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.

We’ve got the kit!

Earlier this week Helen Hyde from Hyde media joined us on campus to help us test out our new media kit. The kit has been purchased primarily to help us create video content for the catalyst programme. We are taking a mobile journalism (#mojo) approach and using phones for all filming.

Helen demonstrates our tripod and rig

Helen demonstrates our tripod and rig

Helen’s top  set up suggestions were:

  • Use a tripod for the majority of filming, gimbals are for movement and emotion
  • When you put your tripod up start from the bottom first
  • Keep your lapel mic facing down – this avoids capturing all minor sounds
  • Get your phone set up right: make sure it isn’t on silent, don’t lock in portrait mode and do put it in airplane mode
  • Make sure your phone lens it at the top when recording
  • Lighting uses a triangle – the camera, the person being filmed and the light

Our new kit comprises of:

  • Neewer Metal Smartphone Video Rig
  • RØDE SC6L 3.5 mm iOS Interface – Black
  • Neewer Professional Camera Bag Loop Backpack
  • Manfrotto Compact Action Aluminum Tripod with Hybrid Head, Black
  • Audio-Technica ATH-M20X Professional Headphones
  • LaCie Copilot 2000GB Portable External Hard Drive and Backup On Set Solution (BOSS)
  • RØDE VMML Me-L Directional Microphone for iOS Devices – Black RØDE Camera and Audio VideoMic with Rycote Lyre Mount Rode VideoMicro Compact On Camera
  • Microphone
  • BOYA BY-M1 3.5mm Lavalier Condenser Microphone
  • Anker PowerCore 20100 Power bank
  • Aputure AL-M9 Amaran Lighting Up Pint-Sized LED Fill Light Mini Video Light
  • Manfrotto PIXI Mini Tripod with Handgrip for Compact System Cameras
  • Zhiyun Smooth-Q 3-Axis Handheld Gimbal Stabilizer for Smartphone
  • Neewer Smartphone Rig Filmmaker Grip Tripod Mount with Cold Shoe Mount
  • Neewer Handheld Stabilizer Multi-use Ergonomic Hand Shape Grip
  • Neewer 5-in-1 Collapsible Multi-Disc Light Reflector
  • Neewer Background Support System with Three 6x 9ft/1.8×2.8M Backdrop Lighting Kit
Microphone set up

Microphone set up

We will be using new kit over the next few months and experimenting with editing and multimedia techniques.

Making MoJo Movies

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

Using a hand held rig

Using a hand held rig

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

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

Cassius Rayner setting up a tripo

Cassius Rayner setting up a tripod

General phone filming tips

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

A hand held rig with mic and flash

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

Interview filming - photo courtesy of Madeline Paterson

Interview filming – photo courtesy of Madeline Paterson

Filmic pro filming tips

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

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

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

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

Aurelie works the slider

Aurelie works the slider

Good things happening on the Catalyst project

It’s time to announce a few good things as we approach the start of the design and development work on the two new postgraduate programmes:

  • MBA Innovation in Sustainable Food and Agriculture
  • MSc Sustainable Food and Agriculture Policy.


Learning technologists

Two new Learning Technologists, Chantal Schipper and Aurelie Soulier, have now both started at the RAU. They will be supporting and guiding the academics working on the Catalyst programmes in designing and developing the online modules.


Catalyst project guidelines

The Learning Technology team have been working hard on developing the Catalyst Project intranet pages. Here you will find:

  •  information about the programmes in development
  • details about the roles and responsibilities of the Catalyst team
  • information about teaching in HE and at the RAU that relates to Catalyst
  • professional development related to distance teaching and learning
  • guidelines on module design, the ‘assessment first’ principle, accessibility, quality enhancement etc.
  • information about the development process and our 12-week development timeline
  • the forms and templates that the Catalyst team will use during development.

The Catalyst Project pages are on the RAU staff intranet (internal only)

Catalyst project intranet

More guidance will be written, so do keep an eye on our intranet site!


Office 365

The IT Services team is working hard on implementing Office 365 for RAU staff. It will initially be piloted within the ITS team and the Catalyst Project will be using “MS Teams” to collaborate with each other during the Catalyst project’s module design and development stages.

To find out more about Office 365 and how you can use it, have a look at Microsoft’s online training videos available here:

Office 365 training centre


What is happening now?

Currently, module leaders are speaking with their specialist contributors to generate ideas for student activities and assessments. On 8 November, the Catalyst team working on the postgraduate programmes will come together for a “Start-Up day”. Supported by the Learning Technologists, the team will shape up their ideas into module designs and will write action plans to develop six modules every twelve weeks.
Meanwhile, the Learning Technology team is working on implementing tools to support eBooks, webinars, e-portfolios, data and reporting and identifying specialists for media production.

The Learning Technology team first started working on Catalyst in spring 2018. At the first workshop, some of the people involved spoke about what was ahead and how that first workshop in July had gone. To watch these short videos, click on the names below.

If you have any questions related to the Catalyst project or learning technology, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with the Learning Technology team.

Cracking on with the Catalyst Project

Last week was an incredibly busy one for the Catalyst project.

On Tuesday we had our Catalyst Startup and Staff Development workshop for all academic staff who will be involved in development and delivery of the four new programmes.  Professor David Main, Director of Educational Enhancement at the RAU, led the morning sessions which looked at a review of future skills requirements, draft competency statements and assessment methods for competencies. In some very interactive sessions David had us thinking about the type of students we hope to create through our programmes.

Post it notes and discussions

Post it notes and discussions

In the afternoon we got more digital.

The sessions were led by Madeline Paterson from UCEM, the Catalyst project’s Digital Project Manager. Fiona Harvey, Head of Digital Education at UCEM talked to the academics about their web life so far and how they are already more digital than they realise.

Madeline Paterson and Fiona Harvey ask us about our digital life

Madeline Paterson and Fiona Harvey ask us about our digital life

I presented on the RAU’s digital transformation and reflected on the evidence we have so far (Jisc tracker survey, our VLE review, NSS, LEO, SSS, module feedback) and the current digital landscape. A few stats that provide food for thought:

  • More than a quarter of higher education students are enrolled in least one online course (Babson survey)
  • Today you need to plan for five careers in a lifetime (LinkedIn and Ivestec surveys)
  • Students in England now graduate with average debts of £50,800 (IFS)
  • Only 32% of students in England thought their courses were good value for money (Student Academic Experience Survey)
  • Over the last two years 90% existing data in the world was generated (Science daily)
  • Cheating at UK universities has increased by a third in the last three years (Guardian)

Lynne Downey, VP Online Education at UCEM followed on with an introduction to student experience and student success in the digital arena.

ucem - 9

Her slides covered the three agendas for Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) and how they can all be achieved through intelligent design:

  • Evangelical: Efficiency and flexibility, as determined by administrators/managers
  • Academic: Expression and freedom, as an extension of the traditional teacher role
  • Designed: Effectiveness and focus, as instruments of student achievement


Harmonising these approaches is one of the foundations of the UCEM online pedagogical approach. RAU will be using these as part of the Student Outcome Led Design (SOLD) methodology that we plan to adopt for the design of the four courses.

We started to think in a more concrete way about the potential for the courses in activity that had us considering that ‘Teaching online is not the same as teaching face to face, but blended learning is the best of both worlds’. I felt like this activity was a crunch point for the day, the moment when the academics stopped worrying about online and learned to love blended learning. There is so much potential for our courses, it really is very exciting.

After this Fiona Harvey and Peter Stone, Technology Innovation Manager at UCEM gave us a taste of the tools that will form the Learning technology toolset here at RAU. Madeline concluded the day with an overview of guidelines, process, plan and partnership working.

I think our academics were left a little dazed, slightly confused but definitely inspired and enthused about what is to come.

The later part of the week involved interviewing our potential new Learning Technologist. We had a very high caliber of applicants and some difficult decisions had to be made, but luckily the interview team were unanimous on choices. You will be hearing more from our new LTs when they are in post.

HEFCE Catalyst Fund

Today RAU formally announced that we have been awarded £1.1m from the HEFCE Catalyst Fund to help meet the needs of the land management and agri-food sectors in the post-Brexit era. The investment will continue to be supported by HEFCE’s successor, the Office for Students.

You can read the full news item on the RAU website. There is also a post on the Times Higher Education website and there will be coverage on BBC Radio Gloucestershire today, BBC Points West this evening and BBC Radio 4 Farming Today tomorrow.

The funding is part of a £2.5m initiative, enabling the RAU and our academic partners in this project, the Countryside and Community Research Institute (CCRI) at the University of Gloucestershire, and University College of Estate Management (UCEM), to unite with industry stakeholders to drive future success in sustainable land management and food production.

A key element of the innovation will be the emphasis on diversifying the delivery models in-line with government expectations. All new postgraduate programmes will be offered as full-time, part-time and blended (distance plus block teaching) routes. Accelerated postgraduate learning will be offered for the MBA via an Executive MBA route, depending on industry demand. The two BSc programmes will be offered as 3 or 2 year (accelerated learning) degrees. Accelerated degrees will be offered to students who can demonstrate 1 year or more of relevant work experience.

This move towards new blended-learning courses is exciting for us in IT and we will be working with the Catalyst bid team to help deliver these in an accessible and appropriate way.

RAU in daffodils