.

Brunel is a UK university that has taken the prospect of electronic examinations seriously. They have been piloting the use of electronic exams since 2015 when they ran four exams. In the years since then they have steadily increased the number they have run so that last year they ran twenty-five electronic examinations. This number is set to increase in future. They use a Danish product called Wiseflow for the management of these examinations.

Advantages and Disadvantages of electronic exams

There are a number of advantages to using electronic exams, including:

  • Versatility. You can mix and match the question styles on exams and include videos and audio to make them more interactive than paper exams.
  • Authenticity. Professionals are usually expected to write formal pieces of work using a computer so electronic exams more closely replicate real world conditions.
  • Efficiency. Typed responses are more easily read and grades can be quickly and easily transferred to the student record system as they are already in a digital format, thus reducing time and effort on the part of markers. Furthermore, for some types of question such as multiple choice, marking can be done without human intervention providing the student with the opportunity to receive immediate feedback and eliminating human error from the marking process.

Of course there are disadvantages as well, including:

  • Equity. Some students may not be as confident on computers as others.
  • Reliability. The computer has a higher propensity to fail than a pen. Furthermore, there are security issues – does the software adequately eliminate the ability to cheat?
  • Cost. It will cost money to change systems. There will also be set-up costs, support overheads and a cost to providing the computers for those students who do not have their own.

And there are context issues as well, such as disciplinary requirements. There may be barriers to using electronic examinations in some disciplines where complex diagrams are needed such as mathematics and chemistry. However this does not completely disclude these subjects from using them. There are still advantages and in many cases electronic examinations will better demonstrate required skills.

Are electronic examinations the future?

Electronic examinations is something actively on the radar at the University of Sussex where we have already established sophisticated workflows for the electronic submission, marking and provision of feedback on in-course assessment through integrations between our online study platform Canvas and our in-house student record system. 

At the EMA event Brunel shared the following statements they had collected:

Students say, “It’s much better to write exams on a laptop”.

Staff say, “It’s so nice to be able to read the scripts”.

Administrative staff say, “Processing exams is so much easier”.

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Posted in Marking and assessment

Effective pedagogy for students with Specific Learning Difficulties

Dr Lara Montesinos Coleman

Dr Lara Montesinos Coleman

This is a guest post by Dr Lara Montesinos Coleman (School of Global Studies).

Teaching staff in most schools and universities tend to have limited awareness of how a Specific Learning Difficulty (SpLD) can affect learning.  There is particularly sparse literature on how to support academically gifted students who might choose to study at a university like Sussex.  This article is intended as a basic guide for faculty on how to adapt our pedagogy to help these students flourish.

Students with disabilities often worry about asking for help or getting ‘special treatment’.  However, the 2010 Equality Act gives universities a duty to anticipate the difficulties likely to be faced by people with disabilities and to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to any practice that might put them at a disadvantage.  At Sussex, the Student Support Unit recommend particular adjustments for students diagnosed with SpLDs.  However, without an understanding of SpLDs and their implications for teaching and learning, it is difficult to know how to implement adjustments.

The good news is that pedagogy designed with students with SpLDs in mind can help all students make the most of their abilities, because it requires us to take into account different cognitive skills and think more about the ‘how’ of learning.

What are SpLDs?

SpLDs are neurological (not psychological) conditions that affect only specific aspects of learning.  In assessment by an educational psychologist, someone with an SpLD might get an exceptionally high score for verbal reasoning – the aspect of intelligence that normally correlates with academic success.  However, they would score far lower in other areas, such as those relating to the speed with which they can process information.

‘Working memory’ is one area commonly affected.  It is well known that people with SpLDs like dyslexia and dyspraxia can struggle to visually process written text.  What is less well known is that working memory has a big impact upon the speed at which a person can read.  Likewise, someone with an SpLD might show deficits in reading comprehension when tested, because they have difficulty retaining the material.  This does not mean that they have deficits in understanding.  Indeed, the same person’s scores for reading comprehension can actually increase as the material gets more complex, as they have more conceptual ‘hooks’ to aid retention of information.  Depending upon how a person is affected by an SpLD, they might actually fare far better reading a complex philosophical text, for instance, than a supposedly ‘easier’ textbook summary.

There can be positive aspects to having an SpLD.  For example, people with SpLDs often show a ‘holistic’ thinking style and can be particularly good at drawing links between concepts and ideas.  When students are given the encouragement to build on these skills, they often produce original, critical and creative work of an exceptionally high standard. Students who may have felt stigmatised at school are sometimes surprised to discover that many talented thinkers and writers have an SpLD – including many successful academics.

However, this does not mean that an SpLD is not immensely disabling.  Many people develop excellent coping strategies, but the hidden burden of these can be exhausting. As faculty, we rarely get a glimpse of the extra work students with SpLDs may be having to do to work around their difficulties, or the toll this can take on a student’s mental and physical health.  People with SpLDs have a far higher incidence of anxiety disorders and the effects of failing to recognise and accommodate an SpLD can be substantial.

On top of this, many students will not have been diagnosed by the time they arrive at university.  This is often the case with SpLDs that are less immediately visible in a student’s writing, such as dyspraxia and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). Many academically gifted students with an SpLD will never have been identified as ‘struggling’ at school and so never referred for assessment.  Patterns of diagnosis are also heavily racialized and gendered.  White, native speaker and male students are generally more likely to be diagnosed within the UK school system.  Also, bear in mind that the UK education system is one of the most aware when it comes to SpLDs, so international students are far less likely to have been diagnosed by the time they come to Sussex.

Tips on how to support students


One standard recommended adjustment is that students with SpLDs are given ‘modified reading lists to enable more focused reading’.  What this doesn’t tell us is how reading lists should be modified.  One common mistake is to suggest that students focus upon textbook summaries so that they have a basic overview of the material.  The discussion of working memory and reading comprehension above should make clear why we should not assume that students with SpLDs will fare better with supposedly ‘easier’ material.  But then how should reading lists be modified?

The question of reading lists is an example of how good pedagogy for students with SpLDs is good pedagogy in general.  It used to be normal to talk about ‘reading for a degree’.  These days, however, an ‘output’ oriented approach to education has fostered an environment in which it is common to talk about ‘doing the reading’ for lectures and seminars.  We don’t do our students any favours when we encourage them to think in these terms.  The idea of ‘doing the reading’ is task-oriented.  It tends to lead to a ‘surface approach’ to reading, geared towards tacit acceptance or disagreement with the points made by the author and minimal retention of ideas and arguments.

One of the first seminars I offer my first-year students is on ‘how to read for a first-class degree’.  A major focus of this is upon the importance of a ‘deep approach’ to reading. I encourage students to reflect upon how, unlike the ‘surface approach’ encouraged by a task-oriented attitude, deep reading involves focusing on the argument, using higher-order cognitive skills (analysis, synthesis and so on), drawing links between different concepts and authors.  I also explain to students that speed of reading and ability to absorb lots of information quickly is not indicative of academic ability: it is the use of these higher-order skills that really makes the difference.  This approach is normally of immense help to students with SpLDs, not just because it is reassuring to realise that being a slow and forgetful reader does not make one a ‘bad’ reader in intellectual terms, but also because many students with SpLDs are particularly good at drawing links between concepts and ideas.

Sometimes I suggest that students with recommended adjustments for an SpLD focus on particular core texts.  However, rather than modifying the reading list itself, I reassure students not to worry if they cannot get through all the reading, but to allocate a certain amount of time to the literature for each week and to focus upon taking a deep approach.  (This might sound like it would encourage students not to ‘do the reading’, but my experience is that the reverse is true).  Something that can also be very helpful to fostering a deep approach is to give students questions to think about in relation to each text.

I also emphasise to students that research has shown that reading comprehension, analysis and even empathy is boosted by reading carefully on paper and taking notes by hand.  Some students may have disabilities that make this difficult but, even then, disconnecting from the internet and not having one’s mobile phone in the same room have also shown to have a significant positive effect on concentration, retention – and creative, critical thought.

Seminar discussions

Students with SpLDs often report feeling ‘thick’ in class, even when they go on to do exceptionally well in written work.  Deficits in working memory and processing speed can make it very difficult to formulate an idea before the discussion has moved on.  As a result, these students often lose confidence.

You can help by thinking about how you manage the seminar discussions.  For example, don’t just say ‘any questions?’, without having given students time to formulate their questions.  Give frequent breaks for discussion and reflection so that those with a slower speed of processing have time to bring concepts and ideas together.  When you take longer breaks in class, suggest that students jot down questions or thoughts based on the discussion so far and come back to these after the break.

It is also helpful to explicitly address the fact that some students (especially, but not exclusively, those with SpLDs, may need longer to process ideas and reassure students this is not a reflection of their academic ability.  Try to create a classroom environment where students feel comfortable to formulate a question or idea when it is still at a vague, ‘hunch’ stage and reassure students that good ideas often start this way.

Slides and screens

A standard recommended adjustment for students with SpLDs is to ensure that lecture slides and notes are available 24 hours in advance.  Once again, this tells us very little about how to prepare slides and notes.

A common mistake is to overload the slide with text. This is going to make it very difficult for anyone without an exceptionally strong working memory and processing speed to focus on what you are saying.  It is actually very difficult for most people to listen attentively and read lots of text at the same time.  For people with SpLDs, too much text on lecture slides is likely to generate what is known as ‘cognitive overload’.

Think of each slide as a visual image in itself and aim for as few words as possible – just enough to give students a ‘hook’ to the overall point of each bit of the lecture.  You can still provide notes after the lecture, if appropriate, but try to encourage a ‘deep’ approach to listening, as well as to reading.

The design of slides is also important.  For instance, dark, bold text on a white background can trigger visual stress – particularly for people with SpLDs.  Go for softer, not glaring, colours.  The best guides here are students with SpLDs themselves – ask your students what they find easiest to look at.


Which fonts are easier and which are more difficult to read varies for individuals so, again, the best thing is to ask students (and upload any notes in e.g. word not pdf so that students can change the font themselves).  There is a myth that people with dyslexia and dyspraxia find it easier to read a ‘sans serif’ font such as Arial.  However, many people find such fonts especially difficult to read – especially if in a dark font on a light background.  Some find it much easier to work with fonts such as Times New Roman or Garamond.

When printing materials for your students, try to use off-white paper and certainly avoid printing on glossy paper.  University departments can help here by stocking photocopiers with slightly off-white paper as a default.


Fluorescent lighting can have a big detrimental effect on people’s ability to process and retain information and upon their ability to read.  This is particularly the case for people with SpLDs but it is a problem shared by people with many disabilities, such as visual stress, certain types of migraine and other neurological conditions.

Ideally, universities should not have fluorescent lighting in teaching areas and many institutions are changing, or have changed, their lighting to other forms like LED.  The ‘anticipatory duty’ under the 2010 Equality Act to think about the sorts of barriers people with disabilities are likely face and adjust buildings and practices accordingly should eventually lead to fluorescent lighting being phased out altogether.  However, in the meantime, you can help by teaching under natural light whenever that is sufficient (taking into account other disabilities that might mean some students need an increased level of lighting).  If you teach in a room with fluorescent lights that negatively affect students with SpLDs or other conditions, you can ask for that room to be fitted with uplighters as a temporary measure to get around the problem.


One source of frustration for many people with disabilities is when others assume that there is a technical ‘fix’ to their difficulties.  Literature on disability and technology talks about ‘affordances’ of a technology.  This refers to what the technology actually provides in ‘real life’, when you take into account e.g. the time taken to learn how to use it, the barriers that a certain technology could create in relation to other disabilities or social circumstances, and so on.

Technology can be enormously helpful.  For instance, software such as ‘Read and Write’ (which can tint your screen, reads text aloud and has a range of features to help people with SpLDs) can be very useful to some.  However, the layout of certain websites and programmes can make them enormously inaccessible to people with SpLDs, while other forms of technology will take a long time for people with certain disabilities to master.  Also consider the research now showing the toll taken on our thinking by constant connection to the Internet and the benefits to retention, comprehension and critical thinking that can come from reading on paper.

Recording of lectures is a particularly contentions area.  Access to recorded lectures can be very valuable for students with SpLDs and other disabilities.  This would probably be considered a reasonable adjustment under the 2010 Equality Act, all other things being equal (e.g. if the session was always planned as non-interactive lecture and if content and delivery will not be undermined by recording).  However, recording of lectures can also be damaging to learning, making teaching less spontaneous and less responsive to student input.  Many students simply will not muster the courage to speak if they know they are being recorded.  This can be a particular problem for students with specific deficits in working memory and processing speed. The Human Geography Research Group at the University of Edinburgh recently published a thoughtful reflection, which raises further issues such as staff and student safety.  This is not say that recording lectures is never a good idea, but it is important to consider what scholars of technology and disability would call its overall ‘affordances’. When used, lecture recording should not be a substitute for accessible pedagogy, or undermine efforts to make the classroom a safe space.

Think holistically

This article has focused specifically on SpLDs. It is important to remember that people with SpLDs may have other disabilities that interact with their SpLD in complex ways.  Likewise, general advice for a non-ableist classroom environment (such as having regular breaks and being sensitive to the hidden labour many students with disabilities will be undertaking to pace themselves and managing their conditions, with the result that their difficulties do not appear obvious) also needs to be considered.  In addition, it is important to keep in mind that barriers that students face participating in class are created not only by disabilities but also by structures of power that give some a greater material and social exposure to being silenced or ‘unheard’, and students with SpLDs will be affected in different ways by this.  Students with disabilities are also no less in need of having to work to support themselves than their peers.  Disability can not only make the costs of living higher, it can also make the burden of paid employment substantially more difficult to manage.  Failure to make reasonable adjustments for this not only makes the lives of students with disabilities harder, it also risks unlawful discrimination under the 2010 Equality Act. An inclusive classroom environment in which students feel able to participate and where they are supported to work around their difficulties is likely to be an environment in which students feel able to talk about their circumstances and ask for help where necessary.

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Posted in Accessibility

Facilitating discussion and collaborative note-making in lectures through a backchannel

What is a backchannel?

The ‘backchannel’ is a term coined by Victor Yngve, Professor of Linguistics (1970) to acknowledge subtle and informal responses from a person actively listening to someone else speaking.

This term has since been adapted to fit various other contexts. An example of this would be the conversations taking place between the audience during a presentation or lecture. You may have come across a ‘hashtag’ being used by attendees at a conference to discuss and share their thoughts through social media. This helps to disseminate ideas and extend conversation to other conference attendees, who may otherwise not interact with each other due to the sheer volume of people at an event, and colleagues (not in attendance) who are following the conversations online.

Over the past few years, both intentionally and unintentionally, online backchannels have found their place in classrooms and lecture theatres.

Some ways to use a backchannel in teaching

There are many different uses for backchannel communication and often a mix of different approaches will be used or develop organically during a lesson. Here are a few examples for how you may wish to use it.

  • Collaborative note-making. If students are contributing notes collectively then it means that they can individually concentrate more on the lecture and less on their own set of notes. Reading an explanation from a non-expert written in their own words can often make information more accessible to learners who have struggled to understand a point in a lecture.
  • Discussions. Ask students to discuss questions or topics from a lecture and then summarise their conversations on the backchannel. This can be useful for engaging less confident students or for splitting larger classrooms into small group discussions and providing a way to feedback to the rest of the class and tutor.
  • Sharing resources. A backchannel does not have to be limited to notes and conversations, it could be used to share student-created or curated online articles, images, multimedia, project files and more.
  • Entry and Exit tickets. A backchannel  can be used at the start or end of a lecture to provide an opportunity for students to ask questions or share an opinion. This can inform the tutor about what students have learnt, what they have struggled with or would like to know more about.
  • Outside engagement. Online discussions do not have to be confined to those in the classroom, when combined with social media they can become a platform for students or tutors to invite comments from peers, experts in other disciplines, professionals or the wider public.

How to use a backchannel

Whilst it might be tempting to create a space for students to chat online and leave them to their own devices, this might not be appropriate for students who are new to this type of communication or lack the level of independent study skills to use these tools efficiently. You may wish to provide students with directions on the following:

  • Ground rules and etiquette to set the tone and create a safe and welcoming environment for sharing and discussion.
  • What to use the backchannel for: e.g. taking notes on lecture content, providing feedback on the lecture, asking questions, debating ideas with other students.
  • When to use the backchannel during your lesson, e.g. at the end of the lecture, as of when they feel necessary, at specific times to contribute to discussion.
  • How to use it afterwards: e.g. revision-notes, continued discussion.
  • Who can contribute: e.g. one person per group, anyone in the class, public forum to generate opinion from experts or the wider public.

Backchannel tools or applications

There are many tools available for facilitating backchannels, here are a few recommendations which are either supported by Technology Enhanced Learning or free to use.

  • Canvas Chat. The new University of Sussex online study platform includes a chat facility which can be used within module sites. This is a basic chat which allows for text-based discussions between all students and tutors on a module. The advantage of using this tool is that it is simple to use, no signup is required and names will automatically be identified in the chat. See Canvas guides for more information.
  • Twitter  is a widely used social media platform which uses the notion of a hashtag to create conversations that anyone can view or contribute to,  they know the hashtag. Note, that a twitter account is required to contribute. See The Teachers Guide to Twitter for more information.
  • Padlet is an online virtual noticeboard which can be used to easily share different types of content and can be  either closed to a group or publicly available. The University of Sussex recently subscribed to an institutional account, please see our recent blogpost or contact for help setting up your account or for ideas for using Padlet.
  • Google Slides, the online presentation software. includes a Q&A tool which enables the audience to send questions to the presenter without disturbing the flow of the presentation. Although less elegant than the other options, it is a quick and easy solution to collect audience questions. See Talk with your audience – not at them – with slides Q&A for more information.

Please contact for more specific advice on any of the topics mentioned in this post and support with integrating backchannel communication into your teaching practice.


Yngve, Victor (1970) “On getting a word in edgewise,” Papers from the Sixth Regional Meeting [of the] Chicago Linguistic Society, page 568.

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Posted in Technology Enhanced Learning

Padlet Backpack for staff and students

Users of Padlet will be aware that the popular tool underwent some changes in April which introduced limits on a free account. As many University of Sussex staff use Padlet in their teaching, we have purchased a Backpack licence for the 18/19 academic year that will allow staff and students at Sussex to:

  • Create unlimited Padlets
  • Upload files up to 250MB (10 times more than with a free Padlet account)
  • Avoid Ads.

How can I join the Sussex Padlet Backpack account?

Staff and students wishing to create their own Padlets using the Sussex Padlet Backpack account by emailing giving their name and Sussex email address. You can use this short Padlet Backpack Guide to get started and import any Padlets you have in a free account. Once you are signed up to the Sussex account you can access it at

How might I use Padlet?

There are many different ways of using Padlet for teaching and learning. This post and the Guide outline 3 popular use cases and how to get started with them in the Sussex Padlet Backpack account. If you want to use Padlet in a different way or would like to discuss ideas for using Padlet in your teaching, please contact Technology Enhanced Learning at

Scenario 1: A class Padlet that anyone with a link can use

You could use a Padlet for a seminar group or lab class to share materials. In the example below, students have posted their presentation slides. The tutor has chosen to allow commenting and ‘liking’ but these are optional features.

Example Padlet 1

You could also use this type of Padlet to share ideas and/or ask questions.

How to get started with a shared Padlet

  1.    The tutor needs to be added as a ‘teacher’ on the Sussex Backpack account (please email to request this).
  2.    They can then create a Padlet and set the sharing option to Secret.
  3.    The tutor can set the permission to read and/or write for ‘Those with access’.
  4.    They can share the Padlet as a URL or embedd it in Canvas. Anyone with the link or access to the Canvas site can use it.
  5.    A student’s posts will be anonymous, unless they are logged in to a Padlet account.

Scenario 2 – A Padlet for individual use

Staff and students can use the Padlet Backpack to create Padlets for their individual use. For example, a Padlet can be useful for gathering resources, organising tasks etc. These Padlets can be kept private or shared when required.

Example Padlet 2

How to get started with a personal Padlet.

  1. The student or staff member needs to be added to the Sussex Backpack account (please email to request this).
  2. The user can then start creating Padlets.
  3. Under the Share settings, users can set a Padlet to Private. You can change this later if you want to share it with others.

Scenario 3 – A Padlet with defined contributors.

Shared Padlets and anonymous posting have their advantages, but sometimes you may want to restrict access to some named individuals, for example if you want a separate Padlet for each seminar group.

If you want to use Padlet in this way, students will need to have their own Sussex Backpack accounts and be added as ‘contributors’ on a private Padlet. Technology Enhanced Learning are happy to set up that sort of Padlet for you. Please contact

Embed your Padlet in Canvas

To let students see and interact with a Padlet, tutors can embed it in a Page in Canvas.

  1. Go to your Padlet and click Share at the top right.
  2. Choose the SHARE/EXPORT/EMBED tab.
  3. Select Embed in your blog or your website.
  4. Copy the code which is displayed.
  5. Go to your Canvas module and select a Page where you want to embed your Padlet (or create a new Page). Click on Edit, then HTML Editor.
  6. Paste in the code you have copied from Padlet and click Save.
  7. When users embed a Private Padlet, only users who have been added as Contributors will be able to see it.
Padlet embedded in Canvas

Padlet embedded in Canvas

Anyone with access to the Canvas module and permission to write on the Padlet will be able to do so from within Canvas.

Contact Technology Enhanced Learning for help getting started

If you would like to get started with a Sussex Padlet Backpack account, or would like to discuss how you might use Padlet for teaching and/or learning please email


Canvas Training

Places are filling up fast on our Canvas Fundamentals training workshops. We strongly encourage all Sussex academic staff to sign up for a place. Attending the workshop will familiarise you with Canvas and your options for teaching with the new VLE.

Professional Services staff are also welcome to book a place on this workshop.

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Canvas Know-how 5: Customising your home page

Canvas Know-how 5. Customising your home page

In your Canvas modules it is possible to choose which view you would like to set as the home page. There are a number of different options to choose from, depending on how you would like to present your content and direct your students. It is very easy to set your chosen home page allowing you to quickly customise your module site.

The five different layout options are:

Module activity stream

The activity stream displays the latest activity within your module site including recent announcements and discussion forum posts. This option allows your students to easily keep up to date with the content of your module and any important updates.

Activity Stream view

Activity Stream view

Pages front page

This could be any existing Page within your module site. This option allows you to make use of Canvas’ Rich Content Editor to include images and videos, customise your fonts and heading and include links to other pages and activities, creating a more visually appealing home page.

Pages front page view

Pages front page view

Module units

Units is the default view and acts as table of contents for your module. This allows you add different elements, including Pages, External links, Quizzes, Reading List items and Assignments, helping to guide your students through the module content.

Module units view

Module units view

Assignments list

This view collates all of the assignments for that individual module, presenting these in a list for students. This will include contributory assessments, which are populated by the University’s database, as well as any non-contributory assignments that you choose to create.

Assignments list view

Assignments list view


The Syllabus combines the option to add text and media using the Rich Content Editor, as you would with the Pages front page option, with all the key dates for the module. This would include for example assessment deadlines.

Syllabus view

Syllabus view

A guide to setting your Canvas module home page

A Guide to setting your home pageTo help you get your module site ready for the start of the Autumn term, TEL have created a step by step guide to take you through how to set your module’s home page.

You could also use Canvas’ own guide – How do I change the Course Home Page?. If you have decided to use the Pages front page option you will first have to follow these instructions – How do I set a Front Page in a course?. Please note that by default Canvas uses a different terminology, referring to modules as “courses”.



Canvas Training

Canvas Fundamentals training provides an essential introduction to the University’s new virtual learning environment. We strongly encourage all Sussex academic staff to sign up for a place. Attending the workshop will familiarise you with Canvas and your options for teaching with the new VLE. It also gives you access to your migrated modules from 17/18.

Professional Services staff are also welcome to book a place on this workshop, although we are in contact with several School Administrators to arrange specific sessions for School Office staff.

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Posted in Canvas

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We are the Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) team at the University of Sussex. We publish posts each week on using technology to support teaching and learning. Read more about us.

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