Lancaster University Fieldtrip – updated!

There may be over 220 miles between St Andrews and Lancaster, but the CAPOD fieldtrip to Lancaster University at the end of January left me with the feeling that, in some senses, not much separates us at all. It was great to meet colleagues and share practice – and Lancaster definitely lived up to its motto: Patet omnibus veritas (Truth lies open to all) in terms of the sharing! It was also a good opportunity to meet colleagues in person, some of whom I had only known previously through Twitter.

Although both St Andrews and Lancaster are TEF Gold institutions, we are different in terms of type of campus, and number of students (Lancaster has 16,000 students). In addition to the purpose-built city campus, Lancaster also have four international partnerships (China, Malaysia, Ghana and Germany) teaching their degrees. This gives them extra challenges as they deliver the Lancaster experience abroad.

As far as TEL is concerned, there were some differences in the structure and size of our respective operations: Lancaster’s team is part of IT Services, and much larger than ours with around 10 staff. What was more striking though, were the similarities in the services offered and the issues faced. Wherever the TEL function is located in an institution, its opportunities and its problems are nearly always more cultural and people-centred than technical! Continue reading

First week, first trip

As my second week working at the University begins, I thought it might be nice to reflect on my first five days here. In particular, I want to share my experience of attending the Inspiring Learning New Year Lecture, which was all about digital education.

Week one at a glance

My first week really flew by! I worked my way through induction activities, setup my workspace and devices, met many of my new colleagues (lots of names to remember) and toured lecture spaces to get a feel for the technology available around campus. All-in-all I felt fairly acclimatised to my new environment by Friday’s end and think that ‘newbie’ feeling will quickly disappear.

On the Wednesday I travelled to Edinburgh with Margaret Adamson to attend a keynote talk delivered by Sheila MacNeill, digital learning guru and Chair of ALT (Association for Learning Technology). It was a really great session, but we had to get there first and as you know, it’s been a cold start to 2020.

Given the weather we had hoped to make it to the venue smoothly. Unfortunately, we got slightly lost (Google maps was not on our side, though happily drained our batteries). Thanks to the help of a passer-by we made it there just in time and I’m pleased to report that the venue was lovely and warm – a very welcome thing at that point, as you can imagine.

Keynote slides and insights

Introductions were made before Sheila took centre-stage, diving into the timely theme of ‘how to make (and keep) our digital education resolutions in 2020’. Sheila’s slides are embedded below and more information can be reached on the HOWSHEILASEESIT blog. Interestingly, Sheila had delivered the same talk earlier that day to delegates in Dubai and Malaysia via webinar (there’s reason I mention this, but I’ll get to that later).



Stand out points and takeaways

The key messages that really resonated with me during the keynote were:

Narrative is key

When you know so much about a topic, so much so others may describe you as a subject matter expert on it, it’s easy to share that knowledge with others as you understand it. In our excitement to share we sometimes forget that the person or people we’re sharing it with may not know anything about it at all, or in fact, may not really care or be interested. By wrapping an effective narrative or story around the information we can make it more engaging and understandable, which makes the whole sharing experience more worthwhile. Sheila touched on this point at the start and I made a mental note to check in with myself across 2020 when sharing – let’s see if I can keep up the story telling!

Perspective is everything

We often forget to stop and think about whether something is ‘small or far away’ (yes, Sheila did reacquaint us with the classic Father Ted moment) in the bigger picture of things, tending to dive in head first. Before we know it we’ve got too many ‘big things’ on our plate, so many so we simply can’t juggle or deliver on them! Sheila emphasised the importance of balancing small changes with big ideas/strategies, in short telling us to ensure our practices take account of perspective. For me this really touched on personal workload management and acted as a reminder to self not to tip the scales, but rather, to aim for a sensible equilibrium.

Interactive works

As with anyone attending a 1 hour lecture, there are likely to be points at which you check out and lose focus, especially if you’ve travelled in and not had your trusted coffee yet. The talk can be super interesting, but your concentration span might be that of a goldfish, leading you to lapse mid-way through. Being honest with myself I would say I just described me in most lecture situations. Although I’ve managed to manage myself out of it over the years, I do very much appreciate the secret ingredient of interactivity during a long talk. Changing lanes awakens the senses and acts as a ‘concentration reset button’ for me, do you feel that way too?

We were asked to be mobile ready to use Mentimeter and share the first three words that came to mind when Sheila said ‘digital first’. As we each entered our words a collaborative word cloud formed on the screen showing our collective response. Who doesn’t love a word cloud? The cool thing was we got to see our cloud in comparison to that of the Dubai and Malaysia delegates, and they were oddly similar considering we’re a world apart. Distance doesn’t always mean difference! Sheila also encouraged us to share one thing we want to do this year in Padlet. If you’re interested in trying out either Mentimeter or Padlet, get in touch.

Well-being extends to digital

Defined as ‘the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy’ (Oxford Dictionary), we all innately try to ensure our well-being. That said, we often inadvertently add to or detract from our well-being without even realising it. There are many factors that can impact our well-being, with digital services and technologies being within that pool of factors. Digital things are so ingrained in my day-to-day that I’m not usually conscious of their effect on my well-being, whether they’re encountered in a personal or educational context. The lecture got me thinking about what my daily digital habits are. As a result I’ve decided to give digital wellbeing tools a go. I’ll let you know how it goes!

Learning to learn is a capability

What we often don’t realise as a student is that not only are we learning about our chosen subject, we’re also learning to learn. Sheila touched on this, highlighting how critical a capability it is. It really took me back to my anatomy training where I first needed to really make the effort to learn to learn material in a way that worked for me. With anatomy comes a new language, with planes and positioning front centre. Neither were my strong suit, but with a bit of independent research I discovered techniques and tools that helped me get to grips with it. Without those quizzes, apps, open source videos etc. in addition to the lectures and irreplaceable experience of undertaking gross dissection, I don’t think I would have reached the same height. Sheila’s point made me think about what my University had done in my former years on the degree programme to help develop my initiative to ‘learn to learn’ – weird how you do things and don’t realise their importance until later, isn’t it?

Being ‘digital’ isn’t just about technology

There’s so much more to it, particularly in the learning environment. The Revised Conceptual Matrix and The Digitally Distributed Curriculum graphics shown in Sheila’s slides demonstrate that, as does the cited text ‘Conceptualising the Digital University: the intersection of policy, pedagogy and practice (Johnson, MacNeill, Smyth, 2019)’ I’ve now started to read. I’m new to the world of being a Learning Technologist, so this gave lots of food for thought as I continue to deep dive into the field, and the theory and practice that underpins it. One thing that wasn’t out of my comfort zone was Sheila’s closing point, that we must put ‘humanity first’ when it comes to our digital reality. Of course, the word ‘digital’ makes me think of things like computers and software, but it also makes me think of people.

Although New Year’s resolutions aren’t really my thing, it was a great opportunity and I have taken lots away from it. Hopefully you have too.

ALT-C 2019 Session Bites #2

Fostering Effective Usage of Lecture Capture: A Longitudinal Study of Video Consumption Habits

I found this presentation by James Youdale very thought-provoking and rather informative. My role as Lecture Capture Coordinator means I spend a lot of my time managing the recorded content and supporting academics through training and workshops. It quickly became clear from hearing the research gathered from James that I would to turn my focus to student guidance and info. It was interesting to hear how students consume the content and if they were using any guidance already provided to them.

What James found is that even though there was guidance, only a small percentage of students used this and most students were not even aware it existed. It became clear to me that I would need to engage with our students to show them a guide for “Good Practice” as most students are under the impression that they have grown up with on-demand video so already know how to best consume it. One observation was in the way students consume the recordings. Only a very small percentage did this as a collaborative group most preferred to view them individually.

From the information gathered, I now aim to create a best practice guide for students that can easily be accessed on multiple platforms combined with some workshops. In conclusion, I thought the presentation was very informative and had given me a lot to think about. It has also solidified how we think students are consuming content and that lecture capture will never be a replacement for teaching but a tool to be used alongside it.

ALT-C 2019 Session Bites #1

Session title: Facilitating peer-led group research through virtual collaboration spaces: a multi-year action research study, Richard Walker (E-Learning Development Team University of York)

Conference Theme: Creativity across the curriculum

Synopsis: This compelling session presented findings from a study using ‘peer-led group learning’ to support research tasks and the development of problem-solving skills in a 3rd-year undergraduate Biology module at York University. ‘Peer-led’ teaching is nothing new; it’s using an expert peer, in this case a postgraduate researcher, as a learning facilitator and resource. However, what was novel was how they used a collaborative technology platform as a virtual meeting and workspace to overcome challenges in more traditional approaches to project supervision such as:

  • tend to be one-to-one
  • problematic timetabling of meetings/supervision
  • little/no benefit to/from peers
  • propagation of solutions is slow
  • issues coordinating multidisciplinary projects

The app they used for the collaborative hub was Slack (a commercial product, similar to our O365 Teams). Using a channel for each student, for planning, and for questions, the ‘always-on’ collaborative hub fostered greater interactions in asking questions, sharing solutions and displaying data.

Their findings indicated this approach supported effective student collaborations, which promoted peer-to-peer learning – with a focus on interaction and creative problem-solving, thus reducing dependency on the instructor for guidance and control of learning processes. Students enjoyed the quick responses to queries and the ease in keeping a record of what’s been said through the conversation feed structure: “We were working as a team; although we have different projects, we have the same problems and were solving them as a team.” See this link for a case study of the initial pilot.

Comment: The app of choice here, Slack, by the University of York was down to the institutional license held for it at the time of the pilot. IT Services have just rolled out the analogous app in Office 365, Microsoft Teams, to the student cohort here at St Andrews, which could be a platform for similar types of collaborations. Given the prevalence of project-based coursework across disciplines, this is an approach worth trying for increasing engagement, not to mention the possible collateral benefits of improved efficiency and productivity.

Session presentation slides available here (thanks to Richard). A short paper of recent findings is in production.

ALT-C Session Bites

In September this year, the TEL Team joined nearly 450 delegates in attending ALT-C (the annual multi-national conference of the Association for Learning Technology) in Edinburgh. Over the next few weeks, team members will present their highlights in a series of ‘session bite’ posts. The full three-day programme can be viewed here.


The McEwan Hall – a stunning venue

Your 'session bites' bloggers

Your ‘session bites’ bloggers (L-R): Sonny Evans (IT Skills Developer); Margaret Adamson (Head of TEL); Daryl Haynes (Lecture Capture Co-ordinator). Photo by David Jarratt, Media Services.

Can you spot us in the conference photo by Chris Bull for Association for Learning Technology?
ALT conference 2019 , Edinburgh.
Day two – Wednesday 4th September.

SMUG October Meetup at St Andrews

Two dozen Moodle enthusiasts from across HE and FE gathered in St Andrews last Friday. First up was Mark Glynn, Head of Teaching Enhancement at Dublin City University, who talked about a custom report they have created within Moodle to give lecturers a programmatic view of assessment, giving them the opportunity to improve collaboration and scheduling. Mark was followed by Chris Sumner from South Lanarkshire College who gave an overview of their Moodle/Microsoft Teams integration. Jasmin Hodge from Forth Valley College showcased two new Moodle course formats: Flexible Course and Structure Label. Ken Currie then talked about using interactive content libraries, in particular, the H5P plugin which adds interactive features to Moodle activities like Book, Page and Lesson. Lee Coomber from IT Services in St Andrews was up next, talking about the current integration work we’re doing with MySaint, Moodle and MMS. The last talk of the day was from Stephen Bruce from Edinburgh Napier who outlined a their fully online CPD approach using Moodle.

We recorded most of these sessions, and will make them available here once they’re out of post-production. Anyone who’s interested in learning more about any of the Moodle features mentioned, please get in touch via

You can follow some of the speakers on Twitter too:

Mark Glynn: @glynnmark
Jasmin Hodge: @jmdh22