From Digital Literacy in the Disciplines (HEA)
Jump to: navigation, search

Enhancing Students’ Digital Literacies: Creating reusable learning objects in cyberpsychology

Project Information

Project Identifier

To be completed by HEA/JISC

Project Title

Enhancing Students’ Digital Literacies: Creating reusable learning objects in cyberpsychology

Project Hashtag

Start Date

January 2014

End Date

May 2014

Lead Institution

Glasgow Caledonian University

Project Manager

Jane Guiller

Contact email

Project Web URL

Programme Name

Digital Literacy in the Disciplines

Programme Manager

Terry McAndrew


Document Information


Jane Guiller

Project Role(s)

Project Manager






This report is for general dissemination


This project was funded by the HEA and belongs to the Digital Literacies in the Disciplines (DLiD) Programme. The author would like to thank the project partners John Smith (Learning Technologist) and Lina Petrakieva (ICT Skills Tutor) for their contributions to the project and also to the cyberpsychology students for their enthusiasm and participation.

Project Summary

Encouraging the development of digital literacies through engagement in rich and creative learning tasks may enhance the student experience and facilitate graduate attributes for the digital age. Current debate exists around what we mean by digital literacies and how technology is changing our literacy practices (Goodfellow & Lea, 2013). A definition offered by Jisc infoNet (2014) defines digital literacies as ‘those capabilities which fit an individual for living, learning and working in a digital society.’ Engaging learners in the process of active content creation represents a significant change in practice. Lee & McLoughlin (2007) describe the shift to learner-generated content as a pedagogical transformation, as traditionally learners are more likely to be content consumers as opposed to producers. This project was concerned with student creation of online content, specifically the use of Xerte Online Toolkits (XOT) or ‘Xerte’ to create reusable learning objects. Xerte are free, browser-based tools for the creation of self-contained, interactive units of learning known as learning objects (LOs), which can be made available as Open Educational Resources (OERs). LOs can contain different components such as text, images, audio, video and self-assessment. Students created LOs for a group assessment on the cyberpsychology module. Through working with the project team, they developed an informational resource on a self-selected topic for an identified target audience using Xerte. The final product was peer-assessed. Students also kept a group blog on GCU Learn, which also formed part of their assessment. The purpose of these blogs was twofold: students provided evidence of effort, reflection and engagement in the process of LO creation and they served as a way to capture the student experience of creating a LO using Xerte. Findings suggest that Xerte is a valuable tool to engage students in the process of active content creation and that many capabilities and also wider skills can be developed through this practice.

Main Body of Report

Project Outputs


(e.g. report, publication, software)

Brief Description and URLs (where applicable)

Project blog

Xerte tip sheet

Xerte tip sheet for making engaging learning objects

Student produced learning objects

Eight learning objects on cyberpsychology-related topics

(3 of the LOs are available at the project blog detailed above)

Assessment rubric

Rubric for marking learning objects according to 5 criteria

Journal publication

Peer reviewed paper to disseminate full evaluation (in preparation)

Oral presentation at HEA STEM 2014

Slides available at:


Poster presentation at HEA Annual Conference 2014

Abstract available at:

JISC RSC Scotland iTech Case Study

Case study available at:

Project Outcomes

<Please list all of outcomes that your project has created, the less tangible knowledge and experience you hope to build and share.>

Outcome Type

(e.g. practice change, production method)

Brief Description (and URLs where applicable)

Practice change

Student partnerships with project team consisting of staff in various staff and/or student-facing roles (Module leader, ICT skills tutor, learning technologist)

Barriers and enablers to use of Xerte for student content creation

Identification of the factors which may facilitate or prevent success of a change in practice using Xerte

Support mechanisms for Xerte

Ways to provide support to students and staff working with Xerte

Enhanced digital literacies

Capabilities which were developed in both staff and students through working with Xerte

How did you go about achieving your outputs / outcomes?

What We Did

This project was driven by the need for an innovative assessment on the Cyberpsychology module, to facilitate student achievement of the learning outcomes in relation to digital literacies, and to engage students in a meaningful and enjoyable task. Getting students to produce reusable learning objects using Xerte for a particular target audience held promise for enhancement of students’ digital literacies. These learning objects would be informed by psychological theory and research demonstrating ability to apply knowledge and understanding to real-life topics and problems in the digital age.

Cyberpsychology is a 20-credit, honours-level module offered by the Department of Psychology, Social Work and Allied Health Sciences at Glasgow Caledonian University. It is a blended-learning module involving fortnightly face-to-face (F2F) sessions in computer labs and weekly lectures either F2F or delivered as vidcasts via the VLE GCU Learn (Blackboard). We have real-time meetings in the virtual world Second Life and students contribute to discussion and activities in the VLE discussion groups, which contribute towards their assessment. There is no final written exam. Along with their online contributions to the discussion groups, the students complete a critical appraisal on a cyberpsychology journal article. Feedback from the students suggested that too much weight was placed on this coursework at seventy per cent and so the module assessment was reviewed. A novel group assessment, with the potential to enhance students’ digital literacies, was considered as a way to facilitate student achievement of the intended learning outcomes and transferable skills of the module.

The module learning outcomes are shown below:

On successful completion of the module, students should be able to:

  1. Demonstrate high-level information and digital literacies including critical thinking skills and the creation of reusable learning objects.
  2. Evidence the ability to work productively in a group and show effective oral and written communication skills.
  3. Apply existing and developing knowledge of psychological theory and research to explain human behaviour in the context of the internet.
  4. Show critical understanding of the issues surrounding online research methods and ethics in cyberspace.
  5. Demonstrate knowledge and experience relating to digital media and virtual environments, as well as the ability to reflect upon and critically evaluate their use from a psychological perspective.

Students already gain experience with a number of different virtual environments on the module; however use of a content creation tool was considered as a worthwhile development. John Smith, a learning technologist in the School of Health and Life Sciences at GCU, already had a significant amount of knowledge and expertise with Xerte and had installed Xerte on a test server at the university in May 2013. This was a pilot project and the URL was only available on-campus. I had already signed up to participate in this pilot and the HEA Digital Literacies in the Disciplines funding opportunity transpired to enable use of Xerte to be embedded in the module with an extensive support system in place.

Therefore, a new assessment was introduced to the module with the new cohort of Cyberpsychology students in January 2014. This group assessment would involve student production of learning objects aimed at a particular group of learners. The students would be free to choose their own topics, with some guidance and suggestions. The assessment would be worth 25% of the final marks for the module. The final learning objects would be peer-assessed through use of a rubric created through discussion with the students. The groups would keep project blogs on the VLE in order to record their progress, reflect on any pitfalls or achievements and plan future action. The blogs would contribute 10% and the final learning objects would be worth 15%.

Forty students began the module at the start of Trimester B 2013/2014. These students were mainly BSc Psychology students, but also students from BSc Psychology with Interactive Entertainment, BA Social Sciences and one BSc Digital Security, Forensics and Ethical Hacking student. Students were introduced to the new module assessment and the aim to create learning objects using Xerte in the Week 2 lab session. They were asked to think about how they wished to form groups and whether this would be driven primarily by their wish to work with particular individuals or by topic choice. We went through some suggestions for possible topics and the overall aim of the task to create a learning object for a particular target audience. Groups gradually began to form and we introduced hard copy versions of storyboard templates as an aid to planning LOs. I was impressed by their enthusiasm for this novel task and willingness to discuss not only ideas for their own LO, but also to contribute to the development of other groups’ LO ideas. Students were asked to firm up their ideas for learning objects and we would pick this up again in Week 4 during the second F2F lab session.

During the next fortnight, I set up the groups in GCU Learn and created project blogs for them to use. The groups were going to be keeping weekly project blogs on GCU Learn to record their experiences of working with Xerte to create a LO. They were given the guidelines for blog posts and marking criteria in Week 4 and each group was asked to make at least one group post per week for five weeks (starting in Week 5) to their project blog in GCU Learn. The blogs were to be marked on a simple 6-point scale according to the following criteria:

  • Evidence of progress with creating the learning object
  • Evidence of reflecting on what you have done so far
  • Evidence of reflecting on your experience of working with Xerte
  • Evidence of evaluating progress in order to plan future work

In Week 4, we initially had to spend some time sorting out groups, as there had been some absentees in Week 2 and a few students wished to change groups due to specific interests in topics and/or a desire to work with others who had a similar timetable. It became apparent at this early stage that the lack of an external-facing server for Xerte, combined with the blended-learning nature of the module, was going to be problematic in terms of students meeting up F2F on-campus to work on Xerte. Within their groups, the students had timetable clashes and also other commitments such as part-time work and childcare issues. We managed to get the students into 8 groups of between 4-6 students. The topics for the 8 learning objects were as follows:

  • A guide to online dating: Do’s and don’ts
  • How to feel good about yourself despite what you see online: A resource for teenage girls
  • Silver Surfer Skype Sessions: A guide for the elderly
  • Online deception: That is what the world calls a romance?
  • Online gaming for Noobs: A beginner’s guide to online gaming
  • First time guide to the internet for the elderly
  • A guide to social networks and cyberbullying for parents
  • Information for victims of cyberbullying

Lina (ICT skills tutor) populated the GCU Learn Xerte content area with links to freely available examples of LOs and online tutorials and John (learning technologist) emailed students their Xerte account information (created using their GCU usernames). In an hour-long lab session in Week 4, John and Lina took the students through a demo of the Xerte Online Toolkit. Students then accessed the internal link to Xerte via GCU Learn, and began a simple test LO that they then shared with the other members of their group. Initially, the students appeared to find Xerte fairly usable and reasonably straightforward. It helped that they now had a sense of what Xerte looked like and what was possible. We encouraged them to aim high and bring any challenges to John. We also suggested that they make their own images and video using their smartphones (not least to avoid some of the complex copyright infringement issues).

The next formal lab-based session with the Cyberpsychology students took place in Week 6. Similar to Week 4, John and Lina came in to support the students in the second hour of the two-hour session. We noted that most groups seemed to still be working with the storyboard templates or making mind maps and gathering information and paper, as opposed to working with content directly in Xerte. Discussions with the individual groups were very promising in that they had developed the focus for their learning objects and were thinking about the content with a clear idea of the target audience. However, it seemed that they were trying to do their own individual research with a view to coming together as a group at a later stage to create the ‘perfect’ learning object (LO) in theory or on paper, as opposed to the on-going, iterative process of reading, adding, reviewing and editing content in Xerte as a group. This is how I had assumed the students would work naturally with digital content in Xerte. I suspected that the lack of external access was hindering this process and the content of the group blogs confirmed this. I discussed the marking criteria for the final learning objects with the students, which would then be peer-assessed by the students through the VLE GCU Learn. Following this discussion, I finalised the marking rubric and shared it with the students in GCU Learn.

The assessment rubric covered 5 criteria, which make a good learning object in the discipline of psychology:

1. The LO is suitable and useful for the identified target audience.

2. The LO is informed by psychological research and theory.

3. The LO is interactive.

4. The LO content is accurate and current.

5. The content is easy-to-follow and the LO is coherent.

In Week 7, we offered two hour-long drop-in sessions; however no students turned up to these. Then, in the third and final formal lab-based session in Week 8, there was a notable sense of anxiety and lack of enthusiasm for the task and working with Xerte, which was in stark contrast to the previous weeks’ sense of excitement and Xerte-related exuberance. Furthermore, only half the class were present and the students who were there said that they had not heard from or seen certain group members for some time. After some discussion, it became apparent that they were under stress due to competing deadlines, not least their honours dissertations, which were due the following week. The group work on Xerte had to be put on the back burner, plus students were finding the lack of off-campus access frustrating and a hindrance to their group work. I discussed the possibility of moving some of the Cyberpsychology deadlines back, including the submission of the final LO, which students said would help a great deal. So it was decided that the final LOs would be due in Week 12, a week later than scheduled.

However, when the students got into their groups and logged into Xerte, learning objects began to appear on screens across the lab. Some groups had made what appeared to be significant progress. John had put together a ‘Xerte Tips Sheet’ for them with some guidance on adding background images etc. and their pages were looking really good. Some groups had added, or had attempted to add, some interactive content using e.g. the ‘Hotspots’ feature and had questions for John and Lina. There were other queries over the use of You Tube content and copyright issues.

One student raised an interesting copyright related query as she had purchased an instrument for use in her empirical project, which let her use it with up to 2000 participants. She wished to know if she could use some items for a quiz in her LO. She had corresponded with the authors of the instrument already so we suggested that she ask them directly about usage in this context and the terms of the licence. A group had experienced difficulty uploading an image, but John was able to resolve this problem, as the picture was not in the correct format. There were also questions relating to how to change the order of the pages so Lina showed them what to do.

The students and the project team left the lab that day feeling that, despite a slow start and a drop in enthusiasm, progress had been made. We let the students know our availability for support with the acknowledgement that they would be prioritising their final data analysis and write-up for their empirical projects and other looming coursework deadlines. John told the students that they could email him with any queries or Xerte-related troubleshooting and Lina reminded the students of her usual ICT drop-in slots in the School Learning Development Centre on Wednesday afternoons.

Predictably, no students turned up to these open sessions; however John did receive email queries from groups about problems that they were having translating their ideas into content in Xerte. John posted the instructions for final submission of the learning objects in GCU Learn. The LOs were to be shared with John in Xerte and then John would make them available to students in a folder in GCU Learn for the peer assessment. Meanwhile, I constructed a peer assessment survey tool in GCU Learn based on the marking criteria in the rubric after discovering that Blackboard does not support the use of a rubric for peer assessment. We held another drop-in session in Week 10 and a final drop-in session at the start of Week 12 and 3 out of the 8 groups turned up to these to access support directly from John and/or Lina and I. The students were relaxed at these sessions now that they had got the majority of their final year workload out of the way. We worked with them to put the final touches to their learning objects.

The final 8 LOs were submitted on time to John in April 2014 and then made available to students in a folder in the VLE GCU Learn for the peer assessment. Each student was randomly allocated 3 LOs to peer assess using the rubric deployed through the online survey. One student had taken time out from the module halfway through leaving a total of 39 Cyberpsychology students. Despite the fact that the peer assessment was conducted online following the end of the trimester, 37 out of the 39 students viewed the learning objects and completed the peer review activity in GCU Learn. The marks were averaged to give each group a final percentage for each of the 5 assessment criteria and a final percentage for their learning object. The quality of the final learning objects was very good and marks ranged from 60% to 76% (M = 72%, SD = 5). Peer review is not new to these students and on face-value our initial impressions are that they were pretty fair in their assessment, although we do have to take a closer look at the individual marks. Encouragingly, the peer marking did reflect the order that the project team put the learning objects in with regards to quality and fit with the criteria. Final marks were also awarded for the group blogs (M = 68%; SD = 18) and marks were calculated for the 8 groups for the Xerte learning object creation assessment (M = 70%, SD = 6).

Aims and Objectives

The main aim of this project was to enhance staff and students’ digital literacies development through use of Xerte to jointly produce online interactive resources. As such, the project sought to:

1. Capture the student experience of creating reusable learning objects using Xerte.

2. Evaluate the impact on the student experience and the development of digital literacies.

3. Share recommendations for best practice.

The objectives were to:

1. Collate data in the form of student blogs in GCU Learn.

2. Analyse this data using a thematic analysis coding procedure.

3. Identify the barriers and enablers to the use of Xerte for student authorship of open educational resources.

Project Methodology and Evaluation

This project focused on the content of the student blogs for evaluation. I did not wish to overload students with evaluation activities such as questionnaires or focus groups and the activity of blogging throughout the module seemed to have multiple advantages for both the students and the project team. These included a reflective tool for students to manage and co-ordinate their activity, development of digital literacies involving learning skills and communication, a way for the project team to track student progress with Xerte and a mechanism to provide feedback to groups and identify any arising issues. Overall, the content of the blogs were used to hep identify enablers and barriers to student content creation using Xerte.

Students contributed to blogs mostly in accordance with the marking criteria that had been shared with them earlier on in the trimester. However, additional prompts were used when necessary to help students meet the criteria and also to draw out the impact of the project on the development of their digital literacies. For example, email reminders were sent out to the students before the weekly blog post was due and these reminders could contain a question or prompt such as ‘what are the specific skills that you feel that you have picked up through the Xerte activity this week?’ Furthermore, during informal discussions with students and groups in class, students would often make interesting points and raise relevant issues that I would ask them to ensure that they included in their blogs.

Ethical approval of the project was sought in March 2014 and granted in April 2014 by the School of Health and Life Sciences Ethics Committee. The cyberpsychology students were asked to read an information sheet and complete a consent form to allow the use of the content of their blogs in a thematic analysis. Permission was gained from the students to use quotes, and also photos that were taken during class time and at the drop-in sessions, in any project output.

The majority of students gave their consent for this and blog posts were downloaded from the VLE at the end of the trimester and imported into Qualitative Data Analysis Software (Atlas.ti 6). The full analysis has yet to be completed and the results will be published in a subsequent peer-reviewed journal article. What follows in this report is a preliminary analysis, informed by the content of the blog posts, informal feedback from students and the observations of the project team.

What did you learn?

This project represented a new approach for us in terms of ways of working and the partnerships that were created between staff and students in order to jointly produce OERs. The project team had not worked together in this way with students before, although we do work together as a part of a wider team to support staff and facilitate good practice in blended learning in the School. This approach proved to be successful in terms of the level of support that could be put in place for the students and the variety of support that could be offered, as we had different areas of expertise around the use of Xerte, the content types and formatting options and the discipline-based content of the learning objects. Flexible support was offered through a number of different formats such as online resources, 1-2-1 support, group support, email support, formal timetabled lab sessions and drop-in sessions.

Xerte proved to be a valuable approach for student created content. The tool itself is not too technical and is teachable; however of course the best way to learn how to use Xerte is for the learner to embark on guided creation of a test learning object and a play around with the features. However, it is essential that adequate support be put in place while students find their feet with Xerte and to give them the confidence to work with this new tool.

The students were introduced to Xerte through an introductory session with a demo followed by some hands-on activity and were able to quickly get to grips with the tool. The group nature of the work facilitated peer learning around working with Xerte. Students were also supported in their use of Xerte through the availability of Xerte-related resources an online folder in the VLE GCU Learn. These included links to Xerte support resources on the Xerte Community Page and links to free image databases. A tips sheet created by the project team was also made available to students to help them find and create content.

Initially, the students were excited about the task of creating interactive online resources, but they could not quite picture what Xerte would be like to use. On reflection, it would have been better to schedule the first Xerte session earlier than Week 4 to give students a more solid idea of what to expect and what Xerte could do. Nonetheless, through a short, initial practical demonstration and hands-on session, students were introduced to Xerte and quickly learned how to create simple content. This familiarised them with the tool and its possibilities. The students were excited about using Xerte for their projects. They shared their enthusiasm for the use of Xerte in class and on their blogs.

“As a group, our first impressions of Xerte were that it was like nothing else we had ever worked with before, although we were excited that we were given the chance to use it. We all felt that the demonstration that was given in class last week’s class was extremely helpful as it gave us a little more confidence and the ability to go away and try it ourselves.”

“We were surprisingly impressed at how well we managed to work Xerte! We made a few pages and managed to add in pictures although there are still some changes to be made for us to get the overall look we are hoping to achieve. There are a few things that we will need to ask John or Lina during our next session just to get some pointers!”

I was surprised at their apparent enthusiasm as we were asking them to do something new with a tool that they had never used before at a time when their marks really mattered to them. My assumption about how our students would be primarily ‘assessment-driven’ at this stage in their degree and would want to complete assessment, which was familiar and ‘safe’ such as essays and lab reports, was wrong. The students were excited about the possibilities of Xerte for creating interactive content as compared to e.g. PowerPoint and the real-life, meaningful nature of the task of creating an online learning resource for a particular target audience. I also assumed that they would prefer an individual assessment over a group assessment as is often the case in psychology, and would be resistant to the idea of working in groups on this task due to the usual problems of e.g. social loafing; however they were excited about working together on something ‘one last time’, especially a task such as this, which they thought would be really interesting, relevant to their real lives and ‘fun’.

However, after the initial planning stage and the excitement about creating an interactive resource, some students found it hard to translate their ideas into content in Xerte and make their project they way that they had initially imagined and could be proud of. After discussions with John or Lina, some students managed to do what they wanted to do. As a result, some students were left feeling frustrated, while others gained confidence in working with Xerte. After getting a bit stuck and worrying about how they would bring their ideas to fruition in Xerte, some groups really began to play about with it and as such gained confidence in achieving what they wanted in Xerte and in their ability to overcome any issues.

“Overall we found Xerte to be rather frustrating in the beginning as we had our ideas, but felt it was difficult to create them. We understand the use of Xerte for more interactive projects however it isn't the easiest to get to grips with.”

“We had the plan of the content for a while we just weren't able to get it onto Xerte but John yesterday was able to show us we had been using the wrong type of hotspot page.”

“At first we found the xerte learning objects challenging to use but as the last couple of weeks have went by we have been getting more comfortable with how to use the toolkit properly and we are now around about half way through our project.”

Students exchanged skills and practices with other students. There was a lot of informal learning and the group assessment facilitated this as students gave each other support within the groups; however it is important to note that there was also peer support for use of Xerte across groups. One group for example, uploaded images as watermarks early on, which attracted the attention of other groups who sought their advice for how to make their learning objects ‘look as good’. Another practice which has developed and may have developed as a practice in relation to other modules and coursework was that students started their own feedback initiative and conducted their own usability testing with students in computer labs, as well as the other students/groups on the module.

'“We enjoyed having a couple of our classmates and tutor testing what we have done so far for our project and we were happy with the positive feedback we received.”

“We each feel as though we have become competent in using the Xerte Toolkit, in which we are now able to add pictures, use a variety of page types, insert interesting and interactive components and feel proud of the final outcome (we were particularly flattered when fellow class-mates were coming to us for advice on how to get components of their projects to look like ours). Also, using people who were in the psychology lab when we were working on the project, we asked them to have a go at our project and feedback to us. This was very effective as things that seemed straight forward to us, were causing confusion.”

The support from the learning technologist (John) and the ICT skills tutor (Lina) was essential, for both the inexperienced staff member (module leader) and for the students. After tackling the basics, some students needed more support in using some of the features in Xerte, such as hotspots and working with images, and also some groups had difficulty translating their ideas into workable features in Xerte. Other groups reported difficulties with working with Xerte and not understanding some of the page types and request for code etc. However, John and Lina assisted with this and helped students with some of the problems they had with images by showing them how to work with images they’ve taken themselves and screen shots. One group managed to solve their own problem by watching YouTube videos with Xerte tutorials.

Drop-in sessions were poorly attended due to students prioritising their dissertations and other commitments. Competing deadlines combined with the inability of the students to access Xerte from off-campus slowed the progress of learning object creation down significantly about halfway through the project. Students were able to access Xerte on a local server, however they were unable to access Xerte off-campus and this put them at a disadvantage when it came to working on their learning objects. This slowed the process of content creation in Xerte and students seemed to get stuck with working on paper and discussions on Facebook. Nearly all of the groups commented in their blogs that not having access off-campus and from home put them at a disadvantage with this task.

One group noted a ‘major problem’ as they were unable to work on their LO until another group member went back into university to log in and back out as they were wary of doing any edits while Xerte said that a group member was currently logged in and editing, although they were adamant that all users had logged out. This delayed their work slightly as understandably, students were reluctant to edit the file after receiving the following error message:

“This file is currently being edited by (student username). If you are sure this is not the case, then you can edit the file by clicking the button below. If you continue and there are two people editing at once, there is a risk the file will become corrupted. Otherwise please wait until the current editor closes the file and it will be made available to you when the current editor closes it down”.

Most of the students were frequent and active Facebook users so most of the groups adopted this tool to manage their group communication and projects. They even planned edits and overcame the restricted access issue by listing the edits to be made and identifying the group member who would next be on-campus and could access Xerte to make the edits. Facebook worked much better for the students as a communication tool for this project than the VLE as they could use the functions such as private messaging and group chat and the interface that they were familiar with and more frequently connected to, in order to plan and coordinate their work.

However, one group had problems with regular communication and meeting F2F to work on their learning object. Notably, this group had decided early on that Facebook could not be used to manage their group activity like the other groups, as one of the group members did not have a Facebook account. Only one member of the group contributed to the project blog in the VLE and turned up to drop-in sessions. Their lack of cohesion and group contact was evident prior to final submission when group members individually contacted the module leader to communicate problems with putting their ‘individual parts together’ and producing the final learning object.

Although Xerte seemed to be reasonably intuitive for the students to use, they still had a learning curve to embark on in order to learn how to use this tool. Additionally, this was very much a novel type of assessment for the students, most of who were used to essays, exams and lab reports as their usual type of assessment on their psychology modules. They were also so used to PowerPoint that this seemed to influence the approach that they took with Xerte, as they often talked about creating content in the form of bullet points and other PowerPoint features.

This project has developed students’ digital literacies. Referring to the Jisc InfoNet Digital Literacies model above, available at, in particular 5 out of the 7 elements of the model representing the capabilities encompassed by digital literacies were developed by students through this project.

  • Information literacy
    • Once the students had identified a topic and focus for their learning object, they had to source suitable content of various types from, e.g. online journal databases, free image databases, YouTube videos, websites.
  • Media literacy
    • Students had to critically evaluate online sources to establish credibility and translate this content into a suitable format for their learning object in order to communicate it effectively to their audience.
  • Communication and collaboration
    • The students made use of social networks for group communication in order to plan action and co-ordinate their activities.
  • Learning skills
    • The students engaged in various learning tasks in both formal and informal technology-rich environments in order to effectively complete the project.
  • ICT Literacy
    • The students used a range of tools, applications and services to put together their learning objects in Xerte and gained skills in content creation.

In terms of information literacy, the students had to source suitable content from a variety of online media. They have had to interpret and evaluate the content for credibility and appropriateness for their learning object, keeping their particular target audience in mind. They have creatively produced online content for others within the discipline of psychology, but also for a public target audience (the learning objects were designed with a particular target audience in mind, e.g. teenagers, the elderly, new online gamers) meaning that they have developed skills in communicating science to the general public through an online medium and enhanced their media literacy. They have also participated in social networks for the purpose of communication and collaboration (managing their projects and planning action through use of private Facebook groups and private messaging) and used the university VLE for more formal learning tasks in terms of the group project blogs, which formed part of the students’ assessment and where they reflected on their progress with Xerte and their learning objects and planned future action.

“It has been interesting researching and collecting information in order to turn it into a learning tool for other people. It is very different from researching for an essay because we have to think about the best way to display this information.”

“This has been both challenging and rewarding at times, as we have been used to working with programs such as PowerPoint. However, we feel proud of our Xerte Project, both for the work and time we have invested in it and for the skills we have learnt to be able to put on our CV’s.”

This project also developed staff digital literacies; however this is only really relevant to one member of the project team (the module leader) who had never used Xerte before. However, I have already begun to share what I have learned, not only about how to use Xerte, but also about copyright, data protection and working with images and video with other members of staff within the subject area of Psychology and also across other subjects in our Department and School at various internal teaching and learning events.

The specific challenges that the discipline of psychology brought related to students’ existing digital literacies and the types of assessment that they had encountered previously on their BSc Psychology, BSc Psychology with Interactive Entertainment and BA Social Sciences degrees. Often students are expected to come into Higher Education as ‘digital natives’ (Prensky, 2001) who are proficient with a range of technologies, however the reality is that this designation makes many assumptions about what students can and are already doing and neglects the understanding behind e.g., why a certain image cannot be used in a presentation, or why a particular website is the first hit in Google.

Although understanding the ‘digital natives myth’, I was still surprised that students seemed to get stuck on using paper and were hesitant to make the leap and get stuck into working within Xerte. They were using paper storyboard templates, which we had distributed back in Week 2, but by Week 6 we had started to get worried as they seemed to still be planning their learning objects on paper, instead of actually working within and editing content in Xerte. Although we do acknowledge that many students found the storyboard templates a useful starting point so perhaps it reflects the need to rethink the transition from paper to Xerte and how best to support the students on this.

Our project outcomes and outputs will potentially impact the public in the following ways:

  • Psychologically-informed resources on a variety of cyberpsychology topics (e.g. cyberbullying, online gaming, online dating) to be shared with the discipline of psychology
  • Specific target audiences of the general population to offer information and advice in relation to online behaviour based on psychological theory and evidence

However, before the material can be released to the public, they must be carefully read for accuracy, presentation and also copyright issues. This issue proved to be a very important issue and one that we had to spend time addressing with the students to avoid copyright infringement and any risks to individuals or the institution. We got round this by suggesting that they made their own images and video where possible and this was good as it enhanced both their digital literacies in terms of working with multimedia, but also their creativity as they came up with original content. They also had fun making their own images and video. We also pointed them to various databases that they could search for free images.

The Xerte challenge provided new ways to develop digital skills and literacies within student activities. It was a novel assessment and the activity of student creation of online interactive materials was very different from anything that they had encountered before. Students had to think about creating an online learning tool for a particular audience to use in a meaningful way. The real-life nature of this assessment was very motivating for them. Using Xerte represented a step out of their comfort zone (i.e. PowerPoint) and this generated a lot of enthusiasm on the part of the students. They learned about copyright issues, use of multimedia such as YouTube videos and Google images, how to create their own images and videos and how to edit them. Because they rose to the novel challenge of using Xerte and took them out of their comfort zone, this gave them confidence to tackle future challenges.

“We can honestly say that we have all gained useful and effective tools that not only benefit us within Cyberpsychology, but will provide us with the confidence to carry out other computer programs in the future that may benefit us our careers.”

“We’re proud of the work we’ve done. Things started off a little bit shaky as we were unsure how well we would be able to work with Xerte. However, as we’ve said before in blogs, the more experience we got with it the more confident we felt. Overall, we were able to do almost everything we wanted to in Xerte. The only exceptions were things we couldn’t do as Xerte wouldn’t allow it (e.g. putting pictures in certain places on certain slide formats). This forced us to compromise a little but we don’t think this is reflected in the final piece of work.”

Students said that they had a lot of ‘fun’ creating their resource in Xerte. They enjoyed the group work and also enjoyed the partnerships with staff in jointly producing resources.

“We also discussed that working on the Xerte project this week allowed us to have some fun which was well needed after a lot of us being very stressed after the dissertation and poster presentation.” 

“We truly had fun creating, discussing and working for that one last time as friends on a project we feel proud to have called our last group activity.”

Some students mentioned the wider skills that they feel they have developed since working with Xerte, such as information literacy and information seeking on the internet, time management skills and also group work. The group work element has been particularly challenging due to them not being able to access Xerte off-campus, forcing them to find alternative ways to work on this project remotely.

We are going to persist with this practice and are very much looking forward to implementing the lessons learned with the next cohort. We would not make major changes regarding the use of Xerte and the assessment, how Xerte was introduced etc. We will make the following changes to our practice:

  • Put a business case together to get the necessary IT support in place for an external-facing server.
  • Introduce students to Xerte earlier in the trimester and encourage them to get into Xerte and edit in there instead of working solely on paper
  • We could improve the summative feedback in terms of the final learning objects. These were peer-assessed using a rubric but we would like to work in video feedback using a screen capture of a learning object.
  • We need to use better tools for blogging and peer assessment as the university VLE tools were not attractive to students and the peer assessment would be less clunky and cumbersome if students could work directly with the rubric instead of deployed as a survey.

Immediate Impact

In terms of the immediate impact of this project, this project has enhanced staff digital literacies in terms of learning how to use Xerte and becoming more proficient with the tool. It has had an even more significant impact on students, who widened their skills set and developed digital literacies in relation to creation of OERs using Xerte, but also developed other transferable skills beyond digital literacies related to problem-solving, evaluation, time management, psychological literacy and group work.

This project is making a difference in our institution. Before this project, only a very small number of staff had worked with Xerte to create interactive learning objects to produce online content for students. This is the first example within the institution of students creating learning objects and of staff and students working together to jointly produce learning resources. The positive outcomes have given us the evidence that we need to put our case together for an external-facing server to host Xerte.

This project is also highly innovative because it entailed students communicating science to the public through OERs for an assessment. The real-life, meaningful nature of the task was highly motivating and engaging for students.The wider community can potentially benefit from this project in terms of reusing the learning objects, support materials and mechanisms for good practice which were developed.

Future Impact

In terms of future impact, this project is likely to impact those in the discipline through dissemination activities and a planned publication in a peer reviewed journal. We are also working on finding a way to disseminate the learning objects as OERs in the discipline and make them available to the sector, but also to the general public.


General conclusions that can be drawn from this project include the value of Xerte as a usable tool for staff and students to create online interactive resources and for the development of digital literacies. As with any tool, there is a learning curve, and this project has provided ways to embed support mechanisms for both staff and student activities with Xerte. At points, the students found Xerte challenging. If the student were able to overcome these challenges then they reported feeling more confident as a result; however some groups were left feeling frustrated as their could not bring their ideas to fruition in Xerte. The necessary infrastructure must be in place in terms of support and also an external-facing server as students were disadvantaged in terms of not being able to access Xerte from home. It is far from ideal when students have to pay to travel into university in order to use a flexible digital tool.

This project has also highlighted discipline-specific issues and conclusions. The innovative nature of this assessment was highly motivating for students. They appreciated the real-life application and the task of providing an informational, online resource that could be used by the public, which served as a concrete example of how psychology can impact the real world and people’s lives. The potential for the resource that they produced to be used to inform and potentially help someone in the real world was meaningful and highly motivating for the students. This is very different from writing an essay, which is read by a marker and has limited further impact. The assessment involving content creation through Xerte was very different from the standard types of assessment in the discipline of psychology, which tend to comprise essays, lab reports and formal written examinations. Embarking on a novel type of assessment enhanced their digital literacy development, but also their wider skills set as feedback from the students indicated awareness of development of transferable skills such as time management, group work and science communication.

Finally, conclusions that are relevant to the HEA include the value of Xerte as content creation tool and also the value of student-staff partnerships. This project has outlined a potential way to embed a Students-as-Partners approach and highlights many advantages that can result from such an approach including increased student engagement through enhancement of the student experience.

The key messages from this project can be summarised as follows:

  1. The development of student’s digital literacies can be facilitated through innovative assessment, which positions students as active creators of digital content.

  1. Academic and support staff can work together with students as partners to enhance and transform the student learning experience.

  1. Xerte Online Toolkits are a useful tool to enable staff and students to produce reusable learning objects; however a sufficient infrastructure to support such activities must be available.


This project has generated a number of recommendations in relation to embedding the Xerte approach for student generated content and staff and student partnerships in production of interactive online resources including:

  1. Student use of Xerte may be best deployed through a group activity as the peer support and informal learning can be an important enabler.

  1. Provide access to Xerte off-campus as this is a major barrier to student use of Xerte. If Xerte is not available off-campus then work with students to ensure that they have a means to communicate and manage their group work when off-campus that all members agree and adhere to.

  1. Put sufficient and varied types of support mechanisms in place as this is an important enabler to student use of Xerte.

  1. Think carefully about the aim and content of the learning objects – content which is meaningful yet fun and linked to students’ real lives will engage the students in the use of Xerte more than content which does not lend itself well to a learning object.

  1. Discuss the importance of copyright and the potential risks of copyright infringement to the individual and the institution from the start and offer solutions, as it can work as a barrier to student content creation if students are aware of the risks but not the solutions.

Implications for the future

Future implications of this work are focused on the sustainability of the approach and the project outputs. The use of Xerte for assessment can be rolled out to other modules, departments or institutions that wish to enhance staff and students’ digital literacy skills through the use of Xerte to create sophisticated, interactive learning resources. However, the infrastructure must be in place to support staff and students in their use of Xerte.

The funding for this project was used to pay for staff costs to work on this project and to support students. In particular, it allowed one of our School Learning Technologists, who is normally staff-facing, to come and work directly with students in class and also offer support outside of class. Now that the funding is over this same level of support will not be available to the next cohort of students on the cyberpsychology module; however this project has also developed staff digital literacies and therefore they can now provide some of this support to students along with the ICT skills tutor and technical support when necessary from the learning technologist. The support materials generated by this project can also be reused with the next cohort. Thus, although we will have less direct input and support from the learning technologist, the changes to practice are sustainable.

Furthermore, materials such as the learning objects, Xerte tip sheet and the assessment rubric can be shared and reused by with the wider Psychology and Higher Education community. Furthermore, positive environmental implications include a move away from paper-based assessments such as written exams and coursework to purely digital assessments like the creation of Xerte learning objects.

In terms of new development work, this project has had impact internally to the extent that use of Xerte is being rolled out to other parts of the institution based on the project outcomes. For example, we have recently secured some internal funding to employ some of the former cyberpsychology students, as Graduate Interns over the summer to produce interactive resources using Xerte with staff in the School Learning Development Centre. The Graduate Interns and the Learning Development Centre staff will jointly create these resources, with input from the students that the interactive learning resources are aimed at. This represents a significant change in practice within the institution and beyond.


Goodfellow, R. & Lea, M. R. (Eds). (2013). Literacy in the Digital University: Critical perspectives on learning, scholarship, and technology. London: Routledge.

Jisc infoNet (2014). Developing Digital Literacies. Jisc/University of Nottingham. Available from: [Accessed June 2014].

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. On the Horizon, 9(5), 1-6.

Lee, M. J. W., & McLoughlin, C. (2007). Teaching and learning in the Web 2.0 era: Empowering students through learner-generated content. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, 4(10), 21-34.