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The Power of the Voice supporting learners on placement through podcasting


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

Supporting with Podcasting (video blog)


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

In the beginning 

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

Equipment and Content

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

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

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

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

Image by Tumisu on Pixabay

Recorded and Published

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

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

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

Impact and Feedback

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Categories: #ALTC Blog, ALT

A Report from the HEE North TEL Stakeholder Event


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: #ALTC Blog, ALT

Maren Deepwell marendeepwell in conversation with David Hopkins hopkinsdavid


Welcome to this regular interview series on the #altc blog. For this interview, I am delighted to welcome David Hopkins, CMALT, FHEA, who many of our readers will know as an influential voice on Twitter as @hopkinsdavid.

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

David: I have two main area of focus at the moment; the line management of learning designers at Coventry University Online (CUOL), and development of processes and working practices that define the work produced by the CUOL Studio (made up of learning design, digital media and project management). Since CUOL opened its doors, so to speak, in September 2017 the operation has grown to a team of over 70 and are developing and delivering materials for a growing number of fully-online postgraduate degrees. In the first 18 months, give or take, we’ve been busy producing high quality materials to fit the requirements of the business and degrees currently under development. Focus is now shifting to new areas for CUOL and new challenges, such as understanding if the production model being used for postgraduate study is suitable or fits the perceived production cycle of short courses, undergraduate degrees and even specialist qualifications. The hard part is working out the strategy and process for this kind of activity when we may not yet have enough information on the specifics (eg accreditation, qualification, length of study, etc). The ability to work collaboratively across the different CUOL functional teams is key to our success, as well as working closely with academic teams from the whole spectrum of the university.

Maren: What influences your work? 

David: I find a great deal of influence for my work comes from those I work with, and this has always been the case. I have been lucky to work with some great people throughout my career, and I hope this continues for many more years to come. I have also been lucky to connect to some other great ‘influencers’ through attendance at various events and through daily interactions on both LinkedIn and Twitter. You don’t necessarily have to be active in all the different realms where connections can take place, but being receptive to the environment and the openness and willingness others have to share can be a good thing. It has been for me.

Maren: Current recommended reading?  

David: I’ve just finished re-reading the Ernest Cline ‘Ready Player One’ book again (paperback), which I’d thoroughly recommend for anyone who has a remote interest in either the 80s or games/gaming and virtual reality. No, I haven’t seen the film and I am in no hurry to either. The trailers for it looked spectacular, but clearly some things were changed to get this epic story into a 2 hour film, and I don’t want my vision of the story spoiled.

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

David: I have never found a to-do list system that works. I have tried keeping logs and lists in a Moleskin notebook, I’ve tried OneNote and Trello, but none have worked or lasted more than a day or so. I’m just not a list-making sort of person, despite knowing I should make and keep them. The most effective or efficient type of list is an email I keep in my draft folder (ie never sent) that I add important info or work related deadlines to. But that often goes un-updated or I forget. I just don’t like lists!

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

David: When I’m travelling I become very paranoid about making sure I’ve got everything I need and it’s all fully charged. Sometimes for work travel I’ll need to take my MacBook, so I’ll have that and the mains charger. As it’s a new(ish) MacBook I need to be sure I’ve got the appropriate adaptors so I can plug things like USBs or projectors in (you can’t always rely on the ability to present or show your screen remotely or wirelessly). I will have my phone (iPhone) on me all the time so I’ll have an Apple Lightning USB cable for charging, although I would rather use my portable charger, which is good for a couple of full charges for my phone (and someone else’s if they need a little juice to get them through the day). Alongside this I’ll have my set of Bluetooth headphones … none of the in- or over-the-ear ones for me (in-ear are too uncomfortable and the over-ear make my ears too hot), I have a good set of AKG Y50BT. I was after a set of noise cancelling ‘phones originally but couldn’t stretch that far financially, but these do a reasonable job of blocking some surrounding noise out too.

As always, I’ve got at least two spare USB cables (USBc and Apple Lightning), you never know how they can be useful to others. Alongside all these gadgets I’ll have a notebook of some sort, depends on what I’ve got at the time (at the moment it’s a Minions Moleskine notebook!) and a bag to carry it all in.

After speaking to friends and colleagues at or around events I know we’re all very different, which is where the inspiration for my #EdTechRations book came from. The idea of sharing our very different needs and paranoia around cables and power packs and extraneous cables for a day or more away. If I’m away for more than one day I’ll often take my tablet (previously an iPad, nowadays a Kindle Fire) to watch something from Amazon Video, Netflix or other streaming apps in the evening. I’ve just finished watching the Amazon Prime Good Omens, so am on the lookout for a new series to get into.

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

David: The single item of technology that has made the biggest difference to my learning (my interpretation of the question) was my first iPhone (3GS, about 2010?). I went from a ‘dumb’ phone to this thing in my pocket that was more than just a phone and internet access, it was linked to everything and everyone, all the time, and wonderfully structured into little pockets of pre-determined content in the shape of apps and things. It has consumed many evenings and weekends, many trips to the coffee shop and the occasional meeting too. My smartphone has helped me find my way through an unknown campus and reminded me where I should be and when. I’ve shot planes down and jumped over exploding flowers, I’ve solved puzzles and shared photos of my dinner. My phone has reminded me of my children’s assembly times as well as important meetings I don’t want to be late for, as well as enabling me to connect to people who share my enthusiasm for learning and learning technology. And Lego. Don’t forget the Lego!! We all need more Lego.

Two quotes stand out for me in the importance of understanding what the massive impact smartphones have had on me (and everyone else). These are:

1 The tweet from Bill Thompson (https://twitter.com/billt/status/775249915115102209) inspired my last book, #EdTechRations, and is just so true for so many of us today;

“Have realised that I very rarely check my phone. I am however umbilically attached to my networked pocket computer, used for many tasks.”

2 Anthony Chivetta said in 2008 (https://www.dontwasteyourtime.co.uk/elearning/thinking-creatively/) that “the need to know the capital of Florida died when my phone learned the answer.” As a student representative he went on to explain the use and impact smartphones and technology has had, and is still having, on learning and students by saying

“Rather, the students of tomorrow need to be able to think creatively: they will need to learn on their own, adapt to new challenges and innovate on-the-fly … students of tomorrow will need to be their own guides as they explore the body of information that is at their fingertips. My generation will be required to learn information quickly, use that information to solve new and novel problems, and then present those solutions in creative and effective ways. The effective students of tomorrow’s world will be independent learners, strong problem solvers and effective designers.”

Maren: Who are your learning technology heroes?

David: The list is long and extremely distinguished, and grows almost daily. There isn’t a good way to list them all and I don’t want to single any one person out as so many people have influenced me on my journey. Perhaps just look at my Twitter profile and the people I follow, those are the ones who matter the most. Today.

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

David: The superpower to prevent confusing and often conflicting uses of different terms to mean the same thing, or people using terminology incorrectly. When you say course do you mean the degree course, or are you referring to the module/unit level, or something different? Perhaps that’s too specific, perhaps I’d rather have the power to help all stakeholders in the design, development and deployment of distance, online learning to understand what we’re doing, and why, in order to help the process and writing of materials? Yeah, that’d be good if we could get over that hurdle.

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

David: Ahh, which hashtag to use, and when? That’s the perfect storm isn’t it? I’m sure I read some research a few years back that found that the optimum number of hashtags, for marketing or brand awareness, was no fewer than two and no more than three? It seems fairly sensible, but my favourites are #altc, #learning, #EdTech #OnlineLearning .. and two of my favourites are #EdTechRations and #EdTechBook (obvs.).

If you’re going to use a hashtag made up of different words, please consider the accessibility to the tag by capitalising the different words, it makes it easier for screen readers to read, more here: https://www.dontwasteyourtime.co.uk/social-network/easiertoread/

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

David: For a long time it’s always been my blog as ‘the’ place to go to follow my ramblings and thoughts, but I’ve neglected it for the last year or so. I keep meaning to get back to the blogging but I find a lot of what I would say is already being said by more prominent and more eloquent people. Ho hum! Where comments and conversations would happen on blog posts quite a lot in the past, that trend seems to have stopped. Wouldn’t it be great to resurrect that practice again, get the connections and collaborative juices flowing, just like it was when I started doing all this stuff 10-12 years ago?!

I am, however, still active on Twitter and LinkedIn, so any connections or conversations anyone wants to have, find me on either of those networks and let’s get working! It is only through the back and forth of these connections that we can learn from each other and help others. These are exciting times for learning and learning technologies, but we need to keep working at it and challenging ourselves.

Maren: Thank you, David, for a great chat #altc!

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

Categories: #ALTC Blog, ALT

Maren Deepwell marendeepwell in conversation with Elizabeth Charles ElizabethECharl


Welcome to this new regular interview series on the #altc blog. For this interview, I am delighted to welcome Elizabeth Charles, Assistant Director of Library Services at Birkbeck, University of London.

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

Elizabeth: Well, I am currently working on several fronts. I am working with colleagues to ensure that our web presence and the content we (the Library) provide in the VLE are accessible and complies with the Public Sector Bodies Websites and Mobile Application Accessibility Regulations, as well as looking to hear from our colleagues in the Information Technology Service as to what approach is being taken and how is that going to be supported and communicated to all relevant staff in the institution. At the same time, I am also contributing to the discussions and sharing of practice, resources and standards and policies via the FHEDAWG (Further Higher Education Digital Accessibility Working Group) (recent webinar on inclusive design) and the other sub-groups via the Jiscmail discussions groups. I think clarity is starting to emerge but there is still so much to be decided and then implemented in a timely fashion. 

I am preparing to update our version of the Digital Skills Awareness Moodle module course that was created collaboratively with the Bloomsbury Learning Environment member institutions and will be available for reuse under Creative Commons Licence later in the year. I should start this hopefully mid-June! 

I am on a Decolonising the Curriculum Working Group (outside of the Library) and we are working towards sharing good practice and resources, as well as putting on seminars and events for colleagues in Birkbeck to discuss this issue which is broader than just the curriculum. Within the Library, over the summer we hope to undertake a proof of concept project looking at what’s on the reading lists we receive. We are currently in the process of reviewing the parameters and what data is required and available and how this data will be organised. I am also writing two articles and have completed the first draft of both articles.  Almost ready to submit one for publication, just need some time to sort out the references. Having read the Black, Asian and Minority Student Attainment at UK Universities I am trying to identify ways that the Library can help in #closingthegap and contributing to the discussion on this at Birkbeck and how the Decolonising the Curriculum Working Group can provide input and support to address this. Finally, amongst the other day-to-day stuff that I do, the Library is getting ready for the first phase of a two-year refurbishment of the Library to begin in earnest after the exams!!  What could possibly go wrong?

Maren: What influences your work? 

Elizabeth: My passion for widening participation and lifelong learning of which education, digital literacy and skills to use relevant learning technologies are key drivers.  These influence my work heavily and that is why I chose to work at Birkbeck.

Maren: Current recommended reading?  

Elizabeth: The two books that I just finished reading are Caroline Criado-Perez – Invisible Women: Exposing data bias for a world designed for men; Simon Sinek – Start with the Why. I am currently halfway through Tressie McMillan Cottam – Thick: And other essays.  I would recommend all three of them highly.

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

Elizabeth: I haven’t got to the stage of using  Trello but I use Outlook/calendar functions and I have a handwritten list pinned up on a notice board in my kitchen.

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

Elizabeth: My iPad and a book (print or e).

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

Elizabeth: Google Apps For Education because it is ubiquitous and can be used individually and in conjunction with each other to do so many interesting and collaborative activities or projects without having to download additional software.

Maren: Who are your learning technology heroes?

Elizabeth: Hmmm that is a difficult one!  I am going to say that my learning technology heroes are those who take part in the LTHEchat on a Wednesday evening.  The topics covered are varied and some are more in my area of expertise than others, but I always learn so much from those chats about theories, practices, resources and research.

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

Elizabeth: I would make all learning technology accessible.

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

Elizabeth: #LTHEChat, #UKlibchat #decolonise.

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

Elizabeth: Follow me on Twitter @ElizabethECharl  and look out for me at webinars, seminars, conferences, or invite me for a chat over coffee, f2f or in digital space. Also have a look at http://www.bbk.ac.uk/library .

Maren: Thank you, Elizabeth, for a really interesting conversation!

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

Categories: #ALTC Blog, ALT

Maren Deepwell marendeepwell in conversation with Maha Bali bali maha


Welcome to this new regular interview series on the #altc blog. For this first interview, I am thrilled to welcome Maha Bali, Associate Professor of Practice, Center for Learning and Teaching, American University in Cairo.

Maren: Tell us what you are currently working on?

Maha: Ok wow. Several things.

Related to my teaching, I teach a digital literacies and intercultural learning course, and I plan to integrate the Data Detox Kit https://datadetoxkit.org  and Glassroom Exhibition (see https://tacticaltech.org/#/projects/the-glass-room), partnering with Tactile Tech to offer their open source work an Arabic/Egyptianized version (this should hopefully also work well with the digital literacies campus project, too!!!); and also to use sava saheli singh’s Screening Surveillance videos (available here: https://www.screeningsurveillance.com ) into my course next semester inshallah and hopefully have students ask her questions  on Twitter or Zoom or such. I also hope to do some kind of co-located work with Mia Zamora (Mia, Catherine Cronin and I had co-created the open, connected, equity-focused curriculum Equity Unbound last year so this would build on that work. Mia is also OER20 co-chair!!) with the Data Detox Kit and any other points of intersection we find. Funny enough, Data Detox Kit partners with Mozilla and our Equity Unbound project was mentored under Mozilla Open Leaders. Kind ofs all comes full circle

In terms of research and such there are a number of things I am working on:

  • Coming soon, I co-authored with Virtually Connecting co-directors an article in eLearn Mag on Intentionally Equitable Hospitality, which is the approach that underpins our values and guides our actions. It’s our own naming of what we do. Will be published in this special issue here: https://elearnmag.acm.org/special-issue-2019.cfm
  • Coming later, I just finished a book chapter on doing Autoethnography on the internet (I blogged some early drafts of parts of it here) .  It made me want to do a collaborative autoethnography book on Virtually Connecting…
  • Coming soon, in Media and Communication journal, an article about doing digital literacy with a feminist approach in a postcolonial context. Now published OA here http://www.cogitatiopress.com/mediaandcommunication/article/view/1935
  • Also working with Rajiv Jhangiani, Robin DeRosa, Catherine Cronin and Laura Czerniewicz on an edited collection of critical perspectives on open education. And on an article extending the work of Cheryl Hogkinson-Williams and Henry Trotter’s work applying Nancy Fraser’s framework of social justice to non-OER-based Open Educational Practices. I actually incorporated some of this into the Intentionally Equitable Hospitality article I mentioned earlier
  • I’m giving a workshop, seminar and keynote in Cape Town in August inshallah.
Maren: What influences your work?

Maha: Really pretty much any work that focuses on social justice, and particularly the practice of it, not the abstract philosophical aspects of it. So if I were to talk about broad influences on my work in general, they would be:

  • Generally the work of bell hooks, Edward Said
  • Curriculum theory. Recognizing not all curricula need to be content or outcome based but they can be based on processes that promote learning and other important less measurable values; or a curriculum can be social justice based. A quick reading here http://infed.org/mobi/curriculum-theory-and-practice/
  • Elisabeth Ellsworth’s writing on the complex practice of doing critical pedagogy in the classroom https://pedsub.files.wordpress.com/2010/11/ellsworth-1989.pdf
  • Lina Mounzer’s highly emotional article War in Translation https://lithub.com/war-in-translation-giving-voice-to-the-women-of-syria/ which influenced Equity Unbound and so much of what I do
  • My daughter influences my work. Just being a parent makes me reflect a lot on so many things related to education!!
  • My students and the kind of ideas they bring to class and blog and talk about
  • Virtually Connecting- I meet so many people I wouldn’t necessarily have ever met and the conversations sometimes spark some new ideas or directions for my thinking. Because we have a team of people organizing sessions, I often don’t know who will be on or what to expect… it can be really thought-provoking. And you build longer relationships with people you may never have come across anywhere. One example of a wonderful group I met recently are the co-directors of Whose Knowledge (Siko Boutrese and Adele Vrana) and Majd Al-Shihabi at the Creative Commons Summit – session recording available here: http://virtuallyconnecting.org/blog/2019/05/08/virtually-connecting-at-the-creative-commons-global-summit-in-lisbon/

If I were to talk about something more specific, I’ll mention it in the recommended reading :)

Maren: Current recommended reading?

Maha: Cheryl Hodgkinson-Williams & Trotter article mentioned earlier (
https://jl4d.org/index.php/ejl4d/article/view/312 ).

This is an old article on Hybrid Pedagogy but it really influenced me to think about rigor differently. Beyond Rigor. By Sean Michael Morris, Pete Rorabaugh and Jesse Stommel, 2013.

I also recently discovered this book on Data Feminism (draft open access here: https://bookbook.pubpub.org/data-feminism)

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

Maha: Mostly digital. I have docs and tables (sheets can be better coz you can color code stuff automatically- my colleague Nadine Aboulmagd modeled this).

But sometimes one morning at work I’ll make a written list and enjoy crossing it out throughout the day. But for anything longer than one day, it has to be digital so I can find it on different devices and update it anywhere. I lose paper!

Also, that is a really surprising question.

Maren: On work travel you are never without… ?

Maha: Ha…. my phone? As you know, I had to travel without my laptop several times, including my OER17 keynote because of the laptop ban on flights at the time. When I was younger I used to travel with several books, several cassette tapes and papers and a copy of the Quran. Now it’s all on my phone. And I like to have data roaming.

Funnily, for this question, I almost said “my daughter”, but if I can travel a short one-day trip to a nearby country, I don’t take her. I’m not sure what will happen as she gets older; it will be more difficult to take her out of school to come to trips with me, but also easier to take her with me to the actual conferences because she’ll be old enough to keep herself busy or maybe even enjoy the conferences, especially since she knows so many of my friends and colleagues because of Virtually Connecting and from previous trips.

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

Maha: Twitter, Slack and Google docs.

  • Twitter obviously for connecting to people I wouldn’t otherwise ever connect with
  • Slack for how it allows me to compartmentalize different projects within any team I am working with. Especially Virtually Connecting where different people work on different events at different times.
  • Google docs for how it allows such smooth collaboration with people both in my department at work and international collaboration such as co-authoring articles. I love the opportunity to comment and discuss on the margins and suggest edits rather than edit over someone’s work without permission. I wish there had been Google docs when I was doing my PhD dissertation and that my supervisor would have agreed to use it.
Maren: Who are your learning technology heroes?  

Maha: Hmmmmmmmmmmm so many people!!! I’m afraid to start listing them and forgetting someone important.

As this is you interviewing me, I have this in my mind: Martin Hawksey :) for his generous practice online and in person.

Others: The Hybrid Pedagogy folks (so mainly Jesse Stommel and Sean Michael Morris) and the University of Edinburgh folks (Sian Bayne, Jen Ross, Jeremy Knox et al) because they were my earliest influences (ca. 2013) on how to integrate critical pedagogy perspectives with edtech when I was frustrated with technopositivist discourses in edtech. Of course Audrey Watters for her critical straight talk (it always makes me realize how little I know and how much clouds my vision). I am also very much influenced by folks from South Africa: Laura Czerniewicz, Sukaina Walji, Cheryl Hodgkinson-Williams, Paul Prinsloo. Their discourse makes much more sense to me because I can relate to their context so much more than discourses coming from US/UK/Australia.

And honestly, so many people within Virtually Connecting for how they make things work every day. We revise our processes all the time in order to “make it work” with the underlying equity intentions. Autumm Caines, Rebeca Hogue, Helen DeWaard, Christian Friedrich and additionally the group who worked with Mozilla Open Leaders to review our processes (Nate Angell, Wendy Taleo, along with Helen and Rebecca).

And Alan Levine. So much of what I can do with tech is because of his open practice of sharing the how-to behind his work.

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

Maha: Remove anything that uses numbers to represent human beings. The direction towards learning analytics and machine learning is heavily centered on quantifying and abstractly analyzing human data to produce supposed “insights” to support decision-making. Not only is much of all this stuff biased and likely to reproduce inequality… it is also dehumanizing.

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

Maha: I think hashtags are mostly a temporal thing for me. Whatever I’m doing at the time. One of my faves used to be the #DigPed hashtag but it’s not as busy as it used to be, I think.

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

Maha: I would say a combination of my blog, my Twitter profile and generally catching up with some Virtually Connecting conversations – although I don’t have much control over the actual content of those, who is on them, etc. If you’re very academic, my publications and some of my past keynotes here: https://blog.mahabali.me/portfolio/research-scholarship/ though now I realize I should probably list my audio appearances coz sometimes they’re really what I’m thinking about in that moment!

Find out more about Maha’s work Maren: Thank you, Maha, for a great conversation #altc.

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

Categories: #ALTC Blog, ALT

Chief Executive Officer s Report June 2019


Dear Members

Now in my seventh year as chief executive of ALT, I’m writing these important updates for you, the Members of ALT, with a clear sense that the community I serve is not only growing in numbers, but also in diversity in all senses of the word.

What it means to be working in Learning Technology, what our different role descriptions and job titles mean, how they influence career progression, strategy and the way we articulate our professional practice is an ongoing and important conversation: one that many Members on the Members’ mailing list, the altc blog, at Assembly meetings and on blogs, social media and at events engage with.

To me, the discussions articulate and remind me of how important it is that we continue to examine and question our relationship with technology, how it is used for learning, teaching and assessment and what impact it has in the broadest sense, from individuals, to classrooms, institutions and on a global scale. ALT’s own definition of Learning Technology remains at the heart of that endeavour.

As a professional body for a diverse community of professionals, we welcome everyone who has become a Member of ALT in the past few months and also thank all who have renewed their membership this year. Thank you.

ALT’s importance as the leading independent professional body for Learning Technology in the UK continues to grow as our membership expands, bringing together more insight, expertise and contrasting perspectives in our network that benefits all involved as well as the wider public.

Coming up in the next three months, here are some key dates for your diary:

  • ALT’s Members Assembly is now firmly established and meets monthly online;
  • Call for Nominations for Trustees and the AGM Calling notice for this year’s AGM has been published, deadline 10 June and the AGM this year is on 4 September;  
  • Early bird registration for the 2019 Annual Conference is now open until 9 July offering a discounted rate in addition to the 20% Members save;
  • Senior and Associate CMALT will open for registration ahead of the Annual Conference, where we will formally launch the new accreditation pathways following a successful pilot scheme. Look out for more information via the weekly news digest in the run up to the conference.

There have been many other developments in recent months that have resulted in resources for Members and also the wider community, including a new report with a focus on gender equality in Learning Technology based on data from ALT’s Annual Survey, a record 18 research articles have been published in the journal already this year, covering topics such as smart learning environments, motivating teachers in further education and learner engagement – and featuring new article level metrics of article downloads as well as a new integration with Publons.

I want to close my report by reflecting on an important strategic milestone that we reached in recent months: the establishment of the final Members Group in the East of England. This means that we now have active Members Groups in all parts of the UK and you can view the map and find out more on the Members Groups and Special Interest Groups page.

At their recent meeting the Board of Trustees warmly welcomed this important marker of achieving what our strategy set out three years ago, and took inspiration from progress overall as we look ahead to setting out the next strategy for 2020 onwards.

One thing is for certain, there are exciting times ahead for us as an Association powered by our Members and I am really looking forward to what the next months have in store for us.

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

Reflections on the White Rose Learning Technologists Forum 17th April 2019

Alistair McNaught on web accessibility.

A post by Louise Stringer, York University, Louise.Stringer@york.ac.uk

The Forum met at the University of York recently to consider issues surrounding accessibility and inclusivity. There were three very different sessions, considering legislation and content creation.

Of course a pressing issue at the moment is the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations 2018. Alistair McNaught from JISC kicked off proceedings with an overview of the implications of this legislation for learning technologists and other HE staff, including a rather snazzy graphic to summarise the timeline for compliance. I think everyone appreciated this, as the timeline is pretty complex! I won’t go into details of the regulations and deadlines here, but if you’re not yet familiar with them, I recommend this report on Accessible VLEs (particularly Chapter 2), or UK Government guidelines.

From my perspective as a ‘technology-enhanced teacher’, Alistair’s key point was that this legislation isn’t really new accessibility requirements, but more a shift in the burden of responsibility. Instead of students having to request adaptations to overcome barriers, it’s now the institution’s responsibility to provide natively accessible websites and documents. So essentially, the new legislation demands an inclusive design approach to materials design.

Next up was a hands-on workshop on “Everyday inclusion in everyday teaching” by Kirsten Thompson from the University of Leeds, focusing on content creation. This was a really enjoyable session, with two key takeaways. Firstly, to build an inclusive learning environment we have to consider the needs of all our students, especially in light of internationalisation and widening participation efforts. So although the new legislation focuses on removing barriers arising from disability, to be fully inclusive we need to go further and also think about how to remove barriers due to diversity in linguistic, cultural and religious backgrounds, being a mature, part-time or distance student, having caring responsibilities or a low income etc.

My second takeaway from Kirsten’s workshop was that a key strategy to develop accessible materials is to allow students to adapt a document’s format or how they interact with it. For example, instead of giving module information on a static PDF, using a cloud-based document like Microsoft Office 365 or Google Docs lets students change features such as the text size, background colour and line spacing to suit their needs. Kirsten also demonstrated the Microsoft Immersive Reader tool, which visually enhances text and can also read the text aloud. This seems a really useful tool to support a diverse range of students – it gives students a lot of control, and it’s based on familiar technology so doesn’t need specialist skills to use. Check out the University of Leeds Inclusive Teaching site for more tips.

The final session was an introduction to the Blackboard Ally tool, from Nicholaas Matthijs, Gillian Fielding and Peter Hirst from Blackboard. The main function of Ally is an automatic accessibility checker for pages and documents on a VLE or website. After checking, an icon reflecting the accessibility score is shown next to each document (staff-facing only). A tutor can then click this to see what the issue is, learn why it’s problematic and also get instructions on how to fix the issue. A lot of my colleagues have reported that they don’t really know where to begin with creating accessible materials, so I think this could be a really useful nudge to raise instructor awareness and empower them to create more accessible VLE sites and documents. The second key function of Ally is that it can create alternative formats of documents for students, such as a braille or audio version, or an ePub file for use with an e-book reader. Giving students this control lets them select the most appropriate format, removes the need for specialist tools and doesn’t add extra burden to instructors. Winning all round!

Thanks all for a thought-provoking and productive afternoon, and especially to the speakers and organiser Graham McElearney and Lilian Soon.

Louise Stringer, York University, Louise.Stringer@york.ac.uk @Lou_Stringer on Twitter

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

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Teaching English as a Foreign Language in Palestinian HEIs: An e-Learning Initiative that Bridges Educational and Socio-Political Gaps TEFL-ePAL

#wlvmlearn tweeted by @mattsmithwlv

Aida Bakeer , Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Education/ Curriculum and teaching methods, Al-Quds Open University.

This event was part of an Erasmus Plus research project and was designed to showcase digital language teaching in the UK to a visiting delegation of Palestinian university language teachers. It sought to emphasise the importance of pedagogical knowledge as the bedrock for purposeful technology use. The research is an EU-funded collaboration, focused on helping Palestinian academic and technical staff to acquire the knowledge and expertise and maximize their benefits from the high level of European expertise available.

The twitter footprint of the day illustrates the many activities and topics covered during a very interactive and extensive exchange between language practitioners. This account was in part written by one of the Palestinian participants, Aida Bakeer , Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Education/ Curriculum and teaching methods, Al-Quds Open University.

The first presentation was The Use of Mobile Social Media Applications for EFL in Saudi Arabia’s Higher Education. Abdul Alshabeb’s presentation was centered on the utilization of Social Media Applications and Mobility ifor language teaching in the Saudi Arabian context. Abdul stated that Saudi Arabia has the highest percentage of active Twitter/Instagram/WhatsApp users among its population in the Middle East. In addition, he mentioned that education in the Saudi context is segregated by gender and that teaching is still didactic. Furthermore, culture in Saudi Arabic is crucial in the sense that educators and researchers have to take it into consideration when teaching. The aim of his research is to determine whether mobile social media applications enable or inhibit English language learning and how teachers can provide more opportunities for learners to take part in collaborative, motivated, cultural and contextual experiences. Last but not the least, he differentiated between Computer-Assisted Language Learning (CALL) and Mobile-Assisted Language Learning (MALL) and introduced the new concept of Social Media-Assisted Language Learning (SMALL).

This was followed by Chris Martin (PhD student at Wolverhampton) presenting on Motivating the Foreign Language Learner. Martin opened his presentation by distinguishing between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, highlighting the underlying practices that lead to student demotivation. Some of those factors included:

  • complex tasks
  • teachers’ poor subject knowledge
  • overloaded whiteboards and presentations
  • teachers’ lack of awareness of students’ abilities, and
  • the heavy emphasis on high-stakes examinations.

Additionally, Martin introduced us to several motivational teaching techniques such as: (1) Learner-Initiated Feedback Technique (L.I.F.T.) where students annotate their work with questions or doubts.

Judith Hamilton (Senior Lecturer at Wolverhampton) presented on Using YouTube as a Pedagogical Tool for Reception. She demonstrated three activities for language learners using YouTube videos:

  • Name the Object: Turbo Diner. The students are required to name as many objects as possible within the allocated time.
  • Jigsaw Viewing: Departure of Love. In this video, students should work in pairs. The first student is to describe the video to his partner who should write the story without watching the film and then they exchange roles.
  • Write a Quiz: A short video clip is shared to the group who use it to formulate three questions with which they will challenge the observation skills of others in the class.

Collaborative Learning with Trello: Using the Language of Instruction by Karl Royle divided the audience into 5 groups and distributed handouts with different processes/steps. He requested that each group elect a leader to discuss and exchange the processes. Finally, the group leaders had to report back to their group members, arrange the steps in logical order, create a “how to” video, and upload it on YouTube.

The Use of Edmodo with Teenage ESOL Students in the U.K. was explained by Diana Tremayne who shared the following characteristics of the virtual learning environment provided by Edmodo :

  • Easy and free to set up
  • Students do not need an email to sign up
  • You have overall control of posts
  • Wide variety of tools you can access easily
  • Students like the Emodo interface
  • Mobile application is available
  • It is similar to Facebook, in terms of layout with the properties of Google Classroom
  • Edmodo polls allow for instant feedback
  • Quizzes are easy to set up with group/individual results
  • Other links can be integrated as well (i.e. Padlet )
  • Teachers can reward students with badges for their progress
  • Edmodo library features
  • “pinned” posts
  • Gives teachers the opportunity to find/share ideas and resources with each other
  • Compatible with Google/Office 365 accounts

Tremayne also shifted our focus on things to consider—building a sense of
community takes time, access to computers/devices may vary, students and teachers need time to familiarize themselves with technological tools, and it is easy to let Edmodo or any other virtual learning atmosphere become a repository.

From Computer Mediated Communication to Virtual Exchange was presented by Teresa Mackinnon, Associate professor at the University of Warwick. She began her presentation by defining Computer Mediated Communication (CMC), a field that evolved from CALL. Additionally, she informed us about EUROCALL and WorldCALL, international networks for Computer-Assisted Language Learning. She also mentioned Open Education – a movement which supports open access to learning opportunities for all through the use of digital technologies. Open Educational Practice helps practitioners to connect and share what they do, offering opportunities to improve and collaborate on resource creation. The way we work and interact has been transformed by the technological affordances of the internet such as hyperlink, social media and synchronous communication tools.

MacKinnon posed a question regarding where and how we obtain our professional networks and suggested a take-away task where we had to think of 3 things that we will do differently in our classes as a result of the day’s discussion. She wrote about the event in her blog post here. Last but not least, she closed her presentation and commented on the extent to which we can trust technology; stating that there is no clear cut answer, but we have to use technology with care at all times.

The final lecture for the day was given by Professor Michael Thomas, UCLAN. He asserted that technology is an endless cycle that keeps evolving and as a result, we are put in a situation where we are desperately trying to catch up with it and make it stable. He added that technology has been promising to revolutionize education for a long time via (1) educational radios, (2) talking movies, (3) language labs, (4) microcomputers, (5) video tapes, (6) Web 2.0, (7) interactive whiteboards, and etc. The highlight of Prof. Thomas’ presentation was the distinction between the roles of a teacher—(1) facilitator and (2) difficultator (neologism).

Furthermore, Prof. Thomas elaborated on the concepts of resilience, innovation, value-based learning, and the marketisation of education while using technology and stated that teachers need to familiarize themselves with the changes of technologies and adjust accordingly to the context at which they are situated. He stated that teachers should work towards enhancing the 3 C’s—(1) Communication, (2) Collaboration, and (3) Creativity—of their students. Lastly, Thomas told us to think critically about the integration of technology in our classroom and ask ourselves the following question: Who does it really benefit?

In conclusion, freedom and participation in the academic world are crucial factors that motivated Al Quds Open University to participate in the research. Integrating these tools in education can enhance learning activities in ways that can support more student integration and active involvement in the learning process, change traditional ways of teaching, foster language acquisition, and require tutors to be more creative in adapting and customising their own teaching materials and strategies.

Project logo

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

Being part of ALT Scotland


The ALT Scotland SIG was established in September 2012; it allows learning technologists from across Scottish Education to get together to talk about issues that are currently challenging the different sectors (Schools, FE and HE). Embracing the ALT core values of participation, openness, collaboration and independence, the SIG allows a networking space to share practice and provides an overview of the policy context that colleagues in the different sectors are working in.   

We operate a steering group, a JiscMail list and run an open face-to-face gathering once a year, usually in June.  The agenda is shaped by the officers and discussion on the JiscMail list.  You can find out more about us and how to join on the ALT Scotland Members Groups page. As well as the formal annual gathering, we often hold ad hoc meetings at the ALT Annual Conference, within the OER series of conferences, or at other conferences where there is a significant ALT Scotland presence.

The current co-chairs are Joe Wilson from City of Glasgow College and Vicki Dale, University of Glasgow. Vicki takes over from Professor Linda Creanor, awarded Honorary Life Membership at last year’s conference for her invaluable contributions to ALT. Over the last few years the group has been active in promoting open practice, sharing innovative and effective practice and promoting ALT membership and the CMALT pathway for professional development. The ALT Scotland has also written to and lobbied Scottish Government around the adoption of the Open Scotland Declaration and in having clearer statements of intent around open education generally.

This year’s gathering will be on the 19th of June at the City Campus, City of Glasgow College, with topics including Chatbots and ePortfolios as well as providing an overview of activity in schools, FE and HE sectors. You can see the draft agenda for this year’s gathering and register to attend. We are delighted that the upcoming ALT Annual Conference will be held in Edinburgh on 3-5 September 2019, and look forward to a strong participation from our regional members as well as the opportunity to interact with colleagues nationally and internationally.

Joe Wilson, Glasgow City College @joecar

Vicki Dale, University of Glasgow @vhmdale

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

Any technology is educational technology

Round up of M25 Learning Technology Group meeting at Imperial College London

Leo Havemann, Julie Voce, Peter Roberts, Danielle Johnstone

Around 50 people joined the March M25LTG meeting to look at technologies that aren’t obviously or ‘officially’ ed-tech, but nonetheless are being adopted for teaching and learning.

Proceedings kicked off after lunch with an engaging and battery-draining hour led by our host Katie Stripe, Senior Learning Designer, Imperial College London and co-presenter Katie Piatt, E-learning Service Manager at the University of Brighton, to launch the IMPLEMnT website (see previous blog posts here).

The aim of the meeting was to demonstrate some of the technologies detailed on the IMPLEMEnT website and to encourage attendees to consider how they might contribute to, and make use of, the project in the future. They used a range of different tools throughout our presentation and information on all of them can be found on the site. First up was the “Spot the Ed Tech logo” quiz using Kahoot to wake people up (contained dancing!). It was a hard fought contest that was won by City’s Julie Voce who was the lucky recipient of three case study cards from the Implemnt project.

The complete set of Implemnt case study cards

One of the issues that they have encountered while building the IMPLEMnT site is the taxonomy they use and finding a balance between making it manageable while allowing the community to express the technologies used in its own terms. They used Poll Everywhere to consider what tags they would use to describe YouTube and Turnitin and compared our results with the tags used by Implemnt. In both cases the audience came up with much wider ranging tags that they had decided on for the site. This highlights 2 issues. One, the broad range of descriptions available to people when describing technology and two, because of the joys of the English language they have multiple ways of saying exactly the same thing!

This was following by an interactive session using Mentimeter and Poll Everywhere to introduce Implemnt, which is drawing together technologies and mini case studies with a view to crowd-source ideas for sharing with the community, and get the audience suggesting tags for various technologies and appropriate language use that the Implemnt project features. To collect further case studies for the Implemnt project, they were encouraged to think about how they could support different activities through the use of a Wheeldecide activity where Katie P asked how they could support a particular teaching activity using a particular teaching tool type, e.g. What can be used to support assessment by graphics? Dom Pates from City provided an example from City’s MA Academic Practice where one assessment uses Venngage to ask students to design a poster using infographics.

Katie Piatt using Wheel Decide to generate case study ideas

The next phase of site development will be to make sharing easier. They are hoping that the site itself will hold full case studies but that those will be reduced to a format which can be printed, shared on social media or embedded in other sites for training or promotion. Watch this space!

CJ Taylor, Nick Feather and Jonny Sadler from Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS) talked about the use of Slack for tutorials. Previously they had used a PowerPoint quiz delivered via the VLE, but this approach was not popular with students, so they have been exploring the use of Slack. In their first year of use, they ran one session with all 120 students and 2 facilitators, however this proved to be a lot for the facilitators to respond to and students struggled to keep up. For the second year, they made the groups smaller with one facilitator per group and this has improved the experience. The facilitators all sit together for the session which makes it easier for the Learning Technologist to provide support.

CJ, Nick and Jonny demoing use of Slack

Alongside the talk the team from BSMS had set up an M25 Q&A Slack group which gave us the opportunity to try out Slack’s features, as well as ask questions. Naturally inquisitive they played with a number of the features, including polls and threads.

Use of Slack by the M25 attendees

Amy Icke from the Girl’s Day School Trust talked about how the Trust had made Microsoft Teams available (Click here to access the slides) across their 25 schools in England and Wales and now had over 1,000 in use. Teachers use it as a place to share and search for resources and have found the search functionality to be very comprehensive, including the ability to search within documents and OneNote. One downside is the lack of tagging functionality. Some of the schools are even looking at using teams instead of their VLE and have integrated teams with their student record system using SalamanderSoft. One of the most interesting uses was a Teams site set up to support girls applying to do Maths at university as they are typically only one or two per school so the site provides a good way to bring them together to share ideas and resources. Leonard Houx (Cass Business School) used the analogy of learning to skateboard to give a brief update on, and invitation to join, the London E-Learning Reading Group, which meets on a monthly basis. Look out for future Reading Group meetings on their Eventbrite page and via the M25 Jiscmail.

Leonard Houx talking about reading groups and skateboarding

Closing the day was a discussion led by Sonja Grussendorf (LSE). They considered the advantages and drawbacks of using technologies that weren’t designed for education. There was hearty debate about what constitutes “edtech” and the role of tech multinationals in the education sector.

Our next meeting will take place on Thursday 18 July at the London College of Communication, University of the Arts London. Further information will be circulated via the M25 Jiscmail.

Leo Havemann, Julie Voce, Peter Roberts, Danielle Johnstone

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

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Book review: Conceptualising The Digital University The intersection of policy pedagogy and practice


This is a timely book because it is really asking some big questions about what is the whole point of higher education and how does the digital university fit in to the current HE landscape. It really puts the evolution of the digital university in the context of the changes that have taken place over the last 30 years or so. Over this time, universities have morphed into the neo-liberal political terrain. Key aspects of marketization have been introduced by successive governments of all political persuasions. Universities now compete within a market place to recruit the ‘best’ students and the income they generate. For many, students are now considered to by consumers in at least some aspects of their education. New providers, now with an explicit profit motive are entering this market who have a very different value system from the more established universities. Overseeing this quasi market are new regulatory bodies like the Office for Students and ranking of universities is now de rigueur and universally accepted as the norm by many commentators of the sector. Universities with deep pockets aim to be number one whilst others with less resources are aim to be the one that doesn’t fail first.

The authors of this book note this is the context that the digital university has evolved into and they are very critical of these trends. They have taken their inspiration from Stephen Collini and asked the crucial question ‘What are universities for?’ For them, the purpose of a university is to develop a more humanist conception of education where value is put on the overall development of the student. Where they can realise their full potential, not just as an asset in the labour market but as someone who can contribute fully to society in all aspects of life. These humanist values of universities are being overtaken in the UK by increasing neo-liberal policies aimed at ‘accountability’, increasing fees and the shift to students as consumers of education. The book starts with a critique of these trends but the real strength of this book is that it goes on to provide some alternative visions and strategies for resisting these trends and ends with a tremendous quote from Jimmy Reid’s inaugural speech as rector of Glasgow university:

“A rat race is for rats. We’re not rats. We’re human beings. Reject the insidious pressures in society that would blunt your critical faculties to all that is happening around you, that would caution silence in the face of injustice lest you jeopardise your chances of promotion and self-advancement”.

At the heart of the authors’ understanding of the digital university is a conceptual ‘matrix’ that consists of four components; digital participation, information literacy, the learning environment plus curriculum and course design. As the authors note, none of these concepts is novel in themselves, but bringing them together and analysing their interrelationship provides a holistic way of understanding the digital university. Digital participation involves public engagement by universities to increase wider participation and encourage the notion that universities are a public good for the whole of society. Information literacy is the notion that students develop their digital literacy skills to improve their academic potential and capabilities to achieve their own personal development. The learning environment is both the combination of the digital and physical spaces that exist within and beyond the university. This is more than just the institution’s virtual learning environment, here the notion of the ‘porous’ university is explored in some depth. Curriculum and course design is in turn shaped by ‘constructive alignment’, assessment and the move to more recent developments, such as digital analytics.

Wrapped around this ‘matrix’ are two key concepts that stand in direct contrast and contradiction to the neo-liberal university. Firstly, the concept of ‘open education’ places collaboration, sharing and cooperation back into the educational mix. Through open publishing, open source software, and open educational resources and practices higher education practitioners are challenging the neo-liberal dream of a consumer driven system. The book is littered with many good examples of open education where staff and students are the co-producers working to create a ‘digitally distributed curriculum’.

The second major strand that the authors promote with some vigour is the idea of critical pedagogy which originates in the educational philosophy of Paulo Friere. Here notions of what should be studied are not solely dictated to by the job market but what is best for the full development of the student. This type of learning requires a range of educational practices and processes that puts the student at the centre of the educational process with the goal of not just creating a better learning environment but a better world. Students are encouraged to reflect and be critical on what and why they are learning and how digital tools can help them do this. This is not the type of aspirations that you usually get when reading most current commentators of learning technology in higher education!

Integrated and meshed into their conceptualisation of the digital university are other aspects of what is possible. I especially liked the chapter towards the end of the book on the ‘Academic Developer as a open provocateur’. Building on the ideas outlined in earlier chapters of the book it is argued that academic developers, not matter what their job titles are (Educational/Academic Developers, Learning technologists, etc.) can promote and disseminate the twin concepts of open education and critical pedagogy to provide a meaningful learning experience that will equip students in all aspects of their lives once they leave university.

Overall this book is a refreshing breath of air because it does show there are some clear alternatives to the current trends that are happening in the university sector, in other words ‘there is an alternative’. The key ideas of the book, the ‘conceptual matrix’, the ‘digitally distributed curriculum’ and the concepts of the open education and critical pedagogy are illustrated with a variety of interesting examples. For some the variety of examples and ideas might be a bit overwhelming on first glance but they are worth pursuing and exploring in more detail. Ultimately the neo-liberal trend in our universities will probably have to be reversed by bigger forces like changes in the political ideology of governments or resistance from broader social movements but what this book does give are some clear alternatives of what we can do in the ‘here and now’ to make education a better or more worthwhile experience.

‘Conceptualising The Digital University – The intersection of policy, pedagogy and practice’ by Bill Johnson, Sheila MacNeill and Keith Smyth is available from Palgrave Macmillan publishers or from Amazon.

 Chris Rowell, Academic Developer in Digitally Enhanced Learning, London South Bank University,  @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

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OER19: It Was Emotional


For some reason I seem to have established a pattern where I only attend the OER conferences every other year. While I would have loved to be there in Newcastle, in Edinburgh, in Bristol (and I followed each one intently online), I find being at the OER conference in person almost too much to process, not just on an intellectual level but also on an emotional one. Like no other academic gathering I know, these conferences are full of powerful emotions and OER19 was no different.


From the opening keynote by Kate Bowles, OER19 was full of hope. Not naïve, unbridled hope – that would prove impossible from the moment we heard Kate’s searing critique of the ‘expanding university’ – but a sense that a commitment to ‘optimism as a discipline’ would help to ensure that higher education around the globe can genuinely fulfil some of its open potential.


Galway is a magical place and there was wonder all around at this conference. From Su-Ming Khoo’s breathtaking, imaginary, deeply metaphorical journey around the Pacific to the incredibly rich short stories that we entered through the portal of room G009 on the second afternoon, we travelled far and wide, in time and space, to understand the importance and many meanings of open. An absolute highlight came with the bravura performance by Sara Thomas, in seven or eight minutes interweaving the stories of two women, Marie Lamont & Lady Catherine Bruce of Clackmannan: women’s stories that, thanks to Wikipedia editathons, are now openly available. Even if it stops you reading the rest of this post, I urge you to take eight minutes out of your day to listen to Sara.


We are undoubtedly in a difficult moment and, guided by the conference theme ‘Recentering Open: Critical and Global Perspectives’, delegates and online followers knew that they would be asked to face up to some challenging questions. I was particularly taken by Billy Meinke’s calm but devastating deconstruction of our problematic technological landscape, not least because it was a future that was clearly predicted. Likewise, I was convinced by Bonnie Stewart, Lawrie Phipps and Dave Cormier that we need to (re)commit to (re)building a #ProSocialWeb. Given some of the negative, downright scary, things people are exposed to and experience when they inhabit online spaces, I fully understand the apprehension this might cause but if we don’t ‘bring our values to the internet’, who will?


As with all OER conferences, it was greatly encouraging to see the breadth and depth of research and scholarship on open. The Galway edition was particularly notable for the way it foregrounded the voices and work of current research students. Students from the Global OER Graduate Network featured prominently and along with others stood shoulder to shoulder with established names in the field of open. The keynote panel featuring three of these voices, Taskeen Adam, Caroline Kuhn and Judith Pete, was one of the most thought-provoking sessions at the conference, challenging many of us to consider our position of relative privilege and reflect on what open means from other perspectives, literally upending our lens on the world.

We should also be encouraged by the various ways, sometimes surreptitiously, often ingeniously, folk have managed to insert and embed open practices within their institutions. This remains thorny territory but Dave White and Kate Lindsay’s session gave us an idea of how it might be done and, even though I wasn’t there, I know my Edinburgh colleagues also demonstrated the potential for really embracing openness in a university’s values and practices.

Regret (mild/tempered)

This is not unique to the OER conferences but I really did want to be in at least three places at once in Galway (even more so on day one, when part of me yearned to be on a sunlit Atlantic-facing beach with my family). All the more reason to be thankful for the sessions that were recorded by Martin Hawksey and Harry Lamb (see the sessions marked YouTube on the conference programme) and all the more reason to set aside some proper time to review the hashtag and treasure trove of linked resources. You will do this as well, won’t you?

It was also a source of regret that I didn’t get to speak to everyone in person. And I mean everyone. There were a number of people who I know from Twitter who I wanted to seek out (can’t believe I never managed to say hello to Bonnie Stewart!) but the truth is everyone at the conference brought with them such fascinating stories and a myriad of reasons for engaging with open that time spent with each individual added a layer of richness to the experience of being in their company. Kate Bowles encouraged us to deliberately speak to someone we didn’t know before arriving at OER19 but, such was the warmth of the community that gathered together, these conversations seemed to happen completely organically. The half an hour I spent at lunch on day 2 with new friends from Brazil and Iran will be one of my most treasured memories of OER19.

Hope (reprise)

What a beautiful and powerful quotation by Rebecca Solnit that our brilliant co-chairs Catherine Cronin and Laura Czerniewicz chose independently (together), to conclude this conference. For me, hope remains the abiding emotion of OER19. It resonated with those in the room and those following online and it is also a call to action that will ‘shove us out the door’ every morning between now and the next conference and many conferences after that.

So, onto OER20. Given my pattern of attendance, I probably won’t be there but, if not, I will once again follow closely online. Either way, I fully expect that it will be another critical, and emotional, nodal point for this incredible open community.

(all images CC-BY-NC Simon Horrocks)

Simon Horrocks is reviewing online strategy at the University of Edinburgh. Twitter: @horrocks_simon

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

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West Midlands Group Meeting: Critical Digital Literacies


Post by Lynne Taylerson, Kerry Pinny and Pip McDonald

At the last West Midlands group meeting, it was decided to adopt a new approach and write a collaborative blog. People were invited to write about what they thought about the day, what stood out for them, and what they would take away?

Lynne Taylerson

I think for me the key questions were around practitioner identity, whether as an educator or learning technologist. An insightful opening presentation from Teresa MacKinnon challenged us to consider our core purpose(s) in our roles and ask whether the frameworks we work under speak to our sense of professional identity.

Image from Pip McDonald

It was fascinating to receive the group’s discussion feedback as part of my presentation on the Education and Training Foundation’s new Digital Teaching Professional Framework (DTPF) which sets to frame the digital skills that teachers need to deliver new curricula such as T Levels. It was encouraging to hear that many in the room welcomed such a flexible framework which invites practitioners to examine 7 key teaching roles and decide whether they are a digital ‘explorer’, ‘adapter’ or ‘leader’. I’d agree that it is useful for teachers to declare themselves as just setting out to ‘explore’ some aspects of digital teaching while being able to conclude that in other aspects of their professionalism they may be ‘leaders’. Perhaps this encouragement to consider a spectrum of competences might invite a more nuanced approach to professional learning than a binary, tick-box ‘I can / I can’t’ use technology.

PDF available to download here

That said, the issue with any standards framework, I would say, is that its authors tell us by default what should be considered important by virtue of what they include and by what is neglected, or minimised. The discussants certainly appeared to think that more emphasis might have been placed on the competencies at the end of the DTPF, namely equality and diversity, accessibility,  learner and teacher wellbeing, management of digital identity and development of pedagogy and reflective practice. Other competencies appearing earlier in the DTPF appear to put a focus firmly on future employability, work-readiness and industry skills as the core purpose of education. Discussants appeared to favour adopting a more holistic approach to their roles, considering the ‘whole learner’ and their place in family, community and wider society as well as the workplace.

I think that a final key question related to our discussions of the DTPF was ‘how will we be judged against it?’. Participants quite rightly, I believe, expressed concern on whether or how well inspectors would be briefed on the new framework’s nuances and its use and whether managers would provide appropriate development opportunities for those just beginning to ‘explore’ use of technology. Others raised an issue so broad and significant that it probably merits an entire group meeting of its own, namely ‘exactly how will impacts as a result of digital pedagogy and the use of educational technology be properly measured?

Definitely a question for future debate, I think.

Image from Pip McDonald

Kerry Pinny

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about our conversations. Teresa’s opening presentation really resonated. Transparency, dialogue and debate were clear themes throughout the day. As Teresa rightly said, the key to tackling Critical Digital Literacy (CDL) is one of time and space. Time and space to talk, to challenge and share.

Image from Pip McDonald

I have one question that I cannot get out of my head: How do I apply this to my context?

I am a supplier of software and services. I am, to some extent, part of the decision making process. I am paid to encourage people to use software and digital tools. There are many people like me. How do I balance what can be two opposing modes? The critical practitioner who wants to engage in critical discourse, and the employee who has to do certain things despite their personal feelings. I think this area is a hole in the CDL discourse which needs to be filled. How do we balance criticality and practicality?

Lynne also raised a really interesting point around frameworks. That they dictate what is considered important in education. Frameworks attempt to confine the complexity of human beings and learning in to simplistic, tickable checklists. There’s a lot to be considered here. We use frameworks to drive consistency and quality, but have they become the killers of creativity in education?

Image from Pip McDonald

The meeting also prompted a conversation with my colleague, Amber Thomas, about conscious choices we make when using technology. How many of us read the terms and conditions? How many of us check how data is to be used? Very few, I imagine. With all the negative press around Facebook, how many of us have stopped using it? We make conscious decisions when we use technology. The individual decides what they are willing to relinquish. Using the Facebook example, consider someone who has no other means of keeping in touch with family, friends and local events. Should they give up that connection with humanity because Facebook is unethical? Some would say yes but we shouldn’t be so arrogant as to assume that we know best for other people. We can make them aware so that they make their own informed choice.

We had a great day and I hope to see you all again soon at the next meeting!

Lynne Taylerson is director of independent training provider Real Time Education. She is a teacher educator, mentor and leadership trainer in FE and HE specialising in educational technology. Lynne holds CMALT, tweets @Realtimeedu and is currently studying for a PhD in education around educators’ use of social media communities for professional learning.

Kerry Pinny is a Senior Academic Technologist at the University of Warwick. She is interested in digital capabilities, enjoys GIFs and tweets incoherent ramblings @KerryPinny.

Pip McDonald is a Learning Technology Project Manager at LAL Language Centres and is currently based in London. She is interested in Technology Enhanced Language Learning (TELL). Twitter: @PhilippaMcDona3.

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