‘My Research is like Digital Potato’. Exploring Technology-enhanced Transnational Learning (TETL) through the Plateau.

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Rhizomatic Research

The Royal Agricultural University (RAU) hosts a series of online research seminars. Each seminar is an opportunity for two volunteers who can either be a staff member or a student to talk for approximately 15 minutes each about their research projects with 10 minutes for questions. Sessions are recorded, edited using Panopto and are made available on Gateway.

On Wednesday 26th January 2022, I presented on the topic of technology- enhanced Transnational Learning (TETL). The overarching theme of the seminar explored technology. David Mian and Lisa van Dijk presented first epxloring the use of online collaboration tools inlcuding Miro, Mural, Klaxoon, Wonder and Mentimeter. Professor Louise Manning shared a link to an article she had contributed to exploring the ethical implications of collaboration within the food sector in a digital capacity (Jacobs, Brewer, Craigon, Frey, Gutierrez, Kanza, Manning, Munday, Pearson & Sacks, 2021).

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Exploring online collaboration tools

The structure of the presentation I delivered used the idea of chapters or ‘plateau’ (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987). Brent Adkins in his book and critical introduction to Deleuze and Guattari asks “ How is it possible to create something new?” (Adkins, 2015: p22). When we carry out research, perhaps it is imperative to be commitment to creating new and original contributions to knowledge. In the presentation, I suggested that it is important to acknowledge that online learning has never been new. Distance learning has never been new. Transnational learning has never been new. So what’s new then?

the first chapter or plateau, Deleuze and Guatarri introduce the idea of rhizome:

“Rhizomes do not propagate by way of clearly delineated hierarchies but by underground stems in which any part may send additional shoots upward, downward, or laterally. There is no hierarchy…beginning or end”.

(Adkins, 2015: p23)

Perhaps, the technology-enhanced transnational learning (TETL) research journey emulated the rhizomatic trajectory, particularly as each episode, chapter or component could be understood in itself or in relation to another part:

“each plateau can be read starting anywhere and can be related to any other plateau”

(Deleuze & guattari: p22 in adkins 2015: p23)

An example of a rhizome is a potato.

“All that is required to grow potatoes is burying the discarded skin of a potato. They simply begin again wherever they are”

(adkins, p15: p23)

Brent Adkins asks “ How is it possible to create something new?” (Adkins, 2015: p22). This is a critical question. My perception of research is that there is an imperative that there is a component of originality. But, truthfully, it is important to acknowledge that online learning has never been new. Distance learning has never been new. Transnational learning has never been new. So what’s new then?

Deleuze and Guatarri explore the notion of the assemblage. Assemblage can be understood asa group things. As opposed to fiiting “…into pre-existing forms” the assemblage provides us with the oportunity to create new ideas (Adkins, 2015: p22). Could Zoom be understood as an digital assemblage?

y”As an assemblage, a book has only itself, in connection with other assemblages and in relation to other bodies without organs”

(deleuze & guattari, 1987: p4)
(Not yet) A Thousand Research (Plateau) Projects

Being part of this technology-enhanced transnational learning (TETL) research journey was an oppertunity to reflect on what “digital scholarship” might mean in the future (Weller, 2011). Perhaps technology-enhanced transnational futures are part of what the “…promise of the University” might be (Mahon, 2022).

In the presentation, I briefly made reference to the idea of technology to transgress drawing on bell hook’s famous book Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom (hooks, 1994)

“The classroom remains the most radical space of possibility in the academy”

(Hooks, 1994)

The recording of the presentations can be accessed here (for RAU staff, login to Panopto via Gateway).

Exploring TNE

For more information about the research seminars, please contact the RAU Knowledge Exchange Team:

NameJob RoleEmail Address
Rebecca Atterbury-ThomasKnowledge Exchange Events Coordinatorrebecca.atterbury-thomas@rau.ac.uk
Lisa van DijkHead of Knowledge Exchange and Research Supportlisa.williamsvandijk@rau.ac.uk

A recent online event hosted by HudCRES (Huddersfield Centre for Research in Education & Society) explored international students & UK universities: research and practice. Dr. Sylvie Lomer (@SE_Lomer) from Manchester Institute of Education presented on International students in the UK: Deficit narratives and research approaches. Professor Bee Bond (@BeeBond1) from the University of Leeds presented on language as a barrier and an enabler. Prof. Bond wrote an interesting paper exploring the “performance of identity” (Bond, 2019). Language and visibility are important (Bond, 2020). Dr. Manuel Madriaga (@mannymadgriaga) presented at the event. One slide explored benefits of the use of composite characters (Patton & Catching, 2009 in Madriaga, 2022). Rachel Brooks (@_rachel_brooks) is both Professor of Sociology and Associate Dean at the Research and Innovation at the University of Surrey. A number of relevant resources were shared including the Advance HE blog exploring pedagogies of internationalisation and an article mapping pedagogic practices here.


Adkins, B (2015) Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus A Critical Intoduction and Guide (Edinburgh: Edimburgh University Press)

AdvanceHE (n.d.) Pedagoagies of Interationalisation https://internationalpedagogies.home.blog/ International Pedagogy Blog [blog] (Online) Available at: [Accessed: 2 February 2022]

Bond, B (2019) International students: language, culture and the ‘performance of identity’, Teaching in Higher Education, 24:5, 649-665, DOI: 10.1080/13562517.2019.1593129

Bond, B (2020) Making Language Visible in the University English for Academic Purposes and Internationalisation (Bristol: Blue Ridge Matters, Multlingual Matters

Bond, B (2022) ‘Language as a Barrier and an Enabler’ International students & UK universities: research and practice. Microsoft Teams. January 2022.

Brooks, R (2022) No Title. International students & UK universities: research and practice. Microsoft Teams. January 2022.

Deleuze, G & Guattari, F (1987) A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism & Schizophrenia (London & New York: Continuum)

Gather Presence Inc. (2021) Gather Town (Online) Available at: https://www.gather.town/ [Accessed: 27 January 2022]

hooks, b (1994) Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom (New York: Routledge)

Jacobs, N, Brewer, S, Craigon, P, J, Frey, J, Gutierrez, A, Kanza, S, Manning, L, Munday, S Pearson, S & Sacks, J (2021) Considering the ethical implications of digital collaboration in the Food Sector in Perspective Perspective| Volume 2, Issue 11, 100335, November 12 (Online) Available at: 2021https://www.cell.com/patterns/fulltext/S2666-3899(21)00183-5?_returnURL=https%3A%2F%2Flinkinghub.elsevier.com%2Fretrieve%2Fpii%2FS2666389921001835%3Fshowall%3Dtrue [Accessed: 27 January 2022]

Klaxoon (2022) Klaxoon (Online) Available at: https://klaxoon.com/ [Accessed: 27 January 2022]

Lomer, S (2022) ‘International Students in the UK: Deficit Narratives and Research Approaches’ [Google Document] International students & UK universities: research and practice. Microsoft Teams. January 2022. (Online) Available at: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1F5pbF5s5w_SlFfKmqIzk0RK_YFCLfHbGB0gYC0YcsVg/edit#slide=id.g10e8cb7bfde_0_10 [Accessed: 2 February 2022]

Lomer, S, Mittelmeier, J & Carmichael-Murphy, P (2021) Cash cows or pedagogic partners? Mapping pedagogic practices for and with international students [pdf]. (Online) Available at: at: https://srhe.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/Lomer-Mittelmeier-CarmichaelMurphy-FinalReport-SRHE.pdf [Accessed: 2 February 2022]

Madraiga, M (2022) No Title. International students & UK universities: research and practice. Microsoft Teams. January 2022.

Mahon, Á (ed) (2022) Reclaiming Humanity, Humility, and Hope (Singapore: Springer)

Mentimetre (n.d.) Mentimeter (Online) Available at: https://www.mentimeter.com/ [Accessed: 27 January 2022]

Miro (2022) Miro (Online) Available at: https://miro.com/ [Accessed: 27 January 2022]

Tactivos Inc. (2022) Mural Available at: https://www.mural.co/ [Accessed: 27 January 2022]

van Dijk, L & Main, D (2021) Online Collaboration Tools, Royal Agricultural University (RAU) Online Research Seminars. Zoom. January 2022.

Weller, M (2011) The Digital Scholar. How Technology is Transforming Scholarly Practice (London & New York: Bloomsbury)

Wonder Me (2021) (Online) Available at: https://wonder.me/ [Accessed: 27 January 2022]

Arvorum Cultus Pecorumque. Caring for the (Digital) Fields and the Beasts.

‘Look after the (Digital) land, and it will look after You’

The Royal Agricultural University’s Latin motto is from Virgil’s Georgics. The recent move to online learning due to the impact of the global pandemic and with the implications for a potential future hybrid pedagogical model, could mean that we can conceptualise the possibility of care in a digital context.

For both SDAU and QAU, RAU teaching staff deliver 45-minute interactive sessions to approximately 150 students. An ongoing pedagogical challenge is to encourage as much interaction as possible. Often students are reluctant to turn their cameras on and unmute to speak during these sessions. It could be argued that students are ‘lurking’ in online envirnoments.

“Lurking is often seen as a problem in online education, particularly in fully online,

distance/distributed learning contexts”

Kuhn, Havemann, Kogeoglu & Bozkurt, 2021: p2

During an interactive session on Zoom, verbal communication is relied on for example if a student is delivering a presentation and sharing their screen. A majority of functions in Zoom are concerned with the development and practice of the verbal mode, for example mute/unmute. What if there was a different way to communicate that does not involve using the camera or microphone? This is where non-verbal feedback came in. Whilst meeting reactions have been used in the past, non-verbal feedback provides a new layer of communication and an opportunity to interact effectively.

Non-verbal Feedback Panel in Zoom

In October 2021, SDAU students were shown how to use non-verbal feedback and meeting reactions in Zoom. “…Meeting participants can place an icon in their video panel and beside their name in the participants panel to communicate with the host and other participants without disrupting the flow of the meeting. For example, selecting the Slow down icon places the icon in your video panel and beside your name to indicate you would like the host or presenter to go slower” (Zoom Video Communications, 2021).

Exploring Non-verbal Feedback

Providing students with an opportunity for non-verbal communication can help to provide the Lecturer with a confirmation that students are listening and/or have understood. Students can use non-verbal feedback as a way to build confidence in developing verbal feedback skills.

Perhaps non-verbal feedback is connected to dual coding:

“Human cognition is unique in that it has become specisalised for dealing simultaneously with language and non-verbal objects and events”

(Paivio, 1986 in Kirschner in Caviglioli, 2019

Exploring Zoom

Agile stationary was demonstrated to the students in the form of a deck of video conferencing cards. Showing the cards on the screen with the camera on can help with communication in a live meeting. I also suggested that students could create their own cards. This could enable students to create a personalised learning experience. It is also possible to suggest improvements and there is an Agile Games Workshop Meetup.

Exploring Agile Stationary

“We believe that physical products support embodied cognition without becoming distracting and provide the fastest feedback loop in the simplest possible setting” (Agile Stationery, 2021).

(Agile Stationery, 2021)

Having reflected on Zoom literacies as part of the #ukfechat here, the extent to which breakout rooms could improve student engagement in a blog post here and here, artifactual literacy has been explored (Pahl & Rowsell, 2010). How can we use found objects to improve the interactive experience of the Zoom sessions. When does an object become an artifact and vice versa?

“A found object is a natural or man-made object, or fragment of an object, that is found (or sometimes bought) by an artist and kept because of some intrinsic interest the artist sees in it”

(Tate Modern, n.d.).

What could students create in a Zoom session that could relate to agriculture? I explored the range of creative packs in a local shop.

Found Objects

A Microsoft Form was used to evaluate what students thought about non-verbal feedback, meeting reactions, agile stationary:

1. The majority of students thought that found objects improved engagement

2. The majority of students thought that non-verbal feedback tool and meeting reactions were a positive way to interact in the session?

3. For the question “How can the non-verbal feedback tool and meeting reactions be improved?” one answer was “The teacher can initiate a vote during the lecture and ask the students to answer. Through the data analysis, the students can grasp the situation and infer the points of doubt“,

4. For the question “How did the agile stationary help with interaction in the session?” one answer was “In some way, it can help teacher know about how much knowledge students has masterd,and adjust the process of class.”.


Agile Stationary (2021) Agil a Stationary (Online) Available at: https://agilestationery.com/ [Accessed 26 October 2021]

Caviglioli, O (2019) Dual Coding for Teachers (Woodbridge: John Catt Educational Ltd)

Kuhn H., C., Havemann, L., Koseoglu, S., & Bozkurt, A. (2021). Three lenses on lurking:
Making sense of digital silence. In J. Hoffman & P. Blessinger (Eds.), International
perspectives in online instruction (p. 83-93). Emerald Publishing Limited. (Online) Available at: https://www.emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/S2055-364120210000040006/full/html [Accessed 3 November 2021]

Pahl, J & Rowsell J (2010) Artifactual Literacies: Every Object Tells a Story (Language and Literacy Series) (Amsterdam & New York: Teachers College Press)

Maro, P.V. (29 BCE). Virgil: Eclogues, Georgics, Aeneid. Translated by H.R. Fairclough. Loeb Classical Library. Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA. 1916.

Meetup LLC (2021) Agile Games Workshop Meetup in London (Online) Available at: https://www.meetup.com/Agile-Games-Workshop/ [Accessed 26 October 2021]

McDonald, P (2021) Technology to Transgress. Spinoza, Energy & Expeditions of Joy. Exploring Critical Zoom Literacies with #ukfechat https://digitalrau.wordpress.com blog, [blog] 21 Oct. Available at: https://digitalrau.wordpress.com/2021/10/05/technology-to-transgress-spinoza-energy-expeditions-of-joy-exploring-critical-zoom-literacies-with-ukfechat/ [Accessed 26 October 2021]

McDonald, P (2021) Indiana Jones & the Breakout Tombs. Exploring Student Zoom Literacy https://digitalrau.wordpress.com blog, [blog] 9 Oct. Available at: https://digitalrau.wordpress.com/2021/10/09/indiana-jones-the-breakout-tombs-exploring-student-zoom-literacy/ [Accessed 26 October 2021]

Tate Modern (n.d.) Found Objects (Online) Available at: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/f/found-object [Accessed 26 October 2021]

Taylorson, L (2021) ukfechat curation: 30/09/2021 – Technology to Transgress: Critical Zoom Literacies hosted by @PipMac6 Wakelet Collection (Online) Available at: https://wakelet.com/wake/A5H5cVpqqNamjw5nsy6Wk [Accessed 26 October 2021]

Zoom Video Communications (2021) Nonverbal feedback and meeting reactions(Online) Available at: https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us/articles/115001286183-Nonverbal-feedback-during-meetings [Accessed 26 October 2021]

Indiana Jones & the Breakout Tombs. Exploring Student Zoom Literacy

Indiana Jones & the Breakout Rooms

As part of a transnational partnership between the Royal Agricultural University (RAU) and Shandong Agriculture University (SDAU) that pivoted to online elarning due to the global plandmeic, Lecturers delivered 45-minute interactive sessions to students using Zoom, the well-known video conferencing tool. Since June 2020, three successful online cohorts have taken place. It is fundamental to acknowledge the differences between teaching in a face-to-face and online capacity, that distance learning “…cannot be the same as teaching in a walled classroom” (Morris, 2021). A significant part of the transnational online pivot involved training staff on how to use Zoom effectiely for pedagogy. What about the students? In September 2021, a Lecturer reported that a student had disrupted the class by not putting the microphone on mute. Initially, this ‘pedagogical incident’ could be explained as showing a need for greater online classroom management and/or student behaviour. However, I asked myself, “Have we created an opportunity to support students on how to behave in an online classroom, have we assumed they know how to use Zoom?“. Perhaps the teacher-centrered approach needed to be transformed into a student-centred approach. As a result, four critical questions were asked

1.How can we support students to make the most of their interactive sessions in Zoom?

2. How do students know how to behave in an online classroom setting?

3. How do students know how to use Zoom?

4. How can we support students whose first language may not be English with technology-enhanced transnational learning (TETL?)

Asking the four questions above, led to three further questions:

1.What is literacy?

2. What is Zoom Literacy?

3. When does knowing how do use a tool become literacy?

Perhaps literacy “…has become a process of commodification in which literate learning is entangled with commodities” (Mills, 2015: p2).

A strategy we explored was the use of breakout rooms in Zoom to facilitate an escape room. What is an escape room? Escape rooms (ERs) can be defined as “…live-action team-based games in which players encounter challenges in order to complete a mission in a limited amount of time” (Veldkamp, van de Grint, Knippels & van Jooingen, 2020). Escape rooms are nothing new. They are popular in education Sanchez & Plumettaz-Sieber, 2019 in Veldkamp, van de Grint, Knippels & van Jooingen, 2020). One of the core benefits of breakout rooms is that the “allow[s] groups of one or more participants to break out into any number of smaller Zoom meetings from within the initial Zoom meeting (Stanford University Teaching Commons, n.d.). It can be argued that an escape room is a type of game. Embedding gamification is also nothing new in education. There are a number of advantages to using games, for example, games can provide an opportunity to “increase both engagement and motivation” (Kim, Song, Lockee & Burton, 2018: p5).

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Can an escape room help to engage stduents with Zoom Literacy?

In 2021, a presentation was delivered at the University of Kent Digitally Enhanced Education Webinars entitled Indiana Jones and the Temple of Zoom. A Transnational Online Pivot Adventure which explored the idea of online classrooms being like ‘digital temples’ and Learning Technologists like ‘Digital Archaeologists’. This blog post is a development of this as the next transnational adventure. In the film Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Indiana Jones faces a series of ‘tombs’ that he needs to break out of by solving problems. From the ‘Temple of Zoom’ to the ‘Breakout Tomb’.

Exploring the use of a digital badge

In our escape room, students are faced with different situations that they may face in an interactive session in Zoom. A PowerPoint file with animated content was shared to created a multimodal experience. Students need to answer the questions correctly using chat and find the code to ‘escape’. A password-protected blog post was created. Once students escaped, they could download a digital badge and had an opportunity to access a Microsoft Form to evaluate their escape room experience.

Student names are not shown

In October 2021, a presentation was delivered at CARNival, an event entitled Raised Voices: Collaborative Action Research Network (CARN) Online Conference, 2021 to discuss the escape room approach in the transnational context.


In terms of what Zoom Literacy could be, perhaps it could be made up of different dimensions of practice. For example, using non-verbal feedback or agile stationary could be a form of artifactual literacy which can be defined as an approach that “…examines objects and their meanings in everyday life and also acknowledges the situated nature of texts in places and communities” (Pahl & Rowsell, 2011: p130). What is important to note is that “Some stories are more powerful than others in that they are more visible” (Pahl & Rowsell, 2011: p129).

Create your own Bayeux Tapestry here

Zoom is not immune from digital inequalities. From Teaching to Transgress to Technology to Transgress & Progress (hooks, 1994). It is important that we must not view the online classroom as a digital “mini-kingdom” with unequal power relationships, particularly if the online classroom is designed to be an interactive environment (hooks,1994: p17). If it is true that “every object tells a story”, then every online classroom has a narrative too (Pahl & Rowsell, 2010).

Using non-verbal feedback in Zoom. Artifactual Literacy?

Perhaps one aspect of the narrative was the Chinese character transforming the escape room into an opportunity for into digital storytelling.

奕辰 (Yìchén)

Key Points

Curating the virtual support presence – It is a good idea to adopt a team teaching approach. The notion of “lone lecturers” may not work in the online classroom which needs to be a “team sport” (Mosley, 2021).

More than one Lecturer/Learning Technologist provides the students with more support and workload can be shared e.g. one person shares screen while the other monitors the chat.

Planning for breakout rooms or ‘tombs‘ – Breakout rooms need to be planned in advance either by pre-assignment with student emails or in a manual capacity. If the group has a large number of students, then manual breakout rooms can be the best approach in a synchronous capacity.

Second language awareness – creating a document with core vocabulary and phrases to support students with understanding, particularly if the topic involves specialist terms of reference.

Involve students in the development of their own Zoom Literacies – create an ice breaker activity proving students an opportunity to decide their on ground rules and expected behaviours in online settings.

Be open to exploring a range of tools and approaches – another interesting tool is Twine “…an open-source tool for telling interactive, nonlinear stories” (Interactive Fiction Technology Foundation, n.d. ). Could students co-create collaborative and interactive fiction?

How has the global pandemic enabled us to reimagine the pedagogical possibilities of what a classroom has been, is currently and could be? It is possible to reflect on the “Brave New Digital Classroom” of the future (Blake & Guillén, 2013).

“Digital tech has permeated classrooms, homes and social spaces, and so on campus or classroom education is, to a significant extent, digital and online”

(Fawns, 2019)

What if we left the classroom behind? (Spinney, 2021). What could replace the classroom? To what extent could Zoom Literacy could be part of a wider, and potentially platform agnostic Brave New Digital Literacy?

“We can’t just choose a pedagogy and then a technology. In fact, technology is part of pedagogy: “pedagogy is the thoughtful combination of methods, technologies, social and physical designs and on-the-fly interactions”

FAWNS, 2021

Perhaps when we think about student Zoom Literacy, we always need to think about the student and question how to support our international students as much as possible prioritising an ethical apprach (Mittelmeier, Lomer, Lim, Cockayne & Ploner, 2021).


Agile Stationary (2021) (Online) Available at: https://agilestationery.com/ [Accessed 11 September 2021]

Alice Veldkamp, Liesbeth van de Grint, Marie-Christine P.J. Knippels, Wouter R. van Joolingen (2020) Escape education: A systematic review on escape rooms in education in Educational Research Review, Volume 31, 100364 (Online) Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1747938X20300531 [Accessed 11 September 2021]

Blake, R, J & Guillén, G. 2nd ed. (2013) Brave New Digital Classroom: Technology and Foreign Language Learning (Washington DC: Georgetown University Press)

Dundee & Angus Convention Bureau (n.d.) Raised Voices: Collaborative Action Research Network (CARN) Online Conference, 2021 (Online) Available at: https://www.conventiondundeeandangus.co.uk/attending/conferences/carnival–raised-voices-collaborative-action-research-network-carn-online-conference-2021 [Accessed 11 September 2021]

Fawns, T (2021) Postdigital Education http://timfawns.com Education Blog [blog] June 19 (online) Available at: http://timfawns.com/postdigital-education/ [Accessed 10 November 2021]

hooks, B (1994) Teaching to Transgress Education as the Practice of Freedom (Oxon & New York: Routledge)

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. 1984 [film]. Steven Spielberg. dir. Paramonun Pictures & Lucasfilm

Interactive Fiction Technology Foundation (n.d.) Twine (Online) Available at: https://twinery.org/ [Accessed 24 September 2021]

Kim, S, Song, K, Lockee, B & Burton, J (2018) Gamification in Learning and Education Enjoy Learning Like Gaming? (Switzerland: Springer International Education)

Mills, K, A (2015) Literacy Theories for the Digital Age: Social, Critical, Multimodal, Spatial, Material and Sensory Lenses (New Perspectives on Language and Education (Bristol, Buffalo & Toronto: Multilingual Matters)

Mittelmeier, J, Lomer, S, Lim, M, Cockayne, H & Ploner, J (2022) How can practices with international students be made more ethical? https://postpandemicuniversity.net/ Post Pandmeic University blog [blog] Jan 10th (Online) Available at: https://postpandemicuniversity.net/2022/01/10/how-can-practices-with-international-students-be-made-more-ethical/ [Accessed: 13 January 2022]

Morris, S (2021) Humanizing Digital Pedagogy: the Role of Imagination in Distance Teaching. https://www.seanmichaelmorris.com/. Digital Pedagogy Blog [blog] Available at:  https://www.seanmichaelmorris.com/humanizing-digital-pedagogy-the-role-of-imagination-in-distance-teaching/amp/ [Accessed 3 March 2021]

Mosley, N (2021) Forget lone lecturers – pandemic shows teaching must be a team sport. http://www.timeshighereducation.com. Higher Education Blog [blog] 6 Jan. Available at: https://www.timeshighereducation.com/blog/forget-lone-lecturers-pandemic-shows-teaching-must-be-team-sport [Accessed: 23 March]

Pahl, J & Rowsell J (2010) Artifactual Literacies: Every Object Tells a Story (Language and Literacy Series) (Amsterdam & New York: Teachers College Press)

Pahl, K & Rowsell, J (2011) Artifactual Critical Literacy: A New Perspective for Literacy in Berkeley Review of Education, 2(2) (Online) Availbale at: Education https://escholarship.org/uc/item/6s0491j5

Spinney, L (2021) The big idea: Should we leave the classroom behind? The Guardian, [online] (Last updated 08th November 20210. (Online) Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2021/nov/08/the-big-idea-should-we-leave-the-classroom-behind?

Stanford University Teaching Commons (n.d.) Successful Breakout Rooms in Zoom (Online) Available at: https://teachingcommons.stanford.edu/news/successful-breakout-rooms-zoom [Accessed 10 November 2021]

Stanford University Teaching Commons (n.d.) Successful Breakout Rooms in Zoom (Online) Available at: https://teachingcommons.stanford.edu/news/successful-breakout-rooms-zoom [Accessed 11 September 2021]

Thoretton, M, Leonard A-L, Mathieu, Maria (2015) Historic Tale Construction Kit (Online) Available at: https://htck.github.io/bayeux/#!/ [Accessed 30 September 2021]

Zoom Video Communications (2021) Non verbal feedback and meeting reactions (Online) Available at:https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us/articles/115001286183-Nonverbal-Feedback-During-Meetings [Accessed 11 September 2021]

Thoroughly Modern Technology: Zoom & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Zoom has played a significant role in the pivot to online learning and the emergent ‘pandemagogy‘.

‘The Pandemic will not be on Zoom’

(Costello, Brown, Donlon & Girme, 2020)

Zoomtopia took place on 13th-14th September 2021. A part of Zoomtopia was the opportunity to explore the Imaginarium. It was possible to customise the Imaginarium and download the creation. This involved an interactive map including Global Stage, Pavilion of Progress, Product and Industry Showcase, World of Creation, Hall of Sponsors and the Gallery of Stars.

Exploring the (Zoo)m Imaginarium: Incursion or Innovation?

Zoom identify the following capabilities of its platform for education:

  1. Manage your classes
  2. Increase engagement
  3. Customise the learning experience
  4. Ensure accessibility
  5. Enable security and compliance
  6. Support flexible learning environments (Zoom Video Communications Inc, 2021)
Eric Yuan, CEO of Zoom delivered a keynote.

It might be a surprise to find out that Zoom is celebrating its ten-year anniversary (Zoom Video Communications Inc, 2021). For many of us, our perception is that it was a tool that was heavily used in 2020. Before that, Zoom was used but perhaps not as widely known. Since 2020, Zoom has been used as a core tool on which interactive sessions for both the SDAU and QAU projects to take place. Reflecting on the tools we have used to adapt face-to-face teaching to online contexts is important. A presentation was delivered at the University of Kent’s Digitally Enhanced Webinars in February 2021 exploring the use of zoom entitled Indiana Jones & the Temple of Zoom. Learning Technologists as ‘Digital Archaeologists’ & Online Classrooms as ‘Digital Temples’. If a metaphor for an online classroom can be a ‘digital temple’, could we ask when does video conferencing meeting become an online classroom and vice versa?

“Is the university education model forever changed?”

(Mosley, 2021)

Over the past year, it is possible to see how it has improved and evolved in a variety of ways. It is possible to acknowledge new vocabulary entering popular culture. Who has not heard of “You’re on mute”, “zoom fatigue” and “zoombombing?”. Critically, the “Zoom gaze” has become entrenched into everyday work practices (Caines, 2020). Autumn Caines, an Instructional Designer from University of Michigan (@Autumm), led a webinar exploring Zoom in terms of digital power hierarchies (Caines, 2021). A great deal has been discussed about how to avoid “algorithmic bias” (Rankin & MacDowell, n.d.). Are digital inequalities ‘baked in’?. Check out @ZoomGaze a Twitter account that tweets instances where “Video conferencing offers an illusory sense of unilateral control over conversations” (@ZoomGaze, n.d.).

Perhaps it is important to avoid any “Illusions of online readiness” as a “counter-intuitive”: with respect to the online pivot (Power, Conway, Ó. Gallchóir, Young & Hayes, 2022).

I Know What You Taught On Last Summer – Zoom.
Image created by Presenter Media, 2021

Some of the most innovative product developments included the Zoom Phone with bring your own carrier, the hot desking tool to support hybrid working, a Smart Gallery with artifical intelligence, and the use of virtual reality with the Oculus headset to create an immersive experience. There was an emphasis supporting remote workers in terms of an inclusive approach to hybrid collaboration. Some of the key words and phrases from the presentations were ‘frictionless’, ‘seamless”putting the video back in videogame’ and ‘Zoom fidelity’. Additionally, I attended an education specific session ‘From Classroom to Computer Screen: Redesign In-Person Training for Virtual Audiences’ which was really useful in terms of improving the interactive RAU delivers using Zoom. For example, the presenter, Sandy Masters identified the ‘90 20 4‘ model: provide a break every 90 minutes, activity or assessment very 20 minutes and finally provide an interactive opportunity every 4 minutes (Masters, 2021).

Sandy Masters delivering ‘From Classroom to Computer Screen: Redesign In-Person Training for Virtual Audiences’

Zoom Literacy has almost become a fundamental 21st-century skill for the modern workplace including working from home. How has a video conferencing tool been transformed into an educational tool we do not seem to able to live without? From Zoom, doom and gloom to Zoom, boom and Bloom?

Zoom: the Modern Sceance? (Reddit, 2021)

During the Association for Learning Technologists (ALT) Winter Conference in 2020, one of the sessions entitled ‘To Be And Not To Be: Physical Absence and Virtual Presence in Online Learning’ led by Dr. Stuart Taylor, University Tutor at University of Glasgow (@SJamesTaylor), and Dr. Ingeborg van Knippenberg, Lecturer at Edinburgh Napier University (@icvk) explored the idea of of “hauntology”, “spectral presence” and the “haunted subject” (Henriksen, 2016: p37). To what extent is the Zoom experience haunting? Are hosts digital ghosts? What are digital monsters? (Henriksen, 2016: p37). We are familiar with the idea of the ghost in the digital machine. But what if the machine is the ghost? We need to be more concerned with the machine in the ghost (Kirwan, 2021). Is Zoom a digital zoo? If it is a haunting experience, then is it like a night at a digital museum? To what extent is digital dysmorphia a real threat? (Dalva, 2021). Are we experiencing zoom nihilism? Perhaps we need to ‘curb our digital enthusiasm’ of using video conferencing platforms. If Sartre re-wrote Being & Nothingness for the 21st century, would the “phenomenological ontology” concern Being & Digital Nothingness (Sartre we do we dissolve into Zoom? If we stare too long, do no the ‘Zoom abyss’? – “He who fights with [digital] monsters should be careful lest he thereby becomes a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.” (Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil. Aphorism 146).

(@avb_soc, 2020)

One of fundamental debates about using Zoom is whether the camera should be on or off or camera normativity. Does using the camera improve the digital student experience? What is impact of the camera on teaching and learning? Is it best for students to be able to ‘see’ their teacher and for the teacher to ‘see’ their students?. What is ‘seeing’ anyway? Is it possible to experience “camera fatigue?” (Turner, 2022).

Tim O’Riordan presented at the Association of Learning Technologists (ALT) annual conference in 2021 exploring cameras on or off?

Having trained staff and supported students on how to use Zoom effectively, I was keen to find out the latest product developments at Zoomtopia such as On Zoom (Beta) and Zoom Rooms. Over the past year, we have seen some significant improvements to the platform itself. For example, security improvements and immersive view which provides a visual reimagination of a meeting for participants. Truthfully, Zoom is a multimodal platform with a range of pedagogical affordances that can be used successfully in an interdisciplinary capacity.

(Zoom Video Communications, 2021)

It is important to acknowledge that Zoom can be used in conjunction with other tools to provide a positive digital student experience. Perhaps an over reliance on Zoom exclusively might not be sufficient. For example, we used Panopto as a platform to allow lecturers to pre-record their lectures and Zoom for interactive sessions for the SDAU project. Comparing tools and approaches may not help us in the way that, we may need to both combine and curate the use of tools to meet the unique needs of our students as a commitment to digital differentiation (Islam, Kim & Kwon, 2012). In the same way that we might be concerned by the term “technology determinism”, perhaps we are experiencing ‘Zoom determinism’ (Edwards, 2012: p8).

Zoom and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Image adpated from: https://bit.ly/3Efxgf8 (Abe Books, 2021)

The blog post title draws explicitly on the well-known book by Robert Pirsig Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. In the Afterward, Pirsig asks “Who really can face the future? All you can is do is project from the past” (Pirsig, 2004: p393).This is a powerful question when we frame it in terms of the future of teaching, learning and working. Is the art of hosting a Zoom meeting a bit like the art of motorcycle maintenance. Perhaps it is. Here’s to the “hybrid workforce” (Zoom Video Communications Inc, 2021). Zoom is undoubtedly bound up in our pedagogical consciousness “The phenomenon of being and the being of phenomenon (Sartre, 2003: p4). Perhaps the online classroom has become a form of the academic conference in that it “…materializes neoliberal academic life”. To what extent can online classrooms be “neo-liberal material discursive space[s]…” (Fairchild, Taylor, Benozzo, Carey, Koro & Elmenhorst, 2022: p3-4). The If can ‘disturb’ the academic conference, can we disrupt the online classroom? (Fairchild, Taylor, Benozzo, Carey, Koro & Elmenhorst, 2022).

(Pirsig, 2004)

The architecture of the Zoom meeting in terms of the structure of the host, alternate host, co-host and meeting participants could relate to Derrida’s idea of hospitality (Campbell, 2021). Perhaps Zoom meeting hosts provide a type of digital hospitality.

“For Derrida the hospitality given to the ‘other’ is an ethical marker, both for an individual and a country…being open and accepting the ‘other’ on their terms…opens the host to new experiences—the possibility of ‘crossing thresholds of hope”

(O’Gorman, 2006: p55)

Moving forward and reflecting on post-pandemic pedagogic realities, Zoom will still play an important role in the “brave new digital classroom” (Blake, Guillén, & Thorne 2013). Perhaps now really is the time to be brave (Hardwick 2021). For example, in their dedicated Zoom for Education website, they refer to hybrid learning and talk about an “education ecosystem” (Zoom Video Communications Inc, 2021). Zoom sent me a an official Zoomtopia mug, pin badges and stickers which was a nice touch!

“Online education, better, worse or different?”

Mosley, 2020

Perhaps we need to think about the art of “placemaking” (White, 2021). Zoom classrooms are a bit the digital non-places (Augé in White, 2021). Zoom acknowledged the creative ways the Zoom has been used. Zoom provide the tools and the platform, and it is up to us to bring the agency to Zoom.

“What’s next..[?]”

Global Education Monitoring Report Team (GEM Report), 2020

Zoom seem to have acknowledged the difference between “…emergency remote teaching and online learning” (Hodges, Moore, Lockee, Trust and Bond, 2020). Here’s to the hybrid ecosystem! Perhaps it will important to create “conceptual clarity” of hybrid possibilities (Raes, 2021).

Is hybrid a desirable ‘new normal’ for academic events?

Carrigan, 2021

Zoom has played a significant role in the emergency pivot to online learning. What next? Perhaps a helpful way to explore “possible futures” of online learning could be to carry out a “helicopter analysis” which include convergence, massification, openness, interactivity and diversification (Brown, n.d.). Will the use of Zoom change in future? What types of pivots will we encounter? Perhaps it is useful to differentiate between “Emergency Remote Teaching and Online Learning” when we think about how to make the most of using Zoom for education. (Hodges, Moore, Lockee, Trust & Bond, 2020). Teaching beyond the pandemic or the “post COVID-19 era” will be a critical for Zoom (Fayad & Cummings, 2021).

“Rule 1: A temporary pivot is not the same as emergency remote teaching or online distance learning”

Horlin, Hutchison, Murray, Robson, Seery & MacKay, 2020

A report by JISC entitled ‘Learning and teaching reimagined A new dawn for higher education?’ explored making sense of 2020, how to preapre for 2021 and being inspired by the opportunities that 2030 can bring (JISC, 2020).

“Education is one of the last major sectors yet to be radically transformed by the digital revolution, but change is coming”

(Chair’s opening Remarks, Learning and teaching reimagined A new dawn for higher education, 2020)

What role can Zoom play if universities are fined for not teaching in a face to face capacity? (Woolcock, 2022). Are we teaching in “Nowhere” online classrooms, from the “Nowhere Office…” to “Nowhere classrooms?” (Hobsbawm, 2023). Perhaps there can be new pedagogical opportunities for “Brave New Digital Classroom[s]” (Blake, Guillén, & Thorne: 2013).

Check out the Tips & Tricks: Teachers Educating on Zoom. An interesting blog post can be found here entitled Let’s Reimagine Education Together. Could we speculate on what life will be like after Zoom, a post-Zoom pedagogical reality?

Zoom Academy offer both training and qualifications including for Educators (Zoom Video Communications, 2021).

The Zoomtopia sessions have been recorded and are available in the On-Demand Library here.

Zoom sent a Zoomtopia beach ball, badges and mug. Thank you


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Fayad, I & Cummings, J (2021) Teaching in the Post COVID-19 Era World Dilemmas, Teaching Innovations and Solutions in the Age of Crisis (Switzerland: Springer)

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Back to the Future. A Learning Technologist’s Reflection on a Victorian Lesson on Zoom

What can a Learning Technologist learn from the Victorian Lesson?

Recently, I have been listening to the podcast version of 25 Years of Ed Tech by Martin Weller. It reminded me that perhpas the past is a good place to explore the future.

It is Thursday 11th February 1897. We are practising our handwriting, writing our names and the date.

In February 2021, I attended a Victorian lesson from the Pit Village School at Beamish Museum streamed live on Zoom and delivered by a teacher in authentic Victorian clothes. In this blog post I reflect on the Victorian lesson experience. To what extent have our approaches to pedagogy and technology-enhanced learning (TEL) changed since then?

The Revival of the Sandbox

Live Victorian Lesson on Zoom at The Pit Village School at Beamish Museum

The teacher talked us through the learning objects or ‘technology’ in the Victorian classroom. In addition to the abacus and the blackboard, one of the objects that really stood out was the mini sandboxes for each student. The teacher explained that students would practise making shapes in the sand and when they made a mistake they could start again by shaking the box. This is a powerful approach. This struck me as being familiar in virtue of the fact that in learning technology, we often make use of a sandpit or sandbox approach. For example, when we train staff, we create a copy of the tool and call it the sandbox platform in which staff can be trained and feel free to make mistakes without being concerned about having an impact in a live site. This seems to be a valuable approach that exists in both Victorian and present pedagogical realities. Perhaps there are no mistakes, only learning!

The teacher showed a board with a range of writing frames and sentence builders with an image to reinforce the content for example exploring the use of the definite and indefinite articles “hat, a hat and the hat”. Perhaps this could be an early example of dual coding potentially paving the way for multimodal instruction from the “monomodal world” modes (Kress, Jewitt, Ogborn & Tsatsarelis, 2001: p8). Studies have been carried out to explore the impact of embedding visual content in the pedagogic process (Clark & Lyons, 2004 in Caviglioli, 2019: p13). Multimodal learning can be argued to be teaching with “the multiplicity of modes (Kress, Jewitt, Ogborn & Tsatsarelis, 2001: p8).

Manners maketh…the Pedagogy?

Manners maketh…the Pedagogy?

The teacher identified some of the famous sayings that could be heard in the Victorian classroom such as ‘Children should be seen and not heard’. It seemed that there was an overarching teacher-centered approach. Conversely, nowadays it could be argued that there has been a significant pedagogical shift to embracing student-centeredness. Furthermore, educational institutions have celebrating increasing their opportunities to celebrate student voice. Students are both seen and heard.

Chalk & Talk, Sage on the Stage

Chalk & Talk and Sage on the Stage

The approach to teaching was explicitly ‘chalk and talk’ and ‘sage on the stage’. The teacher explained that the teacher would stay at the front of the class and students would come to the front to show the teacher their work and the teacher would rarely walk around the classroom. The classroom itself seemed to be in a linear and traditional with desks facing the front. The teacher informed the lesson participants that the days at school would be long with not a great deal pedagogical variety. Students also attended Saturday and Sunday schools too. In contrast, modern classrooms are often designed in circles and a dynamic structure.

The teacher discussed how poor children may not have gone to school, how factory work after school would be common, how some students were required to pay the teacher, and how there was not a great deal of homework due to the need for students to work and the lack of daylight.

The teacher brought to our attention the use of slate that students would use to write on using chalk. It was interesting to reflect on how the slate is similar to the tablets we use today. I recall visiting Beamish Museum with English for Academic Purposes (EAP) students and reflecting on how an iPad is similar to the slate tablets. The blackboard was a key feature in the Victorian classroom. The teacher used a stick or pointer to draw the students’ attention to content on the board. Learning by repetition and or by rote was commonplace. We took part in a live poem reding where the teacher recited a poem and we all copied. The teacher tested one student to see if they could remember the whole poem. Copying from the board was expected. Perhaps the blackboard was like a form of collaborative Google document. It was interesting when we participated in a timetables activity that the teacher asked us to keep off the chat function in Zoom. The teacher also led a money task exploring shillings, farthings. The teacher talked us through how students could use ink and that could be an ‘Ink Monitor’ who mixed the ink powder with water and distributed the ink to the individual desks. Modern learning environments appear to be curated in dynamic circles. According to the teacher who led the session, there were 70 students in the Victorian classroom. Nowadays, perhaps there is a trend towards smaller class sizes. However, the lecture format does emulate Victorian pedagogic features such as a large number of students facing forward with a static Lecturer delivering content. If it is not broken, don’t fix it?

The teacher explained that students were instructed to write in a right-handed capacity only and that if a student did not do this then they would have their hand tied behind their back. There seemed to be a need to make every student the same. This reminded me of the famous blue eyes and brown eyes experiment. In 2019, I delivered a TED style talk exploring this experiment where I placed printed out images of blue and brown eyes under the seats of the audience and emulated the experiment live followed by a reflection.

To some extent, perhaps the Victorian classroom was still a “political place” (hooks, 1994: p4). The teacher discussed how the curriculum was constructed of “God, Queen & Country” (Teacher, Victorian Lesson at Beamish, Thursday 11th February 2021). In the Victoria classroom, there was a picture of Queen Victoria on the wall and an image of Grace Darling who rescued survivors from a shipwreck in 1838 (Grace Darling.co.uk, 2020). Perhaps “The classroom remains the most radical space of possibility in the academy” (hooks, 1994: p12). The experience was a ‘radical’ experience bringing up issues of equality, pedagogy, and social justice.

Pedagogic Neostalgia

Pedagogic Neostalgia?

A few weeks after the lesson, digital certificates were emailed to lesson participants. This could remind us of open badges. It was possible to download the certificate and personalise the content.

A Certificate of Attendance for the Victorian Lesson

Attending a live Victorian lesson on Zoom was a radical experience bringing up issues of equality, pedagogy, and social justice. It was almost an experience of ‘pedagogic neostalgia’. Neostalgia can be defined as “the combined emotions of nostalgia and newness at the same time. Often feels like rediscovery and has more of a positive connotation than nostalgia” (DangerousMuteLunatic, 2013)Perhaps attending a Victorian lesson and reflecting on the experience was a useful activity in terms of exploring how it has led to the modern experience and to help us speculate in the “Brave New Digital Classroom” of the future (Blake, 2013).

It is possible to book the Victorian lesson experience here.


Beamish Museum (2021) Victorian Lesson at The Pit Village School on Zoom [live performance] Performed by Beamish Museum. (Beamish Museum, Country Durham,  11th February

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Module design on the Catalyst project


2½ years ago the RAU, in collaboration with UCEM and CCRI, started on the development of four new postgraduate and undergraduate programmes in what’s called the “Catalyst project”. The new programmes are designed to stimulate and support enhanced leadership in the land management and agri-food sectors, especially suited to the post-Brexit era that meets the unprecedented combination of challenges posed by the rapidly changing political, economic and natural environments.

The first stage of the Catalyst project was to write the programme and module specifications. The programmes have been created in conjunction with CCRI and RAU’s industry partners, including the National Trust, Waitrose and National Farmers’ Union, to carefully tailor the programmes to meet skills gaps and respond to changes in industry trends.

Once the specifications were in place, the Learning technology team worked on developing processes for the pedagogical and technical design and development of the programmes and modules.


Development of processes

Prior to starting module development we worked with UCEM, who specialise in online education, to develop processes for the design of our modules, taking best practices in pedagogy and online learning into account. Extensive research and conversations with other education organisations has gone into the development of module templates, design processes and academic training.


Postgraduate programmes development process

During the second stage of the Catalyst project, we developed two online postgraduate programmes: MBA Innovation in Sustainable Food and Agriculture and MSc Sustainable Food and Agriculture Policy.

We designed a 12-week module design process, with “on-time” training sessions to support the academics in their design and development. This process has been adapted from UCEM’s module development processes and works in stages.

This process uses UCEM’s model named “Student Outcome Led Design (SOLD)”; meaning that the final assessment is designed first, focusing on assessing the module learning outcomes, and the module is designed to develop the skills the students need to complete the assessment.

To kick off the design and development of the modules, the Learning technology team hosts a “Start-up day”, a day-long workshop consisting of multiple stages:

  1. Introductory training in module design, accessibility, design processes, online learning tools.
  2. Module conversations based on question cards designed to stimulate the thought process and familiarisation with the module
  3. Assessment design based on the module’s learning outcomes
  4. Planning “themes” based on the learning outcomes and final assessment
  5. Planning formative assessments – working towards the final assessment
  6. Planning weekly “learning points” i.e. what will the students learn this week?

The Start-up day is hosted with around 6-7 module leads and two Learning technologists in a room to allow for easy sharing of ideas and experiences.

startup day

After the start-up day, the academics go and speak to colleagues, library etc. to gather ideas and resources for their module, prior to a 1-1 design & planning session with a Learning technologist to flesh out the content further into learning activities and to write an action plan for development. This module design is written out into a templated sheet for a Quality review meeting with the programme lead, an additional academic with an interest in the subject and where possible one of our external partners. This meeting is an open discussion to discuss the module design prior to its development.

Once the module design has gone through the Quality review, the module lead, contributors and the Learning technologists develop the online learning activities over the next 10 weeks. The Learning technology team provides academics with templated sheets to write their content in, so it’s ready to be turned into online learning activities and consistent with other modules on the programme. These templates have clear instructions for the academics and links to short training pages. During the whole process, each module has a lead Learning technologist the academics are able to contact when they get stuck, need guidance or would like to brainstorm ideas for an activity. The learning technologists will also create the activities on the VLE.

The full design templates document consists of five steps:

  1. Learning outcomes and questions to think about
  2. Summative assessment(s)
  3. Themes: plan topics and put them in a logical order
  4. Learning points and activities: what will the students learn each week? What activities can be created for the students to learn that and how can they check their learning?
  5. Full activities: write out the content and gather resources and media, to be provided to a Learning technologist using a templated sheet.

During week 7 of the development stage, the Learning technology team hosts an informal “Show & Tell session”, where the module leads get to show off what they’ve done so far and share ideas with other academics going through the process.

Show and tell

In the final week of development, the Quality review team for the module comes together again to discuss the final result.

This process has been repeated twice to develop all modules on the post-graduate Catalyst programmes within an academic year. These programmes have now successfully run for their first year and the programme team has received great feedback from the students.


Adapting the process to development of new Undergraduate Catalyst programmes

The third stage of the Catalyst project consists of developing two Undergraduate programmes: BSc Rural Entrepreneurship and Enterprise and BSc Environment, Food and Society. These programmes are more campus-based and focus on innovative teaching methods as well as a proportion of online learning.

For this stage, we used the previous processes and adapted them based on lessons learned, as well as redesigning the templates to work for campus-based teaching. Additionally, we combined our previous processes with UCL’s ABC Learning design methods.

To adapt to the Covid-19 situation, we’ve had to scrap our Start-up days and are now using an online version of UCEM’s Design jam model on a module-by-module basis. For each module, we schedule in an initial three-hour Design jam with two Learning technologists, the module lead and one or two academics with an interest in the subject. As we are all currently working from home, we are using MS Teams and Sharepoint to facilitate the Design Jams: we use a Teams call to be able to discuss and share ideas as a group, while we all have a synchronously updated Word template opened up on Sharepoint to write out the ideas we have for the module design.

The Design Jam consists of a few stages:

  1. Introduction to the process by a Learning technologist
  2. Module basics: Learning outcomes and questions to think about before designing your module
    Module basics
  3. Writing the summative assessment task(s)
  4. Learning overview: weekly topics, learning points (what will the students learn this week) and opportunities to check student learning. Academics are asked to highlight the relevant learning outcomes for each week.
  5. Learning design: the activities, media and resources to be used or created for each week. Activities are designed within four to five weekly stages: Online introduction, Online lecture, Online activities, Face-to-face seminar and Online knowledge check (optional). UCL’s ABC learning design method is used at this stage to provide an even balance of activity types: Acquisition, Collaboration, Discussion, Investigation, Practice and Production.
  6. Action planning: an action register is created for the development of the module.

After the Design jam, the academics have some time to discuss their ideas with colleagues, library etc. The module lead, collaborators and Learning technologists work according to the action plan to develop their content. The programme team regularly comes together to check progress and quality of each module.

These programmes will run starting from September ’20.


The future

Over the last two years, academics and Learning technologists have learned a lot about online teaching & learning and learning design. A lot of the lessons we have learned during the project have been heavily used during the pivot to online for all RAU programmes when the Covid lockdown started.

Academics who have taken part in the Catalyst project are already using what they’ve learned and the design processes for the modules they run on other programmes. We plan on further expanding the use of the processes to all new and old RAU programmes.

Dēng gāo bì zì: Delivering online teaching in China

In the fourth blog post in our series on the delivery of online teaching to Shandong Agriculture University (SDAU), Bonnie and Lola from Sinocampus are taking the baton and sharing their perceptions and reflections about our online teaching delivery experience.

Bonnie Wang and Lola Huo from Sinocampus

Bonnie Wang (left) and Lola Huo (right) from Sinocampus

Due to the influence of the epidemic, not only our lecturers, but also the students cannot return to campus. All the students in SDAU have had to study and take the online classes at home. After discussion, the format of 3 pre-recorded lectures and 1 interactive session per day for each module was set.

Pre-recorded Lectures

For the pre-recorded lectures, Marieke and Pip opened the permissions on the Panopto videos and shared the lectures’ links to us so that we could download the videos. As we have mentioned in the previous post, attendance accounts for 30% of the marks. In order to urge students acquire the knowledge better, make students study as if they were in the classroom settings, and record their attendance, we decided to play the pre-recorded lectures for students in the form of normal classes with 45 mins of each. At first, we would like to use Zoom to play the lectures. However, it was found out that Zoom has suspended all new user registration in China. After searching and discussion, we finally found VooV meeting to deliver the lectures instead of Zoom. VooV meeting is free to the public during the COVID-19 outbreak to help people stay connected while working remotely. It supports up to 300 participants and offers secure, reliable, convenient and cloud-based HD conferencing services so we can host video meetings freely. But it cannot directly play web videos because the sound will be distorted. Luckily, after further study of this software, we found later that the videos downloaded to the computers could be played well with no worry of affected sound. Furthermore, unlike Zoom, VooV meeting cannot provide attendance monitoring reports to us. Thus we had to check the participants one by one by ourselves and keep an eye on them when they were listening to the lectures. At the end of the day, we would organize all the video links for different lectures and send them to the students for review. Besides this, we also reminded them not to spread the Panopto videos outside.

A picture of pre-recored lectures delivered by VooV Meeting

A picture of pre-recored lectures delivered by VooV Meeting

Interactive Sessions

The interactive sessions were conducted via Zoom using the RAU account. All the students loved this part very much since they could communicate with the lecturers directly and discuss questions they didn’t understand with teachers. One problem we encountered was that some meetings were conflicted at the beginning because there were two or three interactive sessions for different courses at the same time normally. But as we mentioned, the same host cannot host two or more meetings simultaneously with the same account. Thanks to Pip, this problem has been solved perfectly. We also took part in the interactive sessions with the lecturers and students and followed through. Once any problem happened, we contacted the corresponding people immediately.

A picture of interactive sessions on Zoom

A picture of interactive sessions on Zoom

After three whole weeks of teaching and learning, we asked for teaching observations from our students on their lecturers. It is apparent that the students generally think highly of teachers and the online teaching.

Student Joy said excitedly that every academic year’s foreign teacher curriculum is his most anticipated part, and this year is no exception. He didn’t expect to receive such high-quality teaching from foreign teachers even under the influence of the epidemic. When we asked his reflections about the online teaching, he added that:

Everyone’s enthusiasm for learning has not been reduced even if we are online. We could see the fast rolling barrage in each session. The interactive session not only stimulates my interest and determination to participate in the discussion, but also makes me feel the sense of responsibility and deep concern of foreign teachers across the ocean.

Student Mike also said,

The two ways of online teaching — pre-recorded lectures and interactive sessions — complement each other, providing students with a good learning atmosphere, improving our learning enthusiasm and promoting our autonomous learning ability.

Almost all the students who were interviewed stated that they are really looking forward to the next meeting of foreign teachers! We think the high evaluations of students should be contributed to the efforts all the staff working on this project have taken. However, we knew that we still need to keep working in the future. Thus we will make best use of the advantages and bypass the disadvantages to better improve the teaching quality, promote the projects and strengthen the cooperation.

The stone tablet of Dēng gāo bì zì at the foot of Mount Tai

The stone tablet of Dēng gāo bì zì at the foot of Mount Tai

Dēng gāo bì zì (登高必自) is a stone tablet at the foot of Mount Tai and also the motto of SDAU, representing that climbing must start from a low place. We believe this is just our first step and we would climb higher and do better in the future.

Qiānlǐ zhī xíng, shǐyú zú xià. Laozi: Delivering online teaching in China

In the next in our series of blog posts on delivery of online teaching to Shandong Agriculture University (SDAU) Pip takes over and shares highs and lows from the first week of interactive teaching.

And remember each 10,000 mile journey begins with just 1 step (千里之行,始於足下 Qiānlǐ zhī xíng, shǐyú zú xià. Laozi.


I started working at RAU in May 2020 and immediately started on the online teaching project at SDAU in June 2020. Early in June it was acknowledged that students would not be able to return to campus and so all pre-recorded content was passed over to the SDAU team, they would take responsibility for delivering it to students. When teaching officially began on 15th June our biggest concern was the interactive sessions.

Interactive sessions using Zoom

We had changed from using WeChat to using Zoom a short time before teaching was planned to go ahead. It was time to ‘deep dive’ into exploring how to use Zoom as a platform on which interactive sessions would take place. Zoom had become used widely as a platform for remote and online learning and working throughout the pandemic. I had heard a great deal about new phrases such as ’Zoom bombing’ (O’Flaherty, 2020). Additionally, there was a great deal of discussion of ‘Zoom fatigue’ (Fosslien & Duffy, 2020). Whilst I had some experience of using Zoom before for example as a platform for delivering presentations using the chat and sharing screen features but I was not a Zoom expert and did not have experience being a ‘host’ so I felt that I needed to rapidly upskill if I was to support our lecturing staff using Zoom.

To support use of Zoom I offered ‘Zoom Drop In’ sessions to our lecturers who wanted to try out some the features before teaching went live. I was committed to exploring what ‘Zoom Literacy’ would be. When you have to teach someone else something, it is a good way of making sure you know how to use to first. I created approximately one hundred meetings so experienced my own version of ‘Pre-Zoom fatigue’. What we discovered during the first week was that it was not possible for the same host with the same account to host simultaneous meetings which prevented some of the interactive sessions from taking place on time or altogether. The error message ’The host has another meeting in progress’ became very familiar. This meant that we rapidly developed a workaround to solve the problems. For example, Chantal and Husna, the other RAU Learning Technologists created meetings. When it became clear that there were just too many parallel sessions required our IT Service Desk created some additional accounts for me to use. As a result, the timetabling process became very complex. Some of the interactive capabilities were restricted as the lecturers were not ‘hosts’. As a result, one of the Lecturers, Deepak Pathak and I decided to test out polling and break rooms in an exploratory longer case study interactive session. The two hour session involved exploring Starbucks. Deepak shared screens to reinforce the correct answers for example showing a Google Map of the location of RAU.

It was positive when the lecturing staff emailed me after their session to reflect on how it went. This helped identify ways to improve what we do for subsequent iterations of online teaching. I dropped into the majority of interactive sessions to see how teachers were using Zoom to engage students for example one of our lecturers, Nicola Cannon used a quiz format effectively.

Later on in the week I set up an online community of practice on Gateway, RAU’s Moodle VLE as part of a forum to share best practice.

“We all belong to communities of practice” (Wenger, 1998, p6)

An additional idea I had was to create a ‘sandbox’ approach on Zoom where all the Lecturers could share ideas of how to create interactive sessions without worrying about making a mistake during a live session.

I shared a Zoom webinar led by Eden Project Communities which was a ‘testpad’ for Zoom practices with Lecturers. I attended and it was great to see one of RAU’s Lecturers participate too. The session involved taking part in a breakout room as a student which was helpful to understand what the Zoom experience is like from the perspective of the student. One of the most helpful activities was a collaborative whiteboard led by host Samantha Evans where we explored games, collaborative activities, Zoom and other tools.

At this point in time we are currently starting the third and final week of teaching. My reflections are concerned with moving towards an evaluation of the project, I’ve recently created a problem-solution spreadsheet where I identified areas of development and potential strategies to overcome the problems.


Throughout the three weeks of teaching, it was intended that assessments would take place every Friday. Accordingly, I tried to develop a workflow for assessment which involved the Lecturers creating the tests with the answers and articulating what invigilation might look like with Bonnie Wang and Lola Huo from SDAU. Early on in the process we found out that 30% of the marks were for attendance. We explored how Zoom can provide attendance monitoring reports and discovered that this was possible. Another challenge we experienced was that during week two of teaching, the Department of Education of Shandong informed SDAU that examinations need to be postponed. As a result, we responded by identifying alternative dates and ways of carrying out assessment.

The SDAU project journey began with one step. We learned a great deal in a short space of time and developed ways to overcome challnges rapidly. I’m looking forward to the next steps. In future, we would like to work with JISC to explore how their transnational expertise can help us improve what we do. We attended a webinar led by UCISA on the topic of Improving online access in China and had a positive meeting with Dr. Esther Wilkinson, Baoyu Wang and Anne Prior from JISC about how we can work together in a constructive capacity. JISC have recently launched a pilot to explore what quality online education looks like for Chinese students (JISC, 2020).

A huge thank you to Marieke Guy, Xianmin Chang, Steve Finch, Bonnie Wang and Lola Huo for their hard work and support to make the project happen.

In the next post we’ll look the final week of teaching delivery and lessons learnt.

By Falling We Learn to Go Safely, Chī yī qiàn, zhǎng yī zhì,吃一堑,长一智


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 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!

Shiny new tools

We are introducing a couple of new digital tools for the start of the new academic year. Note that all tools still need to be set up, tested and piloted.

Sim Venture Evolution

We already use Sim Venture Classic on some of our business modules but will now be adding in Evolution for our blended and distance learning students. Evolution is a business strategy simulation that is highly aligned with pedagogic approaches and subject-based learning. We have already written about our recent Evolution training day.



ZoomZoom is a video conferencing and webinar tool.

We will be using it primarily on our Catalyst programmes but also hope to run some other webinars relevant to prospective students or industry partners.

We will be integrating Zoom with Gateway (our VLE) and Panopto to support sign on and storage.


Browsealoud is an additional tool from texthelp who make Read&Write. We are considering adding it to the portfolio – no definite decision yet.

It is a plug in that we will be adding to Gateway to help users with accessibility and productivity. It allows users have web pages read to them and converted to MP3 files.


So what new tools is your Learning Tech team introducing? Do share!