Hold Your Digital Horses. Time for an Online Symposium.

The University of East London (UEL) hosted their Learning & Teaching Symposium on Microsoft Teams on Thursday 17th September. A slide from the final keynote delivered by Simon Thomson (@digisim) from the Centre for Innovation in Education exploring the Physical and Digital: Exploring places and spaces for hybrid teaching in a post-lockdown world.

Pivot within a Pivot. Digital Wheel within a Digital Wheel.

Both Zoom and Microsoft Teams have played an important role at RAU, a Zoom with the SDAU project which was the topic of a poster presentation delivered at the event by @digitalrau, Digital Learning Manager and @pipmcdonald, Learning Technologist. The event had different rooms with different themes where presentations were delivered simultaneously. Our room explored Teaching Principles in Practice. We successfully submitted a proposal to the symposium exploring the transnational online pivot relating to the longstanding project the RAU is involved with working with Shandong University in China. The transational pivot was almost like a pivot within a pivot, a digital wheel within a digital wheel.

A Learning & Teaching Symposium: Tech Incognita for Terra Incognita?

As a learning and teaching event, my initial concern was that both our roles and activity were concerned with learning technology and not pedagogy in an explicit capacity. Some Learning technologist roles are more technical and others are more focused on pedagogy. However, the more work I carried out on the project the more I realised the pedagogy was driving the narrative of the project rather than the technology. This was echoed In the Microsoft Teams chat during our poster presentation.

Never Mind the Buzztech. Putting the Learning in Learning Technology.

“When a ‘learner’ sits alone in front of a computer and engages with a text displayed on screen there is more going on than the interaction of that individual with the screen” (Jewitt, 2006: p76). An evaluation form in Microsoft Forms with a range a questions including using Likert scale and ranking was created and emailed to lecturers who taught on the project. The benefit of using Microsoft Forms is that the results are created in real time. One of the questions asked what types of learning took place during the interactive sessions? Lecturers identified that multimodal learning was form of learning that took place the most. Multimodality can be understood whereby “…all modes of communication are attended to as part of meaning making…” (Jewitt, 2006: p3 ). More specifically, multimodality can be seen as “…images, sounds, space, and movement representing and communicating meaning (Kress, 2010, in Miller & McVee). Multimodal approaches to pedagogy are becoming widely used in academia (Jewitt, Bezemer & O’Halloran, 2016). Having explored multimodality in education at the MFL Twitterati conference at the Ashcombe school  in Dorking organised by the Association for Language Learning (ALL) in 2019 and at the Missing Maps mapathon event at University College London (UCL) in 2019 – , I was keen to explore this more. Zoom could be argued to be a platform for “multimodal discourse” (Kress & van Leewen, 2001). It could also be argued that multimodality literacy could potentially help to move across any potential language barriers. Participating in a Zoom meeting is a multimodal experience – “When a ‘learner’ sits alone in front of a computer and engages with a text displayed on screen there is more going on than the interaction of that individual with the screen” (Jewitt, 2006: p76). A further study could be completed to explore the impact of multimodal approaches to learning and teaching.  

The Power of Research Informed Pedagogic Practice

Lecturers wanted to explore how to use the interactive features in Zoom included break out rooms, polling and whiteboard. The technology was a platform for the pedagogy. There is a well-known quotation that ‘When the student is ready the teacher will appear’. What about the Learning Technologist?  The truth is Learning Technologists appeared in a radical way particularly during lockdown to facilitate the online pivot.

When asked what approaches Lecturers took in the interactive sessions on Zoom, the majority used the chat function and share screen. What emerged pedagogically was that some teachers wanted to explore more features such as polling, breakout rooms and whiteboard. As a Learning Technologist, this was exciting to support and a model we hope to follow up on the next iteration of the project. Pedagogy driving the narrative of the project and not necessarily the technology was the critical thread we wanted to stress in the presentation.

With respect to how Lecturers engaged with students in interactive sessions, approaches included  team teaching or having more than one lecturer is a Zoom meeting. This seemed like an effective approach for example while one Lecturer presented content, another Lecturer could manage the chat. This approach makes sense particularly in virtue of the fact that over one time with a hundred students were in meetings at any one time.  Successfully engaging with such a large number of students is always challenge. Lecturers’ ideas were impressive, for example, one lecturer was going to do a live auction in Zoom which was a really engaging scenario-based approach.

Two Hats or Two Tribes: A Teacher & A Learning Technologist

From my experience in the role of a Teacher of English for Academic Purposes (EAP), one of the challenges is that few students speak up in transnational contexts. This was also a point that was raised as part of the research project.  One of the approaches one Lecturer took was to have smaller groups running consecutively where students had to work collaboratively to create a proposal on PowerPoint and each person would have a role assigned to them a bit like De Bono’s thinking hats (De Bono, 2000). We hope to take this model forward. Emergent pedagogies were important for us. We could move towards a model of De Bono’s Digital Thinking Hats. One of the questions we were asked about our research project was about this approach:

My response was to remind everyone that learning is always about relationships and explained how the approach worked in terms of smaller groups helping students to actively contribute. It was also meaningful to feedback to the lecturer who created the approach that the approach he took was shared and successful.

Zoom, Boom & Bloom

Both student and lecturer feedback was similar about not having a personal connection in a face to face setting, there was evidence of valuable personalised touches to pedagogy. The phrase I used in the presentation was that it was not the ‘ghost ion the zoom machine’. For example, one of Lecturers showed the students her garden and environment during an interactive session. Students of Agriculture as a curriculum area would find this helpful in real time. Additionally, a Lecturer allowed students to talk with her son who was a student studying Mining Engineering and they shared a valuable discussion on sustainability. Even given the contextual restraints of the transnational online pivot, unplanned valuable pedagogic moments can still take place. It is not just Zoom, doom and gloom, but rather Zoom, Boom and Bloom! Bloom’s taxonomy has been revised to include digital skills (McNulty, 2020). Perhaps a specific taxonomy could be created for Zoom or video meeting-based platforms.

Back to the Future, Feedback & Feedforward

The first keynote of the symposium was delivered by Dr. Naomi Winstone (@DocWinstone) from University of Surrey exploring moving feedback forwards in higher education. She showed a word cloud about how people feel about feedback and talked about embracing vulnerability in feedback scenarios:

The idea of feedback was also relevant to our research project. We wanted to explore the extent to which peer review of the interactive sessions would be helpful:

We also received some positive feedback from our poster presentation from one of the session Chairs, Ella Mitchell (@meatyloafy) on Twitter:

The Power of Blogging, Reflection and Digital Transformation

At RAU we have a digital transformation blog as a platform for reflection. One of the interesting parts of this project was the reflective blogs posts created by Marieke, myself and Bonnie Wang and Lola Huo from Sinocampus in China. Reflective blogs are useful tool particularly in a case study to dig deep and immerse in the complexities. The blog series can be accessed here. When working in a collaborative capacity with transnational patterns, it felt important to invite our colleagues, Bonnie Wang and Lola Huo from Sincocampus in China to reflect too.

The Dissolution of face-to-face learning. You have reached the end of education. Stuck between a digital rock and a digital hard place?

Lecturers are used to traditional face-to-face settings and one lecturer made reference to how they checked students faces for understanding in the online questionnaire. As Simon Thompson (@digisim) said in the final keynote, “We hold face to face very dear” (Thompson, 2020). Notwithstanding, the Lecturers’ ability to adapt content and deliver was impressive. In the final keynote of the Learning & Teaching symposium, Simon Thompson (@digisim) said “we have all had to learn new skills in digital space. [It’s about]…digital need not digital skills” (Thompson, 2020).  The need to adapt was undeniable. Perhaps we can change the saying ‘When the student is ready, the teacher will appear’ to ‘when the lecturers are ready the learning technologist will appear’.

Thoroughly Modern Technology. Unpacking the logistics of Online Learning

Other presentations were both relevant and helpful. For example, it was interesting to hear how David Murray, Dr Caroline McGlynn and Khadija Ahmed from the University of East London (UEL) had introduced welcome slides as a simple yet highly effective way to engage students and overcome what they called what they called ‘unexpected barriers’ to online learning and teaching. The Salsa music was an effective way to engage students.

Going, Growing & Knowing?

In conclusion, we hope to explore working with China within the JISC international community, we are keen to unpack how digital accessibility will have an impact on how we plan the delivery of next part of the project, more specifically with respect to captions. We hope to contribute to the #ChinaHE20 online event by University of Manchester exploring how to work with uncertainty – https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/china-and-higher-education-navigating-uncertain-futures-tickets-112516945212. A key idea that resonated with me in relation to this project was that “We don’t just go through projects, we GROW through projects”. The opportunity to participate in this symposium in this capacity as a research informed model has undoubtedly helped us with this growth process. Pivots aside, let’s keep growing together.

It is possible to access the poster on Slideshare here.

The video recordings of the presentations can be accessed on YouTube here.

The recording of our presentation can be access at 19:04 here:


De Bono, E (2000) Six Thinking Hats (Penguin: London)

Guy, M & McDonald, P (2020) The Transational Online Pivot: A Case Study Exploring Online Delivery in ChinaIn: University of East London (UEL) 2020. Learning & Teaching Symposium. 17th September. Online.

Jewitt, C (2006) Technology, Literacy, Learning: A Multimodal Apprach (Oxon & New York: Routeldge)

Jewitt, C, Bezemer, J & O’Halloran, K (2016) Introducing Multimodality (Oxon & New York: Routledge)

Kress, G & van Leewen, T (2001) Multimodal Discourse: The Modes and Media of Contemporary Communication (London: Arnold; New York, Oxford University Press)

University of East London (UEL) 2020. Learning & Teaching Symposium. 17th September.

McNulty, N (2020) Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy (Cape Town: HH Books)

Miller, S, M & McVee, M, B () Multimodal Composing: The Essential 21st Century Literacy in Multimodal Composing in Classrooms Learning and Teaching for the Digital World (Routledge: London and New York). pp1-13

Murray, D, McGlynn, C & Ahmed, Khadija (2020) The logistics of online learning. In: University of East London (UEL) 2020. Learning & Teaching Symposium. 17th September. Online.

Thomson, S (2020) Exploring places and spaces for hybrid teaching in a post-lockdown world. In: University of East London (UEL) 2020. Learning & Teaching Symposium. 17th September. Online.

UEL Learning and Teaching Symposium 2020 (2020) UEL Learning and Teaching Symposium 2020 – Room 1 – Teaching Principles in Practice [online video] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UtvJB4KnO2Q&list=PLuuOV6nj7vpT9pbYj2Xy889O4C0X6_FoZ&index=4&t=1154s [Accessed 6th October 2020]

Winstone, N (2020) Moving feedback forwards in higher education. In: University of East London (UEL) 2020. Learning & Teaching Symposium. 17th September. Online.


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