Tag Archives: MOOCS

The best of resources and tools at ALTC 2018

Marieke Guy
Learning Technologist
Royal Agricultural University

ALTC 2018

As Doug Belshaw, Moodlenet’s Lead, put it in his MoodleNet session – “We don’t have a problem with a lack of resources. We have a problem with the curation of those resources.” ALT shines a light on the best, some of the most useful resources I came across while attending the conference through a UCISA bursary include:

TEL Family Fortunes

Tools are always a big part of any tech event and hearing what is actually being used at the coal face is always a huge help. The UCISA TEL family fortunes session was a fun look at the UCISA Survey of Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL). Did you know that a quarter of institutions have a distance learning unit and over half of them now run a hosted VLE? UCISA digital education is currently producing a VLE review toolkit.
Julie Voce, Head of Educational Technology Learning Enhancement and Development, City, University of London UCISA leads the TEL Family Fortunes
Other interesting tools I came across while at ALT include:
Trends in tools is something picked up in the Jisc Digital tracker and new insights project.
I also really enjoyed the exciting Gasta session, which combined Irish counting, personal experiences and huge amounts of enthusiasm.
More to follow on the noticeable themes and favourite moments at ALTC.
This blog first appeared in the ‘Digital Transformation at RAU’ blog.
Interested in finding out more about a UCISA bursary, then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

“We are really important to the future of education”

Marieke Guy
Learning Technologist
Royal Agricultural University

ALTC 2018

Last month, courtesy of being awarded a UCISA bursary, I travelled up to Manchester (the city of 100,000 students) for the Association of Learning Technology (ALT) Conference 2018. While it was my first ALTC, it was actually the 25th in the series and there was considerable reflection on changes to the learning technologist role and in learning technology itself.  In my posts about ALTC, I want to share some of the noticeable themes and my favourite moments.
The ALTC 2018 committee team launch the conference

I am woman

This year saw three inspiring women providing the ALTC plenaries, unfortunately, unusual enough an occurrence that it warrants comment. On day 1 Dr Tressie McMillan Cottom, Assistant Professor, Virginia Commonwealth University, gave a sociological unpacking of educational technology and explored the idea that context matters and learning technologies do not exist in a vacuum. Tessie suggested that the time is right for us to deconstruct learning technology and consider how we want to put the pieces back together. Learning technologies have (in the US) emerged as administrative units but would they benefit from being a unique academic discipline? She shared the example of the born digital programmes she has led on where “edtech is not just a set of tools but a philosophy about how we think about things” – offering opportunities to the non-traditional student.
On day 2 Amber Thomas, Head of Academic Technology, University of Warwick, gave a wonderful talk considering ‘Twenty years on the edge’. You can read a summary on her blog: Fragments of Amber.  Way too much good stuff to write about here but the main take away was a pat on the back for those of us working with learning technology in HE.
ALT’s 25 year anniversary playing card pack
Things aren’t easy – not only do we suffer from impostor syndrome when we do well but there is also a misapprehension that innovation is isolated to the commercial sector and that governments and agencies are blockers of change. Amber pointed out some of our collective work, from 3.5 million spent on MOOCs, to great collaborative projects and organisations including Ferl, Jisc and EU projects. However, change in universities requires patience and it is important that we listen to the mainstream, after all digital is really about people. We need to be ethical, respectful and useful, for we are “really important to the future of education”.
Dr Maren Deepwell, Chief Executive of ALT, gave the last plenary of the conference ‘Beyond advocacy: Who shapes the future of Learning Technology?’. She brought together the conference themes, a good dose of ethics (“equality is everyone’s responsibility”) and empowerment pants.
Amber Thomas presents her twenty years on the edge
She considered the difficulties learning technologists face in being both advocate and critic in a “risky business” where things often go wrong. Perhaps we need to get better at sharing our failings. Maren concluded with a personal reflection that “EdTech is a field of practice, not a discipline”. You can read Maren’s recent post on the state of Education Technology in HE on WonkHE.

Beetastic Manchester
More to follow on the noticeable themes and favourite moments at ALTC.
This blog first appeared in the ‘Digital Transformation at RAU’ blog.
Interested in finding out more about a UCISA bursary, then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

Open Education






Ed Stout
Support Services Manager
Leeds Beckett University

EUNIS 2017

Ed Stout was funded to attend this event as a 2017 UCISA bursary winner




Sheila MacNeill, Senior Lecturer in Digital Learning at Glasgow Calendonian University and Vice-Chair of ALT, led a very interesting keynote ‘Open Education – the Never Ending Story‘ at EUNIS 2017 with a discussion around what “Open” meant to us. We were all invited to submit the first word that came to our mind related to our understanding of what “Open” meant within an interactive Menti word-cloud. It very quickly became apparent that there is a very broad range of thoughts on the matter and that is was a very personal view.







In January 2017, the Open Education Consortium announced 2017 to be the “Year of Open”. Open Education has been progressing positively since the Budapest Open Access Initiative was  formed in 2002 and benefited from the Cape Town Open Education Declaration of 2007 and the Paris Open Education Resources Declaration in 2012. The underlying principles of Open Education are the beliefs that “everyone has the right to education” and that “education is a public good”.

We are seeing a continually increasing number of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) offered since their inception at Stanford University in 2011 covering a wide variety of courses. Sheila suggests that Open online learning does have a role to play within our educational landscape and that these courses are having an impact.





Shelia spoke about David Wiley’s 5Rs of Openness with Open Educational Resources (OER).

  • Retain – the right to make, own, and control copies of the content
  • Reuse – the right to use the content in a wide range of ways (e.g., in a class, in a study group, on a website, in a video)
  • Revise – the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (e.g., translate the content into another language)
  • Remix – the right to combine the original or revised content with other open content to create something new (e.g., incorporate the content into a mashup)
  • Redistribute – the right to share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others (e.g., give a copy of the content to a friend).

A particularly pertinent closing to Sheila’s keynote speech related to an entity she refers to as “the Nothing”. “The Nothing” is a suitable metaphor for our current society and the problems which we face in it. Coincidentally, Sheila was giving her keynote on the day of the UK election and with that outcome now known, alongside the current climate of politics within the US (with its fake news/alternative facts) and recent questionable election outcomes including that of Brexit and Trump, I can’t help but feel aligned with Sheila’s concerns.

Sheila has kindly made a number of relevant and related resources available as below:







This blog post first appeared on http://www.edstout.co.uk/2017/06/25/day-2-reflections/

Interested in finding out more about a UCISA bursary, then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme.

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 (http://bit.ly/1FYhu14)

Screenshot of the SEdG game. Image source: Conference paper (http://bit.ly/1FYhu14)

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.

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

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.


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.