Exploring #HEBlogSwap. A Bridge over Digital Water

Computer with screen displaying #HEBlogSwap advert
(Vasant, 2022)

Dr. Teeroumanee Nadan, an independent higher education researcher Lisa Mustoe, Learning Technologist at the Royal Agricultural University (RAU) and Pip McDonald, Senior Learning Technology Project Officer Royal Agricultural University (RAU) took part in #HEBlogSwap 2022.

Question mark in circle with text asking 'What is #HEBlogSwap?'
(Presenter Media Inc, 2021)

What is #HEBlogSwap is an opportunity created by Santanu Vasant and Emma Kennedy. Participants are invited to find a buddy, write a blog post together and share the post on Twitter using the hashtag #HEBlogSwap It is also possible to share favourite blog posts (Vasnant, 2022). In 2022, Santanu and Emma presented at the PressED, a conference exploring “A WordPress and”… Education, Pedagogy and Research Conference on Twitter” (PressED, n.d.) exploring #HEBlogSwap entitled ‘#HEBlogSwap: Sharing Practice and Building Community in Cyberspace‘.

Computer mouse with text 'Blog' and image of globe
(Presenter Media Inc, 2021)

The Royal Agricultural University (RAU) Digital Transformation blog was created by Marieke Guy in 2017 using WordPress. Since then, a wide range of blog posts have been created exploring the core tools we use and the projects we have delivered. In order to make the #HEBlogSwap happen, a collaborative document was created with a series of questions exploring a range of themes. We also had an a meeting to explore the #HEBlogSwap.

Post it note with red pin with text saying 'What is your experience of creating TEL & TECH Tips''
(Presenter Media Inc, 2021)

Teeroumanee: Yes, I delivered the first Moodle training to staff at one of my previous employers, designed everything from scratch online along with one more colleague, and exposed staff to the functionalities, as most of them were using features blindly and had no clue of the range of features that were available. What works? KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid. When I last designed such tips, I approached it as I would do for any project. I analysed what was existing (there was a long PDF, which from Learning Analytics, it was obvious that hardly anyone viewed/downloaded). Besides, it was so outdated and screenshots were taken from Moodle, and was not customised to the layout that was in use in the institution.  So what works, is remembering, at every stage, why you are doing it, for whom, and what is your goal – both tangible and intangible. Of course, best is to have those tips using the very features of the platform. So, if you are preparing something for Moodle, you can set this up as a short module with features such as quizzes, drag and drop, forums, etc. Do not try to overdo it though, remember, KISS. What does not work? A quick job done because you have been given a short deadline and for the sake of making your TEL department Head look good in senior management meetings – a quick job will serve to no purpose to staff and students and you will get little engagement with the material. So take the time needed to design it.  

Lisa: I have created ‘tips’ in previous roles. Some were printed as booklets for students to keep with their written work (reminder of methods) others were held electronically (not published) to guide staff through technical tasks. What works? Catering for different ‘styles’ – words and visuals. Simple navigation. Consider prior knowledge – link to or explain foundational knowledge. Accessible (Know where to find it quickly) as well as digitally accessible! Useful – readers should be able to see some value. Cultural change? – can short/sweet/often empower staff (and now students) towards valuing their skills and skill development more? What does not work? Complex dense documents – the tip should be a more attractive route – short and sweet.  A tip which is not relevant for your wider audience. A tip which is confusing. A tip which does not start with a common understanding/skill/ or tool (!). Shouldn’t duplicate existing resources – link to them (future maintenance simpler). 

What works 

  • Catering for different ‘styles’ – words and visuals. 
  • Simple navigation. 
  • Consider prior knowledge – link to or explain foundational knowledge. 
  • Accessible (Know where to find it quickly) as well as digitally accessible! 
  • Useful – readers should be able to see some value. 
  • Cultural change? – can short/sweet/often empower staff (and now students) towards valuing their skills and skill development more? 

What does not work 

  • Complex dense documents – the tip should be a more attractive route – short and sweet.  
  • A tip which is not relevant for your wider audience. 
  • A tip which is confusing. 
  • A tip which does not start with a common understanding/skill/ or tool (!) 
  • Shouldn’t duplicate existing resources – link to them (future maintenance simpler).

Pip: We create TEL and TECH Tips every week to support both staff and students at the RAU. It is always interesting to explore how other educators and institutions have approached the provision of TEL and TECH Tips and exploring what words/does not work and why. KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid sounds like an intuitive approach. What is best practice for TEL and TECH Tips? I try to create a video walkthrough using Camtasia and upload it to Panopto to share. Try to link the tip with examples of activities. Translating tip into tangible pedagogic value can help. Good to have a database so staff can search for tips (Lisa created this).

Pen on whiteboard with text saying 'What does Digital Literacy mean to you?'
(Presenter Media Inc, 2021)

Teeroumanee: Digital literacy seems to be having different definitions, in particular focusing on skills. I like to focus digital literacy on the ‘how’ to use digital information. Nowadays, security and fake information are issues we are facing in all organisations and even in the society at large. It is important to not only focus on the hard and soft skills to use technology, but also understand the rationale behind. For instance, one of the reasons why GDPR is often breached, is not because people do not have the skills to keep it in check, but it is that they do not have the whole set of skills needed, which includes alternative use of tech (e.g. how to securely transfer files), but also the legal aspects and business acumen needed to use the tech and stay within legal boundaries, while being ethical at the same time.  

Lisa: Having a broad understanding of the digital landscape. Being aware of how entwined digital is with our domestic/social lives as well as working lives. Extending a hand to others so that they don’t miss out – think older relatives, reluctant colleagues. Being confident in the skills that you need. Being confident that you will be able to develop new skills (access resources and support, not be scared). Be confident that you can manage the flow of ‘digital’ in your life without being overwhelmed. 

Pip: I have been thinking about the idea of literacy as a “commodity” (Elsasser & Irvine, 1982). Also explored idea of critical Zoom literacies. Is this possible? Explored idea of (techno) auto ethnographic approaches to digital literacy with a research poster here (Leschallas & McDonald, 2022). A blog post was also published exploring this approach here (Leschallas & McDonald, 2022). I explored the idea of Zoom literacy in a blog post entitled Indiana Jones & the Breakout Tombs. Exploring Student Zoom Literacy here and Technology to Transgress. Spinoza, Energy & Expeditions of Joy. Exploring Critical Zoom Literacies with #ukfechat here.

Person with thumbs up and post it note with text saying 'Tell us about the Anti Racism SIG & your orle'
(Presenter Media Inc, 2021).

Teeroumanee: I am the current Chair – vacancy is open for Co-Chair. The group was first founded outside ALT, and then became an ALT group sometime in Nov 2021.  Here is a link to the page. I plan to share a link to my own notes from a recent presentation delivered as part of the pre-conference for ALTc2022.

(Presenter Media Inc, 2021).

Teeroumanee: It was my first ever poem, first ever open mic and really grateful for the opportunity. It was an alternative way for me to express my frustrations around social injustice within HE. I felt it was a more acceptable way as well. Here is a little journey of how I started my first ever poem to participating a second time to the Open Mic event. Prepping for my first poem reading! (Nadan, 2022), Celebrating World Creativity & Innovation with #creativeHE (Nadan, 2022). Recording of my creativeHE inaugural Open Mic. Contributing to OER22 serendipity true stories series by CogDog (Nadan, 2022). Finally, I ceated a blog post exploring a poem I wrote and performed at the #altc22 open mic YOU are forgetting me! (Nadan, 2022).

Pip: From host/co-organiser perspective, great to hear original work. Recent article exploring open mic entitled Opening the Mic: Polyvocality, Pedagogy & Creative Possibility (McDonald, 2022). Great to hear Aspa’s reflections on taking part in open mic in a blog post (Paltaglou, 2022).

Red peg with note with text saying 'To what extent could you use the open mic method in your own context?'
(Presenter Media Inc, 2021)

Teeroumanee: Currently, I find myself doing more leadership work and I am really appreciative of the multimodal ways of presenting my ideas, thus targeting different audiences.Pip: during the Association for Learning Technologists (ALT) open mic event in September, part of the event included a pedagogic reflection exploring open mic as a methodology. I argued that it is an that is accessible, inclusive, interdisciplinary and customisable opportunity (McDonald, 2022). I am working on developing open mic guidelines and a re-usable template to help others create an open mic event with Chrissi Neranzti to publish in the National Teaching Repository. A presentation was delivered at the University of Brighton at the Everyday Creativity Conference here exploring combining technology and poetry (techno-poetics) (Everyday Creativity, n.d.). This was also presented at the Women in Academia Support Network (WIASN) Virtually Undisciplined: Diversifying Higher Education and Research Conference in (McDonald, 2022).

Person and post it note with smiley face and text saying 'What role do blogs play?'
(Presenter Media Inc, 2021)

Teeroumanee: Oh, I wrote a blog post on this. Here is a summary, I blog to 

  • pen the little voice in my head 
  • reflect and improve my practice 
  • visibility 
  • document my CPD 
  • for mentoring and reverse mentoring purposes 
  • complement the video series that I have started earlier this year – the blog articles help me provide further information, references and most importantly my own perspectives 
  • say what I want within legal obligations – it is my personal space 
  • showcase my personal projects and in some way a portfolio since I have been in various roles and institutions and have at all times done beyond expectations.

Lisa: Not looking at your replies because I am very new to blogs – here we go: 

  • Talking about things that you know well. 
  • Helps others who are interested in those particular experiences. 
  • Doesn’t have to be major ‘news’ – anything from fitting bathroom to house sitting around the world.
  • Someone will have done it and their experiences are so valuable – if you are looking! Annoying if they are full of adverts and pop ups though. 
  • Great to ‘publish’ one – very exciting to make a digital footprint. 

Pip: Blogs provide an online dialogic space.

“Blogging provided a new form of academic identity”

(Weller, 2020: p70). 

I created a blog post. “Staying with the Blog Trouble”. Diffractive Blogging & Wicked Problems based on a presentation at PressED conference in 2022 (McDonald, 2022). It is interesting to think about the future of blogging as a practice for example turning a blog into a podcast (Lau, 2021). Blog swapping creates a unique collaborative reflective space for meaningful sharing and co-creation and an opportunity to create a “community of practice” (Lave and Wenger, 1991: p30).  

(Presenter Media Inc. 2021).

Teeroumanee: TEL was already a big part of my work, so was the field of Future of Work. I am actually part of a group of visionary international young leaders, who have been approaching this topic for over a decade now. Our line of work is international – with team members located around the world, working together at different time zones, and making it all happen online, while aiming to reach UN SDGs. Here is an article of when EU and US young leaders met in 2018 which provides some key questions which many faced during the pandemic (Nadan, 2018). So the pandemic meant little change for me, however, I did have to adapt as colleagues across the globe started to trial different and sometimes conflicting platforms. For instance, there were institutions using VLE, Teams, Zoom, Skype all at the same time. It was more of an adaptation to people’s preferences as they discovered different platforms, and in some institutions some platforms were forced onto employees. So in that sense I had to adapt.  

Lisa: Was working in a secondary school so everything was face to face – teaching, communication, meetings – apart from emails. Zoom first, then Teams quickly became default for all meetings –even on site. I remember something about security issues for Zoom and safeguarding of students is paramount. Students started turning in to teaching via Teams. Keyworker children were on site so in a class children would be working with different teachers online (some creating in art, some doing maths, some working out to live PE!). On return to class, children could have a cover teacher for behaviour/communication whilst their subject teacher taught them live from home (isolation). I tutor students in Maths/Science so all tutoring happened via Zoom. I had to think carefully about resources. Would the student need something beforehand (graph axis), if so I would email it for printing. What could be lost in communication – I would  find visual/multimedia resources to support this. I needed a screen pen to work through examples on screen. Lots more questioning to make sure that students were there, bothering, and understanding! 

Pip: I was involved with technology enhanced transnational learning (TETL) projects so my experience explored the transnational online pivot. It was helpful to carry out action research to explore this area for example a case study here (Guy & McDonald, 2020). A presentation exploring uncertainty here (Guy & McDonald, 2020).

The blog post has also been published on Dr. Teeroumanee’s blog here.


Association for Learning Technology (ALT) Open Mic. Association for Learning Technology (ALT) Annual Conference. 5th September 2022. Online.

Elsasser, N., & Irvine, P. (1992). Literacy as Commodity: Redistributing the Goods. The Journal of Education174(3), 26–40. http://www.jstor.org/stable/42742261 

Everyday Creativity (n.d.)  Events [blog]. blogs.brighton.ac.uk. Creativity Blog (n.d.) https://blogs.brighton.ac.uk/everydaycreativity/events/ [Accessed 13 September 2022] 

Guy, M., & McDonald, P. (2020) The Transnational Online Pivot: A Case Study Exploring Online Delivery in China [PowerPoint presentation] (Online) Available at: https://www.slideshare.net/MariekeGuy/the-transnational-online-pivot-a-case-study-exploring-online-delivery-in-china-238494582 [Accessed 13 September 2022] 

Guy, M., & McDonald, P. (2020) The certainty of uncertainty: Transnational Online Pivot in China [PowerPoint presentation] (Online) Available at: https://www2.slideshare.net/MariekeGuy/the-certainty-of-uncertainty-transnational-online-pivot-in-china-239927325 [Accessed 13 September 2022] 

Lau, A (2022) Turn Your WordPress.com Blog into a Podcast with Anchor https://wordpress.com/blog/2021/02/22/turn-your-wordpress-com-blog-into-a-podcast-with-anchor/. https://wordpress.com/blog. WordPress Blog [blog] 22 February [Accessed 14 September 2022]. 

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press) 

Leschallas, W.,& McDonald, P. (2021) Exploring the impact of Techno-biography on the development of Digital Literacy in UNESCO Inclusive Policy Lab Education and Digital Skills: A Conversation Event in December 2021 [Online Poster]. [Date accessed 19 March 2022] Available at: https://ordo.open.ac.uk/articles/poster/Exploring_the_impact_of_Techno-biography_on_the_development_of_Digital_Literacy/17212457?backTo=/collections/UNESCO_Inclusive_Policy_Lab_Education_and_Digital_Skills_A_Conversation_Event_8_December_2021_Collection/5752247  %5BAccessed 14 September 2022]. 

McDonald, P. (2021) A Little More (Digital) Conversation and (Inclusive) Action Please’. New E-Learning Ecologies? From Techno-autobiography to Techno-autoethnography. Digitalrau.wordpress.com. Digital Transformation Blog [blog] 8 December. Available at: https://digitalrau.wordpress.com/2021/12/08/a-little-more-digital-conversation-and-inclusive-action-please-new-e-learning-ecologies-from-techno-autobiography-to-techno-autoethnography/ [Accessed 14 September 2022]. 

McDonald, P. (2022) The Possibilities of Diffractive Blogging. Exploring Wicked Problems with WordPress. #PressEdConf WordPress and Education, Pedagogy and Research Conference on Twitter. March 2022. Online.

McDonald, P. (2022) The Possibilities of Techno-Poetics. Women in Academia Support Network (WIASN) Virtually Undisciplined: Diversifying Higher Education and Research Conference. April 2022. Online. 

McDonald, P. (2021) Opening the Mic: Polyvocality, Pedagogy & Creative Possibility in Lifewide Magazine #26 Creative Academic Magazine #21 Action, Creativity and Learning for Healthy, Sustainable, Regenerative Futures and Wellbeing [pdf] pp26-33 (Online) Available at: https://www.creativeacademic.uk/uploads/1/3/5/4/13542890/cam21.pdf [Accessed 14 September 2022]. 

McDonald, P. (2021) Technology to Transgress. Spinoza, Energy & Expeditions of Joy. Exploring Critical Zoom Literacies with #ukfechat Digitalrau.wordpress.com. Digital Transformation Blog [blog] 5 October. Available at: https://digitalrau.wordpress.com/2021/10/05/technology-to-transgress-spinoza-energy-expeditions-of-joy-exploring-critical-zoom-literacies-with-ukfechat/ [Accessed 14 September 2022]. 

Nadan, T. (no date) About Me https://teeroumaneenadan.com/about-me/ [Accessed 12 September 2022] 

Nadan, T. (2022) Prepping for my first poem reading!  https://teeroumaneenadan.com/2022/03/24/prepping-for-my-first-poem-reading/ [Accessed 12 September 2022] 

Nadan, T. (2022) Celebrating World Creativity & Innovation with #creativeHE https://teeroumaneenadan.com/2022/04/20/celebrating-creativity-and-innovation-day/ [Accessed 12 September 2022] 

Nadan, T. (2022) Recording of my creativeHE inaugural Open Mic  https://teeroumaneenadan.com/2022/04/27/recording-of-my-creativehe-inaugural-open-mic/ [Accessed 12 September 2022] 

Nadan, T. (2022) Contributing to OER22 serendipity – true stories series by CogDog https://teeroumaneenadan.com/2022/04/26/contributing-to-oer22-serendipity-true-stories-series-by-cogdog/ [Accessed 12 September 2022] 

Nadan, T. (2022) YOU are forgetting me! https://teeroumaneenadan.com/2022/09/05/you-again-forgot-me/ [Accessed 12 September 2022] 

Nadan, T. (2022) Why I Blog https://teeroumaneenadan.com/2022/06/22/why-i-blog/ [Accessed 12 September 2022] 

Nadan, T. (2022) EU-US Young Leaders Seminar https://teeroumaneenadan.com/2018/04/20/eu-us-young-leaders-seminar/ [Accessed 12 September 2022] 

Nadan, T., McDonald, P., & Mustoe, L. (2022) Exploring #HEBlogSwap. A Bridge over Digital Water. https://teeroumaneenadan.com. Digital, Equitable & International HigherEd. [blog] 16 September. Available at: https://teeroumaneenadan.com/2022/09/16/exploring-heblogswap-a-bridge-over-digital-water/ [Accessed 15 September 2022].

Presenter Media Inc. (no date) Computer Monitor 16 (Online) Available at: 9https://www.presentermedia.com/powerpoint-clipart/computer-monitor-16-9-pid-18536 [Accessed 15 September 2022]

Presenter Media Inc. (No Date) Paper Question Mark (Online) Available at: https://www.presentermedia.com/powerpoint-clipart/paper-question-mark-pid-19357%5BAccessed 15 September 2022]

Presenter Media Inc. (No Date) World Blog (Online) Available at: https://www.presentermedia.com/powerpoint-clipart/blog-mouse-pc-pid-2729 [Accessed 15 September 2022]

Presenter Media Inc. (No Date) (Custom Note Thumbtack Online) Available at: https://www.presentermedia.com/powerpoint-clipart/custom-note-thumbtack-pid-16093 [Accessed 15 September 2022]

Presenter Media Inc. (No Date) Rectangle Scrap (Online) Available at: https://www.presentermedia.com/powerpoint-clipart/rectangle-scrap-pid-12076%5BAccessed 15 September 2022]

Presenter Media Inc. (No Date) Figure Standing On Note Text (Online) Available at: https://www.presentermedia.com/powerpoint-clipart/figure-standing-on-note-text-pid-16073 [Accessed 15 September 2022]

Presenter Media Inc. (No Date) Yellow Note With Tape (Online) Available at: https://www.presentermedia.com/powerpoint-clipart/note-with-tape-pc-pid-2713 [Accessed 15 September 2022]

Presenter Media Inc. (No Date) Custom Clothespinned Paper (Online) Available at: https://www.presentermedia.com/powerpoint-clipart/custom-clothespinned-paper-pid-16139 [Accessed 15 September 2022]

Presenter Media Inc. (No Date) Figure Pre (Online) Available at: Figure Presenting Blank Note https://www.presentermedia.com/powerpoint-animation/figure-presenting-blank-note-pid-16056 [Accessed 15 September 2022]

Presenter Media Inc. (No Date) Hand Office Note (Online) Available at: https://www.presentermedia.com/powerpoint-clipart/hand-office-note-pid-22019 [Accessed 15 September 2022]

PressED (no date) 2021 PressEd Conference (Online) Available at: https://2021.pressedconf.org/ [Accessed 15 September 2022]

PressED (no date) #HEBlogSwap: Sharing Practice and Building Community in Cyberspace (Online) Available at: https://2021.pressedconf.org/?easyconfpr=heblogswap-sharing-practice-and-building-community-in-cyberspace [Accessed 15 September 2022].

Paltaglou, A. (2022) Aspa’s (@Aspasiapal) reflections on an online Open Mic event June 29 [blog] 28 June 2022. Available at: https://creativehecommunity.wordpress.com/2022/06/28/aspas-aspasiapal-%ef%bf%bcreflections-on-an-online-open-mic-event/ [Accessed 14 September 2022] 

Royal Agricultural University (RAU) (no date) Digital Transformation Blog. Digitalrau.wordpress.com. Digital Transformation Blog [blog] no date https://digitalrau.wordpress.com/ [Accessed 12 September 2022] 

Vasant, S. (2022) #HEBlogSwap. Available at: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/FbGeUI3WQAAv-20?format=jpg&name=large  [Accessed 12 September 2022] 


Weller, M., (2007) The VLE/LMS is Dead. nogoodreason.typepad.co.uk. Ed Tech Blog, [blog] 8 August. (Online) Available at: https://nogoodreason.typepad.co.uk/no_good_reason/2007/11/the-vlelms-is-d.html [Accessed 13 September 2022] 

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.”


Staff digital insights surveys

Earlier this year we ran two RAU staff digital insights surveys – one for academic staff and one for professional service staff. The surveys were managed by Jisc and are part of an annual survey programme. They complement the student digital survey that we ran last year. The academic staff survey asks teaching staff across higher (HE) and further education (FE) about their experiences of digital in their institution and in their teaching practice. This year the Professional Services staff survey ran as a pilot and the RAU was part of the pilot group. The results from the surveys are benchmarked and compared with other institutions in the sector.

Jisc survey

Below are some of our key findings.

Response rates

Academic staff Professional services
Response number 24 67
Percentage of staff ~ 50% ~ 25%
Time at RAU Even split between ‘4 years or more’ and ‘less than 4 years’ Even split between ‘4 years or more’ and ‘less than 4 years’
Department From all four schools
2 from Capel
Operations (43%) Student services (31%) Commercial and Business Development (21%) & others

Key metrics: Academic staff

  • 21% rate the quality of their digital provision (software, hardware, learning environment) as good or above
  • 92% can access reliable Wi-Fi whenever they need it
  • 50% agree it is easy to design & organise their course materials in the VLE (Gateway)
  • 54% rate the support they get to develop their digital role as good or above
  • 21% agree software for teaching is industry standard and up-to-date
  • 8% agree they are informed about ensuring students behave safely online

Key metrics: Professional services staff

  • 58% rate the quality of their digital provision (software, hardware, learning environment) as good or above
  • 87% can access reliable Wi-Fi whenever they need it
  • 27% agree that our online systems support working as a team
  • 34% rate the support they get to develop their digital role as good or above
  • 43% agree systems are up to date
  • 72% agree systems are reliable


It appears that academics are more unhappy about the quality of the digital provision but happier about the support they receive to develop digital aspects of their jobs. While for professional services it is the other way round. This may be to do with the lack of support for professional services staff training and the requirement for fit for purpose pedagogic tools

Benchmark comparisons: Academic staff

Question Our data UK data
Quality of digital provision 21% 58%
Reliable Wi-Fi 92% 85%
Support to develop digital role 54% 36%
Software for teaching is industry standard and up-to-date 21% 35%
Easy to design & organise course materials in VLE 55% 48%
Are informed about ensuring students behave safely online 8% 18%

The areas in red are below the sector and the areas in green are above.

Benchmark comparisons: Professional services staff

Question Our data UK data
Quality of digital provision 58% 68%
Reliable Wi-Fi 87% 85%
Support to develop digital role 35% 56%
Systems are reliable 72% 67%
Systems are up to date 43% 46%
Our online systems support working as a team 27% 46%

The areas in red are below the sector and the areas in green are above.

As you can see there is still lots to be done!

What can we do to help? Academic staff

  • Increased recognition by senior management of the importance of supporting innovative and good quality teaching (both digital and non-digital)
  • Better celebration of good practice
  • Support for a culture where experimentation is accepted and time/resource is allocated to it
  • More CPD in digital skills
  • Better digital teaching rooms
  • Further investment in academic and industry-standard digital tools
  • Improvements to Turnitin and integration with Quercus

What can we do to help? Professional services staff

  • Better support for flexible and remote working
  • More accessible training – from a more formal training structure to informal lunchtime drop-in training, at all levels (beginners to expert), and for new staff
  • More guidance, support and videos
  • Improve labs set up
  • Provide a list of systems with an outline of what they do
  • Better equipment – headsets for making calls, AV equipment, laptops for all

The recently developed IT and Digital strategy and action plan addresses the vast majority of these areas including:

  1. Work to establish a cross-functional group to produce an action plan for developing our student and staff digital capabilities,
  2. Help to define a set of activities and processes that directly encourage and support staff digital capability e.g: recruitment requirements, appraisals, promotions  etc.

Huge thanks to everyone who participated in either of the surveys!

These results were presented to the RAU senior managers by Alun Dawes (Head of IT) on the 10th September. Going forward we hope to run the staff surveys and the student survey on alternate years. If you have any comments on the survey results please do get in touch with IT Services.

Trip report: Edtech Expo

Yesterday I attended the EdTech Expo event at Old Trafford Stadium. A great venue and a surprisingly useful conference. It was clearly targeted at those working in ed tech at schools, rather than in FE or HE, but there was some useful insights and inspirational talks.


The opening panel was on ‘the future of digital learning’ and featured Dave Smith (Havering education services), Emma Owen-Davies (fellow, Chartered College), Abdul Chohan (CEO of Essa M.A.T. and co-founder of the Olive tree school, Bolton) and Steve Wheeler (Learning Innovations Consultant, formerly Plymouth Institute of Education). It covered broad topics including how we develop the skills in our students that businesses needs, how we build our staff digital capability and how schools can use digital technologies to retain their staff (they are leaving in droves unfortunately).

Steve Wheeler’s solo presentation on ‘digital literacies and capabilities: Learning in the 21st century’ followed. He offered some interesting insights and considerations: a blasting of the digital natives and digital immigrants idea – let’s think about digital residents (habitual users) and digital visitors (casual users) instead. Tales of his 80 year old father’s online life (some of his post have 1000+  likes!) and the slightly scary observation that this year every teacher was born in last century, every child born in this century. Steve ended by looking at the EU digital competence framework 2.0 highlighting our need for new skills like transliteracy, identity management and the 4 Cs: Connection, content, complexity, connotation.

Abdul Choan: “These are six of the most expensive words in education”

By far the most inspiring talk of the day was by Abdul Chohan. Growing up just outside Manchester Addul made a commitment to improving the area and after time spent working as a Chemistry teacher co-founded the Olive school in central Bolton. The school intake is predominantly from deprived areas but a commitment to the growth mindset and major tech project where all children have been provided with originally ipods and now ipads has led some incredible results. Abdul offered many words of wisdom but the ones that resonated with me were:

  • If you can master the art of changing a person’s belief, then you can change their actions.
  • Simple and reliable are the most important factors when it comes to digital technology – he illustrated this with a great story about the laptop trolley at his school. When staff don’t believe something will work then they just won’t use it.
  • If something works then you can get rid of something else and save money. Educators are terrible at moving on.

Abdul touched on many areas of pedagogy that warrant further investigation: Webb’s depth of knowledge, Dale’s cone of experience, Schlech’sty Levels, Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development, Puentedura’s SAMR and shared some great case studies – too many to list here, see his Twitter feed for more details.

I enjoyed the interactive session on ‘marginal gains for big wins’ from Patrick McGrath from Texthelp. It was delivered using Pollev.com. Patrick’s suggestion that we move away from the idea of transformation (whoops…it’s the name of this blog!) and instead focus on these smaller, quick wins. He covered a number of useful tools including Kahoot, Padlet and of course Read&Write – Texthelp’s main accessibility tool. We have Read&Write at the RAU and it is definitely a tool we want to promote more to all our students as a great productivity tool. Patrick’s suggestion was that students use it to listen back to their reports allowing themselves to take a more critical look at what they’ve written.


In the afternoon there was a session on ‘The future of Education: Artificial Intelligence’ delivered by Charles Wood from CENTURY tech. CENTURY tech uses artificial intelligence and big data to improve learning outcomes and reduce teacher workload. His overview of AI covered:

  1. Reasoning e.g. chess
  2. Knowledge representation e.g. identifying brain scans
  3. Planning (navigation) e.g. self driving-cars
  4. Natural language processing e.g. Siri
  5. Perception e.g. safe self-driving cars

[If you want an accessible and quick introduction to AI, or machine learning, listen to the  Miranda Mowbray interview onthe recent Jisc Podcast on ‘how AI and big data will transform research’ – about half way through] While CENTURY tech’s tool appears more appropriate for schools than HE (the learning activities it offers are predominantly multiple choice questions based on the national curriculum and there is currently no free text analysis opportunities) they are beginning to work with universities who have taken the front end and are developing their own content.

The most sobering talk of the day was by Andy Wood, online safety consultant, South West Grid for Learning. While the Internet is a tremendous resource it is a potential area of danger for young people. Andy made a compelling eSafety case for why we need to ensure children and young adults are digitally literate and taught to be resilient. His recommended model is that we fully understand the landscape (bullying, porn, so that we can mitigate risk. Some of the key organisations working in this space are Internet Watch Foundation, Childnet International, SWGFL and Professionals Online Safety Helpline.

While Ed Tech Expo wasn’t what I thought it was going to be it was actually refreshing to spend some time looking at digital through the eye’s of a teacher. And in true good conference style I’m itching to get back to my desk to look up the links I’ve jotted down.

Useful links


Jisc Digital capability discovery tool

Improving our staff and student digital capability is a key aim of our digital strategy. We are investigating a number of ways in which we can do this is in a strategic way. With this in mind we are participating in the Jisc digital capability discovery tool pilot.

The digital discovery tool supports individual staff and students – in universities, colleges and training providers – to reflect on their digital capabilities. It presents a series of reflective questions that relate to the different elements of capability. The tool is based on the Jisc digital capabilities framework.

Jisc digital capability model

Those who use the tool are presented with a series of ‘discovery questions’ looking at digital areas including: creativity, teaching, innovation, information literacy, wellbeing, productivity and collaboration. The questions aim to assess users’ confidence and experience with a host of real-world digital practices. Just by answering the questions, users are made aware of digital practices they already have and new ones they might try.

Jisc digital discovery tool

The initial log in screen

Users can then download a report providing them with a score in each area and guidance on how to improve.

My score is shown below in a graph.


Marieke Guy’s report graph

As Jisc explains:

Organisationally, the digital discovery tool can be used to raise awareness of the range and importance of digital capabilities, and to encourage personal development. Conversations about digital capability can be taken forward with a common reference point and some shared terms. Digital capabilities become more familiar and less threatening.

The Digital discovery tool is not meant to monitor individuals, but staff could choose to bring their results into appraisal settings, or professional development reviews. While personal findings remain anonymous, aggregated data views are available to organisational users of the service. These can be used to help understand the organisation’s strengths, weaknesses, and priorities for development.”

Anonymised data from the tool can be extracted and used to help shape training strategies.

We are currently using the tool only within the IT services team but may roll it out further later in the year. The main thing is for us to have a plan for how we can support staff to improve their digital capability once they have explored and assessed it using the tool.