Xerte Online Toolkit

Getting flirty with Xerte – Conference experience

Posted on Updated on

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

Link: http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/toolkits/play_14578

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

Link: http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/toolkits/play_14620#page1section1

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

Link: https://xot.12change.eu/play.php?template_id=847

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

Link: http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/toolkits/play_14511

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

Link: https://xerte.abertay.ac.uk/play.php?template_id=207

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 http://xot.xerte.org.uk/play.php?template_id=2 .

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 http://xerte.abertay.ac.uk/ . 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 http://xot.xerte.org.uk/play.php?template_id=1


International Conference on Enhancement and Innovation in Higher Education – Glasgow, 9-11 June 2015 (twitter: #ETConf15)

Posted on Updated on

Reflections on Day 1 of the conference by Julie:

The weather in Glasgow this week has been absolutely amazing so far. Sunshine is beating down on the conference venue which is located next to the River Clyde, lending a stunning backdrop to the proceedings (see photo below). This is truly an international conference with delegates from Hong Kong, Australia, the US, Belgium, Sweden, to name but a few as well as delegates from all over the UK. Scottish institutions, as you might imagine, are very well represented with a number of colleagues from Abertay attending over three days, including giving some presentations. The theme of the conference ties in with the current Scottish HE enhancement theme of “Student Transitions“.

Conference venue in the sun

So, how did day 1 go? Well, we started off with an energetic keynote from Professor Sally Kift, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) at James Cook University, Australia (@KiftSally; Professor Kift’s Fellowship page). Sally has been doing some amazing work on the first year experience and drew on practice and research from across the globe in her overview of things which make transitions better for students. Of particular interest was her belief that the entire institution needs to be working together to support student transitions and her use of policy documents to drive improvements. Something I’ll be thinking about when I return! A website has been developed as a result of the work of Sally and others which I think colleagues will find interesting to look at:

There were a number of presentations from institutions using online pre-entry support modules but one presentation was from Leeds on an online support module for students going into 2nd year (their first honours year in the English system, so equivalent to our 3rd year). This included some subject specific support e.g. recommended readings for students to do over the summer between first and second year; study tips, videos from previous students about what to expect and support for new skills or skills that would be developed further in 2nd year e.g. how to read a journal article and examples of annotated 2nd year exams. The University of Stirling is also looking at the transition into the Honours years of university study as part of their transitions theme work and I think this is something that Abertay might want to consider as well, especially now that our third year also counts towards degree classifications. The Partnerships Office already does some great work with students articulating into our honours years, so we already have some good practice that potentially could be adapted to our existing students.

GCU are doing some brilliant student engagement work with their Engage project and UWS students discussed using Xerte (which we have at Abertay – speak to our TELS team) within their modules to “engage students in research-based co-creation & co-production of re-purposable learning outputs” – contact me if you want this unpacked a bit and more details! David Carless plugged his new book which sounds really interesting “Excellence in University Assessment” and gave details of his research on the practice of excellent lecturers in Hong Kong (which you can find out about in his book).

I talked about our Week 7 ‘Structured Feedback Week’ in a workshop about feedback practices and a number of institutions were really interested in this idea. One of the things that has struck me whilst attending the presentations and looking at the posters is that we have a lot of amazing, innovative and excellent practice across Abertay and I don’t think we always realise this and give ourselves the credit and national/international airing our practice deserves. I will be contacting Schools over the next few months to find out about some of the practice we do and gather some case studies as part of our ELIR preparations and to share with other colleagues at Abertay and promote this externally once the NetTLE webpages are open to the public. I hope that you will tell me about what you are doing and I look forward to hearing about it.

Digital Literacies insight at JISC Connect More

Posted on Updated on

Last week I was at the Jisc Connect more event at Edinburgh Napier, Craiglockhart Campus. A kilted Jason Miles-Campbell (Head of Jisc Scotland and Jisc northern Ireland) opened the day with an introduction informing attendees how Jisc can support us in getting the most out of their services and showcasing innovative practice and best use of technology amongst practitioners in the FE and HE sectors. This was a good opportunity to network with peers and try out the latest technology in Jisc’s ‘Fab Lab.’ Further information on the day can be found on Nicola Osborne’s Edina Blog. The four key areas that Jisc support are listed below with some examples:

Network & Technology : security, Cloud, Connectivity, Procurement

Digital Resources : Learning and teaching resources, Repositories, E-books, Film and images

Advice & Engagement : Single point of contact via our accounts manager, training, subject specialists, communities of practice and peer networking

Research & Development : Collaboration, data and analytics, digital literacy, open access

The event consisted of three strands which attendees could mix and match according to their interests: Capabilities, Connectivity and Student Experience. Two of the sessions I attended focused on the Student Experience, please see notes below:

Innovation and Digital Literacies Champions – Dr Russell Bentley

Deputy Head of Education in Social Sciences and Senior Lecturer in Political Theory

University of Southampton

IChamps was started in 2013 at the University of Southamption with 9-11 students in the first year progressing to now over 40 iChamps. With a successful application to the HEA strategic enhancement programme in 2014, a steering group was created to develop the iChamps further e.g. creating different kinds of iChamps for feedback, sustainability etc. iChamps are recruited from all undergraduate years mostly during the vacation period and work approx. 144hrs per year. Students existing digital literacies are benchmarked using a Kahoot test, based on JISC’s digital literacies framework.

Defining iChamps

  • Working with academic teams to support change development of digital literacy.
  • Not assistants, they build relationships between academics and students.
  • Partnership based on agreement, clear specification of activity, assurance that student develops requisite skills to achieve the desired outcomes.
  • Exemplifying good practice.

iChamps expectations

  • Must demonstrate knowledge and understand of relevant issues.
  • Must attend and run workshops on a range of digital skills.
  • Well managed online profile demonstrating digital literacy skills.
  • Lead by example.

What do the iChamps do?

  • Partner for promoting digital literacies in the curriculum.
  • Communications beyond the classroom.
  • Develop critical thinking.
  • Exemplify and promote online safety, security.
  • Create content using web tools.

Goals and achievements

  • Students are empowered to take active roles in their discipline. Students and academics develop a sense of partnership, part of closing the feedback loop through partner engagement.
  • Showcases and promotes -and makes clearly relevant – technology enhanced learning.
  • Enhance employability in three ways;skills, confidence,” visualisation,” gives the student an idea of where they have been and where they want to go.


  • Sources of funding required to pay students for the work they do as iChamps.
  • At Southampton there is high level interest.
  • Talking about change agents- changing attitude of academics to see students as partners.

Examples of iChamps work

  • Dr Bentley had an iChamp work with him to get his students engaging with social media. The iChamp designed a training course and delivered the training course to the students.
  • University of Southampton has had iChamps work on making the best use of the VL and web design.


Students as Active Content Creators using Xerte Online Toolkits – Dr Jane Guiller

Lecturer in Psychology, Director of the School of Health and Life Science Learning Development Centre (LDC)

Glasgow Caledonian University

I was particularly interested in this session to see how other institutions have been using Xerte Online Toolkit (XOT) as a form of assessment. With the withdrawal of the JISC Xerte sandpit last year a business case was put together to support the existing Abertay Xerte users and to grow a community of content creators amongst staff and student. To date only one module has used Xerte as a form of assessment (MT0720A-2013-14).


  • Dr Guiller used Xerte in her CyberPyschology module which started in 2009. This module has no exam.
  • Aim for students to enhance their digital literacies. Get students to create content for the module and for the public. This fitted in well as an authentic assessment for learning. They would be designing open educational resources.
  • Made up 25% of module.
  • 30 students initially up to 120 enrolled on CyberPsychology module.
  • Varied background of students, not necessarily into tech. Lots didn’t know what an avatar was. A lot of assumptions about what they knew.
  • Student kept blogs on VLE, good to see how they were getting on. Made them think about the skills that they were acquiring.
  • Met fortnightly on campus and used Second Life for virtual seminars.


  • GCU don’t have their Xerte server external facing. Students did report on this in their blog but they did meet up with their groups on campus.
  • Copyright.


  • Students liked the fact support was available for them
  • Used Facebook for their discussions.
  • Peer support in and between groups. Dr Guiller was surprised they weren’t more competitive.


  • Need OER policy.
  • Peer assessment using rubrics in Blackboard.
  • Editing videos.
  • Creating images.
  • Quality of student research.


Highlights of JISC’s Fab Lab stand:

  • Anatomy 4D – a free augmented reality app available on iOS and Android. Install the app, print out a sheet from the “Target Library” available from the main menu within the app. Lay the printed sheet on a flat surface and scan the image with your mobile device. This short video from YouTube demonstrates the Heart AR functionality. This app would be very beneficial for nursing and sports students at Abertay.

Vr googles

  • Googles Cardboard – Cost has been a huge factor in the take up of virtual reality goggles like Oculus Rift but Googles Cardboard brings VR to the masses with a simple, affordable design. Check out PCAdvisor’s list of 11 best Google Cardboard apps 2015 UK. Students could create a virtual reality tour of Abertay that could work with Google Cardboard.



Overall it was a very worthwhile event to meet like-minded practitioners who want to make the best use of technology in teaching and learning. I was impressed with the iChamps network at University of Southampton and felt something similar could work particularly well at Abertay as it ties in nicely with the Abertay Strategic Plan 2015-2020 .  It was also an opportunity to meet our accounts manager Mark Owen (I didn’t mention Take That, figured he’d heard that one before!) who is keen to visit Abertay to see how Jisc can support us to make the best use of technology.

If you are interested in creating interactive learning objects, Abertay’s Xerte server can be accessed using your Abertay username and password on and off campus. More information can be found on our NetTLE pages http://bit.ly/1FKm2bn


Alison Christie