Guidance on Software for Online Teaching
This guide outlines the recommended solutions and software available to teaching staff for the delivery of online teaching. Listed here are a range of products that are available across the University. Each Faculty also provides additional, specialised products appropriate to their disciplines, and links to the Faculty support pages are provided at the end of this guide.
- General advice on online teaching
- Principles for managing on-campus and online behaviours effectively
It is important that all of our online content is fully accessible to all of our students. Apart from our ethical responsibility to ensure accessibility, this is also a legal requirement on the University.
When recording teaching activities it is important that you follow the appropriate guidance on this:
There are a number of ways in which high-quality online video content can be created.
VoiceThread is a collaborative, multimedia slideshow that can include text, images, documents, audio and video, and allows people to navigate slides and leave comments in several ways - using voice, text, audio or video. VoiceThreads can be created by staff or students, and be graded or un-graded. VoiceThread is integrated into Blackboard so there is no software to install.
PowerPoint and PowerPoint 365
For staff who have been transferred over to Office 365, it comes with an updated suite of Office applications. This includes PowerPoint 365, which has enhanced tools for adding narration and recording video presentations.
For staff who have not been transferred over to Office 365, PowerPoint 2016 can also be used to create your presentation videos.
Podcast Studio is a new package that allows you to upload and edit your videos. It can also be used to record screen capture or webcam footage. The software contains a range of simple editing functions that should be sufficient in most cases.
Collaborate is a component of Blackboard and requires no additional software installation. In addition to video conferencing it can be used to record lecture presentations. Collaborate works best when using a certified browser.
For more information see these guides to using Collaborate for Teaching.
Zoom can also be used to record lecture presentations.
- Media Services Zoom Guidance
- Zoom User Guide
- Zoom update 28.8.20 – use of Zoom in China and availability of Zoom for 20/21 academic year (news item)
Microsoft Teams was made available to all staff in mid-August 2020 and all students in September 2020. Please see Additional software solutions below for more information.
Creating accessible recorded online lectures
Please refer to the guidance on creating accessible teaching content.
Recording lectures with student participation
If you intend to record a lecture which may include student participation (e.g. synchronous lecture or part-lecture with student questions) please refer to the Guidance for recording student participation.
The following are alternative methods for creating and delivering online video content. Some of these methods should be used with caution. The Media Services and eLearning teams have the equipment and expertise to assist you in producing high quality content, but their availability may be limited. Automated lecture capture videos alone are unlikely to generate content of sufficient quality to meet the aims of the University in delivering the best possible online experience for our students.
Collaborate, Zoom (and Teams when available) can all be used to live-stream lectures, but this is not recommended unless absolutely necessary. Connection problems and other technical issues can easily disrupt live-streams and result in a poor student experience. Recorded presentations are more reliable, allow greater flexibility for both staff and students and can be checked and edited to ensure quality. Recorded presentations can and should be supplemented with other collaboration tools, such as discussion forums, to allow Q&A with students (see Additional Software Solutions).
In cases where live streaming (or any form of live interaction) is necessary, the following class size limits should be noted:
- Collaborate allows a maximum of 500 participants, but you should contact your eLearning Team if you plan to exceed 250 to ensure that optimum performance is enabled.
- Zoom can accommodate up to 300 participants on our standard licence. Zoom can allow up to 1000 participants for a given session, but this will involve an additional cost and you should contact Media Services if you wish to enable this.
It is highly recommended that any live-streams are recorded and made available to students through the Video Portal (see Video Storage).
Lecture capture recordings from previous years are available and can be copied across to your current Blackboard space. Again, this should be approached with caution. Lecture capture recordings are an excellent facility to support on-campus teaching, but are unlikely to provide the desired quality of learning experience when they are the sole content.
Over the summer, some teaching spaces in University Place and Roscoe will be made available to staff who wish to use these facilities to record their video presentations. High-resolution cameras will be installed in these rooms and the Media Services team will be available to provide support. The standard lecture capture facilities will also be available in these rooms, but please note the advice under Lecture Capture Recordings. This service will be available from Monday 27th July until mid-September. To take advantage of this you will need to seek approval to come onto campus and make the necessary arrangements with campus security to gain access.
Media Services provide a number of recording suites in Humanities Bridgeford Street. These suites are acoustically insulated and configured with all of the hardware and software needed to make high-quality video recordings. The Media Services team are working to ensure that these facilities can be safely used by staff over the summer and will be providing further details, including how to book these rooms, as soon as possible.
Whatever method you choose to capture/record your video presentations, there are several video editing tools available.
Podcast Video Editor
Within the Video Portal it is possible to do some basic trimming and removing sections from the middle of a recorded video. To access this tool select the option to edit the recording when uploading to the Video Portal. You will receive an email with a link to the editor when the recording is available for edit.
If the Podcast Studio editing facilities are insufficient for your needs, OpenShot is an open-source video editing suite with a full range of functions. OpenShot is a free package that you will need to download and install.
Open Broadcaster Software (OBS)
OBS is a fully-featured, professional level video capturing and editing suite that provides the full range of functions, including the ability to mix scenes from multiple sources. OBS is also a free, open-source package that will need to be downloaded and installed. This solution is only recommended for those with some experience of video editing.
Once your video has been recorded, edited and is ready for delivery, you should upload it to the Video Portal and embed it in Blackboard. Videos should NOT be uploaded directly into Blackboard. Blackboard is not optimised for video storage and this could lead to both performance and capacity issues.
The University is committed to the principles of inclusive design for all online content – ensuring the accessibility of teaching materials to all of our students. For this reason, all video content for the coming semester must be provided with closed captions (subtitles). From September 2020 this will also be a legal obligation on the University under the Accessibility Regulations 2018.
Videos uploaded to the Video Portal (see Video Storage) will automatically be provided with auto-generated captions through the Video Portal player.
Both Zoom and MS Teams also provide auto-generated captions on the playback of recorded sessions. However, the limitations of auto-generated captions are recognised, particularly with regard to technical language. The IT Services Media Technologies team are investigating possible solutions to this issue, but any improvement will ONLY apply to the Video Portal player.
It is strongly recommended that any recordings, including those in Collaborate, Zoom or MS Teams are recorded locally and uploaded to the Video Portal (see guidance to individual products in Recording Lectures).
Other online teaching
The University has committed to delivering all lectures online, but also to provide our students with as many opportunities as possible to engage in on-campus learning activities. However, it is recognised that there are many situations where additional online activities can be used to supplement and enhance online presentations. This section lists a number of tools that can be used to support such activities.
Additional Software Solutions
Adobe Spark Page
Adobe Spark is a simple to use tool that allows the creation of high quality text/graphic presentations. IT Services are working on a single sign-on approach to facilitate access to this package but until this is in place, please contact your eLearning Team if you wish to secure a licence.
STACK is an online assessment package used for mathematics. A project is in place to upgrade STACK (and the underlying MOODLE hosting platform) and extend its capacity by an additional 500 users. Further detail will be provided when available.
Bb Collaboration Tools
Blackboard includes a suite of tools that allow asynchronous communication with students. These tools are particularly useful in combination with a recorded online lecture to allow students to raise questions.
Groups can be used to divide students into working sections. Each Group has its own space, with links to tools to help students collaborate, such as Blackboard Collaborate, discussion boards and wikis. Only the instructor and the Group members can access the Group tools. For example, each Group can have a private Discussion Board that is only accessible to a Group's members.
Piazza is an alternative collaboration tool that is now integrated into Blackboard and incorporates a fuller range of features than the built-in Bb discussion forums, including polling.
TurningPoint allows students to respond to a poll or submit queries during class via their own wifi-enabled device. Student responses can be presented in a chart, providing an opportunity for feedback and further discussion.
In addition to online guidance on TurningPoint, support is available from your Faculty eLearning team.
Peergrade (Eduflow) (Available: semester 2)
Peergrade (will be renamed Eduflow from 1st September 2020) is an online product that supports student peer review assessments. This will become available for use before the beginning of semester 2.
Blackboard Peer Assessment
Blackboard has a tool for setting peer assessments. You will need to attach a clear rubric to set expectations and to allow students to consistently review each other’s work.
Important Note: To create a Self and Peer Assessment, you first set up the Assessment itself and then add questions. If the assessment is available and visible to Students, then questions will also be visible as they are added. During the creation of questions there is a setting to make a model response available to Students - it is up to you whether you feel it is useful to provide Students with model answers when they are accessing the answers. Questions always appear visible to Students as they are added to the assessment. In order to avoid this, it is recommended that the entire assessment is hidden from Students until all questions have been added. To do this, set the assessment availability to 'No' under the options section in the assessment set up form.
You can use Blackboard Collaborate Ultra to hold online office hours - just let your students know when you'll be in the 'classroom'.
You can also schedule an online seminar, in which you can share slides and run polls to check student understanding. Students can ask questions using the chat panel.
Microsoft Teams can complement Blackboard Collaborate with:
- Text chat on private and open channels
- Ad-hoc video and audio calls for 1-2-1 and small-group discussion
- Drag and drop document sharing
Please be mindful that not all of our students will be living in the same time zone, and factor this into your interaction plans accordingly.
For communication between staff it is recommended you use Zoom, Skype for Business, or MS Teams if available to you.
If you decide to adopt Zoom for student interaction, then an alternative, asynchronous method needs to be put in place for those who need it.
In addition, as with all online working platforms, it is essential that you use the available security features to protect your meetings and discussions. This is especially the case if your meeting contains any form of restricted or confidential information. There is now an updated guide on our Media Services' Zoom website providing instructions on this:
This guide also includes information on how you can set up breakout rooms, polling and other features.
You can also find support via:
MS Teams is now available for all staff and students across the University. It provides a suite of collaboration tools that you may find useful in communicating with your students as part of teaching. Though many of the functions are available in Blackboard / Zoom already (and Blackboard continues to be our primary VLE), you may find Teams a useful addition. The core functions of MS Teams includes:
- Team document collaboration and management
- Team audio/visual meetings
- 1:1 or Group chat
- Team Channels that can be used to organise any of the above by group or subject
Over the coming months the Flexible Learning Programme will be reviewing these tools and providing guidance and recommendations on how they may be used. In the meantime, if you are comfortable using these additional tools or would like to experiment, we encourage you to do so. Your experiences and feedback will be vital to ensuring that we get the best use out of these products and helping us to establish and share best practice. We will be setting up a user community to facilitate this.
If you would like to request a Team for your teaching unit, please use this Microsoft Teams Request form. You can find out how to get the most out of Microsoft Teams by exploring the guides and resources available and the University's guidance on Microsoft 365.
Please note that for any tools beyond the core functions listed above, eLearning teams and IT Services will only be able to provide support on a “best endeavours” basis. The range of features and tools for which we can provide full support will grow over time. If you are experimenting with any advanced features, you should also make this clear to your students and be prepared to revert to fully-supported systems (e.g. Blackboard) if necessary.
This document provides further guidance on the use of MS Teams for delivering teaching.
Blackboard (Bb9) is the University's online learning system. It allows students to view course material for any units that they are taking. Students can also complete and submit coursework and monitor their progress using online tests and quizzes. The discussion and chat functions allow students to communicate with their lecturer or other students enrolled on the same course.
You can embed many of the recommended tools into Blackboard, ensuring that your content is all in one place.
Staff not yet familiar with Blackboard might wish to consult the Blackboard 9: A quick introduction for staff guide. For further guidance on using Blackboard, contact your eLearning team.
Specific software/applications that you currently use (school or subject-specific)
In addition there are many pieces of software available that are specific to Faculties, Schools or particular courses. These are ordinarily made available via the various computer clusters across the campus. On an annual basis ITS conduct an exercise to review these applications and take requests to update or make new applications available. Work is underway to allow remote access to the applications necessary for staff and students – see the full alphabetical list of all the applications that will be made available and the corresponding computer clusters.
If you and your students rely on specific software for your area of expertise you will need to check this list to ensure your software is listed. Please take note of the text at the top of the first tab on the Excel document before scrolling down to the alphabetical list of applications beneath.
If you have any questions, concerns or specific requests that relate to the applications that will be available you should raise these by email:
- Biology, Medicine and Health: email@example.com
- Humanities: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Science and Engineering: email@example.com
Please note - if you have requested any new applications or updates to existing applications since the start of the year that have not been completed, these requests are currently being reviewed. You can check Applications – List 2 to ensure they are included and view the current status of these requests and we will continue to update this list as it is worked through.
Wherever possible PC Clusters will be open to students in the coming semester, with social distancing, additional cleaning and other measures in place to ensure student safety. In addition, the ITS Application Delivery Team are working to ensure that a number of cluster PCs are available via remote access, so that any cluster-based teaching software will be available to students remotely if needed.
The Return to Campus Working Group continue to review possible solutions for cluster-based teaching and further advice will be provided when available.
Due to social distancing restrictions, room capacities have been reduced, and as a result, there are fewer computers available for students to sit down and use in our PC clusters.
As part of IT Services’ End User Computing project, a new service will be launched from Monday 5 October which enables students and staff to remotely log into cluster PCs from their own computer or mobile device, after registering for the University’s new Multi-Factor Authentication service.
This means that students and staff will be able to access PC cluster software 24/7 from any location with an internet connection using their own equipment, if they do not have physical access to PC clusters.
This is an upgrade to the previous version of remote cluster access which was implemented earlier in 2020.
More information will soon be posted on the IT Services website:
Faculty Specific Resources
Each Faculty manages and supports a range of additional tools and resources specific to their Schools and programmes. Further information on the products, services and guidance available in your area can be found on the Faculty eLearning websites:
For further information on any of the software in this guide, please contact your eLearning Team.