Category Archives: USG

TEF and digital capabilities – do you measure up?

The second Digital Capabilities Survey will be open for responses in early October. It will be interesting to compare the results with the 2014 Survey and see what now influences the development of digital capabilities within our institutions.

One possible influence (although it may have come too late to have a significant impact on this Survey) is the Teaching Excellence Framework. The Technical Consultation outlined the number of criteria that institutions will need to demonstrate that they are meeting if they are to achieve Excellent or Outstanding ratings. So what are the areas where policies and activities relating to digital capabilities are likely to have an effect?

The first criterion listed under the Teaching Quality aspect is Teaching provides effective stimulation and encourages students to engage. Student satisfaction surveys are listed as a key piece of evidence, not only to demonstrate that the students feel that their teaching is stimulating and engaging, but also to demonstrate the way that such surveys and other student feedback relate back to staff development. Students expect lecturers to be able to teach using current technology; how good is the institution at equipping those lecturers with the skills they need? The need to provide continuing professional development for both academic and support staff is also highlighted in another criterion, that the Institutional culture recognises and rewards excellent teaching.

The focus of the TEF isn’t entirely on staff skills and abilities – there is a significant focus on student outcomes too. Two criteria in particular focus on this area – that students achieve their educational and professional goals and that they acquire knowledge, skills and attributes that prepare them to their personal and professional lives. Whilst the evidence for the former will be largely based on employment outcomes (I would expect the replacement for the Destination of Leavers return to be a key measure here), suggested evidence for the latter includes employer engagement in the curriculum, course accreditation by professional regulatory or statutory bodies and extra-curricular activities designed to enhance employability and transferable skills. Digital capabilities are an essential part of the skills and attributes a graduate will need – the emphasis an institution places on digital capabilities may depend on the level of external influence on employment outcomes. As the TEF matures, it will be interesting to see whether those institutions with a strong focus on student digital capabilities will achieve better ratings than their peers.

Finally, the TEF reinforces the Government’s commitment to widening participation. Institutions are required to demonstrate that Positive outcomes are achieved for students from all backgrounds, in particular those from disadvantaged backgrounds or those who are at greater risk of not achieving positive outcomes. In this aspect disadvantaged can have a multitude of meanings – institutions will need to identify and make provision for those who are digitally disadvantaged.

It may be too early for the TEF to have a major effect on digital capabilities strategies and activities. The 2017 Digital Capabilities Survey may identify those looking to steal a march on their competitors by implementing measures to improve their students’ and staff skills levels. Alternatively it may show that the TEF is not going to be a major influence with institutions already having measures in place. Time will tell. The survey opens in early October and we are currently identifying the lead respondent for each institution. If you are unsure as to whom the lead respondent is for your institution, please contact

Jisc Digital student event

I attended the Jisc digital student data collection and analysis workshop in London on the Wednesday 29th April. It was raining. I was directed to a brightly lit room, mostly due to the large windows with bare white walls. The room was furnished with six large tables, littered with Jisc information, and chairs stationed around them. At 10am it was filled with HE staff from all over the UK. I sat down next to two lovely ladies, one from The Open University and the other from Glasgow Caledonian University.

The day started with Sarah Knight talking about the #digitalstudent project and how Jisc were at phase 3, where they had already consulted with 500 staff and students from HE and 300 staff and 220 learners from further education about students expectations and experiences of technology. The remainder of the day was spent in a facilitated workshop.

We were told that ideas were needed from the sector and that there was no such thing as a bad idea. The day was not going to be laid back. We were going to have to work for our lunch, and work we did. It was filled with analogies, what ifs and concepts.

We were presented with the seven challenges in enhancing the digital student experience, taken from the Jisc strategic approach guide. Then came the Analogy exercise. We were asked us to think of commercial systems that could work well within the HE sector to enhance the student experience. There were many examples as we were encouraged to write as many as we could. One person suggested financial risk planning. The key attributes were profiling customers about their perception towards risk. They suggested that it could be used to profile students’ perceptions towards technology.

We had a noisy break as everyone was chatting to each other. Then the next exercise quickly followed: What ifs. We were given large block of Postit notes to write down our wish lists such as What if … we had a permanent student led (CAN) R&D unit run by student research interns or work placements or What if … we bought Facebook and used it for learning and What if… we could personalised every individuals approach to teaching or learning and enable them to work in their own preferred way. By the end of the session those lovely white walls, were no longer white but filled with our ideas on coloured bits of sticky paper.







The day did not end there. We had fun drawing each other with our left hand, for light relief, before the meat of the exercises was served to us. We had to take the What ifs and develop them into concepts propositions. Two from each table were presented to the room and then stuck up on the wall, where everyone was invited to vote on the concepts. I looked out the window and the rain had stopped. After a summary of the day, the facilitators thanked us for our contributions and closed the workshop. It was an enjoyable day that went as quickly as the rain.

Footnote: Initial outcomes from the day are available on the Jisc website

Lorraine Barclay
IT Systems Trainer
St George’s University of London
UCISA-DSDG USG Committee member

Guided social learning

julie120Julie Adams
Academic Skills Tutor
Staffordshire University
UCISA DSDG (User Skills Group)



Learning Technologies 2015: Day 2 – Collaborative learning for the networked age

Jane Hart from the Centre for Learning and Performance Technologies led the most interactive of all the sessions I attended. She began by getting us to work with our neighbours by sharing useful apps/resources from our mobile devices. We then moved on to look at QR codes – scanning some Jane provided us with, then creating our own and uploading them to a hashtag (#gslqr). Finally Jane displayed the stream of these on screen allowing us to explore some of those created. In the final exercise, Jane set up a Padlet for us to add comments to, on how we could use these tools or guided social learning in our organisations.

I have to admit to being surprised that the delegates I was sitting by were not at all familiar with QR codes, having never scanned one before let alone thought of creating one. I have used QR codes quite a lot previously, so was able to help them with this. I was also one of the few who had used Padlet before. Maybe in HE we are ahead of some organisations in using these types of tools to support learning.

I think that getting us to co-operate, share and help one another was part of the point of the exercise, rather than showing us the tools themselves, as Jane went on to talk about some of her work in helping teams develop skills and confidence in using technologies through the use of a learning guide. She outlined a project she had worked on with a team of trainers from Pfizer in India who wanted to know more about using iPads in training.

The key features that helped make this a successful social learning course were that participants were quick to comment on each other’s work, congratulated others on their achievements and helped and supported each other with problems. There was also a continuous flow of conversation.

Jane has written more about this training on her blog –  and the manager of the group, Sunder Ramachandran, has also written about his experiences.

A few relevant things to note from what Jane said:

  • An activity itself does not equal learning – we need a goal. This is an obvious point, but worth keeping in mind when introducing new technologies.
  • Sometimes there is a temptation to use tools/technology just because they ‘are there’, rather than because they are the best thing for that particular job.
  • Other success factors for social learning include respect for others’ views, the group wanting to learn and having a learning champion to help encourage and keep learners on track.

I know there have been a number of staff development courses run in HE that follow a similar theme to this, and encourage staff to learn more about social media – especially the variations on ‘23 Things’ that started in libraries but spread to other staff groups too. Although setting up such courses does take some planning and commitment, most people who participate find them beneficial. I have looked at running something along the lines of ‘23 Things’ previously, but never actually done it. This session make me seriously think of trying to get this done – maybe at a scaled-down version looking at a few key technologies and tools.

Learning Technologies 2015

The power of joined up communication

julie120Julie Adams
Academic Skills Tutor
Staffordshire University
UCISA DSDG (User Skills Group)



Learning Technologies 2015: Day 2 – collaborative learning

Euan Semple, author of ‘Organisations don’t Tweet, people do’  led an interesting conversational session, where he covered the main ideas around how he sees “social” fitting into personal and organisational communications and how engaging with Twitter and blogging helps build conversation, contacts and enhances personal development.

I’ll outline a few interesting snippets from Euan:

  • It is important to remember culture and attitude and, more important than the technology used, also a willingness to work together with others. Age is also not important.
  • A question to consider: “How does one manage to have an authentic voice in a stifling environment?”. We need to develop the skills of asking questions and offering answers in the ‘right’ tone.
  • He said that Twitter filters the incoming world for him and he found what matters to him faster than ever before. He is learning more now than he did as a kid.
  • Most external social activity done by organisations is broadcasting, not really social or having conversations.
  • Social media is about reciprocation. We can help others, but also be helped ourselves.
  • Learn to ‘filter’ things – if you add more signal than noise, you will get value back.
  • The hashtag provides a focus for us to meet up and convene around, it can be messy but it works.
  • Important features of being social are building communities, trust and networks.
  • Social media helps with collective sense-making.
  • You can write yourself into existence and increase your awareness of the world around you and get more focussed on what matters.

One useful piece of advice for ‘dinosaurs’ who don’t really want to get involved, or for those who really lack confidence, is to take small steps and there is nothing wrong with lurking and observing to start with. An easy first step is to add comments to others’ blogs if you don’t feel confident to write your own.

I really liked one comment from Euan about knowledge being power – but not in the way we would tend to think of it as keeping stuff to ourselves. His interpretation is that giving information (knowledge) out and helping others is what makes you more powerful. I think this is important to remember when we are trying to build our personal digital profiles.

Further links:

Euan’s podcast series

Euan’s blog

Learning Technologies 2015

Mobile learning

julie120Julie Adams
Academic Skills Tutor
Staffordshire University
UCISA DSDG (User Skills Group)



Learning Technologies 2015: Day 2 – Geoff Stead: Mobile delivery – putting the device in your hand to work

Geoff Stead is from Qualcomm, who make the chips in our phones. They are a huge organisation with 31,000 employees. Geoff described the work they have done to create an internal ‘app store’ for their employees and highlighted the most relevant parts of this. Qualcomm purposely avoided squeezing elearning modules onto a smaller screen and focused more on linking to performance support resources and apps that were free, or resources already subscribed to, as well as content developed internally. More information on the work of Geoff’s team is at the WorkLearnMobile site.

Qualcomm are obviously a very different type of organisation to HE – there were 15 people in Geoff’s team that worked on this and there are many more staff – but there were some lessons we could take from what they have done.

Some of the drivers for the development were ‘guerilla learners’ – those who don’t like to wait for corporate learning and development activities, but like to find stuff for themselves using Google, LinkedIn, social networks and mobile resources. I think we can all recognise these people, and are maybe like that ourselves! As more staff (and maybe students?) adopt this method of professional development we will need to look at how we can best support it.

There are already a number of institutions who have run one-off or regular ‘app swap’ events (for an example see one of the case studies within the UCISA Best Practice Guide from 2013 ‘Changing landscapes: The challenges of IT and digital skills training in the changing HE landscape’) and build resources to promote useful apps from these. These are useful and help to engage staff, but maybe don’t touch all who could benefit. Looking to see how we could bring useful apps to the attention of all staff is definitely an area worthy of further consideration.

Developing a resource for staff or students that highlights the apps available for various resources and systems we already have – library resources, systems such as, free news/journal sites amongst others – would be something that we could do, even if this was not as comprehensive as our own app stores. I am certainly planning to see what I could do for my own institution, beginning with a LibGuide page as a starting point.

Learning Technologies 2015

The role of learning in human development


Julie Adams
Academic Skills Tutor
Staffordshire University
UCISA DSDG (User Skills Group)



Learning Technologies 2015: Day 2 – Professor Robert Winston – the expanding mind

This keynote was for many the highlight of the conference – one audience member commented during the question session that hearing Professor Winston alone was worth the conference fee! It is hard to capture the presentation effectively in a few words as he took us on a journey through human development covering the amazing development, creativity, power and adaptability of the human mind, using a wide range of video clips from his TV programmes, plus images and music.

I will try to capture some of the most interesting and relevant parts of the talk and try to look at how these might be of relevance to us.

Some fascinating facts:

  • The human brain is the most complex object in the universe with 100 million neurones – but we only use a small fraction of these. He showed an interesting video showing how we learn.
  • We decide within 0.3 of a second of meeting someone whether they are trustworthy!
  • Opera singers use more muscles than anyone else – including athletes – and use their brains in an advanced way, becoming highly competent with repetition. He believed that anyone could become a competent pianist with practice. Personally, I know that for this I would needs lots and lots of practice!
  • Every two of us have more brain power than any one Nobel prize winner. So we should collaborate more!
  • One of the most amazing facts to me was that there have only been around 5000 generations of modern humans. Thinking of how we have developed since the earliest stone tools to the technology of today, it seems an incredible change in a relatively short time with the most change happening recently. “Our minds are so developed, they are changing and expanding rapidly in a way that’s never been seen before,” he said.

He described the importance of visualisation in learning new skills and this made me wonder how new technologies such as wearables and immersives that have been mentioned in several sessions at the conference might impact on how our brains work and how we learn.

Finally, one quote struck me as very relevant to those of us who deliver any type of learning or training. Professor Winston said that when we left the room after his talk the structure of our brain would have changed, because we have learnt something. So remember that we are doing that every day to all those we teach.

Learning Technologies 2015

New technologies

julie120Julie Adams
Academic Skills Tutor
Staffordshire University
UCISA DSDG (User Skills Group)



Learning Technologies 2015: Panel Discussion ‘The hype and the happening’

The final session of day one was a panel discussion on the role a range of new technologies may have on learning. The panel was made up of Steve Wheeler, Donald Clark, Andrew Jacobs, and Denise Hudson–Lawson.

There was lively discussion and some disagreement amongst the panel over a range of new and emerging technologies. The areas looked at included: MOOCs; artificial intelligence; adaptive learning; touch surfaces; wearables; immersive; presence; 3D printers and gestural computing.

A lot of these were felt not to be of immediate impact for learning and development in general – although I suspect that some may impact on HE in slightly different ways to businesses.

Some of the key points made were about the poor completion rates for MOOCs. There was some feeling that this might not matter if people got out of them what they wanted. But I wonder how those running them would know if this was the case? It was suggested that MOOCs might just need more time to evolve and that they do have a role to play in expanding HE opportunities, especially for those not UK based.

Other areas identified as becoming important were artificial intelligence and adaptive learning algorithms. A comment was that Google search could be considered as sophisticated AI, because of its complex algorithms that ‘learn’ what we want to search for. Getting support within Excel on how to do certain things could be thought of as low level AI. This would seem to fit with the growth of the Internet of Things and smart devices.

Wearables was an area that was seen as having a lot of potential and although not many of us have such devices now this is likely to grow quickly. The Apple Watch was mentioned as something to watch out for! These were seen as having most potential in areas such as health care and vocational training, at least initially. Immersives (including devices such as Oculus Rift) take some of these ideas further and were seen as offering potential for cheap, efficient and quicker training, especially for dangerous situations or vocational training. This may be less applicable to HE, but some FE areas may find benefits in using these – once the price drops sufficiently!

However, the University of Glasgow recently looked at the potential offered by Google Glass – see article in the Times Higher Education section. This showed how the device helped break down barriers between staff and students, so may be an area worth investigating by other institutions.

I found it interesting to compare how some of these technologies mentioned fitted with other recent reviews of technology that may make an impact – such as those shown in the Infographic in the EdTech magazine article ‘10 online learning trends to watch in 2015’. Also, the topics which will form part of the Horizon report for 2015 do include some of these areas – especially wearables (within the next 2-3 years) and adaptive learning and Internet of things (4-5 years). So although these may not impact on us immediately it is certainly worth being aware of developments in this area and how they may impact on our roles in learning and training.


Learning Technologies 2015

Storytelling and video techniques


Julie Adams
Academic Skills Tutor
Staffordshire University
UCISA DSDG (User Skills Group)



Learning Technologies 2015: Day 1 – Mark Davies and Gemma Critchley

In the first part of this session film maker Dr. Mark Davies (tweeting as @SeeLearning) covered some of the key issues to consider when creating videos and some of the simple kit we can now use to get started. In the second part, Gemma Critchley (@GemStGem), Online and Informal Learning Product Manager at BP, described how they have used video to support staff development and showed examples of some of the most successful of these.

Mark outlined the three keywords for successful video: relevance, authenticity and expertise. A good story will engage us and give some kind of emotional connection. Especially for online learning where video gives the ‘humanity’ you would normally get in face to face sessions. In my own institution I have found this to be true with staff who deliver totally online courses reporting positive feedback from students when they have included a ‘welcome’ video or even just a narrated PowerPoint.

Steps to create these engaging videos are: find your story; get the right people to tell it; plan well; and connect to other resources. Videos should be short (five minutes max) and don’t need to be overly complicated. Mark had found that what worked best for him was to ‘layer’ content on a page – basically a mix of text, video and other activities. I suspect that most of our staff would already use this approach when including video in Blackboard or Moodle courses.

Most smartphones are now capable of high quality video and with just a few additions such as a compatible mic (such as the Rode Smartlav+ and a tripod, you could have all the kit required for around £200.

One interesting suggestion was the best way to ‘frame’ interviews to look authentic. This is to get the person being recorded positioned in the left or right of the frame, looking across the frame. I had not specifically noticed this before, but looking at any number of videos of people this is definitely the most widely used technique – and certainly used in all the BP videos on YouTube which include interviews.

A final suggestion from Mark was to use music to enhance the emotion – as long as it is not “corporate cheesy”! Suggested sites for this were The Music Bed and iStock audio. The examples Mark used from these sites were certainly a higher quality than some others I have heard, so may be worth exploring if you need music for a video project.

In the second half of the session Gemma described The Hub at BP. This is for performance support and just-in-time learning. It has around 200 videos with a mix of internal, user-generated and externally-curated content. Over half of BP staff used the site in the last year, and the site has developed using feedback from staff via social media and focus groups. She showed an example of a staff member in Brazil who was the first female supervisor that certainly included all the areas Mark discussed – very emotionally engaging, had a real story and used framing and music effectively. Unfortunately I can’t find a link to this within the BP YouTube site.

The Hub certainly sounded an impressive resource for staff and while I think it might be difficult for most HEIs to develop an equivalent for their staff development, I think it could be worth looking at a way to promote free video resources more widely; and the session reminded me that this was something I wanted to look at doing myself.

Learning Technologies 2015

How the cloud is revolutionising learning


Julie Adams
Academic Skills Tutor
Staffordshire University
UCISA DSDG (User Skills Group)



Learning Technologies 2015: Day 1 – Opening keynote

The conference kicked off with a welcome from Donald Taylor and a request to discuss with our neighbours our current workplace challenges. Despite my neighbours being from very different backgrounds to HE (insurance and healthcare) and the actual challenges different, we did find a similar underlying theme of uncertainty. This is the case for my own institution currently and in an election year is probably the case for many areas. It will be interesting to see whether the sessions over the two days can help address these challenges.

Opening Keynote – Professor Sugata Mitra: A brave new world: how the cloud is revolutionising our learning

Sugata started by looking at requirements of workplaces from the 19th and 20th centuries – military, clerks and manufacturing. Schools produced what was needed for these – workers had to be repetitive, follow orders, don’t think. An interesting thought: “Schools enabled empires for centuries. That world is now obsolete”.

He looked at how new technologies may be used in ways not initially envisaged. When the car took over from coach and horses it was not expected that the passengers would move to the driver’s position. New rules and equipment were needed to be able to cope with this new order. Relating this to learning – books and teachers took people to where they wanted to go. Now should the training ‘engine’ be in the hands of learners? Can they be driving their own learning?

And as driverless cars start to be developed – Sugata suggested we should think what driving means in context of driverless cars. He suggested that concepts can dematerialise, not just things. So can learning dematerialise?

He moved on to outline his previous work with the computer hole-in-the-wall experiments and more recently the Granny Cloud and the TED prize he won which helped with his School-in-the-Cloud concept and self-organized learning environments. These are spreading over the world with the key features of working together to answer specific questions. It is a chaotic environment, with a curriculum of questions, peer assessment, and certification without exams. He reported that the groups are self-correcting with strong social control and never got a ‘wrong’ answer.

Some questions for us to think about in HE and FE. Will this type of learning fit the students better for the world of work? If HE institutions get students from schools who have learnt like this, could we cope? How could we continue to offer this type of experience? Some institutions/courses may offer this more independent learning already, but can it be enhanced and expanded further? Would it work in all cases?

Learning Technologies 2015

Learning technology and the future: Gerd Leonhard


Julie Adams
Academic Skills Tutor
Staffordshire University
UCISA DSDG (User Skills Group)



Learning Technologies 2015: Day 1 – Parallel session

In this session Gerd Leonhard looked at a number of emerging technologies that could have an impact on learning.

Data and information are now ubiquitous commodities. We expect them to be ‘just there’ like water or electricity. The rate of change is getting faster and technologies are converging with the future not linear but exponential, complex and uncertain!

A point to consider is “we need to invest in what might be, not what is”. But how do we know what might be – especially what might be important to HE/FE in general, our institutions and our roles? There are reports such as the annual Horizon reports (2014 versions) and Gartner Predicts amongst others, which we should be aware of and consider.

One big new area that Gerd felt would have an impact is the convergence of technology and humanity. Thinking and memory are becoming lost to devices and apps. Do any of us know friends’ or even family’s phone numbers anymore? As more devices become ‘smart’ this reliance on devices could become worse.

Technology is changing how we see the world. ‘Wearables’ and augmented reality are becoming more common. Devices such as Oculus Rift and the just-launched Microsoft Hololens may be new and niche now, but that will change. If these become used at home and in schools/colleges we in HE may need to consider how this will impact on us and the expectations of our potential students.

Some of this can seem quite scary and Gerd posed the question “is it Hellven (both heaven and hell)?”. There is no one answer to this! Even with all this technology, he said, there is still a need for human interaction. Even with ‘always-on’ hypo-connectivity, people need periods of digestion, contemplation and introspection. This could link to the classroom or training environments where teachers/trainers still have a role. Which is definitely good news for those of us in those professions!

We need to have a ‘return to the right-brain’ – essentially more creative, non-verbal and intuitive – moving from data to information to knowledge and intelligence. Humans still need to pose the questions, which machines might answer, but humans have to interpret and make sense of the answers. To me this fits with the work Sugata Mitra talked about with the children in his School in the Cloud and SOLE, and also with the techniques already used in the more effective IT training courses, and in some HE classes too in areas such as problem-based learning.

I think that there are questions that will need to be considered over what role some of the more advanced technologies could have in HE:

  • Will business start to use these?
  • Do we need to give students the skills in using technologies that the workplace requires?
  • How can we incorporate these into learning – can we afford to? Or can we afford not to?
  • What about offering opportunities to use these to staff?

A final thought from Gerd: “We can’t learn to swim without getting wet”. We need to be immersed in a situation/technology to be able to use it effectively.

Learning Technologies 2015