Students Staff
University of Essex

July 30, 2018

Highlights from the staff and student tracker survey

Filed under: Uncategorized — sgswaine @ 2:42 pm

At Essex supporting staff and students to develop the skills they need is always a priority and in recent years colleagues from across a wide variety of departments have been working hard to help us further understand how digital tools and services are experienced within our institution.

For the past two academic years Library Services , IT & Digital Skills Training and Technology Enhanced Learning have deployed digital tracker surveys to gather feedback on how users think and feel about their own skills and the ways in which digital technology is integrated into their lives.

Three years ago the university built its first Digital Diagnostic for teaching staff after Alex O’Neill (IT Services), Marty Jacobs (HR) and Emma Wisher (Library Services) attended a Digital Leaders workshop with JISC. The surveys have been edited and marketed by staff here at Essex and when combined with other data they should provide us with some important clues as to how we can best invest our effort and resources into supporting digital skills within our community. 145 responses were received in 2016 and 114 in 2017, providing us with some insight into staff and student preferences as well as trends in user behaviour. The responses make for interesting reading and some highlights are mentioned below:

1. Usability/popularity

Unsurprisingly in both years, laptops were the most commonly used devices owned by students, whilst desktop computers and printers were more likely to be accessed through the university. It will be interesting to see how popular the new loanable laptop service at the library will become and whether it will alter student’s habits. Meanwhile most who took part in the last survey believed that Moodle was designed well and that they relied on it to complete their coursework. When asked to tell us about a tool or app they found useful, 22 out of 86 responses mentioned it as an example.

2. Learning

Of particular interest in the survey were the questions relating to the use of digital skills and devices in supporting learning. Online resources and digital technology are already embedded in course content through ebooks, journal articles, interactive polls and quizzes and the popularity of gaming as a tool for encouraging learning is becoming more widespread. Despite this only 10.2% of academic staff who took part in the survey identified as being amongst the first to adopt new technologies and the majority indicated that they would like digital technology to be used in their teaching practice more than it is at the moment.

3. Flexibility

The importance of being able to find information online is clearly a priority for students with over 95% declaring that they retrieve information for their course online on at least a weekly basis. 63.4% regarded digital technology as an important tool in helping them to understand information, up 6.8% from the year before. Meanwhile the potential of digital technology to empower users to manage their time effectively and learn in a more flexible manner was widely acknowledged with most respondents agreeing that it allowed them greater independence as well as the ability to fit education into their life more easily.

4. Accessibility

For those unable to read traditionally printed texts or who prefer to access material in alternative formats, assistive technology and services like SensusAccess can be of great benefit in communicating information and guaranteeing greater accessibility. In the last survey 10.6% of all respondents indicated that these technologies were vital to their learning needs.

5. Employability

When it comes to preparation for life beyond university most students are aware of the importance that digital skills play in a large number of sectors. A significant majority in both surveys agreed that digital skills are important in their chosen career field making knowledge in this area exceptionally valuable and an investment in future career progression. Constant developments make it important to keep up to date and with 45% of students disagreeing that they understood the digital skills that would be required of them before starting their course it is clear that supporting students with making the most of the opportunities available to them is beneficial for everyone.

June 11, 2018

Newcomers 2nd Research Week (18-22 June)

Filed under: Uncategorized — sgswaine @ 10:18 am

After January’s successful launch our second Newcomers Research Week is now right around the corner, with 32 different training sessions – where 13 are completely new sessions. The week will kick off with an opening session on Monday 18 June at 11am in the North Teaching Centre, consisting of a short talk, refreshments and plenty of opportunities to meet and network with other newcomers and our presenters!

What is Newcomers?

Newcomers (Network for Early Career Essex Researchers) is an initiative by staff from the UK Data Archive, Research and Enterprise Office and Library Services to unify research support and increase awareness of help available for researchers at Essex. By combining our expertise to host one event we can offer a full range of sessions around the research lifecycle, e.g. Writing a grant application, organising and storing data securely, finding a journal to publish in and using Twitter to increase research impact. To book on to sessions, simply go to our website and click on the Research Week Programme tab to find a short description of courses and links to booking for staff (via HR Organiser) and students (via Proficio).

Can I attend the Newcomers Research Week?

Though Newcomers is aimed at PhD students, new starters at Essex and researchers in the first years of their career, we will not turn away anyone who thinks they can benefit from one or more of our sessions. In January we had Master students, Professional Services staff and Senior Lecturers attending, who all said they gained lots of knowledge from our sessions.

If you miss our June event, or if some of the sessions you’d like to go to overlap, we also run a Newcomers Research Week in January which you are more than welcome to attend! Our website is updated regularly with information about the upcoming events.

What if I cannot attend the June or January events?

We understand that having these events outside term sometimes mean that many people are unable to attend, either being on holiday, research leave or having other commitments. As we cannot host a whole week of sessions during term time (usually due to our need to book many rooms during a busy time) we will offer some sessions in between our January and June events. These additional sessions are sometimes due to demand (e.g. Grant Writing), sessions to deal with current issues (e.g. A Building Resilience session to help address the mental health issues for early career researchers) or sessions of opportunity when we can get external experts in (e.g. Publishing with IEEE). The sessions will be advertised on our website under the ‘Upcoming Events’ tab and to the Newcomers Mailing List.

If you have any further questions or want to get in touch, drop us an email on

Refresh your Moodle pages

Filed under: Uncategorized — sgswaine @ 10:14 am


We’ll help you to update your Moodle pages!

The end of term is fast approaching, marking is nearly complete and the new academic year is comfortably in the distance, the other side of a long and (hopefully) hot summer. Now is the ideal time to start thinking about your Moodle pages for 2018-19.

All 2017-2018 Moodle pages will be archived during graduation week (16-20 July). Once this has been done, your Moodle 2018-19 Moodle pages will be created, ready for you to work on.

Here at Essex, all Moodle content is ‘rolled-over’ from one year to the next which certainly saves time but perhaps leads to the same content being used year after year without change. Spending some time reflecting on your Moodle page from a student’s point of view will be a useful exercise. Do your slides have last year’s dates on them? Is your content still relevant? Is there anything new you need to add? Could you make use of some of Moodle’s many interactive features? What about multimedia content?

The Technology Enhanced Learning team (TEL) are ready and able to help you make the best use of Moodle to ensure your course is in tip-top condition and improve your students’ experience next year. We can help you evaluate your content, create new learning resources and structure and present your course material in a fresh, new way.

TEL (Technology Enhance Learning Team) hold regular Moodle drop-in sessions every other Wednesday morning and you can find the details on HR organiser – or we can arrange to meet you or your team for one-to-one or group training sessions at a time to suit you. Contact us at

May 26, 2018

Academics: tell us about your Digital Experience

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alex ONeill @ 4:36 pm


We would greatly appreciate 10 minutes of your time to fill in around 20 questions about your digital experience in your teaching role:

The survey has been written by Jisc and will allow us to benchmark the experience of Essex staff against other universities, as well as show us the experience that our staff have when using digital tools in their teaching.

IT Services, the Library and TEL are trying to work together to bring some more cohesive and comprehensive support for technology to the university and the responses from the survey will aid our discussions for resource and guide us on what we need to provide. Your input is therefore really important and greatly appreciated!

This expands upon the previous IT Services survey, which was aimed at all staff and focused on particular IT systems and services.

May 24, 2018

Diary of a SharePoint Admin

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — sgswaine @ 9:14 am


Library vs SharePoint

The library has had a bad relationship with SharePoint; a problem child that then had to go through puberty multiple software upgrades and come out a little worse for wear. Combine this with busy schedules and you have yourself a website getting dusty on a server somewhere on the other side of campus. That won’t do. SharePoint is better at collecting files than dust, and in this article I’m going to be talking about how we’ve gone from that state to a usable and intuitive system.

If you don’t know what SharePoint is, it is document management software that allows collaboration, though that’s just scratching the surface. I could talk about it for days on end and still barely cover its features, but this just shows the versatility of the software (and how far down the rabbit hole you can fall). The surface level however should fit the needs of most people, and there’s plenty of help out there for using it.

Moving to greener pastures

Our documents are currently stored in a 40GB shared drive. When I started, it always felt like a dirty laundry basket; everybody was trying to put that last small item in, nobody was quite sure what was in there, some items seemed to have multiplied, and the sides were just about ready to split. As you can imagine, I was never too happy to put my hand in to look for something when somebody asked me to.

Something new was needed, and SharePoint ticked all of those needs. We needed storage, tracking, and the ability to search. Now all we had to do was learn.

Getting to grips

As the lead for the SharePoint project, I needed to start learning how to set-up and use SharePoint. Here, I watched the SharePoint 2016 Essential Training tutorial by Gini von Courter on This gave me an insight into how to work SharePoint at an Admin level and the features the library team would need.

There are other videos on using SharePoint, so if you’re not working on it at this level, I would recommend the Learning SharePoint 2016 tutorial instead. 9 hours on using SharePoint did make me gnaw my own arm off need to take breaks every so often.

The First Step

From here I decided how the SharePoint site would be set up:

  1. One Homepage to service all of the different teams and work groups in the library with side and box navigation.
  2. Each area as a document library with a Resources Type and Subject column.
  3. Secret subsites only accessible by those that need it for privacy.
  4. Space for new groups and teams to form areas.

This was designed in response to the current Shared Drive; to have one central place for all shared documents, the search and file tracking capabilities, the security of documents, and to allow new groups to form.

I also felt that SharePoint would be a good place to build a community aspect for the library, a place where all members of staff are able to communicate. I created a few general libraries, such as a directory, staff development, and a message board. We’ve had some use of the development centre and directory, but I’m going to try and promote the message board later this year.

Build it, and hope they come

Designing a system in a vacuum is one thing, to have people come and poke it and kick it is another. As a team made of lots of smaller teams, there are a lot of conflicting wants and needs, so staying open minded was important. To start, SharePoint received a lot of rejection; people knew the shared drive, they knew how to find their documents (maybe not all the versions) and they knew how to teach it to new members of staff. This is where education, a little persuasion and perspiration were needed.
Although vast, when you get to learn the bare bones of it, SharePoint really opens up. On top of this, the bare bones are fairly simple, so it should be accessible by those who aren’t as confident in computer literacy. This also spawned a Using SharePoint area, which I’m planning on adding a Q&A section to so that people can ask about features that they need.
By educating people, it went from a tall shadow to a useful tool. As people started to get involved, this vacuum became a two way channel, the way SharePoint was supposed to be designed; by the community for the community.

Keep the wheels turning

This is the point we are currently at, the dip just before the push (the phrase herding cats comes to mind). Most people have more pressing matters to attend to, and SharePoint slips down the list as small fires rise. With support, we have organised a day dedicated to it: the declutter day.

Our usual declutter days let us sort through the papers that spawn from the aether and into our desk drawers. This day will need a plan if it’s going to happen though:

  1. Introduction to SharePoint, showing how it is used, how to add documents to it, and how to make these documents searchable.
  2. Getting people into their teams and giving them a plan so everyone knows what they’re in charge of.
  3. Make sure that all teams and individuals have a deadline.
  4. Being on hand to help.

How it goes will be another story, and something I’ll have to get back you about.


The next time someone asks me to organise their SharePoint, I think I’ll tell them that I’m washing my hair! I have learnt a lot from this project, and on a deeper level than the functions SharePoint offers. It’s helped me learn about all the systems and teams in place in the library, what they do and need on a daily basis, and pushed me to see as many perspectives as possible. I had to work with teams I wouldn’t usually have contact with, and in making these connections, I’ve wanted to push this ideal of a library community with open communication, where everything is open to everybody. How that goes, we’ll have to see.

Top Tips

  • Listen to people – A community of people will want a community’s worth of differences, try not to pigeonhole people, and make them feel they’re getting what they want and need.
  • Don’t listen to people – The phrase ‘a camel is a horse designed by committee’ comes to mind. Use your knowledge to guide your users in their wants and needs.
  • Expect things to go wrong – Plan for errors, system or user, and learn from these.
  • Reach out – The SharePoint community is vast and usually very friendly. If you want to know something, go out and ask either the university SharePoint team, a department that uses it, or on an online forum.
  • Don’t expect to learn everything – As I said before, SharePoint is vast with lots of features and options, learn as and when you need to.

May 15, 2018

Rollover of Talis reading lists

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Hannah Groom @ 2:26 pm


The library has now completed the rollover process for Talis and lists are ready to be updated for 2018/19. The instructions below are for colleagues at our Colchester and Loughton campuses. If you are teaching at our Southend campus then please speak to the library in Southend about your reading list.

What do I need to do?

You need to review the list of modules that you will be teaching next year and make any changes that are needed for 2018/19. Once you are happy with the list, you need to publish the list, which will send it to the library for review. You may need to create a list if a list does not already exist. Let us know if you would like help with setting this up.

Can I get help with using Talis? 

The library are on hand to offer support with using Talis. Our Moodle page goes through the steps of creating a reading list on Talis. We also offer 1-to-1 support, drop-in sessions, and can organise group training sessions as well. Just email and we can sort out something that works for you.

When do I need to do this by?

The timetable below sets out the process for updating reading lists ready for the academic year. This is set out in the library’s Content Development and Management Policy:


Changes in Talis

We have changed the levels of importance to ‘Essential’ and ‘Further’ to make it clearer to students as to what they need to read. We have also made it so that when you publish your list it will get sent to the library for review so you will no longer need to request this separately.

You’re invited to the IT Listening Post

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alex ONeill @ 12:01 pm

IT Services would like to invite you to the IT Listening Post, our first community event for IT feedback.

Our aim is to get to know our community and to enable you to have your say on all things IT.

This event will give you a chance to:

  • give feedback about the services and support we provide
  • tell us what isn’t working for you and if anything is missing
  • talk directly to our staff, ask questions and find out more about what we do

There will be interactive activities, stalls and demos on topics including digital skills, information security and collaborative tools.

Come along for some or all of the session on Tuesday 22 May 2018, 3pm – 5pm in room 2N2.4.16 (in the UKDA building) and grab yourself some free tea and cake at the same time!

We hope you can join us.

March 20, 2018

Ten really useful Excel functions you should get to know…

Filed under: Uncategorized — sgswaine @ 10:55 am

Excel can do some really great things like SUM and AUTOSUM, SORT and FILTER, and some other clever functions that you may not be using like CONCATENATE or VLOOKUP? I’ve put together a list of 10 really useful functions that I think you should get to know…

(combining data in columns): Let’s say you’ve been given a spreadsheet with a list of names in it. The names are in two separate columns called Firstname and Lastname, but you want to combine these to make one column called Name.

The formula for the example below would be =CONCATENATE(A2,“ ”,B2). The space between the quotation marks gives you the space between the first name and last name in the results.


Want to see it in action? Watch the Joining data from multiple cells (4m 18s) video on Lynda.


TEXT TO COLUMNS (splitting data in columns): This time your spreadsheet has just one column called Name, but you want be able to sort by Lastname so you need to separate them out into Firstname and Lastname.

To do this select the column you wish to split, go to >Data >Text to Columns >Delimited >Next then tick >Space (for example) >Finish.

text-to-columns text-to-columns-step1

text-to-columns-finish text-to-columns-results

See how it works in the Splitting cell data into multiple cells (2m 22s) video in Lynda.


AUTOSUM: this function is probably the most widely used, but did you know you can use it horizontally at the same time as vertically? Just select the data you want to add as well as the column and row you want the results to appear in, then choose >AUTOSUM and it will add the results instantly.

The keyboard shortcut for AUTOSUM is Alt + equal sign (=).

auto-sum-whole-worksheet auto-sum-whole-worksheet-results

Watch the Adding a whole worksheet (1m 48s) and Adding numbers using Sum and AutoSum (6m 11s) videos in Lynda.


COUNT: want to know how many items you have in a column? To do this you use the COUNT formula, and if you delete a value from the column it will recalculate the number of items automatically.

The formula for the example below is =COUNT(B3:B8). Use AUTOFILL to extend the results across columns – hover over the corner of the cell until you see a plus sign (+) and then drag to the right.

count count-results

Want to see COUNT in action? Watch the Working with numbers in columns (4m 53s) video in Lynda.


AVERAGE: if you want to know the average value of a group of numbers, the formula for the example below
is: =AVERAGE(B3:B8). press Ctrl + enter to get results and stay in the same cell.

average average-results

Want to see AVERAGE in action? Watch the Working with numbers in columns (4m 53s) video in Lynda.


IF STATEMENTS: will output one result if the statement is true and output a different result if the statement is false. The general syntax for this is: =IF(statement, value_if_true, value_if_false).

The formula for the example below is: IF(B3>=500,$G$4,$G,$3). To get the ABSOLUTE REFERENCES (eg $G$4) use and to display the results as %, select the column then go to >Format Cells > Number >Percentage > no decimal places.

sumif-formula sumif-results

Need to see this step-by-step? Check out the Using IF (4m 49s) video in Lynda. Want more? Have a look at Using SUMIF and AVERAGEIF (4m 15s) in Lynda.


CONDITIONAL FORMATTING: lets you format numbers and dates according to the value. Often this is used to highlight high or low values but it can also be used to highlight values within a range.

To use the automatic conditional formatting options, select the range of numbers you want to format > Conditional Formatting (from the ribbon) >choose your selection from the dropdown menu eg Colour Scales or Data Bars.

cf-colour cf-data-bars

To learn more, check out the Using Conditional Formatting (4m 6s) and Using Custom Conditional Formatting (5m 49s) videos in Lynda.


DATA SORTING & FILTERING: one of the most useful Database functions in Excel. If you haven’t got to grips with Sort & Filter now’s the time to learn – they’re some of the most powerful functions in the Excel arsenal.

To sort a column, select the Column header >Sort & Filter > then either Sort A to Z or Sort Z to A. In the example below, I sorted highest to lowest ie Sort Z to A.


If you choose >Sort & Filter >Filter you’ll notice Excel adds drop-down menus to each of your column headers – this allows you to perform multiple sorts on more than one column.

To see Sort & Filter in action, check out the Basic and multi-field sorting (6m 30s) video in Lynda.


PIVOT TABLES: are really useful when you have a lot of data to analyse and it’s not obvious how they relate to each other. For the example below I selected my data then chose >Insert >Tables >Pivot Tables >New Worksheet (Sheet3) >OK.


Excel will create the shell of your Pivot Table, you then need to drag and drop the Fields into the appropriate areas. In the example below I put Month into Filters; Region into Rows; Size into Columns; and Sum of Quantity into Values.


The Month is automatically set at All, but I can filter by a different month quickly and easily to change my results.


Want to know more? Have a look at the Creating a basic Pivot Table (2m 46s) video in Lynda.


LOOKUP FUNCTIONS: when you have a lot of data in a worksheet, VLOOKUP (vertical) which is for data arrange down columns and HLOOKUP (horizontal) which is for data arranged across rows, can help you extract specific data.

The general syntax for this is:

Lookup value = which row do we want?
Data range = the entire data area (all of the columns)
Column # = the column to match
True = approximate match
False = exact match

I want to look up the Product Code and have it return the exact Description. The formula for this is: =VLOOKUP(A7,A6:F14,FALSE)

vlookup-syntax-false vlookup-syntax-false-results

To see how VLOOKUP works, watch the Creating look up tables (3m 6s) video in Lynda.

All of these functions are more can be viewed in the Excel 2010 Essential Training (6h 21m) video in Lynda. Good luck and happy spreadsheeting!

March 19, 2018

Digital Storytelling and Curriculum Confidence with Jisc

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alex ONeill @ 11:26 am

There are two interesting courses coming up delivered by Jisc, who provide digital solutions for UK education and research. See below for how to book on if either is of interest (and please do let us know if you go!)

Digital storytelling *NEW*
17 and 24 April, 1 and 8 May (one course over four sessions)

This online workshop is aimed at anyone with an interest in developing the use of stories within their personal or professional practice. It will help you develop your understanding of the use of narrative and storytelling in education, research or student support; learn how to write stories that are memorable, entertaining and engaging for your audience; use digital tools to create and share stories; and facilitate your own collaborative storytelling projects.

Curriculum confidence
1 May, Bristol
18 June, Belfast
10th October, Manchester

This one day workshop will build confidence to design and deliver a digital curriculum that will prepare students to learn successfully in digital settings and to thrive in a digital world. It will include a series of activities which will support participants with designing in opportunities for students to develop relevant digital capabilities into their course, module or unit of learning.

If you have any queries, contact Jisc on 01235 822242 or The full schedule of courses is available at

February 12, 2018

Listen Again myth busting

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alex ONeill @ 11:41 am


There are a lot of rumours going around the place about our Listen Again lecture capture service. It was one of the first in the country to be rolled out across the whole University and set up to automatically record lectures without any lecturer involvement, however, some lecturers were and still are understandably concerned about what this means for their teaching practice. To put your mind at ease, here are some myths busted about Listen Again:

  1. Listen Again causes low attendance – Myth
    There have been numerous studies[1] into the impact of lecture capture on student attendance. The broad conclusion is that there is a negligible correlation between the two; with low attendance often caused by other factors. Studies tend to show that lecture recordings have a slightly positive impact on student achievement.In 2017, a Task and Finish Group on inclusivity concluded that lecture capture had no impact on attendance.
  2. I have more control if students use their own devices to record a lecture – Myth
    Recordings made by Listen Again are stored on-campus and are only made available to the audience(s) you dictate. You can request that we destroy these recordings at any time. Additionally, we warn students that any unauthorised redistribution of recordings is considered an academic offence, and track which students have accessed which recordings.If a student makes a recording on their own device, we do not have similar safeguards in place. We have no control over how personal recordings are subsequently used, where they are published, and the context in which they are presented.
  3. Lecture recordings can be used against me – Myth
    Recordings are only shared with the audience(s) that you have chosen when changing your recording preference. Recordings are never shared with HR or line managers within a department and are never used for performance management.
  4. Students can view my recordings as soon as the teaching event finishes – Myth
    Listen Again gives you 24 hours exclusive access to a recording before it is released to students. You can use this time to edit a recording or request its removal from Listen Again.
  5. I cannot edit a recording once it has been made – Myth
    Panopto, the software used to drive Listen Again, allows you to edit a recording at any time; even after the recording has been published to students. Additionally, staff can pause a recording that is in-progress, for example, if you discussed sensitive topics with students.

    [1] Bradley et al 2009, Traphagan et al 2009, Harpp et al 2004, White 2009, Bongey et al 2006, Grabe and Christopherson 2008, Harley et al 2003, Holbrook & Dupont 2003, Von Konsky et al. 2009; Holbrook & Dupont, 2009; Pursel & Fang, 2012, Gorissen et al. 2012, Morri, 2015; McGowan 2015.

If you have any further questions about Listen Again, IT Services is always happy to answer them, just email


Older Posts »