Open, agile, fun collaboration #BYODL and #GCUGamesOn creative challenge

One of the great things about working openly is that is leads to all sorts of serendipitous collaborative opportunities. Last week we had a lovely example of that when we were able share a joint creative twitter challenge between our online event #GCUGamesOn and the latest iteration of #BYOD4L.

Friday was the final day of #BYOD4L and the focus of the day was on creating.  We thought it would be fun to get participants to share a sporty/keep fit photo and provide a way to be creative and have some Friday fun. As both our online events are very flexible it really only took a quick skype call to add this activity to both.

Sue has collated the responses in to this storify.

The #BYOD4l & #GCUGamesOn Creative Challenge Storify

The #BYOD4l & #GCUGamesOn Creative Challenge Storify

ALT Learning Technologist of the Year: I’ve looked at things from both sides now.

I have written a short piece for ALT’s online newsletter about my experiences on both sides of their Learning Technologist of the Year award. The full article is available here. And here is a version of it, with a photo that somehow got missed out in the article.

One of the highlights of last year for me was winning ALT’s individual Learning Technologist of the Year Award. As a winner I’ve also been part of the judging panel for this year’s awards. In this post I’m going to try and share some of my thoughts from both sides of the competition fence.

Martin Weller has recently written a blog post about awards in which he captures how many, myself included, feel about awards: 

“I’ve never been one for awards really. My view has been that the people who get them tend to be the people who least deserve them, often because the people who deserve them are too busy doing the actual stuff to bother chasing awards” 

But as Martin acknowledges, after winning an award things do change. He then goes on to highlights some of the benefits of winning awards.

“1)They act as a shortcut – instead of explaining why something/someone is doing a good job you can just say ‘award-winning’. 

2) It helps – we have researchers on the project and this may help get further funding to keep them, or enable them to get other jobs. Being sniffy about awards seems churlish then.

3) It felt nice – it’s not all about the altruism I’ll admit, it felt kinda nice to be given an award, even if I couldn’t be there to collect it.”

Never having really won anything in my life, I was totally thrilled to win the ALT award. Not least due to the fact that it was recognition from my peers. The timing was almost perfect for me too as it coincided with a major change in my career. It was a really lovely bookend to my time working at Cetis. It also helped when I was starting in my new job as it was something quite impressive to put in my staff bio. I now also have something in the awards section in LinkedIn, which previously I never really understood the point of :-)  

Winning is one thing, but as they say, “you’ve go to be in it to win it”.  Entering competitions is daunting and time consuming. One of the reasons I really enjoy working in the learning technology community is the lovely people in it. Those I most admire tend to be the most modest about their achievements and contributions. However this is not a good thing when it comes to entering the ALT Learning Technologist of the Year Award.  This is where you really need to forget modesty and take the opportunity to share and celebrate your achievements. At this point I should need to confess that I didn’t actually write my own entry. My colleagues Lorna Campbell and Christina Smart conspired, took the time to fill out the form, and then told me when they had sent off the entry form. That gesture in itself meant a huge amount to me too. 

Being part of this year’s judging panel has given me another perspective on the awards and the selection process.  After an initial sifting to ensure entries meet all the entry requirements, the completed written entries are judged using a relatively simple but clear marking process. The top scoring entries from that process are then invited to an interview, where they are asked to do a short presentation and then answer some set questions, which are again scored by all the judges. Once all the shortlisted entries have been seen, the decisions are made about the winners.  

After a very long but very enjoyable day going through this process recently I have some tips for those of you who maybe think about entering but never get round to it.

  • Don’t just think about it, enter the competition.
  • Do think about entering a colleague(s) (with or without telling them)
  • Don’t leave it till the closing date to write your entry.
  • Don’t assume that judges will understand your context, explain with specific, easily understood examples and evidence what you have done/ are doing. Highlight student /staff engagement and feedback. 
  • Don’t be modest.  If you are selected for an interview you have already proved that you are doing outstanding work, so take the opportunity to celebrate it, yourself and your contribution to the community.
  • Do be incredibly proud of being shortlisted – the competition is tough, particularly this year.

You never know, you too could have blue paper signs left in your wake! 

My Blue  (Paper) Plaque

Picture of my blue plaque










See also a recent blog post by ALT President (Claire Donlan): ‘ALT Learning Technologist of the Year Awards – interviews and judging

Where Sheila’s been this week: APT Conference, University of Greenwich #uogapt

I’ve been quite busy over the last few weeks, but I did manage to get back to the day job earlier this week and attend the  APT Conference at the University of Greenwich. There was a really great programme and I found every session I went to really informative. Unlike keynote speaker Stephen Downes, I don’t record every presentation I do, and despite his best efforts to convince us all to do so, I’m not going to start anytime soon. However,  I do try and reflect on every conference presentation I make, and every event I go to, and at the very least share my slides openly.

The theme of the conference was Connected Learning in an Open World, and Stephen got the day off to a great start with his keynote, where he challenged the traditional role of HE institutions, the cost of education, how current business drivers /models are trying their best to make us pay for open.  This is my sketchnote of the talk. As ever a larger, CC version is available by clicking on the image.


#uogapt 2014

visual notes from Stephen Downes Keynote,











My colleague Evelyn McElhinney and I presented our work on mapping student’s online residency.  Since my last post we have conducted another workshop and some more issues, particularly around the use of online spaces are emerging.  As we work with students getting them to map their use of online spaces, it is becoming apparent that there is currently a lack of useful utility type services in terms in access to our educational spaces compared with other “real life” utility type services.  This is raising questions for us in terms of thinking about what kinds of services we need to develop. We need to make sure access to what Mark Stubbs calls the “hygiene  factors” i.e. timetables, reading lists and our course material is easy, but that the learning activities themselves are still challenging. I’ll elaborate more on this in another post

Space and place was something that came up in the final panel session, which I was roped into. I firmly believe that traditional campus based institutions do have a future. People want to go to University, there is more to the HE experience, and indeed any kind of learning than content and courses.  Successful interactions (and not just educational ones) require confidence and social skills. In an online context these are even more crucial.  As anyone who has been on any kind of online course, never mind a massive one, online education can be a lonely experience.

I had to leave the panel a bit early to catch my flight home, and of course it was just as things were starting to get interesting. One particular set of questions from the floor centred on the perceived “best of breed” approach of the Oxbridge tutorial system. We can’t replicate that everywhere, and like many I don’t think we should be. I’m not sure if that type of experience really does much more than continue the power of the old boy network, which given the current state of the world isn’t doing that well unless you are part of that club or rich enough not to need to care.  Along with everyone else who went to the session on Digital Dissidence and CVs (creative visionary spaces), I was really impressed by Anthea, a recent Greenwich graduate, as she showed us via music, video and images how she had been encouraged to express her professional knowledge and herself in a truly multimedia and meaningful way.  Mark Webb’s innovative program exploring cultural diversity in relating to professional development is something I can see working in so many contexts, but I doubt that there would be such richness in an Oxbridge class, and it is more the poorer for that.

Thanks to everyone involved in organising the conference and to all the presenters.  I really hope I can get back to Greenwich for next’s years conference.

Here are the slides from our presentation.

GCU Games On – open and online, and not an “M” word in sight

A couple of years ago at a Cetis Conference Professor Patrick McAndrew said that perhaps we needed to concentrate more on the open and online and less on massive and courses. Wise man, that Patrick. That notion has stayed with me and today I am very excited as we are doing exactly that.

Over the last month (yes that’s right, 1 month) we have developed an open, online event around the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games called GCU Games On. Let me be very clear, this is not a course and most definitely not a MOOC. Rather it is about bringing people together to in an open online event to celebrate, explore and share experiences during the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games. Many of our students and staff are (and have been) involved in various aspects of the development of the Games, and will be very active over the Games themselves. Instead of just creating something for our GCU community we thought why not open it out to anyone and everyone who is interested?

So we have developed a 3 week event, which will hopefully provide a fun way of bringing people together share their experiences during Glasgow 2014,  enable participants to experience a little bit of online learning. Each week we have a number of simple activities including a digital wishing trees. And because it was just too good an opportunity to miss we’re also doing the badge thang and giving people the opportunity to win bronze, silver and gold digital medals (aka badges).

In some ways we have broken every rule in the design book. We have developed (and are still developing) this in a very short timescale, at a time when most of our University colleagues with specialist knowledge have been on leave; we haven’t got a target learner in mind; we’re taking a very broad brush let’s just try and get some participation approach; we’re in the middle of our VLE upgrade; and oh yes, I forgot to mention we’re using Blackboard’s new open education platform which will be officially launched in on July 16th at BbWorld. It has quite possibly been the most exhilarating and scary thing that I and my colleagues Jim and Linda have ever done. But it has also been really good fun.

Until last week we really just thought it might be a proof of concept project which would have been really useful in itself. The colleagues we have been working with have reacted really positively and we couldn’t have got to this stage without them.  We’ve also had great support from Blackboard. We couldn’t even have thought about doing this without the knowledge that we had an open platform that we could use. Originally we were planning to use Course Sites.

In many ways this is an experiment for us. We aren’t ready to develop one of those “m” things. But this model of very agile, light touch activities, tapping into social media around a major event could possibly be more useful for us.  Our event starts next Wednesday, 16th July but you can enroll here from today.

As ever I will be sharing our experiences on the blog, but I would love it, dear reader, if you would sign up and join us for #GCUGamesOn too.

Here’s our teaser video (no Professor videos in our event!)


Where Sheila’s been this week – Engaging with learning analytics and Blackboard

Another week, another workshop on learning analytics. This time hosted by Blackboard, in the University of Salford’s rather fabulously shiny MediaCity building in Manchester.

As GCU is a Bb customer we are obvioulsy exploring the Blackboard Analytics solution, however yesterday wasn’t just a sales pitch, a large part of the day was given over to discussion and finding out what “our” priorities are. It isn’t lost on Bb colleagues that many of their case studies are from North America, so although of interest are very skewed the priorities of the educational system there.

Retention is of course high on everyone’s list, but I’m more interested in seeing how, and if, learning analytics can help make improvements in the wider student experience.  We seem to be obsessed with the bottom 20% and top 5% (Nb these are just made up numbers) but what about the forgotten middle who make up the majority of our student population? Improving their educational experience is probably more important isn’t it? Aren’t they the ones who are the key to getting all our NSS scores up?

Although many people are interested in learning analytics, getting started is quite difficult. Not least because it’s difficult to know where to start. Last week at #cetis14, we were looking at creating an institutional learning analytics policy, and I think everyone there agreed that senior management support was vital. In some ways, yesterday was more about bottom up approaches /needs, but again senior management buy-in was identified as key for any developments.However, it is crucial that everyone, including senior management, do understand the implications of taking a more data driven approach. Developing data literacy has to be part and parcel of any learning analytics work

During our discussions, the notion of “academic embarrassment” came up as a possible barrier to adoption. This was said in the context of sometimes work/projects being blocked because someone (perhaps quite senior) doesn’t understand the full implications of that piece of work, and often doesn’t (a) admit that they don’t know what everyone else is talking about , and/or (b) take/ or have the time to find out. This little doodle of mine seem to strike a chord with a few folk on twitter.


The Blackboard product does offer a lot, but of course at a price. But any serious work on analytics will have time and cost implications.  Identifying and selling those internally is the tough bit for many of us. The Bb product (and indeed, any analytics product/package) is just part of the overall solution.  However as I’m discovering just starting the conversations with some key stakeholders such as Information Services is a great way of starting new collaborations.


What Sheila’s seen this week: celebrating learning and teaching, #cetis14 , and the need for handwriting

It’s been a busy old week this week with some very contrasting experiences and perspectives on Higher Education.  I’ve already written about #cetis14, and I’m still catching up with other blog posts, tweets etc about it. Marieke Guy has written an excellent post summarizing both days.  I’ve already posted some of my thoughts from the first day.  In between  #cetis14, I attended a couple of school based learning and teaching events here at GCU.  These annual events give an opportunity for colleagues to share some of the new approaches they have been developing.  It was really inspiring and reassuring to see such good practice in blended learning being celebrated, and some of the bigger questions for education generally (such as developing more open, online approaches) being addressed.

Some of my highlights included getting up close and personal with the very real mannequins being used in Health and Life Science as part of medical training, hearing real stories about how staff were being told what they had been doing for years was actually this new thing called flipped teaching, and how much student collaboration and reflection is being enabled through various mechanisms including our VLE.  Seeing the various ways our staff are developing new and existing ways to encourage our students to reflect, and share and build their own portfolios of learning openly is exciting but it does bring up a number of wider digital literacy issues.

One thing I (and I’m sure many others) have been pondering for a while now is profile management. From an institutional provision point of view, it seems that every system now has a cloud based student profile feature. So which ones, if any,  do we switch on?  From the staff/student point of view, which one(s) is it worth developing?

I know from my own experience I have a number of profiles, most of which are half complete. Take note Facebook, I am never going to fill in what school I went to or complete your profile on me (yes I know why you want that info). My network either know or at this stage in my life don’t care. Some of the ones I took time to populate – and these were work related – are no more. RIP Vizify, I did like you but now you are just a snapshot in time.  LinkedIn, well again I did update about a year ago when my employment status was unclear, but I’m a pretty passive user. I had forgotten about, but after doing my own visitor and resident online mapping remembered. I like it a lot and in many ways I think it is the closest thing I have to an active personal portfolio.

So if a reasonably digitally literate and tech savvy person like me is a bit fuzzy about my own use of online profiles, how do we support others, particularly our students? Perhaps this is an area where we really can work on some co-creation with students as we are all really just exploring the really effective use of portfolio/profile tools. I know of at least one new course here which is going to be doing exactly that.

I did say this morning that I wasn’t going to write a ranty blog post today, but after a huge twitter uproar (well 4 tweets), I had conceded. So, here comes the mild, ranty bit.  As you’ll know dear reader, I have been experimenting with sketchnoting/visual note taking. I’m enjoying it a lot, it makes me listen and think in a different way. But it is challenging me in terms of visual representation and drawing, and also making me “write” not type on my ipad. Like many people, my handwriting has got increasingly illegible as I tend to type more than write.  @louisegault   pointed me to this report about the use of minecraft in schools and the implication that no-one needs to hand write any more.  Well unless you want people to write like the examples in my notes below, I think we should still be encouraging our children to learn hand write, it is still a skill we need, even if at time it seems we don’t use it that much.


June doodles

some doodles from this week






#cetis14, feeling a bit lost in the forest . . .

#cetis14 was a slightly different experience for me this year, as for the first time I attended as a delegate not one of the organisers, and someone who wanted to find out about what I should be looking towards in terms of innovation and key trends.   As the conference theme was  “Building the digital institution” I was particularly looking forward to insights on that and how it fitted with my thinking on that area.

Last week we hosted one of the Jisc Digital Student consultation events, in her summary of findings so far, Helen Beetham highlighted the importance of “space and place” to students at university.  During his opening talk, Paul Hollins showed a video his 12 year old son had made about his vision of a digital institution, and I was struck how important “place” (even if it was virtual) was to him too. His simulation centered on distinct buildings,not that dis-similar to many current university campuses (minus the holo-decks).   However it was a different kind of space that has left me feeling a bit bewildered about innovation and the future developments.

Giving a Cetis keynote can be a bit of a challenge. It can be a bit of a “tough crowd”, so Phil Richards, CIO, Jisc who gave the first keynote had his work cut out for him.  Jisc has been “evolving” and restructuring for a couple of years now.  Part of that restructuring has seen Cetis evolve too from a fully funded Jisc Innovation Support Centre, to a self funding centre. I was looking forward to hearing what and how Jisc will be working with the sector.  However, I am still a bit confused.

I know that the “old” funding mechanisms at Jisc weren’t perfect, but I’m not sure almost 3 years later Jisc still need to be referencing the Wilson report so heavily to justify changes. The million seeds left to flower analogy was used, and again I agree that in the past, some Jisc funded projects were much more successful than others and some, despite lots of funding did wither and die. Now it seems Jisc have been thinning the trees, and are now concentrating on maintaining a more manageable forest. There will be a nursery but just now there will be four large seeds (research, analytics, student information systems, and digital leadership). These have been decided through a process of  co-design with key stakeholders.  Through this process over the next three years Jisc will be developing its Product Catalogue and then we (the sector) can sign up to the new subscription model.  Well I think that’s what he said. . .  I’m still a bit confused about how the co-design process is extended to the sector, or how for example I could tell my PVC of Learning and Teaching how we can become involved in the process. I really like the idea of co-design, the most successful Jisc projects have always had that element in them.  I’m just still unclear how it will actually work in the “new” Jisc context.

In terms of innovation, it was useful to revisit the innovation, service, commodity cycle but again I was left feeling that if all services eventually become commodities then what is the value propositions of developing shared services just now if someone else will be able to provide them cheaper than we as a sector can . . .   Again I agree light touch specifications like LTI are really good, but they need to be nurtured too – and someone usually pays for that.

This is my visual note of the session (apparently there were unicorns somewhere but I missed them, and they are quite hard to draw)


I also went to the Developing Learning Analytics Strategy for HEI session.  Again more head scratching. I suppose I was just hoping someone would tell me what to do ( I know, nothing is that easy!!). Actually trying to map out the steps of developing a strategy was useful. Even if it did just confirm what a huge job that is. Being pragmatic for me I need a quick win, to get Senior Management buy-in and then we can start thinking about strategies.

So once again I am thinking about time. Jisc seem to be spending lots of time wandering around their forest, but where are the entry paths/sign posts for the sector? When will they open the gates? What will be in their product catalogue? How much will it cost?  Where do I look to for the fledgling seeds of innovation?  Will I have time to wait for the new seeds in the nursery to flower?  I was sorry to miss day 2 of the conference and Audrey Watter’s keynote, but I’ll catch up on that via twitter now.

Thanks to everyone at Cetis for organising the conference and bringing such an interesting and inspiring group of people together.  My final thought – are Cetis conferences now our equivalent of pop-up innovation centres?