Students Staff
University of Essex

July 19, 2013

Testing Methodology: How can I get involved?

Filed under: Project Report,System Development,Technical — sgswaine @ 10:48 am

Testing Methodology

In our testing methodology for this project we have tried to make it easy for people to “jump in” and make suggestions or comments on areas of the system before they are released.

Below is the “testing life cycle” we are using for the project:

Alpha testing

1. Richard develops a part of the system on his local machine and then checks that the part functionally works okay eg when you press a button it retrieves a set of search results. When Richard is happy that this function works correctly, it is moved onto a testing server where other people can have access to view it or play with the new button.

Black, Grey and User testing

2. This is where Richard, the Learning Technology Team, the testing Frotnrunner and testing “Ambassadors” check the new feature and how it actually performs. We’d hope at this stage it is less about finding bugs and more about checking whether a search is performing the right actions. The testing ambassadors are a core group of students, academics or admin staff that will be notified when there is a new feature that needs checking over. This is so we don’t push out something live that does not behave as expected.

At this stage, the feature will also be opened up for input by the relevant user groups self-enrolled on the Moodle course (we won’t allow students, for example, to check a feature that only admin staff will have access to). Users on the Moodle forum will be notified that there is a new feature they are able to test or view and leave feedback on. This raises awareness of a feature before going live.

This stage will only be open for a certain period of time for input from Moodle users. Then the testing for that feature will be closed and the feature will be rolled out to the “Beta” department.

“Beta” testing

3. We will choose a sole department to have access to the new system before other departments do. The “Beta” department will be reading from and creating assignments in the same database as other departments – but they will see a different looking system in the web browser. This means we can test the system with live data for all staff and students from the “Beta” department – this is something quite different for ISS development and something we think will help with smoother integration for other departments. We will discuss the selected “Beta” department in a future blog post, as they will be vital to being a  buffer between testing and full release, making sure this system performs as expected for a department. It’s the bridge between testing features with a dozen people, to releasing to 14,000.

Full release

4. Once we are happy with the performance of a feature, and possibly made alterations we will release a blog post and targetted email informing users of the expected publish date of a new feature. It will then be released during the next appropriate slot – most likely a Tuesday morning network at risk period between 8am and 9am.

Click on our image below to view a .pdf image of the testing cycle.



July 16, 2013

OCS bug fixes

Filed under: System Development,System Update,Technical — sgswaine @ 3:15 pm

Our new developer, Richard, has been familiarising himself with the current OCS codebase and technical layout to find out how it works and is developed. To test his bedding-in skills, we asked him to make the following changes and amendments to the current Online Coursework Submission system:

  • Fix Bug: Issues with deadlines in week 52; no appropriate warning to users that this could be a bad time to set a deadline.
  • Fix Bug: Where under particular conditions assignments would appear to be duplicated.
  • Enhancement: Create a new “Contact us” form so that users of the system could log queries or problems with the relevant team, the IT Helpdesk, the Learning technology team or the MEFE project team.

The resulting changes to the system have now gone live. All new developments will be forward scheduled so users are aware when things will change.

July 12, 2013

Welcome Richard Lerwill – the technical developer for the Making Electronic Feedback Effective (MEFE) project

Filed under: Event,Project Report,Technical — admin @ 7:53 am

Richard will be working full-time on the technical developments for the MEFE  project. Richard will be working on a .Net 4.0 platform using C# predominately using Visual Studio.

A little bit about Richard in his own words…

Hello everyone, my name is Richard and I have recently joined the Learning Technology Team, as a software developer.

Having been a software developer for more years than I care to remember, I have previously worked on e-commerce websites such as, travel website, events management company and language school, where I was involved in the installation and maintenance of the Moodle e-Learning software.

So far in my three weeks here, I’ve been impressed by the facilities in the University campus and everyone I have met has been extremely welcoming.

Over the course of the next twelve months I have been given the responsibility of developing the Online Coursework Submission system (OCS).  Already enabling students to upload and watermark coursework, I will be developing the system to submit work for plagiarism checking and most importantly to improve the two way communication between staff and student with various marking and feedback options.

I’m looking forward to meeting you over the next twelve months.

Richard Lerwill.


July 9, 2013

Making Electronic Feedback Effective – 10 things that will be changing in OCS

Filed under: Project Report — admin @ 1:07 pm

A new project, called Making Electronic Feedback Effective, is underway to improve the OCS. In order to keep you informed and to make the project as transparent as possible, we thought it would be useful to list some of the initial things that will be changing in OCS. Some of these things actually involve many smaller changes and actions, but here is a starter for 10:

1. The name

We are changing the name because Online Coursework Submission doesn’t really encompass all the activities that the new system will be handling; such as online marking and feedback. The name change will take place over summer 2013, so watch this space for the unveil.

2. The look

Some changes will be made to the appearance of the system when you login, mainly the addition of a navigation bar on the left-hand side, to allow better access to new areas of the system. The screen will also be widened to optimise the view on mobile devices – something we think will be really important for online marking over the coming year. Also, when new buttons are released to the system, they will appear highlighted until you click on them, this way you can learn about new features as you use the system.

3. One assignment, one entry

We are working to achieve “one assignment, one entry” – eliminating the duplication of creating assignments in both MIS and OCS. Ideally, assignments will be entered into OCS and then automatically displayed in MIS. However, there will be an option to enter assignments into MIS that do not require electronic submission.

4. Personalised staff roles

The system will now understand better the differences between administrative and academic staff as opposed to just “staff”- this will allow us greater flexibility in determining the roles that different users play within departments and in personalising their features and alerts.

5. myAlerts activity feed

The activity feed will become a personalised feature that appears for all users when they log in and will show them relevant items such as: upcoming deadlines; whether they have received feedback; if they are due to complete marking on a piece of work soon; or if a student has requested some further communication with their lecturer etc. Some of the items will be purely informational and some of them will be items that you can check off.

6. Mark online – using Turnitin GradeMark

Turnitin GradeMark will start to be used as a merged feature in our new system providing a seamless facility. There are lots of features here to be discussed with academics and staff and we will be able to communicate the configurable options shortly.

7. Plagarism detection – using Turnitin Originality Check

You will be able to start using Turnitin OC but we hope to make the process simpler; by being able to set-up at the assignment level, a mechanism to automatically send documents to Turnitin OC once submissions have closed. We also hope you will be able to interface with Turnitin OC through the system without having to go to an additional web browser.

8. Giving feedback

There will be a new facility for students and staff that allows for two way feedback and communication; such as academics being able to give assessment feedback and personal development feedback; and students being able to use call-to-action features to discuss your feedback with the marker, for example. Academics will have the ability to give overall feedback to groups that they define; or by classes or cohorts that are already defined in other timetabling systems.

9. Audio feedback

We will be including the option to upload audio feedback for students.

10. Improved reminders

Better communication for all staff and students about their deadlines for/notifications of submissions, marking and administrative tasks; in the form of an activity feed and e-mail alerts. Items will show up in the myAlerts feed and more notifications will also be sent through e-mail.

There will be many more additional features that will be implemented over the coming year. We will release a news item later in the summer with more of the great benefits we hope to build into the system. The questions on many of your lips may now be “When will all this be happening?” and “Will this effect very busy or crucial times of the year?”. The answer is that we will do our very best to be as least disruptive as possible. We have a very thorough testing process for this system and also all features will be tested by a single department before being rolled out to all other departments.

We won’t be releasing huge changes in one go but will release smaller packages of changes at a time, such as a two new buttons or features. We also will be consulting departments what they want as their “default settings” there are many configurable settings in the system such as “Is marking anonymous?”, “Do second markers get to choose a sample of work to mark or is it random?”, “Does the releasing of marks need to go through a hierarchy of approvals before being released?” All these settings and more will be able to be configured per assignment but each department will have the option of setting a default set of attributes for their assignments.

The next blog posts to come out will cover:

  • How to get in contact/how we will communicate with all users.
  • Our testing and implementation methodology and who is involved.
  • Who the beta department is and what is required of them.
  • Posts to say when a new feature has been developed and when it is expected o be released.

You can enrol yourself on the Moodle course to be made aware of development news and to be involved in user testing.


July 8, 2013

Welcome to the Assessment and Feedback – Making Electronic Feedback Effective blog

Filed under: Project Report — admin @ 8:27 am

This is the home of news updates for the technical developments to the current Online Coursework Submission (OCS) system.

Following on from talks that have been underway since early 2013, there is a wider Assessment and Feedback programme of discussions going on at the university that is being led by Learning and Development and championed by Professor Jane Wright, PVC Academic Standards. The MEFE project is one of the subsidiaries of these discussions.  It is centered on the themes of:

  • assessment and feedback good practice;
  • e-marking, e-feedback, e-assessments; and
  • the Learning Technology Teams’ own ideas for developments to OCS.

We have assembled information about the numerous ways in which academics, students and administrators can see room for improvement and engagement with electronic submission, assessments and feedback. Over the next year we will be making some substantial changes to the OCS to handle e-marking and e-feedback; as well as giving it a new name to encompass these other, wider concepts.

How we will communicate with you about changes:

We will communicate, predominately via our blog, any changes we are making, and are due to make over the life of the technical project.

  • We also have a self-enrolable Moodle course that guides users through the new developments and documentation that we will sometimes link to (this is only available for Essex staff and students).
  • We will send news articles to “Campus Updates” when there are “bundles” of developments all being released at once.
  • There is a new “Contact us” form within OCS for you to get support, log technical problems, or send enquiries about the project developments.
  • We will send relevant targeted e-mails to DA’s, HODs, administrators, academics etc, when there is a feature or item that is changing, which will be of particular interest to that user group.

We are hoping the developments will be as seamless as possible and we will try and to deploy changes at the most suitable times of year for users of the system. Our next blog will outline what changes we are actually going to make and what our testing procedure is.