Webinar – Getting the Most out of Discussion Boards

The FMS TEL team are proud to present our upcoming Webinar – Getting the Most out of Discussion Boards

Thursday 17th June 2021
9am-10am and 1pm-2pm BST

Discussion boards are very difficult to ‘get right’ and trying to encourage and maintain student participation can be a challenge. Students may be reticent to engage initially and it is sometimes difficult to design an exciting discussion task in a non-synchronous teaching environment. This webinar is a practical session which aims to give you tips that you can quickly implement to boost engagement with your discussion boards.

By the end of the session you will: 

  • Have a range of discussion board task ideas to incorporate into your teaching 
  • Understand techniques to encourage student engagement 
  • Be able to set up different types of group discussion tasks 

We look forward to seeing you there. Click below to book a place, or to receive a reminder to access the recorded session and materials when available.

Teaching Document Accessibility

The Faculty of Medical Sciences Digital Skills provides lifelong learning to students throughout the faculty on a bespoke basis. Our tutorials cover the use of Microsoft Office programmes such as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, as well as tutorials on how to work with specific media such as images and posters.

Recently, we have increased focus on the value of our tutorials by highlighting lifelong learning skills for accessibility. As part of our Word tutelage, we teach students to use Styles to format their documents. Styles are packets of information that control how text looks and behaves. Namely, we teach students to work with heading and caption styles. In addition to being effective and efficient methods of formatting text, styles have an important role to play in accessibility. Screen readers can analyse a Word document using styles and accurately interpret headings. This allows users to easily navigate through documents. And, when converted to a PDF, styles automatically create tags in the document affording the same benefit for screen reader navigation.

Additionally, we teach students how to add alternative text (alt text) to images they insert into Word or PowerPoint. Alt text allows users with impaired visibility to understand what an image depicts. By using alt text, student increase accessibility of their digital documents. And, like styles, when converted to PDF, images retain tags of their alt text.

These skills are truly lifelong learning skills as they provide students with the knowledge and ability to create accessible documents. These skills will serve them in their future careers where digital documents will be required to meet specific accessibility regulations.

Chameleon Programme – Blended Working

The Project Beginning

In September 2019, I started a Chameleon Programme that was tasked with reviewing how the university could support colleagues to work more flexibly. A particularly relevant topic as it turned out!

The Chameleon Programme is a year long business improvement programme that involves colleagues from across the university working together, in multi-functional teams, on specific projects set by Senior Officers Group . I was teamed with three other university colleagues, who work in different areas of the university and with different roles.  Our project sponsor was John Hogan and we had to set about devising plan and understanding our project scope.

We began by gathering information from sources at the forefront of flexible working, such as CIPD and ACAS, as well as reviewing existing university policies . Interviews with various colleagues across the university, such as School and services managers gave us a better understanding of what ​Flexible working meant in the context of our university. Consensus was that there was support for increased flexible working practices but there was a need for greater guidance to ensure fairness . 

We also had the opportunity to visit an external company, called The Thirteen Group, who are a social housing provider located in Middlesbrough.  Their belief is based on staff being in control of their working patterns with productivity measured by outputs rather than presenteeism. They invested heavily in infrastructure and technology as well as providing guiding principles, with endorsement from senior leadership, which was key to driving the changes. ​It had showcased what was possible.

Desk availability system and The Thirteen Group

We decided to try to mirror some of the Thirteen Group principle through an initiative called ‘Flexible Fortnight’ – the principle was to remove existing boundaries to working times and allow teams to manage working hours accordingly, and we were to capture staff response via a survey.

We had a plan.  We had teams ready to take part in the Flexible Fortnight and had generated recommendations that could be put forward and arranging events to present our findings.

Then, it all changed

Then COVID came along! 

COVID has been responsible in changing working patterns, for most employees, across the university; how we work, where we work and when we work. 

In March 2020, everything changed.  The majority of us were asked to work from home.   It was potentially the best Chameleon project ever! Or it might be the worst ever!

What did that mean for our project?  Well, it meant change too.  We could no longer pursue the initiatives that we had arranged.  So, we created a questionnaire to incorporate feedback about working for home.  We combined the survey results with the findings from our research and submitted a report in June 2020 to our sponsor.  We were also invited to be part of some of the Executive Board lunch meetings that touched on the new way of remote working and listened to feedback from staff across the wider University.    

Its flexible; its informal; its team specific; its build on trust.

This culminated, in December 2020, with an invitation to join a task and finishing group for blended working. The group includes representation from the Faculties, People Services, NUIT, Estates and Trade Unions with the focus on discussing how the university workforce could mix campus-based working and working remotely, post pandemic. Consultations are still ongoing, papers have been submitted to various committees, and webinars have been arranged to give colleagues the opportunity to hear plans first hand. Hopefully, this will be the start of clearer vision going forward.

The Future of working patterns

What have we learnt? A lot! One thing is certain, there is a consensus that we do not want to go back to the way we operated before. Why would we look back when we have come so far? Though the past year has been challenging on many different levels, it has also allowed many of us to gain first-hand experience of working in more flexible ways. There is an opportunity to embrace change from the lessons learnt and build a more modern approach to our working culture and behaviours. To make a change like this before COVID was hard to imagine.

As a project team, we have achieved far more than we ever envisaged; having helped give guidance and findings to potentially changes in University working patterns and policies.  The Chameleon programme lasts for 12 months and this is where it comes to an end for or team. However, we hand over the baton now and the story continues. Only time will show what the university does to progress and evolve the changes it needs to our working patterns.

We have been fortunate in terms of the timing of our project and I feel that we have taken advantage of the situation to allow us to leave a legacy from Chameleon project on the university.

From a Chameleon Project, For the University

3D Object Photography

3D object photography can have many purposes from selling products to interactive learning. It can be a complicated process, but we recently found a way to do it at home or in the office.

The thinking behind this for FMS is for the ability to show things such as models of parts of the body for example, which students away from the lab won’t have access to. They can interact with the object, and look 360 degrees around it. You can use a host such as Sirv (Links to an external site.) to create an interactive object.

Below is an example of what can be created. It can be viewed in full screen from the Sirv website:  https://tracyncl3d.sirv.com/Head/Head.spin (Links to an external site.) 

Would you like to try it yourself? You can find a guide on this in the FMS TEL Community


Using Canvas Commons

Michelle Miller shares her learning about Canvas Commons, which she has been using to share FMS digital skills content across multiple courses in Canvas.

Canvas Commons

Canvas Commons is a repository where Canvas course creators can upload all or part of their course for easy access and sharing within their organisation or to the Canvas public. You can use Canvas Commons to store your content (for your eyes and access only) or for wider use. It is an easy way to access and import Canvas content to multiple courses. This post will walk you through the steps of publishing part of your course in Canvas Commons.

Sharing to Canvas Commons

Begin by identifying the module, assignment, quiz, page, or other module content you want to share in Commons. In this explanation we will discuss sharing a module, but the same steps can be used for sharing a part of a module like an assignment, page, or quiz.

In the module title, select the three vertical dots and choose Share to Commons.

You’ll now be taken to the Commons uploading page where you will select settings for your Commons item.

Sharing and License:

                Toggle – Is this an update to a previous shared resource? This tool allows you to make updates to items you have already shared in Commons. These updates are pushed out to anyone who has imported your Commons content, thus allowing you to make changes and updates to content globally.

                Who can use this resource? – You can choose ‘Only Me’ for content you want to be able to import into future courses, but do not want others to have access to. Or, you can choose All of Newcastle University to give access to anyone at the university, or Public to give access to any Canvas User.

                Content Type – This allows you to mark the content specifically as a template or open textbook. This is optional.

                License – Choose the level of license you wish to apply to the content. This is especially important to consider when making the content Public.

                Add Additional Information – This is where you can enter the details for attribution, such as the author to credit and date of publication/copyright.


                Title – Give the item(s) a short but descriptive title that would help others locate and understand its content.

                Description – Provide a detailed description of the content. This should help others understand what is covered by the content.

                Tags – These optional items allow you to tag specific words or phrases that help identify and describe the content to improve search recall.

                Image – Choose an image to display on the Commons card for your content. You can upload your own image or choose one from the Canvas photo library.


                Grade/Level – Use the slider to mark the appropriate grade level for your Commons content. This can span multiple grades, e.g. Undergraduate and Graduate.

Press the Share button when you have completed all the settings for your Commons content. You will now find your content under the Share tab in Canvas Commons. Remember, you can make changes to your Commons content and push updates in the future. You will be asked to enter version comments when doing this. It is recommended you note the date the update is processed.

Importing Canvas Commons Material

Importing Canvas Commons material is easy to do. Simply go to the Home page of your course and choose Import from Commons button on the right side of the screen. Search for the item by title, name, institution, or tag. Select the correct item then choose the Import/Download button on the right side of the screen.

Select the course or courses you want to import the content into and choose Import into Course. You will receive a message saying the content has successfully imported.

The content will now be shown in the relevant page in Canvas, e.g. a module import will be shown on the Modules page. You can then choose to edit the module, assignment, quiz, or page as you normally would in Canvas. Imported assignments will be shown at the bottom of the assignments page under “Imported Assignments”. You can make changes to content as you would edit your normal Canvas content.


Sharing to Canvas Commons is an easy and effective way to make your course content available to yourself in other courses, others within the university, or with the wider Canvas public. It allows you to access not only your own material, but material created by others that you might find useful for your course. It also allows you to showcase your material to the Canvas public.