Xerte and the FOCUS project

This case study reviews how Xerte is used by the FOCUS project to help students to understand the fundamentals of, and to improve their own, academic writing.


The FOCUS project’s corpus of Durham University student writing allows current students to use different activities to uncover how various language items are used within their discipline and across different disciplines. A colleague in the Chemistry department was keen to use the corpus to help her students to improve their academic writing, and was looking for a set of online lessons to help students learn and practice in their own time.


The FOCUS project had used Wimba Create in the past to design online input and interactions for students to engage with the corpus. When this was no longer supported, they went in search of a tool that was easy to use, included multi-media and interaction, and could be shared on duo.

 Possible Solutions

FOCUS considered the following options:

duo content combined with tests and surveys – duo provided the necessarily functionality for hosting multi-media, but the Test and Survey tools did not meet the requirements for interactivity, particularly in a formative context. FOCUS were also looking to possibly share resources more broadly, which would have been difficult with duo-based content.

Office Mix – this PowerPoint plugin allows webcam and screen recording with an existing presentation, and simple quizzing, but did not provide all of the interactivity that was required.

Adobe Captivate – this software packages offers a very high level of functionality and flexibility, but comes with a steep learning curve. To quickly pull together a series of relatively simple e-learning activities, Captivate was not the ideal choice.

Xerte Online Toolkits – with a user-friendly interface and a good number of e-learning templates, Xerte looked to be the best option. It is free, hosted on Durham servers, and produces content that can be embedded right into duo or other websites.

Final Solution

Xerte was chosen in 2014 as a replacement for Wimba Create. The project leaders reviewed the options above in 2016 in preparation for creating the new e-learning materials for Chemistry, and agreed to stay with Xerte. This decision was partially influenced by the imminent upgrade to the software, which provided significant improvements to functionality and sharing.

The FOCUS learning objects produced on Xerte integrate input with interaction and guide students through self-contained activities as well as tasks in the corpus. You can try out two examples here: Using Reporting Verbs and Introduction and Diagnostic Quiz


Xerte is free and hosted on a university server. Creating video files to go with the project required a reasonably priced video camera and editing software.


Easy to use, with plenty of options for adding multi-media, active learning and self-assessment, Xerte proved to be a good solution for FOCUS.

This is a recommended solution for e-learning creation at Durham University.

Things to Watch

The Learning Technologies Team’s Xerte guides detail all known issues. See the link at the bottom of the page for more details.


An overview and guides to using Xerte are available here: Xerte Online Toolkits.

To find out more about the experience from a staff perspective, please contact those involved in the FOCUS project:

Megan Bruce

Simon Rees

Jess Sequera

The FOCUS Project

REVIEW DATE: October 2016 – based on talk given at the Enhancing Teaching through Technology session in June 2016.
PRODUCT: Xerte Online Toolkits, v3.2