H5P: supporting knowledge assessment through interactivity

Technology in the classroom has often been used to present knowledge in many different ways. From videos to slide decks to learning management systems, it has expanded how we interact with the content of a course, albeit typically in a somewhat passive way.

This landscape is evolving thanks in part to H5P, a technology that helps instructors make their courses more interactive, and helps students improve how they learn. Members of the UBC teaching and learning community are involved in this shift, where two instructors and H5P early adopters explain how they use it, why they are using it, and what they are doing to promote its use for knowledge retention.


The importance of assessments for knowledge retention

To many, knowledge assessment is associated with midterm exams and late-night study sessions, with the objective of getting a good grade.

But to others, like Kayli Johnson, associate professor of teaching in the UBC Chemistry Department, it plays a much more crucial role, especially when it comes to low- or no-stake assessments. “Formative assessment to me is a knowledge check, where the main goal is to help a student learn, rather than to record how much they have learned.”



Studies on using quizzes to enhance assessment performance confirm the link between regular, short assessments and increased knowledge retention, and suggest that one of the most effective ways to learn is when formative testing is used regularly inside the course. Most importantly, formative testing makes information more durable and helps alleviate testing anxiety among students.

Simon Lolliot, assistant professor of teaching in the UBC Psychology Department, echoes this argument. “Formative assessment not only gives students a chance to see if they understand the content they are studying, but it also helps them practice the skill of recalling information from their minds, which improves performance on summative assessments.”

Over the past several years, a new tool based on this principle of practicing recall entered the technological landscape: H5P.


Understanding H5P

From a technical standpoint, H5P is an Internet browser plugin that lets users create interactive content — videos, quizzes, presentations, and much more. Because all that’s needed is a web browser and a website enabling the technology, it is easy to use, create and share the same experience across desktops and mobile devices. Best of all, H5P is a completely free and open technology that anyone can use.

While its many practical uses can be applied in a variety of settings, H5P has widespread benefits that are of particular appeal for use in higher education courses.

“One of my favourite parts of H5P is how easily you can integrate the content you create into a course exactly where you want it to be,” Kayli explains. “For example, in the online textbook for first-year chemistry, we added H5P elements directly after presenting a concept. That way, students can check their knowledge immediately after reading a paragraph.”

H5P’s flexibility in assessing knowledge isn’t the only benefit for Simon and Kayli. They can use the technology directly in class to help them bring more interactivity to the content of their courses, among many other things.

“Another way I like to use H5P is to demonstrate course material,” Simon continues. “For example, I quite like using the timeline widget to do that. It gives a nice feel to the flow of the course as we approach different psychology concepts.”

The timeline widget lets instructors like Simon place a sequence of events in a chronological order, with the possibility to add images, texts or links to other websites anywhere on the timeframe. Once the element is created, it can be easily embedded into an online presentation or on Canvas.


An interactive timeline is another example where H5P can provide added value to a course.


“In a way,” Simon adds, “H5P is an ideal tool for education because it keeps the students engaged, and it allows me to add an element that is just purely for practice. It is a simple way of making your traditional textbook content more interactive.”

However, despite its current benefits, H5P still has plenty of room to grow.


Challenges and limitations

As is the case for most online course delivery, H5P needs reliable Internet access to work properly, since content such as videos can require significant bandwidth. In the early days of H5P, a lack of general web-development knowledge was one of the challenges that could prevent instructors from using it.

Kayli, who began working on implementing H5P elements in 2015 remembers these early days. “There were certainly challenges in the beginning. H5P is an open resource but, from a technological standpoint, for it to work you needed to know how to host a website on a service like WordPress and install the H5P plugin. At the time, I had no idea how to do that.”

“But,” she continues, “I feel like those challenges have mostly been overcome now that H5P is available at UBC. Now, if you want to make H5P content you can just go and do it. The only challenge is learning how to do it, and there are so many resources for that.”



Accessibility remains a primary challenge that the community is trying to address. Of the 50 most popular H5P widgets, 80 per cent are optimized for people needing specific accessibility features. Now, the community is working to solve the remaining 20 per cent.

“In my experience,” Simon expands, “some H5P content types are not necessarily screen-reader friendly. Of course, the system is also dependent on how instructors optimize their content, but any effort that could increase the screen-reading experience would be fantastic.”

With the technological and accessibility aspects being addressed, one of H5P’s last limitations is the time necessary for instructors to develop, personalize and include these elements into a course. “From an instructor’s side,” Kayli explains, “the remaining challenge is not so much technical anymore as it is a time investment. Anytime you are creating something new, it is going to take time. But with something like H5P, I would say it is worth it.”

From an extensive collection of resources to a growing community, more and more barriers are being removed to help instructors get started with H5P.


A growing and helpful community

One of H5P’s strengths is that it is a completely free and open technology. As such, anyone interested in the topic can contribute to the group effort and join one of the many H5P communities.

“As soon as you start looking, you will find H5P communities popping up everywhere. Because it is based on an open source and free philosophy, everyone involved with it is very happy to help, contribute, and engage,” Simon explains.

One helpful resource is h5p.org. It provides examples, documentations, and forums that lets users share their work and collaborate on solving each other’s problems. “I find the h5p.org website helpful,” Simon continues. “I can post my own questions and the answer often comes from the core development team. I think this feedback loop is very positive.”



H5P at UBC

When Kayli and Simon saw the growing conversation on H5P, they realized that something could be done to introduce H5P to the teaching and learning community at UBC.
“Kayli and I were presenting our work on H5P at several conferences,” Simon remembers. “And most of the time, the feedback we received was ‘This is fantastic! But how do you get started?’ So, we thought, why don’t we create a conference where we would introduce people to H5P, practice using it, and hear from experts on formative assessment?”

After five months of preparation and planning, UBC’s first H5P Symposium took place on February 22-23, 2022, in front of more than 160 online attendees from the university and beyond. During this event, participants learned about formative assessment (video) and H5P, understood the tool’s strengths and limitations and received guidance from experts on how to apply the technology to their courses.

Furthermore, the Symposium coincided with the release of the H5P Open Hub, a platform developed with the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology (CTLT) and Learning Technology Hub (LT Hub), where members of the UBC community can create new H5P content or reuse/republish appropriately licenced content that was created elsewhere.

“The Symposium ended up being a lot bigger than what we first had in mind,” Kayli admits. “But it was a success because the H5P community at UBC and beyond was here to support it… from the teams who helped build the H5P Open Hub platform and facilitate workshops, to our keynote speaker Dr. Mark McDaniel who provided insights into how we retain knowledge. We can’t thank everyone enough for their hard work.”

This first edition of the symposium was also an opportunity to look at where the technology is going.



Even though H5P was released almost 10 years ago, the technology keeps evolving, both in terms of features available and adoption by the teaching and learning community. But things are improving on both fronts.

“Since I received a grant from BC Campus two years ago”, Simon remembers, “I think they have supported over 10 open textbooks with H5P interactivity included. I have also started to hear a lot more about it around me, where people not only know what H5P is, but use it throughout more courses, and not only at UBC.”

Regarding upcoming developments, Kayli can already see the next evolution approaching. “One feature that has great potential is the ability to reuse and remix H5P elements. I think that’s going to be another big step when it becomes easy for people to share their content widely and openly. That way, you would build on the work of others and take the community work further, rather than starting from scratch every time.”

After helping students improve their learning through formative assessment, the next logical step would be for H5P to be used in summative assessments as well. “You can already use some H5P elements for it,” Simon explains. “I have heard that you can import some modules into Canvas.”

“I anticipate that there will be an opportunity to do summative assessment in the future.” Kayli concludes. “It is, however, still in the early days of its development.”

We will learn more about how things are going during the next UBC H5P Symposium in 2023.