Certified for success

In amongst the rubble of the missed or lost opportunities that have accumulated in the course of lockdown, is one of those little flowering moments, an unexpected but wholly welcome event.

We have been running the Microsoft Office Specialist Certification programme (or MOS for short) for seven years. Open to everyone in the University, it offers the opportunity to gain a recognised certification to validate skills in using the Microsoft Office suite of applications. Participants use a variety of materials to suit their learning styles including targeted, self-led learning resources or attending training courses as preparation to sit practical certification exams. The certifications have proven benefits in increasing student employability, but there is a broader impact for both staff and students. By engaging with the exam preparation resources, there is the potential for transferable skills to work flows using these applications and hence improve productivity. So, clear benefits to sitting these exams, but also, an activity entirely dependent on my computer classroom to deliver and thus was one of the first casualties of the move off-site.

However, in true “MOS is dead. Long live MOS” style, we have a veritable success on our hands. Thanks to the efforts by the exam authority tech boffins to develop a remote delivery system, MOS exams have been able to resume to the scattered locations across the globe with the added benefit of allowing a wider range of exams to be delivered. The circumstances of lockdown have given added impetus to ‘do something useful’ and MOS certifications have certainly been seen as fulfilling that criteria. We’ve had a 5-fold increase in exam bookings and the passes indicate more than just a totting up of scores. We’ve had those attaining Expert level qualifications feedback that their qualification had immediate benefits: “In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, I recently started freelancing as a designer on Upwork (from graphic illustrations to designing powerpoints / formatting word documents / etc.). Having the qualifications give clients the assurance that I have the necessary proficiency to fulfil their needs” while others have said participating in MOS helped them to “produce more consistent work on a day-to-day basis”. Employability. Productivity. This is the calibre of feedback that we are accustomed to receiving from those that have engaged with the MOS programme, so it is not in itself a revelation. But it is hugely reassuring that the move to remote delivery is still providing where it counts.

And today it counts more than ever as our programme has produced two Champions. The exam results of 2nd year student Andrea Wang and postgraduate Shonaugh Wright earned them a place, from the thousands of exams sat nationwide this year, to compete in the UK National MOS Championships held today, 25 June. Usually a live event, this too has its virtual doppelganger, the winner of which will have a place to compete in the World MOS Championships in Florida in 2021.

More information about the MOS Certification programme can be found on our MOS website or contact Sonny Evans at it-training@st-andrews.ac.uk.

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 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.
www.chrisbullphotographer.com

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 learningtechnology@st-andrews.ac.uk.

You can follow some of the speakers on Twitter too:

Mark Glynn: @glynnmark
Jasmin Hodge: @jmdh22
StephenBruce:@Stephen1Bruce

 

Students – we need your help!

The TELStA team is seeking an intern to help them with information overload. Our field is very fast-moving, and we have a wide range of information from various sources  which we need to share with those who use our services. The intern would be required to audit and analyse both the information sources, and the current channels used to share (including social media, blog and email) and formulate a communication plan for the team. The plan should be based around strategies for members of the team to embed information sharing into their current workload. Other duties of the post include helping the team to set up their Instagram account; live-tweeting from TELStA events; and helping to launch “The Hive” – a TELStA facility for staff in the Gateway Building.

Please apply by email to mhma@st-andrews.ac.uk with a covering letter and CV. Applications close on 14th October 2019. This vacancy is also listed on CareersConnect under the reference 227BY. It’s a paid position.

 

Come and work with us!!

We’re very excited to have two new Learning Technologist vacancies in the TELStA team at the moment! Both are located in St Andrews and are fixed term for 2 years. We’re looking for one post to start in Autumn 2019, and the other in Spring 2020. We’re a small, friendly team – and there are lots of edtech developments afoot at St Andrews! Full job description and application details are available here. Applications close on Friday 4 October 2019.

Learning Analytics Workshop, 2nd May

St Andrews colleagues! Do we have a shared understanding of Learning Analytics?  We are running an interactive workshop on 2nd May (1400-16:00) which gives staff an opportunity  to explore potential definitions and uses from the perspective of various user groups. The event is also the launch of our TELStA Gateway space, and afternoon tea is provided! Book on PDMS.