#ALTC Blog

Maren Deepwell in conversation with Pat Lockley

#ALTC Blog - 15/10/19

This time I am joined by Pat Lockley (@pgogy), Chief Pogoing Penguin, Pgogy Webstuff. Pat’s work has long inspired me and one of my favourite projects that Pat is involved in is the PressED Conference – a tweeting WordPress conference. So I am particularly excited to find out more about Pat’s work and what’s on his mind just now:

Maren: Tell us about what you are currently working on?

Pat: So I’m mostly working on a glaucoma disease progression and treatment model for Moorfields / UCL. I’ve only just finished a version of it, and the delay is largely down to the fact it’s hard to stop helping prevent blindness to answer questions.

How does an ALT member end up here – well, it started with working on various courses to help build capacity for ophthalmologists in West Africa. These courses happen on UCL’s Extend platform, and are available to various cohorts as part of a blended learning project with the online courses used as a prerequisite of a practical course in West Africa. So I started out making articulate content for them. I’ve seen a lot of sliced up eyeballs for my troubles…..

Bar that, I am working on a few WordPress sites (I pretty much am always doing this). Just finished migration the Sociological Review onto WordPress. Helping out with a UWE / Loughborough / Warwick project on storytelling and droughts with some visualisations. Helping a charity to develop a new theme, moving another charity to a new host. Just helped the Foundation Year Network to get more from their WordPress install. I work on a ridiculous number of projects at any one time. I am sure I’ve missed one. 

I spend a lot of time in WordPress, and so I’m helping out the WordPress Governance Project – https://wpgovernance.com/ . The goal of the project is try to introduce a governance structure so people using and developing WordPress know how and what decisions are being made. Anyone who is interested can get involved in the project, so join in if you want to contribute.

Individually, though this may question the meaning of the word “work”, I am working on giving back to projects I use, perhaps not use, perhaps rely on. So as well as the governance project I help out with WP Campus Security Blog (https://wpcampus.org/category/security/). Which is a vital read if you’re using WordPress at all. WP Campus is worth a look too. It’s an awesome conference on using WordPress in Education – https://wpcampus.org/. They organised a fund to help sort out the accessibility issues in the new WordPress editor. Really important stuff.

Longer term, I’m working on building a WordPress security tool, an improvement on the neoliberal tyre fire that is openness, and a top secret project to help get rid of some of the barriers that mire almost every thing in elearning.

Maren: What influences your work? 

Pat: Choice. There’s nothing more than I dread than saying no. That’s not through some acquiescent, submissive character trait but just the sense of admitting something isn’t possible saddens me. Perhaps there’s a terrier like never quit trait in me that just wants to get things done.  Do I believe there’s such a thing as a lost cause? No.

Before I got into elearning, I was in IT support. I spent a long time working out how to fix problems. It was a bit of a culture shock to suddenly have such big systems around me which I couldn’t change / or couldn’t be changed at all.

When writing code to make open source, it’s always on the back of your mind how others may use it. So you’ll see little side paths and short cuts all the time. An example of this is when me made the laws MOOC for the University of London. You can see some of the thinking behind it here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uw6mmKtKduo. We tried to assume there was never one path everyone would take and built accordingly.

Maren: Current recommended reading?  

Pat: Oi Cat, Oi Dog, Oi Frog and Oi Duck-Billed Platypus. Three seminal elearning texts and not just what I read to my kids before they pretend to go to sleep. They all focus on the dangers of rules and taxonomies created by unquestionable, unelected dictators. Which is basically elearning naming conventions gone awry.

The last education book I read was Illich’s Deschooling Society, which introduced “false public goods” to me as a concept. I’ve found that a really useful tool to look at a lot of things.

Maren: How do you make your to-do lists.. analogue or digital or both? 

Pat: Well, I tend to work on the basis that if it’s important I’ll remember it. I use trello a bit on projects, but I tend to spend a lot of time coming up with new cards and ideas so things tend to get cluttered. Once to-do lists become two dimensional things tend to get a bit weird.

I’m very stream of consciousness in most things, so I tend to not think to do, but instead just do.

Maren: On work travel, you are never without..? 

Pat: Dongle, my almost classic car age Nissan Micra. I have my phone and laptop too, but sadly I’ve not named them yet.

Maren: Which learning technology makes the biggest difference to your work (and why)? 

Pat: XAMPP (https://www.apachefriends.org/index.html). XAMPP is an easy way to get a web server onto your laptop. Once you’ve got a webserver, you can install WordPress, Moodle…. a fair lot of elearning tech. Using this you can really open up open source code and start to make changes and learn how things work.

Maren: Who are your learning technology heroes?

Pat: Back in the day, I had a band, and on myspace bands had to list their influences on their profile. My band has “who wants to be influenced anyways”. That’s very much my take on heroes. However, we live in a time of imposter syndrome and increased anxiety, so anyone one of you working at a public college or university, working to help people learn, working to help increased public knowledge, is a hero to me.

Someone asked me this question about 7 years ago. The person I named has sadly gone downhill so fast that I am loathe to name someone again in case I’m cursed. However, it might be that I see a lot of villains and not heroes. There are so many people out there who need to really stop and take some time considering their influence and being more careful with their words. There’s so much self-publicity masquerading as debate. Some silver tongues covering us brass necks.

You didn’t ask me to list the villains though. Shame eh

Oh, Natalie Lafferty’s bravery in doing the pressED (pressedconf.org) conference with me was somewhere beyond heroic. 

Maren: If you had learning technology superpowers for a day, what would you change? 

Pat: I’d fly around and gather up every VLE and then fly to the nearest black hole and push them in. Then I’d take that black hole and push that into another black hole. Then I’d take that black hole and push it to the edge of the universe, take a selfie with it (black holes have lovely smiles) and then leave it. I’d still write every now and then, I’m not a monster.

If you think that’s excessive, ask yourself if I’ve really made them harder to use and more inaccessible by placing them in a black holes at the edge of the universe?

To be immodest for one brief moment and paraphrase Bentham, but VLEs are no longer nonsense on stilts but nonsense on stilts on rollerskates. Calling them wobbly gives the false impression it was ever not wobbly.  It’s not even the fault of the VLE, it’s the fault of sending one tool to do a million jobs, and finding that masters of a trade beat jacks-of-all-trades. The single tool culture / approach / methodology is just a sunk-cost fallacy. 

Giving people a choice of system brings overheads, but using a system which has an ability to be slightly more varied would be a good start and I suspect start to reduce time spent saying “no, it can’t do that”

Maren: What are your favourite hashtags?  

Pat: #pressEdConf19 #pressEdConf18 because I am biased. #lthechat is good.

#altc is also good, and you get to appear on one of those network diagrams Martin draws each morning. It must take him ages to do. He should be paid more.

Maren: What’s the best way for someone to learn more about what you do?  

Pat: If you’ve got this far and you’re still interested, @pgogy on twitter or on facebook. At some I need to restart my blog. I do a lot of stuff no one knows about, and it makes sense to start sharing that.

Maren: Thanks for taking the time to join me, Pat, #altc!

Categories: #ALTC Blog, ALT

The importance of induction courses in online international programmes

#ALTC Blog - 10/10/19

A common assumption when launching online programmes aimed at global audiences is that, provided the potential applicants fulfil the entry requirements (e.g. English language requirements, academic qualifications, etc.) they are already well prepared to start their online studies. Yet this is a dangerous assumption.

My experience leading the delivery of online international programmes is that, international students come from diverse education systems and may not be aware of the skills required when studying online, a delivery model that some students may not be familiar with. Hence the importance of the induction course.

What are the benefits of having an induction course in an online international programme?

The purpose of an induction course is twofold:

  • To make new students aware of the type of skills and knowledge that they need to develop to be successful in their studies.
  • To inform those new students about the resources and support provided by the programme to help students develop those skills.

The induction course is essentially the gateway to everything students need to know before they start their courses.

When developing an online induction course, we need to address three key questions:

  • What topic/contents should the course cover?
  • How much support would the induction course require in terms of academic, technology and admin support?
  • What sort of interventions/remedial plan can we put in place for those students who require additional help?

Julie Andrews would say, let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start: the course topics.

What topic/contents should an induction course include?

When designing induction courses, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel or work in silos. Your induction course can be built upon existing high-quality materials already available in your institution. You only need to repurpose those resources providing a digital narrative to students. Likewise, other colleagues may benefit from your induction course and repurpose it for their own requirements. These are the benefits when educators work as a community of practice.

The induction course should typically cover topics such as:

  • Technology for studying online (and include minimum requirements to study online).
  • Digital literacy.
  • Academic, organisational and time-management skills.
  • Referencing and scholarship.
  • Library resources.
  • Other students support services etc.

Some induction courses also mention academic regulations, deferrals and other aspects that are usually covered in the Student Handbook. My advice is to keep the induction course concise providing links to the relevant resources for further information. As a rule of thumb, an induction should be completed in a couple of hours, including any coursework.

As mentioned before, the costs of writing the course can be reduced by repurposing any resources that your colleagues may have already developed as well as using Open Educational Resources (OER). 

The costs of providing academic support can also be reduced if you include self-assessment methods in which students can self-assess different sets of skills, comparing their answers with a model answer or generic feedback. Activities based on self-assessment can save the tutor’s time while underpinning students’ assessment literacy, a skill that students will need to develop to understand the assessment methods of their academic courses.

Admin and technology-related costs for running an induction course are usually low provided the course is delivered via the institutional Virtual Learning Environment (VLE)/learning platform and the enrolment procedures are integrated with the institution’s Management Information Systems (MIS).  Under those assumptions, admin support can be kept to a minimum of a couple of hours per week, just to monitor student progress through the course. Most VLEs in the market include reporting tools that can facilitate this task.  

The induction course can also include ‘getting-started-with’ and troubleshooting guides in which students can test if they have the hardware and software requirements to run the technologies and web tools that will be employed in their online studies. Including technology-testing activities in the induction course can reduce the costs of supporting technology in the long term and will take certainly take away the stress of having to fix technology problems while running synchronous or asynchronous activities in a live course.

Early interventions: what to do and who to contact?

In the induction course, you should make clear to the students who they should contact:

  • For any queries relating to the learning activities, topics or the coursework.
  • For any problems relating to the learning platform or the learning technologies used in the course.

If the induction course is monitored by an online tutor or course administrator, this staff member is usually the ‘first-port-of-call’. Otherwise, students may be directed to different addresses depending on the type of help that they need (i.e. technology-related queries are usually diverted to technical support services while queries relating to the course topics are diverted to an academic tutor).  

Some students may find difficult to self-assess their knowledge and may require additional help. Be prepared to support these queries as self-assessment does not mean zero running costs. Provided the self-assessment coursework is well designed, my experience is that only a low percentage of the students will require additional help with the tasks (let’s estimate less than 5% of the course cohort).

The best way of implementing early interventions in an induction course is to make students aware of the help available for any gaps that they may have identified in their skills and knowledge. The induction course should make clear to students where to go and who to contact depending on the identified shortfalls.

I hope that this blog post gives you a good insight into why, when launching international online programmes, it is important to spend some time developing an induction course:  The ultimate purpose of the induction course is to let students know they are not alone if they find themselves struggling with some of the topics or skills covered, that there is  help in place at the beginning of their studies when remedial action can still be taken.

Post by Mari Cruz García, an education consultant whose expertise is the development of international programmes (online and blended learning). Currently, she works at Heriot-Watt University and is on Twitter at @soyunbotruso1.

If you enjoyed reading this article we invite you to join the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) as an individual member, and to encourage your own organisation to join ALT as an organisational or sponsoring member.

Categories: #ALTC Blog, ALT

ALT s new Membership Manager Debbie Baff

#ALTC Blog - 26/09/19

Hello, my name is Debbie Baff and I have recently started as the new Membership Manager for ALT Association for Learning Technology.  I joined on the 1st September 2019 so you may have spotted me during my first week at the #ALTC conference in Edinburgh!

CC BY NC 2.0, Chris Bull for Association for Learning Technology

My previous role was as a Senior Academic Developer at Swansea University however  I have been involved with ALT for a good few years now as a member and volunteer, as such it is an absolute delight to be officially one of the team on a full time basis ! 

As a bit of background about me, I have a keen interest in Open Education and am Secretary and Co-Chair for the ALT Open Education Special Interest Group .   I’m interested in online, social and networked learning and am in my third year of a part time PHD in E Research and Technology Enhanced Learning at Lancaster University. I tweet at @debbaff and have a somewhat neglected little blog https://debbaffled.wordpress.com/. I’m involved with a number of other initiatives across the open education community such as #lthechat #byod4l and #socmedhe19.  You can find out more info here

My role focuses on leading ALT’s work with its growing Membership and managing the CMALT professional accreditation framework. This is an exciting time for me to be joining the amazing ALT Staff Team particularly as we have just introduced our new Associate CMALT and Senior CMALT pathways so I will certainly have a lot to get my teeth into.  I also support the work of Members and Special Interest Groups, their governance and development through the ALT Assembly. My first assembly meeting as a staff member will be next week and I am really excited to be involved with helping to devise the new ALT Strategy 2020-2025 for the next five years.  As a member, please do get involved directly in the consultation process and make use of our Strategy Suggestion Box

I’m really looking forward to getting to know more members over the forthcoming weeks and months. Please feel free to drop me a line (membership@alt.ac.uk)  to say hello – I would love to hear from you.

My amazing ‘virtual me’ sticker complete with appropriate doses of ‘Deb Pinkness’ courtesy of @mhawksey

If you enjoyed reading this article we invite you to join the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) as an individual member, and to encourage your own organisation to join ALT as an organisational or sponsoring member.

Categories: #ALTC Blog, ALT

Maren Deepwell in conversation with Mia Zamora

#ALTC Blog - 24/09/19

This time I am joined by Mia Zamora (@MiaZamoraPhD), one of the Co-Chairs for next year’s OER Conference and Associate Professor of English & Director of MA in Writing Studies, Kean University. Mia and I often only get to meet virtually in conference settings, so it’s a particular pleasure for me to find out more about Mia’s work and what’s on her mind just now:

Maren: Tell us about what you are currently working on?

Mia: #OER20 I am thrilled to be invited to co-chair #OER20 with wonderful collaborators Daniel Villar-Onrubia & Jonathan Shaw from the Disruptive Media Learning Lab at Coventry University, UK. We are having a great time working together while we prepare for a very special #OER20 conference. We have been thinking a lot about theories of care, and we have decided to embrace these ideas as the theme for next Spring’s conference. Covering issues of privilege, equity, precarity, power relations and public interest, #OER20 will put the spotlight on both the value and limitations of care in open education. We would like to address several critical questions throughout the conference: -In the age of data surveillance and significant risk on the open web, how can we map out and give visibility to the critical component of care practices? -How can we build sustainable communities, participatory practices, and civic engagement for the public good and a healthier democracy?

Equity Unbound (#unboundeq) is an equity-focused, open, connected, intercultural curriculum that builds critical digital literacies in a global context, highlighting issues of web representation, digital colonialism, safety and security risks, and how these differ across contexts. I have launched this project with co-founders Maha Bali & Catherine Cronin, and we have together developed this curriculum with the motto “the only way to make borders meaningless is to keep insisting on crossing them” (Mounzer, 2016). Together we have included undergraduate and postgraduate students in our own courses, as well as educators and students in other contexts and countries, and also interested individuals outside formal education. This Fall 2019, we are gearing up to energize a new “round” of Equity Unbound collaboration.  This includes a focus on data literacy integrating great resources from Tactical Tech (based in Berlin) including their “Data Detox Kit” and the “Glassroom Exhibition”. In addition, our Equity Unbound research component includes a collaborative autoethnography we are currently writing which critically reflects on both our theory and practice.

Networked Narratives (#NetNarr) – I am also currently writing an article that maps a connected learning approach to the teaching of electronic literature as I share specific strategies for an open pedagogy of play.  My case study is an open participatory course entitled Networked Narratives which I have co-designed and co-taught with Alan Levine over the course of Spring 2017, Spring 2018 & Spring 2019.  Seeking to transform what is possible in the real world, we have designed a world-building fictional community while exercising collective civic imagination.  By taking a cue from the age of alchemy, #NetNarr has been a three year openly networked writing collaboration that pursues transformation through “digital alchemy”. 

Maren: What influences your work? 

Mia: I think there might be two consistent threads that influence all of my work:

The first is my personal and academic interest in transnational experience and identity.  I am Filipino-American, and my early research (in the field of Comparative Literature) was heavily influenced by postcolonial theory, questions of embodiment, and the challenges that arise when crossing both literal and metaphorical borders.  This early work has lead me to my current interest in intercultural learning in open networks and issues of equity in higher education.

The second thread of influence is my ongoing interest in transformation(s) regarding textuality – from the analogue sense of text to digital con(text).  I am someone who thinks alot about how we tell our stories, and how our current storytelling tools have changed what can be written when embracing a computational environment (i.e. electronic literature).  How have our writing and reading (and thinking) processes been transformed by digital tools and open networks of collaboration?

Maren: Current recommended reading?  

Mia: It is summer time!  For me that means I am reading all the time (it is my favorite past time besides taking a walk).  I think of reading as the greatest luxury of all. I savor it, I take my time (and still, I always feel like I don’t get enough reading time).  Here is what I am reading at the moment:

For work: 

The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shosanna Zuboff

Algorithims of Opression by Safiya Noble

For my soul:

A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit

Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life by Richard Rohr

For my love of mysteries:

The Witch Elm by Tana French

Maren: How do you make your to-do lists.. analogue or digital or both? 

Mia: I have a little blank book that goes with me everywhere.  I write down most of my reflective half-thoughts and the seeds of fleeting ideas in there.  But for itemized lists (i.e. tasks or groceries), I use my notepad in my iphone.

Maren: On work travel, you are never without..? 

Mia: …my little blank book and my iphone. My laptop too.

Maren: Which learning technology makes the biggest difference to your work (and why)? 

Mia: My Reclaim Hosting server!  … So I can make endless websites (subdomains) for my various courses and my other work (learning networks, installations, participatory art projects, etc.).  It is critical to all the things I do.

I will also mention google docs, simply because so much of my best collaborative writing and thinking is done in this context.

Maren: Who are your learning technology heroes?

Mia: This is so so hard to answer.  I could go on and on and speak about so many amazing people.  But I guess I will just try to scratch the surface by mentioning a few:

My dear “Equity Unbound” partners Maha Bali, Catherine Cronin.  These women are a lifeline for me. They nuture my thinking and my reflection, they help me through harder days, and they are just good for my soul.  

Alan Levine is an incredible collaborator and a good friend, and I have learned a million things (little and big things) from working with him.  He also reminds me to stop saying “I’m sorry”. I love him for that.

Howard Rheingold is a font of wisdom, a kind mentor, and a kindred free-spirit that inspires me to tend to the big (wonder-filled) picture when life seems too task-oriented.

A quick shout out to two very special communities: 

  1. The Virtually Connecting network – a group of generous, smart, and fun people who keep on learning and discovering in the open.
  2. The “Connected Learning” community from the Digital Media & Learning Research Hub & the National Writing Project.  I have learned so much from so many bright minds in these intertwined networks.
Maren: If you had learning technology superpowers for a day, what would you change? 

Mia: My superpower would be to help everyone understand that data (algorithims) may be able to show us WHAT happens, but not WHY it is happening.  And I would make it clear to everyone that the algorithm often doesn’t offer the big picture. Algorithms can be a useful tool. But if I had this superpower, I would be sure everyone really knew that human behaviour is more than the sum of our data.

Maren: What are your favourite hashtags?  

Mia: Hashtags change (sometimes they are on fire, and sometimes they are sort of dead or quiet).  That said, I would like to mention #connectedlearning, #netnarr, and #unboundeq.

Maren: What’s the best way for someone to learn more about what you do?  

Mia: You can check out my website: miazamoraphd.com. Or check out my twitter (@miazamoraphd) or instagram (miazamoraphd) feeds.

Ask any of my students what I do, and you will hear that I listen and I pay attention, I tell stories, I ask challenging questions, and I model what it means to have a curious and open intellect.  I share my knowledge in order to grow our collective curiosity.

Ask any of my colleagues, and you will hear that I work hard, that I am a mentor to many, that I research and write in a way that is always connected to my teaching.  Also, that I want to change the world at least a little bit for the better, and that I love to explore complex ideas in collaboration.

Ask my children, and they will say that I like to talk to them and hang out, that I read and walk and travel, I doodle and paint, I cook and bake, and that I organize and generally take care of things.  They might throw in that I am a professor, but they don’t care about that all too much.

Ask my husband, and he will probably say I do just about everything (except gardening and guitar, which are his things). 

Maren: I really enjoyed talking to you, thank you Mia!

Categories: #ALTC Blog, ALT

Chief Executive Officer s Report September 2019

#ALTC Blog - 18/09/19
Picture by Chris Bull for Association for Learning Technology, ALT conference 2019 , Edinburgh, Day two – Wednesday 4th September. Dear Members

At the start of the new academic year and with a successful Annual Conference behind us, I am writing to update you about important developments for the Association. 

First, there have been changes to the Board of Trustees and also the staff team in recent months. At this year’s Annual General Meeting the Chair of ALT, Sheila MacNeill, announced the results of this year’s Trustee election to elect two new Trustees to the Board of Trustees and the appointment of the next Vice-Chair. Eight candidates stood for election for two vacancies. Two Trustees were elected: Sharon Flynn and Natalie Lafferty. For the role of Vice-Chair, the selection process was led by a panel consisting of the Chair, President and Chief Executive. The panel recommended the appointment of Keith Smyth which the Board of Trustees has approved. Find out more about the Board of Trustees and individual Trustees

Also, I am delighted to formally welcome two new members of staff, Debbie Baff and Fiona Jones, who have joined the staff team from 1 September and 10 June respectively. Many Members had the opportunity to meet Fiona, our new Administration Officer, and Debbie, who joins ALT as Membership Manager, at the Annual Conference. 

This month also saw the launch of two new CMALT pathways, Associate and Senior CMALT.

Choose your CMALT pathway

You can progress from Associate to CMALT to Senior CMALT or submit your portfolio for any given pathway.

Associate CMALT is likely to be for you if you:
  • Are an early-career professional or have just moved into a Learning Technology-related role.
  • Have fewer than three years’ experience in a Learning Technology-related role.
  • Only engage with Learning Technology as a smaller part of your role, and therefore have a limited range of evidence to draw on.
CMALT is likely to be for you if you:
  • Are an established Learning Technology professional or educational practitioner.
  • Have three or more years’ experience in a Learning Technology-related role.
  • Engage with Learning Technology throughout most aspects of your role.
Senior CMALT is likely to be for you if you:
  • Are an experienced Learning Technology professional or educational practitioner with more than three years’ experience in a Learning Technology-focused role.
  • Engage closely with Learning Technology as a core part of your role.
  • Have management, leadership or strategic responsibilities, or can demonstrate an equivalent level of impact on others through your work.
  • Have a research focus in a relevant field.

The CMALT webpages have been updated to include an overview of the new pathways, updated guidance documents and a guide to choosing the right pathway

There are a number of free webinars scheduled for the coming months to provide information and support for candidates and assessors. You can sign up here. If you have previously registered an interest in Associate or Senior CMALT you will receive an update via email as well. 

Over the coming months, there are a number of developments in the works including a new submission and assessment system for CMALT, more community-created peer support resources and examples of portfolios and support for assessors. 

This is an important strategic milestone for the Association and long-awaited by Members who are seeking new avenues for professional recognition. 

At the meeting of ALT’s Members Assembly in Edinburgh, President of ALT Martin Weller and I also launched the formal consultation with Members for ALT’s next strategy. As a member organisation it is vital that our Members have input into the development of the new strategy and the Strategy Suggestion Box has already received a good number of contributions. 

I would like to invite you warmly to come along to the monthly online consultation meetings with the ALT Assembly, join in with the strategy activities during the upcoming winter conference and also participate in the Annual Survey, which will include a dedicated section on strategic priorities.

If you prefer, please reach out personally and contact me directly if you would like to discuss ALT’s next strategy, future priorities or if you have any other comments or concerns. Email me ceo@alt.ac.uk .

Maren Deepwell, Chief Executive of the Association for Learning Technology (ALT), @marendeepwell

If you enjoyed reading this article we invite you to join the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) as an individual member, and to encourage your own organisation to join ALT as an organisational or sponsoring member.

Categories: #ALTC Blog, ALT

What makes a Learning Technologist Part 1 of 4: Job titles

#ALTC Blog - 02/09/19

A post by Daniel Scott, Digital Practice Adviser at Nottingham Trent University, b.danielsc@googlemail.com, @_Daniel_Scott

Background to the series

Inspired by topical discussions on the diversity, complexity and uniqueness of Learning Technologist roles, myself and Simon Thomson (University of Liverpool) recently invited the ALTC community to share their stories of becoming a ‘Learning Technologist’ in all its guises and across a range of educational contexts.

In-conjunction with ALT, a short questionnaire was created to capture the community’s stories. Working with Chris Melia (University of Central Lancashire), we have now pulled together these stories and are presenting them as a series of ALT blog posts entitled: “What makes a Learning Technologist?”. Submissions were made anonymously and credited where necessary – we are only publishing those who have given us permission to do so. Even if participants did not what to have their story published via the blog, we encouraged them to consider completing the form so we could capture the breadth of journeys to becoming a Learning Technologist. We hope this will prove a valuable source of information for the ALT community, that aims to articulate the often-debated, ambiguous and multi-faceted role.

The Association for Learning Technology (ALT) defines Learning Technology as the broad range of communication, information and related technologies that can be used to support learning, teaching and assessment. Our community is made up of people who are actively involved in understanding, managing, researching, supporting or enabling learning with the use of Learning Technology. We believe that you don’t necessarily need to be called ‘Learning Technologist’ to be one.

Setting the scene

Many thanks to those who shared their stories with us – 38 responded to our questionnaire. As the blog posts on this topic will reveal in the next few months, the submissions tell very unique stories of how individuals came to be Learning Technologists or are indeed in the process of developing into one. The responses include insights on how they perceive their role, what it entails, the best parts of it, and some of challenges they are up against.

To kick off the first blog post of this series, 1 of 4, we will explore the findings from the questions ‘What is your current job title?’ and ‘What would your ideal job title be?’ – Two interesting questions that draw a comparison of the purpose and current duties of a Learning Technologist role, to what interpretations and aspirations they have of it.

Presenting the data & telling the stories

The chart below represents individuals reponses in relation to the questions asked around thier job title.

34% (13) of respondents stated that they had Learning Technologist in their title, whilst 66% (25) had a different title, e.g. education, blended, designer or other that includes duties of a Learning Technologist. 16% (6) said that they are happy with their Learning Technologist title. 11% (4) wanted their title to be Learning Technologist. 74% (28) wanted their title to be more specific or have suffixes/prefixes to indicate seniority or specialisation.

Learning Technologist is fine as it does describe what I do, but it doesn’t mean anything to anyone outside of a university or FE college.


The trends emerging is that there is an increase in the words ‘digital’ and ‘design’ in Learning Technologist titles. Perhaps this is due to many organisations focusing on learning design to increase their online and blended provisions. However, there are different interpretations of the identity of this role. Learning design is mostly perceived as facilitating and coordinating the creativity, collaboration and communication of the vision and development of online courses and resources. But some learning design roles are more technical based, i.e. producing learning and teaching materials. Respondents with ‘manager’ in their title wanted this removing, whilst many showed a desire for more senior based roles and how they view to operate in their contexts. Interestingly, many Learning Technologists have different focuses, even though this is their title. For example, some Learning Technologists focus on more technical support than pedagogical support. Again, this can add confusion and murkiness to the role as it’s a mix of both, but often led by pedagogy.  Furthermore, respondents noted that they would prefer to have ‘developer’ in their title and closer relationships to academia.

Not bothered – title isn’t relevant, actual role is.

Richard Oelmann

Language has a huge role to play in titling and how it conveys the meaning of the Learning Technologist role. It’s important to question and challenge the identity, visibility and understanding of this institutionally – as it does affect how people engage and work with them as professionals. It’s regularly asked ‘what do they do’ – articulation of our purpose is key, along with defining contextual and specific projects we are involved in and how they align to strategic objectives. Equally, it’s crucial knowing where and how we are represented by our ‘cheerleaders’.

Something including digital learning in it. Often the term ‘Learning Technology’ is misunderstood, so it would have to include something specific that really emphases the focus on pedagogy too.

Matt East

A healthy debate can be had on the word ‘technology’ in the job title. Most titles have it before the word learning, with technology appearing more prominent than learning and pedagogy – going against our highly favoured principle of pedagogy before technology. However, for marketing and visibility purposes technology often remains in the title, as it does with many educational technology courses.

Happy with Technology Enhanced Learning Advisor :-) I sometimes wonder if the word ‘technology’ needs removing though – learning is learning!

Leanne Fitton

She who must be obeyed.


Yes! Whilst many in the organisation may hold the title of ‘power’, we as Learning Technologists enable and empower many of our staff to being digitally capable, creative and innovative. Therefore, bow before us! 😉

Photo by Mark Basarab on Unsplash

Listed below in alphabetical order are the current and ideal job titles that were submitted to the questionnaire. The main message here is that there isn’t a single defined job title for a Learning Technologist, proving the many facets and nuances of this diverse role.

  • Academic Course Developer
  • Associate Professor  
  • Blended Learning Project Coordinator          
  • Chief Learning Officer
  • Co-Manager (Administration)
  • Development Manager (Learning Technology)        
  • Digital Learning Advisor
  • Digital Learning Coordinator  
  • Digital Learning Designer
  • Digital Learning Manager
  • Digital Learning Technologist
  • Digital Practice Adviser
  • Digital Project Manager
  • Director of Digital Learning
  • Educational or Academic Developer (TEL)
  • Educational Technologist
  • Educator
  • eLearning Officer
  • Head of Digital Learning and Teaching
  • Head of Technology Enhanced Learning
  • Information Specialist
  • Instructional Designer
  • Lead Internal Training Content Specialist
  • Learning Design and Technology Manager  
  • Learning Designer
  • Learning Developer
  • Learning Innovation Advisor
  • Learning Technologies Lead 
  • Learning Technologist           
  • Learning Technology Coordinator
  • Learning Technology Specialist
  • Library Learning & Skills Manager
  • Online Development Officer
  • Research Technology Specialist
  • Senior Digital Learning and Teaching Developer
  • Senior Educational Technologist
  • Senior Learning & Teaching Consultant
  • Senior Learning Technologist
  • Senior Manager: Digital Education
  • Senior Systems Developer – Learning Teaching and Research
  • Teaching Fellow in Technology Enhanced Learning
  • Head of Practical Imagineering and Applied Aesthetics
  • Technologist
  • Technology Enhanced Learning Advisor      
  • Technology Enhanced Learning Consultant
  • Technology Enhanced Learning Manager

Overall, respondents state that they understand the role of a Learning Technologist and regularly carry out the duties of one. However, it remains an ambiguous role in how it should be labelled and packaged, both internally and externally to an organisation. Whilst the purpose and context of the Learning Technologist role remains broadly unchanged, individuals are now calling for further autonomy of their identity that better reflects their work and values.

Closing thought: As digital is a skill required in many roles and contexts, it can somewhat dilute the purpose of a Learning Technologist role, opening it up to many interpretations. Perhaps simplicity in titling is key here as not to convolute the nature of this diverse role. You can read more about my experiences of Learning Technologist roles, over in my own blog.

Contributors consented to display name

Emily Armstrong; Sonya McChristie; Duncan MacIver; Tom Buckley; Matt East; Craig Campbell; Madeline Paterson; Teresa MacKinnon; Richard Oelmann; Sarah; Leanne Fitton; Ross Ward; Ros Walker; Vicky Brown; Rae Bowdler; Simon Wood; Daniel Scott; Andy Tattersall; Rachel Hartshorne; Chris Melia

Upcoming blog post

The next blog post of this series (2 of 4) will focus on the question: ‘What career path did you take’, and is expected to be published in November 2019.

Daniel Scott – Digital Practice Adviser, Nottingham Trent University
b.danielsc@googlemail.com, @_Daniel_Scott, http://danielscott86.blogspot.com/

If you enjoyed reading this article we invite you to join the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) as an individual member, and to encourage your own organisation to join ALT as an organisational or sponsoring member.

Categories: #ALTC Blog, ALT

Learning Design Bootcamp 2019 #ldbootcampuk

#ALTC Blog - 23/08/19

A post by Dr Maria Toro-Troconis, Head of Academic Research and Quality, CEG Digital @mtorotro

On the 18th July we had the last face to face session of the Learning Design Bootcamp 2019. The Learning Design Bootcamp offered an intensive three months programme for UK Learning Technologists and academics engaging in the design and development of a 15 or 30 credit module of their choice. See more

Bootcamp UK logo

The Learning Design Bootcamp Committee consisted jointly of academics and Heads of Learning Technology from different UK universities. They were responsible for the selection of the participants as well as the general support, delivery and evaluation of the Bootcamp.

Four teams were selected from the following universities:

  • The University of Warwick
  • Manchester Metropolitan University
  • University East London
  • Solent University

The programme started in May 2019 and ended in July 2019. The teams were supported by mentors in the design and development of their modules following the CoDesigns Learning Design Framework.

The Bootcamp started with an intensive day at in March 2019 and another intensive day at the end of the Bootcamp hosted by Dr Julie Voce – Head of Educational Technology, Learning Enhancement and Development at City, University of London. At least one member of the team (Learning Technologist or academic) had to commit to attend both days. 

There were 5 Lead Learning Technologists, 3 Learning Technologists and 2 academics present at the first face to face meeting in March 2019. The teams were asked about their motivations to engage in the Learning Design Bootcamp. The key motivaticators presented in the wordcloud below highlight professional development and collaboration as the main drivers to engage in the Bootcamp.

During the Bootcamp, the teams designed and developed their modules supported remotely by their mentors. At the last face to face meeting in July 2019, the teams presented their final designs and developments in their university’s Virtual Learning Environment (VLE).

Tim Neumann, Lecturer in Education & Technology and head of the UCL Institute of Education’s Learning Technologies Unit, was invited as guest speaker. Tim delivered an inspiring lecture talking about the Learning Designer as a tool to enable sharing of and communication about designs.

Tim discussed how designs can be taken forward within an organisational context, for example in terms of QA and costs, without unnecessarily restricting the variety of teaching methods and design frameworks. A panel of experts from the Learning Design and Learning Technology sectors evaluated the final designs and developments.

The panel of expert was comprised of: Professor Manuel Frutos-Perez from CEG Digital, Dr Julie Voce from City, University of London, Tim Neumann from UCL and Laura Coutts from CEG Digital.

Tim Neumann – Lecturer in Education & Technology and head of the UCL Institute of Education’s Learning Technologies Unit


The team from Manchester Metropolitan University won the Learning Design Bootcamp 2019.

Manchester Metropolitan University winner of  the Learning Design Bootcamp 2019.

“The team showed a great level of engagement between the academics and the learning technologists and was a key strength in their presentation. The learning design aspects were clearly understood and demonstrated in the design of the module.”


The Bootcamp Organising Committee will launch the next Bootcamp Call in September 2019. The Learning Design Bootcamp 2020 will be hosted by our winning team from Manchester Metropolitan University. If you’re interested in learning more about  the Call 2020, keep an eye on the Learning Design Bootcamp page: https://learningdesignbootcamp.wordpress.com/call-2020/ 

The Bootcamp is free. The teams will need to cover their travelling and accommodation expenses. 


The activities and experiences of the teams have been followed by the Bootcamp research committee members and documented. The research carried out during the Bootcamp 2019 focused on the use of the Behaviour Change Wheel (BCW) as a method to identify the capabilities, opportunities and motivations of Learning Technologists and academics when engaging in the design of online/blended learning activities.  The BCW model has proved to be an effective method in the context of Learning Design to analyse the behaviour of both academics designing online and blended solutions in Higher Education and Learning Technologists working with them, providing support and guidance as part of intervention design.

The initial findings from this research will be presented at ALT-C 2019.

Dr Maria Toro-Troconis – Head of Academic Research and Quality – Cambridge Education Group Digital – mtroconis@ceg-uk.com 

If you enjoyed reading this article we invite you to join the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) as an individual member, and to encourage your own organisation to join ALT as an organisational or sponsoring member.

Categories: #ALTC Blog, ALT

ALT Conference from the Executive Education Point of View

#ALTC Blog - 19/08/19

A post by Dr. Gennadii Miroshnikov, Technology Manager, Executive Education, London Business School. gmiroshnikov@london.edu

Executive Education comes in various shapes and forms, from one-day programs and workshops to multi-modular pathways, and from open programs available to anyone who meets the entrance requirements to tailored custom programs that use the joint forces of an Executive Education (EE) provider and the client’s L&D department. The range of EE providers is also wide, ranging from traditional universities and business schools to consultancy firms and online learning platforms.

This post takes a look at the topics of the ALT conference from the perspective of EE learning technologists. It collates the themes of the conference and the main current problems in the field, which could help to create an agenda for EE and management education professionals, as well as for Further Education professionals and learning technologists supporting corporate L&D departments.

Digital technologies have a significant and diverse impact on EE, from offering new content to many management training programs and allowing managers to cope with disruptive technologies and digitalization to enhancing the training and learning experience.

A survey conducted by CarringtonCrisp shows that the top priority when considering an EE provider is ‘learning that enables staff to have an impact at work’. Thus, measuring the impact after the training has been conducted is one of the most important tasks of EE providers, and a solution to  maintain high market positions. Data management, including the collection, processing, and analysis of training and performance data, is the main tool to measure the impact and effectiveness of EE training.

This year’s conference focused on both data management and Learning Technology for wider impact, which makes it particularly important from the point of view of EE professionals. Of particular interest were issues related to comprehensive data analysis and correlations between the results of training and data from external systems—such as the financial performance of a student’s company, or the results of implementing a particular strategy or initiative. Often, companies acquire EE programs during organizational changes to better support these changes, so the data and its analysis should answer the question of how effectively the training was able to contribute to this activity. From the point of view of L&D professionals, it is very important to identify and understand the interdependence between corporate indicators and the results of these programs, which allow companies to determine the ROI and to evaluate the effectiveness of the program and provider, as well as to justify the L&D budget. Many EE programs use existing external digital systems such as Belbin, 360, and personality tests; hence, these integration issues remain relevant to provide a holistic analysis of data to measure the change impact on the company. Collecting and analyzing student data from various sources including survey platforms, Customer Relationship Management systems, and impact assessment tools that improve program design is another example of the important challenges facing EE providers.

As coaching is one of the main building blocks of many EE programs, the issue of collecting and analyzing data from coaching sessions is also important for understanding the holistic picture. It’s clear that EE providers already use various digital systems to deliver their programs, but often these are separate external systems, the data from which are not always compared. Thus the integration of these systems is an urgent task, the solution to which will significantly improve impact measurement and will provide feedback to help companies make corrections to the design of their programs.

Creativity, which was another main theme of the conference, exists in the framework of EE programs in such forms as personalization and matching the branding of the client company to better reflect the link between the mission and strategy of the company and the EE program. EE providers often adapt the visual component of the program in accordance with the requirements of the client’s branding policy using existing VLEs. However, such problems pose additional costs in graphic design and restrictions and limitations of VLEs, and the branding policies of the customer and the EE provider can sometimes be at odds. Thus, the fast graphical adaptation of EE programs, usually on both web and mobile versions, to client requirements while preserving quality and compliance with the branding requirements of the EE provider is extremely relevant.

Another problem related to creativity is the lack of a single VLE to fit all programs. A poorly-selected VLE can become an obstacle to creativity, program development, and delivery of the main objectives. In addition, a large number of patches, add-ons, and external subsystems affect the complexity of the maintenance, support, and development of such systems. EE providers are increasingly diversifying their digital delivery system portfolios, shifting from a single VLE to a few systems that are better suited to the goals and objectives of each program. Technologies are considered by EE providers as an ‘opener’, especially now that the industry has seen a shift from traditional face-to-face delivery to blended learning models with digital modules complementing and sometimes completely replacing face-to-face sessions. Technologies are carefully considered to erase the boundaries between the classroom and online learning, create an engaging learning environment while adding the additional value of personalizing the learning experience and taking into account the individual characteristics of each student. Examples of technology engagement are quizzes and polls, face-to-face sessions, online modules, and reflections.

Since the design of many custom programs takes into account the realities of a particular company and a direct connection with its operation, and as it may include proposing or implementing changes or projects in a given organization, the ability of technologies to build a bridge between theory and the real corporate environment and to create real-world problem-solving is especially valuable. One example would be companies that use the opportunities offered by social learning with a focus on problem-solving to organize discussions and gain feedback from peers, managers, and other stakeholders. The VLEs that are traditionally used by HE providers can be insufficiently flexible and intuitive for HE students, faculty, and coaches, which leads to lack of engagement. Therefore, the possibility of effective selection and the quick and streamlined VLE implementation of the option that is most suitable for each EE program is also extremely relevant. Findings in these areas will be very valuable for EE providers.

Because EE programs are designed for global coverage and often include students from different countries, multilingual support is another requirement for effective program delivery. The ability to include subtitles, download transcripts, view instructions in different languages, change video speed, and access the platform and all its components from anywhere in the world is also one of the industry’s current challenges. One example is the complete or partial restriction of Google services, YouTube, and Vimeo in China, despite that it is one of the most promising destinations for delivering EE programs.

The ideas, research, experience, and best practices proposed and developed by the learning technology community in these areas are of considerable interest to Executive Education professionals, and this conference is a great example of how an evidence-based approach can be used in the field.


  1. Bronfman, S. V., Pelegrín, O. A.2018, The digital revolution in management education, Global Focus, accessed 10 July 2019, <https://globalfocusmagazine.com/the-digital-revolution-in-management-education/>
  2. CarringtonCrisp 2018, Executive Education Futures: what next for business schools, learners and employers, CarringtonCrisp Limited, accessed 1 July 2019, <http://www.carringtoncrisp.com/images/PDFs/Executive_Education_Futures_18.pdf>.

Dr. Gennadii Miroshnikov, CMALT MIET, Technology Manager, Executive Education, London Business School, gmiroshnikov@london.edu

If you enjoyed reading this article we invite you to join the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) as an individual member, and to encourage your own organisation to join ALT as an organisational or sponsoring member.

Categories: #ALTC Blog, ALT

Maren Deepwell in conversation with Sheila MacNeill

#ALTC Blog - 16/08/19

This is a very special interview as I (@marendeepwell) am joined by the Chair of ALT, Sheila MacNeill, FRSA, FHEA (@sheilmcn) who recently published ‘Conceptualising the Digital University: the intersection of policy, pedagogy and practice‘ and this time we talk not ‘just’ about Learning Technology, but also #femedtech and shoe tweets!

Maren: Tell us about what you are currently working on?

Sheila: I’ve recently changed my work life balance and set up my own consultancy business.  Just now I’m working with the University of Edinburgh on their Distance Learning at Scale (DLAS) project, developing an online course for staff new to teaching online.  I’m also working with the University of Durham around the development of their digital capabilities framework. My role as Chair of ALT also takes up a bit of my time. In that capacity I am involved a variety of activities from chairing meetings, to developing and implementing strategy. When I’m not doing that I am using my time for more artistic pursuits in such as  creating landscape paintings in a variety of mediums.

Maren: What influences your work? 

Sheila: Many things and people influence my work. But generally it is based on my own experience, the people I am working with and my PLN. My context if you like.  I am always looking for new ideas and inspiration. So I try and read a variety of blogs, keep an eye on twitter and linkedin. I also find that the ALT mailing list is a great way to find out what colleagues are doing in the sector.  I think when our world is in such a state of flux it is important to ensure that ethics and developing criticality are at the heart of education. We need to be questioning the validity and basis of everything just now.

Maren: Current recommended reading?  

Sheila: One the best books I’ve read this year is Invisible Women; exploring data bias in a world designed for men by Caroline Criado Perez. How 50% of the population have and continue to be ignored in everyday decision making is staggering. It also explains most of the everyday things that really irritate me.  I think everyone should  read it.

Maren: How do you make your to-do lists.. analogue or digital or both? 

Sheila: A bit of both. I have tried various apps but I tend to use them when I have big lists of things and then sort of forget about them. I try to keep my to do list quite short and often have a daily one. I still finding using a pen to score items off a list very satisfying.

Maren: On work travel, you are never without..? 

Sheila: My phone and charger, notepad and pen in case I forget the charger, tissues and  a packet of mints. 

Maren: Which learning technology makes the biggest difference to your work (and why)? 

Sheila: Now I am an independent consultant it is slightly different, but I think eduroam is pretty fantastic if you can access it. In terms of specific learning technology, I guess it is any collaborative space, from a VLE to a shared google/word doc. Connectivity is also key – I really need to be online for the majority of my work.

Maren: Who are your learning technology heroes?

Sheila: I don’t think there’s enough space to share all the names. But everyone I have every worked with, tweeted, mentioned in blog, spoke to a conference, they’re all my heroes. I feel so lucky that I have been able to work with so many talented people and  that there are so many great people out there who share so much. I sometimes feel that I have my very own, always growing band, of learning technology Avengers. Except my learning technology heroes have better shoes and less anger management issues. 

Maren: If you had learning technology superpowers for a day, what would you change? 

Sheila: To make everything work, for one day all day. So no loss of connections just as a webinar goes live, no 404 errors, no forgetting of passwords, no buffering … .

Maren: What are your favourite hashtags?  

Sheila: Just now #femedtech is a great and growing network (full of heroes), #altc, #lthechat.  Also if there are conferences that I can’t get to but am interested in then I tend to follow the conference hashtag for the duration. Also #shoes #shoetweets are always good for a bit of distraction -they are often combined with conference hashtag tweets too.

Maren: What’s the best way for someone to learn more about what you do?  

Sheila: Look at my blog (http://howsheilaseesit.net/) and follow me on twitter (https://twitter.com/sheilmcn)  for learning technology stuff and instagram (https://www.instagram.com/sheilmcn/) for the art stuff. 

Maren: Fantastic, thank you #altc :)

If you enjoyed reading this article we invite you to join the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) as an individual member, and to encourage your own organisation to join ALT as an organisational or sponsoring member.

Categories: #ALTC Blog, ALT

When the party s over: TEL and change management

#ALTC Blog - 11/08/19

A post by Dr Monica Chavez Munoz, Educational Developer (TEL), Centre for Innovation in Education, University of Liverpool. @drmonicachavez

88% of change initiatives fail. What are the factors that make change difficult or a failure? There are people and process dynamics.  I will talk about my experience of organising a  TELFest in my presentation during the ALT conference in Edinburgh.


1-The Mexican Catholic meaning of the  piñata represents the struggle between man, temptation and sin. In my case, the piñata  represents TELFest as the technology adoption strategy which brings all its players into a one big fiesta:

2-The struggle between the institutional leadership, the community of practice, and the TEL team as the organiser of TELFest. 

3-We got the institutional leadership as the entity that holds, swings and sponsors the piñata, without their support, vision and commitment, TELFest would not be possible as their role in change management is key for the successful adoption of technology in higher education. 

4-Then there is the community of practice attending the ‘party’.  They stand and watch, racing thoughts about attending an event that advocates the adoption of technology in teaching and learning.  

5-The community members share their experience in TEL by putting their contribution in the piñata ( the sweets!). 

6-The TEL team is the entity who brings and hits the piñata: TELFest is like a piñata, you don’t know exactly what you are going to get and yet you must face it with a good attitude and skill. There is lots of good practice inside, you have found the perfect vehicle to instigate change and yet, the successful outcome is uncertain. 

88% of change initiatives fail. What are the factors that make change difficult or a failure? There are people and process dynamics.  I will talk about my experience of organising a  TELFest in my presentation during the ALT conference in Edinburgh. See you there!

Dr Monica Chavez Munoz, Educational Developer (TEL), Centre for Innovation in Education, University of Liverpool. @drmonicachavez 

If you enjoyed reading this article we invite you to join the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) as an individual member, and to encourage your own organisation to join ALT as an organisational or sponsoring member.

Categories: #ALTC Blog, ALT

An introduction to Jupyter notebooks

#ALTC Blog - 09/08/19

Post by James Slack from Edinburgh University

Apologies for the title but I used up all my imaginative title mojo for our recently accepted ALT Conference Submission Out of this World: Jupyter notebooks and Noteable at the University of Edinburgh.

Now, on to business…

There’s a very good chance that you may have heard of Jupyter before. If you’re interested in supporting digital skills, data literacy or computational teaching then it’s probably leaked into the periphery of your vision at some point. So, let’s take a step back and try to start on solid ground:

What are Jupyter notebooks?

Jupyter is an open source web application that allows you to create live editable documents – notebooks – that allow you to run code whilst also containing text, data tables and other rich media items such as images and videos. For instructors, this means you can give context alongside your code exercises or create distance learning materials. This also allows students to run, edit and experiment with code without having to open an intimidating Integrated Development Environment (IDE). It’s difficult to get your head around without seeing it:

Adapted from “Exploratory computing with Python” by Mark Bakker. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Jupyter notebooks are broken up into two types of cells: Text cells and code cells. Text cells use a markdown notation to allow basic formatting and allow you to add structure and context alongside your code to create a ‘computational narrative’. The second type of cell is the code cell, the programming language is set by the kernel, this interprets the code and returns the output within the notebook. Standard Jupyter notebooks support Julia, Python and R (hence the name JUlia PYThon R) but there is now support for over 100 additional kernels to fulfil your wildest dreams. You can ‘Run’ these code cells and then see the output within the notebooks as shown above; the order in which these cells are run is recorded to make it easier to keep track of the run order. It’s not just limited to simple Print commands to output text results: You can create graphs, visualisations, work with data tables, manipulate images, and the list goes on. Really the best way to start getting your head around what Jupyter can be used for is to head to the ‘Gallery of Interesting Jupyter notebooks

Jupyter notebooks were originally created as a platform for reproducible research, being able to work with large data sets remotely, record computational analysis (and funky graphs) and then share this with other researchers who could both see your working and validate your results. Very quickly, these were picked up as an excellent educational tool. The ability to create a narrative to guide students through worked examples, giving them the opportunity to interact with code, quickly editing and re-running code and being able to break up your programming into easily defined ‘chunks’ (cells) all helps to lower the barrier to engagement.

It also helps that Jupyter looks remarkably different from a traditional IDE, which can itself act as a barrier to working with code for beginners (I include myself in this bracket: The ‘hackertype’ interface makes me sweat).

The real benefit of Jupyter is realised when using Jupyterhub, which is a multi-user hosted instance. This allows you to set pre-configured workspaces that students can access without the need to install anything beforehand. You can define the programming language that students will use and pre-load packages and libraries to free up class time. Both you and the students are working within a copy of the same environment which makes leading a class of 80 much easier.

Jupyter at the University of Edinburgh

This is what we’ve embraced at the University of Edinburgh: the Noteable service is a version of Jupyterhub with a selection of instances that suit a variety of teaching needs. Instructors create material in Noteable and then share this with their students, knowing that the document will work for them because they are running in an environment with all the associated dependencies and without any prerequisites. This method works incredibly well in a variety of situations: Distance learning where students have a differing setup; lab sessions where you want to work through examples together; or one-off workshop sessions where you want to maximise the time you have available. The medium also lends itself well to creating OER materials or activities like this Christmas example *cough*shameless plug *cough*.

The Noteable service at the University of Edinburgh has been in a pilot phase for the past two academic semesters and will be transitioning to a full service in September 2019 based on its success. Across the year, over 1,000 students have used the service across a variety of courses and the feedback has been great – all the courses will be using it again next academic year. There were already existing pockets of Jupyter users scattered across the University, with some schools managing their own Jupyterhubs or individual academics using Jupyter installed on personal machines. Having a centralised service means that all schools can use Jupyter, not just those fortunate enough to have internal support. This is exemplified by the fact that the students using the service are spread across six different schools including the College of Art, School of Biological Sciences, School of Political Science and of course Informatics (our Computer Science).  

The provision of Jupyter extends outside of the classroom as well. Many students state how they use Noteable to explore other concepts on their own, working on small side-projects or using other available environments to try out something new in another programming language.

The next step in this process is to start making it easier for people to adopt Jupyter into their teaching by creating an extended set of support materials, for both staff and students. So far, we have been able to work with existing Jupyter devotees, but the real growth will come from converting existing courses or helping to provision new courses, where appropriate. All these materials will be openly shared for other institutions to use and to help lower the barrier for adoption in higher education.

The Noteable service itself can also be used by other institutions to further remove barriers to adoption. If you would like to arrange a trial/demo, then get in touch using the contact form.

This leads me on to my final point, something that I can’t help but mention when talking about Jupyter:

Open Source, Open Community

Jupyter is open source, which has certainly helped with its proliferation, but the real driving force has been the community that has built up around Jupyter. There are countless examples of people working on their own projects or collaborating to build Jupyter into something larger: the Zero to Jupyterhub project makes it much easier to set up your own hub, the nbgrader extension allows you to create and grade assignments, RISE allows you to turn your live notebooks into a slidedeck. Project Jupyter has been very active in encouraging all these activities, recently helping to fund a series of community events on various themes, one of which led to the creation of a Teaching and Learning with Jupyter ‘book’ which is a great overview of Jupyter in education.

I could go on but I’m already past an acceptable length for an introductory blog post. We’re keen to be involved in this which is why we will be releasing our help guides and contributing our work on nbgrader back to the community, and we’re also hosting events like our Jupyter Community nbgrader Hackathon. You can find out more about this on the Project Jupyter Blog.

I could go on but I’m already past an acceptable length for an introductory blog post. We’re keen to be involved in this which is why we will be releasing our help guides and contributing our work back to the community, we also recently hosted a Jupyter Community Workshop event. This was part of the Community Workshop series that was supported by Project Jupyter and funded by Bloomberg, you can read a bit more about this on the Project Jupyter blog.

This workshop had two parts, firstly a hackathon; getting a lot of people together to work on adding functionality to nbgrader but also to highlight the use of Jupyter in education by getting some of the hackathon attendees and awesome local Jupyter gurus to give talks. The hackathon was a great success and the new features are being bundled into the next release of nbgrader. The afternoon of talks was the real party, we were fortunate to have a great line-up of speakers, thankfully you don’t have to miss out as we made sure to record and publish all the talks from the afternoon. You can use view all of the talks on the following open playlist, these talks include a good overview of how Jupyter can be used but also a few tips from the pros to help you make the most of the tools available. 

I’m James Slack, I’m currently a Service Manager for the University of Edinburgh looking after various services including the Noteable service. Before moving to Edinburgh, I was a service manager for the University Sheffield’s Lecture Capture service, so this was quite a side-ways move. For the past year I have been working to introduce the Noteable service to an eager internal audience but am now keen to engage with other Universities using Jupyter to try to promote the platform for use in education. I’m always happy to talk to people about the work myself and the team from EDINA have done and how Jupyter can be used in teaching. Feel free to contact me at james.slack@ed.ac.uk

If you enjoyed reading this article we invite you to join the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) as an individual member, and to encourage your own organisation to join ALT as an organisational or sponsoring member

Categories: #ALTC Blog, ALT

What is NMIS-Skills

#ALTC Blog - 06/08/19
Screenshot from https://www.nmis-skills.org/home/development-team

A post by Joe Wilson and Lewis Ross, NMIS skills.

NMIS-Skills is part of the wider National Manufacturing Institute Scotland project. NMIS aims to “to be a distributed  industry-led international centre of manufacturing expertise. Industry, research and the public sector will work together to transform skills, productivity and innovation”.

A barrier to engaging and upskilling the workforce was the lack of digital skills of trainers and lecturers working across the manufacturing industry  specifically in relation to content creation, collaboration and sharing. They also lack a virtual space beyond institutional IT systems to co-ordinate the sharing of materials. 

To tackle this problem Skills Development Scotland (SDS) put out a tender for the delivery of digital skills training and the building of a community of practice. City of Glasgow College (CoGC) put in a bid and was awarded the contract based upon an innovative model. 

Using an instance of G Suite, with a Google Site at its heart, a resource could be created at a very low cost that could be handed over to a team of administrators/ambassadors from across the educational community at the end of the initiation phase.

To model best practice around collaboration and co-creation, all of the core materials would be open and easily repurposable through a CC BY 4.0 license and delivered using technology that could be accessed by all, including commercial organisations. The principles were designed to be in line with those of  Open Scotland and the Open Scotland Declaration. As the project got underway the Scottish Funding Council published their digital strategy to 2021 enshrining these principles too.

The digital skills interventions were chosen via analysis of the new Professional Standards for Lecturers in Scotland’s Colleges and Jisc’s Building Digital Capabilities framework. The resources were built around repurposed materials from a unique PDA in Technology for Enhanced Learning and Teaching delivered by the CoGC and mapped to the CPD frameworks around digital delivery. The focus on some simple interventions relevant to all staff in FE , HE and work-based learning. Additionally, the site would provide a deep set of links to free training opportunities from a range of providers around the themed interventions.

Technology Used

All technologies used for the project were free to use or open resources, with the exception of  the registration of our domain name, nmis-skills.org. The learning content was created in an instance of G Suite, which is free for educational institutions and charities. 

The slide decks for the webinars were created using templates from Slides Carnival, which are licensed under CC BY 4.0. Icons were sourced from Flaticon under a CC BY 3.0 license. 

Images were mainly sourced from Unsplash, which feature a licence that allows the use of works and creation of derivative works without the need to ask permission of or crediting the original author. The only caveat was that images could not be used to create a similar or competing service to Unsplash.

Zoom was chosen as our webinar platform for three reasons. Firstly, it ran directly from a downloaded .exe file or a browser plugin, so could work within most institutions’ IT infrastructures. Secondly, the team already had experience of using the platform. Thirdly, Zoom had a free version where meetings can only be 40 mins long. However this was long enough for a chink of learning content and we turned this restriction into the planned length of our webinars.

Webinars were recorded using Zoom’s built in tools and then uploaded to a dedicated YouTube channel so that viewers could watch at a time of their choosing. 

Lessons Learned

Our open methodology is sound and easy to adopt. By working closely with Google we have built a resource that is easily co-owned and we have broken out of the institutional silos that can easily restrict developments of this type. As our G Suite is outwith the control of an institutional IT department, we have full control of creating user accounts and hosting content. This gives us the flexibility required to work with colleagues across a wide range of institutions while maintaining regulatory control. The community aspect comes with detailed guidance.

In addition, open practice was central to our project bid. This ensured that everyone was onboard from the start and that open methodologies did not need to be retrofitted, with all the negotiations this usually requires.

Our model of creating downloadable Google Slide decks and YouTube videos of the webinars is a useful method for disseminating information. We have seen that the outputs are used more asynchronously, as we had relatively few live participants in our webinars compared to views of YouTube videos.

Our method of short chunks of learning is perhaps more of a viable alternative for vocational learning than the lecture capture model currently being adopted in many Universities. Rather than hour long monologues, our model encourages short interactive presentations that better suit vocational learning.

The outputs can be easily managed: the platforms adopted are free , the technical skill needed to set to set up, record and archive are relatively low. 

Engagement remains the thorny challenge. It is hard to reach the specialist practitioners who will eventually use the forthcoming resources from Edinburgh University and other NMIS partners. 

The project has attracted a lot of interest from other organisations who have a cross institutional constituency and need a more sophisticated approach around collaboration and the sharing of learning materials. We are certain more initiatives of this kind will develop.

Written by Joe Wilson @joecar and Lewis Ross, Lewis.Ross@cityofglasgowcollege.ac.uk.

Joe Wilson

Lewis Ross

If you enjoyed reading this article we invite you to join the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) as an individual member, and to encourage your own organisation to join ALT as an organisational or sponsoring member.

Categories: #ALTC Blog, ALT

Maren Deepwell marendeepwell in conversation with Sue Beckingham suebecks

#ALTC Blog - 01/08/19

This time I am delighted to be talking to Sue Beckingham, National Teaching Fellow and Principal Lecturer in Business Information Systems and Technology, LTA Lead in Computing at Sheffield Hallam University as well as one of the highly anticipated keynote speakers of the 2019 ALT Annual Conference, taking place 3-5 September, in Edinburgh.

Maren: Tell us about what you are currently working on?

Sue: The last month has been consumed with marking, moderating, preparing for the exam boards and writing module reviews. It was good to take a few days out to attend SOLSTICE Conference at Edge Hill in my role as Visiting Fellow where I co-ran a session with my colleague Prof Peter Hartley on ‘Communication revisited – new perspectives and their implications for our practice in learning and teaching.’ This gave us an opportunity to shine a light on the use of new technology for learning and how we could communicate with students, for example through chatbots to provide 24/7 answers to FAQs and hologram lectures to bring in speakers from afar! We are also working together on new editions of two books Peter has written ‘Success in Groupwork’ and ‘Interpersonal Communication’, to bring in the use of technology and social media. Technology wise I am re-exploring the use of augmented reality and how this can be used to evoke curious learning and animated videos to share information.

My interest in the use of social media for learning is always at the forefront and I love having the opportunity to develop student partnerships. The SMASH (Social media for Academic Studies at Hallam) team formed in in 2016 will be looking to share an open web site of resources and activities they have co-created. This project has resulted in a collection of opportunities for the students to present their work at conferences and a recent publication co-written titled ‘A SMASHing approach for developing staff and student digital capabilities within a Community of Practice‘ in the Journal of Educational Innovation. I’m excited to see how the students take this project forward in the new academic year.  

I am involved in the BCSWomen Lovelace Colloquium and about to take on a new role to co-facilitate the social media channels. This is an annual conference for women students of computing and related subjects, which provides a forum for networking, sharing of ideas, and advice from academia and industry about careers in computing. As a female working in a department that is predominantly male I truly value opportunities to network and this event brings many women together, both staff and students.

Last but not least is #SocMedHE19, an annual conference with a Social Media for Learning in Higher Ed focus. A seed planted in the summer of 2015 resulted in the inaugural event that December at Sheffield Hallam University with Eric Stoller as keynote, co-facilitated with Helen Rodger and Alison Purvis. After three iterations the baton was passed to the wonderful Rachel Challen at NTU and this December the brilliant Dawne Bell and Sarah Wright at Edge Hill University will lead the event. I’ve continued to contribute as part of the organising team as well as presenting with my students. Do take a look at and consider submitting a proposal. https://www.edgehill.ac.uk/clt/conference-2014/social-media-for-learning-in-higher-education-conference-2019/

Maren: What influences your work? 

Sue: The NSS, TEF, and more recently the Augar Review all contribute to an ongoing analysis of the way we work; as do restructures, cuts in budgets and new policies. Whilst not an advocate of incessant change, I do see the value of new interventions that will enhance the student experience and be both inclusive and accessible. Taking time to step back and reflect on my own practice is important; and I frequently seek inspiration from my peers through the use of social media and my international network which extends way beyond my institution

Maren: Current recommended reading?  

Sue: Hot off the press and highly recommended is Social Media in Higher Education: Case Studies, Reflections and Analysis edited by Chris Rowell and is available to read online for free! The book is split into seven sections: professional practice, teaching and learning, leadership, building networks, innovation and finally the personal journey; so has something for everybody. I contributed one of the chapters which is about developing a professional online presence and effective network.

Maren: How do you make your to-do lists.. analogue or digital or both? 

Sue: Both! I use the notes app on my phone and when working collaboratively with colleagues we have made use of Google Docs, Trello and Slack. I’ve tried a few other apps like Todoist but frankly I still like post-its and my notebook! That said I am going to revisit OneNote next academic year, having seen a colleague use this.

Maren: On work travel, you are never without..? 

Sue: Tech wise I’m never ever without 

  • my iPhone, charger, and for back up my ‘recharge’ in case there is nowhere to plug my charger cable in to
  • a notebook and pencil
  • my Kindle if there is time to read. 
  • I may also take a laptop to work on (and of course its charger).
Maren: Which learning technology makes the biggest difference to your work (and why)? 

Sue: It is without doubt my smart phone and access to the social media spaces that I use to connect with my learning network. Yes I can also use my iPad, laptop or desktop, but it is my phone that gives me the connection whilst commuting to work, in between meetings, and other snatches of time. Every day I learn something new that is valuable and relevant to my practice from so many wonderful educators who openly share their practice via social media.

Maren: Who are your learning technology heroes?

Sue: Ooh where do I start? The #altc community as they openly share so much. On Wednesdays at 8pm I am constantly learning from the #LTHEchat community both the guests that lead a topic relating to learning and teaching and those who engage in the conversations. Thinking about individuals, there are so many… I couldn’t call out just a few. That’s the fantastic thing about this community – everyone has the opportunity to contribute and be a learning technology hero through sharing their perspectives on learning and teaching and how technology can support this.

Maren: If you had learning technology superpowers for a day, what would you change? 

Sue: From a practical perspective I would deploy free and secure WiFi everywhere! 

I’d like to relook at the IT spend on PCs and provide all students with an “intelligent device”, which would become their personalised, interconnected virtual learning hub. This would hold a profile of their academic and personal life, syncing all their work to their tutors, connecting to university services with options to communicate in text chat or voice, and linking to their extra-curricular life and their peers. Students would also submit work and get feedback on this device and have a space to reflect using multimedia that feeds into a professional development portfolio. These are not new concepts but currently are fragmented as they happen in different spaces. I expanded on this at the Jisc Network Conference, where I was invited to join a panel to talk about what a university would look like in 2030. I told some of my MSc students about this idea and one contacted me with a view of investigating this as a PhD. Watch this space!

Maren: What are your favourite hashtags?  

Sue: I’d say #altc which is a constant stream of so many interesting conversations relating to learning technologies and #LTHEchat which is a weekly conversation on all things learning and teaching. Each week there is a different theme and a guest leading the conversation with questions. If you’ve not come across this do follow @LTHEchat and take a look at https://lthechat.com.

Maren: What’s the best way for someone to learn more about what you do?  

Sue: I’d suggest follow me on Twitter (@suebecks) or via one of two blogs I write. One is about Social Media for Learning; the other is my own musings about my own learning journey and the work that I do. I also have a site called the The Project Based Learning Toolkit that I created as an output from a project.

Maren: Thank you, Sue, I really excited to see your upcoming keynote #altc!

If you enjoyed reading this article we invite you to join the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) as an individual member, and to encourage your own organisation to join ALT as an organisational or sponsoring member.

Categories: #ALTC Blog, ALT

Broadening access to digital education: is there another way

#ALTC Blog - 01/08/19

A post by Stuart Allan, Director of Online Learning, Edinburgh Business School (Heriot-Watt University), @OpenPlanStuart

Reports of ‘the death of the VLE’ have been circulating for long enough for it to become a kitsch subject in ALT circles. But the institutional VLE – whether as a monolithic system or a central column into which other technologies are integrated – remains a ubiquitous presence in most universities.

Meanwhile, in spite of bold proclamations (mainly from tech firms) about how ‘technology is increasing access to quality education on an unprecedented scale’ (edX), significant global digital divides remain. Online courses are still accessed mainly by the privileged few who already have good access to education and technology, and a drive towards interactivity and synchronicity arguably exacerbates the impact of this inequality (Hillier 2018; Sheail 2018).

When they acquire and adopt digital technologies, are universities doing enough to consider the needs of students who have low-quality or intermittent internet access, or are less able to access synchronous classes due to geographical, technological or financial constraints? Many of the 9,000 students at my institution (Edinburgh Business School, EBS) could be described in this way; around one in four live in Africa.

So when we began thinking about a new environment for digital education in 2017, reflecting on global digital divides was a key concern. The first step was to conduct research with our global student body to gather feedback on their prior experiences and future needs, as well as data on their levels of internet access. Overall, only 43% of the 1,132 respondents to our student survey described their internet access as ‘full and unrestricted’; the majority of students who said they had limited internet access lived in southern Africa.

Armed with a set of technical requirements, which flowed from a value-driven vision for our future online pedagogy, we met with several VLE vendors then conducted a formal procurement process. However, we found that the platforms we analysed were not fully aligned with the needs of our students in three main ways:

  1. offline study options were generally lacking;
  2. surprisingly, smartphone optimisation was patchy in some cases;
  3. online content was generally siloed by mode (i.e. text pages, videos, quizzes and discussions were accessed via separate menu items), and this structure seemed very difficult to override via customisation.

We felt that these issues severely limited our potential to create the accessible, rich, intuitive and collaborative experiences many of our students were looking for. Worse, it seemed that these limitations would disproportionately disadvantage students who had limited internet access.

So while we did select the best candidate from the VLEs in the procurement process, instead of customising it ‘out of the box’ we decided to integrate it and other ‘best-of-breed’ technologies underneath a custom-built student interface (see Brown et al. 2015). This approach was only possible because we had an in-house IT team with expertise in software development and user experience design, who have spent the last 18 months developing the student interface.

In my poster and GASTA talk at ALT-C I’ll reflect on this process, as well as proposing some scenarios that could make it a little more straightforward for others to take a similar approach in future.

In the absence of digital technologies that are designed specifically with their needs in mind, students with limited internet access will continue to be excluded from digital education and instead forced towards campus models or print-based correspondence courses, or even miss out on education altogether.

I’d argue that this issue is too important to be left solely in the hands of technology companies. If we’re serious about addressing inequality of access to digital education, technologies must be anchored in the needs of those who would otherwise be marginalised or excluded. This will require leadership, collaboration and investment across the sector.


Brown M., Dehoney J. and Millichap N. (2015) The Next Generation Digital Learning Environment: A Report on Research. Available from: https://library.educause.edu/~/media/files/library/2015/4/eli3035-pdf.pdf

Hillier M. (2018) Bridging the digital divide with off-line e-learning. Distance Education, 39 (1), 110–121.

Stuart Allan, Director of Online Learning, Edinburgh Business School,Heriot-Watt University @OpenPlanStuart

If you enjoyed reading this article we invite you to join the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) as an individual member, and to encourage your own organisation to join ALT as an organisational or sponsoring member.

Categories: #ALTC Blog, ALT

Maren Deepwell marendeepwell in conversation with Melissa Highton honeybhighton

#ALTC Blog - 19/07/19

Welcome to this regular interview series on the #altc blog. This time I am talking to a leader in our sector, Melissa Highton. Melissa is Assistant Principal and Director of Learning, Teaching and Web Services, University of Edinburgh, FCILIP, FHEA and one of the first Senior CMALT Holders globally as well as the Co-Chair of the 2019 ALT Annual Conference, taking place 3-5 September, in Edinburgh.

Maren: Tell us about what you are currently working on?

Melissa: At the moment I am working on trying to promote a career in university IT as an option for graduates and returners.
This seems to me to be a challenge for leadership and equality and diversity in our sector and I speak about it at tech events, HR seminars and recruitment fairs.

I feel that we have a sector imperative to ensure that the services and products we develop meet the diverse needs of our students and users, and I suspect diversity in our workforce can contribute to that business advantage. I wish we could to work together to make a career in university IT seem like an attractive choice for all.

Maren: What influences your work? 

Melissa: I am very aware of the context in which we work, within the university, in the tech sector and in Scotland. Edinburgh University learning technology group is a big recruiter with a lot of innovation so we need to attract and retain talent. I am particularly interested in the value of students as change agents in our organisation. Offering students work experience is a no-brainer for me. We get up to date ideas and creative thinking from them; they get real work experience and digital skills from us. The digital sector in Scotland is booming and students are hungry for work experience which will help them to succeed once they graduate. If you are not studying a STEM discipline the digital sector may be hard to enter, we need a pipeline for students to find their way into well paid jobs and new roles.

Maren: Current recommended reading?  

Melissa: Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism by Safiya Umoja Noble (Author).

Maren: How do you make your to-do lists.. analogue or digital or both? 

Melissa: Both. I also hold a lot in my head, but this may not be entirely reliable.

Maren: On work travel, you are never without..? 

Melissa: A hermeneutic of suspicion.

Maren: Which learning technology makes the biggest difference to your work (and why)? 

Melissa: I pay a lot of attention to social media for work. Blogs and Twitter mostly. Reading and writing. I find Twitter to be a very useful way to keep up to date and colleagues are very kind when they recommend and share resources and news. I have been writing my own work blog for more than 10 years and I appreciate the work which others do when they write theirs. Blogging seems to me to be a key part of our open practice and (along with contributions to conferences) essential to creating a culture and social context for learning technology thinking.

Maren: Who are your learning technology heroes?

Melissa: I have been very lucky to work at some very good universities and with some really innovative thinkers. Sian Bayne and Ray Land got me started in learning technology, Aggie Booth taught me about VLEs, Allison Littlejohn told me about re-usable resources. Owen Stephens showed me library systems. Angela Newton and Helen Howard introduced me to Wikipedia, Tracey Stanley explained ITIL and service management. Stuart Lee and Sebastian Rahtz transformed my thinking about research and digital humanities. Daphne Koller and Michael Korcuska challenged me and Rebecca Eynon regularly sends me to the library to learn more.

Maren: If you had learning technology superpowers for a day, what would you change? 

Melissa: I’d have a busy day. I’d disrupt some of the historical, structural inequalities and get more women into the areas of edtech where they are underrepresented. That would bring us new thinking in software engineering, VR design, AV tech, drone camerawork and the internet of things. I’d disaggregate all our datasets for gender to better understand our users experiences and use our lecture recordings of women speakers to better train voice-recognition software. I’d do transformational make-over on the reputations of ‘maintenance’, ‘sustainability’ and ‘technical debt’ to make them the sexiest and most attractive parts of IT thinking and planning. I’d also give every university a Wikimedian in Residence and a playful environment for innovation. Then I’d have a gin and tonic.

Maren: What are your favourite hashtags? [or equivalent if you don’t use hashtags] 

Melissa: I follow conference hashtags when an event is on and I can’t be there.

Maren: What’s the best way for someone to learn more about what you do?  

Melissa: I write about all of these things on my blog, so that’s a good way. I am also available for conferences, seminars, meetings with senior management, dinners and bat-mitzvahs.

Maren: Thank you, Melissa, for talking with me #altc!

If you enjoyed reading this article we invite you to join the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) as an individual member, and to encourage your own organisation to join ALT as an organisational or sponsoring member.

Categories: #ALTC Blog, ALT

The Power of the Voice supporting learners on placement through podcasting

#ALTC Blog - 15/07/19

A post by Ian Wilson, Senior Lecturer in Education at York St John University, I.Wilson@yorksj.ac.uk, @iwilsonysj

Supporting with Podcasting (video blog)


I’m a great believer in pushing boundaries and trying new things. Being heavily interested in technology, the world of live streaming and YouTube content are areas which I am constantly engaging with. The possibilities to support learning with these is well documented – however, when I was deciding how I was going to keep in touch and support the students during their placement, I left my comfortable area of live streaming in favour of podcasting!

In the beginning 

Being an avid blogger, I had often produced an audio version of my blog posts, although the actual podcasting arena was new to me. I wanted the podcasts to be useful, informative and provide some element of humour/being human. I wanted the students to recognise my own personality within the podcasts, as well as the content being beneficial. I also wanted them to sound good, because I was aware from my own personal engagement with podcasts, that if the quality was poor the engagement would probably reflect this.

Equipment and Content

I wasn’t sure whether I would be making future podcasts and I guess I could have just started with using a microphone that I already had, and the free software called Audacity. However, I always feel better about things if I have some decent equipment so I invested in a Rode microphone and the RodeCaster Pro . I was impressed by the quality of both of these and I must say, they made me feel quite professional and the quality of the recordings were good.

As for content, initially this was blank page, but after a few emails to the students and some thinking on my walk to work, I came up with some segments that would be included in each episode. 

  1. What the students should be doing in the following week 
  2. Support with their School Based Task 
  3. Answer any of their questions 
  4. A teaching idea 
  5. Some motivational advice 

Every Friday, I managed to sit down with my Google Docs and write the script for the episode. Not being on camera would allow me to read from the script and also, I didn’t really want to spend too much time editing afterwards. It was definitely going to be a one take podcast! 

Image by Tumisu on Pixabay

Recorded and Published

After I had written the script, I would record the podcast and get it published. Following an early email from a student, it appeared that some of them listened to the podcast on their journey home, so I was always keen to have it up and ready for about 16:00. 

The RodeCaster Pro, recorded well to audacity and, since the buttons on it allowed me to play my jingles as the show progressed (yes, I had jingles!). I did have to do some limited editing after recording, but this was usually just a matter of some noise reduction and tidying up the start and beginning. 

I didn’t have a proper ‘logo’ or anything, so I just decided to use images of cute animals from pixabay.com to make them more visually more appealing. I already had an account with Audioboom from when I recorded my blog posts, so I quickly added a playlist and for the five-week duration. 

Impact and Feedback

It is always important to look back over a pilot idea and assess how well it had gone. Even after the first episode had gone live, a few students emailed me to say thank you and to provide questions for the next episode. It was from these first emails that further sections were added to the schedule. 

Overall, the feedback was positive. I acknowledge from the listening figures, that the number of people listening went down throughout the placement, but I was confident that the podcast was supporting some learners. One student informed me that they have stored all the teaching ideas for future placements, and that it was really beneficial to have the questions answered.

Initially, the podcast was never meant to have positive impacts on the students’ grades. If anything, the focus was on supporting them and their well-being while away from university. From the analytics and positive emails, it was felt that this was achieved.


I did wonder whether I should do a similar podcast for the first years while they were on placement, but time and energy didn’t really allow for this. I still have the equipment ready for my next go at podcasting and I have already started to work on an idea for the start of the next academic year. Will I do the podcast for placement next year? Well I think I will, if time allows, then yes, I will.

You never know, I do a lot of live streaming in my ‘other career’ so I might even start to have a go at that. One thing I will continue to do is engage with new technology in order to support the students, especially when they are working away from the university or learning at a distance. 

You can find an example of Ian’s podcasts here: https://www.wilsonwaffling.co.uk/se2-podcasts-2019/

Ian Wilson – Senior Lecturer in Education
York St John University
I.Wilson@yorksj.ac.uk @iwilsonysj https://www.wilsonwaffling.co.uk/

If you enjoyed reading this article we invite you to join the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) as an individual member, and to encourage your own organisation to join ALT as an organisational or sponsoring member.

Categories: #ALTC Blog, ALT

A Report from the HEE North TEL Stakeholder Event

#ALTC Blog - 05/07/19

On the 11th of June I attended the NHS Health Education England special TEL event at Northumbria University. This is a community of practitioners, academics and learning technologists working in the NHS on how to use technology to improve the education of health care professionals. This was a special themed event on the uses of virtual, augmented and mixed reality systems and I was asked to attend to see what technologies and approaches could be beneficial for the University of Sunderland’s new Medical School.

The morning was given over to presentations from universities and NHS services on their current practice, and in the afternoon we got to have hands on experience with many of the systems discussed.

South Wales Fire and Rescue talked about how they are using CenarioVR to create 360 degree images and video which can have hotspot interactions added to them, the results of which can be viewed in modern web browsers or more immersive virtual reality solutions such as Google Cardboard or any simple VR unit which allows you to insert and use your phone to provide the screen and processing power. CenarioVR has the additional benefit of being able to output SCORM compliant content for integration with virtual learning environments.

Yorkshire Ambulance Service demonstrated a 360 degree video of the inside of an ambulance, developed by Richard Grice, which allows paramedic students to virtually explore and interact with the contents of an ambulance, which can be extensive and overwhelming for new students.

Leeds Institute of Medical Education demonstrated an augmented reality application and t-shirt from Curiscope which allows you to see internal organs and structures on top of an actual person.

Using Curiscope on a tablet (Image courtesy of Sonya McChristie | CC-BY-NC)

They also talked about their TiME – Technology in Medical Education programme – which aims to give clinicians and academics the development time needed to get to grips with technological developments.

Finally, there was a demonstration of a new system from Inovus Medical who have developed a rather unique and impressive mixed / augmented reality system to enhance the experience of training surgeons to perform laparoscopic surgery. Their conventional training simulator (a see-through box with the laparoscopic tools going into it) has been enhanced with cameras and a computer which gives students a display of the contents of the box, overlaid with any computer-generated imagery you could want. So, for example, you can simulate what would happen should you accidentally cut a blood vessel and suddenly the area where you are operating is flooded with blood.

Inovus mixed/augmented reality system (Image courtesy of Sonya McChristie | CC-BY-NC)

I was impressed. This is a genuinely innovative use of AR / MR with clear benefits, and one of the things which I will be feeding back to our Medical School for further exploration.

Some new things I got to experience for the first time Google Glass, which didn’t impress. The quality of the projected screen was okay for video, but it’s very small, and any highlights or annotations you add, take up a lot of the available viewing area; text is barely legible. A much more impressive AR system was Microsoft’s Hololens, but I was surprised and disappointed by how narrow the field of view was. Step out of the margins of what you need to focus on and the augmented image is gone. I also found the user interface to be very unintuitive – you have to wave your finger to simulate a mouse click. It was the first generation system I used, and I believe the second generation unit offers an improved field of view. Finally there was the Oculus Go, which is very similar to Google Cardboard and other systems which use your phone, except it has the screen and processor built in. That was good, very polished interface and comfortable hardware – a good mid-range virtual reality system.

‘Key learning points’ (Image courtesy of Sonya McChristie | CC-BY-NC)

The full event agenda and copies of presentations, where available, have been published on the Health Education England website.

Sonya McChristie, University of Sunderland, Sonya.McChristie@sunderland.ac.uk. Mastodon: @sonya@scholar.social

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