#ALTC Blog

When the VLE becomes your campus: some thoughts on engaging learners online

#ALTC Blog - 14/03/20
Image by Castaway in Scotland, CC-BY-NC Switching to online delivery?

If you teach at an institution that is affected by the Coronavirus and is temporarily switching from campus-based teaching to online delivery, you may be wondering how you can help your students to engage online. This blog post offers some suggestions, based on a review of the scholarly literature on online engagement by a group of Australian academics (Redmond, Heffernan, Abawi, Brown and Henderson, 2018) – with a shout-out to the authors for making it open access!

Caveat: I am starting from three assumptions, as follows, which I know don’t apply in all scenarios:

  • You work for an institution that has a virtual learning environment (VLE); 
  • Both you and your students have access to connected devices (preferably a laptop/ tablet or computer, but at least a smartphone); 
  • Your institution will provide essential technical support.

(If you don’t have these facilities, I recommend you read Tannis Morgan’s helpful blog post, Online Teaching with the most Basic of Tools – Email, and browse through the further resources at the end of this post.) 

An online engagement framework

In the review by Redmond et al. (2018), the authors found that online engagement can be categorised under five headings: emotional, social, collaborative, cognitive and behavioural engagement. I’ll deal with each of those below, but first, it’s worth noting that there is opportunity lurking in the crisis, in that there can be some real benefits to students to learning online, for example:

  • Online learning is flexible in terms of time and place. 
  • Online learning can be more inclusive. Since there are a variety of alternative ways to participate, the students who tend to speak the most in class might be less dominant online, and the quiet learners might contribute more ideas in writing. 
  • Written records can be kept of the learning, for example in discussion forums, which students can refer back to later. 
  • Students will learn new ways of communicating and managing relationships online, which may be useful in other situations, such as in employment. 

The ideas suggested below all make the most of these advantages, while at the same time aiming to enable each of the different kinds of online engagement.

Image by 8212733 from Pixabay Emotional engagement

Your students may be feeling a sense of isolation, as well as some anxiety about learning online. You can help by setting a welcoming, inclusive tone in all your communication, and by keeping students informed about where to find things online and what to expect. You can do this by making regular (at least weekly) announcements in the VLE. You could also set up a discussion forum on the VLE for queries about the course. Let students know when you will be checking the forum (for example, from 10am to 11am daily on weekdays), so that they know when to expect your replies. Also, look for ways to tap into students’ motivations to learn and their interest in the subject area. One way to do this is by inviting personal responses in discussion forum activities, being careful not to put pressure on students to self-disclose if they don’t want to. 

Social engagement 

Social engagement is extremely important in online learning – most students want to feel a sense of belonging to a community. Opportunities for building social relationships online are therefore critical. To facilitate this, you could set up a discussion forum and invite students to introduce themselves to one another, or if they know each other already, to share something about their lives beyond the university, or their reasons for choosing to study this subject. Sometimes, students will also set up their own social media-based groups outside of the VLE. Don’t worry if they don’t ask you to join these groups – in fact, it’s generally better for staff not to go into students’ social spaces. However, you could encourage them to be inclusive and to invite all their peers if they do talk about setting up such groups.

Collaborative engagement

Collaborative engagement goes beyond social engagement in that it is more focused on learning with and from other people. You can set up discussion forums that encourage students to share their understanding and to respond to one another, or ask students to research a topic in pairs and give a joint mini-presentation in a web-conferencing session. Collaborative engagement is also about students connecting to institutional resources and opportunities, and so you might want to signpost students to library, wellbeing and employability resources. These materials may become more important for students while learning online, as they may have more time to explore and reflect on the opportunities available to them.

Cognitive engagement

Cognitive engagement is a key aspect of every student’s success, and involves skills that we usually refer to as study skills and academic writing skills. Assuming that your module assessment focuses on these skills, one way to encourage cognitive engagement is to keep the final assessment in mind in the design of any online activities you create. If you can set up quizzes on your VLE, these are a good way for students to self-assess and receive instant feedback. Discussion forums and web-conferencing sessions can be used for students to practise developing arguments, integrating ideas, and justifying decisions. Cognitive engagement is integrally interwoven with the other kinds of engagement, and so by thinking about engagement holistically, you will increase the chances of your students engaging deeply with their learning.

Behavioural engagement

In some ways, behavioural engagement may be more visible online than face-to-face. For example, you can see whether students are viewing lecture recordings or clicking on resources in the VLE. However, in much the same way that students’ attendance at physical lectures does not indicate anything about their cognitive engagement, these basic VLE analytics will not be hugely informative. This is one reason why you may want to set up other engagement opportunities. Some ideas follow.

Lecture recordings do not have to be based on the format of your usual hour-long classroom lecture. If you’re recording lectures at home, you might want to experiment with different formats, such as shorter summary lectures followed by other activities (see below). These recordings will no doubt find their way back into your teaching when you’re back on campus.

Quizzes can help students to know whether they are on track. They can be time-consuming to set up, but once created, can also be reused, even when normal, classroom-based teaching resumes.

I’ve recommended the use of discussion forums above for all the different kinds of engagement. Discussion forums tend to be inclusive, as they allow for flexible participation, and they generally don’t require much bandwidth. If you’ve not used discussion forums before, here are some tips: 

  • Avoid completely unstructured discussion forums – these are unlikely to engage learners.
  • Structure discussion forum activity by asking questions that are related to the course assessment, so that students see value in participating.
  • Ask open-ended questions, so that all students can contribute something original. 
  • Encourage students to respond to others, and not just to ‘broadcast’ their own views. 
  • Don’t set word limits – this will stifle the discussion.
  • Give each discussion forum a time frame. Topic-specific forums generally work well when run over one or two weeks. This also helps to pace students through the syllabus.
  • You don’t need to read and reply to every comment yourself – instead you could write a general response to everyone at the end of each weekly/ fortnightly discussion period.

Web-conferencing sessions are another good way to get online engagement. If you can divide your cohort into small groups (fewer than 30 students), then you can invite students to speak using their microphones. Students can also type in the chat box during the session, and this mode of communication appeals to some students. Remember though, that not all students will be able to participate in these sessions, especially if they are in distributed time zones or don’t all have good connectivity. If you think this is the case in your cohort, it is advisable to avoid web-conferencing altogether and just use discussion forums.

Concluding thoughts

If you were not sure where to start in the switch to online delivery, I hope this post has given you some ideas for engaging your students. I strongly recommend that you familiarise yourself with your institution’s guidance on how to use the VLE and its associated tools, and then schedule a chat with a learning technologist (AKA educational developer, instructional designer, etc.) in your institution if you have any questions. Try to plan for the use of unfamiliar technologies in advance, as your support team may be stretched to capacity and they may not be able to help you at short notice.

Remember you can also look for help elsewhere – for example, there are some wonderful Twitter folks offering to answer questions under the hashtags #digped and #PivotToOnline, and lots of great resources being shared there. Look for creative solutions. It won’t be perfect, and you might need to make some compromises, but who knows, you might find new ways to engage your learners that endure beyond the end of the pandemic.

To end with, here are some great sources of further guidance:

If you’d like to share your response to this post or ask a question, please use the Comment box to do so. I look forward to hearing from you!


Redmond, P., Heffernan, A., Abawi, L., Brown, A., & Henderson, R. (2018). An Online Engagement Framework for Higher Education. Online Learning, 22(1), 183–204. https://doi.org/10.24059/olj.v22i1.1175 [CC-BY]

Author Info: Gabi Witthaus is a consultant at Art of E-learning. She is doing her PhD on the online engagement of refugees and asylum seekers in HE. She also works in the College of Arts & Law Digital Education Team at the University of Birmingham. Twitter: @twitthaus Blog: www.artofelearning.org

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

Reviewing and changing a VLE: Changing the tyre while the car is in motion

#ALTC Blog - 03/03/20

Those involved in large IT system changes will appreciate the complexity of ‘swapping out’ one of those systems for another. Over time systems can become highly integrated, both on a technical level and in terms of human behaviour. Couple this with the requirement for service continuity, and you find yourself trying to change a tyre while the car is in motion.

We are the Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) team, and we wanted to share some of our experiences of reviewing and changing the institutional VLE.

The Project

After a full VLE review in 2016, Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) went to competitive tender, resulting in a move from Blackboard 9.1 (self-hosted) to Canvas (SaaS). The contract was signed in December 2016. Training began with academic staff in January 2017 and the VLE went live to staff in April 2017, and subsequently to students in August 2017. We continued with a pared-back version of the original VLE, for a small number of courses that were completing within the 12-months of the new VLE starting. It also provided staff and students with the opportunity to archive content and submissions.  

Timeline for the key points of the project. Gathering User Requirements

A number of focus groups were held using a variation of the Dephi technique to identify user requirements and desirable additions for a functioning system. The participants were all Programme Leaders, enabling us to gather information from a range of subject areas and allowing ideas to filter up from academic teams. Students were also surveyed but a strategic decision was taken to focus on staff as it was anticipated that any functionality that would benefit them would, in turn, improve the student learning experience.

One of the key outcomes of the review was the importance for ease of use for both staff and students; we became aware of the teaching staff requirement for interfaces and workflows that made clear, logical sense. Through this understanding, it became a priority to select a system that provided staff with a very simple user interface that would increase engagement in more technically and pedagogically complex VLE processes, transitioning from a file storage model to an active learning platform.  

The Wider Impact on Other Processes and Systems

Blackboard’s 17-year institutional tenure at LJMU meant that many processes, systems and teams extended into the system; this appeared, at times to be a complex problem with many interlinking elements. To address this going forward, and to avoid any duplication of excessive complexity, we first developed four VLE Guiding Principles. These would be applied to guide usage around the new system, stating clearly the terms of operation, i.e. what this system may and may not be used for. This was to prevent mission creep and allow other services to develop without overlapping the VLE’s role, and was developed during the process of review through to implementation. Certain developments had occurred in the past, which did not follow the VLE perceived central function, including the use of the system as a deployment platform for the institutional results notification day.

The line is subtle in its distinction – for instance, Programme sites became a space to display of student module and Programme feedback to students, which detail the outcomes of module evaluation. This was clearly a managerial, Registry-type function, updating students on the on-going improvements to the Programme. However, the VLE is also the place where students complete their module evaluation surveys and where staff access the results of these surveys. The distinction between them is a principle of being within the process of delivering and ‘taking’ that course, rather than at the end point of discussing and evaluating its conclusions.

This approach drove some wider changes within the institution as different departments found better solutions to processes that were once embedded in or deployed from the VLE. These changes were supported by the development of the 4 principles.

Developing with LTI Extensions

The acquisition of a new, customisable VLE offered the existing team the opportunity to employ an additional staff member and a programmer / developer was duly appointed; they work within the TEL team and are line-managed locally but retain a connection to the IT Services department. This new appointment emerged as a priority as other departments reassessed the critical role the VLE played in the institution. This is a highly technical role but it does not necessitate the requirement for an equivalently skilled manager; if the Programmer requires support, this is available both from colleagues in ITS and the Canvas Developer Community. The post allowed the TEL team to firstly trim the system for the institution but is now responsible for larger, scalable projects involving the development of external tools, and internal projects connected via LTI.

The team worked with academic staff to develop a private journal tool and a tutor/student feedback dashboard; this holistic approach to feedback will allow students to understand the role of feedback as an active process and recognise the different forms of feedback. LTI became the key infrastructure to link internal development with the online SaaS VLE environment, keeping each area as independent as possible in case of subsequent updates dislocating each other.

Communication: a Postcard from TEL

Throughout implementation, a different approach for communicating with all academic staff was adopted. It was agreed that there was a critical requirement to reach all VLE content developers to ensure they were aware of the move to Canvas. Communications in large organisations can be problematic, with many competing messages vying for a small window of attention in a limited time frame.

A series of black and white printed postcard were created, conveying very simple information about the change, but using an eye-catching images on the front of the card. The team settled on a vintage theme in an effort to consciously deviate from the usual corporate internal communication. This worked well; anecdotal evidence indicated that staff were displaying the picture in their personal spaces because the card images were so emotive.

Training: Engaging and Reinvigorating

The training commenced 9 months before the student go live date; the system was fully available for all staff from the start of April 2017.  With institutional agreement, obtained through formal governance, the training was mandatory for all staff who taught or supported teaching and learning. The key here was to use the sessions as a communications process to ensure all staff were fully aware of the change, and the associated processes. Attendance records were kept and Faculty Directors informed of progress; however, engagement was high, so there was little enforcement needed. An unexpected outcome of the training was the way early attendees were returning to their teams with a positive message around the change and the new system, as a whole. This may have affected early levels of attendance by staff as they perceived this to be a more positive change than expected, and subsequently recalculated the importance of attendance.

Keeping Up the Momentum

As we wanted to be up and running as quickly as possible, it was decided to work with Canvas to import content. This approach has been a point of debate since, regarding the positives and negatives; some of the team feel this was a missed opportunity to start afresh and bring about greater change, while others see this content import as necessary to support staff and students, moving through the transition.

Three projects were launched after the implementation was completed to retain momentum. These were the Canvas Consistency project, Active Digital Learning project and the Digital Feedback Review.

These projects were initiated in response to emergent issues as the VLE ‘bedded in’, and to drive further development in key areas. Each project involved working with staff to review specific ways of using the VLE, and their impact on students.

  • The Canvas Consistency project’s aim was to help identify the differences between Canvas courses and understand how to promote the delivery of a consistent approach across all courses in the programme. Interviews with students were also included in the review, to understand their perspectives.
  • The Active Digital Learning project identified good practice in the use of digital tools to support active learning in the class and within the VLE. Canvas generates a large amount of system data which can be accessed using their servers, or hosted in-house as part of a data warehouse. The team used this VLE data to identify areas of high engagement at LJMU and followed up by asking the academic staff involved to share their practice.
  • The aims of the Digital Feedback Review were to improve student access to feedback, explore staff practice and evaluate the benefits of the different marking methods with LJMU academic staff. The team have since launched ‘Canvas Revisited training sessions to keep staff informed about Canvas and internal developments.

Developing staff use of Canvas is increasingly a multi-modal affair, utilizing a combination of face-to-face sessions and online resources. This includes an online Canvas course focusing on the fundamentals of the system, as well as the development of staff online collaborative spaces to share practice. Underpinning this is a governance that invites input from a number of sources including senior academic staff and Faculty teaching and learning strategy documents. This process is continually reviewed and adjusted in line with changes to strategic priorities and staff input.


TEL teams are frequently faced with the prospect of complex change on many levels, posing a range of risks to their institutions-implementing a new VLE typifies this since engagement with the system is multi-faceted and touches many areas of delivery and learning. On reflection, we concluded that, despite these risks, we did achieve our initial aim of changing the car tyre while still moving-bringing about substantial change without excessive disruption to users.  Encouragingly, this seems to have been positively received and there are early signs that the investment in the new VLE is creating improved engagement, from both staff and students.

Article authors: Nicholas Adamson, Cheryl Connor, Bethan Reid, Phillip Rothwell, Andy Shackleton and Jim Turner – Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU)

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

TELFest NW 2019

#ALTC Blog - 28/02/20

A post by Monica Chavez, University of Liverpool

TELFest North West

TELFest North West is an initiative  inspired byTELFest at the University of Sheffield and is organised by a group of highly enthusiastic people  in the North West of England from different institutions who share a love for educational technology. The first TELFest NW was on the 17th of December 2019 at the University of Liverpool, attracting 60 delegates from 27 institutions based in the North West of England. 

TELFest NW Committee 2019 Not just another conference

When we set out to plan for the event at the beginning of last year, the TELFest NW team agreed that the spirit of this event would be fun and away from traditional conferencing. It is very important to us to keep it community based, free, fun, and diverse in terms of  the committee members, the programme and the presenters. The day was fast-paced and informal with three Digital Education Champions talks by Farzana Latif (practice theme), Dale Munday (innovation theme) and Pete Atherton (vision theme), 2 toolbox sessions and 10 lightning talks. We also banned the typical 20 minutes death by PowerPoint presentation and encouraged presenters to display their tech savvy skills and try different formats to deliver their presentation. We were particularly impressed by the University of Leeds Sean Geldhill’s dynamic presentation. Sean showed us one great way to move away from death by PowerPoint. 

You can see the TELFest NW 2019 programme here and all the recorded sessions here

A huge thank you to our sponsor PebblePad who introduced us to new possibilities for teaching, learning and assessment with their e-portfolio tool. 

Community first, technology second

In the face of increasing interactions on social media  and virtual platforms for work and collaboration, it seemed essential to create a face to-face community in the North West of England to remind learning technologists, educational developers, academics and tech enthusiasts that no matter what the new flavour of the month is,  there is no such thing as virtual trust and that face-to-face events to attend, share and network are still crucial for the exchange of scholarship and innovation. As explained by Simon Sinek in his book ‘Leaders Eat Last’, when people rely heavily on online tools for interaction,  the relationships we form may seem real but what they really are is an abstraction of people based on the manipulation of neurochemicals like serotonin and oxytocin. Because we are social animals who from the evolutionary point of view have had to learn to read people and make decisions about them in order to progress, the real connection with peers can only happen face-to-face. 

Fun and free 

A community of practice can have different levels of formality and engagement. Our team was determined to create a space for colleagues to come together and have honest conversations and share stories in a safe environment. With reduced continuing professional development (CPD) budgets and conferences taking place away from home, we created a more local, more relaxed option for people to travel to and go back home at the end of the day. The bottom line of TELFest NW is to create value for people in an event in which innovation and best practice is shared, starting from the informal language used in our communications to the 3 rules for presenting at TELFest NW: 1.Wow us, 2. Keep on time, 3. Be yourself.


In her last 2019 blog post, Maren Deepwell summarises her efforts to  reduce gender inequality in learning technology and  reflects briefly on how to challenge the status quo to put an end to ‘manels’ (men only panels).  The TELFest NW team embraces this vision of a fairer landscape for learning technologists in which becoming conscious of male-dominated conferences, events, panels or committees should be the starting point of one’s participation or involvement in any initiative. Our team makes a conscious  choice to include women and people from diverse backgrounds in the organisation of the event and to have a balanced programme of male and female presenters. In last year’s TELFest NW 9 out 16 presenters were women, a good indicator of our commitment to enlist men as allies for gender equality in learning technology. 

What next? 

This year TELFest NW will deliver an event following the spirit of last year’s event. We hope you can make it on Tuesday 15th of December 2020 at the University of Liverpool to celebrate the uniqueness of your role in educational technology. The themes of our next events are Digital Wellbeing, Inclusivity in TEL, and The Fail Zone. Register your interest to attend or present here

Dr Monica Chavez is Chair of TELFest NW, a community driven initiative in the North West of England and an Educational Developer at the Centre for Innovation in Education, University of Liverpool.

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

Seeking the next Chair for ALT: an inside perspective

#ALTC Blog - 03/02/20

By Sheila MacNeill and Martin Weller

As we prepare to start the process of finding a new Chair for ALT, we thought it would be useful to share some of our experiences of the position. In this post we (Sheila, current Chair and Martin, current President) share some of our personal reflections on our experiences of the role; some of the things that aren’t in the job description and no-one tells you about. 

The Chair, who is also a Trustee of ALT, chairs the Board of Trustees, and works closely with the Chief Executive. Read more here

Hopefully this will be of interest to anyone thinking about applying for the role. We hope it will also be of interest to everyone in our community and is another example of how as a Board we are committed to our core value of openness.  

Sheila MacNeill, Chair
Serving as a Trustee since September 2014 

Reflecting on my time as Chair of ALT first and foremost makes me smile.  It has, and continues to be, one of the most stimulating, enriching and enjoyable experiences of my professional working life. It is a great thing to have on your CV, and people do treat you differently when you are introduced as Chair.   I have had the honour of being the first Chair to serve under both the old and new constitution, and by September 2020 I will have been Chair for 3 years, not 1 as was the previous practice.

Although I had served a kind of apprenticeship by first being a Trustee, then Vice-Chair when you become “the Chair” things do change. It’s not just  that you physically chair the Board meetings, suddenly you realise that the buck does stop with you. Your signature on official minutes/documentation is the stamp that you have ensured that all the activities the Association has undertaken and is planning have been reviewed with  due diligence and and are carried out to ensure the good standing and continued appropriate development of the Association and the support it provides to,  primarily our membership, but also the wider community that ALT encompasses. 

That said, the additional time commitment and involvement that the role of Chair requires, does have many positive aspects. Not least is the closer working relationship you have with the ALT staff, and in particular the CEO and CIO.  As well as chairing meetings, you are also responsible for senior staff appraisal and development. I have found this aspect of the role particularly rewarding as you get the opportunity to support the development and leadership of the staff.  The past three years have brought a consistency to this process that was lacking before when the Chair changed annually. Support for senior staff such as CEOs and CIOs is vital, if often hidden in many organisations. Being able to develop a much deeper understanding of that role and the support that it requires is a core  part of the role of the Chair. This process has also allowed me to understand more fully the workings of all our the core ALT staff team and hopefully enhance the wider duty of care of the Chair and the Board in relation to staff wellbeing. ALT has a very small core, virtually distributed team so ensuring that everyone is working effectively together is really important to the continued development of the activities and strategic objectives of the organisation.  

I have been fortunate that I have been able to give the time to the role that it requires.  Whilst working at GCU. I never had any issues around getting time to go to meetings and I am grateful for that departmental and in turn institutional support.  If you want to be an effective Chair, you need to ensure that you can give the role the time that it deserves and requires. It’s not too onerous, but you need to ensure that you can balance it with your other commitments.  If your diary is already jammed with meetings, then this is possibly not the role for you at the moment.  

ALT is now an established independent, virtually distributed organisation with a growing membership and community. Our activities are recognised at national and international levels. This is a really exciting time to become part of ensuring the delivery of our new strategy, and taking the association to its next level. 

Martin Weller, President
Serving as a Trustee since September 2015

I served as Vice-Chair and then Chair for 2 years. Previously, I had been slightly on the periphery of the ALT community, and it was an excellent way of getting to know how it operated, and the range of services it offered. Since then I have been President for 3 years and have seen the organisation continue to flourish and adapt. It’s professionally rewarding in a number of ways. First, it is an effective means of expanding your network with people across the sector. Second, it helps keep you abreast of so many different developments in learning technology. Third, it is an invaluable experience in working within an organisation that is always reviewing and reflecting on how it operates. I have taken many practices from ALT into my own organisation.

But most of all, I would stress that it is a very enjoyable role and experience. The Trustees and team all bring expertise and commitment to the organisation. The value of ALT to its members is apparent in the feedback we receive and in the amount of commitment they show in running interest groups. There are few things in one’s career that are fun, rewarding and stimulating. I would recommend anyone who wants to be part of a dynamic, innovative organisation and work with a highly collegial group to apply. Sheila has outlined the changes that have taken place at ALT very well, and I agree completely that it is a role that makes me smile. 

If you are interested in finding out more, please have a look at the ALT website for the full information. The deadline for applications is 14 February 2020. 

Further Information

There are further opportunities to get involved with ALT and take an active part in our governance, including elections to the Board of Trustees and joining the ALT Assembly. See https://www.alt.ac.uk/about-alt/who-we-are/roles-available-within-alt

Categories: #ALTC Blog, ALT

Library and Edtech heroes creating time to experiment and WCAG 2 0 VLE mapping

#ALTC Blog - 28/01/20
Maren Deepwell in conversation with… Rosie Hare

For the first conversation in 2020, I am talking to Rosie Hare, Learning Resources Development Manager at The Northern School of Art.

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

Rosie: On the VLE/learning technology side of things, we’re looking at accessibility and mapping our current VLE to the WCAG 2.0 criteria to ensure that we have a clear idea of where we need to make improvements and specify which aspects aren’t 100% accessible in our accessibility statement. We have a new learning technologist in post who started with us in September, so it’s been a busy first few months while they get settled in and learn the role.

My role also oversees the development of the library at The Northern School of Art and a big part of my role in 2020 will be preparing the library for our first Master’s courses that start this September. Ensuring all the budgeting planning is done for the new resources and liaising with academic staff to ensure we’re purchasing everything they need to support the new courses. We’re also hoping to develop an information literacy offer for MA students that will be able to support them to be able to make the most of their research tim

Maren: What influences your work? 

Rosie: I suppose it depends on which area of my work I’m focusing on. Because I now oversee both the library and learning technology at my current workplace, I have to keep an eye on quite a lot of things in order to make sure I’m up to date with what’s happening. Our institution is also FE and HE, so I need to know about both sectors and keep abreast of what’s going on with the policy landscape and the external context. When it comes to practical things and learning about the wider context of the sectors I work in, I’m mostly influenced by people I respect and admire in both the library and learning technology professions. I’ve managed to build some excellent networks over the years and have found that being able to ask people and have conversations around how things are done at another place helps me think about how different approaches might work at my workplace.

Being part of an institution that is fully committed to widening participation in Higher Education is very powerful and something I am grateful to be a part of, especially since I am from the local area and have benefited from other local institutions myself. I fully believe in the transformational and emancipatory powers of Further and Higher Education. I also think that the fact that creative education is being squeezed or cut from a lot of state-funded schools is a very deliberate political act from successive governments, which disproportionately affects those from poorer backgrounds who otherwise can’t access private opportunities for creative education. Being surrounded by creative educators who have worked tirelessly over the years to provide an excellent and distinctive educational offer in the Teesside area – often with the odds stacked against them – is very inspirational. I love working in education and learning from others who teach in the FE and HE sectors. I have learned a lot from the people I currently work with and continue to learn from them every day.

Maren: Current recommended reading?  

Rosie: I usually have a couple of different books on the go when it comes to professional reading. I’m currently revisiting some of the chapters from the 2nd Edition of The Handbook of Art and Design Librarianship. I also recently read Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center by bell hooks and Thick by Tressie MacMillan Cottom. I also regularly visit blogs from people like Donna LanclosLawrie PhippsAndrew PreaterSheila MacNeil and various other library and learning technology professionals. I’m absolutely rubbish at reading fiction and hardly ever commit to reading it. How bad is that for someone who works in libraries?!  

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

Rosie: Mostly digital. I use a combination of Outlook tasks, Trello and we’re currently experimenting with Microsoft Teams at our workplace. I do always carry a paper notebook with me as well, though, in case I don’t have access to any tech and need to quickly make a note of something.

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

Rosie: My phone and some ear buds. Spotify playlists are a must for long journeys!

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

Rosie: Does a phone count?! Pretty sure it’s my iPhone, as I use it for everything! I use an app called TaskTask to add stuff to my Outlook tasks while I’m on the go, I can access my calendar and emails (which is a lifesaver when you work across two campuses), access OneDrive and check up on Twitter if there’s a conference going on. Over the next year I want to do more work around students accessing library resources through their phones and perhaps running some workshops for both staff and students to show them how to get the best out of our resources in the classroom and on the go.

Maren: Who are your learning technology heroes?

Rosie: There are a lot! I’ve worked with some great people over the years and have met many others at different conferences and events. I do have a Twitter list called ‘Library and EdTech heroes’, so it’s probably the people who are on there! That’s usually the first place I check when I log into Twitter during the week to see what people are saying or to see what events people are attending so I can follow the hashtags.

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

Rosie: No more vendors?! Ha! (OK…maybe that’s a bit too harsh, but I am certainly not a fan of predatory EdTech vendors and have come across a few pushy ones in my time). I would love to see proper resourcing for learning technology, particularly in Further Education and small HE institutions, and the chance for teaching staff to be able to experiment and attend staff development events for free/low cost. I’d also love to have the power to change people’s mindsets so that they didn’t approach things with a ‘deficit model’ of thinking, which I think just alienates the staff that we’re supposed to be supporting. Our education sectors are also very metric-driven and data-driven, but I would love it if staff in colleges and universities had more time to be able to experiment, make mistakes and learn from each other in a supportive, nurturing way. So…perhaps my superpower would be to get rid of a lot of the work around collecting data and metrics in favour of freeing up time and space for people. Sounds nerdy and corny, but that’s what I’d do!

Maren: What are your favourite hashtags?  

Rosie: The ones I tend to keep an eye on the most, from a professional point of view, are #altc#lthechat#uklibchat#critlib and whatever conference hashtags are floating around at the time. I don’t always tweet a lot or have the time to fully participate in chats that happen on an evening, but will often lurk or read them the following day to catch up. It’s such a good form of free CPD, though!

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

Rosie: I love chatting to people, so people can always send me a Twitter DM or contact me through LinkedIn. Since I’ve been in my current role, I’ve also been a fan of arranging phone calls with people – especially other librarians in similar types of small institutions. This has been invaluable for sharing practice and building connections when I don’t necessarily have the time or resources to get out to a lot of conferences and external events. So, I’m always happy to arrange phone calls with people if they wanted to ask me anything or find out more about my work! I also blog – although I haven’t been too regular with that lately.

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

Rosie blogs at https://rosiehare.com/ and you can connect via @RosieHare and https://www.linkedin.com/in/rosiehare/ .

Categories: #ALTC Blog, ALT

A brief history of ALT East England 1 year in

#ALTC Blog - 25/01/20

Post by Neil Dixon and Alistair Cooper.

Being new to the profession at the end of 2018, I reached out to other Learning Technologists in the region which eventually evolved into ALT East England. We aim to organise three events per year, covering Bedford, Cambridge, Hertfordshire, Norwich and everywhere in between. So far we’ve held two events and now have over fifty subscribers on our mailing list. Here I give background to the committee and summarise our story so far.

ALT East England summary
Organising committee members 
Jennie Dettmer is an active member of two ALDinHE working groups: Learnhigher and the Conference Working group) Although Jennie works in Learning Development, she has an interest in Learning Technology and she trains others to embed technology within their teaching. Uwe Richter has supported learning technologies at ARU for over two decades, inputting into policies and developing and delivering staff development institution-wide. He also leads on distance and online learning and team-based learning for ARU. He is a member of the Head of e_Learning Forum (HeLF), ELESIG and ALT. Neil Dixon is a Chartered Librarian, member of the eLearning network and the co-host of the ALT Mentions podcast who’s interested in instructional design and pedagogical approaches for information literacy.Keep up to dateSign up for our Jiscmail@alteastengland

University of Cambridge Medical School was kind enough to host our first informal gathering with eleven attendees. We worked on our terms of reference for the group, talked about what our interests were, the priorities for each of our institutions and what kind of events we could run.

We were pleased to be able to host the first meet-up. It was about deciding what this sort of a group could and should do; everyone felt a need for something in the region and was keen to get something going.
~Alistair Cooper (University of Cambridge School of Clinical Medicine)

University of Cambridge, School of Clinical Medicine. Image: by Alistair Cooper. Gamification event.

UEA offered to host our first event, called Gamification: Pedagogy and Practice, seeing it as a great opportunity to highlight their work on using badges in Blackboard. With fifty attendees the event was a huge success. I was grateful to Charlie Williams (Learning Technologist, UEA) for working very hard to promote the event and recruit presenters at UEA.

Holding the first ALT EE event at UEA was a great experience, both for our Digital Technology team and for me personally. We have a growing interest in gamification here at UEA, and having the opportunity to bring all those people together, and learn from others in the region was extremely valuable. Since the event ended, several people have commented on how great the conference was, and have started experimenting with gamification in their own courses.
~ Charlie Williams (Learning Technologist, UEA)

The range of presentations was enlightening – from tech-enabled escape rooms to gamified marketing scenarios to a great data-driven comparison of the value of different gamified approaches on student grades. The lovely location that is the UEA campus was a bonus!


At ALT-C 19 I helped organise a #learningspaces #twalk at University of Edinburgh (@edteachingspace). Euan Murray and colleagues (Learning Spaces Manager, UoE) were kind enough to lead us on a tour of their informal learning spaces, makerspace, private study space, computer rooms whilst we tweeted our reflections using the hashtags. It was great to see the range of learning spaces at the University, find out what made a ‘sticky campus’ reflecting on what I was seeing in situ making it even more memorable.

An example of a social space at the University of Edinburgh where the slats create an informal boundary between the rest of the building and the seating area. Image: by Alistair Cooper. Supporting attainment gaps with learning technology.

University of Bedfordshire were kind enough to host our second event at their Luton campus. The event drew attendance from around the country, including representatives from Sheffield Hallam University, Keele University and Kingston University.

The University of Bedfordshire was delighted to be offered the chance to host only the second ALT EE event. The theme of the event, ‘Using technology to close attainment gaps’ aligned closely with the University’s aim to take on attainment gaps and do more for students of all ages, abilities, cultures and backgrounds. The event itself was active, communicative, collaborative, and encouraged conversations of real depth and richness between colleagues from far and wide.”
~ Nicholas Botfield (Head of Teaching and Learning, University of Bedfordshire)

Nick presenting at the ‘Supporting attainment gaps..’ event. Image: by Alistair Cooper. What’s next?

Our next event is called Technology-enhanced active, collaborative learning: Challenges & solutions and will be held on the 21 February at ARU, Cambridge.

Neil Dixon, neil.dixon@anglia.ac.uk with thanks to Alistair, Nick and Charlie.

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

Podcasts and Flipped Learning

#ALTC Blog - 21/01/20

Post by Julian Hopkins

This blog post will summarise some of the literature regarding the uses of podcasts in further and higher education. Podcasts are audio recordings based on the radio programme format – however they differ through their asynchronous availability, typically updating dedicated apps on mobile devices through an RSS feed or made available for direct download (for example, via a VLE). The diagram below summarises and builds upon prior work, showing how podcasts can be produced by lecturers or students, or obtained from third parties.

Although the classic lecture receives much bad press, it does have the advantage of being face-to-face. Speech was humans’ first means of communication, and the “auditory dimension of podcasting” (Al Qasim and Al Fadda, 2013: 33) such as intonation, emotional expression, and tonal variations go beyond the limitations of printed media and offer the potential of engaging with different learner types and forms of cognition. Podcasts have also been argued to support “active, social and creative aspects of learning, and strengthen reflection and self-regulated learning” (Palenque 2015, cited in Dau et al., 2018: 424). Podcasts can also reduce digital literacy barriers and improve access for all students, not all of whom have easy access to personal computers or laptops.

An expected advantage is that they can be listened to during ‘downtime’ – for example when travelling or doing household chores. However, early research suggested that students preferred to listen to podcasts in their usual study context – such as on their laptop in their home, while taking notes (Sutton-Brady et al., 2009: 223). This could reflect their perception of study content as requiring a different interaction to other media that they may access via their mobile device (Bell, 2008: 183–4). However, more recently, Dau et al. (2018) report students listening to the content “on the go,” and perhaps in the intervening years these practices have become more habitual.

Lecture Recordings

The most common type of podcast reported are simply audio lecture recordings. Although they are sometimes dismissed as replicating the lecture’s transmissive mode of content delivery and not leveraging the full range of interactive e-learning opportunities (e.g. Forbes, 2015; Turner et al., 2011; Zanten et al., 2012), they are also reported as having effective use as revision material, for students who miss classes, for those with language difficulties, or for adult learners with multiple commitments (Kazlauskas and Robinson, 2012; McLoughlin et al., 2007; Schreiber et al., 2010; Zanten et al., 2012).

Student-produced Podcasts

Podcasts produced by students can help improve constructivist learning environments (Turner et al., 2011) through engaging them in the reflective production of material and improving problem-solving, collaborative and digital skills that address desired student outcomes in most further and higher education contexts (Al Qasim and Al Fadda, 2013; Fernandez et al., 2015; Forbes, 2015) However, it is important that students are not disadvantaged by the necessary technical skills required to produce a podcast – thus extra training may be needed, potentially detracting from the learning goals of the class.

Photo by CoWomen on Unsplash Flipped Learning, Supplementary Podcasts and In-class Quizzing

Flipped learning reverses the conventional linear sequence of in-class content delivery followed by at home application exercises, and uses additional media to deliver interactive and compelling content to stimulate student interest and address a variety of student learning types (Blair et al., 2016; Kazanidis et al., 2019; Rotellar and Cain, 2016). We need more than simple recordings of lectures to properly leverage the flipped learning experience and I would suggest that supplementary podcasts would most benefit learners.

Based on the assumption that shorter podcasts are more likely to be effective, an alternative to recorded lectures is to provide summaries of lectures, or detailed explanations of key concepts or technical processes that are information-dense – enabling students to benefit from being able to replay and check details (Zanten et al., 2012).

Using podcasts of case studies/discussions of key concepts as pre-class preparatory material followed up with in-class diagnostic quizzes (using e.g. Socrative, Mentimeter) would address “the interplay between preclass and in-class activity” that Rotellar and Cain (2016) argue is crucial for flipped learning. Additionally, the quizzes provide a clear context and motivation for students to participate in the active learning. They would also provide a valuable formative assessment enabling students to improve their self-assessment skills and independent study practices.

In addition, as suggested by Wilson (2019) in a previous ALT blog post, including a weekly discussion of received emails, comments, or tweets would enhance the experience for the students and introduce a dialogic element to the podcasts, further leveraging the affordances of asynchronous and mobile technologies, and moving away from replicating the passivity of the lecture experience.


Al Qasim N and Al Fadda H (2013) From Call to Mall: The Effectiveness of Podcast on EFL Higher Education Students’ Listening Comprehension. English Language Teaching 6(9): 30–41.

Bell D (2008) The university in your pocket. In: Salmon G and Edrisingha P (eds) Podcasting for Learning in Universities. Maidenhead: McGraw-Hill Educaition, pp. 178–187.

Blair E, Maharaj C and Primus S (2016) Performance and perception in the flipped classroom. Education and Information Technologies 21(6): 1465–1482. DOI: 10.1007/s10639-015-9393-5.

Dau S, Andersen R and Nørkjær Nielsen S (2018) Podcast as a Learning Media in Higher Education. In: 17th European Conference on e-Learning ECEL 2018, Greece, November 2018, pp. 424–430. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/328569379_Podcast_as_a_Learning_Media_in_Higher_Education.

Fernandez V, Sallan JM and Simo P (2015) Past, Present, and Future of Podcasting in Higher Education. In: Li M and Zhao Y (eds) Exploring Learning & Teaching in Higher Education. New Frontiers of Educational Research. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer Berlin Heidelberg, pp. 305–330. DOI: 10.1007/978-3-642-55352-3_14.

Forbes D (2015) Beyond lecture capture: Student-generated podcasts in teacher education. Waikato Journal of Education: 195–206. DOI: 10.15663/wje.v20i3.234.

Hew KF (2009) Use of audio podcast in K-12 and higher education: a review of research topics and methodologies. Educational Technology Research and Development 57(3): 333–357. DOI: 10.1007/s11423-008-9108-3.

Kazanidis I, Pellas N, Fotaris P, et al. (2019) Can the flipped classroom model improve students’ academic performance and training satisfaction in Higher Education instructional media design courses? British Journal of Educational Technology 50(4): 2014–2027. DOI: 10.1111/bjet.12694.

Kazlauskas A and Robinson K (2012) Podcasts are not for everyone. British Journal of Educational Technology 43(2): 321–330. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8535.2010.01164.x.

McLoughlin C, Lee MJW and Chan A (2007) Promoting engagement and motivation for distance learners through podcasting. In: 2007. Available at: https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Promoting-engagement-and-motivation-for-distance-McLoughlin-Lee/fe8dc6dc2be920e1e07899d22b528fa8ef722c14.

Rotellar C and Cain J (2016) Research, Perspectives, and Recommendations on Implementing the Flipped Classroom. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education 80(2). DOI: 10.5688/ajpe80234.

Schreiber BE, Fukuta J and Gordon F (2010) Live lecture versus video podcast in undergraduate medical education: A randomised controlled trial. BMC Medical Education 10(1): 68. DOI: 10.1186/1472-6920-10-68.

Sutton-Brady C, Scott KM, Taylor L, et al. (2009) The value of using short-format podcasts to enhance learning and teaching. Research in Learning Technology 17(3). DOI: 10.3402/rlt.v17i3.10878.

Turner J, Clark K and Dabbagh N (2011) Podcast Use in Higher Education: From the Traditional Lecture to Constructivist Learning Environments. International Journal of University Teaching and Faculty Development 2(1): 55–66.

Zanten RV, Somogyi S and Curro G (2012) Purpose and preference in educational podcasting. British Journal of Educational Technology 43(1): 130–138. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8535.2010.01153.x.

Julian Hopkins, PhD. Learning Technologist and Digital Anthropologist, City of Glasgow College | julian.hopkins@cityofglasgowcollege.ac.uk | https://www.julianhopkins.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

M25-LTG Autumn 2019 Education 4 0

#ALTC Blog - 13/01/20

In November 2019 nearly 60 people attended the Autumn meeting of the M25 Learning Technology Group (#M25LTG) at King’s College London. This event was themed around ‘Education 4.0’ and brought together sessions on education surviving industrial revolutions, what Education 4.0 could look like, holographic lecturers and the ‘cold indifference’ of technology.

The event got underway with an opportunity for participants to experience Jisc’s Natalie 4.0, an immersive learning and teaching experience using Oculus Go to put you into the shoes of a student ten years in the future.

Enter into the 4th Industrial Revolution

Ruth Drysdale (Senior co-design manager at Jisc) started the event with a session entitled “Enter into the 4th Industrial Revolution”. We were provided with an overview of the advent of industry 4.0 and how it will impact the provision of education. Ruth discussed how education institutions need to create rounded, creative individuals who have the transferable skills needed to adapt as the world of work, driven by industry 4.0, evolves.

Ruth Drysdale from @Jisc up as the first session at today’s #M25LTG, looking forward to #Education40. #ALTc pic.twitter.com/k00I4aCD0N

— Dom Pates (@dompates) November 18, 2019

We learned that the broad themes of Education 4.0 cover the transformation of teaching, creating an adaptive model of personalised learning, re-imagining assessment and creating intelligent digital and physical estates. We also saw how the Jisc Digital Experiences Insights report highlights the divide between skills needed for the workplace and these skills being provided to students as part of their course. For example, 69% of HE learners & 50% FE learners recognise that digital skills are important in their future career, but only 41%feel that their course is preparing them for the digital workplace.

Ruth concluded by sharing theJisc Digital Capabilities Framework and the resources Jisc offer in supporting institutions to equip their staff and students to thrive in a digital world.

Creating Education 4.0

For our second session we welcomed Professor Gilly Salmon (Academic Director, Online Education Services) and John Brindle (Learning Technologist, University of Liverpool), who guided us through an hour-long workshop for Learning Technologists on “Creating Education 4.0”. In this workshop, we were asked to step through a portal from Education 3.0 to Education 4.0 (sparkly lights provided!) and share what thoughts and emotions came with stepping into the 4.0 world.

@2standandstare walking through the portal to Education 4.0 at #m25ltg pic.twitter.com/7FLM5yQtCA

— John Brindle (@johnbrindletel) November 18, 2019

Following this we divided into groups and, using de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats, discussed how we would reshape the curriculum/mode of learning to enable students to make their best contribution to and benefit from the 4.0 world. 

  • Our positive yellow hats brought ideas of learners creating/co-creating their own educational experiences; personalisation, accessibility and inclusivity improvements; flexibility of delivery and a truly international learning experience. 
  • Our cautious black hats noted concerns around losing communities of learners; technology replacing people; lack of human interaction; parity of student/staff digital skills and the issues of Machine Learning for student assessments.
  • Red hats discussions brought feelings of excitement; concern; caution and confidence, all wrapped in the potential of opportunity and lack of certainty as to what the future brings.
  •  And, the creativity of our green hats saw opportunities for using AI, VR and holograms (foreshadowing!); the removal of assessments and students taking ownership of their content and data.

Following our interesting discussions, groups fed back on their conversations and creative ideas for implementation (blue hat) of Education 4.0 ideas for a preferred and viable future and added their discussions/images onto Padlet.

The Holographic Academic

After a short break and more opportunities to engage with Natalie 4.0, Dom Pates (Senior Educational Technologist from City, University of London) took to the stage to discuss “The Holographic Academic” and the potential of holography in higher education.

Dom took us through a brief history of holograms from Kate Moss’s 2006 appearance at the Paris Fashion show to Indian Prime Minister Modi simultaneously addressing voters at campaign events in 2014. We then looked at the example of the “world’s first holographic event at a university” when Imperial College Business School ran a Women in Tech event which provided a live panel discussion with two speakers on stage in London sat alongside two hologram speakers live from New York.

@dompates talking about speculative design. Question, is this how we can design future learning experiences? #m25ltg pic.twitter.com/IAyiIbBGZL

— John Brindle (@johnbrindletel) November 18, 2019

Following the introduction to holography, the second part of the session enabled us to discuss “speculative (learning) design” and consider what challenges/benefits holographic projection could bring for an institution based on a series of different “what if…” prompts e.g.

  • What if your institution had perfected a technique for creating interactive holographic likenesses for long-dead experts in a range of academic fields?
  • What if your colleague was asked to deliver a lecture holographically with 10mins notice?
  • What if the union had voted for strike action to protest the imposition of 30% cuts in academic staff in favour of holographic delivery methods?

After discussing our challenges and benefits we took to producing artefacts (a prototype, sketch, video, poster, email, tweet etc) which could support the introduction of holography.

All watched over by machines of cold indifference

Concluding the afternoon, we welcomed Chris Fryer (Senior Systems Administrator at the London School of Economics and Political Science) who provided a different lens on Education 4.0 and gave us a cautionary insight into what we can learn from a history of automation and mechanisation. Chris has blogged about his talk in the LSE Learning Technology and Innovation Blog

"Distributed expertise of the taxi driver has been concentrated into a machine but this time there are no looms to smash". Machine learning at the #M25LTG with Chris Fryer pic.twitter.com/9dhpcN4wrG

— TrabiMechanic (@TrabiMechanic) November 18, 2019

Chris highlighted a history of the textile industry and the Jacquard Loom concentrating the profits of the industry in their capitalist owners pockets and discussed a more modern example, explaining the Machine Learning services individuals can rent from Amazon and how it can be used to identify customer churn.

When looking into Learning Technology, Chris highlighted that Machine Learning is being deployed using VLE data points to predict student pass/fail rates and course retention levels. If costs become associated with these Machine Learning metrics they could, if not carefully understood, replace the expertise we have in our institutions. This presentation provided a thought-provoking end to an interesting afternoon and we thank all our presenters and participants for their enthusiasm and engagement.

Our next meeting will take place in Spring 2020 at BPP. Further information, including the event theme, will be circulated via the M25 Jiscmail list closer to the time.

Sue Harrison, Senior Learning Technologist, King’s College London

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

Research in Learning Technology: Top 10 2019

#ALTC Blog - 08/01/20

Any end of year review of learning technology in 2019 would be incomplete without mentioning the following trends; Learning Analytics, Gamification, Mobile Learning, Artificial Intelligence, Social Media or Augmented and Virtual Reality. So, it’s no surprise that these trends are reflected in the most read articles in ALT’s journal, Research in Learning Technology (RLT).

Below is a brief summary of the top ten most read articles of 2019 and, as RLT is an open access journal, readers have free unrestricted viewing of these research papers:

  1. Smart learning environment: Teachers role in assessing classroom attention This is the most viewed article in the RLT journal from 2019. It provides an overview of a classroom with collaborative working environment using new technologies and an indoor location system to evaluate student’s attention. The results of this novel experiment shows that the teacher’s position in the classroom increases the learner’s motivation, collaboration and effective learning.
  2. Embedding educational technologies in early years education. This study used the results of a questionnaire that was sent to early years practitioners in the UK. It asked several different questions; what types of educational technologies are being used in early years education? How is it being used and why is being used? What barriers influence its implementation and what attitudes do early year practitioners have towards educational technology? The findings show that early years practitioners are accessing a wider range of technologies than where previously reported and they are being used in ‘more pedagogical appropriate ways than it was in the past’.
  3. Folk pedagogies and pseudo-theories: how lecturers rationalise their digital teaching The central question that this article attempts to uncover is ‘ what is the role of theories of learning in digital teaching in universities?’. The study found that references were often made to social constructivists approaches but the most widespread justifications for the use of technology were often based on ‘folk pedagogies and pseudo-educational theories’. However, the author notes that these folk and pseudo-theories should be acknowledged and can be used to support and develop digital teaching.
  4. Mobile augmented reality learning objects in higher education. This article looks at the mobile augmented reality app called HP Reveal (formally known as Aurasma). The HP Reveal app allows users to create and interact with layered multimedia experiences when the users are looking at learning objects. Over a two year period the research looked at the publically available data of Universities using the app and confirmed that AR can be used as as a useful tool by educators for a number of purposes, such as interaction, collaboration, digital storytelling and cultural exploration.
  5. Research into effective gamification features to inform e-learning design. This article looks at forty-one case studies of game-based learning over a 10 year period in order to identify the features that made them a success. These features are listed so that they can be used to inform those wishing to introduce gamification into their e-learning design.
  6. Use of the game-based learning platform KAHOOT! to facilitate learner engagement in Animal Science students. Game based learning is one of the major trends in in e-learning so it’s no surprise to see a second article on it in the top ten. This study used the results of seventy-two students about their experiences of using KAHOOT and is the first piece of research to see if there is a direct relationship between the use of KAOOT and the student’s final grades. 
  7. A comparative study on the traditional and intensive delivery of an online course: design and facilitation recommendations  This study compared the experience of a fully online postgraduate course delivered over a ‘traditional’ 13 weeks with an intensive course delivered over 6 weeks. The results found differences in the types of interactions but did show that intensive an intensive course can be as effective as a traditional course in terms of achievement of learning outcomes.
  8. Animating student engagement: The impacts of cartoon instructional videos on learning experience. This study investigates the impact of animated teaching videos on students learning, designed to explain highly complex, technical accounting and business processes. The findings of the study will have significant practical implications for other educators thinking of using animated videos in their teaching.
  9. Students perceptions of the educational value of Twitter: a mixed-methods investigation. This short study set out to investigate how physiotherapy students use Twitter and evaluate how effective Twitter is as an educational tool on their course. The findings indicated that the students valued opportunities to share resources and collaborate with others although it also highlighted potential barriers related to digital literacy and their confidence in using Twitter.
  10. Maximising motivators for technology-enhanced learning for further education teachers: moving beyond the early adopters in a time of austerity. Emily Armstrong’s research explored the views of Further Education staff using technology to support learning. It showed how access to devices, applications and training on their own are insufficient in themselves to motivate use in technology enhanced learning – teachers need opportunities to experiment and develop their confidence as a digital practitioner.

Author Info: Chris Rowell. Academic Developer in Digitally Enhanced Learning at LSBU rowellc@lsbu.ac.uk. @Chri5rowell

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

Help share ALT s strategy 2020-25 update from the Chair and Chief Executive

#ALTC Blog - 06/01/20
ALT staff and the ALT Trustees

Authors: Sheila MacNeill (Chair) and Maren Deepwell (Chief Executive)

Dear Members

Since we updated you in October, work on the next strategy for ALT has continued apace. We are now in the final weeks of the consultation process and here are the key points for you to be aware of.

Make your voice heard

If you haven’t already done so, we invite you to complete this year’s Annual Survey https://go.alt.ac.uk/ALTSurvey2019. We will use the results of this survey to inform the work of ALT for the coming strategy period, what we prioritise and how we put our shared values into practice. We strongly encourage you to complete the survey in your own right, even if you work for a member organisation. Representatives of member organisations are welcome to complete the survey once on an individual basis and also on behalf of their organisation. While this Annual Survey is primarily aimed at ALT Members it is open to anyone to complete. 

Review what we have achieved

We have now published ALT’s Impact Report 2017-20. Access the full report as a PDF or Google doc and visit the report homepage. Introducing the report, Sheila MacNeill, Chair of ALT, said:

“As you will see, the Association has grown in size and influence, serving our Members in all parts of the UK. Close my heart is our commitment to being an open organisation which reaches from our governance and leadership to marketing and communications. Our commitment to openness reflects the need for greater criticality and transparency when it comes to using technology for learning, teaching and assessment. Our Membership includes practitioners, researchers and policy makers from all sectors and together with my fellow Trustees I want to thank everyone involved for helping take ALT from strength to strength.”

Sketchnotes created by Bryan Mathers. Highlights from the strategy consultation

Since the start of the consultation period in June, we have heard from Members via the Strategy Suggestion Box (which continues to be open for contributions until 12 January 2020), in early September the formal consultation with Members and the wider community was launched at the ALT Assembly meeting at the Annual Conference and the Annual General Meeting. Since then, the monthly meetings of the ALT Assembly have continued the consultation process, and staff as well as the Board of Trustees had productive strategy days in November. In December, at this year’s Online Winter Conference, Members took part in a strategy discussion around the Ethics in Learning Technology, facilitated by ALT’s chief executive Maren Deepwell and Professor John Traxler from the University of Wolverhampton. The questions we discussed included:

  • Why do professional bodies have ethical codes or frameworks? What are the benefits?
  • What are typical examples illustrating the breadth of formality, detail and principles?
  • What is so specific about learning, technology and learning technology?
  • Is it just about research ethics?

Members strongly supported establishing a broad ethical framework for Learning Technology professionals and suggested ideas of how this could be put into practice. You can view a recording of the webinar

The shape of things to come

Thanks to the many contributions we have received, it seems clear that ALT’s current aims and values continue to be in line with Members needs. In recognition of this we are looking to refine and strengthen our vision to reflect the challenges ahead and the changing context we work in. Whilst the strategic objectives will only be finalised once we have analysed the results of the survey, we want to share a taste of what is to come with this update to ALT’s definition of Learning Technology:

How we define Learning Technology

We define Learning Technology as the broad range of communication, information and related technologies that are used to support learning, teaching and assessment. We recognise the wider context of Learning Technology policy, theory and history as fundamental to its ethical, equitable and fair use.

For now, thank you to everyone who has already provided input, participated in the consultation events and sent us suggestions. 

We encourage you to take part in the final phase of the consultation until 12 January 2020 and make your voice heard! The new strategy will launch in February 2020. 

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 3 of 4: Roles and duties

#ALTC Blog - 06/01/20

A post by Simon Thomson, Director of The Centre for Innovation in Education, University of Liverpool, @digisim

Background to the series

Inspired by topical discussions on the diversity, complexity and uniqueness of Learning Technologist roles, Daniel Scott (Nottingham Trent University) and I 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 scence

This is the third installment (out of four) in the “What makes a Learning Technologist?” blog series. In the first post Daniel Scott explored the plethora of job titles we often see associated with being a Learning Technologist and in the second post Karoline Nanfeldt looked at the career paths taken by Learning Technologists (LTs). As with all these blog posts we often use direct quotations from the submissions and where participants have asked not to be named these are indicated as anonymous quotes.

In this third post we examine the “duties” that LTs take on in the course of their work and if there is one thing you can be sure of it’s that the role of a learning technologist is as varied as the environments we work in and technologies we work with.  However from my analysis of the data, gathered from the 33 Learning Technologists who kindly submitted the information, emerged very clear categorisation of duties.

Presenting the data & telling the stories

The categories were coded with Atlas.ti from the text submissions provided by the original survey with the codes linked to the original submitted text. 

After an initial coding, some codes were merged to get to the current 16, for example some respondents commented on their leadership role in an area and some in their role as managers, but ultimately these two were combined into one group to indicate a duty which involves the oversight of others (either formally within a clearly defined team in one department or informally across a more dispersed environment).

Run the TEL team within our Learning & Teaching Enhancement department

Duncan MacIver

Leadership role developing blended learning across a school


In some cases codes were split, for example ‘systems training’ originally included the development of supporting materials, but it was clear that some participants saw these as separate duties and so they were split.

mainly involves delivering workshops, producing support material and working with individuals


The chart below provides a visual representation of the codes and how often they appeared as codes in the submissions (as a percentage of the total number of code appearances).

As might be expected, “learning system” support was clearly one of the most prevalent duties undertaken by the LTs as part of the role and almost all of the submissions indirectly referred to learning technologies at some point, but this category is specifically where a Learning Technologist has indicated that this “technical support” forms part of their duties.

Provide ‘helpdesk’ support for staff and students using Canvas, Pebblepad and Panopto

Emily Armstrong

troubleshoot for any staff member experiencing technical difficulties with university systems

Lucy-Ann Pickering

The ways in which support was accessed varied and included a range of mechanism such as by email, phone, face to face and virtual helpdesks (including formal IT support ticketing systems), but in all cases they were providing some technical support.

Closely behind ‘systems support’ was ‘systems training’. This duty was categorised based on where participants had clearly indicated that they ran or developed training for ‘learning systems’. This does not include any submissions where the participant made reference to running workshops relating to pedagogic use of systems and technologies as these were categorised separately, but it may be that some submissions relating to ‘training’ do in fact include pedagogic discussion but the submitted data didn’t specify this.

However, it is very clear that pedagogical support is a considerable part of the role of the Learning Technologist. From my own experience this is often a unique aspect of the role, able to bridge the gap between technology and pedagogic practice, making it so much more than a system support or training role and this is supported by some of the data.

Advising on (sic) issues related to digital pedagogy


distance learning pedagogy, processes and production

Madeline Paterson

In some cases there was specific reference to teaching on PGCAP/PGCERT courses, and as such these were coded separately but were also coded to pedagogy.

I now also run a PGCert module for all our new academics with a strong focus on the link between technologies and pedagogic innovations


It is also worth noting here that I also separated out the development of ‘guides & resources’ as a separate code because the data indicated that some LTs were developing resources and guides to support technical systems and/or pedagogic development, but may not always be involved in support or delivery per se.

Guidance for colleagues in their use, guidance for colleagues in the creation of e-learning content


One code that I hadn’t anticipated that would appear quite so often was the “consultancy” duty. Initially this was coded only where a participant specifically referred to themselves in that role, but it became clear that the learning technologist acts as a consultant in a formal and informal capacity both within and beyond their own institution.

TEL consultant for private ed tech company

Matt East

advising on the pedagogically-underpinned use of technology to enhance the student experience

Chris Melia

acting as a consultant on and supporting the creation of online degrees

Vicky Brown

consult with schools, departments and teams

Daniel Scott

Another surprise for me was the prevalence of the “content development” aspect of the role. In all of my own experiences of writing job specs, recruiting and working with learning technologists I have often avoided including the “content developer” role within the duties. This is for a couple of reasons, firstly because it would not be feasible to provide enough learning technologists for the potential content development needs of a large institution and secondly I have always thought it best longer term that as an academic I should be responsible for sourcing and developing my own ‘content’ and having the skills to do so increases my own capacity to provide enriched learning experiences.

However, I am conscious that there are many academic colleagues who just do not have the skills necessary to develop some of the content they may be seeking to as part of their teaching and so having the expertise of a “content developer” can be of tremendous value to individuals, departments and institutions and so ‘content developer’ includes both the role which makes resources but also the role which helps academic colleagues to create those resources.

supporting academic colleagues in the development of high quality online learning materials

Chris Melia

eLearning development using Articulate software, screen-casting using Camtasia


development of online learning and teaching materials


Content development was separated from learning design as a duty due to the fact that learning design often refers to:

a range of activities associated with better describing, understanding, supporting and guiding pedagogic design practices and processes


If I had combined the ‘content developer’ and ‘learning design’ codes it would actually equate to a significant part of a Learning Technologist role, but going through the coding process I think it is right that they are separate, as it is clear that some LTs undertake the creation of granular content (content development) and some have a more holistic “learning design” role which more broadly oversees the development of a whole module/unit as part of a larger learning experience, however I recognise that the lines are blurred here.

learning design / course design

Ross Ward

Analysis, ID, Storyboarding, Development, Design

Craig Campbell

online course design work


It was never really my intention to present each code in detail and so before this post becomes a victim of TL;DR, I just want to explore a couple more code areas which really stood out for me.

The first of these is ‘Systems Procurement’ – I was genuinely surprised how few respondents indicated their involvement in the purchase of ‘learning systems’. This seems to be a huge oversight on the part of institutions not to fully engage with their LT community during the procurement process. It may be of course that because procurement processes do not take place very often participants just neglected to include this in their duties (I am hoping this is the case).

And finally, I wanted to end this post focussing on the category which highlights the “development” of learning technologists. Within the data there were no specific examples where anyone indicated that undertaking formal qualifications or training were part of their duties e.g. CMALT (bearing in mind that I was specifically looking at data submitted in the roles section of the survey). I wonder if this is because it’s not always necessarily considered a “duty”? From my own experience I know a number of colleagues who have completed postgraduate studies in digital education / TEL / Multi-media whilst being in learning technologist roles and so it is highly probable that other LTs have also undertaken formal development like this.

However, what is more apparent is that respondents engaged in lots of informal development through ‘Networking’ and ‘Keeping Up to Date” (although with the latter it was not always clear how this was being achieved).

For example one anonymous participant clearly indicated their role in “Appraising authoring tools, horizon scanning in relevant areas” and a few put in terms such as “staying/keeping up to date”. ‘Networking’ as a duty was merged to a single code and refers to both internal organisational formal groups “representing the team on relevant groups and committees in the University” and informal “Fostering communities of practice to share innovative approaches” as well as networking more widely beyond the institution such as “speaking at events” and “collaborating and liaising with colleagues at (named external organisation)”.


Reading through the submissions to undertake the coding was a really insightful process, firstly because initially there appeared to be a wider range of codes (I started out with about 25 codes) but as I was able to merge codes the story of the duties undertaken by LTs began to emerge. It would be a very interesting exercise to compare participants original job descriptions with the results of this survey data to see the extent to which these codes overlapped or were in anyway different – perhaps a little project for the future?

Although this is a limited dataset, it is nonetheless a really useful insight into the duties carried out by those in Learning Technologist roles. 

If you didn’t get a chance to complete the survey then please feel free to add your own experiences and thoughts in the comments section of this blog post.

Closing thought: You may like to consider to what extent do your “duties” as a Learning Technologist fit into the sixteen coded categories identified in this blog post? Are there any duties you carry out as an LT that aren’t represented by the sixteen codes – please tell us in the comments.

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; Lucy-Ann Pickering

Upcoming blog post

The final blog post of this series (4 of 4) will explore some of the associated challenges and ‘best bits’ of the ‘Learning Technologist’ role. It is expected to be published in March 2020.

Simon Thomson is Director of the Centre for Innovation in Education at the University of Liverpool and an Editor for the ALT Journal – Research in Learning Technology, @digisim

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