Category: Activities

Exam-Moodle update released: Introducing the Freehand Drawing question type

Sandra Hundseder & Samuel Witzig

On Oct 12, 2021 ETH’s Exam-Moodle received its biannual feature update. This update introduces useful new features and a large number of small bugfixes  and improvements for On-Campus Online Examinations. After a short overview of the most important new features, we provide a more detailed overview of the possibilities of the Freehand Drawing question type and improvements to the External Question type.

Overview of new features

  • Floating timer: the time remaining is now always visible for students, making it easier for students to know how much time they have left for the exam.
  • ETH’s own question type “Freehand Drawing” is now available by default. It introduces very powerful features for exams on our convertible laptops used in mobile On-Campus Online Examinations (more details below).
  • In the essay question type, a maximum size for file uploads can now be set. This feature may be helpful if you use third party applications in your On-Campus Online Examination. Besides setting a maximum file size, you can also define which file types your students can upload in addition to the number of attachments allowed (already introduced with an earlier feature update).
  • “External” question type (for exams using Code Expert): Moodle now sends students’ Legi-number to Code Expert. There are also several improvements that reduce errors when creating/editing external questions (more details below).

Freehand Drawing

You may already know Freehand Drawing from its use in formative quizzes on the ETH Course-Moodle. You now have the option to use it in your On-Campus Online Examinations as well. To ensure adequate usability, On-Campus Online Examinations with Freehand Drawings are conducted exclusively on mobile devices where students have access to a touch screen and digitizer pen for their digital drawings and sketches.

The question type Freehand Drawing enables the simple and intuitive creation of digital freehand sketches. Please find more information on the functionality of this question type and how to use it here.

Using Freehand Drawing in an On-Campus Online Examination

The Freehand Drawing question type offers a variety of benefits and opportunities to you as an examiner. The main argument for choosing Freehand Drawing over other question types, such as Drag & Drop or Multiple Choice questions, is that students have to actively create their responses, rather than just recognising predefined answers as correct or incorrect. This facilitates assessing deeper levels of knowledge and understanding. Furthermore, the students do not have the possibility to simply guess the correct answer. Freehand Drawing provides the opportunity to use new kinds of questions in your exam. Drawings, annotations and markings of pictures facilitate the contextualized assessment of student knowledge. Finally, using the Freehand Drawing question type instead of sketches on paper can facilitate clear assessments of students’ answers. Instead of erasing sketches made on paper, students can simply undo and erase any drawings, annotations or markings.

What to consider when using Freehand Drawing

Although Freehand Drawing is a handy tool for assessing your students, some aspects demand attention in order to make your exam a success:

  1. Advise your students to use the Text tool available in Freehand Drawing when making annotations, instead of writing with the pen. This way they have more space for writing and can more easily edit the text, and their answers are easier to read. 
  2. In the problem statement, clearly define what you expect from the students in order to achieve full points.
  3. Calculate enough time for answering the question. Freehand Drawing questions need more time to answer than classical K-Prime or Single-Choice questions. As a tip: solve the question yourself and see how long it takes you. Based on this time, you can better estimate how long it will take the students. We recommend at least doubling the time it took you for students.
  4. Familiarise students with the question type in good time. Use the question type already during the semester in formative tests. Point out the important functions (e.g. undo, redo, full screen, zoom, delete) to the students so that they know how to use them in the exam.
  5. Freehand Drawing questions must be marked manually. It is important to prepare a sample solution or an assessment scheme to ensure uniform assessment and to facilitate the work of the assessors.

If you would like to try out a short quiz with Freehand Drawing questions yourself, you can have a look at our Demo Quiz Freehand Drawing. If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact the ETH Online Examinations service (online-pruefungen@let.ethz.ch)

External Question Type (Code Expert questions)

If you use the external question type in your exams, there are four new useful features:

  1. Moodle now sends students’ Legi-number to Code Expert, making it easier to cross check exam results.
  2. LTI-link verification is now improved – Moodle now checks more reliably if the entered LTI-link is valid.
  3. Changing LTI-links after you have created external questions has led to technical issues in past On-Campus Online Examinations and should therefore be avoided. Once you have created and saved the external question, the Tool URL-field is now locked. To unlock (e.g. for testing), choose “Show more…”
  4. Using the same LTI-link in two or more questions can lead to technical issues in On-Campus Online Examinations and should therefore be avoided. Moodle now warns you if you already used an LTI-link in another question

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Tips for Moodle courses

Sometimes it doesn’t take much to make your Moodle course both more effective and visually appealing. The following tips are a quick and fun way to introduce ideas for improving your Moodle course using principles of good website design. Lecturers at ETH Zürich can learn more using Moodle in the self-paced online course “Building an effective Moodle course”. Read more about the course.

What are your essential tips for making Moodle course more visually appealing and effective for learning? We would love to read your comments on this topic.

Be welcoming. Introduce yourself. Use friendly, gender-neutral and approachable language.
Add visual elements. Insert banners to create a course identity. Icons and pictures make your course page easier to digest. Add course images in the settings for easy dashboard navigation.
Choose the right course format. "Topics format" ist he default and creates a list of content. "Collapsed topics" voids endless scrolling. "Tiles" provides a great visual overview.
Establish hierarchy and consistency. Use different heading sizes to signal hierarchy. Align things vertically to imply similar properties. Use consistent layout to create familiarity fast.
Provide assistance. Add a forum for asking questions of peers or teaching staff. Be responsive and friendly when students ask questions. Make sure your contact details are available.
Create an overview. Use visuals to provide an overview of your course structure. Create an advance organiser that shows your course content. This helps build up a mental framework for organising information.
Make it accessible. Add image descriptions for screenreader. Add closed captions in videos. Use descriptive link text like "chapter three" and not "read more".
Manage text volume. Display a paragraph or less on the main course page. Place multiple paragraphs in an HTML page. Put multiple pages in a Moodle book or Polybook.
Check quality across platforms. Always check your course appearance in the App. Blocks disappear in the mobile view. Course formats are simplified.

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Neuer Fragetyp STACK – Computeralgebra in Moodle

STACK steht für “System for Teaching and Assessment using Computer algebra Kernel”. Konkret handelt es sich hier um ein in Moodle integriertes Assessment-System für die Mathematik und verwandte Disziplinen, das auf dem Computer Algebra System Maxima basiert.

Mit dem neuen Fragetyp STACK können in Moodle mathematische Fragestellung einfach in Quizzes integriert und automatisch ausgewertet werden.

Nehmen wir das Beispiel einer Integration:

Die Eingabe der Studierenden wird interpretiert und angezeigt. Dadurch können zunächst syntaktische Fehler eliminiert werden.
Doch wieder einmal wird die Integrationskonstante vergessen.

Teillösung

Mit Hilfe eines Antwortbaumes können Dozierende nun individuelles Feedback generieren. Dadurch sind mehrteilige mathematische Fragen möglich, und es kann eine Teilpunktzahl vergeben werden.

Feedback mit Hinweisen

Die Studierenden können so schrittweise zu einer Lösung geführt werden.

Vollständige Lösung mit Feedback

Grafik

Darüber hinaus können grafische Darstellungen und Diagramme dynamisch generiert und in eine Frage eingebunden werden.

Grafikplot einer Funktion

Informationen sowie Anleitungen finden Sie in der hervorragenden Dokumentation unter https://docs.moodle.org/310/de/Fragetyp_STACK.

Bitte beachten Sie, dass dieser Fragetyp sowohl von den Dozierenden auch als den Studierenden eine gewisse Einarbeitung benötigt.

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10 things to consider when applying for an Innovedum project

If you teach at ETH and think about innovating your teaching, Innovedum is just around the corner. Dr. Erik Jentges, educational developer at the department of management, technolgy, and economics, has been involved in several reviews and writings for Innovedum projects. You might want to check out his 10 tips when applying for an Innovedum project:

  • Identify the correct grant scheme
  • State your idea clearly
  • Give us your context
  • Feature the voice of learners
  • Demonstrate that you talked to educators and didactic experts
  • Present a realistic project plan
  • Assume supportive reviewers
  • Put your didactic innovations front and center
  • Think beyond your project
  • Share your learnings

In addition to the last point, a coherent evaluation plan should be part of the propoal. This will help project leaders in the discussion and dissemination of project results.

More information on evaluation criteria and the process at Innovedum can be found here. The next deadline for Innovedum project submissions is 1 October 2021.

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Vereinfachtes Reporting in der Unterrichtsbeurteilung der ETH Zürich

An vielen Hochschulen sind die Prozesse der Unterrichtsbeurteilung eindeutig geregelt. Dies aber meist nur bis zum Ende der Datenerhebung. In den letzten Jahren rückte der Schlussteil des Evaluationsprozesses, also die Analyse der Resultate und die Festlegung von Massnahmen aufgrund dieser Resultate, vermehrt in den Fokus. Bisher mussten die 16 Departemente pro Semester je einen Bericht an die Rektorin senden, in dem die kritisch evaluierten Veranstaltungen eruiert und Ursachen und Massnahmen zu deren Verbesserung beschrieben wurden. Die Rektorin hat dann wieder in Briefform eine Rückmeldung an jedes Departement zum Bericht geschrieben.

Mit einer Weiterentwicklung unserer Evaluationssoftware EvaSys können wir nun diesen Feedback-Prozess mit einer Online-Applikation unterstützen. In einem ersten Schritt werden die kritisch evaluierten Lehrveranstaltungen und Prüfungen automatisch aufgrund von flexibel einstellbaren Kriterien erkannt und den Departementen in einer Liste präsentiert. Diskussionen, ob eine Lehrveranstaltung oder Prüfung nun kritisch evaluiert ist oder vergessen wurde, gehören so der Vergangenheit an. Kritisch bedeutet, dass das Departement bei der entsprechenden Lehrveranstaltung oder Prüfung genauer hinschauen und eine Rückmeldung an die Rektorin geben muss. Dieses «genaue Hinschauen» ist nun in einem eigenen Menü, dem Massnahmendialog, abgebildet, wie er in der Abbildung unten ersichtlich ist.

Bild des Massnahmendialogs
Abbildung: Massnahmendialog zu einer Lehrveranstaltung. Im oberen Bereich werden die Fragetexte und die kritischen Mittelwerte (<3.0 bei einer 5-er-Skala) eingeblendet. Im grün umrandeten Feld muss das Departement Ursachen und Massnahmen eingeben. Rechts davon muss aus einer Liste von vordefinierten stichwortartigen, häufig getroffenen Massnahmen mind. eine ausgewählt werden. Dies kann auch eine eigens hinzugefügte Massnahme sein. Später im Prozess gibt dann die Rektorin eine Rückmeldung zu den von den Departementen beschriebenen Massnahmen. Diese Rückmeldung wird dann im grau umrandeten Feld unten ersichtlich.

Somit erhält das Departement für jedes Semester eine Liste von kritisch evaluierten Lehrveranstaltungen und Prüfungen. Der Massnahmendialog muss für jede kritische Lehrveranstaltung oder Prüfung aufgerufen und ausgefüllt werden. Die Suche nach kritisch bewerteten Veranstaltungen, die in den Departementen bisher manuell erfolgt ist, entfällt damit. In der Liste ist zudem ersichtlich, ob die entsprechende Lehrveranstaltung oder Prüfung schon in früheren Semestern kritisch evaluiert war. Somit lassen sich Trends wie die Verbesserung einer kritischen Veranstaltung besser nachvollziehen. Am Ende der Liste der kritischen Lehrveranstaltungen und Prüfungen muss das Departement noch ein Fazit über die Unterrichtsbeurteilungen des aktuellen Semesters eingeben, zu welchem die Rektorin auch in einem Feld ein Feedback geben kann.

Die Weiterentwicklung unterstützt den Feedbackprozess zwischen Departementen und Rektorin. Auf umständliche Berichterstattung und Korrespondenz in brieflicher Form kann in Zukunft verzichtet werden. Das Erkennen von kritischen und von wiederholt kritischen Lehrveranstaltungen und Prüfungen ist automatisiert, was den administrativen Aufwand wesentlich verringert und der inhaltlichen Arbeit an der Verbesserung der Qualität von Lerneinheiten und Prüfungen zugutekommt. Natürlich ist mit der Weiterentwicklung auch die Hoffnung verbunden, dass der Feedbackprozess in Zukunft etwas beschleunigt werden kann.

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Examinations in exceptional times: one year of remote written examinations in Moodle during the COVID-19 pandemic

When it became apparent in the Spring Semester 2020 that on-site examinations were not possible during the semester due to the COVID-19 pandemic, alternative performance assessments without requiring students to be physical present were needed. In collaboration with LET, ETH then soon developed the legal and organisational and didactical framework to ensure that examinations during and at the end of the semester could also be carried out in this exceptional situation.

According to the directive “COVID-19: Measures with regard to teaching” for Autumn Semester 2020 and Spring Semester 2021, high-stakes written examinations during the examination sessions are to take place on site under a strict safety concept. In contrast, written examinations during or at the end of semester in the context of end-of-semester examinations, semester performances and continuous performance assessment tasks can either be conducted on site using a safety concept or as a remote examination. However, a remote version of the examination must always be planned as a backup, in case the government regulations change.

The shift from classical written exams in presence to remote written examinations posed a challenge for everybody. To help teachers to adapt their examinations to an appropriate remote format, LET compiled an overview of alternative ways of assessment. The focus of this text is on one such scenario: written examinations conducted remotely on Moodle.

Long before COVID-19, ETH has been using a separate Moodle instance (Exam Moodle) as an online-platform for summative on-site examinations on desktop computers and mobile devices. Therefore, fortunately, the infrastructure was already in place, although additional functionalities were integrated to better accommodate examinations that are conducted remotely (e.g. a plugin to request a declaration of originality).

In the course of the last two semesters, LET has supported over 200 remote written examinations in Moodle with 14’000 individual performances. Throughout this year, we have found several key factors for successfully conducting remote examination in Moodle.

Useful advice before you start preparing your exam

When in doubt, consult the webpage on remote written examinations (Moodle): This webpage comprises all information relevant for preparing and conducting an remote written examination in Moodle, including a step-by-step manual for setting up the examination.

Setting up a course on the Exam Moodle and coordinate technical support well in advance: Send an email to online-pruefungen@let.ethz.ch if you would like to conduct a remote examination in Moodle as early as possible. We will create a course for you on the Exam Moodle, help you setting up your examination and coordinate how you can reach us as technical support during the examination.

Keep the “open-book” character in mind while designing the exam questions: Even though certain practices have to be applied in order to prevent students to easily communicate the solutions among each other (e.g. open-ended questions, randomization of closed-ended questions), the use of the Internet cannot be prevented. For this reason, you either create questions that cannot be easily looked up on the Internet or explicitly include the Internet search as part of the examination.

Best practice for preparation and conduct

  1. Take advantage of the new opportunities that arise:

Although preparing a remote examination in Moodle may seem challenging at first, it also holds the opportunity for new and creative ways to design an examination.

The biggest opportunity with remote examinations in Moodle is to embrace the fact that students have access to additional resources, such as databases and software, and make it an integral part of the examination. In this way, it is possible to assess the deep understanding of a topic and the application of knowledge rather than mere fact retrieval. This is ideally supported by open-ended rather than closed-ended questions, since the former give students the possibility to present their knowledge in detail. However, notwithstanding all the didactical opportunities, it is crucial that the alignment of the learning objectives with the examination is still maintained.  

Further didactic tips and tricks are available on this webpage.

2. Give students the possibility to navigate freely:

We strongly recommend refraining from using a predefined navigation for the following reasons:

  • Students are not able to get an overview of the whole exam first
  • Students are not able to choose which part of the examination they want to begin with. Stress levels rise when students have no choice but to start with a topic they find difficult.
  • As students are not able to navigate backwards, they cannot revise and adjust their given answers. This is particularly relevant in the case of a momentary blackout.
  • Overall, this creates additional stress for students in an already stressful situation and generally leads to an examination that tests stress resistance rather than the actual learning outcome.

3. Use Zoom as a tool for communication

First things first: You do not have to use or proctor your students with Zoom during a written remote examination in Moodle. However, Zoom is a great way to stay in touch with your students throughout the examination and we recommend using it as your primary communication channel. It allows you to communicate information quickly to all students and students can contact you via chat if they have a question or problem. The students’ cameras do not have to be switched on for this.

The main advantages over other communication channels such as email or phone are the immediacy of communication and the possibility of screen sharing. The latter is particularly useful when technical difficulties arise.

However, it is crucial to establish a second, internet-independent communication channel (e.g. phone). This way, students who lose their internet connection can still contact you.

4. Things to consider for setting up your Zoom meeting

Once you have decided to use Zoom during the remote examination in Moodle, there are a couple of considerations and preparations that should be made beforehand:

  • Distribute roles: make sure everybody involved in the examination knows what their responsibilities are during the exam. For example, who is responsible for questions in the chat? Who will make the announcements and share the password for the exam? Who will handle breakout rooms?
  • Chat settings: make sure that students can write only to you and the Co-Hosts in the Zoom chat. The setting to chat with all participants of the meeting should be disabled.
  • Breakout rooms: including breakout rooms in your Zoom meeting is very helpful in supporting participants with questions or problems, without disturbing the other participants.

5. Conduct a mock examination

A mock exam reduces potential technical difficulties in advance and gives students the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the Moodle exam platform. This way, students already know how to access the examination on the exam day and are familiar with the interface. In order to achieve this, the mock examination does not have to be elaborate. It can also consist of general questions that are not specific to your subject.

6. Make sure that students contact you immediately in case of technical problems

You cannot stress this enough! If a student faces any technical difficulties and cannot continue working on the examination, the student has to contact you immediately. Only if they inform you immediately, it is possible to extend the examination time by the time lost due to the problem. If students inform you after the examination that they were unable to continue working, this is no longer possible.

If you would like to conduct your examination as a remote written examination in Moodle or would like to discuss the possibilities for your remote examination in Moodle, please do not hesitate to contact us via online-pruefungen@let.ethz.ch.

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New ideas for Innovedum, the ETH innovative teaching fund

With the Innovedum Fund, ETH has an extremely successful instrument for promoting innovative teaching, especially with regard to community building (cf. Reinhardt, Korner, Walter, 2019). Topics such as student engagement (Healey, Flint & Harrington, 2014) and Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (Martensson & Roxa, 2015) are increasingly being considered globally as an important part of educational development activities. With this in mind, the Innovedum application process became the focus of a rethink and revision in 2020. The application process was updated to a webform and new criteria were included in the application process. These were; inclusion of the student perspective, dissemination of Innovedum projects results and communication. 

Inclusion of the student perspective in the project design and the planned project implementation

To encourage future applicants to take the student perspective into account, a new question was added to the application form. This is to meet the express wish of the Rector to further student perspectives and involvement when developing projects that innovate teaching and learning at ETH. Since the purpose of Innovedum is to have a positive effect on teaching and learning, it is important that the opportunity to include students in the application process is available:

Student Involvement: Describe whether and how students were involved in the preparation and review of this project application. How will students be involved in project implementation?

This question provides the project applicant with the freedom to decide if and how students can be involved in a possible project, while also pointing out easy steps how this could be done. 

Dissemination of Innovedum Projects: Spreading good Teaching and Learning at ETH

Currently there is a public project database and various community events (Refresh TeachingLearning and Teaching Fair) where Innovedum projects are made visible. To compliment this an explicit expectation to systematically reflect on the effectiveness of Innovedum projects is now also part of the application and reporting process. Applicants are now encouraged to consider the impact the project will have on teaching and learning and therefore develop a coherent evaluation strategy from the beginning.

Evaluation strategy: Describe the evaluation strategy you will use to check achievement of project goals and effects on teaching. What approaches will you use? Are you planning measures for identifying interim results? If so, how will these results flow back into the project?

For help with designing an evaluation strategy apropriate lecturers can always contact their LSPs or LET.  

Project communication: Making project insights visible

Taking the findings made during the evaluation and sharing them with others will make it easier for new applicants to profit from the lessons others have learned and increase the quality of their own applications. Ultimately a clearer picture of how innovation in teaching in learning works at ETH will emerge and flow back in to educational development as a whole. 

Project communication: How do you plan to publicise and document the progress of the project? What form will the final report for the Innovedum project database take? How will you disseminate project results?

There are a multitude of spaces both at ETH and beyond where results and experiences can be shared. At ETH the following spaces are available:

  • LET-Blog. The blog is a place where effective and innovative teaching is featured as well as general projects and activities relating to teaching and learning. www.blogs.ethz.ch/letblog 
  • Refresh Teaching. A lunch-time seminar series where lecturers share and discuss their innovations in teaching.  www.refreshteaching.ethz.ch
  • Innoview and Competence view are two different dynamic websites which respectively feature innovative teaching projects or projects where cross-disciplinary competencies are explicitly fostered.  
  • Learning and Teaching Journal. The Journal publishes discussion as well as systematic reflections regarding discipline specific contributions.

Please contact LET (beratung@let.ethz.ch) if you want to share your teaching project in one of these spaces. Any kind of projects are welcome, funded and non-funded.

Beyond ETH there are frequent conferences where teaching staff are welcome to present such projects. The Swiss Faculty Development Network hosts an annual conference of this nature and scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) conferences are also a great opportunity.

The Education Developer in your Departement (https://ethz.ch/en/the-eth-zurich/education/educational-development/netzwerk-lehrspezialisten.html) can advise and support the communication of your project.

You can find further information on the Innovedum website or contact the Innovedum office. Applications deadlines for focal and teaching projects are March 1st and October 1st every year.  

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Moodle is more interactive than ever with H5P

Task: Mark the security measures for this aircraft

H5P is a special toolset that enables teachers to enrich their Moodle courses. Teachers can firstly add interactive elements in Moodle content and secondly adjust the visual appearance of Moodle course pages. Both can enhance the learning process.

Research shows that digital learning is most effective when students interact with content, answer questions and most importantly, get immediate feedback. The critically important feedback loop that is naturally present in face-to-face learning is often missing in digital learning environments. Students want to find out immediately if their answer was correct or not. By providing performance feedback during digital learning, teachers can provide learners with a sense of the real-world consequences of decisions students make. Therefor the vast array of available interactive elements is especially important, since it offers options for almost every learning situation.

Effective digital learning should also provide learners with realistic practice opportunities; for example, simulations, scenario-based decision making, case-based evaluations, and authentic exercises.

Use H5P’s interactive elements to support reflection, application, rehearsal, elaboration, contextualisation, debate, evaluation, synthesisation, and so on. Focus on using H5P to add interaction and attractive graphic elements. H5P is not recommended for graded activities as tech savvy students can download and analyse the resulting XML file.

Example elements to increase interactivity

Select interactive elements, such as “Agamotto” which compares images as shown below.

“Find multiple hotspots” invites students to point out important aspects in images. Example: Find all the vegetables in this picture.

Or you can add a structural element to your course by adding the element “Accordion” which enables you to create collapsable paragraphs.

How to add H5P to your Moodle course

This must happen in two distinct steps. First you must create the content and save it. Secondly you embed the new content to your course.

To create the H5P content, access the “Content bank”. There is a shortcut in the navigation to the left of your screen.

Click on the “add” button and select the type of element you would like to create.

To help you decide which H5P element is best for your needs, we have created several exemplars to help you choose. You can view these exemplars in the “Building an effective Moodle course” in the section “Using special features“. (No enrollment key necessary).

In addition you can visit the H5P website to see more detailed examples, instructions and tutorials. Important note: There are more elements listed on the H5P website than are available on the ETH Moodle system. 

After you have created H5P element, make sure you save it with a clear name so you can recognise it later. 

Now you have two options for using the H5P element.

The first option is to add it as a separate activity. Simply add a new activity and select H5P. Then choose your pre-made element. This scenario make sense when you want to focus on the element as a stand alone activity and don’t want to embed it within additional text.

The second option is to add H5P as part of a text. Navigate to the exact spot where you would like to add the element (for example in a Moodle book or in a label on the course page) and begin editing.

In the editing toolbar, first expand the view of editing tools.

Then select H5P.

This will prompt you to “browse repositories”. The H5P content bank is shown as one of the repositories. All the elements you have already created are shown here. Select the one you need. 

We recommend selecting the option “Create an alias/shortcut to the file”. This ensures that when you make a change to the original element in the content bank, it is automatically updated on your course page or wherever it has been embedded. 

Preview how it looks by assuming the student role. (Switch roles by clicking on your profile picture.) We also recommend checking out it appears in the Moodle app. To make any changes to the element, you will need to go back to the content bank using your computer (not your mobile device), edit and save. It will update automatically if you have embedded it as an alias.  

Enjoy!

More information in the “Building an effective Moodle course” in the section “Using special features“. (No enrollment key necessary).

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Being more human online together

Many useful lists provide technical recommendations for optimising virtual meetings (here is one from the IT Services Team at ETH Zurich. In this short post, though, I will go one step further. In video conferencing we are, quite literally, “hosts”. This makes us responsible for managing the behaviour of others, especially if it is disruptive. In this context it is important to communicate our expectations clearly. This requires us to consider our own requirements and the needs and circumstances of those participating in our virtual sessions, and to find a balance between them.

Teaching involves relationships, firstly between lecturers and students, but also among students themselves. Therefore, effective facilitation addresses the needs inherent in human relationships and how we can respect these in the virtual environment.

Let’s look at some key aspects to be considered:

Eye contact

Eye contact conveys attention and interest. (Keep in mind here that some cultures prefer to avoid direct eye contact.) If you wish to transmit a sense of eye contact, you can do this by looking directly into the camera and not at the face of the person you are talking to, even if this means that you yourself lose eye-contact. One tip is to minimize the facial images and move them to the top of your screen, near your camera. Your gaze is then close to the camera, but focused on faces.

Names

Many video conferencing tools allow participants to change the name displayed alongside their image. Consider asking students to adjust this to their preferred name. “SmiJo” is a lot less personal than “John Smith” or even just “Johnny”.

Rapport

To build rapport, take the time to make people feel acknowledged and welcome at the beginning of a virtual session. Create space for “warming up” with smalltalk before launching into the reason for the session. Depending on the size of the group you may wish to greet individuals by name when they appear, even if they are late. If the group is large, you can still acknowledge latecomers en masse. Trusting that their reasons for being late are legitimate will help to create an atmosphere which is conducive to learning.

Sound

Think about how you want participants to manage sound. Is it important to minimise background noise? The more participants there are, the more distracting background noise can be. However, in smaller informal settings, ambient noise can help people feel connected – an important consideration the longer we are in physical isolation. Agree on how the mute button should be used.

Video

A common belief is that all participants should switch on their cameras when joining a Zoom meeting. However, this may be difficult for various reasons: attendees may not have a camera; there may be other people around; or their bandwidths may not be able to cope with video. Some people are also profoundly uncomfortable with displaying themselves on camera for long periods.

Lecturers should therefore consider why they want students to turn their cameras on. Then they should articulate their expectations, and consider equally acceptable alternatives. Do cameras really need to be switched on? If so, is that for the whole meeting? For example, if the meeting is long, but not particularly interactive, the lecturer might ask the students to turn their cameras on at the beginning to “establish contact”, but say that it’s OK to switch them off later. This might be especially relevant if everyone is viewing slides, for example. Using “hide self view” can also minimise the cognitive fatigue we are all experiencing due to the increased frequency of online meetings and length of time spend in video conferences.

Remember that not everyone thinks about how they appear on screen: it may be useful to give people feedback and guidance in this area. Their lighting may make their images too dark to see, or if the video is flickering it can be hard on the eye after a time.

Background

The background displayed on the screen can be both informative and distracting. Students may choose virtual backgrounds to obscure a messy room or one that reveals things they prefer to keep private (such as family photos or an extensive wine collection). If their choice of background is too distracting you should let them know. Conversely, you can use the virtual background function as a way to connect. Ask people to share a photo of a place meaningful to them, or an image that provides comic relief!

Movement

As the host, when you view a gallery of many faces your eye will naturally be drawn to movement. If people join via mobile phone or tablet, they are likely to be more mobile and may move around in their spaces. This is sometimes unavoidable, but it can be very distracting. Make participants aware of this and ask them to deactivate their screens if they change positions or if they are moving around a lot.

Chat

Think about the best way to use the chat function. Will you be monitoring it actively, or not at all? Would you like people to use the chat to announce their departure from the session? Most video conferencing tools offer multiple ways to communicate. Tell your students how you want them to use them.

The intention of this post was to encourage you to think broadly about how you run a virtual meeting or lecture as well as how you manage your own on-screen behaviour. Our available technology provides us with so many options, but these sometimes generate divergent behaviour. Here establishing fair expectations will go a long way towards facilitating a successful virtual event.

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First principles of teaching online

… and just like that, ETH Zurich has moved its teaching online. The buildings are empty, much like the streets outside. But teaching and learning continues, just in a very different way.

ETH Zürich, Zentrum, Hauptgebäude HG, Haupteingang, Rämistrasse

The response to the global pandemic has been swift. With very little time to prepare, an almost complete switch to online teaching and learning has taken place. At the time of writing, many lecturers and support staff are still working hard to put systems in place so that students can continue studying despite neither students nor lecturers having access to their lecture halls.

This is a challenging situation, and the transition has been demanding for students and lecturers alike. The technology has struggled with the sudden increase in traffic, and this has caused some downtimes or sudden changes to IT services on local, national and international levels. The new scenario has required flexibility on everyone’s part.

What follows is a list of key points to help you prioritise your decisions as you move your teaching online.

Check in with your students

They will be personally, financially and emotionally affected by this crisis. Attending your lectures remotely may no longer have the same priority it used to have. Communicate your care for them. Ask them what’s going on. Download the email list from eDoz so that if all else fails, you can stay in touch.

Find out if your students have accessibility issues. Do they have new obligations (such as childcare or care for elderly parents)? Do they have children at home now? What do they prefer: a recording of your lecture, or live streaming? Do you share the same time zone? What kind of internet access and bandwidth do they have? How can you optimise live attendance, recordings and other downloads for them? They may need subtitles on your recordings if they have hearing issues. Ask them. What suggestions can they offer?

Work backwards

Work backwards by first thinking about your course’s performance assessments. What is the minimum that students need to do to pass? Even if you do nothing else, make sure to communicate this minimum to them and tell them where to focus their efforts. Clarify the graded assignments and provide the necessary study material. Keep ETH regulations and policies in mind, but also expect more updates on them as the pandemic continues. You may need to develop additional creative ways for students to submit their work. For example, poster sessions may need to become homemade videos.

Prioritise your course’s learning objectives

What are the most important competences your students need to acquire? What skills should they practice? What knowledge do they need in order to pass? Focus on helping students achieve these goals and cull anything that is superfluous. Now is the time to become ruthlessly efficient. Help with writing learning objectives is available here.

Minimise your direct input

Resist the impulse to simply transpose your existing lecture materials to an online format. This is not just about moving what worked in a classroom to an online space. Watching a two-hour video of your lecture will be hard for students. Instead, create shorter sequences (think of TED talks!). Mix up your media, and complement your lecturer recordings with video conferencing, reading assignments, slide sharing and contributions from guest speakers. Follow up with an engaging task that makes your students think about and apply what they have just heard.

Build in interaction

Plan different ways for students to get active. Use discussion forums, online group activities, peer feedback or clicker questions and polls. Interaction can be synchronous (in real time, all together, for example via video conference or online chat) or asynchronous (at the students’ own pace, for example via a video recording of a lecture or participation in an online forum). Your course should deploy a mixture of both.

Talk to others

There are many different ways to share your experiences and the challenges you face. You are not alone! ETH offers the following platforms for you to communicate with others.

Different DIY scenarios for remote teaching are posted on the ETH website.

Many lecturers, both at ETH and globally, are using Twitter to exchange ideas. Use the hashtag #ETHZonline to share your experiences.

Which tools to use

Try to stick with standard ETH tools, because you can access support for them.

How to get help

ETH website – “Options for remote teaching”, especially do-it-yourself scenarios: https://ethz.ch/keepteaching

Online Teaching Forum. Post questions and upload resources you are willing to share.

Building an effective Moodle Course – Self-paced course for learning Moodle basics

Join the drop-in Zoom Sessions (e.g. the “Virtual Coffee Break” or “Refresh Teaching Special“).

If your department has an Educational Developer (find out), contact them for advice on both technology and didactics. Alternatively, contact LET Support by email or by phone between 8:00 and 18:00 on +41 44 632 06 65.

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