Unprecedented times

Like most other HEIs we are moving the vast majority of our teaching online due to the Coronavirus outbreak. Here are the key activities we have undertaken.

Running training sessions for all our staff (academic and professional services)

Last week we ran the following training sessions for staff. All sessions were recorded. We have also made a series of shorter videos covering key areas.

  • MS Teams: chatting with and phoning a colleague in the cloud
  • Gateway (Moodle): uploading files, using forums, organising, checking student work (reports) and where to find help
  • Turnitin: setting up an assessment portal
  • Turnitin: marking assessments and adding grades to Quercus
  • Panopto: recording and/or live streaming a lecture
  • Panopto: using video assignments
  • Zoom: hosting live lectures (with student response), seminars, tutorials and 1-1 sessions
  • Analytics and tracking your students’ activities (Panopto and Gateway/Moodle)
  • MS Teams: hosting live lectures (with student response), seminars, tutorials and 1-1 sessions
  • Gateway (Moodle): Creating & marking quizzes (online tests)
Chantal running a training session for academics

Chantal running a training session for academics

Providing explicit guidance for academics on moving our courses online

We have been proving guidance on our baseline requirements for each module. These are:

  • Pre-recorded lectures for each scheduled lecture – using Panopto.
  • A set of PowerPoint slides as used in the lecture.
  • An opportunity for further consideration of the lecture topics through an interactive session (‘seminar’). This activity could be carried out using an online forum (Moodle forum), an online discussion (Teams or Zoom) or another means.
  • Clear guidance for students on weekly activities by programme.

These activities are supported by the following tools:

  • Moodle – Moodle activities and H5P
  • Panopto
  • MS Office 365 – in particular Teams
  • Zoom
  • RAU Resource Lists – Talis Aspire

There have also a couple of other pieces of work to support online delivery:

  • ensuring that resources (ebooks,  journals etc.) can be accessed off site and that we have the right licences in place
  • ensuring that we make the most of existing analytics to monitor student engagement. We are currently setting all module pages up have activity completion turned on and are adding are setting up reports to help academic check their students’ engagement with module content.

Co-ordinating our approach for assessment online

There is a small working group looking at assessment and online delivery.  we have spent considerable time data gathering (Sarah M) so we have detailed information about all the assessments across all modules, programmes, levels. The next step will be to produce an overview of what alternatives/options we should/could consider.

All information is being communicated to staff and students.

Enabling our staff to work from home

Considerable effort has been put in to enable as many staff to work from home. This has been  supported by:

  • Purchasing of laptops
  • Setting up a VPN for all staff to use
  • Training – face-to-face and video content, and guidance materials
  • Ensuing our IT Service Desk activities can be managed centrally and run from anywhere

All activity has been aided by significant sharing of information among the wider Learning Technology and IT communities. We feel that we are now in a relatively good place to get through the next couple of months, providing the Internet holds up!

Jisc community champions 2020

I was thrilled to be invited along to this year’s Digifest as one of the first cohort of Jisc community champions.

Natasha Veenendaal, Head of community engagement at Jisc, explained that:

The purpose of this award is to celebrate those people who are striving to share knowledge outside of their own institution. In doing so we also want to celebrate the power of community. Recognising the importance of bringing peers together to work through problems and share experience, for the good of our students and wider society”.

This year's Community Champions with Jisc staff

This year’s Community Champions with Jisc staff, photo by Natasha Veenendal

It was definitely an honour, and a wonderful chance to meet a lovely bunch of fellow community people. As a group we were treated to a personal ice-breaker drinks reception and a swanky meal out.

We were also involved in some ‘coffee and a chat’ filming by the film company Suited and Booted film. For this we were put in small groups and then filmed chatting to each using questions related to digital communities as a prompt. The 30 minute sessions will be edited and made in to short 60 second films.

Being filmed with Steven Hope and Esam Baboukhan, photo by Hannah Tennant

Being filmed with Steven Hope and Esam Baboukhan, photo by Hannah Tennant

We finished the two days with a reflection session looking at what we had ‘learned, liked and lacked (thought could be improved)’ at the event. This led to us thinking about ways in which we could share Digifest insights with the wider community (from podcasts and viral sharing to the idea of a Digitfest Pest!)


 Many thanks to the Jisc community engagement for taking such good care of us!

You can read more about what went on at the event in my post – Digifest 2020: Bears, Holograms and Gen Z.

Digifest 2020: Bears, Holograms and Gen Z

This year’s Digifest transformed the Birmingham ICC into a futuristic looking Blade runner set with Holograms and VR at every corner. I’m not sure we are quite there yet at the RAU but it was still interesting to see. I was there as a community champion but still had time to browse the programme. The opening video was amazing.

AI Hologram presenter

Hearing from Gen Z

Two of this year’s plenaries were delivered by representatives from the Gen Z generation.

Jonah Stillman (co-author of Gen Z Work: How the Next Generation Is Transforming the Workplace) shared some thoughts on the differences between Gen Z (born between 1995 and 2012) and Millenials (born between 1980 and 1994). While the talk didn’t go down too well with the audience (Generational talks rarely do, too much generalisation) I found many of Jonah’s observations rang true. Gen Z are realistic, driven, and exist in a state of survival mode (given the state of our environment and economy). They are also the first generation to grow up with digital, making it nearly impossible to dazzle them with technology. Some have begun to refer to them as the ‘phigital’ generation because they don’t differentiate between the physical and digital worlds and are comfortable in both. These traits have significant implications for how we deliver learning and teaching and the boomers in the audience should listen up!

Jonah Stillman presents

Jonah Stillman presents

In her talk entitled ‘The hidden filter’ Hayley Mulenda shared the inspiring story of her struggle with mental health issues: “I found my degree but I lost myself“. Hayley spoke honestly about her, and her friends’ difficulties in navigating the modern world and student life. Her advice was that we be aware of other peoples hidden filters and don’t aim for perfection, aim for progression. She also appealed to educators to be honest and open with their students: “We don’t need more role models we need more real models“. As institutions we need to be directing people to professional help and support and the sector needs to explore how we can ensure early intervention and engage parents and guardians (when possible).

Here’s one I made earlier

I’m always looking out for ideas I can take back to the RAU. This year my favourites were:

  • Catriona Matthews and the team at the University Warwick have been experimenting with delivering academic skills (those important skills you need students to learn that don’t relate directly to their discipline) in innovative ways. They’ve begun to refer to an ongoing induction and have found 20 minute lecture interventions to work really well, especially when the interventions are practical and contextualised. Also the students attend the session because it is tagged on to a core lecture.
  • Worcestershire council shared their SCULPT framework to help staff create accessible resources. An incredibly useful resource and I’ve already linked to it from our VLE.
  • In his talk on Climate Control on the journey to zero waste Jamie E. Smith, executive chairman, C-Learning talked about how we should making sure the right procurement (and other) policies are in place to make sure we make the best environmental choices in our organisations. Jamie’s suggestions included a move to cloud technology, recruitment processes that included assessment of digital skills, strategic workforce development and flexible working. I enjoyed his story on how he removed all the printers from a previous place of employment! Sometimes radical is the only way!
  • The main coffee break conversation topic was (unsurprisingly) Coronavirus. We compared business continuity plans and shared tales of internal Covid-19 committees. The Microsoft stand was busy with people asking how they could rollout Teams in under a week. The Teams webinar series and the Enable Remote Learning Community could prove useful.
  • The AbilityNet session on accessibility came up with some useful tools including Call Scotlandmy computer my way and my study my way. I also love the idea of microkindness (the opposite of microaggression), it’s really just another name for inclusive design
The accessibility panel

The accessibility panel

The closing plenary on day one was delivered by Lindsay Herbert, Author of Digital Transformation. Lindsay introduced us to the idea of the bear in the room – those problem that drain all your time and will rip your organisation apart. This is contrast to the elephant in the room which of course people chose to ignore. You need to get to the heart of these problems and progress and the rub is that you can’t adapt to major change without technology.

Lindsay presents

Lindsay Herbert presents

Lindsay’s key thoughts and examples were:

  • Real transformation starts with a problem worth solving (that aligns to a mission)
    • Danish oil and natural gas applied their experience to wind energy after asking themselves what was their core mission? Selling oil or providing energy for Denmark?
    • Rijksmuseum decided to go down the no tech in galleries route, but images of all their collections are released as highres on their website, copyright free.
  • Real transformation needs lots of people from lots of sources – it will be too big to solve alone
    • Netflix’s mission is entertaining the world, hence original content. They work with independents, they don’t decide on next big thing by analysing past behaviour, they need expertise from a lot of sources.
    • The Guardian don’t put their content behind a paywall, online is their priority and they have a two tier sponsorship model
    • The United nations refugee agency website wouldn’t display on a mobile phone despite most of their clients using a mobile.
  • Real transformation is learned and earned and not purchased – We tend to outsource when there could be a better way.
    • Ecolab made water purification systems but ended up merging the company rather contracting out work.
    • Harvard had a new tool but university policy dictated a minimum of 5 years experience and it might have been easier to hire freelancers. Instead they c changed the hiring policy.

There was a lot of valuable stuff in Lindsay’s talk and I’ve actually ordered her book. My plan is to get the highlighter out, mark it up and leave it on random senior leaders’ desks! She left us inspired by encouraging us to build wide support for the change want:  “You might not have the seniority to go right up the ladder, but you definitely have the influence to go right across.”


Site types, web parts and other fun

Our Office 365 implementation rolls on…

We have now upgraded almost all devices to Windows 10​ and at the end of last year we migrated staff email and calendar accounts to the cloud​. Our main activity in 2020 so far has been a large amount of scoping and ground work. Nick Skelton, an independent consultant, formerly Director (Digital Workspace) at the University of Bristol, has been helping us move things forward.

Today we were joined by O365 architect Max Joss who worked with our technical lead on answering some key questions. The answers will help us with our initial Intranet designs.

  • What are the limitations of creating particular site types and the options on moving between them?
  • How do you use hub sites and site collections?
  • How do you apply branding across the site?
  • How do you effectively share navigation shared across multiple sites?
  • What templates are required for top-level pages based on layout and specifications?
  • How do you import and making custom web parts?
  • How do you effectively configure a site wide search?
  • How do you surface emails and calendar as a web part?
Our Office 365 team

Our Office 365 team

It was a really useful day and we now have the beginnings of our training site.

Our Learning Systems

We have quite a lot of learning systems at the RAU. Probably not as many as some institutions but enough to cause confusion. Here is a short video we’ve made to show our academics how these systems fit together and what they are used for.


Vevox and Zoom are not included in the video. This is because Vevox is still in the pilot phase and academics are not aware of it yet. Zoom is more widely used by PAs and academics working on our Catalyst programme but we have yet to introduce it to all other academics.

Enjoy the video!

Meet up and zoom

We’ve recently set up our committee room with a new screen and Logitech meet up camera. The meetup is designed for huddle rooms and small spaces, it is a 4K ultra HD camera with 5X HD zoom. It automatically adjusts camera position and zoom to find and frame people in the room.

The committee room will be used for online governing council meetings and other meetings where a video conference set up is required.

We will be using Zoom software for our online meetings and last week ran some training for our PAs.

IMG_3442Zoom offers “communications software that combines video conferencing, online meetings, chat, and mobile collaboration”. Some of the benefits for the RAU are integration with Panopto and Moodle. We have already started using it for our Catalyst programme.



Integrated Systems Europe 2020

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



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

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

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


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


Student Digital Insights Survey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bett 2020 – Day 1

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


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

Chris Skidmore speaking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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