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Where students need to carry out online surveys, and where academic staff do not have a preference as to which tool the students use, we recommend eSurv:
A tutorial video explaining how to use eSurv is also available here:

One area where students sometimes come unstuck with their research projects is when they try to extract data from the free online survey tool they have used. While it is often easy to create a simple online survey for free, and easy for a limited number of respondents to take part in the survey, it is not always so easy for the researcher to access their data.

There are a large number of free online survey tools available for use, and choosing the most appropriate one is not always easy. In almost all cases, accessing the full-functionality of the survey tool is not free. For example, the free version of the survey tool may be limited by number and type of questions available (a maximum of ten questions, for example, and only basic questions). It may also be limited to a maximum number of responses (fifty responses per survey, for example). Another common restriction is to limit access to the survey data, and not to allow the researcher to download the data for analysis in a statistical package. While all these restrictions can be overcome by paying a monthly subscription to the survey tool provider, students often feel rather cheated when they find out that it will cost them, in some cases, £60 to download their data for analysis in SPSS. They often feel especially annoyed when they find out that if they chosen different tool they could have had free access to their data.

As part of a recent University of Northampton URB@N project, Paul Rice, Phil Oakman, Clive Howe and Rob Farmer decided to find out whether there was a genuinely free online survey tool out there somewhere. And they decided to make things more difficult by trying to find one that was also easy to use and that stored data in a way that was compliant with the UK Data Protection Act. The good news is that they found one!

If you would like to find out more then you can read all about it in their paper published in the journal MSOR Connections:


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annotationHypothesis is browser based annotator which runs in Chrome and Firefox browsers.

It is excellent as:

  • A personal web annotation tool
  • A group annotation tool
  • A peer feedback tool*

Groups are easily created and can be named freely as each group has a unique ID to avoid common names being used up!

*Before getting over-excited, I should caution that Hypothesis really only works on pages (or PDF files) that are not protected by a login, which will reduce the number of scenarios it might be deployed in.  However, sharing PDF or image files through an ‘Anyone with the link can read’ type permission is reasonably secure and very, very unlikely to to picked up by Google as a search result. There’s also no moderation, so peer review needs to be limited to individuals who can engage with the process sensibly. NILE does allow us to create a mechanism to control the deployment of annotation links through groups and adaptive release.

It’s also possible to collect page annotations together through an RSS feed or your own Hyphothesis account – if these are printed to a PDF, this could be used as part of a portfolio of evidence or assignment.

There are some very useful educator resources on the Hypothesis web site and more information (including a short video demo) on the NILEX site.

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pile of journals The June 2015 roundup of LearnTech news is now available

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A number of old themes are being retired in MyPad in June and have already been replaced with a new set of responsive designs that will work well on mobile devices. If you use a MyPad site for teaching or personal use it is worth checking whether you are using old themes (you will be prompted when you log in) and updating them or just consider one of the new themes to freshen up your site and make it smartphone friendly.

The NILE External Resources Site (NILEX), which lists free applications you can use to create content for use in NILE,  has undergone such an update and continues to expand – there are now over 50 resources covered.  Latest posts include Canva (an online graphics and infographics creator) and AppSheet (which creates free IOS and Android data-driven apps using Google Spreadsheets).

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The tablet in three of its four configurationsAs part of the University Institute of Learning and Teaching funded Parklife project, Nick Cartwright has been piloting the use of a hybrid laptop. The project involved students working in open spaces of their own choice with Nick’s support, so a device capable of taking notes and sharing information with small groups of students was considered worthy of inclusion to support the process.

The device used – a Lenovo Yoga 2 11.6″ – was selected on the basis that it was capable of using the University’s common applications installed on staff and student PCs and that it appeared to offer flexibility in its physical use – it has a touch screen and can be used in stand, tent and tablet configurations, along with a standard laptop layout.

As many of the activities Nick would be carrying out mirrored some of the potential practices that might be used at the new Waterside Campus, LearnTech agreed to record Nick’s experiences to share with Waterside stakeholders. This is the first of a number of reviews we intend to publish – though we are not recommending the University or members of staff purchase this or any other particular model of laptop. We are just seeking to identify the strengths and weaknesses of such devices in the workplace and classroom.

The Yoga has been used to record notes and observations during Parklife sessions but – in practice – it has been relatively little used to share information with small groups of students. While Nick was impressed with the ability to be able to hook it over a chair back as an informal display, in practice the small screen didn’t make it practical to share with more than two or three students.

Aside from general web browsing and Office applications, Nick found it an excellent device to prepare Prezis with but found Turnitin did not respond well to the touch screen. That said, he did complete all his marking using the Yoga successfully. Its particular strength seemed to be that he could quickly move away from an area of disturbance to a quite corner with minimal disruption. Battery life was acceptable – enough for 3-4 hours and a fast one hour recharge was useful. Ultimately, Nick would like to be able to dock to a large screen with a full keyboard for more intensive text work but has found that almost all his work has been possible on the Yoga.

Its main drawbacks are the small screen and weight when used as a tablet – compared to an iPad (around 500g), 1.4 Kg would be uncomfortable to use for a long period – but the flexibility may well be worth this if the device is used in more than one mode. Some reviews suggest that the 802.11n only wireless connect might be an issue, but Nick has noticed no significant wireless connection problems. The mini-HDMI port is the only physical way to connect to an external screen or projector, so this needs to be borne in mind when considering use cases and the available infrastructure. But the fact that a colleague purchased the larger screen version of the Yoga 2 for herself after trying this machine over a period of time is a clear indication that this is a useful device.

Nick is continuing his evaluation in his Law teaching and hopes to try out Panopto at some point as the included web camera appears to be of very good quality.  We will follow up on his experiences later in the year.


Camera LensIn LearnTech we are regularly asked by academic staff about where to get images for use in NILE,  raising questions of copyright and attribution for use of those images.

Well, perhaps one useful place to start is with the following blog from John Spencer: Eight Free Photo Sites that Require No Attribution. It’s definitely a good place to start with ensuring that you have the appropriate permission to use the images that you have found on NILE, or in your slides.

P.S. The rest of his blog is pretty good too – worth signing up for as he sends out some useful tips and tricks for in the classroom and although generally directed at school teachers, I’ve picked up a few good ideas along the way – including this one :)

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Sister to Qzzr, Pollcaster uses the same account details to create simple ‘one or the other’ type polls. A nice feature is that it collects age and gender information from participants (if they wish to share it – they get to share the results as a reward) and links them to a general (county/state/country) location.

You will need to use the <iframe> version of the embed code in MyPad or NILE – look for the ‘Having Trouble?’ option.

You can find information about other third party tools to incorporate in NILE (including the excellent Storify referred to in an earlier post by Belinda) on the NILEX site

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mapembedAlthough some mapping applications are included as part of the NILE External Resources blog, more detailed use cases have been assembled in this Xerte learning unit to guide you through some possible applications of free mapping and associated software. This includes creating overlays, plotting images, exploring historic imagery, creating tours and crowd sourcing geographic data. Most tools allow the created content to be shared to viewers who will not need to register in any way.

Many of these use cases could be applied to collaborative student projects or research tasks which  relate to specific geographic areas, though the requirement for registration of an editing tool will restrict their use as part of a summative assessment.

We hope to grow and improve this resources, so if you have any use case examples or other applications we would be very pleased to include them. Since this original post was made, we have added CartoDB as another resource.

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material icon library screenshotClear signposting for learners is really important but getting a consistent style to a site or learning unit can be difficult. Google have released 750 icons as a Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) resource that provides a large number of formats and sizes. You can download it from – this is a big file though, over 50MB.

Although font format is missing from this package, Sergey Kupletsky has created one that you can use if you prefer that approach (most modern professional web sites use this method nowadays).

The combination of all these formats should mean that it is relatively easy to create websites, learning units and even printed material that follows the same design.

(First published in the Nile External resources site)

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mashup instructionsAlthough we suggest using the Media Gallery on NILE for students to submit work to, there are a couple of drawbacks. You would need to add feedback and marks through a Grade Centre column and students cannot see their submitted work in the media gallery, which has led to a few anxious calls to the LearnTech helpdesk.

The alternative is to use a standard Blackboard Assignment (not Turnitin) and allow students to use the Kaltura Mashup tool – which is part of the text box editor. This creates a Grade Centre column and students will have more confidence that they have submitted their work.

It does require clear guidance though so we have created a basic explanation (with screenshots that will work in any module), that you can paste into the description text box (use the HTML editor) to get you started.

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