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.

H5P – Everything you ever wanted to know but were afraid to ask

Yesterday the RAU Learning technologists participated in an all-day training session on H5P led by moodle and H5P expert Dan Jeffries.

H5P is a free and open-source content collaboration framework based on JavaScript. H5P is an abbreviation for HTML5 Package, and enables users to create, share and reuse interactive HTML5 content. It integrates well with our moodle VLE and Chantal and Aurelie have been using it to build activities for the Catalyst Programme.

Dan Jeffries and our LTs

Dan Jeffries and our LTs

Due to our differing ability levels in using H5P Dan started off with a general intro to the tool and then focused on a couple of activities that will have maximum impact.

We spent time looking at:

  • Course presentation – an activity that comprises of many other smaller activities and with some skill could result in development of complete online learning course. Some of our key learnings here are:
    • Make the most of templates and copying content.
    • Use active surface mode for jumping around a presentation (be careful to not accidentally turn this on as you will have to rebuild content).
    • Create layers for putting over images and setting up hotspots.
    • The image background uses a 2:1 ratio – avoid stretching.
    • Hide the toolbar to avoid confusion to users.
    • End with a summary slide (or set of statements to chose from).
  • Interactive video – an interactive video content type which allows you to add things like multiple choice and fill in the blank questions and pop-up text to your videos. Some of our key learnings here are:
    • We need to look at if it is possible to get Panopto to work with H5P.
    • Title screens don’t work on YouTube.
    • Grades go to the moodle gradebook automatically.
    • Crossroads allows branching.
  • Documentation tool – allows you to create form wizards and outputs a document when the user has reach the end of the wizard. Some of our key learnings here are:
    • There is a lot of potential use for reflection but the goals pages are a little odd as they ask you to come up with goals and then think about how you have achieved them. Needs to be used at the end of a task.
    • Links with gradebook but unless there is a grade it can be difficult to see if the student has completed. Maybe better to use with activity completion.
    • You can export documents and get students to submit through Turnitin.
  • Speak the words – a fun test activity that uses voice recognition – teachers ask a question that can be answered with the user’s own voice.
Dan Jeffries demonstrating interactive video

Dan Jeffries demonstrating interactive video

Other useful tips from the day:

  • You can store all your H5P activities in wordpress and then link directly to them. This really helps with centralising and reusing activities.
  • Use the reuse option and download and import content.
  • Get snippet on your moodle site – great for reusing code.
  • Lots of other moodle tips that we are going to have a think about for our site!

Thanks to Dan for sharing his wisdom with us. Lots of fodder for our Friday TEL tips.

Teaching with VR

Last week we had a visit from James Maltby, Learning Technologist at Plumpton College. Plumpton College is based in East Sussex and one of the RAU’s partner colleges. We oversee validation of a number of their postgraduate level courses.

James Maltby demonstrates a pole for the 360 degree camera

James Maltby demonstrates a pole for the 360 degree camera

James is an award-winning learning technologist and educational researcher specialising in blended and immersive teaching. His work embedding virtual reality within teaching has been featured on BBC Countryfile. He has presented research at the Association of Colleges, Blended Learning Consortium, Education & Training Foundation, and JISC.

In 2019, he was awarded a fellowship from the 1851 Royal Commission and the Education & Training Foundation to continue his research into how immersive technology is transforming technical teaching and STEM education. The programme is a a partnership of Sussex training providers in the United Kingdom exploring the effective use of 360°, augmented and virtual reality technologies within the classroom. You can read more about the project at: https://www.teachingwithvirtualreality.com/

Showreel from Plumpton College on Vimeo.

James started our workshop with some nearpod questions that got us thinking about our digital skills. After a brief history of virtual reality (from the Nintendo Virtual Boy released in 1995 to the Google cardboard of 2014 and Oculus Rift in 2016) and the state of current technology he demonstrated some of the learning and teaching videos Plumpton have made (see https://vimeo.com/plumptoncollege). The videos range from countryside tours and forestry visits, to experiencing horse jumping and horse dissection. We were all able to try out the videos using an Oculus Go headset and see the relatively inexpensive tools used to create them – a Rioch Theta 360 degree camera and extension pole.

As a group we discussed quick and easy ways to get started. For example use of Google cardboard or Google streetview apps and embedding in H5P – see below.

RAU grass quad - click to view

RAU grass quad – click to view

We’d like to thank James for visiting us and sharing Plumpton’s exciting content with us. We’re raring to get started!

VR/360 ideas crowd sourced from the group

VR/360 ideas crowd sourced from the group

e-portfolios: What are they and what’s in it for me and my students?

MaharaLogo2017_300x95While the RAU has had Mahara for sometime we have unfortunately not been using it effectively as an assessment tool. Hopefully this will change soon and there are plans to use e-portfolios extensively on the new Catalyst blended-learning courses.

In order to get our academics up to speed we have launched a series of group workshops aimed at anyone interested in using an e-portfolio for student assessment. The sessions are led by Aurelie Soulier with additional support from the Learning Technology team.

Yesterday was our first session entitled e-portfolios: What are they and what’s in it for me and my students? There was some useful discussion on people’s previous experiences of using e-portfolios (not always good!) and possible uses of the tool.

Aurelie introducing ePortfolios

Aurelie introducing ePortfolios

The next sessions will be more hands on and start looking at our own e-portfolio tool in more detail.

  1. Introducing Mahara: a basic introduction to editing
    Wednesday 29th May, 3-4:30pm, Glass room, EJ
  2. Using Mahara: Designing learning activities and assessment, and using groups
    Wednesday 3rd July, 3-4:30pm, Glass room, EJ
  3. Advanced Mahara: Using competency frameworks
    Wednesday 24th July, 3-4pm, Glass room, EJ
    You will have had to attend previous workshops, or be familiar with Mahara, to attend this session
  4. Mahara for Dissertation management
    Wednesday 4th September, 3-4pm, Glass room, EJ
  5. Mahara as a CV builder
    Wednesday 18th September, 3-4pm, Glass room, EJ

All resources from the session will be available from the Mahara support page on Gateway.

Introduction to Mahara page - on Mahara

Introduction to Mahara page – on Mahara

Asking students about IA

As part of our internal information architecture (IA) work we wanted to ask students what they think about the information we share with them. Is it in the right place and accessible when they need it? What works with how we currently share info? What could we do better? What information would have been helpful to them when they were applying?

Jodie Humphries (IT) at our consultation stand

Jodie Humphries (IT) at our consultation stand

This morning we set up a stand in the Atrium (student coffee shop) and asked students to consider nine different types of student information, and where they felt it should be available from. The types of information were:

  • Learning and teaching resources (study skills, research info, lab info)
  • Student support (wellbeing info, disability info, assistive technology, medical)
  • Employability and enterprise (Careers info and enterprise info)
  • Campus information and policies (launderette, gym, catering and menus, accommodation info, parking, farms)
  • Important info (semester dates, exams info, graduation, timetable)
  • Academic policies and information
  • IT, library  and study skills support
  • Personal tutor info
  • Social (Student Union,  news and events)

There were three boxes representing where the information could be situated:

  • The RAU Web site
  • Gateway (the RAU Virtual Learning Environment)
  • Other (myRAU – the mobile and desktop app, other websites e.g urban fox, office 365, social media)

Students were asked to think about factors such as the security and access to information (should it be open – public, restricted, confidential), the audience for that information, whether they would like to have accessed it when applying and if the information was visible enough for them.

Students post information in the boxes

Students post information in the boxes

The results from the consultation will help up build our core IA principles – a set of guidelines that help us make decisions on where we store and deliver our information.

These are likely to build upon:

  • Open by default
  • Single source of truth
  • Clarity on stewardship of information
  • Role based stewardship
  • Periodic review of information to ensure accuracy and relevance of data
  • Standardisation of content and labeling
  • Improved navigation and searching
  • Ensuring compliance

Using MS Teams to support group working

I have mentioned before that we are taking a more proactive approach to our use of Office365. rebeccaAs part of this work we are piloting some small scale O365 activities with staff and students.

One of our academics, Rebecca Marshall (a lecturer in Rural Land Management), has written about her experience using Microsoft teams for group work. We hope to build on Rebecca’s work to come up with some clear guidance and procedures to enable other staff to take a similar approach to group work.

Here is Rebecca’s story:

Group work grumbles

Reflecting on a piece of coursework that I set the Rural Land Management 3rd year students, the usual grumbles about working in groups get repeated year on year.  However as this module was entitled ”Professional Practice” and group work being a fact of working in industry as well as a module outcome, Group work needed to stay.  However I wanted to meet the challenge of making group work more palatable for the students.

This year, due to some complicated scheduling requirements in RELM, this coursework was going to fall over the Christmas holidays.  I could see that this was going to make group work even more unpopular.


I had initially considered including a session on the use of Google docs, to encourage the students to use online collaboration tools. I’ve never particularly enjoyed using Google docs and I was not wedded to the idea.

I had heard about Slack from friends in project management and was aware that there were other remote working business collaboration tools available.  A timely article in the Sunday Times business section outlined the tools that were now available, including Slack; outlining additional benefits over Google docs.  These tools promised to make team management easier and as an additional benefit, experience of them could prove useful in graduate job interviews.

Trying out MS Teams

I am lucky to have an IT expert at home (a member of the University of Southampton’s iSolutions team) and ran through the suggested apps that the article listed.  He was using Microsoft Teams already. We have access to Office 365 at the RAU but are still in the early stages of roll out.  My husband and I set up a team between us and had a play with it.

Teams was launched in November 2016 and is a “Chat based workspace in Office 365”, allowing dispersed teams to work together and share information via a common space.  It included tools such as document collaboration, chat/messaging, video conferencing, meeting organising.


After some initial playing and discussions with RAU IT services I realised that Teams would be the solution to my group work problem.  I could include a section on Teams within a session I usually ran in the computer room.

The other benefit of Teams, was if there was a falling out within a group, usually as a result of uneven involvement by members, I could be added as an administrator and see what each group member had contributed.

However in my naivety, I thought that if Teams was available on my computer it would also be available to the students, unfortunately it had been turned off for the students.  [Editor note – this was due to some changes to default licensing by Microsoft.] This took the wind out of my sails for the launch.  I had got the students hyped up by mentioning I had the solution to all their group work problems prior to the launch of the assignment and showing a video of Teams in the session. Teams was made available within 2 hours (thanks IT Services), but I had lost momentum for the students to adopt it at the launch.

Student feedback

Despite this start – 54% students did use Teams for the assignment (50 students surveyed).  The most used tool was chat/conversation (30), followed by sharing files (23), working on a single document at the same time/together (20 & 19)

The students rated the tool that allows you to work on a single document at the same time as the most useful.

93% of students that used it would recommend it to other students (and 43% of those who didn’t use it would still recommend it!)

Some student comments about what was most helpful within Teams:

  • “ Working on a single document at the same time, As there is less confusion with sending documents back and forth”
  • “means you don’t have to worry about who has the most up-to-date version”
  • “Allowed us to work over Christmas break with only 1 document rather than lots of individual documents”
  • “Allowed us to distinguish areas of improvement collectively”
  • “the chat/conversations had an easy interface”

The video conferencing tool was rated as the least useful tool but it was only used by 4 students (1 group) so its unpopularity was understandable, but a number of comments showed that the students were not aware of the tool.

Things to think about

There were some problems: Students found compatibility issues when some of the group were using Macs.  The word version that is in Teams is different to desktop version.  Another issue to address is that Teams works by creating a new email address for the group using RAUs email system e.g. Pete&Linda’sgroup@rau.ac.uk so there may be issues if group is named inappropriately.

The students discussed some alternatives to Teams: Closed Facebook Group, Google Docs, Emails, Face to face meetings (i.e. finishing before the holidays!)

RAU students carrying out group work. Picture by Mikal Ludlow Photography 2019 - Licenced to The Royal Agricultural University tel; 07855177205 20-3-19

RAU students carrying out group work. Picture by Mikal Ludlow Photography 2019 licenced to the RAU

Next steps

I’m using Teams for dissertation supervision, but not to its full capacity.  Just file sharing and the messaging.

For Teams to be used for all RAU group coursework I would recommend the following:

  • Run an hour long training session in a computer room for staff to use Teams (and make online session available)
  • Ensure students have access at time of launch
  • Have further guides/ online help recommendations available for those who need it, hosted in the IT section of Gateway (our VLE).
  • Emphasis on the single document real time collaboration when launching as this was identified as the main benefit by the students in my pilot.

Further work:

  • Investigate the issues with using Mac and how a mixed user group can function
  • Include as part of the new Study skills module in year 1 and more detailed use in year 2.

[For RAU staff]. If you are interested in using Teams I would recommend watching these 2 videos:

  1. an introductory guide on what Teams can do
  2. How to start using Teams

You can also have a play around with it and are welcome to add me as a user to your team.

I was overwhelmed with how helpful the students found Teams for this group coursework. It has turned me into an advocate for Teams to help solve student group work problems and am very pleased that it is going to be included in the new study skills modules.

Our IT team are in their infancy in looking at Office 365 usage within the RAU. There will be lots more on Teams in the near future.

Sim Venture Evolution – the immersive experience of running a virtual company

How can you run a company and not worry about bankruptcy? Sim Venture!

At the RAU we already use Sim Venture Classic – the server-based business simulation game from Venture Simulations. As part of the development of our Catalyst programme courses we are looking at Sim Venture Evolution – a cloud based business simulation and strategy. Earlier today we had a visit from Lesley Strachan, Learning and Development manager at SimVenture, to show us how the system can be used to support businesses courses and facilitate learning.

Lesley Strachan - Learning and Development manager SimVenture

Lesley Strachan – Learning and Development manager SimVenture

Lesley spent time showing us how the software could be used within a course to allow students to start up their own business and test out ideas.

There is quite a lot of preparatory work to be carried out by academics and facilitators and they need to think about some of the following areas:

  • Which scenario do you want to go for? Create a business from scratch, use start up (bicycle scenario), grow a business to 10 years old?
  • Should it be run weekly? As a one-day event? As a competition?
  • What about teams? Or individuals?
  • How do you assess?

In the session we were provided with user logins and Lesley gave us a couple of team tasks to work through. We began by looking at 5 core skills areas (training ground, promotions, production, pricing, borrowing) and we then set up our own companies and competed to make the most profit.

Main dashboard

Main dashboard

Sim Venture comes with a comprehensive set of resources including over 120 single page case studies. The data from student sessions can be exported into excel and used in a variety of different supplementary ways.

It’s clear that Sim Venture Evolutions could prove to be a very useful tool for the Catalyst programme. We will be investigating using it on MBA modules and during the residential session.


Creating a bicycle company in Sim Venture Evolutions

Catalyst show and tell day

Yesterday was a Catalyst show and tell day looking at our second batch of modules in development.

For those who are unfamiliar with the Catalyst project it involves the development of four innovative blended learning programmes for the University. You can see our previous blog posts on work so far.

During this all day session module leaders shared their work so far, giving us a virtual tour of module content and activities.

Learning Technologist Aurelie Soulier outlines the dissertation supervision plans for Catalyst

Learning Technologist Aurelie Soulier outlines the dissertation supervision plans for Catalyst

With modules ranging from ‘Improving your financial decision-making skills’ and ‘Making sense of a changing world’, to ‘Facing the global challenges in food and agriculture’ and ‘Managing your food and agri-business supply chains’ there was some really varied and exciting content.

Interactive time line of the history of agriculture in the UK

Interactive time line of the history of agriculture in the UK

We’ve made good use of tools like H5P, Answer Garden, Mahara, Padlet, Panopto and moodle activities to ensure that the end result is a highly interactive experience for the user.

Landex LMT Committee, April meeting

Landex (Land Based Colleges Aspiring to Excellence) is a subscriber organisation for Colleges and Universities in the UK who deliver significant volumes of education and training in land based occupational areas. Earlier this week I joined the Learning Materials and Technology Committee for their quarterly meeting. It was great to meet up with peers from colleges offering similar curricula.


The main focus of the meeting was the development of Land based learning online – an online learning resource covering areas including animal management, agriculture, horse management, horticulture, bTB biosecurity and machinery. The platform and resources have been developed by FirstMedia Ltd and AdaptiVLE Ltd, for LANDEX using money from the DfE – Flexible Learning Fund. The learning materials include a large quantity of video content filmed at various locations including, Bridgewater and Taunton College, Askham Bryan College, East Durham College and Myerscough College. This content has been quality assured and is a really excellent resource. Recent work for the project has been around the development of two qualifications:


The committee also share good practice and we heard a little from James Maltby of Plumstead College on how they have been making effective use of 360°, Augmented and Virtual Reality Technologies for teaching, learning and assessment.

There are plans to set up a MS Team site for the group so we can keep in touch between meetings.

Touch screens and digital learning spaces

At the RAU we have plans to improve some of our learning spaces and make them more student-friendly and better equipped for the type of teaching our academics would like to do. We have been exploring the options available and you may have seen our recent post on the Jisc digital classroom .

This week we have set up a rather large (72”) touch screen in the IT Service Desk area. The screen is on loan from Clevertouch and earlier today one of their team, Ashley Helm, gave us a demo of the main functionality.

There is lots to get excited about: from the interactive whiteboard screen which allows you to create varied notes using content from a variety of places (your devices, students’ devices, the cloud, the web), to the use of countless android apps, such as Google Earth.

Ashley Helm demos Clevertouch

Ashley Helm demos Clevertouch

Our academics seemed genuinely impressed and could see the potential of the screen for their teaching, especially some of the the annotation features, the split screen option and the the ability to use and freeze-frame video. The screen can be controlled using the touch screen but also through a remote control and devices if mirroring – so the person leading the teaching doesn’t need to stand at the front at all times. This new generation of touch screen could definitely make for much more innovative teaching approaches (such as using a visualiser and bringing class content up to the screen) and collaborative working among students.

I have also been discussing digital learning spaces on the HELF (Heads of eLearning forum) list and have been pointed in the direction of some useful resources including:

We’re really keen to move towards classrooms that are flexible and inspiring, and that allow our academics and students to fully reach their potential. Thanks to everyone who is helping us with our research.