Welcome to the Digital Transformation blog


Digital is the convergence of a variety of technologies and social changes that have led to a new way of living our lives. Our students are the epitome of this new digital reality – they create and consume content in a very different way to previous generations.

But what exactly is a digital transformation? The Enterprisers Project define it as:

“The integration of digital technology into all areas of a business resulting in fundamental changes to how businesses operate and how they deliver value to customers.

Beyond that, it’s a cultural change that requires organizations to continually challenge the status quo, experiment often, and get comfortable with failure.

Digital transformation is not solely about technology. In fact technology is only one part of the puzzle. Digital transformation is about meeting the needs of the new digital consumer – be they staff or student. It involves new understanding and cultural change. For more on this see Paul Boag’s Digital Transformation: The six questions you need to answer.

At the Royal Agricultural University (RAU) we are at the beginning of this transformation process. There is a commitment to develop and a will to act, but so far efforts have not been as co-ordinated as they could be.

However this is about change. We are working on a new digital-focused strategic approach to be integrated in our IT strategy and Learning and Teaching strategy.  It will form the backbone of our digital activity and allow progress to be made in a comprehensive and integrated manner.

We want to share our transformation with you and intend to blog about the journey, bumps and all.

Integrated Systems Europe 2020

I have just returned from a busy 2 days in Amsterdam for Integrated Systems Europe. ISE is the world’s biggest pro Audio Visual show and boasts 15 halls packed with technology. It really is huge!



The RAU AV team were invited to attend by GV Multimedia, who are our AV solutions provider. Unfortunately our main AV expert couldn’t make it so I had to visit alone, luckily GV are a very friendly bunch and took good care of me.

I spent my time at the show focused on a couple of key areas:

  • Digital classrooms – I really liked the Wolf Vision visualizer (which allows small objects to be projected on to a display screen for in depth visualization by students) and their Cynap advanced collaboration and wireless projection. These type of systems could offer lots of opportunities for joint working by our students. I now know that there are three main mirroring protocols: Airplay for Apple devices, Miracast for Windows devices and Chrome cast for Android devices. We also looked at the Barco Weconnect set up.
  • Furniture – Lots of tables and room set ups that promote collaborative  working – the most relevant ones were by Top Tec and Team Mate. Some of the huddle spaces would work great in smaller spaces and corridors.
  • Video conferencing cameras and solutions – We spent time looking at Logitech Meetup which is designed for small conference rooms.
  • Portable projectors – Who’d have known how many different types of portable projectors are out in the market! You need to consider throw ratio (the ratio of the distance from the lens to the screen to the screen width), shift range (the ability to move the projector lens), lumens (how bright it is), zoom, size, connectivity, and more. We looked at Casio, Optoma, Epson, Panasonic and others.
  • Room booking – We took a trip out of Amsterdam to visit Extron offices and were introduced to their room booking  tools including wall mounted TouchLink scheduling panels.


There was a lot to take in and lots to learn, but it proved to be a really interesting experience. I mean it’s not every day that you get to see a pole dancing robot – the ethics of this are discussed further in this article.


Student Digital Insights Survey

At the end of last year we ran the Jisc Student Digital Insights survey.

This is the second year we have run the survey so we were both nervous and interested to see the impact some of our ongoing work has had on the students experience.

Louisa Gostling, studying on the MSc Business Management course was the lucky £50 Amazon voucher winner selected from RAU students who completed the survey

Louisa Gostling, studying on the MSc Business Management course was the lucky £50 Amazon voucher winner selected from RAU students who completed the survey

We are waiting on the bench marked data which will allow us to compare ourselves with other institutions but there are clearly some positive trends that we are happy to see. There is also still lots of work to be done!

  • We got 168 responses. This is a little lower than last time but still a reasonable response.
  • We have tried to do some comparisons with the previous survey data. Quite a few questions have changed but there are a few direct comparisons. Some significant increases include (2018 data is in bold). We can pat ourselves on the back for these!:
    • Reliable wifi 88% agree [80%]
    • Teaching spaces are well designed for technology use 52% agree [40%]
    • I am told how my personal data is stored and used 43% agree [12%]
    • VLE – reliable 80%  agree [62%]
    • Overall, how would you rate the quality of your organisation’s digital provision (software, hardware, learning environment)? 82% [74%]
    • Overall, how would you rate the quality of digital teaching and learning on your course 78% [57%]
  • Themes from the free text analysis include:
    • Request for more lecture capture and video content, or voice recordings of lectures
    • Staff training – especially on new CleverTouch screens
    • Student training – for those other than 1st years, outside of lessons, on industry tools, on assistive technologies, building on study skills sessions, on a multitude of areas including O365
    • Rooms – more sockets, updated tech, more study space
    • There is still work to do on CELCAT, myRAU, Gateway (getting better but still improvements can be made – mainly around content) and the student portal.
  • We also asked students about the tools they use and the training they would like on them. While some students may not actually recognise what tool they are using (for example Panopto) this is helpful in identifying areas for us to prioritise.

toolsWe will be sharing more results from the survey when all the bench marked data has been shared by Jisc.

Bett 2020 – Day 3

On Friday the 24th of January, I attended the Bett Show conference. Bett is one of the largest education technology conferences in the world, with over 800 leading companies, 103 EdTech startups and 34,000 attendees [1]. Not only is there a large exhibition of many eLearning technology providers, you can also attend useful seminars hosted by leaders in the field.

Marieke had attended the Bett show as well on Wednesday the 22nd of January; have a read of her blog post here.


Welcome to the Bett show

Upon arrival to the Bett show, I had a quick orientation walk around of the conference, where I came upon Clevertouch (the provider of the touchscreens RAU is currently rolling out) hosting a session on how to use their touchscreens in creative ways in the classroom and how to use the connectivity options to get students to play an active role in learning.


Clevertouch’s session on using their screens in the classroom

After the Clevertouch session, I made my way to the HE/FE theatre for a talk by Simon Kay from South Gloucestershire and Stroud Colleges, who spoke about how they have successfully rolled out MS Teams across their campuses and the creative ways in which they are using MS Teams for teaching & learning, as well as communication.

As RAU is currently in the process of rolling out MS Office (which Teams is a part of), it was very useful to see how they went about designing their platform and providing support and training for their students and staff.


Simon Kay explaining how they launched their MS Teams platform amongst the students and staff

Straight after the session by Simon Kay, I remained in the HE/FE theatre for a talk on Smart campuses and how Universities in the USA are using technology to improve:

  • student learning, for example being able to check from anywhere on the campus which study spaces have computers available
  • student on campus living, for example being able to check on your phone whether there’s equipment available in the gym or what’s available for lunch
  • sustainability and cost reduction, for example lighting that turns on and off automatically
  • security, for example unlocking doors with your badge, CCTV and even an AI system that can identify the sound and location of gunfire and trigger a response plan accordingly

Richard Nedwich explaining the different elements of a Smart campus and how they link together via cloud technologies

The next seminar I attended was by Abi James of AbilityNet, who explained what accessibility means and what public bodies (including Universities) need to do to adhere to new accessibility regulations. Part of this is ensuring that your websites and VLE’s are easy to use by people with a range of SEND (Special Education Needs and Disabilities). Abi went on to explain how you can test and improve your webpages for this purpose and spoke about what writing a mandatory accessibility statement entails.


Abi James explaining the principles of Accessibility

After a little break, I had a walk around the exhibition. It was very interesting to see the diverse range of eLearning tools that are available and what they are used for. Some of the tools on display included:

  • Software, such as VLE’s, e-learning tools, apps, communication platforms, student registration tools, learning management solutions etc.
  • Learning materials, such as e-books, publishers and learning programmes
  • Hardware, such as learning robots, virtual reality kits, touch screens, interactive projectors and other devices
  • Furniture for creating smart classrooms and huddle spaces, as well as laptop/tablet safes

There was also a large section of the exhibition dedicated to a “Global Showcase” where people from different countries such as Norway, Korea, Saudi Arabia and France showed how they use technology for teaching and learning. In addition, there was a strong focus on SEND and student wellbeing, with Friday being dubbed “SEND Friday”.

As my last seminar of the day, I attended “Unified communication via the Cloud”, where Scott Somenthal spoke about how Universities can use “the Cloud” to connect different communication tools, after which it was time to make the trek back to Cirencester.

During the Bett show, I have gained many new insights and ideas, which are now to be digested and used in the RAU LT team’s work.

Bett 2020 – Day 1

The Bett show, held at Excel in London, is one of the biggest education technology shows in the UK. It boasts an exhibition with 800 leading companies, 103 exciting new EdTech startups and over 34,000 attendees. There is also a parallel seminar programme. Here are my notes from day 1.


In the main arena the opening session was delivered by Chris Skidmore  Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation jointly at the Department for Education and Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Chris highlighted recent government work supporting edtech initiatives around uni choice (Think uni app), Essay mills and assisstive technology. He also mentioned Ada: the national college for digital skills the new Institutes of Technology and UCLs Educate programme.

Chris Skidmore speaking

Chris Skidmore, Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation

I spent most of my day hanging around the HE and FE theatre where there some interesting talks on areas including digilearn, authentication and distance learning and coding. Sue Beckingham, Principal Lecturer in Business Information Systems and Technology, Sheffield Hallam University presented on Developing Student Engagement and Empowerment. Hallam’s Student-led Social Media for Academic Studies at Hallam (SMASH) group comprises of a group of students working in partnership with academics and creating exciting, student-created content. Sue has relied heavily on the HEA (now AdvanceHE) Framework for partnership in learning and teaching for structure and guidance.

Sue Beckingham, Principal Lecturer in Business Information Systems and Technology, Sheffield Hallam University

Sue Beckingham, Principal Lecturer in Business Information Systems and Technology, Sheffield Hallam University

I attended a session in the Global Showcase theatre on Furthering your understanding of China EdTech market presented by Su Si, Head of Education Technology and Knowledge Transfer – Department for International Trade. The session was aimed at tech start ups interested in working with China, so not directly relevant but still of interest given the RAU’s increasing presence in China.  In China the annual ICT in education spending in 2020 is estimated to reach GBP 44.2 billion driven by strong government funding support, increasing internet penetration, so there are lots of business opportunities for companies. Su started with some terminology and it is useful to know that China do not refer to edtech or learning technology and instead talk of education informatisation.

I enjoyed the session on The Importance of Creativity delivered by Erik Hanson, Senior Director of Marketing Communications at Apple. Erik talked about how creativity is often trumped by conformity, for example there are allegedly “only 7 movie posters” – 7 different poster layouts due to reluctance to experiment and risk being different. He gave some reasons for this conformity:  standardized testing in schools,  defunding of the humanities (it is down 70%), the rise of data (it gives instant feedback so gets rid of outliers). Unfortunately, as JFK once said, “conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth” and creativity needs a champion. Naturally Erik sees this champion as being Apple, cue trendy images of the ‘shot on an iphone campaign’.

Sticking with the film theme Cindy Rampersaud, Senior Vice President BTEC and Apprenticeships at Pearson explained how the blockbuster film Black Panther is a good example of how companies now employ less people but work with a bigger ecosystem of people. In the session Meeting the Needs of Lifelong Learners Cindy talked about a recent Global survey run by Pearson looking at how learners are changing. The survey completed by 11,000 learners across 19 countries found some interesting trends.

  • academic pathways are changing – lifelong long learning and diverse career paths are now the norm
  • a DIY mindset is reshaping education
  • people expect digital and virtual learning to be the norm
  • the shift in demographics and the aging population are a challenge, note however that this trend is not global
  • generation Z are making different choices and have interest in work/life balance, social responsibility, flexibility, more fluid careers
  • soft skills are increasingly important
The lifelong learning panel: Cindy Rampersaud, Carmel Kent, Head of Education Data Science - UCL EDUCATE, Ken Eisner, Director, Worldwide Education Programs and Global Lead, AWS Educate - Amazon Web Services and Paolo Dal Santo, Education business Development Manager EME

The lifelong learning panel: Cindy Rampersaud, Carmel Kent (UCL EDUCATE), Ken Eisner, (AWS Educate)  and Paolo Dal Santo (EME)

For the closing plenary Brian Cox enthused us all by talking about cosmology and how the laws of Nature we discovered here on Earth are applicable to the entire Universe.

Brian Cox, professor of particle physics in the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Manchester

Brian Cox, professor of particle physics in the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Manchester

The rest of the day was spent avoiding robots, being impressed by the vast amount of tech out there (though not always by what it does – some ideas should stay in the incubator!) and walking a long way – Bett is a vast and seems to be getting bigger each year!

Vevox Student Response System pilot

The traditional lecture (with an academic at the front and students in seats) continues to be the most commonly used format for teaching at the RAU and with an increase in the number of core modules being delivered we are seeing more large-group lectures. The biggest issues with this teaching approach includes:

  • Keeping students engaged
  • Ensuring students are paying attention
  • Encouraging discussion and critical thinking
  • Improving attendance

Student response systems (SRS, also known as classroom response systems or polling software) are software solutions that allow academic staff to ask students questions, students to answer the question using an electronic device (phone or laptop, online or using text) and the results to be shown in real time. 

McGivern and Coxon (2015) argue that the use of online polling software as a partial solution to the afore mentioned issues is “is relatively easy to do, students generally like it, and it may well be good for them. Sounds like an easy win!

Academics at the RAU have are already using SRS with some success (systems include Zeetings, Polleverywhere, Kahoot, Answergarden and Nearpod). However, the RAU does not currently pay for a SRS solution and free solutions have limitations in audience and question number.  After some discussion a decision was made to go through the procurement process for a SRS and at the end of last year we looked at fours different systems.


We have now decided to participate in a semester long pilot of the polling and Q&A app Vevox. Our decision was based on the user and customer support (the team are very friendly and helpful!), the potential integration with Moodle and the usability (including the PowerPoint add in).

Over the next couple of months we will be exploring integrations, getting our pilot group of academics together and trying out the tool in the classroom.

At the end of last week I attended my first Vevox webinar entitled ‘Cooking-up good teaching with recipes for Vevox’. The session was delivered by Robert O’Toole, E-learning Advisor at the University of Warwick. Warwick have only just started using Vevox but already have a significant number of Vevox related recipes in their catalogue of recipes for excellent teaching.

Robert explaining how the recipes work.

Robert explaining how the recipes work.

These include:

  1. Crowdsource, reflect and select – students add ideas, ideas ordered by like, students vote
  2. Terminology word cloud – students add terminology, displayed as a word cloud
  3. Electronic Mood board – Students share thoughts feelings and sensations

Warwick already have 120+ academics signed up to use Vevox after one term, and they are rating the technology as 4/5 stars and rating their confidence in the technology as 4/5 stars.

Robert’s enthusiasm for the system was infectious and I’m really looking forward to getting started in using Vevox!

Introducing Husna

Husna AhmedHello, I am Husna Ahmed and am the new learning technologist working on the Catalyst project along with Chantal Schipper and Madeline Paterson. As the project is halfway through, I will be focusing on the undergraduate programmes that will be starting in the 20/21 academic year.

My background is in Operations Research and IT and I have worked in the industry in various capacities.

training session of an arrest.I joined RAU two weeks ago, having moved here from University of the West of England where I was also a learning technologist and worked in the health and applied sciences faculty. The role was varied, ranging from dealing with professional councils to training clinicians, staff and students with a focus on work-based learning and assessments. I was also involved with police apprenticeships, which got me involved with the Avon and Somerset police force, it was great fun working on some of their training exercises and it was good to see the kind of work they do a bit close up, it makes one appreciate all the effort that goes into that line of work and what they do for the community. The picture shows us filming a training session of an arrest.

Prior to that, I was a digital learning coach at Gloucestershire College for a few years. The role was to support academics in the use of technology for teaching and learning with the emphasis on CPD and coaching. So, most of the time I designed and delivered training sessions on the use of technology to all stakeholders. Pictured below was one of such sessions.

Training session

Training session

Before joining the education sector, I worked for a software company that built systems for the UK pharma industry as the company IT trainer and service analyst. I look forward to working on the Catalyst project and with the wider RAU colleagues. 

Mahara Newsletter & assessment update

Happy New Year everyone!

Our Mahara exploits have been highlighted in this month’s Mahara newsletter. The newsletter is published quarterly by the Mahara project and features innovative uses of the ePortfolio system.

In our short article we give an update on the Mahara assessment for the first year shared module, the initial outline of work was originally written about in this blog post.

Work on this assessment is far from over. Academics are currently marking the portfolio using the allocated Moodle rubric and the results will be released next week.

If we are honest it hasn’t been a particularly smooth ride.  Some students have struggled with the submission process – we used a Mahoodle plugin to allow submission through our VLE – despite our provision of extensive guidance. There have also been issues with with the template sharing. Allocation of the template is carried out through the Mahara groups, which were manually created at the start of the semester. This means that some students who joined late or were not added to that module at the start of the semester have had had to be added manually one by one. This isn’t difficult to do but has been exasperated by students who have left creation and submission of the portfolio till very late in the day. Dynamically connecting groups on Mahara and pages on Moodle, or modules on Quercus would be a better approach but as far we are aware both approaches aren’t possible yet. There have also been the general user issues that arise when learning any new tool – this applies to students, staff and the learning technologists!! All in all it has been a learning journey and we are all a lot wiser now (with regard to Mahara) than we were at the start of the semester. We will do some serious reflection on the process once we are safely out the other side.

In the newsletter there is also a review of Sam Taylor’s Designing effective ePortfolio activities workshop (originally designed by Sam and Aurelie Soulier). The post provides a link to the very useful briefing on assessment of portfolios by David Baume. The briefing was written almost 20 years ago but still offers real food for thought on the use and assessment of portfolios.

download (1)

Happy Christmas from ITS

Only a few more days and we’ll be shutting up shop for Christmas.

Today we had our annual Christmas pizza lunch combined with a belated Christmas jumper wearing day for Save the children.

Christmas jumper day

Christmas jumper day

Festivities included our raffle and a couple of games of Smart Ass – won by the smart asses!

Pizza lunch

Pizza lunch

Here’s wishing you all a very Happy Christmas and all the best for 2020!

Resource Review workshop

As part of the design process for the new BSc (Hons) Rural Entrepreneurship & Enterprise, one of the new Catalyst programme courses, we were involved in a Resource Review workshop. The workshop was facilitated by Kate Lindsay, Damien Turner, Sue Lowe and Sandra Scalzavara from the University College of Estate Management (UCEM) who are supporting us with the development of the Catalyst programmes.

A team working on the marketing module

A team of academics working on the marketing module

During the workshop the academics were asked to consider resources (text, audio, video, image, hyperlink, interactive activities, artefacts etc.) that already exist and think about repurposing them for programme modules using some different techniques.

For example they were asked to consider:

  • Is the resource relevant?
  • Is the resource available?
  • Is the resource reliable?
  • Is the resource current?
  • Is the resource scaffolded?

img_2484.jpgThe programme academics broke into teams and worked on an individual module with a Learning Technologist from UCEM. They were asked to place their suggested resources on a chart and consider their relevance to the module learning outcomes.

After thinking about what resources already exist, the academics used the remaining time to fill in the gaps with resources that need to be found or developed.

Susan Baker, the RAU Library Operations Manager, also attended the workshop and provided an overview of the databases and e-library platforms that RAU has available for 2020. These include:

  • Business Source Premier (Ebsco)
  • Emerald Business & Management Journals
  • Science Direct
  • Other e-journal packages such as Wiley, Taylor & Francis, Sage
  • Marketline Advantage
  • Statista is a highly trustworthy source of data and statistics across a very broad range of industries. It also includes reports, dossiers, forecasts, infographics etc.

These resources can be searched via “Find It @ RAU” on the Library page on Gateway.

A team of academics working on the entrepreneurship module

A team of academics working on the entrepreneurship module

The session worked really well and by the end of the two hours we had a clear overview of what resources can be used in the to be developed modules. This overview of resources will be used in the oncoming Design Workshops to further develop these modules.

Office365 – Dream deploy

Today Nic Clarke from Hable visited us in order to present on the benefits and opportunities of Office 365 to our Senior Leadership Team.

Nic Clark from Hable presents

Nic Clark from Hable presents

Hable will be working with RAU to help us adopt the best of Office 365 and develop new ways of working. Hable have assisted many Higher Education institutions in the past including the University of London, the University of Bristol and Suffolk University. They have also worked with schools, companies and government departments (Houses of Parliament, Ministry of Housing) to help them embrace the power of the cloud.

Nic’s presentation covered the change management process we will be adopting beginning with building an awareness of, and desire for, improved tools and services. Some of the benefits include:

  • Modern tools – all in one place
  • Collaborate in real time, more easily
  • Unlimited storage
  • Available anywhere, anytime, on any device
  • Modern, flexible, secure
  • Designed for accessibility
  • Seamless integration
  • Streamline what you already have – capture software, meeting apps…

He shared some case studies of recent work at other institutions and the potential of Teams among staff and students.

Over the forthcoming months we will migrating all our staff from on premise email in Exchange to Outlook online.