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 Strategy that 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.

Valuable lessons from our visitors

This week we had some visitors to campus to help us with our digital plans.

ABL, ABW and sensemaking

Professor Ale Armellini, Dean of Learning and Teaching at the University of Northampton, came to talk to members of the IT Services team about the recent activities at Northampton. Northampton have consolidated a number of their campuses and moved the vast majority of staff and students to their new Waterside campus. This process has not just about rethinking physical space, it has involved a rethinking of the way they work and teach (‘Waterside ready‘). Academic staff have redesigned their courses using a new Active Blended Learning approach and staff are now working in an Activity-based working way.

Ale talks to the ITS team about developments at Northampton

Ale talks to the ITS team about developments at Northampton

Ale explained that a course follows an ABL methodology if it:​

  • Is taught through student-centred activities to develop knowledge and understanding, independent learning & digital fluency. ​
  • Has a core, collaborative face-to-face component, explicitly linked to learning activity outside the classroom. ​
  • Helps to develop autonomy, Changemaker attributes and employability skills.

The approach offers a new way of looking at dimensions in ‘the blend’ in blended learning. The most important aspects are pre-session exposure to content and sense-making activities.

Ale’s insights were incredibly helpful for our plans for our Catalyst blended learning courses and at the Cultural Heritage Initiative. We spent some time talking about working with Barco and the classroom set up they have at Northampton.

You can see a version of Ale’s slides from last year’s Digifest.

Video, assessment and feedback

Later on in the week Jennie White gave an excellent presentation to our academics on ‘Using video to improve student learning and support assessment and feedback’.

Jennie is a Senior Lecturer and Marketing Programme Coordinator for the BA Marketing, BSc Digital Marketing, MSc Digital Marketing at the University of Chichester. She is a passionate advocate of the use of video to facilitate the learning experience and an award-winning lecturer. She gained 4 awards whilst at Bournemouth University for making an outstanding contribution to student learning, with online seminar delivery, online lectures via video and MP3, interactive discussion boards and research support. Jennie was awarded Lecturer of the Year by the UCSU, 2017, and the Innovation in Teaching award 2018. Jennie shared her experience of using Panopto in teaching and gave some really great tips:

  • Create micro-lectures – bite sized (10 minute) chunks of content
  • Explain the rubric – videos on how you will be assessing
  • Dissertation support – videoing dissertation supervision meetings
  • Flipped classroom – sharing a prerecorded version of the lecture and checking which students have watched it, those that haven’t can’t attend!
  • Pencasts – videoing chalk and talk using paint or other tools, or even just drawing on paper
  • Marking – videoing yourself marking

Our academics were genuinely excited by the session and there are already signs of increased Panopto use.

Jennie presents to our academics. The session was recorded and will be available through Panopto.

Jennie presents to our academics. The session was recorded and will be available through Panopto.

Huge thanks to both our visitors, it is always great to catch up with people just as excited about learning technology as us!



This week has seen the launch of the National Student Survey (NSS) at RAU. The NSS “gathers opinions from students about their time in higher education, asking them to provide honest feedback on what it has been like to study on their course at their university/college“. There are 27 questions relating to eight aspects of the student experience and the survey is for students in their last year of study. The NSS is run by Ipsos MORI.


SSS and Survey checker

Internally we are giving students who aren’t eligible for the NSS the opportunity to complete our own version of the survey called the Student Satisfaction Survey (SSS). The survey has been created in Jisc’s Online Surveys. – which we are increasingly using for student surveys.


Student are often unsure on which survey they should fill in. To help point them in the right direction we have created and internal survey checker. The checker is available from Gateway (our VLE) and through myRAU. Big thanks to Danny in IT for his work on this.


Supporting materials

To support the surveys we also have a page on Gateway with information about the various surveys we run throughout the year. This page contains general You Said, We Did  information, also up on our display screens. There is also a generic email address for survey queries.


Fingers crossed for a good response rate!

Out on the farm

The University has a number of farms that are used to allow students to gain practical agricultural skills. The farms are based at two locations in close proximity to the campus. Coates Manor Farm and Harnhill Manor Farm total 491 hectares in size (1,200 acres), and offer very different farming systems. There is also an equine enterprise providing a stabling and livery facility at Fossehill Farm and a large dairy complex in Kemble. You can read more about the farms on the RAU Website.

RAU cows at Harnhill

RAU cows at Harnhill

It is important that the farm management team  know who has visited the farm and what exactly they have been doing while there. At the moment this information is collected through texts but we have been working with Dale Webb, who manages the farms, to see if there is an easier process. We have now added a tile to the myRAU app that allows students to register their visit through an online form.

Earlier this week Dale took us on a tour of the farms to check the network signal at the farms – the all important factor when using an app. The signal was really strong and use of the app and tile is now being piloted by visitors to the farm.


Hopefully it will make the farm team’s life a little easier and they can concentrate on keeping the cows, sheep and pigs happy!

Dipping in to the Digital Classroom 

Last Thursday (24th January) a group of RAU academics and IT staff took a trip down to the London Jisc office to see a digital classroom in action. This was an early preview of the Sticky Campus tour that is about to get underway.

The RAU were involved in the Digital Classroom project back in 2017 and two of our academics (Anne Stevenson and Rachael Foy) authored chapters in Creating the Digital Campus: Active Learning Spaces and Technology.

Carl Fry (Jisc), Rachael Foy, Geraint Coles and Alun Dawes (RAU) try out the new digital classroom (Photo courtesy of Anne Stevenson)

Carl Fry (Jisc), Rachael Foy, Geraint Coles and Alun Dawes (RAU) try out the new digital classroom (Photo courtesy of Anne Stevenson)

Carl Fry (Jisc), Rachael Foy, Geraint Coles and Alun Dawes (RAU) try out the new digital classroom (Photo courtesy of Anne Stevenson)

Yesterday’s set up is an evolution of the previous classroom. As Senior Lecturer Rachael Foy explains: “The kit they are using is Barco We Connect plus tables and screens. The digital classroom offers very similar functionality to the previous incarnation but is simpler to use. It is accessed via a web browser so there is no need to download an app, making it more accessible – and it works on any device. The classroom is arranged so that there is a table (in this case seating 6) connected to a screen. You connect your device with the screen at your table and can share your display, as can anyone else who is also connected. Each screen table can also share their screen with the main screen and to other tables so that all the room can see the same thing.  It is fantastic for collaboration and group working. What’s new about this set up is that it is possible (network, kit and configuration allowing) for other users outside of the physical room to connect at the same time, allowing truly remote working and maximising access. Anything that has an HTML output can be fed into the system so, for example, it is possible for live data collection to take place and be streamed into the classroom, which offers huge potential.

The RAU hopes to be able to do some more experimenting fairly soon. A representative from Barco has kindly agreed to set up a demo class which we will be able to access as remote users. This will enable us to see what the experience is like for those accessing remotely, and how easy/reliable etc. it is to use.

We are all very excited about the potential the Digital Classroom has to offer to all our students.  The students studying within traditional course structures will reap the benefit of more collaborative and active learning sessions, and the distance learners (such as those on the new Catalyst programmes) will have a genuinely inclusive experience. Plus, when they are here for their intensive residentials, they will be able to use the same facilities to support problem solving, group work and programme management activities on campus within and outside of timetabled session.  For professional courses, well, it sets a gold standard that we are keen to exploit. We also have plans to embed some of this new functionality on site at the new Swindon Cultural Heritage Centre.

Thinking holistically about data matters

Yesterday we (myself and one of our students, Alex Norris) attended the Data Matters conference and presented a case study on  running our 2018 Student Digital Experience tracker survey.

Marieke Guy and Alex Norris just before giving their presentation

Marieke Guy and Alex Norris just before giving their presentation

The conference was jointly organised by Jisc, QAA and HESA and held at etc venues next to the museum of London. It is the second year for the event which brings together data practitioners, quality professionals and digital service specialists to discuss topical issues around data and its use in higher education.

Our presentation was part of session looking at the Jisc pilot work on better understanding the student digital experience. Ruth Drysdale and Mark Langer-Crame gave an overview of the survey and also shared some data from their version of the survey aimed at staff. There were some interesting variations, for example staff want to use more digital tech in the classroom while on the whole students are happy with the level of technology they already have. Note that we hope to run a survey exploring the digital experience of staff over the forthcoming year.

Marieke and Alex presenting

Marieke and Alex presenting – photo courtesy of Ruth Drysdale

Our case study was followed by one from Marc Griffiths, Head of Digitally Enhanced Learning, London South Bank University. Marc planned to use insights from the survey to inform South Bank’s digitally enhanced strategy. In reality the survey results have made South Bank question quite a lot of their previous assumptions, for example their mobile first approach given that a quarter of their students don’t own smart phones.

The first key note of the day was presented by Professor Nick Petford, Vice Chancellor and CEO of University of Northampton. Nick gave an incredibly open account of the data they collect, from social media, websites accessed (the highest hits definitely aren’t learning and teaching related – think Facebook, youtube, QQ, BitTorrent) and VLE usage. Considering this data has allowed the university to act fast in order to improve the student experience. Nick related his tale of the recent ‘toastergate’ fiasco in which students had toasters that didn’t work or only allowed two slices of bread. Northampton’s aim is to pull together data from Salto, their network use, VLE, usage, security incidents, learning analytics, timetabling,  heat maps etc. into one dashboard using Power BI. This in turn will support better decision making. Nick’s talk was followed by a panel discussion on Counting what’s measured or measuring what counts: questioning education metrics. There were contributions from Professor Helen Higson, Provost and Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Aston University ; Nick Hillman, Director, Higher Education Policy Institute ; Charlie Kleboe-Rogers, Vice-President of Academia, Dundee University Students’ Association  and Andy Youell, previously from HESA but now a Writer, speaker, strategic advisor, Andy Youell Associates Ltd. The biggest tweetable points came from Nick Hillman who suggested that we consider creating more metrics and league tables as this will (to some extent) make them become less meaningful . Unis can then pick that data that they want to be framed by. He also suggested that we start asking applicants and staff more, rather than just focusing on students.

David Boyle's data lessons

David Boyle’s data lessons

The post-lunch keynote’s enticing title was Analytics and the Student Experience: Lessons from Politicians, Pop Stars and Power Brands  presented by David Boyle, Customer Insights Director, Harrods. David’s talk considered the data answers to why Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 US presidential election campaign. His answer explored four key lessons for the campaign team:

  • Cluster always – clustering tools like Affinio can offer major insights
  • Multiple sources & data science – Don’t let any one data set be separate from the other areas, think holistically. You need behavioural data, research data , data science and story telling to find and share the insights. Work on your ocular regression and find the data patterns. If you are making big decisions make all these people and all these data sets work together. You can ever put all the sources into a data soup and come out with one indicator.
  • Augmented experts – combine human skills with the ability of computer systems.
  • Insights – Load data into the head of decision makers and train them to use the data

I also attended two more break out sessions. One on Understanding your student body through innovative data analysis and the new “Career Explorer” service presented by James Jackson, Head of System Development and Integration, Bishop Grosseteste University and members of the UCAS team. The end result could end up being be a nice little app for students allowing them to see the potential universities for a chosen subject and the likelihood of an offer given their grades or predicted grades.

And a final one on the Intelligent Campus from James Clay of Jisc. You could classify campuses in to: dumb campuses (that know very little, smart campuses (that collect data) and intelligent campuses (that use that data to make decisions). So think better room usage (letting students know when the library is ridiculously busy and suggesting a better time to visit), better service provision (why do cleaners clean rooms that haven’t been used?), clever alerts (you are walking past the library why not collect that book you’ve reserved). and more. Some of this work could scale up to the the intelligent estate, or focus in to the Intelligent timetable, intelligent learning spaces or intelligent library. The Jisc Intelligent campus project has been working on a list of data sources, use cases and general guidance. There is also the very useful code of practice developed for learning analytics projects.

James Clay outlines the intelligent campus

James Clay outlines the intelligent campus

It was an interesting day. The biggest take away was the need to adopt a holistic view and ensure that you are using several data sets, including qualitative data. HE really needs people who can take on this overseeing role and provide narratives on data in order to make it meaningful for decision-makers. As Andy Youell put it: “Data soup is better than the blancmange of opinion“.

Supporting Mental Health and Wellbeing

Happy New year!

January is definitely the time of year for boosting your mental health and wellbeing. At the RAU we’ve been improving our support services, both offline and online. Some of our activities include:

  • Revamps of a number of our Gateway (moodle) pages including the ones for Student support; Dyslexia and Disability support; Assertive technology and our Big Yellow Button FAQ service



The support we provide to students is an area the RAU pride ourselves on. We will continue to improve our online services in this area.

Introducing CREST

At the RAU we use the CREST Collections repository for all our peer reviewed research papers.

CREST Collections is a joint repository for research outputs of institutions who are Members of the Consortium for Research Excellence, Support and Training. It is sub-association of Guild HE a membership organisation representing the most recently designated universities and university colleges, specialist colleges and other bodies providing higher education programmes. Eleven institutions use the CREST repository.


CREST is an open access repository built using ePrints, open source software originally created by the university of Southampton that is compliant with the Open Archives Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting. It offers support for ORCID, Datacite DOIs, Core, integrations with Symplectica and PURE and allows CSS bootstrapping.

While the RAU has a long history of applied research less time has been spent on academic research and unfortunately the repository has been left a little unloved.

Earlier in December I attended an all-day training session on CREST delivered by Co-sector, the digital services branch of the University of London (used to be University of London Computing Centre). It was well attended with representatives from eight of the eleven institutions who use CREST.


Michele Morelli, developer at Co-sector, gave a us a step-by-step tour through all aspects of our repositories using our newly created institutional staging servers. We covered: the various tabs, searching, browsing and exporting files, batch editing, user management, the various eprints phases, the admin menu and reporting. Michele also spent some time looking at the new REF and RIOXX2 plugins.

In the afternoon Rachel Persad, Policy Manager for Research and Innovation at GuildHE, gave a presentation on REF2021 and open access. The requirements for REF2021 are more stringent than those for the REF2014 in relation to open access. Deposit must be as soon as possible after Point of Acceptance and no later than 3 months after date of publication. However there are deposit exceptions (e.g. related to staff contracts, security risks, delays etc.), and small specialists are able to make use of these.

The training session was really useful and the RAU will definitely be making better use of CREST over the forthcoming year – it’s on our New Year’s resolutions list 🙂

RAU CREST Repository: https://rau.collections.crest.ac.uk/

Making MoJo Movies

In order to develop really great blended learning courses for the Catalyst Programme we will be relying heavily on a variety of multimedia content. Creation and use of relevant, good quality video resources is probably top of our list. However within our Learning Tech team we have varying levels of ability when it comes to video filming and editing skills so it makes sense to get some support from the experts.

Using a hand held rig

Using a hand held rig

Yesterday we had a visit from Cassius Rayner, award winning film maker and media training expert. Cassius spent the day showing us how to use our phones like pros (we are pretty much an all iphone house) and master the art of mobile film making and mojo.

It was a really fun day and we are far from experts but there were some very clear tips that we will be sharing with our wider academic community.

Cassius Rayner setting up a tripo

Cassius Rayner setting up a tripod

General phone filming tips

  1. Always film in landscape – 16×9 is the standard option here.
  2. Don’t zoom on a phone – zooming is a lie, you are just reducing the quality of your video. If you want to be nearer get up and walk, or if your phone has a second telephoto lens use it!
  3. Newer iphones have 2 lenses (tele and wide angle) – if you want to zoom this is one option but be careful about getting in too close and your picture distorting.
  4. Iphones need lots of light so if you can pick light locations. If not there are some features (the AE/AF lock) which can help.
  5. Using a hand held rig can be a huge help in stabalising your phone and connecting it to other kit (like a tripod).
  6. Add a grid to your camera (Settings > Camera > grid) so you can line things up. Use the rule of thirds for interviews (interviewee eyes should be at the intersection of the first square.
  7. When you film an interview always film a cut away shot (like footage of their hands), you never know when you might need it. Extra cutaway shots can also include recorded interviewer questions, nodding, someone thinking, walking etc.
  8. Get good at gliding along as you film people walking. Bend your knees and walk whilst keeping the upper part of your body stable.
  9. Buy some core kit. You can bring in extra light using a reflector. A gimbal is great for counteracting shaky hands. A back screen will allow you to film great interviews with no distracting background and a microphone is essential in noisy areas as a the smart phone mics are normally not great.
  10. Keep your phone charged up and ready to go. Filming will drain your battery. Take a portable charger.
A hand held rig with mic and flash

A hand held rig with mic and flash

Just before lunch we had a break from the hands-on work and were visited by Ben McCammick-Copley, media production manager from UCEM. Ben spent time talking to our academics about the video opportunities that are out there and will support their modules.

Interview filming - photo courtesy of Madeline Paterson

Interview filming – photo courtesy of Madeline Paterson

Filmic pro filming tips

In the afternoon we spent time using the Filmic pro app. which gives you lots more control over your phone camera than your standard set up.

  1. The usual number of frames is 24 frames per second for film and 25 frames per second for video.
  2. Set your white balance – you can use auto but also do manually. Click to lock.
  3. Set your presets in advance. We went for 16.9, HD 2K, filmic pro for standard filming, and also created a slo-mo setting.
  4. Don’t save your videos to the photo gallery as this will cause loss of quality – load them directly on to your computer for editing.
  5. If you want to learn about more ways to use FilmicPro, you will find detailed tutorials on the Filmic pro website.

We ended the day by creating our own little promo and editing it on iMovie.

I think we are feeling a lot more confident about our filming ability, now we just need something to film!

Aurelie works the slider

Aurelie works the slider

Trip report: EMLT – Moving Office365 from the office to the classroom

On Wednesday last week I attended the East Midlands Learning Technologists’ Group (EMLT) winter event.

The focus was on using Office365 within Teaching and Learning with four learning specialists from different institutions presenting their experience on implementing Office365 in teaching and learning. The afternoon was concluded by a demonstration from Microsoft focusing first on Accessibility within Windows tools and specifically Windows 10, then focusing on Teams as a tool.
I will detail below the benefits and issues highlighted by the presenters and the key issues discussed by the attendees.

At Nottingham Trent University, there seem to have a number of success stories using Office 365. Rachel Bancroft was the first to present their experience of using Office 365. Rachel highlighted how Yammer was used to help improve visibility of student for group work collaboration. The students found the tool easy to pick up (like Facebook), easy to use, part of the institutional tools. They are now using Teams for the same tasks, which allows for better document sharing and organisation of concept. As detailed in their blog, the Fresher’s week orientation treasure hunt using Microsoft Forms was very successful and allowed the students to find useful services such as the library and student support services, introduce them to sites of cultural interest in Nottingham and to help them to make friends with other people on their course.

Will Moindrot from the University of Liverpool gave us a contrasting story about two institutions’ approaches. The first example covered illustrated how the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine used Office365 for group work where PowerPoint presentations were created in OneDrive and shared in the VLE as a links.

Will also explained how his new institution, University of Liverpool, uses Office365 integrated and linked in every single course in the VLE; this integration means every course has an Office collaborative space automatically created. It also allows the automatic creation of a collaborative area in the Teacher’s OneDrive area. Teachers can therefore distribute templates and files.
In terms of implementation, the new VLE and Office365 were launched at the same time which means they feel like a coherent set of tools.

One key issue discussed was the complexity of using OneNote, meaning the students needed training, as well as some questions around making One Note documents read-only for submission to staff.

Susan Lowe, formerly of the OU, presented her experience of using OneNote to support students in Personal Development Planning. OneNote was used to provide structured ePortfolio-like templates and focused learners. However, there were some technological issues and users needed training. It needs support and guidance to be used effectively as portfolio tool.
In institutions where there are no ePortfolio systems, it may be useful; as we have the Mahara at the RAU for portfolio, using OneNote in that way would be of little or no benefits.

Matt Hope from Loughborough University discussed how Office365 can be used to facilitate the collaborative experience. The two main discussion points raised were that Office 365 users have been using different tools without the  Learning  Technologists  and IT’s awareness; this has led to their IT teams feeling like they were catching up on support needed. This was a common feeling with many institutions represented on the day.

The second point was a question as to whether Microsoft was set to ‘replace’ the VLE? That discussion revolved around the need for students to improve their digital fluency; the main argument is that students need to study using tools they will use in the ‘real world’ and that therefore they should be using Office tools for their learning. This created much debate in the room and subsequently on Twitter as I raised the question of the future of the VLE and the level of integration of Office tools with Moodle (Gateway) with the CEO of Moodle.

It seems that the overall feeling from the Moodle community and other institutions is that VLE still have a place, which is a different area from the Office tool, with a wider overlap than previously. The Microsoft representative in the room explained that Microsoft have no intention to ‘replace the VLE’ but there is a clear need for institution to identify which tools they make available for which pedagogical purpose, which tools they support and which tools they integrate. With Learning Technologists’ support, a good policy on tools and a good technical integration, those concerns could be minimised.

As a result of this discussion, Martin Dougiamas, CEO of Moodle (Gateway software) explained in his Twitter reply to me, that the messaging system in the latest Moodle version is going to be similar to Teams. They are making improvements to Moodle overall to help with, not only the technical integration but also the user experience  integrations of other tools such as Office365 apps.



The first focus of the Microsoft presentation by Alan Crawford was on accessibility and inclusions. Alan demonstrated Windows 10 tools available to improve accessibility, colour filters, translator, eye control and dictation. Immersive reading was also discussed.

The second part of the demonstration was based around using Teams. This included sharing files and collaborative editing (wiki), assignments with marking including rubric (class notebook, OneDrive file etc.) and using the Polly polling tool.

The detailed recordings of the presentations can be found below: