Frequently Asked Questions - Information for Remote Working
Help and guidance to transition your modules online.
The guidance provided as answers to the frequently asked questions below will help you to transition your module/s to fully online delivery.
If you can't find the answer you're looking for, use our online form to ask us a question
Questions and Answers
I need to change my module delivery and assessment, where should I begin?
The Centre for Higher Education, Research and Practice and the Office for Digital Learning have delivered a number of webinars in June 2020 for staff to explore opportunities to effectively transition modules that were previously taught face-to-face or blended to fully online delivery.
The sessions and their resources can be accessed below:
Nb. Keep in mind any PSRB (professional or statutory body) requirements that are underpinned by your module.
How do staff access Blackboard Learn?
The system will work on most modern web browsers but the experience will not be optimal on a mobile phone or tablet so try to access on a PC or laptop. Blackboard recommend Google Chrome for the best user experience.
The Blackboard Instructor App is also available for mobile devices.
I have forgotten my login password, how do I reset it?
Digital Services have produced a self service password webpage, that can be accessed online.
How do I request access to my module area on Blackboard Learn?
Once logged move your cursor to the 'Module' tab at the top of the page, then select 'Access' and enter the module code you want access to.
You may also want to, using the Dev Menu, select access to your own personal development module. This allows you to create Collaborate meetings under your control that are not linked to any module.
How do I use Blackboard Learn more effectively?
The Office for Digital Learning (ODL) has provided a number of training Webinars looking at Blackboard, and Webinars and drop-in sessions are still ongoing.
There are quick start guides on the ODL wiki.
The most popular guides at the moment are:
Many webinars already given have been recorded and could be a useful start if you are less familiar with Blackboard.
- How do my students access online content?
Are there any challenges to live online delivery?
It may be unrealistic to expect you and/or your students to engage at set times because of other commitments. You may also not be able to access Internet bandwidth at quality, and cheaply at all times and places.
As a result, an asynchronous (self-paced) approach is often better than synchronous (live), but students may like some real-time options such as a weekly online drop-in Blackboard Learn Collaborate Ultra session.
If you have enabled Collaborate in your module, it can also allow students to meet ad-hoc for group activities without the need for you to be available or involved by use of the Classroom in each module and/or the Groups tool.
What is Panopto and how do I use it?
Panopto is a tool for making high quality screencasts. In other words, you can record video and audio from your computer, even using several sources to produce resources that students can then view online. You can add Panopto to your module and download the software to your Windows PC or Mac to help you make those videos. Detailed information is available at Panopto (for recording videos)
The Office for Digital Learning (ODL) has provided webinars to help you explore how to use Panopto.
What is Collaborate Ultra and how do I use it?
Collaborate Ultra is a tool from Blackboard that enables live, interactive video chats between users while also displaying content like slideshows and provide virtual whiteboards.
It can be used to provide synchronous (live) lecture or tutorial environments for your work with students, and also allows these to be recorded for later (self-paced) review. Detailed informtion is available at Blackboard Collaborate (for real-time audio and video)
The Office for Digital Learning (ODL) has provided webinars to help you explore how to use Collaborate Ultra. There are quick start guides on the ODL wiki.
Many webinars already given have been recorded and could be a useful start if you are less familiar with Blackboard.
Should I concentrate on scheduled (sometimes called synchronous or live) activities or general resources and discussion boards (sometimes called an asynchronous approach or self-paced)?
An asynchronous (self-paced) approach is often better than synchronous (live), but students may like some real-time options such as a weekly online drop-in Blackboard Learn Collaborate Ultra session.
Real-time lectures are closer to the classroom experience and allow students to converse, collaborate and ask questions with immediate responses. For this reason, it can be easier to build a learning community and that sense of engagement. However, synchronous learning is wholly dependent on good broadband connectivity, and so some students may be disadvantaged and will be unable to access live sessions.
Asynchronous learning spaces offer students greater flexibility in when and where they learn. They can control the pace and the order of access to resources, and lectures can be revisited repeatedly at any time that suits. Introverted students are more likely to engage in asynchronous forums as they have more time to reflect and to compose responses and this allows time for deeper thinking and reflection. There are also steps you can take to create and maintain that sense of community when not delivering in real-time.
A blend of synchronous and asynchronous activities is encouraged. If tutors wish to deploy synchronous techniques, or a combination of the two, they must check their student group to see if connectivity is an issue. Any live lecture/conference should be recorded and archived for future access.
If you have enabled Collaborate in your module, it can also allow students to meet ad-hoc for group activities without the need for you to be available or involved by use of the Classroom in each module and/or the Groups tool.
I haven't taught online before. Will my teaching role be any different?
In essence, not really. The role of an online facilitator is similar to face-to-face practice in many ways. For example, it will include:
- Teaching Role: you will be delivering content whilst creating and maintaining discussions and learning activities that are focussed on key concepts and skills.
- Social Role: you will be creating an open, friendly and social learning environment to encourage engagement and collaboration. This includes pastoral support for students
- Organisational Role: you will be setting expectations and establishing schedules, timelines, deadlines and keeping students on-task.
- Technical Role: you will help students navigate through the BBL site and make them feel comfortable in this space whilst signposting to further technical support if required. Student levels of engagement can be monitored.
The key to enacting these roles effectively online is to familiarise yourself with the digital resources and activities available to you so that you can work out how your outcomes and objectives can be best achieved. ODL provide some useful guidance and support through their archive of webinars
When teaching online, it will be important to have a clear sense of how to manage the time effectively so that you are maintaining the pace but not overburdening yourself and your students:
- Follow established module start and end dates but make the site available in advance to allow students to familiarise themselves with the layout and themes.
- Set daily and/or weekly tasks so you are ‘present’ in the space e.g. monitoring, responding to and summarising class discussions/activities, scheduling seminars, posting announcements for upcoming sessions/activities, grading work etc.
- Establish clear office hours for managing student issues/queries
- Establish peer review activities (pairs/small groups) to allow students to generate peer feedback for their development
- Gather mid-module feedback (via poll or survey) to sense-check student understanding of topics.
How do I design my BBL site to ensure my students are developing their understanding of the topic(s) in a systematic way?
- A step-by-step learning approach allows one topic to lead into another; can link to prior learning and helps to build complex concepts.
- Provide regular formative self-assessment activities – online seminars or forums can be linked to quizzes to check understanding. Model answers, as well as weak answers, can be included in feedback. Quizzes can be linked to further study resources.
- Online polls during a forum or online seminar can help the tutor gauge understanding in the group. Further explanatory content may be needed if gaps in understanding emerge across the group. Such content may just be 3-5 mins to explain a concept.
- Virtual white boards or annotation tools within video lectures can help explain complex concepts
- Student tracking facilities or learner analytics allow the tutor to monitor student progress and engagement and to make one-to-one interventions
Digital Learning Support: webinar archive
- What are the most appropriate online learning activities for my learning objectives?
How can I make my BBL site more inclusive, to meet the needs of all my students?
Inclusive teaching practice anticipates and considers different learning needs and preferences. This can be achieved through:
- Using a range of different media and activities
- Providing text alternatives for media rich content
- Adding captions to video/audio content
- Using accessible font type/colour and layout within VLE sites
- Writing descriptive and meaningful headings and hyperlinks
- Use ‘Plain English’ i.e. clear language
- Bite-size lectures (e.g. <15 mins) that are compatible with mobile devices allows greater flexibility in when, where and how students learn
The Office for Digital Learning have produced some guidance on creating inclusive and visual online content: View online
How can I motivate my students to engage when learning online?
- Be clear about expectations and objectives, provide clear instructions in Plain English
- Provide clear signposting in your Blackboard area for academic and other support.
- Be present as an online facilitator.
- Student ownership - offer student choice within the online space through flexible design. Asynchronous design also allows flexibility of access.
- Relevance of activities – information/activities must be linked clearly to learning outcomes/assessment/world of work. Clear goals must be established.
- Self-efficacy – the pacing of information and activities is key to prevent overload and to allow students to build competence and confidence incrementally. Calendar , announcements and adaptive release facilities establish pacing. Multiple bite-size video-lectures (10 mins) are more effective than lengthy online sessions. Self-assessment activities (e.g. quizzes with feedback) allow for concept checking and reflection.
- Socialisation – in addition to collaborative learning activities (e.g. forums, wikis), the role of the tutor is key to maintaining an open, friendly, inclusive and supportive environment, whilst encouraging reciprocity amongst students. Informal icebreaker activities help the tutor and students to personalise themselves and to build a community of learners. Using other social media or blog spaces outside of the course platform can allow the community of learners to exist and develop over several social means concurrently.
Digital Learning Support: webinar archive
How do i build a sense of community amongst online learners?
- Welcome students to the module with an induction strategy e.g. invite them to introduce themselves in a forum and/or to engage in icebreaker activities. Introduce yourself with a photo or brief video and briefly explain the nature of the module, the layout of the page and tasks to be completed.
- Use the announcement tool to provide updates and reminders of tasks and deadlines to keep things organised so students remain on-task and don’t disengage. Keep these communications succinct and spaced so that you are not overwhelming students.
- Identify virtual office hours so students can contact you. Signpost to other support resources too. Schedule tutorial slots for one-to-one or small group meetings and respond to any queries in a consistent and reasonable timeframe. An FAQ page means you are not constantly responding to the same queries.
- Set expectations in terms of appropriate and respectful behaviours, indicate what tasks to do when and (roughly) how long to complete these tasks. Students who feel overwhelmed or confused are more likely to disengage.
- Include a discussion forum to allow you, and students to raise and respond to queries and to share knowledge and experience. Relate to student experiences so they have an opportunity to engage in discussions.
- If you have a large cohort, split students into smaller groups to work on activities together. This also means fewer forum posts for them to digest and respond to which is more manageable.
- Include a social discussion forum (or suggest alternative social media methods) in addition to formal, module-specific forums to allow students to unwind in a social space.
- Record video lectures to explain core content so that scheduled ‘class time’ can be devoted to collaborative and discursive activities. Invite students to send you (or anonymously post) any queries/misunderstandings about the lecture content so that questions can be answered during ‘class time’.
- Set formative group tasks that allow students to work on a problem/case/activity together outside of ‘class time’ using e.g. video conferencing methods or other social media to keep in touch. Group updates can then be shared during ‘class time’.
I want my students to work collaboratively online, how can I achieve this?
Collaboration within social learning spaces requires some form of multilateral or bilateral discussion (student to student or tutor-to-student), to enable co-construction of knowledge
- Socialisation – in addition to collaborative learning activities (e.g. forums, wikis ), the role of the tutor is key to maintaining an open, friendly, inclusive and supportive environment, whilst encouraging reciprocity amongst students. Informal icebreaker activities help the tutor and students to personalise themselves and to build a community of learners.
- Students must be prepared to engage in collaborative learning activities. Clear goals and expectations must be established through clear learning objectives. Codes of conduct ensure appropriate behaviours when collaborating online i.e. respecting others and being polite, engaging/responding to posts, being responsible for content posted and respecting confidentiality.
- Students must first learn the specialised ‘language’ of a subject to enable discussion, so opportunities for students to familiarise themselves with key terms must be available. They must also have opportunities to practice this ‘language’ and apply it to real ‘problems’ via e.g. problem-based/scenario-based learning activities or quizzes.
- Online discussion forums , incorporating a Q&A activity helps to ensure student responses are included in discussions. Tweets /social media postings can also run in parallel and be included within the forum.
- Wikis allow students to collaborate and negotiate on shared content at different times and locations.
- Break out groups enable team-based tasks that can then feed back into the main discussion. This can be paired groups (think-pair-share) or small groups (6-10).
Digital Learning Support: webinar archive
What is the appropriate code of conduct for online learning spaces and forums?
It may be useful for you to consider drafting an online learning code of conduct for your programme or School to ensure consistency of message. Essentially though, students should be reminded to:
- Be polite and respectful of other participants, their views and beliefs
- Keep any discussion posts/contribution relevant and appropriate to the particular topic
- Maintain confidentiality where appropriate
Students should not:
- Post abusive or defamatory comments nor share inappropriate content
- Copy or forward any private messages without permission
- Breach copyright when sharing content.
- Post material that may contain viruses that will disrupt University systems
- Use the BBL space for promotional material and advertising
How do I plan appropriate 'contact hours' when delivering online?
Although we typically consider‘contact hours’ in a face-to-face context, it may also take a virtual form through email, VLEs and other technology-aided means (QAA, 2011)
Example ‘contact hours’ online:
- Multimedia lecture or seminar
- Online tutorial
- Online project supervision
- Online demonstration of a practical technique/skill
- Facilitated learning activity package e.g.
- Assigned reading or signposting to website/video etc.
- Online activity with tutor e.g. discussion forum
- Post-activity self-assessment quiz
Typically, contact hours will vary from module to module and across disciplines and will be dependent on assessment method, but as a rough guide, 20%-35% of total study hours (200h for a 20c module) will be allocated as ‘contact hours’. Modules with supervised projects may have 50%+ contact hours.
The following table simply provides an approximation of time spent on activities within the online environment to help you plan online activities week by week without under or overloading students (and yourself).
Example of weekly activities within a module Activity Activity details Time on Task
15 min multimedia lecture (theme 1)
15 min multimedia lecture (theme 2)
15 min multimedia lecture (theme 3)
Includes review of content
and exploration of embedded weblinks
(relating to lecture content)
Reading** and note-taking
30 seconds per true-false item
60 seconds per multi-choice item
120 seconds per short answer item
10-15 minutes per long answer question
5 to 10 minutes to review the work
e.g. 20 mins
(for 10 item MCQ)
Discussion forum (asynchronous)
Includes engagement requirements e.g. reflect, post, reply to posts, respond to replies etc.
Break-out group activity
Work collaboratively on an activity to produce an output (e.g. wiki page)
Preparatory work for assigned coursework
Focussed literature-searching, planning, drafting Q&A activity etc.
Approx. 8 hours
Note, activities will obviously vary from week to week, and some may be reduced over time as a module progresses over the weeks.
It is also important to initially schedule some time to allow students to familiarise themselves with the layout of each module site, with guidance provided on how to navigate the site and perhaps the code of conduct for discussion forums etc. This is particularly important in the first year of study if students are unfamiliar with the VLE.
* Contact time, within the online context, may be defined as scheduled activity / directed learning
**reading rates inevitably vary depending on the nature and complexity of the content. For example:
Reading Purpose and Words Per Minute Reading purpose Words per minute
How should I organise each module, is there a recommended framework?
The Standard Module Template gives students a consistent user experience for all modules, in terms of organisation, signposting and naming.
You can select the module template when requesting access to your modules in the VLE Module Manager. Guidance on how to use the template is provided within it.
Copy relevant elements you want to reuse or adapt, into the new template from older module areas.
Alternatively, you can re-organise your existing module areas to follow the naming convention and navigation of the Standard Module Template.
Basic Module Information
- Include a module welcome page, a welcome video is also recommended
- Include an icebreaker activity to help induct and socialise students
- Ensure module handbook is available and accessible to students
- Ensure that contact information and office hours / availability for consultations are available to students
- Learning outcomes, specific learning objectives and expectations on students for the module should be clearly stated
- Schedules and timeframes should be available for the module, course tasks and assessments
- An overview of assessment methods and associated guidelines should be available
- Online communication guidelines and instructions should be clear
- The Announcements Tool should be used to communication information of high importance
- Students should be made aware of the online induction to the Virtual Learning Environment
- An associated Programme Support Area should provide course level information and links to key university links and resources
- Ensure that reading lists and electronic library lists are integrated with the library catalogue (arranged via your subject librarian)
- Make sure the course content up to date. It is useful to use the ‘add a test student’ feature so that the actual student view can be reviewed.
- Course should be organised into logical sections so that it is easy to navigate
- Ensure content matches the desired module learning objectives
- Content should incorporate primary information sources, multimedia, external experts and additional contextualised resources, where possible
- Web Links and linked electronic resources should be current, relevant and available
- Ensure that content adheres to copyright guidance (copyright)
- Content should be accessible in accordance with web usability guidelines in terms of text format, colour, contrast and screen readability
- Materials should be presented in appropriate formats that are accessible to all. Transcripts should be provided for audio / video content, where possible
Interactivity and Collaboration
- Make sure that there is a balance of interactivity to include student- content interaction, student – tutor interaction and student – student interaction
- Students should have the opportunity to interact with a variety of resources and media within the course content
- The course should include a variety of tasks that suit and support differing learning styles
- Transcripts and captions should be provided for audio / video format
- Clear expectations should be outlined to the students in terms of course requirements
- Academics should be clear on when they will feedback to students to ensure frequent and timely interaction
- Several tools can be used for interaction (announcements, discussion boards, email, blog, wiki, group projects, chat sessions, voice boards/ messages etc.)
Assessment and Feedback
- Assessment schedule, tasks, submission details, guidelines and submission point should be made available in a dedicated ‘Assessment’ section
- The module should clearly state how student performance is assessed
- Grade Centre should be used to manage assessment of students and deliver digital feedback. Incorporate assessment rubrics into Grade Centre for effective feedback,
- Feedback should align with Ulster principles: assessment and feedback
- Assignments should be designed to deter plagiarism and Turnitin UK is recommended for submission
- A range of online assessment opportunities for formative and summative assessment should be included throughout the module
- What support and/or training opportunities are available to help me develop my skill sets?
How can I ensure my webinars are truly inclusive?
General Good Practice
The best lectures invite students to think imaginatively and conceptually about a significant theme or problem. They do much more than ‘cover the material.’ A good lecture always offers a point of view and an entry into a field of study. It is not, however, the ideal platform for a complex scholarly argument or a massive transfer of data. Delivering online lectures in a similar manner as you would in person is not possible. Listening to someone talk on screen for anything more than 20 minutes is difficult for anyone to process and may be even more difficult for disabled students. Consider the structure of your lecture or tutorial and the way students can interact with the session. Ensure you understand the capabilities and accessibility of the platform you are using and whether you can split your students into groups. Many universities have guides to moving courses online. Stanford University’s guide can be downloaded.
- When organising the webinar, ask if there are any accessibility requirements of which you need to be aware.
- Organise access for any disability support workers such as notetakers and interpreters.
- Institutions should be using one platform so that delegates do not need to learn multiple ways to navigate the different systems.
- Ensure that delegates are aware of the platform you are using and ensure assistance is available to assist them if necessary.
- Accessible copies of the slides should be supplied in advance to both delegates and any disability support workers.
- The presenter should have an assistant who can focus on accessibility and technological concerns.
- Structure the session so that there are points where an assistant can summarise the comments and questions in the chat pane.
- Organise your WebCam to ensure the light is falling on your face to allow lipreading, if appropriate.
- Describe the key content of all slides.
- Consider using an open microphone for some disabled delegates so that they can request clarification during the presentation.
- Save the chat pane so that the presenter can answer any questions after the session and they can be distributed.
- Neurodiverse Conditions
The problem with online conferencing with many neurodiverse conditions (dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, ADHD, Tourettes and Autism) is that there are too many inputs with video, audio, slides, whiteboard, chat, Q&A etc. etc.
It needs to be kept very simple and not all webinar programs are flexible enough to switch things off.
- Switch off audio for participants from the start.
- Switch of video for participants from the start
- Leave the main screen set to the slides for the majority of the time.
- Give clear warning of changes to polls etc.
- Advise people to keep to either the chat pane or Q&A - not both
- Advise that the presenter or an assistant will read out any questions added to the chat pane so students do not have to keep the constantly changing feed on their screen. This will also help those with slow reading speeds.
- Send out the list of questions from the chat pane and the answers after the session.
Access to notetakers may also be required.
- Deaf/Hearing Impaired users.
Many of the platforms used for webinars have some form of automatic captioning available and these can be used with care.
- Microsoft Teams have integrated automatic captions, but members are reporting varied experiences.
- Zoom has recently partnered with Otter.ai for automatic captions in their Pro version but, once again, varied experiences are being reported.
The accuracy of the captions can depend on available bandwidth and user-accents, but the main problems appear to be connected with the user’s surroundings. Some people are using small rooms with good acoustics whilst others are using large rooms with external noise and echoes.
- Presenters and all users wear a headset with a microphone, if available.
- Ensure all microphones are switched off when the person is not speaking to reduce background noise.
Members have reported that the use of the automatic captions on Microsoft Powerpoint are proving very useful for direct lectures but still have the problem that the captions stop, if you take the slides off the webinar screen to use a poll or show a webpage.
Some universities and colleges are employing a company to provide live transcription which is a more expensive option but gives certainty to Deaf delegates that they will be able to participate in the session. If this system is used, it is recommended that the webinar notes or slides are supplied to the company, as well as to all participants, before the session to allow accurate transcription.
Many institutions are providing BSL interpretation for webinar sessions on an alternative platform. The has proved very successful but the Deaf delegate needs to have adequate bandwidth to allow for two simultaneous video webinars. Some platforms allow the video to be set so that the interpreter is continuously on the screen, as well as the main presenter but this adds distractions for neurodiverse students.
When BSL is the student’s first language, it can be hard to keep up with multiple threads in the chat pane. Good practice is to read out the questions and comments so that the notetaker or interpreter can convey the information.
Access for notetakers may also be required.
- Blind/Visually Impaired users
Several blind and visually impaired users are reporting difficulty in accessing webinars and many of these difficulties can be removed with correct practice.
- An accessible version of the slides should be available in advance for everyone, but this is especially important for people who have to decide whether to listen to the presenter or the screen reader.
- The presenter should read out what is being shown on the screen. This may be content on the slide that they are talking about or equations on a virtual whiteboard. ‘You cancel this by that and add this’ does not help anyone.
- The ‘chat’ pane can be very difficult to access with a screen reader and may also contain text too small for a visually impaired person to read. It is good practice to read out comments from the chat pane.
The current move to webinars can enable teaching and sharing information to be more accessible for disabled people. However, these webinars need to be accessible to ensure it can benefit all learners. Setting up your webinars to be accessible for as many as possible is simply good practice and then you can make minor alterations for those with more complex requirements.
Bui, X., Quirk, C., Almazan, S. & Valenti, M. (2010). Inclusive Education: Research and Practice. Maryland Coalition for Inclusive Education. Available from: https://985bdc52-c4dd-40c1-b0f9-96d96b9eb561.filesusr.com/ugd/34e35e_0f6d9a16276648a2b68181b800d9e3e2.pdf [Accessed 13th May 2020]
Fisher, J. B., Shumaker, J. B., Deshler, D. D. (1995). Searching for validated inclusive practices: A review of literature. Focus on Exceptional Children, 28(4), 1-20
United Nations (2016). Right to inclusive education (CRPD/C/GC/4). Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Available from: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/CRPD/GC/RighttoEducation/CRPD-C-GC-4.doc [Accessed 13th May 2020]
I need to change my assessment approach, what should I do?
Think about approaches to assessment that will measure the learning outcomes of your module. It might be that you can bring assessments in that you would have completed by hard copy via Turnitin.
Have the LOs been met elsewhere? Which ones still need to be assessed? Are there any PSRB (professional or statutory body) restrictions on what you can do (remember these may have changed)
Simplify technology and expectations, rather than trying to replicate existing practices. If students usually do a presentation this does not have to be replicated online. It can be done but you could introduce new challenges for both you and students that may become unsustainable to support. If an assessment can be completed offline and then submitted later then that removes a lot of risk.
Can you suggest alternative assessment formats?
Here is a summary table of alternatives and you can find more details at https://sally-brown.net/:
Summary table of alternatives If you currently use…. You could instead consider using ….
Time-constrained unseen exams or in-class tests
“Take-away” exams, set the questions or tasks virtually and ask the students to submit their responses electronically within a set period of time
Submit a narrated presentation in electronic form which can then be tutor-marked and peer-reviewed. Could use Panopto or Powerpoint
Portfolio, logbook or assessment notebook
It is likely that the best solution here is to move hard-copy portfolios to e-portfolios, for example in BBL or OneNote.
Viva Voce exams
Undertaken by Skype or other electronic remote means
Assessed seminars, group discussions and other similar activities.
These could be held online in BBL
Replicate some aspects of lab work and present students with data sets to be interpreted.
Use a digital infographic, mind map or other visuals. Posted in shared spaces, for peer review is required.
Objective Structured Clinical Examinations (OSCE)
Submit digital portfolios containing, for example, videos of themselves performing a range of practical tasks.
Peer assessments and support.
Peers can email each other drafts for comments or use a virtual space within BBL
Theatre, dance and other performances
Individuals and groups work off-site to prepare and submit videos of their work, alongside reflective commentaries/accounts
Individual and generic group feedback can be delivered by tutors via audio or online means.
I've always used exams - now what should I do?
Consider the following:
Why was an exam format chosen in the first instance?
- Invigilated exams are high in academic integrity i.e. the output can be attributed to the individual student.
- Timed exams universally measure memory and speed of thinking.
Is academic integrity critical?
- Yes, so it would be useful to introduce this from induction; but ultimately, we want students to demonstrate their learning. If they have colluded (or one could also say collaborated) in order to learn/understand something, then is this really an issue? Can the concern about the possible impact be reduced because the module is at a lower level? Are there other ways of measuring a learning process?
Is an exam method critical?
- Is memory testing and speed of thinking critical for the learning outcomes of a module (or indeed programme)? Or is application of learning more important? If thinking speed were indeed authentic to the world of work, then a timed assessment would still be of value.
- What are the learning outcomes and are there other methods of measuring these same outcomes? Could a more problem-based method of assessment be more authentic?
If there are other valid forms of assessment that can meet the module learning outcomes then the module team would need to consider:
- The resources required to support students in generating the new form of assessment (e.g. if essay-based then is there support in essay writing?) Is there guidance on downloading and uploading work? Are there additional (online) briefs and tutorials explaining the new method? Is specific software needed and available etc?
- What is a realistic time frame to draft the (new) assessment output? Should there be some flexibility? How does this fit with other assessment schedules across the programme?
- How well aligned is the new/proposed method of assessment with the old (i.e. in terms of content). Revision time to date should not be wasted – can students apply this learning to the new assessment?
- Are clear marking criteria for the new method established and explained to students and co-markers?
- See question and answer on Can you suggest some alternative assessment formats?
If an exam format is deemed critical for a given module then consider:
- Online timed exams (e.g. using BBL) where students have access to notes at home. As students have access to notes then ensure the exam is more about the application of ideas rather than just rote learning/memory-test. Don’t ask questions where direct answers are readily available online.
- If exams are to move to an online platform then staff support may be needed to generate the question bank. Consider the timeframe.
- Shuffle question banks so students receive different questions within the exam. This may minimise collusion, as it will be harder for students to compare their answers.
- Getting a licence for a remote proctoring service (e.g. TestReach). Is this even feasible given the timeframe?
- If drawings/graphs are to be included in an exam then could these be drawn and imaged by the student for subsequent upload (e.g. via camera on phone) – this assumes all students have an imaging device though which is probably not the case.
- Offering an online test(s) and accepting its limitations on academic integrity, but also adding a weighted action plan so students have to outline their study/development plans following test results. (This could relate to application of learning to other subject areas for students who performed well).
Before moving to online format, teams need to consider if all students are in a position to be assessed remotely. Do they have reliable Internet connectivity? Do they have appropriate hardware/software?
Should I use timed assessments online?
You might be used to running timed assessments (e.g. with a one / two hour limit) on the campus, or even using Blackboard while on campus, but this might have mainly been for timetable reasons.
Consider now if you need timed assessments at all. If you do, consider any RAR (Reasonable Adjustment Recommendations) for your cohort of students and ensure the time frame is suitably generous.
Where possible allow students to start their timed assessment within a window of times before the final submission deadline. For instance, have your assessment open days before the submission deadline, with the timed assessment to be started and ended within this time.
This ensures students with caring responsibilities and limited times of access to the Internet are not disadvantaged.
Where can I get guidance on designing rubrics?
A carefully designed rubric can communicate very clear assessment expectations to students as well as making the task of grading assessments substantially more streamlined to still provide quality feedback to students as well as their marks.
The CHERP website has detailed guidance on building marking rubrics and an additional guide/checklist for module coordinators and course teams. See https://www.ulster.ac.uk/cherp/academic-development/resource (text-based).
The ICDF SharePoint site also has additional guidance on building marking rubrics including a short video to complement the written guidance. See https://ulster.sharepoint.com/sites/ICDF/Stage2b#building-marking-rubrics
There is also an Assessment Criteria Design Checklist - View/download
How can I monitor students doing timed assessments to prevent plagiarism?
While technologies exist to monitor students undertaking online exams, such approaches are difficult and impractical to implement in the current situation. It is better to consider if your assessment design can remove the need for such an approach. Could it be replaced by a different format of assessment that doesn’t require a timed element?
What are good principles for designing an online open-book assessment?
This handy guide from University of Newcastle (Australia) may be a useful starting point for your design of open book assessment: https://www.newcastle.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/268980/Open-Book-Exams.pd
Is there guidance on workload equivalences?
The CHERP website has guidance on Assessment Workload Equivalence. See https://www.ulster.ac.uk/cherp/academic-development/resource (text-based).
See also the ICDF SharePoint site https://ulster.sharepoint.com/sites/ICDF/Stage2b#assessment-workload-equivalence-guide
How do I get started with Blackboard online tests?
First of all ask if a test is the best solution for your assessment, especially if you aren’t already experienced in creating them. You may be able to handle you assessment needs with a simple assignment upload into Blackboard, coupled with a well designed rubric. If you do want to explore Blackboard Learn tests further this short playlist of videos cover:
- Creating the test
- Multiple Choice / Answer questions;
- Short answer questions;
- Multiple blank questions;
- Calculated answer questions;
- Calculated formula questions and having different numbers for each student;
- Test options and deployment.
How should I implement Reasonable Adjustment Reports (RARs) when providing alternative assessment to exams?
There are over 2000 students at Ulster with a RAR in place. This represents almost ‘one in ten’ students and a significant group of our student population.
When considering alternative assessment for your students, it is important to take into consideration the needs of all students. This can be effectively achieved by using the principles for Universal Design outlined below:
- Multiple means of representation: provide learners with a variety of ways to access the assessment
- Multiple means of expression: provide learners with a choice of submission formats
- Multiple means of engagement: tap into learners' interests, offer appropriate challenges, and increase motivation
If you need to replace an exam, the first thing you should consider is whether examination was needed, (or was required), to demonstrate achievement of the learning outcomes. Was it the best option for your students and would an alternative approach be more suitable:
Alternative assessment of the learning outcomes by coursework will allow students who rely on one-to-one support from a prompter/reader/scribe in a traditional exam setting to access their assistive technology to complete their work. These students with RARs may require flexibility with deadlines so make sure there is an opportunity to allow for this and within the timeframe for exam boards.
This method of assessment will meet the needs of most students with RARs in place and is encouraged.
The University of Leeds has a useful guide to UD for assessment
If after consideration an online exam is the only available option, you should review the RARs of the students on your course/module and ensure that timescales are extended accordingly to make sure no students are potentially disadvantaged.
You should allocate additional days for online assessments, bearing in mind this is not the student’s usual method of working and they will need additional time to make use of their assistive technology.
If you spend time now to get the assessment method correct for the few students with the most complex requirements in the class, it should then be accessible for the whole group, in keeping with universal design for learning and can save additional work setting up alternatives later. If you require any further support and advice please do not hesitate to get in contact with Student Wellbeing firstname.lastname@example.org or an AccessAbility adviser on your campus.
Further relevant information and staff resources can be found on the Student Wellbeing website on the links provided below
I Want to keep using some form of an exam - what are my options?
Glossary of terms – Exam alternatives
Adapted from Brown, S. and Sambell, K. (2020)
Many ways to describe different types of 'Exams' - so what do we mean by these terms? Here are some definitions but there doesn't seem to be 'universally' agreed terms...
- Unseen time-constrained, invigilated on-site exams
- Written exams have been around in universities ever since 1791
- Upsides and downsides but that’s a debate for another day…
- Open-book examinations
- Traditional ‘open-book exams’ are invigilated, and the reference sources or ‘cheat sheets’ that students can take into exam halls are sometimes restrained in number and type
A replacement unseen/open-book on-site examination is likely to take the form of:
- Online exam taken remotely
- students undertake the unseen exam on a specific day with a more stringent set time limit (*) within which the set questions have to be undertaken and submitted
- Any figure will be arbitrary, but an extension of the exam time by 50% or 100% *(Baume, 2020) over that originally planned would be a good starting point
- Some time limit is probably still appropriate, to maintain some comparability with conventional examinations
- Given the difficulties of taking an exam at home, where students may also have caring responsibilities and other distractions, a much longer time window, perhaps 12 or even 24 hours, may be judged more appropriate
- Takeaway exam (Take-home exam or Exam-at-home)
- cannot be policed and therefore a different approach may be necessary
- students might be given a longer period/week or more as a ‘window’ in which to complete and submit the unseen exam questions or tasks
Baume, D. (2020) Assessment when conventional examinations are not possible. Available from: london.ac.uk
Brown, S. and Sambell, K. (2020) Fifty tips for replacements for time-constrained, invigilated on-site exams. Available from: Sally-brown
- Unseen time-constrained, invigilated on-site exams
How do I support students who usually have a reader for online tests?
The ideal way to provide a reader for exam questions is to produce an mp3 file of the questions being read out.
- Produce a quick test mp3 file using your chosen recording app and send it to the student well in advance of the test to check that it is in a format that they can playback and hear. Use a dummy question or piece of trivia for this. Assuming this is satisfactory; the real questions should then also be recorded and sent in this way. Ideally ‘real’ questions would be sent 15 minutes prior to the test start time to ensure that the student has time to download the file and check that it is working.
- The mp3 file can be sent as an email attachment or OneDrive link shared. To ensure smooth playback, students will need to download the mp3 file and save it to their documents.
- When recording questions speak slowly and clearly and enunciate. It will most likely take more than one attempt to get a recording of satisfactory quality.
- Each question should be recorded twice with a few seconds pause between the repetitions.
- Ensure the question number is read at the start of each question and the number of marks available for each question is also clear.
How to record an mp3 file:
You can download and use Audacity, which is free software, also available through Apps Anywhere on University laptops. It still works off-campus.
The buttons you will need to record, stop and play are on the screen top left. You can press stop and then resume recording. When your recording is finished, go to File, Export then Export as mp3. You can then type in a file name and choose where to save your recording.
There are numerous apps for mobile phones which also work in a similar way.
Q: Does this adjustment fully meet the needs of all students who are allowed to have a reader in an exam?
A: No. This adjustment does not fully compensate for the absence of a human exam reader as many students will use their reader to not only read the questions, but also to read their own answers. Without this, students may struggle to check their answers and check that they have fully answered the question.
Q: Would video conferencing be a better way of reading the question to a student?
A: Due to issues with Skype / Teams / FaceTime freezing or slow internet speeds this method is not recommended. It could also be distracting rather than helpful for some students.
Q: Could a student use a family member as a reader?
A: This could cause problems for students, particularly with specific learning difficulties which are often hereditary. They may be asking for help from a family member who also has difficulties with fluent and accurate reading. There are also issues with subject specific terminology being pronounced correctly, which may disadvantage the student.
How do I ensure exam alternatives are accessible for all students?
Advice from Student Wellbeing:
When considering alternative assessment, written coursework continues to be the most accessible option for the majority of students with disabilities and is encouraged where possible where the module learning outcomes can be met in line with any professional body requirements/competencies.
The majority of UU students with a diagnosed disability with a RAR in place are recommended to get an extra 25% time e.g. to allow additional time to process information, write, type or dictate answers, to take breaks etc… Some students with more complex disabilities and needs may be recommended an extra 50% or 100% additional time. Individual RAR requirements must be factored in to any form of online assessment and if a student requires more than 100% additional time in a traditional exam setting then an alternative form of assessment should be considered as a more realistic and pragmatic option, such as an alternative written piece of coursework in line with learning outcomes.
For Takeaway exams (24 hours and greater) that embrace Universal Design for Learning (UDL), (CAST 2020, About Universal Design for Learning), there is no requirement to add any individual adjustment for extended time in the vast majority of cases. It is recommended that you err on the side of caution though and opt for 48 hours rather than 24 hours. Students who have previously used face to face support from a scribe or a reader may need to use assistive technology to produce their assessed work which may take longer so this consideration should be factored in when setting time limits for online submission.
This will also help to allow for potential issues that all students may face with finding a quiet time and space to work on an exam in the home environment within busy households and potential issues with poor internet connections etc... Exams that have a timed limit of less than 24 hours may potentially place some students at a disadvantage. Consideration should be given to allow students to complete a handwritten exam which can be scanned and uploaded. Further advice is available from ODL in relation to setting this up.
Timetabling / Scheduling
It is also important to consider the timetable of exams that students are undertaking so that no student is scheduled to do several takeaway exams in the same period of days – i.e. avoid bunching. It may be important to liaise with other course directors e.g. for student’s studying joint honours.
The advice from the National Association of Disability Practitioners (*NADP) is that those setting exams need to be explicit about the amount of time needed or expected to be spent on the takeaway exam. A student is not expected to spend a full 24 hours on the exam. For some students with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or with underlying communication/processing difficulties, they may feel they need to apply themselves to the exam for the duration of the 24 or 48 hour period. Support and advice for students to plan an exam strategy in advance would be useful,
including signposting students to use of mentors/coaches where applicable to assist them with this. Advice on approaching open-book examinations is available on the following link which may be useful to share with students. https://student.unsw.edu.au/preparing-open-book-exams
Where students may have used an interpreter or reader during an on-site exam, their needs should be considered for an exam at home. For example, consider how assistive technologies might help and how you might incorporate the reading out of questions and additional guidance. It can help to have a familiar voice reading out the questions. Please see more detailed guidance on the attached link or you can consult directly with ODL re alternatives. Guidance for students with disabilities in relation to assessment has been provided on the Coronavirus (Covid19) webpage. https://www.ulster.ac.uk/coronavirus/students/examinations-and-assessment
*NADP is the Professional Association for disability and inclusivity practitioners in further and higher education
CAST (2020). About Universal Design for Learning. Available from: http://www.cast.org/our-work/about-udl.html
National Association of Disability Practitioners (NADP, 2020b). Covid-19 Resource Hub. Available from: https://nadp-uk.org/covid-19-resources-for-members-and-colleagues/
University of New South Wales, Sydney – Preparing for Open-Book Exams. Available from: https://student.unsw.edu.au/preparing-open-book-exams
Students are contacting me and are finding this tough due to personal circumstances, where can they get support?
Remind your students that there are lots of ways to stay in contact with classmates through the telephone, WhatsApp, Skype, Snapchat or other forms of social media
Student Wellbeing team advice
- Student Wellbeing team (all campuses) – 028 9536 7000 or email email@example.com or go to the Student Wellbeing website for additional information and resources.
- Lines will be open from 08:45-17:00 Monday to Thursday and 08:45-16:00 on Friday.
- You can also like our Facebook page @UlsterUniversityStudentWellbeing to get up to date information on our services and helpful wellbeing tips or follow @uu_mindyourmood on Instagram for uplifting posts from our student Mind Your Mood Coordinators.
- Out of hours, if you are experiencing distress or despair you should contact Lifeline on 0808 808 8000
How do students scan and upload their written work to Blackboard from a smart phone?
The Office for Digital Learning have produced a screencast demonstrating how to scan and upload written work to an assignment dropbox within a Blackboard Learn module using a Smart phone and apps.
Download apps used in this demo:
I am not sure if my students are engaging, how can I check this and support them?
Blackboard contains a number of reports, at a module level, which allow you to report on student activity to provide supportive interventions.
What should I do if some students are not engaging in any online activity?
It is important to try and ascertain the reasons for this.
Just reach out to them in any way you can – via a separate email to them or a phone call. Offer them a 1:1 phone meeting with yourself or the course director.
How do I make sure students with reasonable adjustments are supported and my online approach is accessible?
The Office for Digital Learning have produced some guidance on creating inclusive and visual online content
The Staff Resources on the Student Wellbeing website offer guidance for staff.
Look after yourself
Where can I get help from?
ODL and CHERP have organised a number of webinars and Question and Answer sessions, find out more or register your attendance - https://ulster.sharepoint.com/sites/ODL/SitePages/Teaching-Continuity.aspx
I am feeling overwhelmed, what can I do?
It is important to think about your own resilience, take time to care for yourself. Look at the guidance at advice from People and Culture: top tips for people managers, to support working from home and managing our wellbeing.
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