Tag Archives: UCISA DSDG

Impact of a UCISA bursary…six months on





Roisin Cassidy
Technology Enhanced Learning Advisor
York St. John University




In June of last year, I was fortunate to be awarded a UCISA bursary to attend a conference of my choosing. The purpose of the bursary fund is to provide UCISA members with the means to go to an event that they would not usually have the opportunity to attend. Six months on, I’ve reflected on the impact of the ePIC 2015 conference on my institution and my own development.

I chose the ePIC conference (8-10 June, Barcelona) because its two main strands of open badges and eportfolios aligned with my interests and current priorities in my role as a Technology Enhanced Learning Advisor at York St John University.  Three days of presentations, workshops, posters, and networking events addressed a whole gamut of badge issues, including the value and devaluing of open badges, options for issuing and displaying, and approaches to meaningful design. The purpose and value of eportfolios was scrutinised, and theoretical models and implementations were presented. Attendees spanned the school, further, and higher education sectors, as well as national representative bodies and international humanitarian organisations.  Throughout the conference, I tweeted useful resources and projects at the #ePIC2015 hashtag, and my thoughts on individual sessions can be found on my three blog post reports and Storify of the event.

The benefits of attending were evident later in the summer, with the launch of a collaborative open badge project at my institution. At the time of the conference, I had been approached by our Student Services team about the potential for open badges to be used as a means of recognising the work of Residential Support Assistants (RSAs) at the University. RSAs are generally second- and third-year students who are appointed to help provide a safe, supportive, and inclusive living environment.  The role is one of responsibility, leadership, and teamwork, and the University is keen to acknowledge these students’ contributions to life in the Residences, and to enable them to articulate their achievements in the future. Prior to the conference, the badge pathway, criteria, and means of issuing were all yet to be decided, and the final outcome has been heavily influenced by my attendance. A collection of five badges aligned to the RSAs’ training sessions, and the skills, values, and attributes they are expected to exhibit, were designed. The badges can be earned in any order, and culminate in a York St John Residential Leadership Award milestone badge – a model frequently discussed at the conference. You can read more about the project on the York St John TEL Team’s blog.

Residential Leadership Award Badge Pathway

Residential Leadership Award Badge Pathway






ePIC 2015 also served as a forum for launching the Open Badge Passport (OPB), which is a free, open source, cloud-based service allowing individual users to receive, share, and organise their open badges, and the Open Badge Factory, a badge issue and management service based on the Mozilla open standard, and operating a freemium model. York St John subsequently purchased a licence for the Open Badge Factory, initially for use for the RSA badges, but our collection is growing. Amongst other positives, this approach enables students to easily apply for badges with supporting evidence, and the evidence can be reviewed by the Residences Officer before issuing. It also allows for the creation of milestone badges, where several badges contribute to an overall award or badge. So far, the system has proved very useful and intuitive. Our next step – once the plugin has been tested further – is to integrate the Passport with Mahara so that students can easily display badges in both.

Since attending, I’ve been able to incorporate examples from the conference into subsequent open badge information sessions that I’ve delivered to staff, and referred to ongoing projects (for example, JISC’s Prospect to Alumnus (P2A) project) which could raise the profile and currency of badges amongst UK employers – something badge sceptics (rightly!) query regularly. I was also energised to begin a review of ePortfolio use at York St John, particularly its use and impact as an assessment method, and attempted to recruit a student researcher to work alongside me on this. Unfortunately, there were no takers for the role and it has since stalled, but I haven’t abandoned the idea yet!

The conference was smaller than expected, the positive side of which was more opportunity for prolonged discussion in a smaller crowd. As a result, I’ve widened my network of open badge enthusiasts, and have several contacts I can draw upon for support as I navigate new territory. If you’re a newcomer to open badges, I recommend following the work (and Twitter accounts!) of these badge enthusiasts:  Serge Ravet (conference organiser), Eric Rousselle (CEO of Discendum Inc., makers of Open Badge Factory), Don Presant, Doug Belshaw, and Fiona Harvey.

I’ll also be attending the upcoming Open Badges in Higher Education Conference (8 March, Southampton), where I expect to catch up with many familiar ePIC faces – hopefully see some of you there!

Many thanks again to UCISA for sponsoring my attendance.

Interested in applying for a UCISA bursary? Then visit UCISA Bursary Scheme 2018.

Epic preparations by a UCISA bursary award winner



Roisin Cassidy
Technology Enhanced Learning Advisor
York St. John University

Pre-conference thoughts

Earlier in the year I had discovered the ePIC 2015 conference programme and it grabbed my attention immediately. As a Technology Enhanced Learning Advisor at York St John University, my role includes leading and supporting the institution’s use of our ePortfolio system, Mahara, as well as embedding the considered use of open badges as a new online standard for recognising and verifying formal and informal learning. So, the conference theme – ‘disruptive technologies for transformative learning’ – is directly relevant to my work. It also dovetails with the focus of the UCISA Digital Skills and Development (DSDG) Academic Support Group in supporting students and staff in the effective use of technology for learning, teaching and assessment. As such, it was the conference at the forefront of my mind when UCISA’s bursary scheme was announced, as this provides members with the means to go to an event they would not usually have the opportunity to attend. I was delighted to hear that my bursary application was successful, and I’m looking forward to the great mix of keynotes, presentations and workshops at ePIC 2015 from 8-10 June in Barcelona.

The conference’s two primary strands, open badges and ePortfolios for learning and assessment, offer exciting – and in the case of open badges, emerging and innovative – opportunities to address one of the key UCISA strategic challenges of developing staff and students’ digital literacies. It’s also a chance for me to gather an international perspective on two core areas of my work. The conference is aligned with a host of high-profile sponsors and partners including Open Badge Factory, Open Badge Passport (Sponsors), and Badge Alliance and Open Education Europa (Partners) and will see the launch of the Open Badge Passport. A series of workshops will outline the vision for the Passport and seek delegates’ input into how this open source project might successfully reinvent the ePortfolio to take account and advantage of the full opportunities offered by open badges, whilst facilitating the trust which is the currency of badges. We’ll also have a chance to examine the design principles for building an open badges programme and explore the disparate badge types and the growing variety of avenues for issuing, earning and ‘consuming’ badges. This is of particular interest to me as my University looks to build on small-scale pilot initiatives towards more University-wide projects.

Amongst the other sessions I’m looking forward to are:

  •  A review of the lessons learned by Amod Jayant Lele and Gillian Pierce of Boston University when adopting ePortfolios for assessment on a large campus, and their observations on the pedagogical benefits of ePortfolios beyond initial assessment-focused purposes. (Adopting ePortfolios on a large university campus: program assessment and beyond. Amod Jayant Lele and Gillian Pierce, Boston University)
  • A keynote from DisasterReady.org on how the Humanitarian workforce sector is embracing the value of ePortfolios for developing and recognising the skills of a very global and mobile workforce, and how the technology is aiding the professionalisation of their particular sector (The pivotal role of educational technologies in human capital development. Atish Gonsalves, DisasterReady.org; Dominique Giguère and Don Presant, MSF Canada)
  • A report on an ongoing collaborative project at Buckinghamshire New University to explore the value of social media based ePortoflios created using student selected tools, and to review the impact of such an approach on students’ engagement with employers, alumni and other industrial connections. (Social Media ePortfolio for employability: a student- led approach. Barbara Anne Nicolls and Kath Dunn, Buckinghamshire New University)

I will be tweeting throughout the conference, so follow me @Roisin_Cassidy for updates, or watch out for my posts on the UCISA and York St John TEL Team blogs for fuller reports.

The full conference programme and session details are available from the ePIC 2015 website.

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

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