All Change

So, after what seems and is a break from blogging in my own space, I’ve decided to start this back up again. Partially, it’s because I’ve made a significant change in my life, namely I’ve changed jobs, leaving NTU after almost 12 years and partially because several things have come together leading me to reflect further on how I want to move forward with my presence online.

I still have my professional identity but I’m currently reflecting on using this as more of a personal space as opposed to a professional one. However, due to the nature of my role, it’s inevitable that the two are interlinked, and while this will always be a space for my personal reflections, broader observations related to my role will no doubt be apparent.

So, this week has been about change, change in role, change in employer, change in routine and change in perspective.

For example, my perspective at the moment is one of a new starter, feeling their way around a new organisation and it’s particular landscape. It’s never a bad place to be. A different perspective allows us to see familiar territory in a new light, look anew at something we thought we understood and to see it afresh through a different lens. A chance with the change to make new or different connections.

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Leading the way for all? Thoughts on ALT-C 2014

Photo of Club BiscuitsSo my visit ALT-C was slightly shorter this year. Bringing the conference forward clashed with a significant milestone in our house so while enjoyable I needed to leave after two days. I felt quite positive about ALT-C in terms of the programme. The quality of the presentations was good and while, as always, there is never enough time for debate, there was a good atmosphere. There were some interesting discussions and clearly some concerns about impacts of certain policy decisions.

For me, I came away with two clear messages. We need to continue to invest in staff and ensure that they have the tools at their disposal to help with using technology in their learning and teaching. And secondly, support those who would lead, not necessarily in terms of being experts in TEL, but from module leaders through to senior management, we need to be thinking about enabling those leaders to navigate the myriad of issues that you face when looking to do something innovative or just different. Simon Kear put it quite succinctly in his discussion looking at electronic management assessment at Goldsmith’s. Whether staff like it or not, the eAssessment wall is coming and if they’re not prepared it’s going to hit them smack on. Rather robust but a fair assessment of what will be here in the next five years.

If there was a scenario where leadership and staff skills were going to needed to be at the forefront, it was Jeff Haywood’s opening keynote where he announced Edinburgh’s ambitious plans to have a core unit/module in every course fully online by 2020. Such a plan will mean a significant investment in staff and a radical overhaul of curriculum for some. On the plus side, timetabling might be a little easier and with the cap coming off student numbers in a short time, Edinburgh’s decision to go fully online may also be born out of a projected necessity. How those leaders choose to move forward with those plans interests me and Catherine Cronin gave an inspirational keynote on Tuesday about one way in which to tackle that with her engaging talk about openness and our perceptions on what it means to be open.

This particular keynote struck a chord with me, as it appeared to do with many in the lecture hall. Catherine asked some challenging questions for us as educators about how open we are with our students and how being open addresses thepower dynamics between educator and student. I’m interested in what it may mean for our leaders. The panel discussion on TEL leadership across the globe focused on the differences in leadership in different localities and the need for succession planning. There was less discussion on management style and ways leaders, at any level in an organisation, leading on TEL might be able to influence and impact on policies. Nor on enabling strategies to tackle our ongoing challenge of moving on from pockets of innovation to TEL being adopted at scale.

Finally, but certainly by no means least, this year the biennial UCISA TEL Survey report was published in time for ALT-C. My colleague, Richard Walker gave a quick overview of the report but 20 mins is no time to go over it in detail. A far more lively, and distinctly noisy discussion happened between the M25 and East Midlands Learning Technologists Groups where Julie Voce provided some comparative data. There were some clear and surprising differences between the groups not necessarily answered by looking at the demographic of the institutions represented. For example, there was a significant difference between the M25 and EMLT region when it came to ranking TEL Barriers. Interestingly, Lack of Incentives and Lack of  academic staff commitment was ranked a high barrier for the M25 region but for the East Midlands it was much less so. Why would this be the case? I don’t have the answer but when the M25 LT group noted that the East Midlands group always have cakes or biscuits at their meetings, it was suggested that that in itself might be part of the answer. I’ll leave you to come to you own conclusions on that one.

So overall, a short but targeted ALT-C this year. Warwick University is a lovely campus but it was hard to get to and perhaps the conference venue wasn’t the best. Certainly the timing for the conference was a challenge this year being a week earlier. Next year it’s back in it’s usual time slot and back in Manchester. I might be able to join for the whole shebang next year.

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Re-invigorating Bluetree blog

So, it’s been a while since I’ve posted here and those that I have posted have been a little irregular. Part of the reason is that I’m heavily involved with the Changing the Learning Landscape programme, which is great and a fantastic experience but I’d like to capture some of my personal reflections on that.
In addition, I’ve been helping build up the Digital Practice team blog which is starting to develop a really good set of resources and information.
I’ve been blogging on and off for a substantive amount of time- initially starting out as a contributer to the Auricle blog as part of the eLearning team at the University of Bath.
But as a leader of my own team, wanting to encourage the sharing and reflection of our team experiences I really need to be more proactive in this myself.
So what am I doing to see if this can achieved? I’m going to take part in DailyPost’s ZerotoHero project over at Let’s see how it goes.

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Digital Practice at NTU

So this afternoon I gave a presentation on the work we’ve been doing around Digital Practice Framework to help the Digital Practice team conceptualise the staff development activities that we should be developing.
Our concept of Digital Practice draws heavily on the ideas and concepts of digital literacy.  We have outlined our principles and current services here. However, we support a broad range of staff from those who are involved in learning and teaching to our school based admin staff and those who lead and manage at NTU. So our choice of ‘practice’ versus ‘literacy’ was a deliberate one to make what we are trying to achieve accessible to a broad range of staff learners.
Our framework draws heavily of the ‘Framework for developing digitally literate learners’ presented at ALT-C, 2009 by Sharpe, Beetham and McGill. We’ve interpreted this framework very much from a practitioner’s perspective and asked ourselves what are some of the relevant staff development activities and methodologies that are appropriate to where someone is on that framework.

Digital Practice Framework

There’s a brief guide to using the framework that’s available via the Sharing Beyond NTU open repository:

The presentation is also available via the repository:

One of the interesting questions that came up at this afternoon’s session, was individual’s response to locating themselves on the framework. While, we’ve identified the benefit of using the framework to analyse the support for digital literacy across our Professional Services at an institutional level and with our own provision, we’ve not currently considered using it on an individual basis. So an avenue for some future exploration.

I’d be interested to hear if anyone finds the framework useful in their own work.

We’re starting up a Digital Practice Blog as part of a pilot at NTU so you can also find a replica of this post over at:

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Changing the Learning Landscape

Yesterday I attended one of the Changing the Learning Landscape events promoted by the HEA on Influencing strategy and change processes to enable the embedding of digital literacies, hosted at  University of Leeds. As we’re starting out on our own small Changing the Learning Landscape project, this was a really opportune event to attend as we start put the flesh on the bones of our proposal, working with Myles Danson from JISC.
I certainly came away with plenty of food for thought in terms of some examples of how Digital literacy has been taken forward at different institutions, see for example the Digitalis project and Leeds Met Student Union working with the Head of eLearning to explore the use of Google Nexus tablets with staff and students on a non-techie course.
Some of the discussions sessions led by Lawie Phipps from JISC around student engagement and some of the tools and models introduced will be of help with the project team discussions with Myles as we take our own CLL project forward.

Equally useful were the sessions from Elizabeth Cleaver, University of Hull and Susannah Quinsee, City University around strategy and change processes; getting us to think about the levels through the organisation that we need to deal with and a thought provoking look at change management with HE institutions and how flexible those processes really need to be.  Sometimes a challenge in an institution as large as NTU.

Overall a really useful and constructive event.

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‘Til next time we meet, UKOLN.

This views expressed in this post are my own and do not represent in any way the views of my employer.
It was with sadness that I read Brian Kelly’s blog post yesterday about the demise in all but name of UKOLN. As a former member of the eLearning team at the University of Bath I know some of the people involved personally, so this post not only expresses my feelings about the lost of a great service in UKOLN but about the impact of this decision on those individuals. Sadly, it is via changes (which may be perceived as small in the bigger scheme of things, not small to those involved) that we are seeing the HE sector inexorably changed, similar to what is happening in the NHS. When the rich experience of the individuals involved is lost, history has shown us that it takes far longer than anticipated to build up that experience again.

To all those all involved I just wanted to say; I know you’re probably feeling a range of emotions rights now. Anger, fear, frustration, disbelief (that curve Brian, is reasonably accurate) but take heart from someone who’s been through some similar experiences. Hold your heads high, have a look at some of the comments on Brian’s blog post (print it out so you’ve got a copy). You should all be incredibly proud of the achievements that you have collectively produced as UKOLN. I know that being proud only goes so far when you’re worrying about the mortgage and bills and I don’t have a crystal ball to say everything is going to be fine. But you are all talented individuals and there is a path out there for you. Sometimes it takes a while to notice where it is and sometimes you don’t realise you been on it for a while til you take time to look back.

And Brian -the other end of a dynamic corridor! I wish you well and wanted to say it was great working with you, exchanging ideas, showing off new techie gadgets and to chat about folkie related things. Again, take heart from all those comments on your post. And when your head’s recovered from the beer and clubbing know that there is a substantive part of the HE sector that has valued your contribution and your thoughtful, informative, considered posts. I have never known a time when I mention at a conference having worked with you, someone else in the room pipes up, ‘Oh, yes I know Brian Kelly!’. There is a message in that for you!

So, good luck to all those UKOLN who have been affected by this, we thank you for the richness, professionalism, energy  you have brought to the sector. It really will be poorer without you and all the very best wishes for whatever the future holds for you.

And to JISC, – really what were you thinking!

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eLearning Showcase at NTU

Back at the end of March I was lucky enough to chair one of the sessions at NTU’s eLearning showcase. The session I covered looked at two different areas. Jane Challinor presented on ‘Adventures wtih students on the world wide web: eLearning tools beyond the VLE’ and Maria Kontogianni presented ‘On Using twitter for learning’.

Both presentations were enjoyable and gave staff some key insights into using different technologies for enhancing learning and teaching.

Jane’s presentation looked at introducing students to working online collaboratively using wiki’s to help them analyse the leadership skills of film or TV characters and to prepare a final online presentation. To help her build student’s confidence in the activity that she set, Jane based the activity around Gilly Salmon’s 5 stage model for developing e-tivities (see explaining what she did to support students at each stage of the process.  Her evaluation found that student’s confidence in using web based tools for learning had grown by the end of the activity including an better understanding of using blogs for reflection purposes. Jane’s presentation can be found on slideshare at Beyond the VLE.

Maria’s presentation looked how she used Twitter with Psychology  students to engage in fortnightly debating sessions. Students were given clear instructions about how to setup their twitter accounts and then Maria would email them topic materials. The twitter debate is timetabled as student are expected to join the debate wherever they are physically.

Maria evaluated the student’s experiences of contributing to a twitter debate compared to face to face interaction within the group and the general trend was that student felt more able to contribute and found it more enjoyable with perhaps the most startling jump in the amount of pre-reading students did before the debates.  If you’re interested in more details about Maria’s work in this area you can find more at her blog.

Both presentations were really good examples of the use of technologies other than Virtual Learning Environments such as NOW, NTU’s VLE.

What was also interesting was to see how students engagement with the online activities really developed and took off as they got more involved with the activity with the technology employed really taking second place to the task at hand.

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Quick Test of Google Drive

So with announcement of Google Drive out this week, I wandered over and pretty quickly got my account set-up.
As usual with Google this was a quick and painless process and while there are some differences with the present display of Google docs they’re not that different to be disorientating.

Because one of the benefits of enabling Google Drive has been the ability to sync with my various devices, I downloaded the PC app. Here I learnt a valuable lesson in my organisation (or lack thereof) of my Google doc account.

I’ve had an Google doc account from the days when it was originally Writely (yes, been mucking around for that long) but while collections have been around for sometime, I hadn’t done as much housekeeping as perhaps I should have done.

The nice thing about Google drive is that, if you choose Advanced set-up,  you can choose the collections which you wish to sync but it also syncs everything that you’ve got at the top level and not organised into collections. My google accounts mixes work and home stuff, so a quick pause of the sync process was necessary while I did some of that housekeeping that I’d been neglecting – including those original docs I wrote to test Writely!

With everything now properly organised I could confidently just select the relevant collections that I wanted to sync with my PC. In this case, it was my work collection. I find using Google docs for collaborative work with my colleagues really handy but am conscious that this work belongs to my employer and that they would rightfully be  worried if they couldn’t have access to it. Google drive creates a folder in the My Documents area and presents the collections as folders.  Inside the folders are, in effect, links to the Google docs I have in my Google Docs account. Double clicking on a relevant doc opened it directly in Chrome.

A quick trial of downloading a google doc didn’t download it directly into the relevant Google Drive folder on my PC. This might be a nice enhancement for future.

To help with working offline you need to follow the instructions at:

This involves enabling Offline Docs (Beta of course) and ensuring you have Chrome installed as well Chrome Docs web app. This allows you to view your sync’d docs with offline in Chrome though you can’t edit Google docs only words, pdf docs that you have uploaded.

In terms of allowing offline access to the relevant docs for my institution I did a quick check of un-installing the PC app to see what happens, i.e. should I ever leave the institution and not want to potentially leave access to all my Google docs. The app uninstalls without any prompt about the implications for your documents. It also required me to close Chrome and Outlook.

Once uninstalled the Google drive folder remains with lost links to my google docs and not surprisingly the offline mode will only work with the PC Google drive app installed.

I like Google drive. Personally, I find the presentation online slightly neater than the standard Google docs view. Tying up the download of a Google doc to a sync’d drive would be really useful, as at present this would be the only way to ensure a local copy for my employer is available other passing ownership to another member of staff.

With 5GB to play around with that’s plenty for the time being. Privacy and cloud service issues aside, this gives me a quick easy and efficient way to get at my docs online and offline. Better local back-up options for docs generated in the cloud (to cover some of those privacy issues and loss of service issues) would be great long term but as this is still a very early beta product for Google, I look forward to seeing what comes later.

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JISC Online Conference Day 1 – Part 2

There were several other presentations throughout the rest of the day.

Bill Rammell keynote: Tensions in collaboration in a changing landscape outlined the current position that the HE sector found itself in in relation to the Higher Education white paper.  Some of the key challenges outlined were

  • Pressure on budgets
  • Greater competition
  • Students expectations
  • Contestability

which are probably the things every university senior management team are exercising their minds over.  Bill discussed the current challenge of encouraging students to consider going to university despite the new fees system (see Plymouth’s promotional video )

In looking at the challenges facing HEI’s, Bill argued that there will still be a need for collaboration within the HE sector. I would concur but would argue that as status/brand is one of the key marketing points of institutions, the decsion about who to collaborate with will be more carefully debated.

Bill then went onto to look at digital literacy strategies and it was interesting when polled, that most participants didn’t know whether there was a strategy or not and, of those that did, the majority stated that their institutions didn’t have a strategy.

Bill’s conclusion to the challenges ahead for HE was that rather than consider students as consumers we need to treat them as partners (Certainly some of the later presentations by Uni of Exeter showed some good example of this in practice). I’m certainly happy to look at how, with a student-centred approach, we can enable this partnership and try and avoid the consumerist approach to education. I’m not convinced that these students’ parents, trying to fund the rest of their offspring’s higher education, will be so willing to take a partnership approach.

Following from Bill keynote, giving a bit more inspiration that staying in HE is worthwhile, was the presentation from University of Winchester and Bath Spa on ‘An evidence-based model to enhance programme-wide assessment using technology’ featuring the work of the TESTA project and the FASTECH project.

The projects highlighted case studies where the teams had gone in and look closely at why assessment practices within the programmes weren’t working as well as they should. The presenters described some scenarios where contrary to expectations students efforts with assessments was patchy. In this particular instance it was due to the bunching of summative assessments across the modules of the programme.

In another example, it was due to the feedback being given back to students 4 weeks after the assessment leading to it being too late for to be of any use for students and a wasted effort for staff.

There was some interesting discussion going on in this talk and it was interesting to hear some of the key elements regarding the principles of assessment being discussed in very practical terms, such as

  • A variety of assessments can be a bad thing if not sequenced properly
  • Tacit standards for feedback can be unhelpful for students
  • Need to be aware of technologies being used in module silos rather than across programmes
  • A lack of feed forward in assessment
  • Staff need to understand what feedback is as well as students.

Coupled with this were discussions regarding students recognition and use of feedback when given and consideration of how institutional practices can make it difficult in terms of providing feedback. There was a lot of discussion in the chat regarding external examiners and their acceptance of audio or video feedback.

A key question that came out of this discussion was ‘if we know from the evidence that feedback works really well in aiding learning, why as a sector are we still not getting it to work?’

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JISC Online Conference – Day 1 Part 1

This is the first time I’ve participated in the Jisc Online Conference so I was really interested in how the format worked.  It’s great to have the flexibility to dip in and out as necessary but on the other you need to get the balance right between focussing on the conference and the day job to allow enough focus on the conference and the topics.

The first day started with a cracking discussion with Lord (David) Puttnam who was very relaxed and open about he was learning to use the webinar technology. It was a wide ranging discussion but there was some key themes around what would be included in a ‘Digital pedgagogy’.

I’ll discuss the key themes shortly but from a personal perspective David’s talk was very much a plea for some strong political leadership in the area of education with a salient warning that our society risks getting stuck behind the emerging markets such as China if we do not seriously think about how much as a society we should be investing in ICT throughout all areas of the education sector.

There was a strong call to invest more in teacher training at all levels of the sector to ensure that our staff are properly skilled and immerse teachings in a learning experience where technology is used appropriately and creatively.

One of the interesting points that David Puttnam (as a ex film producer) would like is to turn lecture halls into copyright free zones. Educators are cautious of doing the types of mashups with audio and video that their students, less worried about the implications of copyright infringement, are doing at home anyway. The trade off, according to David, would be that the education sector would take on the responsibility to educate our students about copyright.

David also talked about what technologies would be important in the future and here he cited the main streaming of voice recognition and the associate skills of oracy and organising your thinking that would become critical for students and staff in the future.

David left the conference with three themes to think about:

  • How can we use technologies creatively?
  • That oracy and and organising your thinking are going to be critical skills
  • And that this is possibility at a ‘Gettysburg address moment for education’ (referencing Cathy N Davidson’s blog post about the protests at UC Davies)

In summary this was almost a call to arms for the education sector to be much more proactive in looking at it’s impact on society : “education must be a compelling experience for all students and we need to demand the resources we need to be able to do this”.


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