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.

Digital Winter is Coming. Exploring the Brave New Digital Worlds at the EdtEch Winter Conference 2021. A Reflective Audio Comic

The Irish Learning Technology Association (ILTA) organised the EdTech Winter Online Conference 2021 Paradigm Shift: Reflection, Resilience and Renewal in Digital Education that took place on 14th-15th January 2021 on Zoom.

Having experimented with using both comics and graphic novels in education boefore which was presented at the Association of Learning Technologists (ALT) Winter Conference entitled ‘It’s Beginning to look a lot like learning. Using Sanako technology to support the language learning process’, in 2016, I was familiar with the potential of the pedagogic value of comics. Having worked in a University Language Centre, I discovered we had Frankenstein The Graphic Novel: Original Text (British English) in the collection. The teacher resource pack had a CD ROM with supplementary audio material. A free sample of the comic is available to download here. What if students continued the story by creating blank comic frames for them to fill in? I used comic templates from Presenter Media and Slides Carnival. Perhaps comics and graphic novels are an important part of visual literacy which can be defined as “…decribing the complex act of meaning making using still or moving images” (Fisher & Frey, 2008: p1). It has been argued that comics “…are on the cutting edge of pop culture” (Fisher & Frey, 2008: p29) Using a popular cultural artifact as a frame can help to engage students. The idea to comibine audio and the comic came from the Star Wars Audio Comics on YouTube available here. Combining two modalities could be argued to have a positive pedagogic impact as a committment to multimodal learning using “semiotic resources” (Bezemer & Kress, 2016: p3).

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The’ brave new digital world’ idea in the title of the blog draws on the novel Brave New World by Aldous Huxley in 1932. Perhaps Learning Technologists will support the creation of digital environments by being a “World Controller” (Huxkey, 1932: p38). In the same way that I finished writing this blog post, let us embrace “Brave New Digital Classroom” (Blake, 2013). It’s not all Zoom, Doom & Gloom, but rather Zoom, Boom & Bloom!


Catalina, J (2021) Colorful Comic. Free PowerPoint Template & Google Slides in Slides Carnival (Online) Available at: Themehttps://www.slidescarnival.com/jachimo-free-presentation-template/1393 [Accessed: 14th January 2021]

Bezemer, J & Kress, G (2016) Multimodality, Learning and Communication: A social semiotic frame (Oxon: Routledge)

Blake, R, J, Guillén, G & Thorne, S, L (2020) Brave New Digital Classroom: Technology and Foreign Language Learning (Washington DC: Georgetown University Press)

Classical Comics Ltd (2021) Frankenstein Teacher Resources Pack (Online) Available at: http://www.classicalcomics.com/product/frankenstein-teaching-resource-pack/ [Accessed: 14th January 2021]

Classical Comics Ltd (n.d.) Frankenstein The Graphic Novel: Original Text (British English) [pdf] Sample pdf Available at: FrankensteinOriginalTextSamplerOpt.pdf (classicalcomics.com) [Accessed: 14th January 2021]

Fisher, D & Frew, N (eds) (2008) Teaching Visual Literacy: Using Comic Books, Graphic Novels, Anime, Cartoons, and More to Develop Comprehension and Thinking Skills (California, New Delhi, London & Singapore: Corwin Press)

Huxley, A (1932) Brave New World (Great Britain: Penguin Randon House)

Leschallas, W & McDonald, P (2020) Techno-autobiography & the Transnational Online Pivot: Exploring a Lecturer’s Experience of Teaching Online. Digitalrau.wordpress.com Digital Transformation Blog [blog] 12th Dec. Available at: https://digitalrau.wordpress.com/2021/01/12/techno-autobiography-the-transnational-online-pivot-exploring-a-lecturers-experience-of-teaching-online/ [Accessed: 14th January 2021]

Presenter Media (2020) Presenter Media (Online) Available at: https://www.presentermedia.com/ [Accessed: 14th January 2021]

McDonald, P (2016), ‘It’s Beginning to look a lot like learning. Using Sanako technology to support the language learning process’ In: Association of Learning Technologists (ALT) Winter Conference, 6th-8th December 2016. Online.

Shelley, M, Bryant, C, Shalvey, D, Wiley, T, Cobley, J, Wenborn, K, Haward, J, Cardy, J, Nicholson, K, Placentino, J & Wheeler, J (2008) Frankenstein The Graphic Novel: Original Text (British English) (United Kingdom: Classical Comics Ltd)

Star Wars Audio Comics (n.d.) Home [YouTube Channel] (Online) Available at: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCtt_HbmqOrM6fQMQBr4oVDA?reload=9 [Accessed: 14th January 2021]

Techno-autobiography & the Transnational Online Pivot: Exploring a Lecturer’s Experience of Teaching Online

In previous blog posts in the China series, content was created by the Learning Technology team and Bonnie and Lola from SDAU. Therefore, we actively welcome a contribution from a Lecturer who taught on the SDAU project. It is with great pleasure to both work with and interview William Leschallas, Head of School of Real Estate and Land Management. William was able to provide a unique pedagogical insight into the experience of teaching in China in both a face-to-face and online capacity. When I first met with William, he showed me pictures of his China trip and the work students had produced in a group in the form of a poster. We then worked together to adapt a face-to-face assessment task to an online activity.

William was asked a series of questions exploring the theme of the transnational online pivot.

PM: Describe your ‘techautobiography’ in a couple of sentences. A techno-autobiography is the history of your relationship with learning technology in the past.

WL: 2.5 years ago I had no idea about learning technology and I amnow  teaching 140 Chinese in Tai’An from my home. It has been so rewarding and great to see the student engagement.

PM: How do you compare the being in China in a F2F capacity to teaching online?

WL: ? I did miss not being in front of the students. Whilst student engagement on my module was good, I think both the students and myself missed out on that face to face interaction. However the quality of the work they produced was still very good.

PM: How did you find adapting your lectures for online learning? 

WL: Adapting the lectures was not that difficult as I had to be well organised before going to China.

PM: How did you adapt delivery and content for the interactive sessions? 

WL: Building on the answers above this was the most challenging part of the teaching. My subject benefits from seeing how the students react to what is being said and requires team work. The latter is much better placed when done face to face. Therefore I had to deliver in a way that I thought would be interesting and spur them on in the practical activities that were given to them.

PM: How can we improve support for Lecturers for the move to online learning? 

WL: I thought the support I was given was excellent. More training on using the technology would be brilliant so that we can be more creative. This applies whether delivering remotely and in the room.

PM: If you could tell the story of the move to online learning in three words, what would your (micro) story be? 

WL: Challenging, time consuming, rewarding (apologies 4 words!!)

PM: How did you adapt the poster assessment for online learning? 

WL: The poster assessment that I set just needed a clear explanation in the record lectures. Judging by the results this seemed to work. However the students have to take a lot of credit for engaging so well and enthusiastically. Poorang (Poorang Piroozfar also taught on the SDAU project with William for the Y3 Business Practice & Project Management module) managed to achieve the same result with his recorded presentations. Poorang’s presentations also were assessed for 10% of the module so there was an added incentive in our absence.

PM: What was the hardest part of online teaching? 

WL: Not knowing how the students were reacting to each lecture. Not knowing how engaged the students were in the online seminar sessions. Not seeing the students in person. See comments below about language

PM: What was the most enjoyable part of online teaching? 

WL: Seeing the work the students churned out and the fact that on request, they sent through photographs of themselves working in teams on their projects. We could therefore see them at work, which made such a difference.

PM: What advice would you give to a Lecturer who has not taught on the SDAU project before? 

WL: Do not under-estimate the time and care that is needed to prepare and record the lectures and assessments.

PM: How do you think the SDAU project will be in future given the impact of the global impact of the pandemic?

WL: Provided the students like our style and the results are good and we at the RAU learn from our experiences and improve our delivery then no problem. However being face to face makes all the difference especially with the language barrier. This latter point applies to some of my answers above as well. 

Reflection: A Pivot with a Pivot. A Digital Wheel within a Digital Wheel. Exploring Hope, Tropes & Pivot Folklore.

From the perspective of a Learning Technologist, I was able to ‘drop into’ the interactive sessions taking place on Zoom. The online classroom can be a challenging online environment to get used to, particularly in light of the “Zoom Gaze” (Caines, 2020) ontology, transparency and “(in)visibility” (Gallagher, Breines & Blaney, 2020). It was fascinating to see how different Lecturers approached planning and delivery of their interactive sessions. The variety of pedagogical approaches really added value to the digital student experience. Whilst training was provided to prepare Lecturers for teaching on Zoom that covered the ways that it is possible to engage students such as sharing scree, using chat, whiteboard and polling, teacher autonomy and Lecturer’s bringing putting their own ‘pedagogical stamp’ on the sessions can be acknowledged. Meeting the Lecturers before the sessions went ‘live’ was a unique opportunity to find out about them, their subject specialism and ideas about online teaching. Drumm (2019) identified the idea of “folk pedagogies” as a way to describe how Lecturers explore their ideas about online pedagogy. It is also the case that Learning Technologists have ideas about how they perceive pedagogical reflections and how to support Lecturers with the online pivot. The critical question is always how can we work together effectively and explore our ideas together? Whatever “folk pedagogies” we have or have not, I would like to thank the Lecturers involved with the SDAU project for their willingness to embrace the challenges that teaching online can bring to make a success of the opportunity (Drumm, 2019). In future, given that it can be argued that teaching online is different from teaching in a tradition face-to-face setting, it may be possible to explore peer review of online teaching in a supportive capacity. The positive student feedback was acknowledged at the RAU & SDAU annual general meeting. I reflected on the AGM in a blog post here.

The term techno-autobiography was discovered in a presentation here (Zheng, 2015). When educators ask themselves what about what their relationship with learning technology has been in the past, it is  a powerful process which opens how we can overcome challenges in speculative futures. For me, my techno-autobiography was realised with the awareness that it is possible to be enthusiastic about learning technology, yet critical at the same time. The critical lens through which it is possible to view learning technology is a helpful way to embrace complexity and navigate uncertain pedagogic worlds.

What is your techno-autobiography? How does it impact your approach to online pedagogy? Can we re-frame our narrative?

Group 1 of William Leschallas’ student group in the interactive sessions created a poster using the visual structure of an octopus.

Group 1’s poster with the visual structure of an octopus

In this blog post, tropes were identified as a way to make sense of the transnational online pivot. It has been argued that “…pervasive in everyday life, not just in language but in thought action. Our conceptual system…is fundamentally metaphorical in nature” (Lakoff & Johnson, 2003: p3). After having been award a Global OER Graduate Network (GOGN) fellowship, a picture book about open education was co-created where a question in the survey was asked about animal came to mind when reflecting on open education (Nerantzi, 2020). If it was possible to choose an animal that the project could ‘be’ in a metaphorical sense, perhaps it could be an octopus in terms of seamlessly gliding through the ocean of challenges both technological and pedagogical, perhaps this what Learning Technologists strive to do. The #creativeHE group is a helpful community of practice to support what they call “pedagogical rebels and free-thinking innovators in experimenting with, developing, sharing and getting support for novel learning and teaching ideas” (#creativeHE, n.d.). Perhaps a case can be made for creative approaches to learning technology and further research can be carried into the extent to which creative approaches can cross disciplinary and transnational boundaries to improve the digital student experience. Here’s to the “Brave New Digital Classroom” (Blake, 2013). Here;s to the “Brave New Digital Classroom” (Blake, 2013).


Blake, R, J, Guillén, G & Thorne, S, L (2020) Brave New Digital Classroom: Technology and Foreign Language Learning (Washington DC: Georgetown University Press)

Caines, A (2020) The Zoom Gaze in Real Life (Online) Available at: https://reallifemag.com/the-zoom-gaze/ [Accessed: 8th January 2021]

Drumm, L. (2019). Folk pedagogies and pseudo-theories: how lecturers rationalise their digital teaching. Research in Learning Technology, 27 (Online) Available at: https://journal.alt.ac.uk/index.php/rlt/article/view/2094 [Accessed: 12th January 2021]

Gallagher, M, Breines, M &  Blaney, M (2020) Ontological Transparency, (In)visibility, and Hidden Curricula: Critical Pedagogy Amidst Contentious Edtech in Postdigital Science and Education (2020) [e-journal] (Online) Available at: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s42438-020-00198-1 [Accessed: 10th January 2021]

Lakoff, G & Johnson, M (2003) Metaphors We Live By with a new afterward (Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press)

McDonald, P (2020) Lost (and found) in Translation: Transfiction, Tropes & Transnational Imaginaries  Digitalrau.wordpress.com Digital Transformation Blog [blog] 7th Dec. (Online) Available at: https://digitalrau.wordpress.com/2021/01/11/lost-and-found-in-translation-transfiction-tropes-transnational-imaginaries/ [Accessed: 21st January 2021]

Nerantz, C (2020) GOGN Fellowship Project: Co-creating an open picture about open education. http//go-gn.net/research Global OER Graduate Network Blog [blog] 22 October (Online) Available at: http://go-gn.net/research/fellowship-open-picture-book/ [Accessed: 12th January 2021]

Nerantz, C (2020) Open invitation to seed ideas for a collaborative open picture book story about open education, a GOGN Fellowship (Online) Available at: projecthttps://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSemyGWWm4orA72VlEnZ1Gzk8lAkvG_GFWWn8rKOV-_ezapH2g/viewform [Accessed: 12th January 2021]

Global OER Graduate Network (n.d.)  http://go-gn.net/ (Online) Available at: http://go-gn.net/ [Accessed: 12th January 2021]

#creativeHE (n.d.) CreativeHE Community (Online) Available at: https://creativehecommunity.wordpress.com/ [Accessed: 12th January 2021]

Zheng, I (2015) Techno Autobiography [Prezi Presentation]. (Online) Available at: https://prezi.com/8seyqaa4rk82/techno-autobiography/ [Accessed: 12th January 2021]

Royal Agricultural University (RAU) Biography William Leschallas (Online) Available at: https://www.rau.ac.uk/about/organisation/staff/william-leschallas [Accessed: 12th January 2021]

Lost (and found) in Translation: Transfiction, Tropes & Transnational Imaginaries.

The RAU & SDAU annual general meeting took place on Thursday 7th January 2021. It was a privilege to be invited to contribute to the meeting and share a summary of the research Marieke Guy, RAU’s former Digital Learning Manager (@digitalrau) and I carried out on the transnational online pivot in 2020. The presentation can be accessed here. The China blog series can be accessed here.

The RAU & SDAU annual general meeting was an opportunity to hear from a range of individuals from both institutions deliver their annual reports and reflections. SDAU staff attended the meeting in a face-to-face capacity on campus, RAU staff attended the meeting in a virtual capacity using Zoom, the popular videoconferencing tool.

A Road Less Translated

We heard from Prof. Ran Zhang Vice President of SDAU in the opening speech with translated version in English.

A slide from the presentation delivered by Professor Ran Zhang, Vice President of the SDAU

It was possible to relate to a great deal of what Prof. Ran Zhang was saying particularly the trope, concerning how the “…road ahead is long and striving is the only way forward” and how both staff and students have been “…striving hand in hand, together at heart to overcome challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic” (Zhang, 2020). This felt like an incredibly positive narrative, almost poetic, to both in order set the tone of the AGM itself and to share the transnational partnership narrative with SDAU. The translation intrigued me and led me down a path of exploring how we can make sense of translated text in a meaningful way.

Translation has been argued to be a “…a travelling concept” (Kaindl, 2014: p2). a “master metaphor epitomizing our present condition humaine in a globalised and centreless context, evoking the human search for a sense of self and belonging in a puzzling world full of change and difference” (Delabastita, 2009: p111 in Kaindl, 2014: p2). Having worked in a University Language Centre in a technical capacity working with translation and interpreting software called Sanako and having taught English for Academic Purposes (EAP), I was keen to explore translated texts of presentations and the verbal contributions of both institutions. A trope “…can refer to any type of figure of speech, theme, image, character, or plot element that is used many times. Any kind of literary device or any specific example can be a trope” (Literary Terms, n.d.). What tropes have we used and can we use to make sense of transnational learning realities? Transfiction can be defined as “…the introduction and (increased) use of translation-related phenomena in fiction” (Kaindl, 2014: p4). It felt like the stories were telling and the way that language was used in the meeting in a translated capacity and other contexts was compelling and opened up new ways of framing transnational projects. Drawing on fiction as a tool helps us to frame the transnational narrative as an opportunity to tell stories in a collaborative capacity. How can we use the translated realities to create new transnational imaginaries? Whilst it may seem odd to draw on translation as a lens through which to reflect on the AGM itself, it has been argued that translation can be applied in an interdisciplinary capacity in virtue of its “chameleonlike changeability” (D’hulst. 2010: p54 in Kaindl, 2014: p1).

A really positive message from Prof. Ran Zhang was that the “…epidemic did not stop the pace of cooperation. Our cooperation was more profound, more extensive and more fruitful” (Zhang, 2020). The use of the word “pace” invoked the idea of acceleration and speed.

A slide from the presentation delivered by Professor Ran Zhang, Vice President of the SDAU

The part of the speech exploring the idea of building “…a community with a shared future for mankind in higher education” reminded me of the question of the purpose of education. This question has a long genealogy. For example, in the Robbins Report in 1963, it is acknowledged that “The question is not a new one” and the  goes on to ask “…what purposes, what general social ends should be served by higher education?”  (London. The Robbins Report. 1963, p6).

@pipmcdonald delivering a presentation at the RAU & SDAU annual general meeting

I was required to submit my presentation a few days before the meeting itself for the purposes of translation. It would have been interesting to see the translated version.Whilst it is important to “…to acknowledge a plurality of aims”, it is identified that “There are controversial issues here concerning the balance between teaching and research in the various institutions of higher education…” (London. The Robbins Report. 1963, pp6-7). The tension between teaching and research is an issue I discussed in the presentation I delivered. It was argued that research-informed practice was an important professional value.

A slide from the presentation delivered by Professor Ran Zhang, Vice President of the SDAU

The final message about friendship and fruitful cooperation was also positive. Ultimately, learning  is about relationships and I hope this transnational partnership will also continue to be “fruitful” in a cooperative capacity (Zhang, 2020).

Positive messages for the future from the SDAU

Prof. Neil Ravenscroft, Pro Vice Chancellor at RAU then delivered a speech. I am very grateful to both Prof. Neil Ravenscroft and Dr Xianmin Chang, Associate Pro Vice Chancellor for the opportunity to be involved with the AGM. Steve Finch, Director of China Programmes, who taught on the cohorts during both summer and winter in 2020, Tiger Wang, Director of RAU China Office & Daniel Wang, Deputy Director of RAU China Office were also present.

Professor Neil Ravenscroft delivering his speech at the RAU & SDAU annual general meeting

Lola Huo, who supported the SDAU project, contributed to a blog post about the SDAU project previously with Bonnie Wang here, delivered a presentation. We are very grateful for the contribution of both Lula Huo and Bonnie Wang to the SDAU project.

It was helpful to see how staff and students from SDAU experienced what I had been curating from RAU in both synchronous (interactive sessions) and asynchronous (pre-recorded lecturers in Panopto) capacities.

How the work we did at the RAU was turned into a pedagogical reality at SDAU

Lola’s thoroughly presentation included key points from the digital learning evaluation which was positive.

Positive Digital Learning Evaluation

Imaginaries have a rich genealogy and application and can be argued to be “…a jargon term that has been gaining currency in a number of social sciences” (Nerlich & Morris, 2015). A history of the term imaginaries and the different types including sociotechnical imaginaries can be found here (Nerlich & Morris, 2015). Castoriadis explored the imaginary and the “institution” in the book The Imaginary Institution of Society (Castoriadis, 1987: p115). Having studied Philosophy at Durham University, I discovered discussions about imagination in The Imaginary: A Phenomenological Psychology of the Imagination by Sartre. The critical question is how can we collectively re-imagine the transnational partnership?

It could be argued that the AGM itself was a multimodal experience in that visual, audio, and video modalities were present simultaneously. Multimodality can be defined as “…representations in many modes…” (Kress, 2010: p22). One of the core findings from the poster presentation delivered at the University of East London Learning & Teaching Symposium and the and the presentation delivered at the University of Manchester #ChinaHE2020 China and Higher Education: Navigating Uncertain Futures conference was that multimodal learning was identified as a significant type of learning that was taking place. I have explored multimodality in the context of technology enhanced language learning (TELL) in a blog post for the Association of Learning Technologists (ALT), in the Twitter conference, PressEd Conference in 2019 and at the MFL Twitterati conference in 2019 oragnised by the Association for Language Learning (ALL). Perhaps the presentations containing both text and image were more powerful than those containing text alone. Potentially, the case for the multimodal imaginary is compelling.

Both text and image: a powerful multimodal message for future intentionality?

There is a sense that the transnational online pivot has enabled us to travel “…through sociocultural space” (Kaindl & Spitzl, 2014). I concluded the presentation I delivered with a tweet from Virna Rossi, an Education Developer (@VirnaRossi) which I also discussed in the presentation co-delivered with @MariekeGuy at the University of Manchester #ChinaHE2020 conference in December 2020. The slides are available here, blog post here, and recording is here. The idea of of the university operating in a “…translocal…[and] transtemporal form…” is compelling (Ross, 2020). This echoes the idea of translation as acting as a ‘deterritorialisator’, perhaps “virtual space” creates “non-places” (Rapport & Dawson, 1998: p6 in Kaindl, 2014: p3).

(Rossi, 2020) @VirnaRossi

It felt like what was discussed in the SDAU AGM helped us reflect on what the university is and what it could be in the context of adaptive, resilient, and hopeful transnational partnership. Lost in Translation was a film in released 2003 exploring how strangers meet in Tokyo (IMDB, n.d.). The title of this blog draws on the notion of being ‘lost’ but then also stresses being ‘found’, a critical transformational process. This blog is entitled the ‘RAU Digital Trasformation’ blog. Supporting the SDAU project through the lens of learning technology has truly been a transformational opportunity.


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Guy, M (2020) Quán lì yǐ fù: Delivering online teaching in China. Digitalrau.wordpress.com, Digital Transformation Blog [blog] 16 June (Online) Available at: https://digitalrau.wordpress.com/2020/06/16/quan-li-yi-fu-delivering-online-teaching-in-china/ [Accessed: 10th January 2021]

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McDonald, P, 2016 in MacKinnon, T (ed) (2016) Close Encounters of the Multimodal Kind. altc.alt.ac.uk/blog, learning technology blog. [blog] 4 July (Online) Available at: https://altc.alt.ac.uk/blog/2016/07/close-encounters-of-the-multimodal-kind/#gref [Accessed: 10th January 2021]

McDonald, P (2020) Hold Your Digital Horses. Time for an Online Symposium. Digitalrau.wordpress.com Digital Transformation Blog [blog] 18 Sep. (Online) Available at: https://digitalrau.wordpress.com/2020/09/18/hold-your-digital-horses-time-for-an-online-symposium/ [Accessed: 10th January 2021]

McDonald, P (2020) Qiānlǐ zhī xíng, shǐyú zú xià. Laozi: Delivering online teaching in China.Digitalrau.wordpress.com Digital Transformation Blog [blog] 29 June (Online) Available at: https://digitalrau.wordpress.com/2020/06/29/and-remember-each-10000-mile-journey-begins-with-just-1-step-%e5%8d%83%e9%87%8c%e4%b9%8b%e8%a1%8c%ef%bc%8c%e5%a7%8b%e6%96%bc%e8%b6%b3%e4%b8%8b-qianli-zhi-xing-shiyu-zu-xia-laozi/ [Accessed: 10th January 2021]

McDonald, P (2020) SDAU Research Projects. SDAU Annual General Meeting. Online. January 7th 2021. Online.

Rossi, V. (2020) 2nd December. Available at: https://twitter.com/VirnaRossi/status/1334246842176040973 (Accessed: 10th December 2020)

Sanako (n.d.) (Online) Available at: https://sanako.com/ [Accessed: 10th January 2021]

Literary Terms (n.d.) Trope (Online) Available at: https://literaryterms.net/trope/ [Accessed: 10th January 2021]

Nerlich, B & Morris, C (2015) Imagining Imaginaries. Blogs.nottingham.ac.uk, Public Science blog, [blog] 23 April (Online) Available at: https://blogs.nottingham.ac.uk/makingsciencepublic/2015/04/23/imagining-imaginaries/ [Accessed: 10th January 2021]

Sartre, J, P (2010) The Imaginary: A Phenomenological Psychology of the Imagination (Oxon: Routledge)

‘Oh Come All Ye Techful’

Exploring the Association of Learning Technologists (ALT) Online Winter Conference.

2020 has undoubtedly a dynamic year for the learning technology community. The Association of Learning Technologists (ALT) Online Winter Conference is the “…longest established online conference” (Association of Learning Technologists, 2020). The event took place on Monday 16th-Wednesday 16th December 2020 on the Blackboard Collaborate platform. The conference sessions were divided into four main types: plenary, parallel, webinar and social and reflected both the opportunities and challenges facing Learning Technologists.  

Speakers at the ALT Online Winter Conference (ALT, 2020)

I am grateful to Martin Hawksey (@mhawksey), the Chief Innovation, Community and Technology Officer for the Association of Learning Technologists (ALT) who provided pre-conference support sessions in Blackboard Collaborate to ensure presenters could make use of break out rooms, use the chat function, and share screen or content. He set up a sandbox session for us to practice using the features.

On Monday 16th December, the Association of Learning Technologists (ALT) Radio Show took place on The Thursday Night Show internet radio station. The first ALT Radio show took place Association of Learning Technologists (ALT) Online Summer Summit in August 2020 here.  I blogged about my experience of being a Learning Technologist DJ here. Learning Technologists produced their own radio shows with music for 30 minutes. The first set was from Alex Spiers, Senior Learning Technologist at London School of Economics Eden Centre for Education Enhancement (@alexgspiers). Alex played some tracks from Scottish artists. Sarah Honeychurch, Teaching Fellow at University of Glasgow, (@NomadWarMachine) & Niall Bar, Software Developer at University of Glasgow (@niall_barr) were up next and played an eclectic mix of songs including tracks from Belle & Sebastian and the classic ‘Jump’ by Van Halen. Richard Price, EdTech Advisor to the NHS (@RichardPriceUK) and Lyshi Rodrigo, Training Manager at Nord Anglia Education (@lyshendri) co-hosted their show and interviewed each other about their journey into learning technology. A recording of their show is available here. Dominic Pates (@dompates), Senior Learning Technologist (Relationship Lead) from City, University of London organised all the Learning Technology DJs in terms of the support technical setup and checking connection. He also played two sets. His first set was a track from each of the cities in which the annual conference was held in the past from Liverpool to Edinburgh which was a really good idea. Keynotes from previous conferences are available here. His second set was entitled ‘Jungle Bells’ which involved a mash up between jungle beats and traditional Christmas songs.It was truly inspired!

The ALT Radio Show on The Thursday Night Show

After Dominic, in the capacity of Notorious P.I.P as a DJ name, I played a set of technology themed songs including ‘Home Computer’ from Kraftwerk. My aim was to include an aspect on learning technology with each song. For example, ‘More Data’ by Negativland and ‘Computer Says No’ by DJ-Kicks (Mount Kimbie) [DJ Mix]. One of the highlights could be argued to be ‘Error Chord (Intro)’ by Windows95Man. I am sure we can all relate to ‘Computer Says No’. Hardy Milts, who supported me with technical set up using Mixxx, free DJ software, and is Thursday Night Show star, played the last set of the night. Check out his previous sets here. I am grateful to Hardy, Dom and The Thursday Night Show or ‘TTNS’ radio family.

Be Techy, Merry & Bright

I have presented at the Online Winter Conference three times. In 2016, I presented ‘It’s Beginning to look a lot like learning. Using Sanako technology to support the language learning process’. In 2019, I co-presented, ‘Live Participatory Collaborative Fiction. In 2020, . I was lucky to have an opportunity to present at the conference having successfully submitted a proposal. I adapted, created and presented Cards Against Learning Technology game for a 50 minute session on Tuesday 15th December. Gamification has been a popular approach to enhance pedagogy. I developed a professional interest in games-based approaches and presented at the Association of Learning Technologists (ALT) East England group event at University of East Anglia (UEA) entitled Now I’ve Seen Everything: Opening & Closing the Pedagogical Eye to Gamification & VR-enhanced Language Learning‘.

Exploring gamification at the Association of Learning Technologists (ALT) East England group event at University of East Anglia (UEA)

All I Want for Christmas is a Game

Learning Technologists create a range learning experiences to engage students including escape rooms. Perhaps it could be argued that it is time Learning Technologist to have the opportunity to play a game themselves? A playful, creative and safe space to explore what we do, our evolving professional identities, to have fun, laugh, and play in a collaborative capacity is important for our community. The original Cards Against Humanity game was designed to be played in a face-to-face capacity with physical cards. It is also possible to play the game in an online capacity (TechRadar, 2020).

Like teaching and learning in institutions all over the world, the Cards Against Humanity game has had to make the ‘pivot’ to an online game reflecting the impact of the pandemic. How was it possible to adapt the card game for Learning Technologists? I created multimodal cards with animations with different rounds. Given that the game itself and the company who created the game can be argued to be controversial, it was fundamental to create relating to learning technology in a non-offensive capacity reflecting the professional interests of the community (Brooks, 2016). I wanted to concentrate on the positive aspects of the game and how the structure could be used to engage players. There are numerous expansion packs for the game. The cards I created were like a Learning Technology expansion pack. The game provided a simple ‘fill in the blank’ structure to help engage conference participants with specific frames and prompts. Using a simple structure was really helpful – “The biggest enemy of thinking is complexity” (De Bono, 2009: p176).

Having observed the range of new features that emerged such as using video waiting rooms in Zoom creative and engaging ways, I was keen to set the tone of the ‘playful’ and almost ‘un-conference’ session by playing music such as Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps by Enoch Light to set the tone of the session (Zoom, 2020). This was consciious curatorial effort to create a fun, free, participatory and exploratory game space to create the right online environment for a post digital online game experience. Having previously carried out research on the use of multimodal learning, I attended the talk by Dr. Carl Hayden-Smith hosted by the UCL Centre for Multimodal Research entitled ‘The Multimodality of Contextology, Double Consciousness and Holotechnica‘ on on 17th December. Carl talked about the importance of building in agency to experiences. I felt hat in the game I created, I was also designing it to to actively encourage the agency of the players.

One of the Cards Against Learning Technology

In the original game, the white card set provide prompts to fill in the blanks on the back cards. In the adapted Cards Against Learning Technology game, the white cards were contributions encouraged from players either in the chat or by speaking on the microphone, almost like activating the ‘cards in our minds’. The white card round encouraged players to create and share a longer and more challenging yet fun narrative.

Cards adapted to be ‘frames’ from the white deck in the orginal game

In terms of preparing for the session. I carried out research into the genealogy of the game. I discovered that creating your own game is actively encouraged and it is possible to download a template for free . It is also possible to ‘suggest a card’. The company who makes the game also offer scholarships in science and support women in STEM (Cards Against Humanity, 2020) It felt like a card game could actually teach us a lot about post digital pedagogical possibilities particularly in relation to an open approach.

What can a card game tell us about pedagogy?

Post Digital Comfort & Joy

It has been argued that “postdigital living” can be “unsettling” (Selwyn & Jandrić, 2020: p989). Playing a game during the pandemic could be argued to be a ‘rebellious post digital act’ in a collaborative way and can help our learning technology community support each other.  The session was not an academic presentation so it did not feel important to explore what post digital pedagogy might mean. “The definitions used do not hold “…critical value but…[they have] utility in exposing issues within the contemporary digital landscape” (Taffel, 2016 in Fawns, 2018: p142). Whilst the pursuit of academic definitions is not as crucial as the context, the use of ‘post digital’ is used to highlight the human element of being a Learning Technologist. As a ‘post digital player’ or ‘post digital actor’, Learning Technologists are provided with an opportunity to articulate their ideas in real time as a response to the prompts on the black cards, sharing stories, challenges, identities, and success. Games can be argued to activate ‘post digital agency’.

“Last Christmas, I gave you a game. The very next day, we played it again…with the new Expansion Deck”

In addition to the cards, I also created different rounds for example a picture round where popular memes from 2020 were used as a visual prompt relating to Learning Technology. What advice would Baby Yoda from The Mandalorian give to a Learning Technologist?

(Screenrant, 2020)

Having been involved with the @FemEdTech shared Twitter account in 2019, it felt important to include a #FemEdTech card. I was inspired by Dr. Sue Black’s (@Dr_Black) journey into technology and contribution to Bletchley Park where I visited in 2017.

(@Dr_Black, Dr. Sue Black, 2020)

I used Presenter Media ­to create the animated videos and create the different rounds in the game. For example, a virtual fruit machine.

After responses to the stimulus card were shared, in some cases, this promoted a further discussion on the ideas such as a response about auto captioning raised a further comment on digital accessibility. One of the cards explored the theme of surveillance capitalism which prompted a post-card comment about issues around proctoring that the Learning Technology community have been concerned about (Chin, 2020). Another card invited players to reflect on what makes Learning Technologists’happy’ which prompted a further comment about the impact of screen time and the suggestion of glasses with BlueGuard technology as a wellbeing idea. Another card led to a commenr from the Chair, Carrie Ann Walton, a Learning Technologist from the NHS and educational researcher (@CarrieAWalton) about what she had been studing at the Open University. It was also possible to create alternative and creative scenario based cards such as a ‘bingo ball’ round where a machine selected a ball from a ball pool which revealed a card.

One of the ‘player participants’, Robert Falmer, responded in the chat with this response – “Technology is an agnostic pedagogy”. At the end of the session, the Chair, Carrie Anne Walton and I discussed who we felt the winner of the Cards Against Learning Technology could be and we felt his response was incredible and in virtue of this he was our winner. The winner receives a Cards Against Learning Technology mask.

(@PipMac6, McDonald 2020)

When I completed teacher training, I came across the head, heart, bin & bag tool (Hunter, 2020). This tool was used in the previous presentation at the Association of Learning Technologists (ALT) Online WInter Conference in 2019. It felt like an appropriate tool to provide the structure for a collaborative reflection task about the game at the end of the session. Head corresponds to something you will remember from the session, heart refers to how you felt during the sessions,  bin means something to forget and finally bag provides an opportunity to identify a ‘takeaway’ for example into your own context.

Feedback & Feedforward

Cards Against Learning Technology received some positive feedback on Twitter.

(@not_compston, Compton, 2020)

In future, I would like to improve the game for example by using a tabletop simulator to make the game experience more authentic. Cards Against Learning Technology was played in a synchronous capacity during the live conferecne session. Therefore, a future potential development could include an asynchronous component. I had been reflecting on the fundamental sociomaterial shift of how we carry out daily activities and wondered to about the extent to which the game will “…continue what is emerging as a productive speculation on future relationships between technology and the project of education” (Knox, 2019: pp357-358). Digital can be understood as capital (Knox, 2019: p361). Pehaps online games could be argued to have ‘post digital capital’.

Carrie Ann Walton, a Learning Technologist from the NHS and educational researcher (@CarrieAWalton) chaired the session. She contacted me prior to the presentation and supported me with monitoring the chat and shouting out responses. I really would not have been able to run the session without her support. She hopes to use a game in her own context ‘Cards Against Learning & Development’. I was grateful that she got involved in the discussion around the topics and themes emering from the cards which really helped to engage with players such as when we discussed Second Life and her recent work at the Open University.

Carrie Ann Walton, Session Chair, Learning Technologist from the NHS and educational researcher (@CarrieAWalton)

One of the conference highlights was the idea of “hauntology” and the “spectral presence” to understand the ontology of online presence with a “haunted subject” (Henriksen, 2016: p37) in the session delivered on Wednesday 16th December entitled ‘To Be And Not To Be: Physical Absence and Virtual Presence in Online Learning’ delivered by Dr. Stuart Taylor, University Tutor at University of Glasgow (@SJamesTaylor), and Dr. Ingeborg van Knippenberg, Lecturer at Edinburgh Napier University (@icvk).

(@louisedrumm, Drumm, 2020)

Other significant highlights of the conference include the Opening Plenary exploring a new ethical framework for Learning Technology with Sharon Flynn, Project Manager of the Enhancing Digital Capacity in Teaching and Learning project at the Irish Universities Association (@sharonlflynn), Natalie Lafferty, Head of the Centre for Technology and Innovation in Learning at the University of Dundee (@nlafferty), John Traxler, Professor of Digital Learning in the Education Observatory at the University of Wolverhampton, Bella Adams, Director of Information Technology at University of Sheffield (@bellaabramsIT), and Lyshi Rodrigo, Training Manager at Nord Anglia Education (@lyshendri).  Another significant highlight was the ‘Telling Data Stories: a tool for thinking about higher education, surveillance & ethics’ session delivered by Jen Ross, Senior Lecturer and co-director of the Centre for Research in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh (@jar)  and Anna Wilson, Lecturer in Lifelong Learning at the University of Stirling (@anwstirling) exploring co-designing with Speculative Data Stories The can be accessed here .

God Rest Ye Merry Learning Technologists – A ‘Joyful & TriumphantCommunity

The Learning Technologist of the Year Awards Ceremony and presentation of the Community Awards took place at the end of the last day of the conference on Wednesday 16th December. A wonderful moment was when the #altc community won the Community Award:

#altc Community Award

The recording of the Cards Against Learning Technology session is available here.

Follow the #altc hashtag on Twitter to explore tweets about the conference.


Association of Learning Technologists (ALT) (n.d.)  (Online) Available at:  ALT Conference https://www.alt.ac.uk/altc [Accessed: 17th December 2020]

Association of Learning Technologists (ALT) 17th December. Available at: https://twitter.com/A_L_T/status/1339500672438382594 [Accessed: 17th December 2020]

Association of Learning Technologists (ALT) 2020 ALT’s Online Winter Conference 2020 Celebrating Learning Technology practice, research and policy Online Winter Conference Speakers 2020 [Online]. [Accessed: 14th December 2020] Available from: https://altc.alt.ac.uk/online2020/

Association of Learning Technologists (ALT) 2020 ALT’s Summer Summit 2020 Learning Technology in the time of crisis, care and complexity (Online) Available from: https://altc.alt.ac.uk/summit2020/#gref [Accessed: 14th December 2020]

Association of Learning Technologists (ALT) (2020) Winter Conference (Online) Available at: https://www.alt.ac.uk/events/winter-conference [Accessed: 14th December 2020]

Brooks, D (2016) Letter of Complaint: Cards Against Humanity, The New York Times Magazine. [online] (Last updated Oct 7th 2016) Available at:https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/07/magazine/letter-of-complaint-cards-against-humanity.html [Accessed: 19th December 2020]

Blake, R, J, Guillen, G & Chun, D, M (2008) Brave New Digital Classroom: Technology and Foreign Language Learning (Washington DC: Georgetown University Press)

Cards Against Humanity LLC (No Date) Cards Against Humanity (Online) Available at: https://cardsagainsthumanity.com/  [Accessed: 21st October 2020]

Cards Against Humanity (2020) (9th December (Online) Availballe at: https://twitter.com/CAH/status/1336789021591277568 [Accessed: 14th December 2020]

Co-designing with Speculative Data Stories (2020) Telling Data Stories (Online) Available at: http://datastories.de.ed.ac.uk/ [Accessed: 17th December 2020]

Compton, M (2020) 17th December. Available at: https://twitter.com/not_compston/status/1339567260726398978 [Accessed: 17th December 2020]

Chin, M (2020) An ed-tech specialist spoke out about remote testing software — and now he’s being sued. The Verge. [online] (Last updated Oct 22nd 2020) Available at: https://www.theverge.com/2020/10/22/21526792/proctorio-online-test-proctoring-lawsuit-universities-students-coronavirus [Accessed: 19th December 2020]

De Bono, E. (2009) Six Thinking Hats (Penguin: Great Britain)

Dixon, N & McDonald, P (2019) Association for Learning Technology (ALT) Online Winter Conference in 2019 ‘Live Participatory Collaborative Fiction’ Available at:  https://altc.alt.ac.uk/online2019/sessions/342/#gref [Accessed: 17th December 2020]

Drumm, L (2020) 16th December. Available at: https://twitter.com/louisedrumm/status/1339180579812741121 [Accessed: 17th December 2020]

Fawns, T (2018), ‘Postdigital education in design and practice’, [pdf] Postdigital Science and Education, pp. 135-143 (Online) Available at: file:///C:/Users/pipso/AppData/Local/Temp/Fawns2019_Article_PostdigitalEducationInDesignAn-2.pdf [Accessed 14th December 2020]

Henrikson, L (2016) In the Company of Ghosts Hauntology, Ethics, Digital Monsters. PhD Thesis. [pdf] (Online) available at: http://liu.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:918869/FULLTEXT01.pdf [Accessed: 19th December 2020]

Knox, J (2019) What Does the ‘Postdigital’ Mean for Education? Three Critical Perspectives on the Digital, with Implications for Educational Research and Practice. Postdigit Sci Educ 1,357–370 (2019) (Online) Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/333321895_What_Does_the_%27Postdigital%27_Mean_for_Education_Three_Critical_Perspectives_on_the_Digital_with_Implications_for_Educational_Research_and_Practice [Accessed 14th December 2020]

Lindsay Jane Hunter (2020) Head, Heart, Bin, Bag Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r66018vJq7w [Accessed 14th December 2020]

McDonald, P (2020) 15th December (Online) Available at: https://twitter.com/PipMac6/status/1338943678971305986 [Accessed 15th December 2020]

McDonald, P (2020) When a Learning Technologist became a DJ – For One Night Only. https://digitalrau.wordpress.com/ Digital Transformation blog (Online) Available at: https://digitalrau.wordpress.com/2020/08/27/when-a-learning-technologist-became-a-dj-for-one-night-only/ ([Accessed: 14th December 2020]

McDonald, P (2020) ‘Cards Against Learning Technology’ delivered at the Association of Learning Technologists (ALT) Online Winter Conference 2020 (Online) Available at: https://eu.bbcollab.com/collab/ui/session/playback [Accessed: 17th December 2020]

McDonald, P (2020) When a Learning Technologist became a DJ – For One Night Only. https://digitalrau.wordpress.com/ Digital Transformation blog (Online) Available at: https://digitalrau.wordpress.com/2020/08/27/when-a-learning-technologist-became-a-dj-for-one-night-only/ ([Accessed: 14th December 2020]

Miller, K (2020) 8 Of The Best Blue Light Glasses For 2020. Forbes [online] (Last updated Dec 7th 2020 04:50pm EST) Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbes-personal-shopper/2020/12/07/best-blue-light-glasses/?sh=39fbc3782930 [Accessed: 19th December 2020]

Mixcloud (2020) Hardy Milts (Online) Available at: https://www.mixcloud.com/hardy-milts/ [Accessed: 19th December 2020]

Mixcloud (2020) The Richard & Lyshi Show (Online) Available at: https://www.mixcloud.com/richardpriceuk/the-richard-and-lyshi-show/ [Accessed: 9th December 2020]

Selwyn, N., Jandrić, P. Postdigital Living in the Age of Covid-19: Unsettling What We See as Possible. Postdigit Sci Educ 2,989–1005 (2020). (Online) Available at: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs42438-020-00166-9 [Accessed: 21st October 2020]

Taylor, S & Van Knippenberg, I (2020) ‘To Be And Not To Be: Physical Absence and Virtual Presence in Online Learning. Association of Learning Technologists (ALT) Online Winter Conference. 15-16th December 2020, Online

The Thursday Night Show (2020) The Thursday Night Show [Radio Station Online] Available at: https://www.thethursdaynightshow.com/ [Accessed: 17th December 2020]

Techradar Team (2020) How to play Cards Against Humanity online with friends, family or on your own. http://www.techradar.com. Technology blog [blog] Available at: https://www.techradar.com/uk/how-to/how-to-play-cards-against-humanity-online September 9th 2020 [Accessed: 21st October 2020]

Valve Corporation (2020) Tabletop simulator (Online) Available at: https://store.steampowered.com/app/286160/Tabletop_Simulator/ [Accessed: 17th December 2020]

So long and thanks for all the fish!

After 3 years at the Royal Agricultural University, I will be moving on in the new year and taking up the position of Learning Technologies Production Manager at the University College of Estate Management (UCEM). I’ve had an amazing time at RAU and am really sad to leave my colleagues.

ITS at the start of 2020

Before I go I’d like to highlight some of the things we (not just me!) have achieved over the last 3 year in the Learning Technology team.

Since November 2017 we have:

  • Increased the team from one person to four people. You may remember that I gave this presentation at the 2018 ALT conference about growing a learning technology culture in which I reflected on being in a one-person team.
  • Taken a strategic approach to our Gateway (Moodle) site. This has mainly been through the VLE working group, which comprises of ITS staff, library staff and academics.
  • Enforced a regular upgrade cycle for Gateway (Moodle). This has involved upgrading the version (- in 2017 we were on version 2.7, we are now on 3.8.3), creating blank templates/pages for modules, creating a Baseline for academic staff to follow, introducing a testing process and following a set timeline.
  • Improved Gateway’s content and design. The front pages have been redesigned, content has been audited and updated. There is now a Gateway user group to support non-academics with page editing.
  • Created two fully online courses as part of the Catalyst project. The courses have set a bar for other module content.
  • Delivered transnational online teaching to Shandong Agricultural University (SDAU) in China. The 8 weeks of teaching has involved pre-recorded content and online interactive sessions in Zoom.
  • Pivoted content online due to the pandemic. This has been done through the RAU blended curriculum.
  • Embedded use of the Panopto video management system. Panopto was in place three years ago but was underused by academics. We have trained staff and put in place processes that enabled us to deliver video content for all modules for the blended curriculum. We’ve also carried out a lot of media content creation.
  • Introduced Mahara ePortfolio. Mahara was another tool that we had but weren’t using. We have trained staff and began using ePortfolios on a number of modules.
  • Moved mid-module feedback surveys online. Also supported the NSS and internal Student Satisfaction Survey.
  • Found out what our staff and student think using the Jisc Digital insights survey. The survey has run for the last three years.
  • Improved digital accessibility at the RAU. Through creation of the digital accessibility group, writing a VLE accessibility statement, automation of caption creation on Panopto, supporting various accessibility tools including Browsealoud and TextHelp.
  • Implemented Talis Aspire reading lists. This system now supports all our book purchasing and module resources lists.
  • Improved our publications repository offering. The RAU are a member of the GuildHE CREST site. The site has been improved and processes established to support the submission of publications to the repository and the next REF.
  • Implemented myday mobile and desktop app. The myRAU app is now available to all students.
  • Procured Vevox as the new Student Response system. Vevox will be fully implemented in the new year.
  • Project managed the Office 365  implementation. Elements of this, such as Teams, have been expedited due to the need for online delivery. Other elements such as the Intranet remain outstanding. This has been, and continues to be, a significant piece of work.
  • Participated in the Landex Learning Materials and Technology committee. This has allowed us to use H5P content from the land Based Learning Online site on our VLE.
  • Assisted curriculum development. Through participation on programme design groups, involvement in validation panels, leading on module design and design jams.
  • Delivered analytics and statistics. For the VLE, student reporting and annual statistics reports.
  • Written this blog and the TEL tips journal.
The LT Team with Alun Dawes, head of IT. From left: Pip McDonald, Alun Dawes, Husna Ahmed, Marieke Guy and Chantal Schipper

That’s an incredible lot of work we’ve ploughed our way through! I’m very proud of the Learning Technology team and wish them all the best for the future.

LTs and Business analysts night out 2019

Have a great Christmas and New Year everyone!

The Certainty of Uncertainty: Transnational Online Pivot in China

Today Pip McDonald and I presented at the China and Higher Education: Navigating Uncertain Futures online conference organised by Manchester University.

Our 20 minute presentation was part of the Pivots to online learning session chaired by Jenna Mittelmeier, Lecturer in International Education at Manchester Institute of Education. You can see the slides on Slideshare.

During the presentation Pip explored the idea of uncertainty when moving to online and suggested a concept of ‘uncertainty literacy’ with it’s own taxonomy.

The research for this exploration was collated through use of an online questionnaire sent out to the SDAU lecturers.

Climate Smart webinar with the Netherlands Embassy

We’d like to share a guest blog post from our professional programme team on a recent webinar they were involved with. This was a new activity for the RAU and a substantial learning curve. Thank you to Professsional Programme Manager Elizabeth Badger, Professor Louise Manning and Associate Professor Nicola Cannon for the summary.

Climate smart webinar

This September, Associate Professor Nicola Cannon was asked by Tim Heddema, Agricultural Counsellor for the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, if the RAU would be prepared to co-host the fifth of a series of conferences the Embassy has been running with various partners.

The discussions around Nicola’s research work prompted the idea of an online webinar conference format, in these COVID-19 times, to explore future opportunities and priorities for collaboration on climate-smart agriculture between the Netherlands and the UK.

Nicola Cannon presenting on Climate Smart

As we race towards Christmas it’s easy to forget now that September was early in the new landscape of delivering online professional development programmes at the RAU and at that point our activities had been based around embracing the ‘meeting’ type platforms Zoom and Teams. These technologies are used in a variety of meeting and webinar deliver settings but we looked to develop a new approach and audience experience. This introduced us to the term simulive and the advantages of the learning experience of working with a platform which offered a this package.

Creating a simulive event

What does this mean? The use of ‘simulive’ allowed us to use both pre-recorded videos and live content, to have a branded registration and viewing site and a very detailed set of analytics,  and the facility of a programme manager on the day to ensure that we could focus on the delivery of content rather than back room technology management. We found this very appealing. We felt that hosting an event with a high level of International speakers and attendees needed a more polished and risk free setting than an internal meeting or teaching environment provided by the self-managed Teams and Zoom. The platform we eventually chose came from a list of options kindly offered by Student Recruitment and Widening participation Manager Liam Dowson of providers he had seen at external events he had participated in during his marketing and outreach activities for the RAU.

Climate smart
Climate smart presentation by Sophie Alexander

We spoke with a number of providers and then decided on WorkCast as a provider as they were appropriate to our needs and budget and the learning process began for us. We can say this has been a big learning curve.

Working with WorkCast

Once you are signed up for your event, WorkCast provide a very supported and responsive service and manage all aspects of the event except the speakers and topic content. However it is easy to underestimate the time it will take to coordinate all the parties and processes.

WorkCast recommend between 8-12 weeks to set up for an event and if your event has a reasonable number of speakers, with varying response times, availability and technical expertise, and especially if you are partnering with other parties in organizing the event, this seems accurate.  In fact all of the supporting information that WorkCast provided was actually very useful and relevant and probably equally transferable to general presentation and event working practices.

Lessons learnt

The first lesson learnt is definitely that online does not mean instant. Generous allocation in your planning of pre-production time is essential for proper topic development, technical and personal connection and presentation briefings particularly if you are including pre-recordings. In the end the biggest challenges are not with the selection of the platforms as there are a variety of ways to choose to run your event online. It is making sure that you cover all the potential issues that could arise – scripting the links between one presentation and another so another person can step in as a co-chair if internet links drop out.

Rehearsal is key especially checking pre-recorded videos work well on the platform. The videos themselves need to be of a minimum quality and ideally this is communicated to presenters in a timely way. Recognising that different viewers will have a range of internet download speeds which can mean that for some the video and sound are in perfect sync – whereas for others the two can separate. Making sure you have a clear protocol for managing questions that come in and that you can provide sample themes beforehand to panel members. Thus the content and curation of an event is critical and so is panel member and individual internet connection speed and equipment can definitely compromise the quality. Guaranteeing the speaker’s internet speed and background setting to emulate a more television like experience for the viewer will be a given in the future as audiences become more demanding.

A social media strategy is essential to drive attendance especially in the last twenty-four hours before the event. Linking social media engagement to the presentations on the day and preparing tweets and posts beforehand is essential. This can only be achieved if all the pre-recorded material has been listened to and reflected on. Professionalising our online presence when we move beyond Covid-19 is key and considering how we meet audience needs and use the correct platform for the topic and learning scenario.

Online delivery is here to stay, and optimising audience experience is key.

Vevox is go!

After a small-scale pilot during semester 1 the RAU have now agreed to purchase the Student Response system Vevox.


We started our journey with Vevox in 2019 and before lockdown. With an increase in the number of core modules being delivered we were seeing more large-group lectures of over 100 students. There was an increasing need to keep students engaged and encourage discussion and critical thinking despite the group size. A small pilot group was established and we looked at solutions including Mentimeter, PollEverywhere, Turning point and Vevox.

The group opted for Vevox primarily due to their PowerPoint integration, ease of use and friendly customer service approach.

The impact of Covid

Covid has not only slowed down our ability to work on new projects but has changed our requirements. Our blended curriculum consists of pre-recorded lectures, while seminars are face-to-face or online (depending on the situation of the students in that module). The PowerPoint has (for now) moved down the priority list, while use in an online session (for example in Teams) has moved up. Surveys (an asynchronous version of polls) are also of more interest. Vevox have worked hard with us and the sector more generally to stay relevant, for example will soon be releasing a Teams integration.

The pilot group

Participation on the Integrated Foundation Year Digital Skills module

The Vevox pilot group has been relatively active and we now have 16 users registered on the site, 9 of these have created polls or surveys. Some of these poll sessions have had over 80 participants. I have used Vevox on the Digital Skills module I teach on and the students really like it. Polls have been more successful than surveys but we have had a high participation rate and it has led to some good discussions. The anonymity is helpful and has encouraged honesty and participation.

What next?

On Wednesday 9th December Amie Fletcher from Vevox will joining us on Teams in a very brief (3:30-4pm) session introducing Vevox. We will also share a couple of case studies and real life experiences from the pilot group and invite people to sign up for the second phase of the pilot to run in semester 2.

We are also looking at our SSO integration, the aforementioned Teams app and the PowerPoint plugin.

And of course the ITS team plan to use Vevox for our Christmas quiz!

Our plan is that Vevox becomes one of the core tools in our digital tool box.

Digital at the core: a 2030 strategy framework for university leaders

The Jisc learning and teaching reimagined report related to this framework is now available: https://www.jisc.ac.uk/reports/learning-and-teaching-reimagined-a-new-dawn-for-higher-education. It is an excellent report and one that we will be looking at closely.

As the sun rises on this new dawn for higher education it is illuminating new digital models of learning and teaching, while at the same time casting a shadow of darkness across some traditional, increasingly old fashioned, ways of working.

David Maguire
Interim principal and vice-chancellor, University of Dundee
Chair, learning and teaching reimagined

The report finds the biggest challenges facing our sector to be:

  1. Embed digital at the heart of university culture – Leadership and vision are essential for transformation as digital becomes a central feature of learning and teaching.
  2. Invest in the short term but with a long-term strategic view – Most university learning and teaching infrastructures need significant upgrades to support the expansion of online learning and teaching. As this is a rapidly maturing field, careful long-term planning is needed to ensure investment is strategic.
  3. Explore new economic models for high-quality blended learning at scale – Scaling up high-quality blended learning and teaching takes considerable time and investment. If the shift is to be sustainable, affordable and widespread, work is needed on the economics that will allow transformation.
  4. Embrace blended learning in curriculum redesign – Focusing on learning design, with student involvement, will ensure that it achieves high-quality outcomes and makes a difference by shaping fully accessible and inclusive learning.
  5. Expand the digital skills and confidence of students and staff – Significant and rapid progress has been made in improving the digital capabilities of students, staff and leaders but there is much more to be done, and increasing all-round digital confidence remains a priority.
  6. Communicate the benefits of blended learning – We have evidenced a significant increase in the acceptance of digital learning and teaching but further attention is required to understand and meet shifting perceptions, both within and beyond the sector.
  7. Strengthen the response to digital poverty – The digital divide was brought into sharp relief in 2020 with students’ differing levels of digital access. This remains a priority concern for all groups and additional resources are needed to level up opportunities.

We are facing many of these at the RAU. It has been a huge cultural shift to move online and there is still considerable work to be done in bringing the whole institution with us.

In order to counteract these challenges the report makes a series of recommendations. These make a good basis for any future planning.

  1. Universities to use their strategic and structural planning processes to effect the digital
    transformation of learning and teaching, ensuring that sponsorship is provided by
    governing bodies and executive teams.
  2. Universities to review their strategic investment in digital learning and teaching.
  3. Universities to make investment plans to mitigate the heightened cyber security risks
    that arise from greater dependence on digital technologies.
  4. Universities to think radically about the scale and scope of their learning and teaching
    activities, prioritising blended learning approaches wherever possible.
  5. Universities to accelerate the adoption of blended learning, with close involvement of
    students in all aspects from design to delivery.
  6. Universities to ensure inclusivity and accessibility are integral considerations in
    curriculum redesign.
  7. Universities to ensure their professional development plans include digital training, peer
    support mechanisms and reward and recognition incentives to encourage upskilling.
  8. Universities and sector organisations to establish research to remain in step with the
    changing digital preferences and expectations of prospective higher education students.
  9. Universities, government and funders to provide additional funding or means to reduce
    digital poverty as a barrier to students accessing higher education.

There is a recording of the accompanying launch webinar which features VCs from Edinburgh, Aston, Falmouth and Sheffield Hallam, the CEO of AdvanceHE, director of policy at UUK and others.

Thanks again to Jisc for the report and accompanying materials.

Creating Better Videos: Getting Started

In his last post Matthew Rogers-Draycott promised to share some of the tips, tricks and ideas that he has been using to improve his recorded material. He starts with looking at how you can create better videos.

Creating Better Videos: Getting Started 

Recording content for blended, flipped or fully online courses is a minefield. Not only do you need to shape it to fit a very different set of pedagogical and methodological considerations, you also need to ensure that it is recorded in a way which maximises the impact of material you are delivering. 

There has been a lot written about how to design materials for these contexts but, surprisingly, the same attention has not been given to providing clear advice on how to record for them. As someone who has some experience of this work and, is currently exploring how to improve my output, I felt that this was something I could contribute to.  

In my effort to address this topic I am going to write a series of blogs/vlogs that will discuss how to produce better recordings using varying levels of equipment. In this first piece I am going to explore the key factors that underpin the production of good recordings and make suggestions as to how these can be controlled with minimal equipment. 

In my opinion there are 3 key factors that you need to control to produce good recordings: 

  • your environment
  • your camera position
  • and the placement of your microphone. 

The Environment 

When choosing a place to record there are 2 things you need to consider, the first of these is the ambient volume. Managing ambient volume is not just about finding a quiet place that is free from other distractions or interference, that bit is quite obvious, it is also about ensuring that the room you are recording in is not too acoustically bright. A bright room is one that is tilled, has hard floors, and/or lots of hard furniture. Recordings in these environments will tend to sound echoey and tinny even with good quality equipment. This means that kitchens and bathrooms are not ideal, instead, try to record in carpeted rooms with lots of bedding and/or soft furnishings. Larger rooms with less furniture are also not a good choice as they can add an echoey quality all of their own to the recording. If you are stuck in a large or, acoustically bright space, putting a pillow behind your mic or, at the either side (just out of shot if you are using video) can help, as can hanging a blanket around the area you are recording in (to make it acoustically smaller). 

Matt set up
Matt’s home set up

Assuming that you are videoing your content the second thing you will need is light, even a good camera with low light correction can be rendered inept with poor lighting. If you do not want to invest in lighting, which can be done relatively cheaply, the important thing is to try to make sure that your face is lit from behind the camera and that you do not have any bright light sources directly above, behind, or to the side of you. This should make sure that the visual tone of your recording is even and that you do not look washed-out, in shadow, or have any instance of flare from other light sources. A simple trick is to record during the day, and do so directly facing a window, this should ensure that you are lit by the natural light from the window without the need for any additional light sources. 

Camera Position 

Next, you need to consider where your camera is positioned. Wherever possible your eyes should be level with the camera and you should be able to speak directly into it as if you are looking at the audience. If you are using a webcam, putting it on a small tripod can help to get the right level, if you are using a laptop, I would advise you to lift it up using a small pile of boxes or books to achieve the same effect. When you see yourself on camera your face should be framed in the centre of the image, with a centimetre or so between the top of your head and the top edge of the screen. Making sure that your camera is at eye level will also help to reduce shadows and, if you are using an inbuilt mic, it should ensure that you are speaking toward it. 

Laptop stand by Jem Yoshioka
Laptop stand by Jem Yoshioka

Microphone Position 

To be clear, buying a good external USB microphone or headset is the quickest fix to improve the quality of any recordings you are producing vs. using the mic that is built into your laptop or webcam. The reason for this is that laptop and webcam mics are small, poorly filtered, and often badly positioned. 

When considering mic placement, it is important to understand that the further away you are from the mic, the thinner your voice will sound and the more the environment will affect the recording. That said, if you are too close to the mic you will sound overly bassy and the impact of your breathing will be exaggerated. Therefore, the mic needs to be close to your face, but not too close, about 15-30 cm away and just slightly off-axis from your mouth is ideal. If you have a pop-filter or windshield you should use this as it will further lessen the effects of breath sounds and aspirated plosives on the quality of the recording. Following these suggestions should mean that you can turn-down the gain on the microphone, which will in turn reduce the impact of any background noises. These tricks will help your voice to sound richer, fuller, and minimise any interference.  

Microphone set up

If you are stuck with only a laptop and in-built mic the best advice is to lift it up (as previously suggested), and get your face as close to the mic as you can while still maintaining a good framing of your face in the screen. Beyond this there is not much you can do to improve your audio unless you are willing to engage in some post-production with something like audacity

I hope these tips are useful, in my next piece I am going to focus in more detail on getting the audio right and will use some examples to illustrate the points I have raised here.