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Annual Moodle maintenance

Wednesday, November 4th, 2020

Assessments and courses are running quite differently in 2020. As a result, the normal November/early December maintenance weekend has had to be adjusted.

Annual upgrade and maintenance period for Moodle will take place between 13 and 17 December 2020. This will include:

  1. SUNLearn
  2. StudentFeedback
  3. SUNOnline
  4. Learning Hub (USB)
  5. Schools (Telematic Schools Project)

Affected staff and students will be reminded of possible disruption in access, but the IT team will be working hard to ensure that this is kept to a minimum.

For lecturers, roll-over of 2020 modules will take place ahead of the scheduled maintenance. The CLT support team will communicate details of this to all faculties within the next week.


Developing a stronger support base for Learning Technology Systems

Wednesday, September 9th, 2020

Over the past 6 months, the Learning Technologies teams (IT & CLT) have had the responsibility of ensuring that all students and staff are effectively supported on SUNLearn, SUNOnline and associated Learning Technology Systems. These efforts have included increasing the number of support agents, working collaboratively with Faculty representatives and Blended Learning Coordinators, and using available data to understand where the need lies with the University community.

This past weekend, the call centre dedicated to SUNLearn and other learning technologies, was upgraded by the IT Microsoft Specialists. This upgrade now allows staff or students to select either “General SUNLearn support” or “SUNLearn Assessment” support as the reason for their call. Assessment queries are diverted to more senior support officers before being routed to the rest of the team should the senior staff be busy on another call. This change is in response to recommendations from the University Ombudsman, the Business Continuity Committee for Online Learning, and, as a result of quality assurance mechanisms and monitoring on the LearnHelp service desk.

New support officers are currently undergoing intensive training in preparation for support during examinations and assessments scheduled from October. At the same time, the 2nd and 3rd level support teams for Learning Technologies in IT are preparing for annual upgrades and completing final testing schedules for any issues that may have come up in the past 3 months. All in all, a very busy time ahead!

As you head into preparation periods for end of year assessment and activities, please reach out to the support team with any questions you may have.

Support hours are as follows:

Monday – Friday: 08h00 – 22h00
Saturday: 08h00 – 16h30

Learning Technologies Service desk
Learning Technologies Call Centre: 021 808-2222

Supporting online exams during lock down  

Thursday, August 6th, 2020

 An extraordinary effort was made in a very short time by, amongst others, IT, CLT, Scheduling Office and blended leaning coordinators into ensuring that the mid-year exams could proceed despite lock down, switching from mostly paper based to fully online. The preparations included:

  • Establishing an extended CLT support team for students and lecturers, to handle the increased volume of support calls,
  • Extending the hours where support is available to 22h00 and Saturdays,
  • Training lecturers and support staff,
  • Preparing training and information documentation on online exams,
  • Revising the exam schedule to stagger the starting times by 15 minutes to reduce the impact on the system,
  • Allowing 30 minutes extra time for exam submissions to counter any potential technology issues with submitting the assessments,
  • Upgrading the SUNLearn infrastructure to cope with the increased load,
  • Preparing an Outlook calendar of exam times, for information purposes, for co-coordinating support and for predicting load on the systems, and
  • Arranging laptops and data for students without these, who had to learn and write exams remotely.

A big thank you (appreciation) must also be given to the lecturers, who in a very short time had to convert courses and exams to this emergency fully online mode. Almost everybody had to sacrifice their Easter holidays to get ready for teaching and examination during lock down.

The exams have been running smoothly to date, with some of exceptions:

  1. Several changes had to be made to the way exams were set in SUNLearn, particularly where students experienced problems or the SUNLearn system was placed under extremely heavy load. Many lessons had to be learnt about which methods do not work well. Guidelines had to be updated continuously as we became aware of the impact of practices. Examples are:
  • Quiz questions should be set one question per page, to allow more frequent saving (on every change of page)
  • Documentation such as example spreadsheets, or documents, may not be encrypted with passwords and the documents may not be set to open in the same window as the assessment. The preferred method is to release the document outside the actual assessment
  • Turnitin should not be used where originality cannot be tested, for example in images.
    • No changes should be made to assessments once the assessment has started.
  1. The SUNLearn system experienced very sharp load peaks on three occasions, on 16 and 20 May, as well as on 15 June. These spikes were so sudden that it was impossible to detect them early enough for proactive actions. The provisional findings are that the peaks were caused by SUNLearn assessments which had been set sub-optimally. The findings were then used to improve the guidelines for online assessments.
  2. Students on occasion had difficulties logging into SUNLearn. The support teams and support documentation have provided temporary workarounds, but a permanent solution has since been developed.
  3. Students have at times had difficulty in submitting their assessments. The 30 minutes extra time was intended to allow for this, but many students abuse the extra time as writing time and then struggle to submit at the last minute.
  4. There are indications of fraud during the online exams. This must be further investigated.
  5. The support infrastructure and teams where not always ready to cope with the volume of support calls. The team has been expanded and priority exam service desk queues have been created.
  6. Support staff had to work under extreme pressure and at times had to endure abuse from students, and even from parents of the students.

In the bigger picture, we believe the University did well to switch to the emergency fully online mode. We will however not rest on our laurels but strive to further improve the processes and systems.

[ARTICLE BY Johann Kistner and Lianne Keiller]

Technical guideline for assessments on SUNLearn

Monday, June 22nd, 2020

With almost all official examinations taking place on SUNLearn this year, the Centre of Learning Technologies and Academic IT have partnered up to provide lecturers with a guideline on the best way to set up assessments.

This guide has been shared with lecturers and so far, the +/- fifty exams happening each day have been well-run (touch wood for those pesky tech gremlins).

Download the guide in .pdf format

We are sure that our lecturers are learning at warp-speed these days and know that students appreciate this effort as well!

Learning Technology teams continue to work overtime

Monday, June 22nd, 2020

We recently shared some of the many projects that our Learning Technologies team and partners were working on in preparation for moving our Teaching and Learning online. We have continued to work long hours to try and ensure that teaching and assessment experiences for lecturers and students are as enjoyable as possible.

In the past two months we have begun and concluded many exciting projects while also working hard on strengthening the stability of SUNLearn in preparation for the exam period. With over 4000 queries received by the learnhelp service desk since March, we acknowledge the efforts that everyone has made in moving online, from the students to the support team.

Some of the highlights from our Learning Technology Systems department include:

  1. Integrating a number of textbooks from publishers into SUNLearn modules
  2. Working with the Science Faculty to launch and integrate a virtual laboratory into SUNLearn
  3. Activating a number of MS Teams for specific modules
  4. Launching the first phase of testing a Learning Analytics system linked to SUNLearn
  5. Expanding our service desk for SUNLearn and other learning technologies to run daily until 10pm and on Saturdays as well.

We thank you, our colleagues and students for your patience throughout this process as we continue to work towards creating the best learning environment online that we can.

[Article by Lianne Keiller – Manager: Learning Technology Systems]


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