Mahara is an open source e-portfolio tool, which I am about to start evaluating. I haven’t really had a lot of time to look at it yet, but here’s their demonstration video.


I’d be interested to hear any feedback. If you want to play with Mahara, it’s been installed on the Learning Lab server The address is (but you’ll need an account so drop a line to either myself or Joss Winn in CERD, and we’ll set you up.)

Reality Check: Do you know how good your Blackboard modules are

Kate Boardman, University of Teeside


Looked at what Teeside’s staff were actually doing with Blackboard in the light of minimum standards that they had set up, their e-learning framework and they found that the results were in fact “quite scary”.


She started by asking the rhetorical question “If you were asked by one of your Pro Vice Chancellors about the state of e-learning across the campus, what would you say?”  You might, um and ah and say, well we’ve got so many modules on Blackboard – for example, at Teeside  80% of modules have a Blackboard site. But of course, “having a Blackboard site” doesn’t necessarily mean that e-learning is taking place. If this hypothetical PVC was to then ask you to be more candid about the exact nature of the e-learning that was taking place, how would you describe that?  Kate mentioned a survey that had been done that said 98% of students said the most useful thing that could happen with Blackboard would be if their other lectures used it. That suggests to me that the students do actually use Blackboard, but that not many of the modules are actually used.



Teeside have set up minimum criteria for their Blackboard sites. They must have


  • A clear navigation menu
  • Staff details
  • A module guide
  • An overview of how the module will be delivered
  • Content organised in folder
  • No empty areas
  • Delivery schedule
  • Assessment information
  • Submission instructions
  • Assessment feedback
  • Copies of all teaching materials
  • Regular announcements
  • Link to current reading lists


Setting minimum standards is to invite the obvious question of whether modules actually meet them. It was time for a reality check. The evaluation team employed a Peer observation and review methodology, which basically employed 20-25 students in each school to review the modules with a brief to look at e-quality (which I imagine means whether the sites meet the minimum standards) across schools, levels, subject groups, and staff. Kate also suggested that presentation is important creating and interesting online module presence and reported a finding that students frequently comment adversely on sites that are difficult to navigate, This makes some sense because presentation is part of the communication process with students. She reported that only 26% of Teeside’s sites had changed from the default appearance provided by the University. It would be quite interesting to conduct a similar survey here, although I’m not convinced that this is quite as important as Kate seemed to think. If the default appearance provides adequate navigation, then there seems to be little value in changing it for the sake of aesthetics. Another aspect  of communication is the obvious one of how many announcements have been made in the site? Over 60% of Teeside’s module had none.


More significant , I thought, was the issue of construction – in  a higher level module it is not unreasonable to expect students to demonstrate a higher level of knowledge and understanding of the subject matter by constructing relevant information. Blackboard provides tools such as blogs, but the trick is to ask what students are doing, not whether or not the Blackboard site has a wiki.  Although, again according to Kate, 89% of the sites at Teeside did not provide any opportunity for students to produce or publish the results of their own work.  


I suspect that a similar review conducted at Lincoln, or pretty much any university  would probably produce similar results. On the plus side, any intervention makes people think about their teaching. Kate echoed Andy Ramsden’s keynote with her suggestions about how Teeside proposed to tackle the situation. She basically advocated a return to sound principles, including the encouragement of contact between students and teaching staff, the development of on-line activities, the production of self test assessments, which importantly provide the students with feedback, and the provision of media rich content. That of course raises the question of how you do this. The old idea of providing staff development workshops, she thought, (and I agree) doesn’t work, because they are not immediately relevant to most people’s needs. (Which actually raises the question of why we still think the lecture meets students’ needs, but I digress). Instead we should be focussing on small steps taken by individuals. When people do raise an issue we should be working with them, on a one-to-one, and just-in-time  basis if necessary. We should then write up the case study and publicise it as widely as possible. The more case studies we have, the stronger our understanding of what e-learning is going on in the University.


Has E-learning lived up to its early promise?

After the rather bitty liveblogs from the Blackboard conference, I’ve started to write up the other presentations where I took notes with a pen. (Now there’s a reliable, resilient and portable technology!) Hopefully, they’re a bit more reflective and readable. Rather than try and write up the whole conference in one post, I’m going to release an account of each presentation as a single post. This one’s probably the longest!

See the slides at

The first keynote presentation which was from Andy Ramsden, head of e-learning at the University of Bath, who set about exploring whether e-learning has lived up to its early promise. In one respect he showed that it has, by using an electronic voting system throughout the presentation which would have been very unusual a few years ago, and did lead to quite a lot of interactivity in the session. He started by reminding us that those of us involved in e-learning were actually small cogs in big institutional machines, but that didn’t stop us from doing quite a lot to bring about change. In the first electronic poll he showed that at least 25% of the audience had been involved with virtual learning environments for more than 8 years, (including, it has to be said, your correspondent!) which led to the unspoken conclusion that if e-learning hadn’t lived up to its promise, we’d no-one to blame but ourselves!

He then presented the results of a survey at Bath, which found that 51.7% of academics didn’t post their lecture material before the lecture, and that 21.9% didn’t do it afterwards. In fact 10% of academics at Bath don’t engage with learning technology in any shape or form! Even those that do, tend to use things like PowerPoint, or even OHP transparencies. That said, there was some encouraging use of newer technologies like Twitter and videoconferencing. So, it appears, on the face of it at least, that the newer technologies have not changed teaching very much. But as Andy indicated, that kind of conclusion didn’t sit very easily with the array of technological gadgetry sitting on the desk in front of him, and he also noted that most people do in fact share things like web resources quite a lot. But there was another question about how they did this sharing, and we had another poll this time using a service called Edutext (I’ve got us a free trial by the way I’ll post here when the details come through) This time we all texted in the ways we shared information with colleagues. Predictably e-mail was by far the most common communication method in HE. (By a very large distance indeed.) So, there are at least two technologies, e-mail and the web that have very much lived up to their early promise.

What might explain this phenomenon. We were introduced to something called the 4-Es model developed by Collis & Moonen, (Which I shall be stealing, ahem, referencing for my ED thesis). This states that an individual’s likelihood of making use of a technological innovation for a learning related purpose is determined by four factors

• Educational effectiveness
• Environmental (that is, institutional) factors,
• Ease of use
• Engagement.

Without going into more detail this explains why people are perfectly happy to post word documents purporting to be the “course handbook” but less happy to spend time designing and posting on-line quizzes, learning how to use text messaging to promote interactivity in a lecture, developing multimedia etc. etc. Essentially if you want to get a technology adopted (the “success threshold”) you have to balance all these four factors. Take the example of the course handbook. The institution encourages the posting of these things. ||It’s easy to attach a document to a file (well, it is for most people). It’s information students need, so it’s educationally effective. (Actually, I think that’s questionable, but I take the point that it meets a need that students believe that they have.). I’m not all that convinced that it’s all that engaging, but course handbooks are something that people are familiar with. You can see that quizzes don’t really tick the same boxes, and you might say the same about some of the other technological floribunda, that grow in the e-learning garden, such as Second Life, blogs, wikis, and so forth. (They’re often engaging, but not easy if you’re new to them, nor are they institutionally encouraged, (well, OK, they’re not discouraged, but setting up a wiki isn’t an obvious route to academic advancement) and their educational effectiveness is, to date at least, unproven.

One of the things that we can do is to try and lower the environmental factors. If we can do this, we should be able to push the success threshold down.

The second strand is concerned with ease of use and engagement. Most obviously the network must be sufficiently robust to allow users to do what they want to do. Engagement does of course cover things like the relative attractiveness, ease of navigation, and other attributes, but it can also be encouraged by modifying the environmental factors. If, for example, posting high quality interactive materials was seen as a route to career progression then it is quite likely that more people would be inclined to do it. (That, of course, is precisely the argument we’re making for the deposit of material in the institutional repository.) The fact is though that Universities are in general rather more geared up to running relatively simple teaching and learning activities than they are to operating riskier programmes that have higher level learning objectives.

So, how might we change the situation.

Well, at this point, Andy went into a discussion of QR codes. Careful readers of this blog (and if you aren’t, may I ask why not?) may remember these being discussed in a previous posting about mobile technologies. A QR code is a variant on the bar code that can be scanned with a camera phone. Once it has been scanned it can link to a web site, send an SMS message to a phone, transfer a phone number, or simply provide more text. They are appearing in posters and advertisements in our larger cities, (although I haven’t noticed one in Lincoln yet). There are all sorts of potential educational and administrative uses, including campus tours, Library catalogue information, (although I wasn’t clear how this would work), they can be appended to printouts and the user can scan them for further guidance, and more exotically they can be used in Augmented Reality Gaming (Again, I hope you’ve been paying attention, – I wrote about this back in June – it’s a project at Manchester Metropolitan University where they send the students off around the city to find these QR codes. Not that I’m exactly sure about the wisdom sending students into some parts of Manchester flashing expensive technology around, but I guess it’s their city and their project!)

There is no suggestion that QR codes are the solution to lowering institutional barriers. Andy was using them as an example of the way of thinking we need to adopt if we are going to keep on developing technology. We need to ditch large scale workshops, and focus more on specific projects, which we might lead, but ensure all the team delivers on. We should prioritise profiling at meetings, (i.e. who does what, what are people’s capabilities) and produce short frequent publications reporting on our projects, and we should do it in all media. The point is there’s a long term commitment to be made, and it involves a change in the way we think about educational development.

Degrees in Second Life

Well, I guess it had to happen. A college in Texas is offering what it believes to be the first degree offered via Second Life. I haven’t had a good look around  (the web site mentioned in the blog entry I linked to above is down) yet but I can think of all sorts of reasons why this might be problematic. Before I go into that, I do want to make it clear that I do think that Virtual Worlds like SL do have a lot of potential for educators (Yes, I do have an avatar in Second Life – Feather Congrejo, although I’m a fairly rare visitor these days)

So what are my reservations. Firstly, Second Life gives me a headache if I use it for any length of time. (Must be my aging eyes, but a colleague who attended a 6 hour conference in SL reported the same phenomenon!) Secondly, it needs quite powerful graphics cards, a requirement which seems to increase with every upgrade they produce, and I think that is a big accessibility issue. Thirdly, SL is a public site, and has, inevitably, some less than salubrious areas. (Quite a lot actually!)  OK, I suspect this is actually quite a small proportion of SL’s total facilities, and students in HE are adults and we can’t hold their hands all the time, but I can’t see any HEI relishing the prospects of misinformed local media announcing that it is directing students into what might be described as “adult” web services. I suppose you could get round that by using something like Open Sim for a stand alone environment but you’d lose a lot of connectivity in doing so.

It also requires quite a lot of skill in building a properly immersive environment. It can be done, but it takes time and skill, and teaching in SL seems to require that quite a lot of time is devoted to orientation. (I suppose that’s a one off cost with each cohort of students though) The other issue is about how to devote sufficient time to each student, while continuing with Real World work.  I’ve always thought that one great advantage of technology enhanced learning is that it does allow the “quieter” students a chance to get involved. But there’s no getting away from the fact that it does take more time to deal with 30 problems or questions than it does to deal with the 5 or so assertive students in any class.

PDP and academic literacy

Looks like PDP is back on the agenda. Not that it ever really went away of course, but it did rather get overwhelmed by Blackboard. (For the uninitiated PDP stands for Personal Development Planning and is about getting students to take a more rigorous and reflective approach to their learning. If I’m honest, I don’t think we’ve yet had much success with rolling out PDP across the university, though it’s not for a lack of effort or investment.  I’ve certainly done numerous training courses, and we’ve invested in Pebble Pad, which I think is probably the best tool on the market for supporting PDP. Here’s a useful little PowerPoint video explaining PDP (annoyingly though it cuts off a few seconds before the narrator ends. And between you and me I think it could have done with a professional voice actor too. )

The thing is PebblePad is quite an expensive product and we do need to justify continuing spending money on it.  I don’t think the problem is with the technology though. (We can also use the Blackboard Portfolios for PDP although they’re not as good) I think it lies with the fact that there is very little interest in study skills. I’ve been starting to argue for a reconceptualisation of study skills as “academic literacy” I’ve taught on skills programmes in the past, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the high level of skills that most students actually do have. Of course there are some students who do need a lot of help with what might be termed basic skills, but not that many.  Where many students are weak is in what might be termed disciplinary and some generic HE skills (Historical writing, writing up experiments, referencing, assessing the quality of information, reflection.)  I like the concept of academic literacy because it doesn’t start by telling the students they’re generically weak, rather it emphasises what you need to do to become a good physicist, lawyer or whatever.

My problem though, which I’m going to have to think hard about is how to present Pebble Pad in this light. I think it could be done through the use of the proformas – through working with colleagues in the disciplines we can get students to self assess in relevant areas, build action plans and thus get them into the habit of using Pebble Pad for some aspects of their future work, especially around CVs and Webfolios. (Shame about PP’s blogging tool though – it’s not a patch on WordPress!)
Never mind. I think I feel a project coming on!

Adobe Connect and Course Genie

I’ve been doing some research into the way Educational Development Units (or Academic Development Units, for the benefit of the search engines!) interact with their university. The actual research is discussed in a separate blog listed in the blogroll, but a couple of technology applications have cropped up in discussions with participants that might be worth a look. They are Adobe Connect and Course Genie.

I’m struggling to find a way of summarising Adobe Connect in a simple sentence. It’s a sort of desktop videoconferencing system, mashed up with a virtual whiteboard and meeting system. But it seems to be a bit more than the sum of its parts. The trouble is when I say “videoconferencing” people say “oh we’ve got that…” Well, we are about to sign up to the Access Grid, that’s true. But that’s limited to one room. This appears to be desktop based so you can have meetings from your own computer. I haven’t had time to look much beyond the demos on the web site. But if you’re interested have a look at  

The other product was Course Genie, and I have to say this made me smile. Essentially it’s a way of producing web documents from Word using Word styles. Old Teknical Virtual Campus lags like me, will of course remember the Teknical Converter, which performed much the same function. (Although, in my view output much nicer pages than Course Genie did) The first problem was that very few colleagues understood the concept of styles in Word so it never really took off. And secondly, when those who did use it produced some (I thought) useful material, students all complained that they had to print out multiple pages, so we had to provide links back to the original word document. Ho hum. Looking at the Course Genie demonstration, they don’t seem to have addressed this at all. Course Genie is now part of the Wimba suite and has been renamed Wimba Create, (Wimba is something else I’ll have a look at when I have time) – But you can see the demo here

Teaching as stand-up comedy?

I saw this in the Guardian last Monday, and I think there are a few lessons in it that we might take on board.

Now, I have some reservations about turning everyone into stand up comedians, but I did like that last line about “I will never resort to PowerPoint in a lecture again”. It is important to interact with the audience, and I think we do often hide behind our visual aids. Anyway I’m always open to learning from strange new sources. But I’ll stop blethering on, and let you read and judge for yourselves.

JISC Innovation forum – Some conclusions (part 5)

Now, Sarah Porter is offering some conclusions about the event

The keywords, she thought were

  • Energy
  • Engagement
  • Breadth and Depth Activity
  • Huge Potential for links, sharing findings, knowledge, approaches
  • Conversations

And I think I’m inclined to agree with those.

Points that were raised

How can JISC help

  • institutions embed e-learning
  • Ensure the place of technology in the overall practice/development – scaleability of practice
  • Staff in their changing roles,
  • people to be effective
  • How to make repositories more compelling
  • Balance between deliver an IT service that works and innovation
  • understand the institutional barriers to change and innovations
  • Set standards in terms of mobile, web 2.0
  • provide better access an opportunities
  • institutions achieve sustainability


More on Supporting and understanding user needs

  • Impact of changing demographics
  • digital literacy
  • inclusivity
  • Academics as providers


Some useful stuff about how JISC can help projectts

  • Expert Registry
  • Jisc’s Funding models – are there more imaginative ones
  • Sharing good practice in a competitive environemt
  • Need to engage more institutions
  • Embedding projects – what happens when they finisn
  • Recruiting project staff for JISC funded projects – Pool of CVs>
  • Technical project resumes to help collaboration
  • Address time gap between implementation of technology and what happens when its used

Finally infrastructure issues

  • Joining up with national data sharing initiatives
  • data curation
  • Need to understand and develop shared service modeks
  • Open source and open standards
  • How do we develop a sense of technical authority. What other models exist?
  • How can we make the e-framework more accessible

Finally supporting communities and collaboration issues

  • Break down barriers between e-research
  • What can JISC do to help engage senior managers
  • Sustainability and business models

(Phew!) This was a bit of a gallop through what had come out of the conference. In the short term the web site will be kept open, and people will be able to contribute to the blog. Longer term, there will be some other form of communication structure, but it was suggested that the web sites blogs and wikis (blikis?) might be a good place for this.

And the battery really is fading fast now, so I’m about to sign off.  I plan to add a more reflective post, possibly even with pictures later in the week.


HEFCE E-Learning Benchmarking

E-learning Benchmarking evaluation day

Programme contexts and outcomes

The day started with a brief outline of the programme from Derek Morrison & Terry Mayes, who have been very active in managing the programme. Derek started by giving us a bit of history. The benchmarking programme started in 2005 amid some concern, and even anger about about centralised initiatives. HEFCE attempted to listen to this and the programme was one result and the feeling was that the programme had made something of a difference since 2005. The irony in the fact that the UKEU collapse had facilitated the pathfinder processes did not go unnoticed
77 institutions participated
37 pathfinder projects
27 in phase 2

The aim had been to make available opportunities for participation across the wider sector, and that was still going on. We want to move away from the idea that HEFCE does things for us – we are the people who do it. The sector offers itself advice and support. A key part of the programme had been the idea of critical friends, for example offering consultancy on the bemchmarking process, or in the projects They had been a little nervous about the idea of critical friends but in fact this had gone down extremely well in general. There had been rigorous institutional reflection and analysis of e-learning provision and practice across the sector and the emphasis on ownership by the institutions rather than prescription by the centre had guaranteed confidentiality and trust . A drawback though is that this makes it rather difficult to extract sector level messages that national bodies such as HEFCE and QAA can take on


Reports will be published on the Pathfinder web site. Terry didn’t tell us where this was, and an admittedly superficial Google search didn’t find it either. (Nor could I find it by searching the HEFCE site!) He did say that reading them you could not help but be struck by how different they seem from ordinary project reports. They seemed to be genuinely about capacity building abd often built on weaknesses as strengths. Derek had noted that they had found the model of using critical friends for projects a bit worrying, but they had been able to bring a lot of critical support to the projects – and this is one of the most important outcomes

Finally a model of collaboration between institutions (like CAMEL – ) was another output and this too emerges from the reports.
Institutional Perspectives

Next up we had brief presentations from six of the institutions who did get pathfinder funding on the theme of how benchmarking helped in the preparation for subsequent institutional developments?
University of Chester – Jethro Newton

The approach at Chester was that they took quite a strategic approach. In 2005 at the start of the programme there was a low level of embededness. Some engagement with technology but not much on pedagogy. Jethro pointed out, quite rightly I think that context is important – you never start from a blank sheet. And you’ve got to remember that content and pedagogy more important than technology. Interestingly one of their outcomes was that they developed a learning technology unit, along with a group of E-learning coordinators. I wasn’t quite clear whether these were based in faculties or in the unit itself, and unfortunately there was very little time for questions at the end. Their actual project was around podcasting and rather than talk about it, here’s the web link.

They felt that their outcomes were that they had achieve clearer targets in faculty business planning, and they were managing to offer better staff development through the Learning Technology Unit.

University of Glamorgan – Virendra Mistry

This project seemed to be at quite a strategic level too. They started with a statement from their vice chancellor that the university aimed for highest standard of e-learning, tutor facilitation and cutting edge learning facilities.

Their outcomes were based around engendering design, Measurement, data collection, collegial spirit, mapping, changing practice, informing policy and they now have a statement about what students can expect in terms of e-learning. They now have much more of a focus on learning and teaching, and are conducting an institutional review. Interestingly they were the only university who is talking about developing the scholarship of Benchmarking. For example they planned to take some of the data collection into journals

Barbara Newland
Bournemouth University

Bournemouth had produced an institutional Review document, which had helped them focus on where they were at that point in time, and this had helped them to produce actions , provided an opportunity to Benchmark with other institutions, developed and understanding of how they were using Blackboard and helped them understand senior management perspectives. They had found the timescale a bit of a challenge as well as the need to develop a single response.

The programme helped develop staff support and e-resources. They’d developed something called E-res. It was about E-learning with quality e-resources – using web 2.0

They felt that it would be useful to revisit pathfinder although a little bit of extra funding would be nice. One of their aims was to recognise the experience of implementing, supporting and researching e-learning within their central services

Maria Lee – Queens University Belfast

Pretty much what Barbara said. Their pathfinder had been mainly used to support campus based learning. Participation was timely for them, coinciding with development of new education strategy and assessment policy. It had confirmed the approach of embedding e-learning and provided an emerging vision of how e-learning will support their goals. Having said that blurring boundaries between campus based e-learning and distance learning are changing the concept of blended learning and they are planning to develop an e-learning policy in 2008-9

Sue Timmis
University of Bristol

This was a very interesting presentation in that Bristol was a university that had Very strong disciplnary cultures. They had had a central e-learning unit since early 1990s, a strong tradition of innovation ,and were an early adopter of Blackboard (Since 2000). But, they didn’t have an educational development unit. E-learning requires differentiated strategies based on cultural contexts and knowledge fields. They wanted to find a way of giving faculties more say in how e-learning is embedded and already had a framework called ELTI – Embedding learning technologies institutionally. They adapted this framework to look specifically about what was happening in each of their departments which provided a real drive towards faculty based support for e-learning, although it was probably true to say that faculties were not thinking about e-learning or teaching and learning in any strategic way. So their project was to support faculties in embedding e-learning. They had created a distributed model by providing satellite areas of expertise in all the faculties. Their pathfinder project had been based around a set of faculty focussed strategic projects? One, for example was using Tablet PCs and evaluating their use, another around maths support in the science faculty. Students were coming in with poor level of maths – so e-learning materials being developed to deal with this. The Faculty of Arts had been looking at use of Turnitin/Blackboard plug in at a strategic level. They had also just formed an Education Support Unit – includes e-learning. (This is something that may be worth following up for my own research)

Brian Sayer,
University of London External

They took a structured approach to reviewing teaching and learning in a research led institute. Already quite deeply immersed in mainstream e-learning. Rather than take an institutional perspective they went straight in at programme level. Interestingly they said they wanted to take an Open Source approach. They provided the opportunity for programmes to take a wholly owned perspective of their teaching and learning activity. Institutionally the exercise provided a useful reminder of their strengths in this area, and areas for improvement, helped them to clarify institutional responsibility for policy and processes, and to actively collaborate in dissemination of best practice, and to improve awareness and understanding of their e-learning strategy, planning and infrastructure. They were also considering minimum standards for eLearning.
HEFCE Perspectives

Next up we had a talk from Dr. John Selby from HEFCE. I couldn’t help noticing the onteresting equation of “Educational developer” with “people who do the technical development” at the beginning of the talk. Anyway he felt that the challenge is to get those people who were reaching out to academic staff (i.e. educational developers) realise that they had new ways to do it. But also there is a need for the developers to ask what their target audience needed and why.

He also had some reservations about the programme’s title. They were not pathfinders but trailblazers. However, they had had an important impact on HEFCE ‘s thinking. But that thinking is also influenced by the external context, with issues like differential fees, questions about value for money and different modes of delivery being important. It’s important to assess how the work that is going on in e-learning connects to the wider environment, and how what we are doing is perceived outside higher education. There is a risk that eLearning seen by outsiders as a way of cutting costs (and reducing contact hours)

He reminded us that we are a very diverse sector and suggested that benchmarking was one way of addressing this. There remains a need for a comprehensive view of the e-learning landscape in the sector with markers that enable institutions to position themselves and plan their development in particular directions. He qualified this by pointing out that HEFCE needs to be careful what it says and bear in mind how it will be heard. And the sector should not read too much into what they say. (In some circumstances anyway)

He then made an interesting observation about students use of technology. For all we talk about the Google Generation, there is actually quite a limited use of anything beyond the basic technology Virtually all students use Word processing and the Internet, but for other important technologies, the figures were something like Presentation development 65%, Spreadsheets 63%, Graphics 49%, Creating web pages 25%. Which raises the questions of whether investment yields interest and if it does what kind of return does it produce. The most fundamental point to come out of all the case studies is that the appropriate use of technology is leading to improved satisfaction, retention and achievement. It facilitate increases in the size of the operation without corresponding increases in the estate. He also pointed out that in fact we are e-mature in the sense that it is no longer possible to work as we do without technology. In a while we’ll be able to stop talking about e-learning (Arguably we’re already there) Technologies are embedded in social structures and systems and the technology needs to take account of them.

How do we connect the work we do into the senior management of institutions? Many quite senior people who don’t know what we do, and think of us as a cost rather than a benefit.
The afternoon consisted of breakout sessions and a panel discussion. The first one I attended was entitled “Learner experience and the student voice.”

First there was a presentation from the University of Bradford, who started from the premise that there are high levels of technology ownership and concomitant social expectations of technology. This raises all sorts of issues about for example staff training, rules and regulations, security, communication, establishing contacts, networking and student perceptions of e-assessment

Their project was about developing the extended student, and based around social networking, skills development activities. links with academic programmes and providing integrated support, around a social site called “Ning”. – you can see the site at and there is background information Outcomes of this is that they have created a social network, improved their PDP processes, embedded student voice into their institutional Strategy. They’ve also provided a sort of digital storytelling area, building on current you tube content – Bradford students will be telling their story – what’s it like to be a student in the C21

Next we heard about Pathfinder at Wolverhampton

This was about embedding the concept of the e-portfolio at level 1. They were using PebblePad, to do this, but their challenge was how to move past “champions” and getting staff to support e-learning and specifically e-portfolios. They created teams of mentors, and used the e-portfolio through the system. But they did acknowledge that it was important to assess the question of whether PDP was culturally desirable, or feasible? They built in 3 retreats for staff involved and used them to explain the desirability and feasibility but they also felt it was very important to get in with the students and talk to them.

Staff and students see things as chunks of learning – modularity tends to work against students and staff seeing a holistic experience. So modularity can be a bit of a problem

1) Change takes time.
2) Listen to the learner voice
3) Listen to the staff too.

But be careful “I don’t like Pebble Pad” might actually mean that “The member of staff didn’t tell me what to do” Big measure of success was an “improved student experience” I asked how they knew how they’d improved the student experience and they said that they had conducted a variety of evaluations which had had very positive feedback, but that they also had quantitative data that suggested a considerable improvement in student grades.
Then we heard from Rhona Sharpe from Oxford Brookes whose project was also based around evaluation of the learner experience, looking particularly at patterns and preferences in online media use and at experiences of social software as part of the curriculum. They found that local data was much more powerful in communicating with colleagues (Interesting that most on-campus students study at home with their own laptops and that there was a relatively low use of VLEs at Oxford Brookes.) Their findings had led them to shift their course design to a much more learner centred view. – From VLE to PLE (personal learning environment) – they had a nice graphic of a dashboard for the student – although I suppose if you think about it the concept isn’t all that different from Blackboard’s “My sites” “My PDP” and “My timetable” They’re also using Ning.

The second breakout session was about the in class use of mobile technologies to support formative assessment and feedback

Tim Linsey from Kingston University described how they had used a variety of mobile technologies in the classroom, supporting members of staff with mentors to discuss how to use it. The staff and mentors met up every few weeks to exchange experience and both parties found this useful. Among the technologies used were electronic voting systems, inbound text messages, (to a mobile phone). Tablet PCs & wireless data projectors (This was effectively taking the interactive whiteboard a bit further as the lecturer could move around and students could interact with the presentation. They also tried to use interactive pads (whatever they might be!) But they found them too finicky and no-one used them in anger.

Students reported that they were able to focus their learning on areas of weakness, and diminish misunderstandings, that it was easier to give responses, and it was possible to discuss a wider range of interactions. They also felt a greater sense of involvement from because they could see group feedback in real time.

Staff, found the process useful for identifying misconceptions and challenges, adapting their teaching practices, enhanced and assessment and feedback, and delivering enhanced teaching.

The project also provided information about the most appropriate conditions in which can each technology be used, the impact they have on learning and on teaching practices. Curiously only 1 person used the text messaging which surprised the project team as this was the simplest to set up

Some of the other findings were that the time to set up this kind of technology can be an issue
Very positive about the role of mentors. But students also responded very positively. 84% would like other lecturers to use it. 89.3% wanted their current lecturer to continue to use it and the general feedback from students was that they wanted even more of this kind interaction.
Then we heard from Phil Gravestock – University of Worcestershire whose project was about digital storytelling. They don’t hang about with this, getting their students to start three days after arrival! The benefits were that it was low tech, easy to learn, accessible. Students don’t have to work at learning technology to get started. There was a nice quote from one of the students “Story without digital works, but digital without story doesn’t”. The point is that technology not important, narrative is

We were then shown a couple of the stories – they were very simple audio-visual presentations in which the students told us something about themselves. The images were often crude and the text hard to read, but the narratives were quite powerful.

But the point here is that students need help with the story not the technology. They can do the technology anyway.

Finally we heard from Richard Hall of De Montfort University
Their project was about making institutional sense of web 2.0. But they too were clear that this was not about technology, but about empowerment. They had developed podcasts that move face to face sessions forward, and provided synchronous classrooms related to social networking tools, and were using wikis for variouys activities. Their philosophy seemed to be based on the premise that we’re using 21st century technology in a 19th century pedagogical context. I think they may have a point, even if there’s some hyperbole in that remark

He also raised an interesting question “Do we assess the affective side of education, do we even engage with it?” He used sound clips too in his presentation and s one of the students said (sounding quite surprised) “I was doing more, getting more involved in it, and actually started enjoying it”

Students seemed to enjoy the flexibility. They want academic staff to make savvy decisions For example if you do use web 2.0 what’s your strategy if it stops being available.




We’re currently working on a bid under the recent JISC circular inviting calls for proposals to improve curriculum design processes and the reading around for this is throwing up some interesting material. 

When you start thinking about a higher education curriculum, you realise that the design process has been hijacked into a highly normative and deontic process. You must do this, tick that quality box, get your design validated by some external worthy at a day long meeting in preparation for which several kilograms of paper has been distributed. It’s not that quality assurance is a bad thing. Manifestly, it isn’t. But, I do think we’ve lost sight of why we have curricula in the first place.

Reading around for the bid I was very taken by some blog posts talking about the notion of “edupunk”. This is essentially the idea that education should be designed primarily for learners, not for institutions, and most certainly not for vote seeking politicians. This post in particular was quite thought provoking, (and has given me a nice suggestion for my next book to read)  –

Let’s not get carried away though. Not everyone is impressed. –

But, I do think that there is a danger of focussing so much on technology in HE, whether there for curriculum design or anything else that we lose sight of what it’s for.  And by “technology”, I don’t just mean computers – I mean techniques, processes, and procedures.