Author Archives: Ruth Powell

MyBlogs infrastructure improvements

Over the coming months we are carrying out a complete refresh of the MyBlog infrastructure (i.e. the servers and associated hardware that the platform sits on). This is the first major refresh since the blogging service was introduced over 5 years ago. In that time blogging at UAL has increased rapidly and is now widely used to support student learning across the University.

Why is this work needed?

This refresh is not only needed to maintain the performance and reliability of the MyBlog platform but to meet the needs of new and innovative approaches to teaching large student cohorts.

What changes can I expect to see?

Improved Security

As part of the refresh we will be improving the security of the platform to ensure that user log-ins and other data sent between your browser and the MyBlog platform are encrypted and secure. You will notice that the url changes from http to https – indicating a secure connection. Users should be aware that any media embedded from a non-https third-party website will no longer display on a blog page. Many sites, such as YouTube and Vimeo, have already moved to supporting https and will not present any issues.

A new look and feel

We are also working on a new look and feel for the MyBlog platform to unify and simplify the look and feel of our DL platforms and improve the student experience in this area. We will not be adding or changing the functionality of the platform.

Removing obsolete accounts

Myblog contains some content which has  not been updated for a long time  and which belongs to students who are no longer at UAL. To free up much needed storage capacity and to comply with GDPR requirements we are going to remove student blogs and accounts which meet *all* the following criteria:

    • The student left UAL in any year prior to and including 17/18
    • The blog has not been updated since the academic year 15/16

Staff accounts and content will not be affected.

When is this work being carried out?

We have already started the work as there are many stages to this project. During the final phase we will need to take MyBlog out of service for a short period of time. The dates to be aware of are:

  • 05th February 2019 – final sync of user accounts and blog content from the old to the new infrastructure. We will need to take MyBlogs out of service, but will aim to keep this to an absolute minimum. 
  • 06th February 2019 – DNS updated – MyBlog will be available, but may take up to 24 hours before it is fully accessible globally. MyBlog will be available almost immediately to those accessing it from the UAL network however, the service should be considered ‘at risk’.  Users may lose their work if they make changes during this period and we have to roll-back
  • 07th February 2019 – final testing and sign off / roll back decision

I have questions, who can I contact?

If you want to know more about this work, or have any concerns about how it will impact your students please either contact Ruth Powell or dlsupport@arts.ac.uk.

 

 

Moodle Upgrade 2018_19

The DL Team would like to thank all colleagues for their patience and co-operation over the past couple of months as the integration of SITS with Moodle was completed. It was an extremely challenging project for all teams involved.

The next step for Moodle is an upgrade. Normally, we would have upgraded this Summer, but due to the other projects it wasn’t pragmatic to add in a further complexity. It’s important that we stay up to date with our release of Moodle, so ideally we need to upgrade this Autumn term if at all possible (we will resume our normal upgrade process Summer 2019).

Upgrade – Expected down time
IT Services have advised that the upgrade and testing will take two days during which time Moodle will not be available for use. Please can colleagues advise of:

a) preferred dates for us to carry out the upgrade
b) dates that we must avoid (i.e. assignment submission dates)

Agreeing dates
Because finding dates that are appropriate for all colleges is extremely difficult, we have set up a shared Google doc where dates can be entered, so that we can come to some agreement about the upgrade window. There never seems to be dates that suit all courses and any flexibility that can be offered by course teams to help us find a suitable date would be greatly appreciated. If you are aware of any dates when the upgrade can not take place (e.g. assessment submission dates) please do let your college TEL Coordinator know. Their contact details are at the bottom of this post.

Limitations on dates from DL Support
Unfortunately the Christmas vacation is not an option we can offer. An upgrade involves teams from multiple departments and not only is Christmas a time when we are very short staffed, IT Services also implements a code-freeze over this period. In addition, we do not carry out upgrades on a Friday due to the risk of Moodle being unsupported over the weekend.
Early in the New Year, i.e. Jan 2019 is a possibility, but we do not want to leave the upgrade later than this.

Upgrade version
We are currently assessing which version we will upgrade to and it will either be the latest release but one (3.4) or 3.5 if that contains critical bug fixes. Once the version has been decided the DLSupport team will provide details of any important changes or new features to be aware of.


College Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) Co-ordinators

Bing Choong (y.choong@chelsea.arts.ac.uk) – Camberwell, Chelsea and Wimbledon
Vija Skangale (v.skangale@arts.ac.uk) – Camberwell, Chelsea and Wimbledon
Jennifer Williams-Baffoe (j.williams-baffoe@csm.arts.ac.uk) – Central Saint Martins
Caroline Rogers (c.rogers@fashion.arts.ac.uk) – London College of Fashion
dlsupport@arts.ac.uk – London College of Communication

Moodle comes home!

A final update on this project.

On Tuesday 3rd July we carried out the final synchronization of data between our and ULCC’s Moodle and pointed moodle.arts.ac.uk to UAL servers, making Moodle live on our own systems.
A number of issues were identified, which we were not able to test during the development or User Acceptance Testing stage. A summary of these issues is below, but they are all now resolved.  (As part of the work, we have increased the security of Moodle and this will prevent embedded content from displaying in certain circumstances. Details of this, and how to manage the problem is at the bottom of this blog post.)
The other good news is that the Web Services team have successfully recruited to the post of VLE Application Support Analyst and Fardin Amiri is due to start with the Web Services team, 7 August. Fardin will be a great boost to the team, providing vital resource to support the in-house provision of our Moodle platform.
That’s not the end for Moodle: we still have the SITS integration and the 2018/19 rollover scheduled next week. We are, however, in a strong, and exciting position in terms of what we can now consider to do to continue improving the experience and service for all staff and students that rely so much on Moodle for teaching and learning.

Summary of issues:

  • Loss of connection to Blackboard Collaborate: Resolved
  • Unable to send external emails: Resolved
  • Course list not displaying correct hierarchy. Resolved
  • SSO for Workflow and MyBlog not working Resolved
  • Un-enrolling users – In Progress this is not a bug or an issue with Moodle but related to the SITS project. This will be resolved when we switch on the data feeds from SITS next week.
  • New student applicants not showing as enrolled in Moodle: – In Progress – this is not a bug or an issue with Moodle but related to the SITS project. The Registry team are still working on enrolling new applicants in SITS and this work is expected to be complete by the end of July ready for pre-sessional activities in Moodle starting in August.

Embedded Content

As part of moving Moodle in house we have also increased Moodle’s security and implemented https.  Content that has been embedded in Moodle sites using iframes may not display if the content comes from a third party webiste which doesn’t allow or support https.

It’s important to note that this is not Moodle or the UAL environment which is preventing this from working – it’s actually the browser.  The reason for this behaviour is that it’s seen as a security risk to mix http and https content in one page.

As many browsers are now moving to support https many websites will be converting their sites accordingly, so this problem will gradually be less and less of a problem. If embedded content isn’t working because https isn’t supported, then the only option is to use a regular link to point to the content, rather then embed it into a Moodle site.

Moodle is now fully back in service and colleagues are able to edit their course sites. If there are any issues or problems in using Moodle that you feel have arisen from this recent work, please do report these to dlsupport@arts.ac.uk for the team to investigate.

Digital Learning Support Self Service

You can now raise a help request directly with the DL Team through the MySupport Self Service.  

Why use The Digital Learning Support Self Service?

  • If you are working within the UAL network it is quick and easy to use!
    *It is not yet available outside of UAL network
  • Using Self Service will enable the team to process the requests more efficiently than by email. It automatically generates and sends you a support ticket that confirms your request for support.
  • Using Self service helps capture all the required information up front and saves time spent by the team contacting the sender for additional information before work can start on resolving the requests
  • Using Self service will ensure requests are automatically directed to the correct team, for example, login issues will be automatically directed to IT Services rather than Digital Learning Support
  • Through Self Service you can track the the progress of your request, or update your request with further information. This helps keep all communication about your request in one place, rather than dispersed across various emails.

Please do bookmark the link and consider using Self Service next time you need to contact DL Support. We look forward to supporting you!

 

 

 

 

Moving Moodle hosting to UAL – key dates

For more detail about Moodle hosting please read the longer version – Moving Moodle Hosting to UAL

When we first moved to Moodle from Blackboard back in 2012 there was insufficient capacity, resource and expertise within UAL to host a platform as complex and heavily used as Moodle.  Since then, however, IT has acquired state-of-the-art hosting facilities in Slough, and re-organisation of the Digital Learning Team has helped build strong and collaborative working relationships with IT Services, placing expertise and resource where most appropriate to manage and maintain a robust and reliable service.

These developments have enabled us to review our hosting options, and over the past couple of months IT Services have been designing and building a prototype environment that has allowed us to assess the feasibility of hosting Moodle in-house. The testing and assessment of the prototype was highly successful and the decision has been taken to transfer Moodle hosting from our current provider to being managed and supported by UAL’s IT Services teams.

Expected Downtime

  • Tuesday July 3rd – Hosting switched to UAL. Moodle out of Service. 
  • Wednesday 4th July – Digital learning Team Testing. Moodle out of Service 
  • *Thursday 5th July – UAL Final User Acceptance Testing
  • *Friday 6th July – Final proceed / roll-back decision.  
  • Monday 9th July – Moodle back in service 2018_19 course sites available for rollover
    * Moodle will be available, but users should note that if any critical issues arise during UAT and the decision is made to Roll back and not change our hosting arrangements  all changes made in Moodle during these dates will be lost and not recoverable.

Moving Moodle Hosting to UAL

When we first moved to Moodle from Blackboard back in 2012 there was insufficient capacity, resource and expertise within UAL to host a platform as complex and heavily used as Moodle.  Since then, however, IT has acquired state-of-the-art hosting facilities in Slough, and re-organisation of the Digital Learning Team has helped build strong and collaborative working relationships with IT Services, placing expertise and resource where most appropriate to manage and maintain a robust and reliable service.

These developments have enabled us to review our hosting options, and over the past couple of months IT Services have been designing and building a prototype environment that has allowed us to assess the feasibility of hosting Moodle in-house. The testing and assessment of the prototype was highly successful and the decision has been taken to transfer Moodle hosting from our current provider to being managed and supported by UAL’s IT Services teams. We have now served our notice with ULCC and are in the process of planning with them the transition to UAL. 

What does this mean for our users? 

Bringing Moodle in house will not have any impact on how Moodle functions. It will look exactly the same and continue to work in exactly the same way as before. There will need to be some downtime while we make the switch and users should expect Moodle to be out of service for a couple of days. Details of the schedule are below. 

Hosting Moodle ourselves will, however, bring a number of benefits: 

  • It will give us much more access and control over our data, and the processes that ensure the relevant course spaces appear in the right order, with the right students enrolled.  
  • We will no longer be dependent on a twice daily sync process for changes to course structures or enrolments to be updated in Moodle. Any changes will appear instantaneously. 
  • We will no longer be dependent on a third-party for managing our annual upgrade process. We will have full control over the upgrade, and ensure that procedures are properly planned to ensure the upgrade proceeds smoothly and with minimal disruption for our users. 
  • Some of the costs saved by moving Moodle in-house are being used to recruit an additional team member within IT Services to support the management and maintenance of the platform.

What are the time scales? 

  • Tuesday 1 May until 31 July – Moodle code freeze for functionality change requests 
  • Friday 22d June – New hosting environment build complete 
  • Monday 25th – 29th June – UAL User Acceptance Testing 
  • Tuesday July 3rd – Hosting switched to UAL. Moodle out of Service. 
  • Wednesday 4th July – Digital learning Team Testing. Moodle out of Service 
  • *Thursday 5th July – UAL Final User Acceptance Testing
  • *Friday 6th July – Final proceed / roll-back decision.  
  • Monday 9th July – Moodle back in service 2018_19 course sites available for rollover
    * Moodle will be available, but users should note that should any critical issues arise during UAT and decision is made to Roll back, all changes made will be lost and not recoverable.

How does this project fit with the SITS Project? 

We are working in partnership with the SITS project team to complete the SITS-Moodle integration at the same time as bringing the hosting to UAL. Bringing these two projects together will minimise the amount of downtime needed for our end users. 

It sounds a complex project what are the risks? 

As with any institutional project there are a number of risks and the project team are conscious that the SITS integration brings in another layer of complexity. Below is an overview of those risks and how we are working in partnership with the SITS project team to mitigate the likelihood of them having a negative impact on our ability to deliver both the change of hosting and the integration with SITS 

Risk  Mitigating Action 
New hosting environment can’t be purchased and implemented in time scale  We have collaborated closely with the relevant teams and they are aware of our timescales and requirements. Budgets have been agreed and hardware requirements specified ready for procurement 
SITS integration work can’t be completed on time  We are holding fortnightly meetings with the SITS project team to review project plans and timescales. Key milestones have been identified to monitor progress. 

 

We have tested the Moodle prototype with data from the current student record system, QL, and, if needed the SITS integration can be rescheduled for a later date. 

 

Testing of the new hosting environment reveals a systemic problem.  We have agreed a rolling contract with our external provider so that we can continue with the current hosting solution. 

 

Process Arts – retired from service

 

Process.arts, was a grass roots web2.0 open educational environment for sharing day-to-day arts practice and research of UAL staff, students and wider communities of practice. Developed in 2012 the platform straddled the institution/educational (formal learning) environment and the social (informal learning) environment by  creating an ‘experimental’ space for open educational practitioners to develop and define a new language for open edu-social practice without conforming or being influenced by pre-existing academic structures and processes.

Now, several years on, we have decided to retire the platform. It is now provided as an archive to the rich and varied content that was contributed over the years but is no longer running as a dynamic and interactive site. The decision to archive this platform was partly based on the fact that it needed a major upgrade that would have required a lot of redevelopment of the custom features. The platform also wasn’t fully meeting users requirements for collaboration with external partners, and evolving practices across UAL in working openly and flexibly beyond the boarders of UAL.

Rather than try to rebuild  Process Arts, the Digital Learning team are now considering leading a discovery project to work with interested parties to examine the many ways across UAL in which staff and students are engaging in open practice  and how the digital can best support these ways of working.

 

Getting started with MyBlog, Moodle and Workflow

UAL Digital Learning Platforms – Workflow, MyBlog and Moodle form the core of our digital provision for supporting student learning facilitating reflection, exchange of knowledge and ideas, and documentation of creative practices between students, staff and wider communities. The Digital Learning team understand, however, that before you can use these with your students, you need to have some familiarity and confidence in navigating the platform and understanding in how to use some of the core features.  We run regular workshops that will help get you started and give you the opportunity to chat through any issues to build both your understanding and your confidence.

The workshops are delivered online using a virtual classroom called Blackboard Collaborate where you can chat in real time with the tutor and other participants from a location convenient to you.  The workshops are usually structured in 3 steps. Firstly, the tutor will deliver a short presentation giving examples of how the platform is being used in different teaching contexts and highlighting use of various tools and features. You will then engage with a number of short tasks that guide you through the core features of the platform.  During this time you can stay online and speak directly to the tutor if you require further help or support. The session will conclude with a discussion where you can share with the tutor and the other participants your thoughts on the platforms, something you created with them or any other ideas you have.

The workshops last an hour and a half and are scheduled on a weekly rolling basis. You don’t require any special equipment or software – just a quiet space, a laptop connected to the internet, and a set of headphones. Using a microphone would be a plus, but it is not essential.

All the workshops with full details can be found from the Digital Learning Workshops page on Canvas, along with a booking form.

Previous participants told us:

Being able to try out things without worry. I mistakenly deleted an entire course! 

‘The live element was great.’

Sign up and come and join the discussion and find out more about how you might use these platforms in your teaching!

Rationalising content and accounts in DL Platforms

Moodle, MyBlogs and Workflow  were first introduced over 6 years ago. In that time we have not removed any content or student accounts. We have now reached a point where the amount of content accumulated on each platform is causing a number of issues that we need to address.

  1. The sheer amount of content is now putting pressure on the performance of our platforms and particularly with Workflow, growth in the amount content is at constant risk of exceeding our capacity to provide sufficient storage space.
  2. One of the core principles of New General Data Protection and Retention rules is that personal information should not be kept beyond the life of its original purpose. We need to ensure that we are not retaining personal data on our platforms beyond its intended purpose.

Alongside these needs to manage the amount of content on each of our platforms we do recognise that there are some teaching contexts content and resources are collated and used iteratively and progressively by both staff and students supporting numerous communities of practice, many of which continue to exist beyond a student’s study at UAL. The Digital Learning Services team will work with course teams to look at how such teaching resources might be supported over the longer term.

Principles for managing data in our DL Platforms

Over the past few months the Digital learning Services team have been working with colleagues from Assessment and Quality, IT Services, and Records Management to agree the following core principles that will inform our approach to managing student accounts and associated content in Moodle, MyBlog, and Workflow.

  1. Digital Learning platforms only need to hold onto content for assessment/exam board purposes. QL/SITs holds long term and definitive data on grades.
  2. A student account and all associated content will remain on the DL platform for the duration of the student life-cycle. (i.e. from offer acceptance through to exit from UAL).
  3. Student accounts and associated content will be removed to an archive facility 150 days after the user’s course end date as per use of email facilities specified within IT Regulations.
  4. A student account and any content associated with that account will be deleted from the Digital Learning Archive after 1 year following a student’s exit from the University.
  5. Students will be formally advised to export their content / work from a DL Platform prior to their exit from UAL.
  6. There may be some teaching scenarios where there is a requirement to keep student generated content beyond the life-cycle of the student at UAL, for example, as exemplars and resources to be used with other students, or where students have collaborated with an open, or on-going project. Where explicit consent has been obtained, content will be retained in accordance with the terms that have been agreed with that user (if technically possible).
  7. The Digital Team will work with the Legal team to review Terms and Conditions of use for each platform in light of new GDPR legislation.

What will happen next?

The next stage will be to work out processes for putting these principles into practice.

  1. We will prioritise Workflow as this platform is the most demanding in terms of storage requirements.
  2. The team in the Exchange will work with course teams to draft out various teaching scenarios for us to carry out tests of deleting content and accounts on our dev environments. This will enable us to assess the wider impact of deleting content and users from shared resources before we removing any content or accounts from the live envrionment.
  3. We will design and develop workflows and procedures that enable us to remove and delete content and accounts whilst retaining the  integrity of that platform within identified, and specific teaching contexts.

 

 

A new home for Moodle

When we first moved to Moodle from Blackboard back in 2012, we selected ULCC to host our instance of Moodle. At that time, ULCC were better resourced and provisioned than UAL to ensure a robust and reliable service and were able to support development of a number of customizations needed to manage the complex amalgamation of course data and student enrollments from our student record system.

The capability and capacity of UAL’s IT Services has developed considerably over the past few years, and with the new Data Center at Slough offering the resilience and reliability needed from a platform used 24/7, 365 days a year, its now timely to review our hosting options.

The Exchange are working closely with Web Services in IT to develop a prototype to explore the potential of bringing Moodle hosting in-house. Having Moodle in-house will give us much more access and control over our data, and all the clever bits of scripting that processes our data to present the relevant course spaces in the right order, with the right students enrolled.

Digital learning Services are hoping to start testing the prototype in the next few weeks and if the prototype looks promising, then we’ll continue to develop the plans to bring Moodle fully in-house. We would like to make all changes to the hosting environment by the start of the new academic year. There are, however,  important dependencies with the SITS project to be considered and factored in so a precise schedule has not yet been planned, and it will, of course, depend on the outcome of the prototyping stage. At a very high level there are three stages to the project:

  1. Build prototype with existing QL data to test proof of concept ( internal Digital Learning testing)
  2. Build test environment using Data from new student record system SITS – (wider UAL testing)
  3. Build live environment

Whilst this is a very technical project, with little front-end impact for our users, it is an exciting project and one that will ultimately enable the Digital Learning team to be more proactive, and responsive to the changing teaching and learning needs of both staff and students.