Digital Resources Final Year Research Projects

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Digital Resources Final Year Research Projects - Final Report

Project Information

Project Identifier

To be completed by HEA/JISC

Project Title

Digital Resources Final Year Research Projects

Project Hashtag


Start Date

1st July 2013

End Date

30th April 2014

Lead Institution

University of Leeds

Project Manager

Dr Dave Lewis

Contact email

Project Web URL


Programme Name

Digital Literacy in the Disciplines

Programme Manager

Terry McAndrew

Document Information


Dr Dave Lewis

Project Role(s)

Project Leader




HEA Digital Lit_Leeds_Final




This report is for general dissemination


This project was funded by HEA/JISC as part of the “Digital Literacy in the Disciplines” programme. Mr. Terry McAndrew, the HEA/JISC Programme Manager’s support was invaluable throughout.

The project team comprised the following members of staff in the Faculty of Biological Sciences, University of Leeds: Dr Stephanie McBurney (intern supervisor); Dr Samit Chakrabarty (intern supervisor); Dr Stacey-Paul Wilshaw (intern supervisor); Ms Veronica Voltz (Faculty Blended Learning Officer). In addition, four undergraduate students (Daniel Davies; Alexandra Byrne; Charlie Watkins; Chloe Choppin) were employed as educational research interns to create and pilot test student guidance notes on using Xerte.

The support of Dr Sean Killeen (Faculty IT) in installing Xerte on the Faculty server is gratefully acknowledged.

Project Summary

Given that majority of students graduating from the Faculty of Biological Sciences, University of Leeds do not go onto careers in scientific research, students enrolled on Biomedical Sciences programmes are provided with the opportunity to undertake non-laboratory based alternative Final Year research projects. These projects enable them to develop alternative skill sets to those gained in the laboratory and gain work experience which more closely matches their final career destinations. Our aim was to develop a new, additional, format of alternative project, digital resources” projects, where students would use Xerte to create digital learning objects for use in the curriculum. However, before introducing a new type of project, there is a need to develop student accessible guidance.

Two undergraduate students were recruited as educational interns and tasked with using Xerte to create digital learning objects whilst also working collaboratively to write student guidance notes on how to use Xerte. This guidance was then pilot tested by two new interns, who utilised it to create two more learning objects, modifying it where it was unclear or adding information where it was absent.

The interns successfully created student accessible guidance notes, overcoming the issues of surrounding the accessibility of the Xerte Online Toolkit and the Xerte Community pages. In creating these resources, students improved their own digital literacies and skills and enhanced their employability. These guidance notes will now be used by students undertaking “Digital Resources” Final Year Research Projects; they will also be disseminated and shared with colleagues as an Open Educational Resources.

This project demonstrates that Xerte is suitable for use by undergraduate students to create learning objects, the benefits to be gained from Staff working in collaborative partnerships with students to develop the curriculum and of educational internships in developing student skills, providing valuable work experience and enhancing student employability.

Main Body of Report

Project Outputs

(e.g. report, publication, software)
Brief Description and URLs (where applicable)

Student guidance notes

Booklet, written by students for students, on how to use Xerte. To be released as OER on Jorum

Xerte Learning Objects

Xerte objects created by educational research interns during their internships (not published)

Student Blogs

Educational research interns reflective blogs (not available outside University of Leeds)

Student case studies

End of internship reflective case studies (not online)


Xerte Friday Webinar “Learners as Creators”, May 2014.


Alternative Final Year Research Projects”, Presentation to colleagues (May Staff meeting) within School of Biomedical Sciences, University of Leeds.


Students as producers of knowledge:  Digital (Xerte) Resources Final Year research projects” Workshop on use of Xerte in Life Sciences curriculum, including hands-on experience of using Xerte for delegates, University of Lincoln, June 2014,

Presentation (Prize Lecture)

Preparing students for the world of work”, Physiological Society Otto Hutter Teaching Prize Lecture, London, June 2014,

Presentation (Oral communication)

Enhancing Graduate Employability:  Alternative (non-laboratory-based) Final Year or Capstone Research projects”, World Congress of Pharmacology, Cape Town, July 2014

Presentation (poster communication)

Enhancing Graduate Employability:  Alternative (non-laboratory-based) Final Year or Capstone Research projects”, IUPHAR-Ed Pharmacology Education Satellite, Cape Town, July 2014. and

Project Outcomes

Outcome Type
(e.g. practice change, production method)
Brief Description (and URLs where applicable)

Curriculum Development

Introduction of Xerte (Educational Development) Final Year Research Projects

Curriculum Development

Increased awareness of the need and benefits of including digital learning objects within Faculty curricula

Students as partners

Recognition of benefits of working with students as collaborative partners in the development of curricula

Student skills development

Development of digital literacy skills, report writing, critical analysis, resilience, time and project management, team working

Student employability

Provision of skills development, work experience and defined outputs to showcase these to employers

Staff skills development

Establishment of a cohort of staff with knowledge and expertise in the use of Xerte to create digital learning objects

How did you go about achieving your outputs / outcomes?

Aims and Objectives:

The aim of this project was to:

Develop a new type of final year undergraduate research project, “digital resources” projects, where students create, disseminate and evaluate digital open educational resources and learning objects as their project”.

To achieve this aim, we worked in a collaborative and equal partnership with our students to fulfill the following objectives:

  1. Develop guidance for students and their supervisors such that the former can create new Xerte digital learning objects as their final year research project.
  2. Pilot this guidance on undergraduate educational interns and their supervisors
  3. Provide an opportunity within the curriculum for students to develop and enhance their digital literacy skills
  4. Work with the University of Leeds Staff and Departmental Development Unit (SDDU) to disseminate the outcomes of this project to colleagues within the Biosciences, to other disciplines and externally.

Project Methodology:

Research projects make a substantial contribution (33%) of our students final year mark. To cater for those students who do not wish to go onto careers in scientific research, the Project Lead (Lewis), as the module manager of the Final Year Research Projects module for Biomedical Sciences group of programmes at the University of Leeds, has developed a suite of non-laboratory based alternative Final Year research projects which enable students to develop alternative skill sets to those gained in the laboratory and gain work experience which more closely matches their final career destinations (Lewis, 2012a). However, before introducing a new type of project, there is a need to establish the methodology and develop guidance for both students and their project supervisors and to pilot test these before incorporation into the curriculum. Lewis has considerable previous experience, through a programme of extracurricular educational internships, of working in partnership with students to develop resources to enhance student learning and their educational experience (Lewis, 2012b).

Xerte was installed on the Faculty server by IT colleagues. An advert was sent to all Level 4 and 5 undergraduate students within the Faculty and two students recruited as educational research interns for the project. Following a short introduction to Xerte, delivered by the Faculty’s Blended Learning Officer (Voltz), the interns were each assigned an academic supervisor (Lewis & McBurney). They were tasked with using Xerte to create a digital learning object (academic content and direction provided by their Supervisor) whilst also utilising their experiences of this to work collaboratively to write student guidance notes on how to use Xerte (Objective 1). They were also required to regularly reflect on their experiences and the skills gained, and to blog these reflections. At the end of the internship, each student wrote a short reflective case study.

Having developed the above guidance notes, the next step was to pilot test it to ensure that it was complete, comprehensive, understandable by the end user and fit for purpose before implementation into an assessed module within the curriculum. A second cohort of student educational interns and supervisors who were naïve to the project, i.e. not involved in phase 1 (above), were recruited. These interns, in partnership with their supervisors, utilised the guidance without the direct support of the Blended Learning Officer or interns/supervisors involved in phase 1 to create two more Xerte digital learning objects. In creating these objects, the interns modified the guidance where it was unclear or added information where it was absent (Objective 2). As above, the interns blogged their reflections throughout and completed an end of internship reflective case study

To determine whether the guidance was transferable across disciplines, it was presented at, and utilised by colleagues, at a workshop held at the University of Lincoln ( The project and its outcomes have also been disseminated externally at conferences of Learned Societies (Objective 4)

Objective 3 (incorporation into the curriculum) will be achieved in the forthcoming (2014-15) academic year. There were therefore no changes, either to the initial aim, or objectives, of the project.

What did you learn?

Value of the Xerte Online Toolkit approach

Of the initial pair of interns, one was selected for their high level of IT/computer skills and knowledge; the other represented the “normal” student, with a reasonable level of digital/IT literacy. The former found Xerte itself confusing and the online Toolkit, with its numerous discrepancies, frustrating. The intern with the average level of digital/IT literacy found the “online help not very clear to use”, with the guidance stemming from links on the Xerte Community pages “patchy, very hard to follow and doesn’t really cover my personal initial questions”. The second pair of interns did not use the Xerte Online Toolkit, instead referring to the guidance document produced by the first pair.

Similarly, in the Staff workshop (University of Lincoln), delegates referred initially to the student-created guidance before adopting, in their words, a “have a go and see” approach, as they would do for any other software application, returning to the guidance later to see if provided assistance on specific elements they would like to incorporate into the Xerte object they were creating. No delegate utilised the Online Toolkit.

Based on this limited evaluation, the Online Toolkit is too technically demanding for students new to Xerte, highlighting the need for the student created guidance generated through this project. However, the possibility exists that, when students become familiar with Xerte and they which to include additional elements in their object which are not covered in the guidance, they may refer to and be able to utilise the Online Toolkit or Community pages.

Development of student digital literacies and skills

The intern’s digital literacies and skills were undoubtedly enhanced. In working collaboratively, both electronically and in person (Collaboration and communication), to create the guidance document, they had to find, evaluate, interpret and share information (IT literacy). The use of Xerte itself to create a Xerte object involved digital scholarship, media literacy, enhanced their ICT literacy and required them to study and learn, both formally and informally, in technology rich environments (Learning Skills). Students recognised and acknowledged in their reflective blogs and end of internship reflective case studies both the digital literacy and other employability skills they had to develop and utilise.

Main skill I have gained is prioritisation…..ties in closely with time management…learnt how to democratically collaborate…..crucially learnt how to ask for help
Skills in representing scientific ideas in more understandable form were improved…..Aesthetic limitations of Xerte led me to focus more on content than visual design and devise intuitive workarounds

Given the inflexibility of the Xerte tool for users to modify page formats once created, students became quickly and acutely aware of the need for comprehensive planning from the outset of the resource itself, its format, and the content/layout of individual pages. They also became aware of copyright issues, highlighting the need for students to use only copyright free, copyright-cleared or creative-commons materials into the objects they were creating.

“Copyright laws and plagiarism are serious points that need to be addressed in the guidance resource. My concern is how users will appropriately reference their content”

The principal output of this project was the creation of student-focused guidance on how to use Xerte such that subsequent students, with no previous experience of the tool, could use it to create, with ease, digital open educational resources and learning objects as their Final Year undergraduate research project. Thus, no previous experience of the tool was an essential pre-requisite for all interns. In order to create a high quality, user-friendly guidance document, the interns were required to have excellent written communication skills and be able to work in teams. These were determined by requiring interns to submit a formal written application for the internship

The student created guidance notes and learning objects provides clear evidence for prospective employers of the employability skills, digital skills and digital literacies interns were required to develop and utilise during the project. The project also provided invaluable work experience for them. All of these are a key requirement of graduate recruiters (High Fliers, 2014) and therefore they will be benefit to students in their remainder of their academic studies, in gaining employment, and ultimately, in their future careers.

Internships are very valuable to students…..enable students to gain skills crucial to their final careers that they may not develop through their studies or extracurricular activities. It lends breadth to their University experience and greatly enhances their employability
Intern. End of internship reflective case study

Interns are named as co-authors on all existing and future outputs and publications arising from this project, further enhancing their CVs. The internships are also included on the interns HEAR transcripts, signifying validation by the University of the employability skills gained.

The project will impact on the Biosciences and indeed, all disciplines, both internally and externally. The student guidance is not discipline specific and therefore is transferable across disciplines. Its use will enable colleagues to offer Final Year research projects, where students create digital resources, using Xerte, for inclusion into and enhancement of their curricula. Indeed, within the School of Biomedical Sciences, University of Leeds, three colleagues who have not previously offered educational resource development Final Year projects will be offering these in the 2014-15 academic year. We will also investigate using other digital tools in addition to Xerte.

Other Learning

This project provides an excellent example of the benefits that can be accrued through working in a true collaborative partnership with students in the development of their curricula and their educational experience (Lewis 2012b).

Immediate Impact

The principal output of this project was the creation, by students, of student guidance on how to use of Xerte. The Project Lead (Dr Lewis) and two of the student interns were invited to present this guidance at a workshop at the University of Lincoln (Making Digital Histories project, , another “Digital Literacy in the Disciplines” project). The guidance was very well received by delegates, with requests that it be made freely available. Our intention is to publish this guidance, as an Open Educational Resource, in Jorum.

Four Xerte learning objects were produced; two will be utilised to facilitate student transition from School to University or as a guide to summer studentships, the remaining two will be inserted into module VLE pages as supplementary resources to support existing lecture materials.

As a consequence of presenting the project outputs at a Staff meeting, three colleagues who have not previously supervised alternative (i.e. not laboratory-based) Final Year Research projects, will be supervising Educational Development projects, where students will utilise Xerte to create digital Learning Objects as their Final Year project, in the 2014-2015 academic year. The Project Lead has also been invited to showcase these projects to another programme group within the Faculty which may result in them been offered in other Faculty Final Year Research Project modules.

Participation in the project has been a valuable addition to the CVs of the four interns, enhancing the employability. They have developed and utilised key employability skills, gained valuable work experience and have a defined output they can utilise to showcase these to prospective employers. They are named as co-authors on all existing and future outputs and publications, further enhancing their employability.

Future Impact

As discussed above, our intention is to make the student created guidance freely available to the community. This dissemination and subsequent utilisation by colleagues of the resource within their student education activities will increase the use of Xerte within curricula across multiple disciplines. However, unless we receive feedback from colleagues who have made this resource available to students, we will be unable to track either the extent or impact of its utilisation.

Internally, the University-wide “Leeds Curriculum” curriculum development project makes Final Year projects compulsory for undergraduates from 2014-15 ( This can include non-traditional or alternative project formats e.g. Public engagement or educational/curriculum development projects. Xerte-based educational development projects will be showcased to colleagues at the forthcoming University Student Education conference (January 2015), a case study will also be submitted to “Casebook”, the University repository of case studies in Learning and Teaching ( Together, these activities will increase colleague’s awareness of Xerte, the potential of the resource, and benefits to student education of them including it within their curricula resulting in increased usage across disciplines. As above, unless colleagues make contact with the Project Lead, the impact of this initiative cannot be tracked.

This project provides an excellent exemplar of the benefits, to students, staff, the Faculty and the University, of Staff working in the true collaborative partnerships with students in curriculum development projects. Similar benefits can be gained from collaborative educational research or public engagement projects (Lewis, 2012b). The report, “Working towards your Future” (CBI & NUS, 2011) recommended that Universities provide more opportunities both within and outside of the taught curriculum for students to develop key employability skills and gain work experience. Dissemination of the project will increase staff and student awareness of these different internships, facilitating both student applications and staff involving students in their curriculum development, educational research or public engagement activities.


Xerte is suitable for use by students in creating digital resources. However, for the majority of students, additional, more student-accessible guidance to that provided by the Xerte Online Tool kit and Xerte Community pages is required.

Student created Xerte Learning Objects may be incorporated into curricula to supplement other learning and teaching resources and activities, thereby enhancing the student educational experience.

Students are a valuable resource in the development of curricula and student education. However, to be most effective, to utilise their skills, knowledge and experiences to their full extent, this should be through the formation of true and equal collaborative partnerships with Staff.


  • The student created guidance notes from this project should be shared with the community as Open Educational Resources
  • Colleagues should similarly share student user guides for Xerte and other digital tools
  • The HEA and JISC should continue providing funding for small curriculum development projects, such as the Digital Literacies in the Disciplines call, to address specific gaps within curricula or skills.
  • Colleagues should consider offering non-traditional (e.g. Educational Resource Development) Final Year Research projects to their students

Implications for the future

This project provides the tools (student-created guidance) for colleagues to offer students the opportunity, within or outside of the taught curriculum, to create Xerte learning objects. This can include their creation as Final Year Research Projects.

It will raise awareness of the benefits of student created Digital Learning Objects, both to students (skills development) and student education/curricula, leading to an increased use, by students, of Xerte or other digital resource creation tools.

The student created guidance was the principal output from this project. It will be disseminated to and shared with the Community by depositing in as an OER in Jorum. It will remain current until an updated version of Xerte is released. It will be developed and enhanced by content being added (guidance on additional Xerte features/tools) by the Community followed by re-sharing of the modified guidance.


Confederation of British Industries & National Union of Students (2011) Working towards your future: Making the most of your time in higher

education. Available at: report_May 2011.pdf

High Fliers (2014) The Graduate Market in 2014. Available at:

Lewis, D.I. (2012a) Alternative Final Year projects in the Biosciences at the University of Leeds, UK. Available at: Lewis.docx

Lewis D.I. (2012b) Educational internships: Extracurricula opportunities to enhance graduate employability. Proc. Physiol. Soc. 27: C107. Available at: Physiol Soc 27C107 %2526 PC270