ALT C 17, Building #CMALT Community – Empowerment in Learning Technology

A photo of my ALT C delegate badgeLast month I was privileged to attend the 24th Annual Conference of the Association for Learning Technology (#ALTC) from the 5 – 7 September 2017 at the University of Liverpool. The conference title was “Beyond islands of innovation – how Learning Technology became the new norm(al)” and I was particularly keen to go when I realised there was a theme on:

“Empowerment in Learning Technology: supporting students through staff/student partnerships, students as influencers, developing skills and supporting staff at all levels.”

As I’m currently running a scheme at the University of Edinburgh to support staff through their Certified Membership of the Association for Learning Technology (CMALT) I was particularly excited about this theme and was keen to connect with others involved in professional development for staff involved with learning technology.

I’m a slow burner when it comes to reflection, it takes me a while to assimilate an experience and make connections with my existing practice – (I’ve not yet mastered pithy live tweeting) – instead producing an essay a month after the event! But in my defense, ALT C does takes some time to process, it is a very large conference, with 450 participants and multiple streams of activity and it takes place over three packed days. Last year I attended the conference virtually, and blogged about this afterwards. This year I feel lucky that I can compare this to the experience of attending in person.

Planning – a peak behind the scenes

In hindsight my ALT C 17 had actually begun back in Nov 16, as I volunteered to be part of the conference committee. I’d highly recommend volunteering for this role, it didn’t take up too much time and I really enjoyed watching the conference come together through the online planning meetings, promoting the conference, reviewing submissions and chairing a session at the conference. It’s a great way to meet people, and knowing a few more people (even virtually) before you arrive, does make 450 sound a little less daunting! Maren Deepwell wrote a great post recently about putting together the conference, which is the largest event that ALT run each year, and about how she and her team works with the ALT community to make it happen.


In March 2017, I submitted a proposal, with my co-presenter Sarah Sherman, for a talk entitled The CMALT “Zumba Class”: managing a cohort scheme for CMALT applicants to build institutional capacity for learning technology. Sarah had advised me when I was planning the University of Edinburgh CMALT scheme that I run, which is now in its second year. She kindly answered all my questions about how her scheme was set up and shared her planning documents with me. I asked if she had already presented about the scheme anywhere and when Sarah said she hadn’t, we decided to present together when a suitable opportunity came up. When we saw the themes for ALT 17, we both emailed each other saying this looked like the right place. We made good use of google tools to collaborate – meeting in hangouts using docs to write the proposal together (and were very pleased when this was accepted) and later putting a presentation together in Slides.

Presenting the CMALT “Zumba Class”

I was really excited to be presenting at ALT C for the first time, not least because my institution looks much more favourably on applications to attend conferences that you are presenting at, and I was really pleased that I was approved to attend. It altered my experience attending the conference as a presenter, I found it much less abstract watching other people present when you know you’ll be up there doing the same thing at some point during the conference! Regardless of my nerves, I really enjoyed giving the presentation and I think despite having not met until the day before, that Sarah & I did a great double act. It was valuable to devote time to really thinking about a piece of work that I was very close to, drawing out the key things I had learned and working with Sarah to distil them into an engaging 20 minute presentation. Sarah was also very organised and wrote this great blog about our presentation before we gave it. The audience was great, most of them were already involved in supporting CMALT or planning similar schemes and they asked excellent questions. Sarah and I started lots of interesting conversations which I am still following up. How often do you get the chance to tell a room full of people about a piece of work you are really excited about and that they are also really excited about too?

Sarah Sherman presenting at ALT C 2017Susan Greig presenting at ALT C

Beyond islands – meeting my people

Attending the conference in person was really valuable, I finally got to meet people whose work I had read and several people I’d worked with on the CMALT project, but never met in person, such as the wonderfully efficient Thomas Palmer of ALT who I have so many correspondences with over email. After so much online communication, it was a pleasure to finally meet my co-presenter Sarah Sherman and Julie Voce who runs a CMALT scheme at City University of London and who also advised me when I was getting started.

A surprising extra insight for me was the experience of staying in student halls, these were clean with good facilities and not unlike a hotel, though I found navigating round the various parts of the building (and the University Campus) somewhat disorienting. The conference took place the week before the start of semester so I found myself wondering what the next year would be like for the students soon to be resident in these rooms, many from the other side of the world as Liverpool like the University of Edinburgh has a high number of International students. As a member of professional services staff, I am somewhat removed from our students, and anything that gives me a little more insight into ‘the student experience’ can only be a good thing!

When attending a large conference, you need to be selective and decide in advance what areas of interest you are planning on following up. This was where being part of the conference committee was a good influence, because it encouraged me to read the programme in advance, so I could decide which session to volunteer to chair, and as the same time I also planned out my own days of activity. I had meant to be gentle with myself and plan in some down time, but found myself running from session to session as there were so many interesting and relevant sessions, and the three days suddenly felt too short. Across the conference I attended 18 sessions and one Special Interest Group (SIG) – ALT Scotland, co-presented one paper, chaired a session and attended the awards ceremony (always inspiring) and very enjoyable conference meal. I arrived back at work with a copious collection of notes, bundle of leaflets and fist full of business cards. A head buzzing with ideas for our CMALT cohort and a fresh burst of energy for my work.

Celebrating the first year of CMALT

A photograph of the CMALT guideline documents and a cake with the CMALT logo
Celebrating with CMALT Cake

On the 20th of June we held a Celebration Event to celebrate our first year of supporting a cohort of staff from across the University to put together their CMALT portfolios.

As I wrote my speech for this event I realised that this project has been such a pleasure to work on thanks to to the enthusiasm and good will of a great many people, and for those who weren’t able to join us on the day and hear said speech, I’d like to share my thanks in this blog post.

Firstly, thanks to everyone (all 23 of you) who took part in this year’s cohort, who between you came to the 12 meetings, 6 writing retreats and 4 open events. Members of the cohort are at different stages of their CMALT journey but I’m really pleased to say that everyone who started with us, is still planning on completing their portfolio – so at the very least I haven’t put anyone off!

Congratulations to the 12 people who have submitted portfolios and are patiently awaiting their results – I’m planning another event like this later in the year to celebrate these results and I hope that these celebrations will be an ongoing part of the annual CMALT calendar. [Update: Further congratulations are now due to the 5 people, so far, who have passed their CMALT accreditation]

Thank you to all of the line mangers who supported their CMALT applicants and encouraged them through the process.

Thank you to Melissa Highton, Director of the Learning, Teaching and Web services division (LTW) for instigating this project and for her ongoing support.

Thank you to Jenni Houston for supporting the scheme from Digital Skills and Training Team and to Stuart Nicol, my line manager in Educational Design and Engagement Team, for their continued support.

Thank you to the people from other institutions who were already running cohort schemes and were kind enough to advise me in setting up this scheme:

  • Sarah Sherman from the Bloomsbury Group
  • Stefanie Anyadi from University College London
  • Julie Voce at Imperial College London

Thank you to Daphne Loads from the Institute for Academic Development (IAD) for her advice on setting up the scheme, facilitation of writing retreats and for speaking to the cohort about reflective portfolios.

And thank you to Rosie Bree for setting up the Writing Retreats and to the Institute for Academic Development for providing the room and supporting the Writing retreats

Thank you to Rachael Mfoafo for her excellent organisation of rooms and catering.

Thanks to all of our guest speakers:

  • Professor Lesley Diack who shared her insights as an experienced CMALT assessor
  • Toni Fisher, E-learning Advisor at Robert Gordon University who joined us for a webinar to share her recent experience of successfully completing her CMALT accreditation.
  • Eugen Stoica from the Scholarly Communications Team who spoke to use about Copyright and Open Access
  • Stuart Nicol who spoke about Open Educational Resources
  • Ruby Rennie who shared her insights on Accessibility as School Coordinator of Accessibility
  • Stephanie (Charlie) Farley Board Game Jam (Make your own OER using OERs)

Thank you to Martin Hawksey, Maren Deepwell and Thomas Palmer from the Association for Learning Technology –for their ongoing support and enthusiasm.

We have now opened the scheme for its second year, and I am greatly looking forward to working with another cohort as they start their CMALT journey.

Goodbye TREE

It’s sad to close a service, especially one that you were involved in developing – but it is also a chance to reflect on what was learned from the process.

TREE was conceived in 2014, when our website was still using the somewhat clunky Polopoly content management system (CMS). The original vision was to develop an interactive tool aimed at teaching staff, to help them find out about the technology tools we offer and how these can be used for teaching and learning. We had ambitions to develop an interactive system that allowed people to rate our services add comments. We used extensive user consultation to develop requirements for this tool which I wrote about in a previous blog post – Setting out on an Agile project journey: Part 1, User Stories and Poker Chips.

Interface for TREE (Technology Resources for Educational Enhancement)
Interface for TREE (Technology Resources for Educational Enhancement)

TREE went live in summer of 2014. It was developed in Drupal – and its appearance was much cleaner than our webpages at the time. However, even with very limited content we had issues with the available search options.

Our main stumbling block however was with encouraging people to author content, and in keeping this content up to date. This required duplication of their effort as they were often already maintaining very similar content on service webpages.

We soon realised that there is too much overlap between TREE and our university webpages. Also, in 2015 our university website content management system changed from polopoly to Drupal. This has made it more user friendly to maintain webpages and offers better functionality than the previous CMS.

By creating a different web tool we were creating another place to direct staff too, this required an effort to promote, when staff were already going to our well recognised website in search of similar information.

We experimented with different channels for promotion – I set up the TREE Twitter account. I now see that I only posted 34 tweets – but I’m sure at least an hour of agony went into each composition! This was on top of email correspondence, print articles and some of my earliest blog posts. This experience introduced me to digital marketing and promotion and I learned that this requires a clear focus and vision and time to devote to development.

Screenshot of the TREE Twitter account
The TREE Twitter account, which the University of Edinburgh subscribed to last year, has several courses that look useful for those interested in this area

What we did right:

We learned from users – through comprehensive requirements gathering and later usability testing. People don’t all use websites in the way you think they will or that you do. Taking the time to consult with users on requirements and to sit with users during testing provides amazing insights.

We built relationships through requirements gathering and consultation and from this developed large mailing list.

What we learned:

If you can, put information where people are already looking for it – publicising a new website is hard! It’s much easier to improve content in the place people were going to look.

What I did in my holidays…Become a Manager with

Since summer 2016 the University of Edinburgh has provided a licence to online courses for staff and students. I spent some time in my Christmas break looking at this. I had already started to explore, watching several videos and completing the course ‘Learning with‘ which I’d recommend as a good starting point for those new to the resource.
Completing a course (which as far as I can see this means watching all the videos) gives you a certificate of completion – and this can be easily shared, for example on Twitter, Facebook or on your LinkedIn profile or downloaded as a PDF and printed out.

I found the course I completed interesting but I still wasn’t sure yet how to use for my own development – the courses are very short (most of them can be completed within an hour or two) – and are well presented and relevant – but the library is vast and offers many subjects relevant to my work (for example Education, Design and Business) . Each course give you certificate – I wasn’t sure what my next step was – beyond collecting a long list of certificates? Then I found the feature called Learning Paths that collates a selection of courses around a goal and this answered my question. I decided to take the next step and tackle the one to ‘Become a Manager‘ – which is made up of 9 courses:

1. New Manager Fundamentals
2. Hiring Your Team
3. Onboarding New Hires
4. Delegating Tasks to Your Team
5. Leading Productive Meetings
6. Managing for Results
7. Performance Review Fundamentals
8. Building Accountability Into Your Culture
9. Rewarding Employees

I was at home over the break so I decided to access this via the App on my Android tablet or phone as I usually have one of these devices to hand. The App gives a reduced selection of the features but does mean you can download content – so you can download a course when you have Wi-Fi and watch even when you don’t. The videos can be watched full screen and you can easily skip about within the course structure. Progress was synced to my account across multiple devices and progress watching the downloaded content was synced next time you had a connection.
Unfortunately the App doesn’t give you access to the ‘My Goals’ section of where you access the Learning Paths. So this first thing I did, to work around this, was to go to my laptop and add all the courses from this Learning Path to a Playlist – as I could see this via the App. Then, in odd pockets of time over the holiday, I watched the videos and worked through the courses. It was easy to squeeze this into odd moments – I would watch a couple of videos when I was cooking, or when I had a few minutes during the day. They are generally bite sized (I’d say three minutes on average) and include good recaps – so stopping and starting isn’t much of an issue. This activity probably replaced some time I would have spent reading the news or twitter online.

After a chunk of videos, say three or four, there is a short quiz and I found these really helpful to check if I’d understand what I’d just watched. Though the interface for questions on android devices was frustratingly temperamental – it requires you to drag the correct answer off the screen – but sometimes took several attempts to register this. I did persevere though, as I really wanted to check my answers.
Many of the courses also come with exercise files which can’t be accessed from App, but I will probably take a look at these now I’m back in the office – as several of them are templates that maybe useful in my work.

The App also doesn’t allow you to bookmark videos (which you can do on the website) and this I did miss, when watching the courses there were one or two videos that resonated, and that I wanted to go back to again or to discuss with colleagues – without the bookmark option it’s going to be harder to find these again. Hopefully will add this feature in time? I see in the App that I can share videos in various ways, so next time I will try to email details of key videos to myself.

What did I get from following a learning path that I wouldn’t have got from just choosing nine courses on management that I was interested in? I think that answer lies in the collation, basically I did watch courses that I wouldn’t have selected – because I was interested in the overall goal. This was on the basis that someone with more experience than me had selected appropriate courses and that therefore the relevance would become clearer to me in time. Some of the courses listed I didn’t initially think looked interesting or relevant – the course ‘Managing for Results’ for example, was much more relevant than it looked on the face of it. A couple of the courses used slightly different language (it being authored in the US) – for example ‘Onboarding New Hires’ is what I would have called New Staff Induction – so I wouldn’t have been able to find this by searching for it despite the relevant content. On the minus side, the legal aspects where focused on the US context, this was clearly stated but I still felt I had to watch through them to complete the course!

Once I completed the course I went to my laptop and added the certificate to my LinkedIn profile. This displays nicely and it links through to show the details of the Learning Path and the courses it contained. This would be valuable to staff and students for evidencing their knowledge and skills.

So having spent time exploring what it means to Become a Manager with – I’m now ready to relate this to my current work – feeling better prepared and more confident to develop my own experience as a manager in 2017.

Screen shot of the 'Become a Manager' Badge from on my  LinkedIn profile
The ‘Become a Manager’ Badge from on my LinkedIn profile

Not going to #ALTC 2016

I was very excited about attending ALT C this year, I’d registered, booked accommodation and travel, but a last minute family emergency meant I was unable to go. I was disappointed but knew that some of the sessions would be live streamed – so as I’d already blocked out my diary I went online to see what was available from my desk. Fortunately, I found that ALTC caters well for those #virtuallyattending – the keynote sessions are live streamed, as are all sessions from the Main Theatre, the programme is available online and Twitter allows some insight into the rest of the conference activity.

The Live Streamed Keynotes

As I sat in my office waiting for the first keynote and wondering how my experience will compare to watching it live in the auditorium?

As soon as I started to see from the pictures popping up on Twitter I realised that I was getting a front row seat!

The view from the back of the lecture theatre at ALTC during Josie Fraser’s Keynote Association for Learning Technology – Picture by Chris Bull CC BY-NC 2.0

I really enjoyed watching the five keynote from ALTC 16, all of which touch on many areas of interest and current concern for learning technologists (All of these sessions are now available on YouTube):

Keynote: Josie Fraser – In the Valley of the Trolls


  • The importance of recognising what Trolling is and what it is not?
  • Commitment to open education is an ethical gesture.
  • Being yourself online may be a privilege.

Keynote: Ian Livingstone – Code Create Collaborate

  • Importance of nurturing creativity.
  • Computer Science is the new Latin
  • Gaming is a force for good.

Keynote: Lia Commissar – Education and Neuroscience: Issues and Opportunities

  • What has neuroscience got to do with education?
  • Are there insights from neuroscience for education?
  • Debunking myths, questioning and growing an evidence base.

Keynote: Jane Secker – Copyright and e-learning: understanding our privileges and freedoms

  • Copyright is not scary!
  • The world needs young people who can problem solve and invent things.

Keynote: Donna Lanclos and David White – Being Human is Your Problem

  • You can’t ‘solve’ teaching and learning.
  • Openness, privilege and risk.
  • You are the institution.

It turned out that not just the keynotes, but all sessions from the Main Theatre were live streamed throughout the conference.

Virtually Connecting

There were also three sessions organised by an organisation called “Virtually Connecting” who arranged three Google Hangouts to connect virtual participants with those at the conference. I watched the live stream of the first session they offered, and then joined one on the second day with Fiona Harvey, Lorna Campbell and Teresa MacKinnon. After the session I asked a bit more about how ‘virtually connecting’ worked – I’d originally assumed these were organised by ALT, but it turns out that that ‘virtually connecting’ are a team of volunteers who participate at a variety of academic conferences to broaden access to virtual participants.  I’m going to keep an eye on their Twitter account to see where else they turn up.


Attending a conference is more than just the sessions you watch, there is a social element and the networking opportunities. I was able to connected with people on Twitter by following the #ALTC hashtag, this gave me an insight into the perspectives of others, and allowed me to connect with new people.

Final thoughts

It was great that so much of the conference is openly available, I just hadn’t been aware of this – and wondered how many other people are aware of it?  Next year I’ll make an effort to promote these opportunities more widely, through groups I’m involved in at the University of Edinburgh such as elearning@ed and through my support of the CMALT applicants group.

Even if you know you are not attending, it’s well worth blocking out some time during the conference to attend virtually – I’d never have been able to participate without this time.

I found that I particularly enjoyed the sessions that I watched with my colleague, as we could hear each other’s reactions to the talks and discuss them. Next year it might be fun to get together as a group and watch some of the keynote sessions together?

Next year’s conference, ALTC 2017 Beyond islands of innovation – how Learning Technology became the new norm(al) will take place from the 5th to 7th September 2017  at the University of Liverpool.

Whether I’m able to attend physically or virtually – I’m already looking forward to it.

ALT Scotland: Sharing Stories: enablers and drivers for Learning Technology in Scottish Education 7th June 2016 #ALTC

Earlier this month I had the pleasure of speaking at ALT Scotland SIG about our plans at U of E to support a group of staff through Certified Membership of the Association of Learning Technologists (CMALT). This was hosted by Dundee and Angus College – which has recently opened the ‘Learning Lab’ – more about this later. The programme and videos of the event are now online.

It was a friendly meeting, small enough for some group-wide discussion and including opportunities to meet and talk to other participants. The programme offered an interesting range of presentations and it was great to hear about the projects going on in other institutions in Scotland. Here are a few of my highlights.

Scott Connor and Keith Smyth talking about becoming an etextbook publisher

I was interested to hear Scott Connor and Keith Smyth from University of the Highlands and Islands talking about the eTIPS project – sharing their experiences of becoming an etextbook publisher. The first publication is How to write a Research Dissertation by Keith Smyth and Frank Rennie (a Kindle book priced at a very reasonable £1.99). They are now working on a second Book titled “Undertaking your Research” – these are practical books aimed at getting students started, they chose to look for subjects with a broad reach rather than being discipline specific. Both books will also have companion websites.

They chose to distribute the book with Kindle which is free to use as a publisher but there were problems with integrating with Library System and this locked them in to Amazon as the only delivery route.

Scott and Keith are enthusiastic about the possibilities of this publishing route. They suggested it as a way of disseminating student research outputs as it’s quicker than traditional publishing routes. They also mentioned the implications for the academic as author – institutions less dependent on traditional forms of publishing. They saw possibilities of students as digital scholars – publishing the ‘best’ student work, they noted that the ‘best’ may not simply relate to high marks, but instead mean most relevant work in terms of impact beyond the University.

Gavin Boyd – App-Smashing – and mobile learning

Gavin Boyd from Edinburgh College showcased his inspiring use of mobile blended learning. He began by producing short teaching videos but found these were not being watched on Moodle. So he started using QR codes within learning materials so students could link from their smart phone at key moments in learning.

For example: Percentage increase (Singapore bar) Q & A By Gavin Boyd

These he created by “App-Smashing” – using multiple Apps to create one video. The tools used were:

  • Tellagami – to animate a video Avatar
  • Explain Everything – whiteboard on iPad – save to camera roll
  • YouTube – Splice two streams together

These have received a very good response and Gavin recently received a student nominated teaching award.

Visiting the Learning Lab

For our mid-afternoon break we were invited by Joy Howat to visit the Learning Lab in Dundee and Angus College.

LearningLab (3)
Touch me….I’m interactive. The Learning Lab at Dundee and Angus College photo by Susan Greig CC BY

This space opened last November and is stocked with new technology so staff can explore the possibilities of the up and coming technologies. The staff are not developers – so the focus is on looking at what is already available. The room is a flexible space, it contains all movable furniture so easy to reconfigure. The technology provided includes:

LearningLab (2)
The Learning Lab at Dundee and Angus College photo by Susan Greig CC BY
  • Virtual Reality headsets –  to explore existing apps such as Learn to cook or Public Speaking Simulator
  • 3D capture – which links to iPad for hand held scanning
  • 3D printing – from the 3D capture or from sources such as thingyverse
  • Drones – sports interested in Arial views also building surveying students – easy to access roofs
  • Pro-Bots – basic programming, Problem solving, Team building, Numeracy
LearningLab (4)
3D printed objects at the Learning Lab at Dundee and Angus College photo by Susan Greig CC BY

So far they have delivered 60 hours of introductory sessions. The Learning Lab can be booked to use as a learning space by staff and students. On the strength of trying the technology, some departments have gone on to purchase the technology they tried.

Learning Lab - 3D printing in progress photo by Susan Greig CC BY
Learning Lab – 3D printing in progress photo by Susan Greig CC BY

I was really lucky to get the opportunity to be 3D scanned during the session and to leave 15 minutes later with a perfect (tiny) 3D model of my head. I also tried the VR headsets, enjoying a vertiginous ride on a tiny roller coaster. I then tried my hand at programming the robot cars, and was pleased to see I had not forgotten basic geometry.

There was a real buzz after the hands on session and it gave everyone a boost of energy before we moved on to the final presentations of the afternoon.

The ALT Scotland SIG was an inspiring day out in Dundee, it was great to connect with colleagues from across Scotland, to explore technology and see how other Institutions are using and supporting it.

2016 Digital Day of Ideas (#DigScholEd) – Workshop – Make Your Own Chat Bot

A picture of a lego robot
Clockwork Robot by Adeel Zubair by Brickset CC BY 2.0

It was pleasure to spend an inspiring day at the University of Edinburgh on 18th May 16 for the fifth annual Digital Day of Ideas (#DigScholEd).

The day was gently paced, with three thoughtful keynote presentations from Karen Gregory, Lorna Hughes & Ted Underwood (videos are online) and ample breaks for refreshments and conversation.

In the afternoon I took part in a workshop to Make Your Own Chat Bot with Siân Bayne , Kathrin Haag and Stewart Cromar.

Sian started the session by giving an overview of ‘Twitter bots’ – programmes that produce automated posts on Twitter. She pointed us to some interesting examples:


Screen shot from the Dear Assistant Twitter Bot account
Screen shot from the Dear Assistant Twitter Bot account

DEAR Assistant – I am a Twitter bot and I’ll try to answer your questions just like Siri, Google Now or Cortana.

Screen Shot from the LA QuakeBot Twitter Bot
Screen Shot from the LA QuakeBot Twitter Bot account

LA QuakeBot – I am a robot that tells you about earthquakes in Los Angeles as they happen

Screen Shot from Restroom Genderator Twitter Bot account
Screen Shot from Restroom Genderator Twitter Bot account

Restroom Genderator – random restroom gender sign generator. extant (and not so extant) genders with random symbols.

Siân questioned the idea that teaching jobs will be taken over my robots, referring us to the Oxford Martin Project – and the ‘Will a robot take your job?’ tool. In the 2016 Manifesto for teaching online she and colleagues say “Automation need not impoverish education: we welcome our new robot colleagues.”

Siân then talked about the ‘teacherbot’ project, which the teaching team developed for E-Learning and Digital Cultures MOOC. The teaching team programmed the Teacherbot to respond to questions from students on this massive open online course. To do so the project developed a Graphical User Interface (GUI) for teachers with no code experience to use.

After this introduction we had some hands on experience – using PandoraBots (Information Services have a subscription) which uses AIML Artificial Intelligence Mark-up Language – it can be used with Twitter but could also be used in other platforms. The team talked us through setting up a PandoraBots playground creating a bot and adding and editing responses. At the end of the session these were uploaded into the Teacherbot test account so we could test them on Twitter. It was really satisfying to see how easily this can be achieved.

This has left me considering… How could we use this? Could we offer service support for learning technology services? Do staff and students want to find out their answers on Twitter? Would it be useful for promotion or engagement activities?

Is this fun or practical? Or maybe a bit of both?

If you are interested in finding out more, take a look at Teacherbot – A Twitterbot pilot service.

Elearning@ed 6th May 2016: Keynote – Dr Laura Gogia

Elearning@Ed has become a regular feature of the University of Edinburgh conference calendar – the first one was held back in 2003. I was really pleased to take part this year, to hear great speakers and to meet colleagues from across the University and to announce the CMALT staff development scheme – which I’m very excited to be part of.

Last Friday’s event offered a packed programme, my highlight was the keynote speaker Dr Laura Gogia MD, PhD, (@GoogleGuacamole), Research Fellow for the Division of Learning Innovation and Student Success at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), USA. VCU is a large urban research focused institution with 31,000 students.

She described how in 2014 her institution started to offer RamPages “VCU’s connected learning platform” – a publicly visible WordPress site. Students maintain their own webpages and blogs. A significant portion of coursework is via blogging. Blogs are aggregated on course site, so students can use external sites if they choose.

Gogia explained that this model of teaching supports student agency and discovery. Students can peer into worlds they wouldn’t normally see in a course based structure. It supports authentic learning products. It was very similar to the approach I experienced as a student on the IDEL course, and I was really excited to see this implemented across a whole institution. It’s fascinating looking at the range of work that is posted on RamPages.

#CuriousCoLab slide by Laura Gogia
#CuriousCoLab slide by Laura Gogia Image from @Rubyonwheels

Gogia also discussed encouraging students to go beyond text as part of the course “Collaborative Curiosity, Designing Community-Engaged Research” #CuriousCoLab. She described ‘Creative Makes’ which challenges students to find visual imagery for abstract concepts, for example “community” – this was supposed to be a 15 minute activity but the students really enjoyed it and spent way more time on it, shared their creations and used the activity to network with each other. She also advocated multimodal final projects (something else I experienced and really valued, as an MSc Digital Education student) – for example students creating websites rather than essays – this meant students could follow their own interests.

A Nordic smorgasbord Foto: Magnus Fröderberg/norden/org CC BY 2.5 DK
A Nordic smorgasbord Foto: Magnus Fröderberg/norden/org CC BY 2.5 DK

Gogia’s own research has been around digital annotations, additional digital information added by students, so in Twitter this might be Hyperlinks, mentions, hashtags or sharing images and video. She analysed these annotations as a possible indication of networks and is considering if these are indicative of pedagogic connections?

This was a rich and inspiring presentation from which I picked a few tasty morsels of inspiration to share with you in this post. As ever the elearning@ed conference was a smorgasbord of inspiration which I will be dining out on for some time.


Dr Laura Gogia has reflected on her keynote with this great blog post which offers a close transcript of the full presentation:

Behind the scenes at #OER16 Open Culture 19th & 20th April 2016

I’m writing a couple of weeks after I had the pleasure of attending the OER16: Open Culture conference.

OER16 Ice breaker postcards
OER16 Ice breaker postcards

This particular conference has been on my mind a great deal longer than most as I volunteered to take part on the conference committee back in August 2015. When I found out that this was to be hosted by the University of Edinburgh in 2016 and chaired by two senior colleagues Melissa Highton and Lorna Campbell, it seemed like a great opportunity to get involved. There are already some excellent blog posts written about the conference itself and I’ve added a few links at the bottom – in this post I want to give a view from ‘behind the scenes’ reflecting on my experience in the committee.

What did being on the conference committee entail?

I joined monthly virtual meetings in Collaborate – and ‘met’ others on the programme committee. I didn’t get very involved in the early discussions but observing kept me thinking about the event in the buildup. It allowed me to see how a large event is brought together and the different stages that need to happen.

One of the ongoing activities of OER16 was to promote the conference at key stages such as the call for submissions and when booking opened. I started tweeting about OER16 early on and ended up tweeting far more than is usual for me, I don’t think I was alone, by the end of the conference there were over 7,700 #OER16 tweets and it added a real buzz to the event to know that we were trending on Twitter.

My OER16 started at the beginning of the year when I reviewed submissions. Then as the conference neared and local knowledge became helpful I joined the site visit to the conference venue – considering logistics of room layouts and how this impacted ultimately on the programme. This turned out to be very helpful on the first day of the conference when I could not only find my way about but also provide directions!

The scale of the conference became apparent on the first day, Lorna Campbell gave the following stats in her opening speech:

OER16: The Numbers from a presentation by Lorna Campbell
OER16: The Numbers from OER16 Welcome presentation by Lorna Campbell

It was great to see all those months of planning come together. This conference is supported by the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) and I was able to learn a great deal from watching the experienced planning and organisational skills of Anna Davidge, Martin Hawksey & Mareen Deepwell in action.

I volunteered to take part in the social programme – making ice breaker postcards to hand out at the gala dinner on the first day. I’d had fun selecting images for these from the University of Edinburgh Centre for Research Collections (a great suggestion from Stuart Nicol) all of which have creative commons license. My colleague Charlie Farley very kindly did a fantastic job of getting these ready to print.

We handed out 4 copies of each of the 40 images and encouraged delegates to find the people with the matching cards. It was a nice way to encourage mingling and, I hope, give a nice memento. I was pleased to sees people matching their cards at the time and later on social media.

matching cards! Sava & Dan by Catherine Cronin CC BY-SA 2.0

Another aspect of the social programme was an activity in Actionbound organized by Simon Thomson which was great fun and even inspired colleagues and I to write poetry.

My chairing tool - the programme app and time warning cards
My chairing tools – the programme app and time warning cards

I chaired a couple of sessions – assisted by clear guidelines and  some great tips from Lorna Campbell. I made good use of the very handy time warning cards provided! It was hard not to get distracted by the fascinating presentations and to keep my eye on the clock.

I have to admit that I’d not been to a previous OER conference (despite this being its seventh year) – I found it a very friendly conference which was very open to participation. I shouldn’t have been surprised by the level of participation as collaboration is very important to the open educational resources community – they are do-ers. At the end of the conference Lorna Campbell thanked everyone involved and it was fantastic to see just how many people had been involved. This conference drew together a creative bunch of people who share both their enthusiasm for openness and shared their resources and I really enjoyed being able to contribute to and attend the conference. It was an inspiring couple of days.

Next year’s conference OER17: The Politics of open – will be chaired by Josie Fraser and Alek Tarkowski (date and venue still to be announced).

If my post has inspired you, you can get involved in OER17 by joining the conference committee.

If you didn’t get a chance to go to OER16, don’t feel you’ve missed out, there are many great resources available for you to catch up with.

Recordings of the keynotes are available on the OER16 Conference website.

Radio Edutalk were there and captured several interesting conversation.

Maren Deepwell #OER16: Empowered Openness:

Martin Hawksey, Open isn’t free: What are the costs


Adventures in IDEL

A picture of my Second Life Avatar (a wolf) admiring the work of Jilla Lamar in Second Life
Sunday afternoon at the Art Gallery – My Avatar admiring the work of Jilla Lamar in Second Life

Last year I had the privilege of being a student on the Introduction to Digital Environments for Learning (IDEL) course which is the foundation course for the MSC in Digital Education. This was funded by a the Institute for Academic Development (IAD) who as part of their support for the Online Distance Learning (ODL) community offer bursaries to staff who are working on or considering developing an ODL programme.

I work as a Learning Technology Advisor in the Educational Design and Engagement team within Learning Teaching & Web Services (part of Information Services). I applied for the bursary as I am increasingly supporting staff working on fully distance online programmes and as the number of ODL programmes increase this is becoming a bigger part of my job. For example as service lead on QuestionMark Perception assessment system I support several ODL programmes in the creation and delivery of assessments.

What did I get from taking part in IDEL?

It was really interesting to get a student’s perspective on the institution I work for. I expected to get this by being a participant, and to an extent I did, but the most interesting insights came from getting to know the other students on the course. Despite it being fully online I had plenty of opportunities to talk with other students through online tutorials, in Skype, Collaborate and Second Life and also from the discussion forums in Moodle.

A photograph of My collection of IDEL readings
My collection of IDEL readings

Each week we were given a range of readings, some core and also recommendations for further reading, a proportion of these were in alternative formats like videos, but the majority are journal articles. Not only did it make an impressive pile by the end, but also allowed me to explore the technology around reading. I had a go with Mendeley (reference manager and PDF organizer) and tried reading and marking up text electronically, After that experiment I quickly opted for printing out documents on paper – I have to admit that having access to a laser printer did help! Before finally considering screen reading software (TextHelp Read and Write 10 – for which the University has a site licence), as it turned out from a tutorial discussion several other students did their reading this way. Studying for IDEL was a great way to make the space and time to read and I enjoyed some thought provoking articles regardless of how I read them.

IDEL activities offer its students opportunities to use a wide range of tools, thanks to this I was able to re-evaluate applications I thought I already knew such as Twitter and Second Life and also to explore/play with new tools such as Powtoon Cartoon creator and thinglink to make interactive images.

A screen shot of the themes  from my blog posts over the IDEL course
Themes that emerged from my blog posts over the IDEL course – appearing a Word Press Widget

One of the course requirements was regular blogging. I really enjoyed the reflective space of the blog and the encouragement to share my written reflection frequently, which was helped by the frequent feedback I received.  We used WordPress and I like the fact that I was building up confidence in an openly available tool which I can continue to use for work or private projects in future.

The blog activity formed 60% of the assessment and the other 40% was a piece of work on a subject you selected, related to one (or more) of the course themes. I chose to create an Open Education Resource (OER) about OERS in HE – using the free website building tool Weebly. Completing it was hard, with the hand in date is just after the Christmas break, but-all-in-all a really useful experience. Choosing to create something ‘publicly viewable’ really did focus my mind and I think made me work harder!

Would I recommend IDEL to other Learning Technologists?

Absolutely. It’s a fantastic introduction to the possibilities of online education and the IAD bursary offers a great opportunity to take part in a highly regarded online master’s programme.

And if you do enjoy your IDEL experience, you can apply for a further bursary for a 20-credit course, which means you can leave with a PG Cert in Digital Education which is a great addition to your CV.


IAD – Online distance learning Community (Bursary details on this page)

Introduction to Digital Environments for Learning (IDEL)

IAD Case Studies: IAD Bursaries