Category Archives: EUNIS

Benefits of receiving a UCISA bursary






Salman Usman
Academic E-learning Developer
Kingston University London



I attended the EUNIS Congress 2015, and a pre-conference workshop on electronic management of assessment (EMA), from 9-12 June 2015. Both the events were hosted by Abertay University, Dundee. My attendance at the aforementioned events was made possible by the UCISA bursary scheme. This report details the benefits that receiving a UCISA bursary had to my professional development, to my institution, and potentially to the HE IT community.

The conference and associated workshop have contributed greatly to my professional development. They have provided me with valuable insights into current and emerging trends in Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL), as well as approaches to research in TEL. With the fast-changing world of technology, and my workload over the last few months, it has been hard for me to keep on top of the latest developments in TEL. In view of this, the conference provided me the time and opportunity to catch up. With a recent move to online coursework submission and feedback at my institution, and an increased emphasis on providing students with formative assessment opportunities through technology, the EMA workshop was particularly useful for comparing, evaluating, and informing my institutions’ approaches and practice.

The highlight of the event was the fact that it was pan-European, with delegates from over 20 EU countries. Therefore, I was provided a rare glimpse into the European TEL landscape. I also received some useful tips on taking notes electronically, and on travelling to conferences. Additionally, although I have been supporting academics in using Twitter in their teaching practice, it was the first time that I had used Twitter myself at a conference. I have realised that it is a great way to not only keep up with other concurrent sessions and the audience response, but also to remain in touch with fellow delegates – the Twitter handle is the new business card. I met some great people, and feel that I am better placed to identify partners for funding bids and future collaboration on TEL projects.

I wrote four blogs for the UICSA website detailing my account of and reflections on the conference and workshop. The process of writing blogs was very useful, as it prompted me to reflect on what I have learnt and gained. The blogs were disseminated by UCISA through Twitter and the UCISA JISC mailing list, and also through the EUNIS website. I hope that the blog posts were found useful by those who read them. The blogs were also shared with members of my faculty’s education committee. I also shared some of the e-learning and learning design tools that I came across at the conference and workshop with my faculty through a monthly newsletter on TEL, and with colleagues in a central university department related to academic development.

The conference hosted a wide range of suppliers and service providers of e-learning services. These included learning management systems, lecture capture, assessment and feedback tools, and plagiarism detection tools. My institution was carrying out a review of its learning technology provision at the time, and, being a member of the learning technology review group, the conference and exhibition provided timely insights in current technologies and trends.


The European TEL landscape and general conference thoughts




Salman Usman
Academic E-learning Developer
Kingston University London

EUNIS 2015: Musings and reflections

This is my fourth and final post on the EUNIS Congress 2015 and a pre-conference workshop on electronic management of assessment and assessment analytics. The first blog post was on the theme of assessment and feedback, the second blog post covered learning technologies and tools and the third post was around the theme of technology-facilitated pedagogy. In this post I will be sharing my reflections on different aspects of the conference.

The European TEL landscape
I’ll begin by sharing my observations and insights, gathered mainly from discussions with conference colleagues from other countries, on how the UK TEL landscape compares with that in mainland Europe. I’ll start with Germany where stringent data protection laws make it difficult for educational institutions to subscribe to services of international commercial e-learning solution providers. Therefore it was no wonder that a number of presentations from Germany were about development of in-house e-learning tools and solutions or government-funded initiatives for supporting e-learning services. Hence one come across names that rarely appear in TEL-related conversations in the UK: ILIAS and Stud.IP are popular open source VLEs in Germany. In the UK, on the contrary, educational institutions can subscribe to services by international e-learning service providers as long as they comply with EU data protection laws and their data servers are located within the EU. In addition, a number of TEL innovations in UK HE have involved the use of free tools which are based across the pond. Institutions can use these tools as long as students are not obliged to use them and are informed of potential data protection consequences of using the tools (Disclaimer: This is my interpretation of the rules and NOT legal advice). The German HE may be missing out on some great tools for education but at least there is a reduction in risk of data breaches. It also provides them with an opportunity to develop and implement tools and e-learning solutions that meet the specific needs of institutions; international suppliers usually design their solutions keeping in view the needs and requirements in their countries of origin (usually the USA) and may not be flexible enough to be adapted to local needs in other countries.

Whilst plagiarism detection tools are widely used in UK HE, an attendee from a Swiss university told me that there are no proactive checks for plagiarism on student coursework at his institution. As a technical university, he explained, the focus was more on originality and authenticity of data collected than the written text and hence there was limited need for plagiarism checks. This is quite an interesting approach to assessment and feeds into the age-old debate on the purpose of assessments and how to effectively assess learning.

In the UK nearly all universities now have TEL support provision in some shape or form. It was, therefore, rather astonishing to learn from a Croat presenter that e-learning centres at three universities in her country have been closed down due to funding shortages. Although I am not clear about the exact circumstances in which these departments were closed, it perhaps indicates that those at the helm of affairs did not find TEL integral to teaching and learning and hence easy to dispense with. The only e-learning centre at the University of Zagreb is, however, doing a sterling job in not only advancing TEL at their institution but is also providing advice and support to other universities. The centre also won awards for some of their initiatives at past EUNIS conferences.

The current university entrants in many European countries are more likely to be using digital devices for writing and producing text than the traditional pen and paper. In view of this, the Ministry of Education in Norway has initiated a project aiming to digitalise examinations so that students are not required to use pen and paper for their assessments and that the assessment process benefits from affordances offered by technology. The project focus is on establishing an IT architecture description and standards and technology interface for digital assessment. To my knowledge, this is the first project of its kind at this scale in Europe and it will be interesting to look at the project outputs and outcomes. In the UK on the other hand, assessment technologies have been used mainly for formative assessment or for providing feedback on student coursework and there have been very few implementations of digital examinations. In addition, unlike Norway the UK national initiatives on e-assessments, e.g. the JISC EMA project, have focused mainly on the pedagogical and not technological aspects of e-assessments.

Finally, a presentation from Finland cited a rather amusing reason why e-learning systems in Finland are inherently secure from external cyber attacks: the Finnish language. According to the Finnish presenter, the language is so unique with long-lettered, multi-syllable words that it is hard for hackers from other countries, not familiar with the language, to break into systems. As an example, the term used for administrator in the Finnish language is järjestelmänvalvoja!

Conference papers: approaches to research
Without citing specific examples, I would like to offer a general observation regarding approaches to research and methodologies that were adopted in papers presented at the learning and teaching strand of the conference. Research in education has inherently been skewed towards employing qualitative or mixed research methods. However there is an increasing number of research output in education that uses quantitative, rather than qualitative or mixed, data collection methods and many papers presented at this conference were no different. The prevalent approach is to seek students’ views on various aspects of a TEL intervention or tool through a survey and/or analyse its impact on student grades. So although one learns about what students perceive of TEL, one doesn’t get many answers on why students perceive an intervention in the way they do. For instance, if a student has not found a learning object “useful”, “helpful towards understanding of subject” etc., there is limited attempt at ascertaining why they haven’t benefitted from it. I think that educational research would help from employing a broader range of data collection methods to give data some explanatory power. Furthermore, it will be useful if research papers are more explicit about the way data is collected and analysed and any assumptions that have been made in the process.

On travelling to conferences and taking notes
Sometimes travelling for conferences and related events within the UK can take up your entire working day as did my train journey from Surrey to Dundee. Although, with tables and power supply one can work on a laptop/tablet on a train, day-to-day job responsibilities do not consist solely of working on the computer. At the pre-conference workshop I came across a delegate who had travelled from London on a sleeper train service and returned the same day on a similar service to go back to work early next day. I think that this is an excellent idea; you can save on time and accommodation costs and this is something I will keep in mind when making travel plans for far-away UK conferences in the future.

Something else I learnt at this conference was a useful tip on taking notes. Now we all take out our mobile phones to take pictures of slides during presentations. It is often after the presentation that one combines the camera pictures with associated notes. Jessica Gramp from UCL shared a useful way to combine the pictures with notes on the fly. All the phone pictures are automatically uploaded to DropBox which are readily available from the DropBox website on the laptop. You can then copy images from Dropbox and paste them in Word near the relevant notes.

Whilst on the subject of taking notes, most of us have at one point or the other needed to charge batteries of our phones and laptops during marathon conference presentations and sessions. With power access points not readily available in most lecture theatres built before the digital age (though being incorporated in newer buildings), one has to wait for the tea or lunch breaks to get the devices charged. This happened to me at the conference as well and I had to switch from my laptop to my phone to take notes. A search on the internet and recommendations from colleagues have revealed that there are portable mobile and laptop chargers that can be handy in such situations.

In praise of … the conference city and the organisers
EUNIS 2015 was one of the most well-planned and organised conferences I have attended so far. The credit goes to the staff and students of Abertay University who had put two years of careful planning into it. Communication prior to and during the conference was clear and there was an army of friendly and diligent “conference support” team members at the conference making sure presenters and other delegates were well looked after. I also liked the fact that the conference was held in Dundee; I believe that conferences are one small way UK academia can contribute to the local economy of smaller, more economically deprived towns and cities.

The organisers promoted the city and regional culture and heritage very well; civic receptions and networking events were held at Dundee’s flagship McManus gallery and museum and at the RRS Discovery and the conference goodies included a special edition of the city’s famous export, the Beano. As a first time visitor to the city, I was touched by the warm hospitality of its people and charmed by its scenic backdrops. The Guardian has a timely article on Dundee that sings her virtues far better than I could ever have. In essence, Dundee was a city of “Discovery” for me in more than one ways.

 Sights of Dundee (clockwise from top) 1. Tay Road Bridge, one of the longest road bridges in Europe 2. One of the buildings of Abertay University, the conference hosts 3. Statue of British comic character Desperate Dan in the Dundee town centre with the Beano character Minnie the Minx in the background 4. RSS Discovery, the ship built from wood in Dundee in 1901 for scientific expeditions in the Antarctic 5. A typewriter kept in the RSS Discovery 6. A camera kept in the RSS Discovery 7. The McManus Galleries and Museum building, displaying Dundee’s history and a collection of fine and decorative art 8. Cover of the special conference edition of The Beano.

Sights of Dundee (clockwise from top) 1. Tay Road Bridge, one of the longest road bridges in Europe 2. One of the buildings of Abertay University, the conference hosts 3. Statue of British comic character Desperate Dan in the Dundee town centre with the Beano character Minnie the Minx in the background 4. RSS Discovery, the ship built from wood in Dundee in 1901 for scientific expeditions in the Antarctic 5. A typewriter kept in the RSS Discovery 6. A camera kept in the RSS Discovery 7. The McManus Galleries and Museum building, displaying Dundee’s history and a collection of fine and decorative art 8. Cover of the special conference edition of The Beano.

If you have got any questions or require further information on anything mentioned in the blogs then please get in touch through e-mail at s dot usman at kingston dot ac dot uk

Conference programme and abstracts are available here. The EUNIS Congress 2016 will be held at Aristotle University, Thessaloniki, Greece from 6-10 June 2016.

MOOCs, flipped classrooms and game-based learning




Salman Usman
Academic E-learning Developer
Kingston University London

EUNIS 2015: Technology-facilitated pedagogy

This is the third in a series of blog posts on the EUNIS Congress 2015 and a pre-conference workshop on electronic management of assessment and assessment analytics. The first blog post was on the theme of assessment and feedback and second blog post covered learning technologies and tools. This post covers technology-facilitated pedagogy.

MOOCs have become a permanent fixture in education-related conferences and Eunis 2015 was no different with two presentations and several mentions in keynotes and discussions on the subject.

Yves Epelboin from Pierre and Marie Curie University in France argued in his presentation that MOOCs are transforming the pedagogical landscape. Salient points and arguments made in his presentation are as follows:

  • Whereas the growth of MOOCs has receded in the US, there is a surge in development of new MOOCs in Europe, mainly motivated by the desire to enhance institutional reputation and to contribute to change in pedagogy.
  • MOOCs are not a technology but a means to acquire knowledge.
  • A key challenge is how to design MOOCs that could cater to the needs of students from diverse backgrounds. This is also termed a reason for low MOOC completion rates.
  • All current VLEs have been designed to favour a certain pedagogy. There is currently no VLE that can cater to the divergent pedagogies and needs including those for MOOCs. Therefore there is a need for standardised interfaces (e.g. LTI compatible) that allow course designers to build a “bouquet” by assembling services offered by different platforms in order to deliver desired pedagogy. The Spanish MOOC platform MiriadaX is already working on this approach.
  • Designing future online courses, which are student-centred and adapt to individual needs of students, will not be an individual effort by an academic but will require teamwork involving software engineers, instructional designers and subject matter experts.
  • MOOCs have speeded the interest in and development of learning analytics solutions. Automatic alerts by data analytics systems on disengaged students will play a key factor in increasing the success rates in future MOOCs and online courses.

Yves’ point about current VLEs not being flexible enough to accommodate various pedagogies is pertinent and resonates with my own observations from VLE/learning technology reviews. However, in order to enable academics/course designers to choose desired services offered by different platforms, learning providers will not only have to conform to standards but will also need to review their business and licensing models. In addition to Yves’ suggestion of the development of effective learning analytics systems, there is also a need to develop effective assessment methods for MOOCs that go beyond objective-type questions or computer codes. Although objective type questions may be suitable for testing lower-order thinking skills in the Blooms taxonomy such as knowledge and comprehension, they may not be suitable for assessing higher-order thinking skills like analysis, synthesis and evaluation.

Full conference paper is available here.

Juan Antonio Martínez and Joaquim Campuzano from Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona in Spain presented their analysis on the costs of MOOCs and its comparison with the costs incurred in traditional teaching. The authors have identified the direct costs of creating MOOCs in Spain to be between €35k-€75k for an 8-week MOOC, depending on the complexity of online resources. They envisaged that 70% of the cost of a MOOC is incurred in preparation and 30% or even less to run the course. Compared to MOOCs, the authors’ analysis estimated lower costs for preparing traditional courses, though it was more expensive than MOOCs to teach a traditional course and to repeat it in subsequent years. Whereas repeating a traditional course the second time will not lower the costs, the cost of MOOCs would come down in subsequent years.


The project conclusions

In view of the above, the authors propose that MOOCs can be sustainable if they are not created from scratch but rather developed to supplement existing modules/courses where they are used to replace some of the face-to-face teaching. Therefore the cost of creating a MOOC will be accommodated in the preparation costs of a traditional course. The same materials could then be offered to the wider world as a MOOC.

To implement this, the authors revised the teaching model of a module by replacing an hour long lecture with MOOC resources. This saved an extra hour of teaching each week. However the course lecturers decided to use the extra hour to offer additional support/tutorials to students by splitting the cohort into smaller groups. Student evaluations showed that the majority of respondents indicated a preference for the ‘MOOC-version’ of the course over the traditional course. The authors claim that this model not only helps in reducing the costs of MOOCs but also improves quality of teaching e.g. by providing extra time for supporting students.

Full conference paper is available here.

Online ICT courses for Polish secondary schools
Andrzej Zylawski from Warsaw School of Computer Science (WSCS) in Poland made an award-winning presentation (best e-learning paper) about an online IT school for secondary schools in Poland. Launched in 2012 by WSCS, the aim of the programme was to develop and enhance the ICT competencies and knowledge of computer science of secondary school students in Poland and to broaden the appeal of the discipline. The IT school resembles a regional network of schools similar to a multi-campus university with each secondary school represented by its teachers (called programme coordinators) and students. The online school offers teachers and students courses on a wide range of topics within the computer science discipline. The content is delivered via recorded video lectures, e-scripts, presentations, games and tests. Visits to IT firms are also arranged for students. Lecturers can monitor student activities and progress and use this information to personalise students’ learning. Students are also able to plan their learning and choose the topics they wish to study according to their personal interests and get immediate feedback on their tests. Competitions like most engaged school and best IT school of the year have been introduced to motivate and engage students. Students are also provided certificates at the end of a course.

The programme has been a roaring success with 534 registered schools, over 65,000 registered users and 18 million page views. Feedback by teachers and students has been very positive; almost all the teachers on the programme have found the content provided by the online IT school either useful or very useful with 50% of teachers using the online resources in every lesson. 81% of the teachers and 41% of the students have reported that the online school has helped in raising students’ ICT competencies to a ‘high or very high extent’.

The key to the programme’s success has been the involvement of school teachers in all stages of the programme design and delivery. All teachers are surveyed by the IT school at the start of the course in order to elicit their and their students’ needs for supporting computer science education. The resources are prepared accordingly with teachers involved in preparation of learning resources, together with university academics and scientists. Evaluations are carried out with both staff and students with the findings used to improve the programme.

I have found this project an excellent example of a university outreach programme as well as working in partnership with the stakeholders. Stakeholder engagement is key to success of any project and this programme has ensured this by listening to the varied needs of teachers and then working together with them in developing the course resources. Another thing I have liked about the courses is the flexible curriculum leading to personalised learning; rather than a having fixed curriculum for all, students are provided with the flexibility to choose topics that meet their interests and needs.

Full conference paper is available here.

Flipped classroom
Jaime Busquets and Carlos Turró from ASIC-Universitat Politécnica de València presented preliminary results from a flipped classroom experiment carried out in the faculties of Computer Science and Business. For those who aren’t familiar, flipped teaching involves a lecture being replaced by a self-study resource that students go through in their own time. The lecture time is used for interactive sessions, discussions and practice exercises based on the content of the self-study resource. The researchers managed to have a control and an experimental group; one group of students received flipped instruction whereas the other group had traditional classroom lectures (I’ll have a hard time getting a project with control and experimental groups approved through my institutional ethics committee).

Student results at the end of the term showed that those with a good academic record in the flipped teaching group had better grades than their counterparts in the control group. However students with not a good academic record in the flipped teaching group performed worse than their counterparts in the traditional lecture group. This corroborates with research on flipped teaching and educational technology where the more academically-able students have generally benefitted more from educational technology-based interventions than those less able. Another issue with flipped approach to teaching that academics at my institution have come across is that some students come to lectures without going through the self-study resources. Thus there is a need to incentivise students to access the resources. An approach I have found useful is to release the content adaptively through the VLE: students do not have access to subsequent week’s resources unless they complete a quiz associated with the previous lecture’s content.

Game-based learning
With Dundee being one of the global hubs in digital games, the conference would have seemed lacking without having educational games on the conference agenda. Dr Phebe Mann (University of East London) and Dr David Wong’s (University College London) paper and presentation fitted the bill in which they talked about development of Serious EdGames (SEdG). SEdG is a game developed for built environment professionals with the aim to develop students’ understanding of topics that include planning law, planning applications and planning controls. The learners use an avatar to explore and survey a plot of virtual land with the goal of deciding alignment of a trunk road. Developed using Construct 2, the game also presented students with a series of questions to respond to. These are presented as a basketball game with a correct answer resulting in a ball through the basket and an incorrect answer resulting in a miss.

 Screenshot of the SEdG game. Image source: Conference paper (

Screenshot of the SEdG game. Image source: Conference paper (

Student responses to the project evaluation were mixed; 47% of the respondents agreed that they enjoyed learning through SEdG more than they did through traditional methods, whereas 21% disagreed. Other evaluation findings included 29% learners stating that the game facilitated more focused learning compared to books as opposed to 24% who didn’t. 29% of respondents said that the game helped them retain information as opposed to 24% who didn’t. It would have been interesting to find out the reasons why some of the respondents didn’t respond in a good light.

Full conference paper is available here.

Using technology to develop students’ employability skills
Employers are increasingly turning to social media for recruitment purposes. It is therefore important that university graduates have the skills to effectively articulate their capabilities and skills and promote themselves through online media. In view of the above, Andrea Cameron, Carol Maxwell and James Cobley from Abertay University decided to embark on a pilot project which aimed to develop students’ skills of using social networking platforms for professional and employment purposes. To this end, second year Sports students were asked to prepare and submit a webfolio that showcased their skills, strengths and experiences to prospective employers. Students were also asked to reflect upon achievements and set themselves goals and an action plan for personal development. The research team asked students to write their webfolios in the style of Linkedin profiles because it is the most popular social media network used by recruiters with 7.9 million users in the UK. Students were provided feedback by lecturers on the relevance of their content, communication skills and ‘netiquette’ and the ability to self-promote in a professional context. Student feedback was “very positive” as the exercise helped them reflect on their skills, become aware of their development needs and obtain know-how of effectively promoting themselves to prospective employers.

Presentation slide showing student feedback on the project
Presentation slide showing student feedback on the project

 With marketisation of higher education students want greater ‘value-for-money’ from their courses, with the ultimate goal of getting a job related to their degree. Although employability is high on UK universities’ agenda, in my own experience I have found that the development of students’ employability-related skills is often considered the domain of the institution’s careers and employability service, which may or may not be known to or availed by students. In this context, I think that this is a great project that has employability skills embedded in the curriculum, in turn benefitting the students, and is something I will be promoting at my institution. The project used Pebblepad e-portfolio tool for students to develop their webfolios. Those not subscribing to Pebblepad can use blogging platforms like WordPress and web-page creation tools like Google Sites for this purpose.

Full conference paper is available here.

Conference programme and abstracts are available here. The EUNIS Congress 2016 will be held at Aristotle University, Thessaloniki, Greece from 6-10 June 2016.

In-class apps, lecture capture, Twitter tools and recruitment aids




Salman Usman
Academic E-learning Developer
Kingston University London

EUNIS 2015: Learning technologies and tools

This is the second in a series of blog posts on the EUNIS Congress 2015 and a pre-conference workshop on electronic management of assessment and assessment analytics. The first blog post covered the theme of assessment and feedback. In this post I will be reporting on the various learning technologies and tools I came across at the conference.

App for facilitating teacher-student communication in lectures
RWTH Aachen University in Germany has developed a mobile app for its students for in-class communication and interaction. The app allows students to anonymously send messages (usually comprising questions) to the lecturer that the lecturer can read and respond to accordingly during or after the lecture. Students can also send photo messages which can be useful in sending images of handwritten formulas and drawings that are difficult to type or draw on smartphones. The lecturer can choose to display or hide these messages from the class. A moderation feature allows student helpers/teaching assistants to moderate messages and assign priority before passing these on to the lecturer. In addition, the app also allows lecturers to conduct in-class polls: lecturers display multiple choice questions to students through lecture slides or read them out verbally and students use the app to respond with the desired answer option.

There appears to be no formal evaluation carried out for the app but nevertheless it seems to be a potentially useful tool to facilitate interaction between lecturers and students particularly in Iarge lectures. Although Twitter backchannels are a popular mode of communication, the anonymity of messages and the option to moderate them are advantages the app offers. In addition, the app combines class room polling and messaging thereby increasing its utility.

Poster on the in-class communication app developed at RWTH Aachen university

Poster on the in-class communication app developed at RWTH Aachen university

Panopto lecture capture
Panopto is a lecture capture system that has been around for some time and is being used at a number of UK HEIs. However I only got the chance to see the system at the conference and I must admit, I was impressed by the capabilities it claims to offer. The following is a list of some of Panopto’s features and potential benefits:

  • The search facility enables users to search audio (through speech recognition technology) and any word that appears in the video (either through optical character recognition (OCR) or by indexing PowerPoint slides)
  • Videos can be transcribed and hand writing on whiteboards can be converted to text through OCR. This helps in making these resources accessible
  • Students and staff can leave comments underneath a video à la YouTube which can promote discussions, debates and exchange of ideas
  • Analytics provides information such as who has watched which video and for how long. This can help lecturers track student engagement and help/support those students who are less engaged
  • Students can bookmark videos and add notes to the video which are saved with the video to be accessed again
  • Students can record their own videos through a mobile app and share with lecturers and colleagues. This feature can be used in a variety of ways such as recording evidence on field trips, sharing recorded reflections on topics with lecturer/cohort etc.
  • Features such as live web casting and screen casting allow the tool to be used for more than just lecture capture (e.g. developing resources for flipped lessons, streaming online lectures for work-based learners etc.).

Although audio and video search add to the tool’s usability, I wonder how accurate the audio recognition and optical character recognition are? If you have used Panopto before then you may like to share your experience using the “Leave a Reply” form below this post.

Twitter tools
If you are using Twitter for learning and teaching, then the following tools can extend the number of ways the platform can be used with students:

  1. Tweetwally lets you aggregate tweets around a topic or hashtag and display as a “tweet wall” to students in class. You can also save your tweet wall and publish it on the internet or embed within a VLE.
  2. Buffer allows you to schedule your tweets (and posts to Facebook and LinkedIn) so that these are sent at the time and date you specify.
  3. GroupTweet enables multiple contributors to tweet through a single Twitter account without needing to share the account password. This allows trusted contributors to tweet from a single account and can facilitate group activity.

Recruiting participants for research made easier
Recruiting participants for research, and in the desired numbers, can be one of the most challenging stages of a research project. Call for Participants is a website that aims to address this issue by providing a platform for researchers to advertise their research and recruit participants. The website is free and easy to use. Once a project has been advertised, the website sends the information to anyone who matches the researcher’s criteria and also advertises it on its Facebook and Twitter pages. The website is a result of the Jisc Summer of Student Innovation programme where students are invited to work with Jisc to create technology solutions to improve learning and teaching, research and student life. I think that this is a great example of a student-led initiative that aims to find solutions to real world challenges.

Conference programme and abstracts are available here. The EUNIS Congress 2016 will be held at Aristotle University, Thessaloniki, Greece from 6-10 June 2016.

Google Glasses, flipped classrooms and Digital Darwinism



Gillian Fielding
Learning and Skills Development Manager
University of Salford


EUNIS 2014 – Day 2

Michiel Boreel’s advice for CIOs and all managers

Day 2 at Eunis was no less intensive or interesting. Michiel Boreel’s keynote kicked off the day with an insightful view of ‘digital disruption’ (e.g. uber, Airbnb) and how these are changing their respective marketplaces, and how these will change our sector.

Michiel raised a valid point: we are often too busy to ask “why” (what is the value, what is the change, what is going to be possible) but focus on the “what” and “how”.  Technological changes are going to be the biggest driver of behavioural changes in society. Students/people want things “quick and easy” and now and from anywhere (see “What digital natives want from their library“). Having devices in “our pockets” (mine’s rarely there) and not desktop machines has rapidly changed our expectations. Michel reinforced UCISA’s Strategic Challenges emphasising the significance of “data”, suggesting “data is the new oil”. The phones in our pockets betray us by sharing where we are, what we are doing, etc. In LA the police are using data to predict crimes (PredPol), doing more for less. Looking to the future, Michiel predicted that by 2020 we will have 500 billion smart devices, e.g. smart pill boxes which alert us to when we should take them and GPs when we do not; and ‘moomonitors’ for monitoring a cow’s health and wellbeing and adjusting its food and medicine; ‘wearable’ tattoes and microchipped pills!

CEOs/IT and other organisation managers must recognise that technology is the most significant factor to affect businesses and it is changing faster than businesses can deal with it. “Digital Darwinism” is creating Zombie companies that will die. Apply Management 2.0 – build a flexible organisation, employ digital natives!

Research needs and IT

Nick Gibson of Unit 4 covered the challenges research departments have with IT e.g. funder’s requirements, greater need for cross-institutional systems and sophisticated audit trails. Nick has been working with Oxford and Cambridge Universities to provide sustainable and suitable systems.

Video, flipped classrooms and MOOCs

The benefits and issues of creating video content for online delivery and for flipped classrooms was covered by Carlos Turro of the Universitat Politecnica of Valencia (UVP) – see ‘Networked Teaching. The story of a success on creating e-learning content at Universitat Politecnica de Valencia’. Carlos outlined his view of a “MacDonaldisation of networked teaching” where ideas are gathered from the community to change the delivery and provide a menu of burgers and fries. UVP has installed 8 production studios for academics to use, along with templates and guidelines. They provide support which staff have to apply for. They also have 52 lecture halls with lecture capture. The benefits for students of the videos included viewing for “solving doubts” prior to exams. The recordings were also used for MOOC content, particularly useful to UVP as the South American market is very receptive to Spanish speaking MOOCs. A question from the floor asked how the staff and unions had responded to this. This had not been an issue as academics got paid a small amount. However the main reward for the 20% of academics who had participated proved to be the students’ improvement. Courses with PoliMedia got around 4% higher marks and groups with lecture recordings realised a 9% increase in grades.

 Linking Moodle and BYOD

Thierry Koscielniak from Paris Descartes University highlighted the benefits of making lessons interactive by using Moodle in combination with BYOD. Carefully timed questions which students answer on their own devices, i.e. after five or no more than 20 minutes.

Radical transformation of IT Services and doing more with less

James Davies’ session “Building a Collaborative Service Culture” outlined the University of Creative Arts’ implementation of ‘Bomgar’ to transform their IT Service. Bomgar is an IT Solution which works well on a multitude of devices and software. It enabled UCA to do more for less: to increase the number of first line resolutions; to give greater support to off-site users and international students; support previously unsupported devices, e.g. iPhones; and easily establish where faults lie (between vendors’ systems and their own systems). There was, however, the odd annoyance with its implementation – team members had to talk to each other!

Google Glass, telepresence robots and iPads

The final sessions of the day outlined the exciting research Umea University staff (Isa Jahnke, Anders Norberg, LarsNorqvist and Andreas Olsson) are doing with Google Glass, telepresence robots and iPads. We were enthralled not only with the technology but with the impact on the teaching.

One set of Google Glasses enabled dentistry students to be more effectively supported, assisted them to utilise their time better, and meant patient care improved (as they weren’t left unattended). There were hitches and considerations too, you had to think before you spoke, imagine that reaction you’ve all had to certain emails. Google Glass could have sent your reaction before you knew it! Eva presented a humorous adaption of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – with wifi underpinning everything!

Google Glass doesn’t work on authenticated wifi like Eduroam and could be slow. The use of telepresence robots (made up with iPads) to undertake teaching observations and other assessments was discussed and certainly seemed to astound all present. Finally Isa Jahnke rounded off the day by enthusiastically presenting her theoretical model of “Digital Didactical Design model”. This was a fascinating approach provided a framework for practitioners and staff developers to adapt their teaching practice to incorporate technologies and the changing pedagogies. The concept of having to rethink and incorporate (more) multiple-layers for today’s classes rang true, with technology, learner centred activities, peer assessments, problem based learning, etc. Note to self: read Isa’s work and rethink my teaching.

Another day filled with thought provoking ideas.

The slides from all the presentations will be on the EUNIS website after the event.


Strategic benefits of cloud computing, SFIA and hybrid clouds



John Beaver
Assistant Director
Department of Computing Services
University of Bath



Update from Umea

Day two of the blog and another varied and interesting crop of presentations. There was a lot talk of about cloud computing, both from a business and technical perspective.

Two presentations from SURF, the Dutch partnership for Higher Education and Research, outlined how they have been pulling together a framework and reference architecture for cloud in HE, as well as a long term plan to help HEIs realise some of the strategic benefits of cloud computing. They’ve even produced a nifty little video here.

From a more technical perspective, two presentations from our hosts at Umeå University outlined the work they have done in implementing VMware and Microsoft Azure technology to create flexible and cost-effective hybrid clouds.

In my final session of the day, Noel Wilson talked about the changing skillsets required of an IT organisation and of how frameworks such as the British Computer Society’s Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA) can help.

Learning analytics, MOOCs and the Examinations Factory

Gillian Fielding
Learning and Skills Development Manager
University of Salford



Reflections on the first day of the EUNIS conference

I have to say how delighted I am to be here, and thank you to UCISA for awarding me this bursary award.  I confess I had not heard of EUNIS prior to the award and have rapidly come to realise how much we have to learn from this organisation. .

Expect the unexpected

And what a start to the Congress! Gerry Pennell from Manchester University gave a fascinating presentation about how he managed the IT for the London Olympics. IT Directors wouldn’t be surprised by his content but for me as a Digital Skills Manager there was so much in it. Having said that, the key difference from HE, and maybe of interest to IT Directors, was the deadline. It could NOT slip. Also of interest was everyone’s motivation in taking those roles considering they knew that the role would end immediately after the event. Understanding what drove people helped.

Other lessons for our sector: “expect the unexpected”. Cyberattacks were expected and ‘easy’ to deal with, wobbly poles caused by screaming crowds were not. Keeping calm and addressing issues was essential. It was essential to resolve the wobbly pole issue so potential photo finishes in the 100m finals were discernible. Gerry pointed out that projects can be delivered on time and should not drag on. Staying focused on the ‘must haves’, not getting side-tracked with bells and whistles, were key factors.

In year, immediate use of learning analytics

Use of learner analytics to go beyond retaining students was covered by Cheryl Reynolds from Huddersfield University in her really thought-provoking presentation. Cheryl and Cath Ellis used data from Turnitin’s GradeCentre to alter the curriculum during the module to suit immediately evident needs. Examples included students not using subject specific literature, incorrect use of possessive apostrophes and having poor, or non-existent, introductions. Data from GradeCentre was immediately analysed to form part of the next lesson on whatever was needed to find those that were closely associated with success. The data was presented to the students, carefully, so they could learn and improve. Cheryl pointed out this needs to be done discreetly so as not to embarrass anyone or negatively impact the low achievers.

In his presentation entitled ‘Blowing Backwards into the Future of Higher Education’, Anders Norberg of UMEA University pointed out the need and some of the issues we need to address to change our thinking about teaching and learning. He illustrated this by saying we often use ‘transfer learning’ in education but outside education people learn by ‘experimental learning’, suggesting this is an unsustainable mismatch. Anders raised many thought-provoking points, including that we think of learning in rooms, and that defines how we approach content and timescales. We need to move away from this, from ‘courses’ to ‘learning expeditions’.


Many aspects of MOOCs were covered, practical and otherwise, in the presentations from Yves Epelboin and Juan Antonio Martínez Carrascal. The number of MOOCs are rapidly, very rapidly, increasing. The main player is the Spanish ‘Miriada’ who are big in the South American market, ‘FutureLearn’ is next, then the French ‘Universite Numerique’ and the German ‘iVersity’. Interestingly, iVeristy has said there is no (MOOC) business in HE, they are focusing on working with the private sector.

Student retention – no one knows how many get to the end, some are lurkers and some are not interested in the quizzes and assessment. There is no research on what people want out of MOOCs. Flipped learning and SPOCs had benefits for HE in that they allowed academics to start dipping their toes in the waters of what’s needed for MOOCs. The advice from both presentations for HE was to start getting into MOOCs.

Eunis has resources on MOOCs.

Prof Mark Stubbs’ presentation was on Manchester Metropolitan’s Eunis Elite Award-winning EQAL project to implement major system changes across the institution to easily enable students’ wishes for ‘engaging and well-organised courses’ and ‘inspirational tutors who know me’. The project saw the student information system, Moodle and timetabling all talk to each other and give students their timetables, amongst other things, on their mobile devices. The project included single course codes, five well-written learning outcomes with employability skills and provided academics with useful analytics, and took four years to complete. I’m not surprised it was award-winning.

Blackboard’s Dan Peters’ presentation on the opportunities that ‘selfies’ offer us, was another thought-provoking session. Dan gave a convincing case that selfies were evidence of students wanted to produce and that we should monopolise on that in education. Dan cited Stanford who had interestingly made lecture attendance optional after introducing the flipped classroom and problem-based learning approach. They found that attendance increased. They didn’t produce their own recording but used OERs.

Reasons for academics not to engage were discussed e.g. time, skill, however the arguments for were compelling: use of OERs; recordings don’t need to be BBC quality; students want short, engaging content.

Assessment and electronic assessments formed the final sessions of the day. Gill Ferrell pointed to the fabulous resources that JISC have produced to guide staff when considering or reviewing assessment.  Possibly the most important point in this session was that peer reviews have a high impact on learning, though we need to explain to students why they are doing peer assessments, especially as it is not what they expect of HE. Gill also flagged the new JISC mailing list.

Copenhagen University and the Swiss Federal Institute addressed one of the sector’s key strategic challenges (see UCISA’s Strategic challenges for IT Services publication) by sharing their interesting practice in on-line assessments. Both are undertaking large numbers of on-line assessments in Copenhagen in the ‘Examinations Factory’ – a dedicated building. Practical issues covered cheating but little new here, looking over shoulders was still the same as when I was at school and did my 11+ (a long gone UK test for 10/11 year olds). Randomised questions helped mitigate the possibility of cheating. The other issues they’d had were also not new to exam cheating e.g. bringing data/devices (USBs and mobiles etc) into the testing room, and were easily combatted with locked systems and mobile detectors.

The benefits were improved quality, learning outcomes and efficiency, as well as easier to read exam scripts, so well worth it. Average cost €21 per exam. Many different types of exams were held, the obvious multiple choice, also ‘written’ exams, task based ones including conducting an Information Literacy search. The only exam types that were not possible were hand sketched submissions and ones which included written formula.

A great but exhausting first day. In the land of the ‘summer light’ I shall be getting an early night to rest my challenged brain.

You can follow Gillian’s Tweets @g_fielding, or follow the conference hashtag #eunis14.


Electronic assessment, information security and lessons from the Olympics



John Beaver
Assistant Director, Department of Computing Services, University of Bath

A UCISA bursary award winner at EUNIS

John is attending EUNIS 2014 in Umeå, Sweden as a result of receiving a UCISA 21st anniversary bursary.  He will be blogging and Tweeting (@johnbeaver) about his experiences.

I almost didn’t make it here at all. An hour before my flight, the lock on my suitcase jammed imprisoning my passport and boarding pass. But with the help of a good Samaritan at a luggage shop and a hefty screwdriver, the lock was defeated and I was able to board my flight.

Day one began with a welcome from the president of EUNIS and the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Umea and then straight into the keynote from Gerry Pennell, former CIO for LOCOG. Delegates at the recent UCISA conference in Brighton will have seen much of Gerry’s presentation. Nevertheless, it’s hard not to be in awe of the magnitude of the project to deliver IT for the Olympics. Whilst there are some similarities between his old role and his current job as CIO at the University of Manchester, his experience of delivering a project which simply cannot be late and cannot iterate offers a very interesting insight to project management and service delivery from which I’m sure many in HE could learn.

The University of Huddersfield’s Cheryl Reynolds spoke about the power of drawing together data from electronic assessments to derive information, identify trends and draw conclusions which can then directly feed back into the curriculum or trigger interventions in the students’ learning experience. Powerful though this can be, Cheryl urged caution in how these data are used. We need to be mindful of the future (ab)use of the data and understand that a student’s learning experience is far more than just the set of digital artefacts about their studies.

One final highlight of the day was Runa Sandvik’s analysis of the NSA leaks. A former acquaintance of Edward Snowden, Runa is a security researcher. She reminded us that, thanks to “dragnet” surveillance and her connection to Snowden, the audience were now just two “hops” from Snowden themselves!

John Beaver

Slides from speakers  on the first day of the conference