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Discovering the benefits of embedding reading lists in the VLE

Natalie Naik
Academic perspective

We spotted a great tweet from Keele University academic Dr Ed de Quincey talking about his new VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) page for his module. In this blog, Ed explains what he did, and the advantages of using Talis Aspire reading lists.

Dr Ed de Quincey is a Senior Lecturer at Keele University, teaching on the CSC-10040 Introduction to Interaction Design module, which is on the first year of the Computer Science degree. Ed told us:

“For several years I have become increasingly frustrated about our Virtual Learning Environment’s lack of support in helping me to aggregate module materials from a variety of sources and then make them available to students in one, easily accessible place. To get around this problem, my workflow for creating and updating lectures tended to involve me using Evernote notebooks to collate ideas and online resources which I then make public so I could share them with students (via a link in the VLE). This in effect ended up becoming my suggested reading list and looked something like the image below, which isn’t particularly inspiring and doesn’t really indicate the content of each notebook (and requires another click to an external service):



Worried that students wouldn’t look at these materials, I then started to emphasise within the lecture slides themselves what I expected them to read from the examples we discussed in the lecture, hoping that this would encourage more engagement by visually linking the lecture and the suggested reading:



Still, I was never really sure if this was working and suspected that embedding the material in this way was probably having the opposite effect and hiding it even further.

So, this then evolved into me putting links to these articles directly underneath where I was uploading/linking to the lectures slides:



My hope was that by placing the reading next to the lecture in the VLE, reducing the amount of work for the student, this would increase engagement. However, this is again not visually interesting and requires the manual entry of the links.

Until recently, I’d never considered using the Talis Aspire reading list to support my lecture creation and sharing workflow, mainly because the module reading list to me was solely related to books and was something I was asked to check at the start of the year and then tended to forget about, as most of the things I want my students to read are online and readily accessible (due to the subject I teach). After meeting and chatting with various people at Talis over the past year and trialing and giving some feedback on various products, I have started to realise that a reading list doesn’t just have to relate to books and the functionality I have been looking for was partially already available. 

In January, I asked our library services team to give me direct access to my own module reading list, I installed the browser bookmarklet and have taken ownership over its curation. I have also embedded it directly into my module VLE page to avoid having to make students click to an external page to view the list. Now, for each week’s material, I embed both the lecture slides (using the “Publish to the Web” and then “Embed” option in Google Slides) and a section of the reading list that contains the sources of the content contained in that week’s lecture (including links to the full slides and reading list):



This has the advantage of previewing both the lectures and the reading list in one place, reducing the number of clicks required and also making it a lot clearer how the reading relates to the lecture.



This has also had the knock-on advantage of really making me consider what should be “Essential”, “Recommended” and “Optional” reading as before I had just been telling students that it was all “Essential” but the time needed to read the “Essential” alone was a lot more than I had realised.

Technically, creating the exact layout above is not built into the VLE. As a computer science academic, I produced some custom code (basic HTML and CSS) to bring the slides and reading list together. However, once I found out how to embed the slides (Google gives you the code for this) and work out the web address of a section of the reading list, it is now just a case of me copy and pasting the HTML and CSS into a new “Item” in Blackboard each week and changing some of the web addresses to point to where that week’s content lives on the web.

My main hope throughout this entire journey is that students engage with the materials I am presenting in lectures, both inside and outside of the classroom and as a consequence fall in love with my subject in the same way I did when I first read them. We cannot expect students to engage with this material though if it lives in different spaces, especially when we interact with services everyday that are designed to work seamlessly and are integrated invisibly. I therefore really appreciate some of the functionality that Talis is starting to provide to help with this and support how I want to work and teach.”


Thanks to Ed for contributing to this post. Do you have a good example of embedding lists in your VLE? We’d love to see it! Email us at if you’d like to work with us on a blog post.

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