Getting flirty with Xerte – Conference experience

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First of all I apologise for the title of this blog, but now that I have your attention, please do read on…

Last week I attended the Xerte Conference at the University of Nottingham. I have been championing Xerte for a number of years now as a tool that both staff and students can use to create rich, interactive multimedia learning objects. Xerte is an open source tool that has grown significantly since the University of Nottingham developed it back in 2008. It is now part of the Apereo community project, which is “a global network of higher education institutions that collaborate to develop and sustain software supporting education.”

All of the sessions were recorded using Echo360 and will be publicly available soon. It is also worth noting that presenters were asked to use Xerte instead of PowerPoint for their presentations. Even if you don’t read all of this rather long blog, I encourage you to look at the Xerte examples from each of the workshops to see how it could be used within your teaching.

Keynote morning:

The Executive Director of the Apereo Foundation, Ian Dolphin, gave the first keynote of the conference by providing delegates with an overview of what is Apereo Foundation. He talked about the value in open source products “keeping the market honest” and that open communities are diverse and innovative. The Apereo software communities are shaping the “next generation of digital learning environments.”

After the morning keynote there were five groups of workshops to choose from with three workshops in each group, here are the notes from the workshops that I attended, most of which were presented using V3 of Xerte:

An innovative method of delivering problem based learning in clinical education (V3)

Presenters: Michael Randall and Liz Mossop


The Vet School and Pharmacy department use Xerte to present trigger material to their students, encouraging engagement through the ability to add rich multimedia and interactivity to their learning objects. Students safely work through a clinical case until they come to the correct diagnosis. As Xerte offers branching, it is possible to demonstrate what will happen with an incorrect diagnosis but in a safe learning environment.

Key Points:

  • Additional information can be added to the Xerte learning object to provide students with more patient information e.g test results, as they work through the case.
  • Better to use real actors for role playing videos, looks more professional.
  • Add audio to give the clinical case authenticity.


Creating a Community Learning Hub with Xerte Online Toolkits (V3)

Presenters: Julian Tenney and Pat Lockley


Julian Tenney, Xerte Project’s Lead Developer, started his session by talking about DS106, a digital storytelling online course that acts as community learning hub for students to explore and create rich multimedia content. Julian proposed that Xerte could be used in a similar way with an example of a bootstrap template containing an RSS feed aggregator and Twitter widget. It was certainly food for thought and illustrated the diversity of Xerte.

Key points:

  • Xerte is a flexible collaborative tool.
  • Aggregating student content using an Rss feed similar to how Moocs aggregate student content.

Flipped Classroom and nano-learning made easy with Xerte Online Toolkits (V3)

Presenter: Inge Donkervoort


Inge showed us some really nice examples of using Xerte to flip the classroom which you can find in the Xerte learning object above. Xerte is an ideal tool for the non-technical amongst us to develop rich multimedia content that can enhance the student learning experience through simple techniques like “spaced repetition.” This isn’t a new technique but a very valid way of tackling the problem that “90% of all information learned in a traditional classroom setting is lost within 1yr.”

Key points:

  • Break the learning down into chunks.
  • Keep it short.
  • Use “space repetition” to keep revisiting essential information


Keynote afternoon:

Sal Cooke OBE has had an illustrious career over quite a number of decades; suffice to say there aren’t many educational organisations who haven’t heard of Sal. I didn’t take any notes during this keynote as it was really about Sal recognising all those that have been involved in Xerte and how she has seen over the years how Xerte has crossed over into non-academic organisations around the world.

Themes, colours and easy customisation (V3)

Presenter: Fay Cross


Fay began her session with the disclaimer that she was a developer not a presenter. That said, she did a really good job of explaining what non-technical users, developers and system admins could do with Xerte V3 . We are scheduled to upgrade to V3 by the end of May 2016.

Key Points:

  • WYSIWYG editor is significantly better in Xerte V3.
  • Much easier to brand your Xerte learning objects.
  • Staff and students can create professional looking re-usable learning objects.

Raising the profile of Xerte in your institution (V2)

Presenter: Alison Christie


An afternoon slot at a conference can be a challenge especially on a warm sunny day, so I decided I would present some Abertay Xerte examples then get participants to use some low-tech post-it’s to write down what they thought were the challenges or barrier and solutions to raising the profile of Xerte within their institution. There was a good mixture of institutions that were right at the start of deploying Xerte and those who had been using it for a few years, so there was a lot of discussion.

Final Keynote

Unfortunately I missed the final keynote as I had to catch a train home but the presentation can be found here .

Final Thoughts on Xerte Conference

It was very beneficial to meet other Xerte users and see how they have developed interactive learning objects for teaching and learning. Open source products have come a long way over the past few years and are no longer seen as a high risk option but one that can be collaborative, innovate, diverse and community supported. Of course it is essential to have the necessary resources to support open source tools and that the product meets institutional requirements but they can be as sustainable as commercial tools.

The flexibility of Xerte makes it a very valid tool for all schools at Abertay, whether you want to use it for problem-solving scenarios, drawing conclusions, using it as a revision aid or getting students to create content for their module, it offers something for everyone.

All Abertay staff and students have access to the Xerte server using their username and password at this address . Getting started information can be found on our TELS intranet pages.


Learning Technologist

Note: The other Xerte learning objects from the sessions I didn’t attend can be found under workshop details and resources at the following URL



TLE Seminar: Technology Enhanced Learning

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It was another packed out TLE Seminar this month. The focus was on technology enhanced learning, with staff receiving a brief overview from Dr Alastair Robertson before the four TELS sub groups gave their updates on progress made so far:

Learning Spaces

Ken Scott-Brown informed colleagues about the scope of the Learning Spaces project and how staff can have their say about the teaching and learning spaces around the campus at the next TLE Seminar in March, this includes screen casting rooms for creating and editing videos.

Learning Analytics

In the absence of Moriamo Oduyemi, project lead for the learning analytics group, I notified staff that Abertay were taking part in the JISC Learning Analytics Discovery Engagement Service to determine our readiness for learning analytics. This involved staff and students taking part in a series of interviews and workshops. The final report should be available by the end of March.

E-Portfolio & Open Badges:

Carol Maxwell used PebblePad to explain the work of the E-Portfolio group, highlighting that a resource will be available on the portal showcasing how Abertay staff are using PebblePad with their students. Carol also talked about the use of Open Badges for co-curricular activities and the student HEAR.

Blended Learning:

The final update from the TELS sub group came from Carol Maxwell, who informed staff about the initial workshops that helped the Blended Learning group develop a series of recommendations including the need for online courses to have an induction week and for course design to be a collaborative process between course teams and support teams.

ATLEF (round 4)

Dr Alastair Robertson and Dr Julie Blackwell-Young launched ATLEF 4. Two strands: Student led projects and Online learning (starts from 22 minutes).

World cafe discussions

Before moving into a world café format for the second half of the seminar, I gave a brief update on the lecture capture pilot that twenty three staff members have participated in since September 2015. We then logged into Dr Siobhan MacAndrew’s lecture via Adobe Connect. Siobhan uses Adobe Connect in her lectures to provide her students with the opportunity to review lecture material and have the flexibility of interacting remotely. A couple of students explained why they liked having the ability to interact remotely during their lecture.

Discussions focussed around copyright training for staff, guidelines for staff and students (these will be covered in the lecture capture policy), consent forms, video editing (we plan to create recording booths across the campus for staff to use for creating and editing videos).

A big thank you to Ken Swinton, Dr Anne Savage, Suzanne Croy, Scott Kane and my TLE colleagues for facilitating the discussions around video for learning.

If you missed the TLE Seminar on Technology Enhanced Learning that took place on the 3rd February, you can catch up with the recording by following the link below:

TLE Seminar – Technology Enhanced Learning (video)

Next Lecture Capture workshop Friday 19th February (limited places available)





Blackboard Upgrade and Rollover – Summer 2015

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Dear colleagues,

Full information on the Blackboard upgrade and rollover can be found at the following url . Please do take the time to read the important information provided by the Technology Enhanced Learning Support (TELS) team. The key dates for your diary are:

Blackboard upgrade – 1st July
Blackboard rollover – 2nd July

Blackboard will be unavailable until 10am on the 1st and at risk until 12pm. Any problems with either the upgrade and the rollover will be communicated to staff via the portal.



TLE Seminar “What’s New in Learning Technology”

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To ensure all staff could benefit from our 6th May TLE Seminar “What’s New in Learning Technology”, we recorded the sessions, which are now available on our YouTube channel, so if you want to know more about Flipped Classrooms, e-portfolios or Open Educational Practices in Scotland follow this link to the TLE Seminar YouTube Playlist .

Many thanks to our external speakers: Dr Pete Cannell and Dr Ronald Macintyre from OEPS, Dr Heather Smith from Cranfield University, Robert Chielewski from Institute of Academic Development Edinburgh University and Alastair Brooke and Nathan Cobb from Blackboard.




Blackboard 2015 European Teaching and Learning Conference

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A couple of weeks ago I attended the 2015 annual European Blackboard Teaching and Learning Conference.  This conference is a great place to connect with other Blackboard users.  The presentations were an interesting mix with many institutions showcasing how they had customised their learning environments and others providing information on how they use the Blackboard platform to deliver innovative teaching and fully online courses.

Blackboard also used the event to present product updates.  The CEO of Blackboard shared the company vision of how they are redesigning all their products to look and feel more like integrated solutions rather than separate standalone systems.  It was good to hear details of how the company is working on making Blackboard more customisable to local environments.

Some of the highlights for me were seeing how MEF University in Turkey is delivering all of their courses via the flipped classroom method.  MEF is a brand new institution and all their teaching spaces have been designed to facilitate collaborative group working.

Sheffield Hallam presented the findings of their project on how they are using technology to improve student engagement with feedback.  More information on this project is available on their blog

I presented information on how the Sociology Division at Abertay has been using the Blackboard Wikis for assessment.  There was good interest from the audience, in particular on how the module was using the sign-up groups for the students to organise themselves into the wiki groups – which saves a lot of administration on the part of the course tutors.

A full listing of the conference programme is available online at the conference website

If you are thinking of using new tools in Blackboard next year have a look at the range of courses TELs are providing over summer or get in touch at


TLE Open Lunch

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We look forward to welcoming Abertay staff to our open lunch tomorrow (Wednesday 11th March) between 12noon – 2pm in room 2536.

  • Meet the team
  • Q and A
  • Rate our services
  • Demos: Electronic Management of Assessment, Pebblepad, Adobe connect (webinar software), learning objects (Xerte), lecture capture (Camtasia Relay)
  • Cake sale in aid of Marie Curie
TLE open lunch invitation
TLE open lunch invitation

light nibbles and refreshments available.

Making it easier to mark online

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Carol, Alison and Alice  have been out and about in each School during February to demonstrate the use of double screens, laptop + PC screen and Turnitin App for the IPad so that staff could try them out to see if this equipment could help them when marking online.  The ability to have coursework on one screen and the marking criteria, grade centre or rubric on another was very popular with staff.

The solutions to promote the ergonomic use of this equipment,  such as the cricket bat stand below let staff see how they can maintain good posture when using mobile devices.  Health issues such as muscular skeletal problems may not be apparent now, but they creep up on you over time.  Don’t wait until you have a problem before you adopt the correct posture when working at your PC or mobile device.

The Electronic Management of Assessment Steering Group, chaired by Susan Campbell (Registrar) are currently reviewing the feedback they have received from staff re their equipment preferences.  if you want to see the equipment options available and record your requirements, drop into Room 2526 on the 11th of March at the Teaching & Learning Enhancement Open Lunch when there will be another chance to try out equipment and place your order!

Cricket bat IPad/Laptop stand.
IPad/Laptop stand.