#ALTC Blog

I don t want to go back to normal

#ALTC Blog - 16/04/21
Image by Kei Rothblack from Pixabay

These pandemic reflections are shared with us by Ian Wilson who invites us to consider what our “new normal” may look like.

“I hear it repeatedly. On the television, radio, internet and in conversations and emails. Always the similar phrase being used. When things return to normal. We cannot wait until things get back to normal. Do not worry normality will soon be resumed. But the thing is, I do not want to go back to normal, because I think we can do better than the normal.

Changes in Learning.

The current situation has stirred many emotions in us. From the great sadness of losing loved ones to this horrible pandemic, to the praise and admiration of the NHS and volunteers. I received my first vaccine jab over the weekend, and it made me realise that society might be slowly returning to the life we were living before the pandemic. As the timetable is being drafted for next semester and face to face teaching is expected to resume next September, I hear daily that normality will soon be re-established. If I said one year ago that we need to move more teaching and learning online, I would have been greeted with a range of replies which celebrated the face-to-face nature of learning and how people did not have the equipment or expertise to make the transition. And yet now, one year on, I have witnessed a huge transformation of teaching and learning. Facilitators of learning have committed themselves to an innovative approach and have developed and implemented skills which were once thought to be out of their reach. Learning materials have been transformed to suit learning on a range of online platforms and the use of conference meeting software such as Zoom and TEAMs has rocketed. We, as educators and facilitators of learning, took up the challenge and the need for engaging with all things digital and have made huge strides forward with moving learning online. We all should be proud of the changes we have made, but I worry that, as the light of the end of the pandemic has started to be seen on the distant horizon, we abandon the positives which we have developed and return to the pre-pandemic approaches just because that was the ‘normal’ way of doing things.

An effective tool?

Technology is not always the most popular tool in the teacher’s toolbox. Like an ineffective drill it sometimes fails to start or, worse still, does not stop. Sometimes it has a life of its own and other times it just it plagued by slow internet connections and pixelated imagery. I am not trying to convince you that technology is the only tool to use to deliver learning. What I want to say is technology does have a valuable place in our learning toolboxes and because of this, we should not be returning to learning situations where we did not use the tool effectively, just because we want to return to the ‘normal.’ People do not like change. But I always like to share the point that whatever they are experiencing now, was once change, and if change had been resisted and prevented then the current situation which people prefer, would not have happened. From moving learning and other aspects of our work to the online environment, we have provided content which has been recorded and has allowed the learners to return repeatedly to support their learning. Online live sessions have meant that learning has been accessible from people’s own homes and although interaction has been limited as we gazed at a screen of initials, back channels of discussion have been created in the chat and the learners have been willing to express themselves with emojis and gifs. Tools have allowed students to interact, scale, rate and comment on topics and videos and podcasts have transformed the learning to a more engaging and sometimes humorous experiences. No matter how you look at it, technology has supported learning through the current situation. So why should it be returned to the dark recesses of the toolbox again?

A new normal?

I recognise that I am a technologist, and I must say that although I have hated the pandemic, I have enjoyed flexing my technology muscles to engage with learning online. I am not saying that we should stay trapped in our homes, teaching and learning through the internet. What I am saying is that I want us to acknowledge the benefits and the positives of both systems, both the pre and during pandemic approaches to pedagogy, and allow them to work together in harmony to produce a new blended approach which is seen as a more effective and supportive learning experience. So rather than saying, let us return to normal, the normal of how we were learning and teaching before the pandemic, I would like to think that we can embrace, as effective practitioners, the ways we have transformed learning to create a new and improved normal. A normal which brings together the positives of both approaches and celebrates the transformations, developed expertise and adaptations which we have created. As we reflect and improve, we should not slide back to the previous normal, but we should challenge and embrace the changes and uses of technology we have developed to create a new and better normal for the future.

What will emerge?

So next time you hear that expression maybe you could pause for a moment and accept that although the pre-existing normal might appear reassuring and secure there might be a new normal. A lover of analogies, we went into the pandemic chrysalid a year ago. When we entered, we were a well-established caterpillar, familiar with ourselves and our practices. But very soon, we will be emerging in a pandemic free world. But what will we emerge as? The normal pre-pandemic caterpillar or the transformed butterfly of the new normal? “

Ian Wilson, York St John University. I.Wilson@yorksj.ac.uk

Ian Wilson, York St John University

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 Anti-Racism Learning Technology Community of Practice: Guidance for Content Developers -Part 2 of 4

#ALTC Blog - 12/04/21
It’s time to start thinking about anti-racist content for technology-enhanced learning

Samantha Ahern, Faculty Learning Technology Lead (The Bartlett), UCL
Alistair Cooper, Educational Technologist, School of Clinical Medicine, University of Cambridge
Sheetal Kavia, eProjects Manager, Centre of Technology in Education, St George’s, University of London
Coco Nijhoff, Senior Teaching Fellow (Library Services), Imperial College London
Jim Turner, Senior Learning Technologist (Teaching and Learning Academy), Liverpool John Moores, University


We are writing from one of three subgroups within the recently formed Anti-racism & Learning Technology Community of Practice (AR&LTCoP). This sub-group aims to explore practical ways to examine and interrogate digital content in the curriculum through the lens of geographic, racial, and other forms of bias. This post aims to begin exploring what we in the learning technology community can do to address racism in our own field.

The important task of working toward decolonising the curriculum will need to encompass digital learning content and the work of content creators as educators. We expect this to be the first of several posts from our sub-group, with topics to follow such as the application of frameworks to create anti-racist content and the development of a toolkit.

Broadly, we aim to join up with initiatives and policy in our profession, including the ALT Ethical Framework and our own institutional strategies. To this end, we recognise the need to engage in a dialogue with others in the community in the interest of advocacy through collaboration, leading to future recommendations.

Our motivation

We are deeply concerned about the impact of structural racism in our learning communities. A 2020 report by the UCLA Law Promise Institute for Human Rights explores racism in the context of human rights within the realm of new information technologies. As Hayley Ramsay-Jones states, the biases of tech creators are embedded at every level of the tech design process, from conception to production and distribution. The awarding gap between white and BAME students is another widely acknowledged outcome of structural racism.

As Gary Loke from Advance HE discusses on WonkHE, even the use of the term ‘BAME’ poses the risk of homogenising different groups’ experiences. A key lesson from Loke is the clear link between identity and a sense of belonging as it relates to student success.

Within our own professions (which include educational technology, librarianship, and leadership in Higher Education contexts), there is an acknowledged white majority. Our own points of view, the embedded structures in which we exist, and the relative position of this majority can be present in every level of the development of digital learning content. We need to be aware of how this presence has the potential to influence the content we produce. These effects may not be immediately apparent to many of us, particularly to white practitioners.

An awareness of the potential detrimental influences of structural racism can be useful at each level of developing digital learning content. We aim to identify practical strategies to refine our development methods, as well as in the content itself.

Digital learning content and structural racism

Relevant aspects of our work we wish to highlight include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Content: Is there a geographic, ethnic, racial, personal point of view presented? Who can we engage with to gain input to ensure content addresses anti-racism?
  • Tools and platforms: Who made this tool? What is their standpoint on the role of structural racism as it relates to their products? Who is the intended audience(s) for this tool?
  • Context: In our institutions, how can we ensure there is representation of Black, Asian and minority ethnic populations? Is the underrepresentation of BAME staff, including in higher level roles, a consideration, and how can we address this as it relates to the production of content for digital learning?
  • Distribution: How can we address the key aspects of access to digital infrastructure in our sectors?
  • Evaluation: How can we influence the design of evaluation of projects to consider the impact on all students? How can we make this evaluation a priority?
  • Research findings: If asked to identify research findings to support any developing projects, can we find research that raises the voice of BAME students? How can we put ourselves forward to further this research?

Examples to consider
  1. The representation of race across our content generally, in terms of the selection of images. How are these choices made? How can we as content developers influence diversity of representation?
  2. The selection of skin tones used in clinical medicine teaching, notably for Dermatology. Student doctors should have a wide range of examples to be prepared to diagnose conditions on black and brown skin, without which there are worse health outcomes in those communities.
  3. Examples of the built environment within History of Architecture courses. Resources such as the Race and Space curriculum have been developed to help foster a greater understanding of race in teaching this subject, include examples from non-Western heritage sources.
  4. The application of Universal Design for Learning for activities and content design as a way to address the perspectives of under-represented groups. Can such a framework be used to address online learning experiences through the design of media (text, video, diagrams), specifically in terms of anti-racism?

Questions and next steps

We are keen to consider how to develop anti-racist digital learning content broadly and in collaboration with others across our institutions. We recognise the need to engage in dialogue to work toward strategic thinking in this area, starting with understanding of the implications of our choices.

How might we embed this awareness into our content creation activities in a consistent way? As we work toward a wider conversation within our community, we would like to introduce elements of existing frameworks to use toward the development of anti-racist content. We will discuss examples of these frameworks, and potential methods for application, in the next post from our subgroup.


Charles, E. (2019) Decolonising the Curriculum. Insights 32 Available at: https://eprints.bbk.ac.uk/id/eprint/28953/1/28953.pdf [Accessed 3 March 2021].

Peters, M. A. (2015) Why is my curriculum white? Educational Philosophy and Theory 47 Available at:  https://doi.org/10.1080/00131857.2015.1037227 [Accessed 3 March 2021].

Phiri, A. and Mopotsa, D. (2020) On decolonising teaching practices, not just the syllabus. Available at: https://theconversation.com/on-decolonising-teaching-practices-not-just-the-syllabus-137280 [Accessed 17 March 2021].

The Promise Institute for Human Rights. (2020) Human rights, racial equality & new information technologies: Mapping the structural threats. Available at: https://law.ucla.edu/sites/default/files/PDFs/Publications/Promise_Institute/Human%20Rights,%20Racial%20Equality,%20&%20New%20IT%20Report%203.pdf [Accessed 3 March 2021].

Singh, N. (2020) Decolonising dermatology: Why Black and brown skin need better treatment. The Guardian Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/aug/13/decolonising-dermatology-why-black-and-brown-skin-need-better-treatment [Accessed 4 March 2021].

Categories: #ALTC Blog, ALT

Chief Executive s Report March 2021

#ALTC Blog - 29/03/21

I am delighted to update Members personally on our strategic aims for the next 18 months. We now provide access to expertise to a much wider community of digital practitioners. We work hard to champion professional recognition for a growing range of Learning Technology roles and we inform and support institution leaders engaging with digital education. Our strategy needs to reflect this growing remit. 

Informed by the findings from our Annual Survey, our Board of Trustees and I have worked together to set practical goals to move us beyond crisis management towards celebrating our community at ALT’s 30th Annual Conference in 2022 in Manchester, UK.

We will work across the UK and internationally to increase the positive impact of Learning Technology in education and training for public benefit. Our aims are to:

  • Increase access to Learning Technology expertise and professional development.
  • Strengthen professional recognition for and representation of all Learning Technology roles across the communities we support.
  • Provide pathways to accreditation for general practitioners, advanced professionals and leaders through our professional and ethical competencies framework.

You will see updates across ALT’s platforms and social media channels and  if you’d like to get in touch with me personally, you can reach me at ceo@alt.ac.uk

Key findings from ALT’s Annual Survey

Our Chair, Helen O’Sullivan, and I wrote a commentary on the findings from the survey on Wonkhe, and I urge you to explore key findings from the ALT Annual Survey 2020, with three summary reports:

Progress on ALT’s ethical framework

Work to establish ALT’s new ethical framework has progressed well since October 2020. Following the initial period of establishing the working group and holding regular meetings, we have now collected input and feedback which will inform the next phase of work. Our working group now has 85+ members including learners and representation from industry.

Over the next six months, we will draft, consult on and the finalise the framework and tools for launch at the Annual Conference in September.

Here is an overview of the key dates and activities as well as an indication of what outputs we are aiming to create and this recent article offers further commentary.

b In other news #altc

I also wish to draw Members attention to much progress all around our community, as we approach this year’s OERxDomains Conference. It was my pleasure to attend Friday’s launch of ALT’s newest SIG along with over 80 Members and supported by Debbie Baff. ALT’s staff team is back to greater strength as we welcomed Christina Vines, who will be providing maternity cover for Fiona Jones this year and Emma McAllister joins us to provide additional systems support.

I look forward to a busy few months ahead as ALT moves out of crisis mode, and I especially look forward to September’s Annual Conference Shared Experience, Different Perspectives for which the Call for Proposals is now open.

Dr Maren Deepwell
Chief Exeutive


Categories: #ALTC Blog, ALT

The Anti-Racism Learning Technology Community of Practice: An Introduction-Part 1 of 4

#ALTC Blog - 23/03/21

What would a truly diverse educational technology community look like? How can we attract and retain colleagues of diverse ethnicities to the sector AND see them thrive?

Matt Lingard is the Digital Learning Director at the London College of Communication (UAL) and the Co-Chair of Annual ALT Conference 2021 &
Dr Monica Chavez, Educational Developer (TEL) at the Centre for Innovation in Education at the University of Liverpool

Disruption of traditional conferencing and impenetrable networks matters to diversify digital education. One just needs to look at editorial boards, conference presenters and TEL influencers to realise race equality has not often been part of the conversation. Initiatives such as #femedtech have shown their support to marginalised groups within educational technology (e.g. women, BAME, disabled and differently abled academics, and other under-represented groups). However, there is a lot to be done to disrupt the traditional forces that shape a community of practice.

Organisational research suggests that established communities of practice tend to favour stability and conformity as opposed to new practices and innovation (Gherardi, 2009 a, b).  The Anti-racism & Learning Technology Community of Practice (AR&LTCoP) emerged in response to the obvious lack of ethnic diversity in the sector, and aims to raise awareness on belonging in the workplace to reduce racial inequities and micro-aggressions, and empower all colleagues to be allies in creating a better ed tech community where all voices are heard.

The AR&LTCoP has been meeting since November 2020 to address these challenges and currently encompasses three areas of activity:

  1. Guidance for Content Developers. The focus of this area of activity is to create a set of recommendations to incorporate anti-racism in digital learning content.
  2. Research Connected Activities.  Research, seminars and advances in the field of digital education are covered in this area. For example, diversity and digital leadership, and the influence of biases in Artificial Intelligence and machine learning.
  3. Mentoring & Coaching. This area of activity aims at creating connections between colleagues who wish to support and receive support for career advancement and managing the complexities of an increasingly complex work environment.

As a developing community of practice, we guide our conversations and interactions using the 5 community principles we established to create a community ethos and sense of belonging for all members:

  1. Use welcoming and inclusive language.
  2. Be respectful of different viewpoints and experiences.
  3. Be allies to each other and beyond.
  4. Be active listeners.
  5. Be conscious and respectful of the difficulty of sharing personal or sensitive stories.

In addition, in our monthly meetings we discuss work-related issues such as recruitment of diverse candidates, work allocation in diverse teams, and how to be a disruptor of a system that seems to be designed to favour particular profiles. These conversations, guided by research, aim to problem solve towards a more equitable workplace.

The AR&LTCoP ultimate purpose is to not only raise awareness, problem solve and bring together colleagues who wish to advocate for a more equal workplace and society. With our work we aim to diversify, inclusify (see Johnson, 2020), and create belonging in the educational technology community.

The group is currently working on a series of blog posts to describe the three areas of activity, a series of video case studies, and a monthly reading club. One of our goals for this year is to make this community of practice a Special Interest Group for ALT, but most importantly, to raise awareness and start addressing diversity and belonging in the sector.

Next steps

Join the Anti-Racism & Learning Technology Group

The group is open to anyone wanting to join. Find out more and sign-up for access to our group in Microsoft Teams site.

Complete TELFest NW‘s online survey – Racism & Sexism in TEL Survey

The purpose of this research project is whether individuals working as Learning Technology Developers, Educational Developers, or in similar roles have experienced racism or sexism in their workplace.


Gherardi, S. (2009a). Communities of practice or practices of a community? In S. Armstrong and C. Fukami (Eds.), Handbook of Management Learning, Education and Development (pp. 514–30). London: Sage.

Gherardi, S. (2009b). Introduction: The Critical Power of the ‘Practice Lens’. Management Learning, 40(2), 115-128.

Johnson, S. K. (2020). Inclusify: The Power of Uniqueness and Belonging to Build Innovative Teams. Harper Business.

Categories: #ALTC Blog, ALT

Pandemic pedagogy: in praise of collaboration and compassion

#ALTC Blog - 20/03/21

Samantha Ahern is Faculty Learning Technology Lead at University College London. She wrote to the blog to share her reflections on learning technology developments during the covid pandemic.

Samantha writes:

“In responding to the pandemic and how it has impacted higher education, now more than ever there has been a need for and move toward collaboration and partnerships within our institutions.

The academic mission has only been made possible by these collaborations. Educational developers working with digital education and faculty teams, supported by underpinning Professional Services. Certainly, my role as a faculty learning technology lead would not be possible without it.

It has been a tough year for everyone. I am saddened by some recent articles criticising faculty for not embracing new technologies or not seeing them as creators of learning content and materials. Because in my experience this is just not true.

Yes, there are always some colleagues who take more of a tortoise approach to developing their digital pedagogy. And there are also those that are hares, always trying something new, pushing boundaries.

But the most important thing is that is that whatever approach they take, it’s considered. It’s pedagogy rather than technology driven. It is accessible in both senses of the term for all students so that they have an equitable learning experience, and it is ethical.

Yes, there are some amazing technologies that are becoming available to us, and some have great promise. But are they the right thing, at the right time for the right reason.

It’s too easy to see many modern learning technologies and digital platforms as mere tools, instruments for our use. But they are more than that. They are human made, constructed into them are their creators ideas of what education should be, how it should be moulded, what is important and crucially all our biases conscious and sub-conscious. I am never in a rush to adopt the latest shiny new thing.

Don’t get me wrong. There are platforms, equity considerations and approaches to designing blended and online learning that I would like faculty colleagues to engage with. But much like our students I know that they are in a different place in their learning and development. I choose what to champion and when, based on my knowledge of them and their needs. I identify what is the one thing I would like them to focus on. There are many things I could ask them to adjust, tweak, and change. But in know that it’s not always appropriate. I hope my interactions, support and interventions are compassionate and empowering.

I have been heartened by the efforts of all colleagues. Particularly by the ownership of online learning spaces and the desire to create good learning experiences for students. Those who teach and support teaching activities have always been both content creators and curators. For many this year, the types of content they have created and the considerations that requires have been completely new. Not only has a new way of thinking been required, but also a new way of doing and in very short space of time.

I really hope that these collaborations, experimentations and pedagogic re-evaluations / considerations will continue post pandemic.

So yes, maybe, things have not been approached in the way they would have been by a learning design expert or specialist content creator? But, so what. Instead of criticising colleagues for what they aren’t doing, why not celebrate them for what they have done and support them in continuing to do so.”

Samantha’s approach to learning design is shared in this blog post and she clearly believes in the importance of putting people before processes. She also writes this about digital wellbeing and shares practical advice about coping during covid.

Samantha Ahern (FHEA, ACMALT)
Faculty Learning Technology Lead (Bartlett),
Digital Education, Information Services Division, University College London

Samantha Aherne @2standandstare

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 Learning Technologist sits a Proctored Exam

#ALTC Blog - 10/03/21

On one hand, I’d been genuinely excited at the prospect of experiencing real life proctored assessment from the student perspective.  I would be sitting an exam in my home, using a specially downloaded ‘lock-down browser’ that would take over my computer, preventing me from accessing unauthorised information, while a remote invigilator watched me through a webcam to confirm I was following all exam regulations.  On the other hand however, I was increasingly nervous.  The PRINCE2 Foundation exam (taken at my department’s expense after a 3-day course) may not have been comparable to university students’ end-of-semester exams, but I was still anxious about failing.  Would I be able to blame the stress of the proctored exam experience if I didn’t pass?

I did pass.  I probably wouldn’t be writing this post if I hadn’t.  But the stress was real, on top of and interconnected with my already bad exam nerves.  It was a useful, but overall unpleasant experience and I want to share just a few of my reflections on the process, in the hope that they will be useful to others working on proctoring policies, student support and exam set-up for remote assessment.

Once the exam was scheduled (in my case, 5 days prior to sitting)
  • I had to download the secure exam browser.  I didn’t really want to do this, because I’ve done basic cyber security training and am very uncomfortable about having such a controlling product on my computer.  This is not helped by the fact that my Mac really didn’t want to let me install the thing anyway because it was not from an approved developer and because Apple  (rightly) thought it could do dubious things to my computer.  I started to read the licensing agreement, but found it too depressing.  It wasn’t like I had any choice in the matter; if I wanted to do the exam, I’d have to download the software.
  • At the same time, I was very grateful for my privilege.  If I only had a work computer, this would have been a nightmare.  I may have had time before the exam date to get IT to install a new and untested programme onto my managed laptop, but it would have been stressful.  I am fortunate to have a separate personal computer that I could use, one that I don’t share with anyone, so any dodgy software choices are up to me.
  • I told my husband about the exam.  We live and work in a one-bedroom flat, and I wanted to use the living room/kitchen/office/study desk for the exam.  He got into the spirit of things by asking facetious questions about how much noise he could make while working in the bedroom.  And what about if he wanted to get a drink of water?  Or a snack?  I felt for students living at home, I have one household member who thinks these jokes are funny, if I was still a student living with parents and siblings during my exams, I’d have five.
The morning of the exam.

A couple of hours before the exam started, I began setting up.  I needed to clear the desk of anything that looked like it could help me cheat.  In my anxiety, I interpreted this as anything in the room that looked like an exam aid.  Or that the invigilator might judge me by.  I’d need to give a 360 view of my exam environment for the invigilator so felt obliged to also do the washing up.  I tried to tell myself that this could be considered in the place of commuting time to an exam centre, but it wasn’t convincing.   An even less convincing part of my brain was telling me these were unnecessary displacement activities; this didn’t help either.  While pre-exam advice is of course in students’ best interests, it’s worth unpicking how it will be interpreted by someone in extreme anxiety, ready to procrastinate and unable to make sensible decisions about how to organise their time.

The exam itself.

For me, the exam began when the invigilator introduced themselves to me through my speakers and started to take me through the exam onboarding process.  Hearing a supportive human voice was more reassuring than I could have imagined.  The invigilator was happy with what I showed him of the room and confirmed that the set up was completely fine.  I knew he was there throughout the exam and I could contact him through a chat box if I needed to.  Based on this single experience, I cannot imagine how stressful the remote exam experience with only AI and not a human invigilator would have felt.  It only took a few sentences, but I felt reassured that normal human behaviour would not be construed as cheating and that I could, finally, focus on the exam itself.


I still need to take my second PRINCE2 exam, but I am currently feeling less stressed about it.  I’ve now been through the process once, and I not only survived, I succeeded.  I also am much more confident with the set up and demands on me as someone who is not only sitting an exam, but also creating the exam space.  

I would recommend anyone working on remote exams to strongly consider how decisions will affect students.  Exams are stressful and stress exacerbates any difficulties faced.  People who are stressed are not good at prioritising, following basic instructions or feeling in control of their situations.  There are also very practical reasons why asking students to create a controlled exam environment for themselves is a burden that should be considered by those demanding it.  Above all, guidance, reassurance and human interactions are key to support those who have no choice but to take part in remote proctored exams.

Shoshi Ish-Horowicz works as Senior Learning Technologist (Enhancing Practice) at Queen Mary University of London. Email: s.ish-horowicz@qmul.ac.uk

Shoshi Ish-Horowicz

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

Six ideas to improve your research skills

#ALTC Blog - 23/02/21

Dr Jim Turner is a Senior Learning Technology Office at Liverpool John Moores University.


The Evaluation of Learners’ Experiences of e-learning Special Interest Group (ELESIG) invited Brett Bligh to speak at the ALT Winter Conference, 2020. In the past, Brett was a learning technology officer, with a growing role in evaluating and researching large institutional projects. Since 2013, Bligh has worked at the Centre for Technology Enhanced Learning Department of Educational at the University of Lancaster where he teaches PhD students. He recalls the frustration of trying to balance the worlds of research and outcome-focused projects and sees this confusion in his students.

Here is a brief summary of his talk, and a few reflections.

Our collective TEL community

Brett began with a very upbeat description of our community as being populated ‘highly motivated’ and ‘capable’ people, caught between many different competing worlds, despite all that we create a strong sense of our own shared professional identities. As a community we should research; we know stuff, stuff that would be useful to share and develop. Although, as Brett pointed out, most of us are in positions and institutions that make this difficult to develop the skills, find the time and focus on the task.

Research contributes new knowledge

Most institutional projects are looking for a positive outcome and certainty, to justify a cost or external expectation – ‘does this works or doesn’t it?’. Research offers a level of certainty, but its primary aim is to seek new knowledge. A ‘bad’ result is still new knowledge. Our nature is to solve problems and do a good job, and this can be difficult to take on board when projects go wrong or we uncover things that aren’t immediately purposeful. It might lead us to change aspects of the project as we go, which might conflict with the method of research or hide what is there to be uncovered. In essence, research is not always solution-based in the short term.

Getting started in research is helped by reorganising you’re thinking around the main aim of the research, which is to contribute new knowledge. This sounds simple but it takes a while to master. Brett sees research as focused on and emerging from the knowledge in a particular area, filling in a gap or seeking to clarify thereby contributing new knowledge. It looks to the literature to formulate its next steps, for its meaning and purpose. Whereas institutional projects address a specific policy or practice problem, research will tend to address an aspect over different contexts, – institutional projects mostly cover many issues, aspects, and perspectives in one context. I have experienced this short-sighted approach as probably many of you have – projects are driven not only by timescales but also by developing understanding, and meaningful change always seems to take longer. In addition to this, research usually has something more universal about it – institutional projects usually report on one context, which limits its universality.

Don’t get fixated on the technology

Obviously, technology will play a big part in our roles and interests. Brett urges us to be careful of how this shapes our thinking in terms of research. We need to go beyond establishing the impact new technology has on a particular context and learn more about the context and how it responds to change. This requires us to be more critical, more of an outsider to the process, which can be difficult as we are usually asked to demonstrate that something works or not.

Take care referencing research findings

Brett asks us to be careful how we use other people’s research in our work. One of the problems with TEL is that the burden of proof to show that technology can work has been placed on us. Perhaps this has changed as more academics have gained experiences of teaching and learning using technology. But I have been in so many meetings with staff where I have been asked to prove that a certain thing will work and to what level of improvement. This can lead to the use of research as a kind of weapon in the fight to develop and change practice. It is rare that research will prove this; the most we can hope for is that it shows or gives an indication.

Engage in research for the long haul and focus

Brett talked about timescales, that institutional projects usually have quick turnaround times and research usually takes around 2 to 3 years to complete. One of the frustrations I feel towards research is the possible time I can reasonably allocate to it. This reassures me that things do take time but also not to try and do too many things at once.

Brett also highlighted that a research project is never completed until it is published, that the process of writing up and peer review helps us to improve our understanding of the research, its significance and to improve our research skills and approaches. Perhaps there is a need for institutions to think more long term about the significance of the projects and changes they make in order to understand the impact they are having.

Data is not a starting point

Brett has seen many PhD project proposals emerge from projects that have gathered a large amount of data. We all have systems that are gathering data, and all these interactions must indicate and tell us something of value. There is a danger here, going back to research that starts with the literature, that it’s all about formulating a theory and question, then identifying what is useful to collect. Research is a process, and the collection of data sits somewhere in the middle of that process rather than at the beginning. Institutional projects see data collection as gathering evidence, this can distort how we are thinking about what to collect and what is significant.

Find your community

The educational technology research area is “strange and complex”. It involves so many perspectives, disciplines, and professions which makes it exciting and dynamic but easy to get lost in and confuse yourself in. This is not helped by the way we have to integrate this within our own roles, and the differences between institutions in the way they support us. Normally, research is carried out within a supportive community, but my experiences are that it is difficult to find that community and be accepted within it. This could be making the problem worse, creating more fragmentation rather than developing shared tools, methods, and theories, leading to greater complexity.

Final words

Developing our use of research and our research skills is not going to be easy. There are so many competing demands and priorities. There have been many attempts to try.

When asked Brett said that he thought ELESIG’s new mentoring pilot scheme could really help bridge the divide and support each other. The Scholar Scheme (pilot) will be 6 months in duration, commencing in February 2021, and completing in July 2021. The scheme is seeking both scholar applicants and scholar advisors. Each scholar will be matched with an advisor and engage with them over the duration of the scheme. There will be opportunities to engage with other scholars at particular times during the scheme.

You can learn more about the scheme here – https://altc.alt.ac.uk/elesig/2020/12/alt-elesig-scholar-scheme-pilot-2021/.

Best of luck on your research journey.

Photo by Hans-Peter Gauster on Unsplash

Categories: #ALTC Blog, ALT

The curious case of long videos: how research evidence institutional data and experience struggle to trump gut instincts

#ALTC Blog - 16/02/21

Martin Compton is an Associate Professor working in the Arena Centre for research-based education at UCL. email: martin.compton@ucl.ac.uk Twitter @mart_compton 

The rapid changes to the ways in which most are teaching at the moment have led to some recurring debates that are surprisingly persistent despite what I would argue is strong contrary evidence. Fortunately, colleagues are rarely rude, deliberately divisive, dismissive and provocative like the Times Educational Supplement piece that appeared during the autumn term of 2020 (Anon, 2020). In this article an anonymous academic berated educational ‘evangelists’ for trying to force new teaching ‘fads’ on resentful academics, who apparently burn with resentment at being constantly torn from their research and burdened by inanities like teaching. The colleagues I have in mind, by contrast, are almost universally rational and reasonable and do take teaching seriously.  Nevertheless, there are these recurrent areas where rationality is usurped by a refusal to accept what should be compelling evidence for good practice. As a consequence, they can sometimes find themselves in what I see as an equivalently blinkered position as the provocateur in the TES. My primary focus here will be on discussions about the length of videoed ‘lecture’ content.

Photo by Windows on Unsplash

The enforced ‘pivot’ to emergency remote teaching and the subsequent transitions to online teaching in the academic year 20-21 have ranged from significant to total. The efforts and outcomes have been varied with high-profile complaints centring on a narrative of financial value of online teaching that often mask the quietly successful or, in some cases, transformed approaches. The false equivalence often invoked between fees for ‘just Zoom lectures’ and a Netflix subscription is particularly unhelpful. If one thing is clear to me, it is that the vast majority of academic colleagues have gone way above and beyond, and have adapted with students’ best interests at heart. Much of this has been built on the often understated work of learning technology, instructional design and academic development teams. Even so, one of the most persistent disputes centres around the issue of video duration.

Those of us in support roles have built productive relationships; we are widely trusted; we are persuasive; our credibility is rarely challenged. While debate continues around such things as what constitutes effective and sufficient asynchronous content or the cameras off/ cameras on debate for live sessions, it is the issue of video length for recorded content that most lacks level-headedness. I think it is fair to argue that the research evidence is compelling in terms of the relationship between engagement, viewing time and video length. Guo et al.’s (2014) data from nearly 7 million MOOC videos and Brame’s (2016) connection between video length and cognitive load theory indicate that optimal viewing time is somewhere between 6 and 9 minutes. Institutional data from the lecture capture tool strongly buttresses the research evidence. Additionally, there is the experience of colleagues who have taught online for several years (including me) who can offer compelling experiential cases. Further layered might be evidence from educational videos on YouTube such as the study by Tackett et al. (2018) which found the medical education videos on one successful channel averaged just under 7 minutes and focussed on one core concept. Yet, that optimal time of 6-9 minutes is often received by academics with horror.  

The first and most common counter argument centres on what I would consider to be a false time equivalence between the conventional expectation of lecture length (and content) and the length of videos that might replace them. When I say chunk content I am NOT arguing for 6 x10 minute videos to replace a 1 hour lecture.  If a lecture is scheduled for 1 hour on campus then around 50 minutes of that might be usable for logistical and practical reasons. Of those 50 minutes it is unlikely for those 50 minutes to be crammed with content. There are likely to be cognitive breaks and opportunities for reinforcement in the form of discussions or questions. There is likely to be time for questions from students, time for connections to prior learning, opportunities to elicit latent knowledge and experience, chances to connect the subject to the assessments. None of this need happen in the videos. In discussions with colleagues, we typically conclude that a 50-minute lecture might contain 2 or perhaps 3 key or threshold concepts. These are the essential or ‘portal’ ideas that open doors to broader understanding and that lectures are an excellent medium for. The essential content can thus be presented in much shorter chunks. Say, for the sake of the argument, this is 2 x 10 minutes. 

‘Ah!’ some then say, ‘This is all very well but students will feel short changed!’ There is a huge underlying tension and much of it feeds the ‘refund the fees’ arguments and is actually not assisted by clunky contact time equations. We must not ignore these issues but neither should we pander to them. If we accept the logic of the paragraph above, then we should challenge this conceptualisation. If the alternative is a rambling 60 minute video that the statistics show few will reach the end of only because that’s what students think they have paid for, then we are not working in a research-informed way. To challenge it, we need to share the rationale for our learning designs and tool choices with students; be open with them about our pedagogies; rationalise our approaches. I would argue that we should pre-empt the  ‘value for money’ arguments by talking students through the logic expressed above. Then, for added oomph, layer on the additional benefits:

  • Videos can be paused, rewound and rewatched which also means the pace can be faster and there’s no need for repetition.
  • Videos can increase access and accessibility.
  • The live contact time can be dedicated to i) deeper level, higher order discussion ii) application or analysis of the concepts that are defined in the videos or iii) opportunities for students to test their understanding or to give or receive feedback. 
  • Upload (for lecturers) and download (for students) time is limited and reduces the potential for errors on weak connections or where VLE or video-hosting systems have been struggling.
  • It pushes lecturers to revisit content and to reconsider threshold concepts and vital content.

Finally, it is not uncommon to hear colleagues argue that, despite the evidence from ‘other’ disciplines, students in their discipline like videos that are 1 or 2 hours long. Perhaps because they are perceived to be wired differently, perhaps because it seems intuitive to have fewer videos that they can dip in and out of or perhaps because the students insist that this is their preference. 

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Every time I have a variant of this conversation I am left pondering how it is, in a centre of discovery, in a culture of research, that actual experience, research and learning can be so easily dismissed. And this even before we get into discussions about whether students are adequately predisposed to distinguish what works from what they prefer. I suspect that these sorts of conversations will be familiar to anyone working in an academic development or learning technology support capacity. 

These sorts of conversations have happened with surprising regularity this year, and so receiving positive responses from colleagues who are prepared to consider the evidence, is incredibly rewarding. A senior academic colleague in our Computing department attended one of my online CPD workshops on curating and creating video where this discussion took place. Persuaded by the arguments presented here, he took the short video plunge and was sufficiently impressed with the student feedback that he sent me a summary (unsolicited) of it, where students said:

  • I found the videos really engaging. Having the videos split into sections made it a lot easier to learn.
  • I liked the way the lecture was spilt into different videos because it never felt like it was too long or boring.

I continue to struggle to fully understand what makes video length such a common sticking point. Perhaps the evidence challenges intuition? Perhaps it relates to how committed we are to the lecture/ seminar structures in HE? Whatever it is, it does make the epiphanies and successes like the one described above all the more special. 


Anon (2020) Pedagogy has nothing to teach us. Times Educational Supplement. Available: https://www.timeshighereducation.com/opinion/pedagogy-has-nothing-teach-us [accessed 22 January 2021]

Brame, C. J. (2016). Effective educational videos: Principles and guidelines for maximizing student learning from video content. CBE—Life Sciences Education, 15(4), es6.

Guo, P. J., Kim, J., & Rubin, R. (2014, March). How video production affects student engagement: An empirical study of MOOC videos. In Proceedings of the first ACM conference on Learning@ scale conference (pp. 41-50).

Tackett, S., Slinn, K., Marshall, T., Gaglani, S., Waldman, V., & Desai, R. (2018). Medical education videos for the world: an analysis of viewing patterns for a YouTube channel. Academic medicine, 93(8), 1150-1156.

Categories: #ALTC Blog, ALT

CMALT Accelerator Workshop: My Reflections by Dr Jin Tan

#ALTC Blog - 11/02/21

Dr Jin Tan
System Support/Developer Analyst – Learning Technologist, Cardiff University

“This compact and hands-on workshop has helped me to reflect, fast progress and become confident in my writing. I would recommend the workshop to anyone who is preparing for their CMALT portfolios. Many thanks to Maren and Debbie. With your advice and support, I was able to submit my portfolio for assessment in January 2021”.

I’m a Systems Support/Developer Analyst at Cardiff University. I received my CMALT in 2017, and as required, in 2020 I should undertake a review of my practice over the past 3 years. I always take CMALT as a part of my CPD because the reflection prompts me to revisit my experiences, re-examine the outcome and impact of my practice, and critically ponder my approaches/methods. With the new Senior CMALT accreditation launched in 2019, I was thinking to take up the challenge as further self-development. Without doubt, the CMALT Accelerator Workshop offered a timely opportunity for supporting me to complete my portfolio quicker. 

I appreciate that my institution and the ALT supported me to attend the workshop on 3rd December 2020. In return, I would like to share my impressions and takeaways from the workshop as follows.

Firstly, the workshop was super engaging, organised, and friendly. Although it’s online, we had plenty of opportunities to interact, ask questions and get to know peers. For example, I felt the guided pre-workshop self-introduction shortened my distance with other attendees and gave me a clue of who I would meet. Interestingly and unexpectedly, I met a former colleague who now works in another institution, but we never met in person before. In the workshop, various activities covered the most important factors in regard to writing the portfolio. It focused on helping us to prepare and understand how to demonstrate our practice. It was a tight schedule but with short breaks, I felt my time was well occupied. 

Second, I am not new to CMALT and I am a peer CMALT assessor. I had certain perceptions of CMALT. The activities of discussing good portfolio examples and writing feedback to portfolio examples from an assessor’s perspective have reminded me of some useful strategies and tips for writing my portfolio (e.g., a clear navigation structure and using diagrams). It made me critically think about what kind of feedback I would like to receive from peer assessors: general or detailed, judgmental or critical, implicit or specific? It also kept me updated with current standards for CMALT pathways and helped me develop a new perception. Indeed, I visited/read some shared portfolios via the ALT website when I wrote my portfolio. Through reading peers’ portfolios, I learned different ways of demonstrating reflective practice and got helpful ideas when I was stuck on presenting some areas.

Third, the four core CMALT principles were the key but I didn’t indicate them enough in my writing. Maren’s talk reminded me to check it and rethink my evidence. After the workshop, I reviewed my practice examples, re-selected evidence and re-structured them. I began to consider my demonstration in a more reasoning way and could link evidence in different areas together because with the Senior CMALT, the four principles must be addressed explicitly in the Advanced area.

Last but not least, I had some individual questions in mind before attending the workshop. We had a 75 minutes focus-on-writing activity, named “shut up and write” in the afternoon. It provided us a quiet time to complete a part of the portfolio. However, I think I didn’t write a lot during the time. Instead, I read the guidelines carefully, as from the morning activities, I had new ideas and realised some problems in my preparation. I added notes into different areas of my portfolio to improve. I also took the opportunity to ask questions in a separate breakout group. I appreciated that Maren and Debbie had designed the session in such a flexible way and gave me supportive suggestions.  

This compact and hands-on workshop has helped me to reflect, fast progress and become confident in my writing. I would recommend the workshop to anyone who is preparing for their CMALT portfolios. Many thanks to Maren and Debbie. With your advice and support, I was able to submit my portfolio for assessment in January 2021.

Jin Tan is a System Support/Developer Analyst – Learning Technologist, at Cardiff University. You can view Jin’s CMALT portfolio here.

The next CMALT Accelerator Workshop takes place on 30 March 2021. To find our more and register your place, visit https://go.alt.ac.uk/2NI0b5J

Categories: #ALTC Blog, ALT

AmplifyFE Project at the VocTeach Symposium

#ALTC Blog - 11/01/21

ALT’s Chief Executive, Dr Maren Deepwell, contributed to the VocTeach FE Symposium – Aggregating High Quality Online Educational Resources for FE organised by the Open University alongside experts including Bob Harrison, Vikki Liogier, Caroline Wright and John Domingue.

The event addressed key issues facing the FE sector:

“The current global pandemic has exposed issues and enforced changes across many sectors of the UK economy and society including within education. Within an extremely short amount of time educational institutions including FE Colleges across the UK have incorporated online teaching into their offerings. Teaching online obviously is very different to teaching face to face. Matching the affordances of internet based technology to sound pedagogy which enhances student learning experiences is not easy.

The Open University’s 50+ years of distance teaching experience has taught us that a key success factor for online education is founded on the use of high quality teaching resources. Clear educational texts, short informative videos and interactive elements such as the use of Augmented and Virtual Reality can dramatically enhance student engagement and improve learning outcomes overall.

Creating high quality online teaching resources requires substantial effort though, typically involving, in addition to subject matter experts, professionals in many areas including video production, webcasting, online pedagogy and web interaction. The sheer cost and the fact that many FE colleges lack the capacity to create a comprehensive library of online teaching resources lead us to the conclusion that supporting teaching material re-use through an accessible aggregation or library would be of great benefit to the sector.

VocTeach FE Symposium kickstarted a broad community around this issue related to supporting the aggregation of high quality learning resources for online FE education. Specifically, bringing together FE educational experts and practitioners, EdTech experts, awarding organisations and other stakeholders to agree next steps.”

Maren Deepwell’s talk focused on AmplifyFe, a project Maren has led for ALT for the past year, working closely with Emma Proctor-Legg and colleagues from the Open University.

AmplifyFE is a new network to connect and amplify communities of practice for digital learning, teaching and assessment in vocational education https://amplifyfe.alt.ac.uk/ , led by the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) and funded by Ufi – the VocTech Trust.

AmplifyFE launched in October 2020 and already connects hundreds of professionals.  The project goal is to establish a successful ‘community of practice’ (CoP) where vocational teaching staff are able to acquire, develop and share the digital, and digital pedagogical skills they need to thrive in vocational education. 

ALT Communities of Practice Sector Audit Report, July 2020 Get involved

If you are looking to share news about your work, find experts to collaborate with or learn more about specific subject areas, then the AmplifyFE network can help. 

  • Tag your posts #amplifyFE on social media, and we will help you spread the word.
  • Sign up to our mailing list to keep informed and get involved. 
  • Visit our website to learn more about how to get started, find the right networks for you and join in the right conversations with our guide to hashtags. 

Head over to our website https://amplifyfe.alt.ac.uk/ and listen to this episode of the VocTech Podcast to find out more about AmplifyFE.

You can also watch a replay of the event here.

Categories: #ALTC Blog, ALT
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