ALT–C 2016: A Last Look Back

“CB_080916_ALT_433” by Association for Learning Technology. Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC
CB_080916_ALT_433” by Association for Learning Technology. Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC

The Association for Learning Technology held its 23rd annual conference at the University of Warwick from 6-8th September 2016.

Here are some further takeaway points from the conference in particular focusing on use of video in learning and teaching which was a key strand flowing through the conference.

Video in Learning and Teaching

Smith (2016), from the Open University, proposed using live video, in this case the tool Periscope, to teach practical tasks on his CISCO network course, as part of a flipped classroom approach. His advice, if you are planning to do something like this, is to find out when ‘live recordings’ are convenient to students, and to advertise this well in advance to ensure adequate viewing. In this case, early evening was the best time. Periscope was a great tool as it is easy to set up, provides good quality live video, as well as providing recorded videos afterward. Periscope is not the only tool available, ‘Facebook Live’ is another, but it does require a user to follow your Facebook page.

Begklis (2016), from Imperial College London, had a few key points for video production:

  1. Ask a few key questions before you go out and make the video (i.e. Do I need a video? Why are you making one? What kind of video? and What are the learning objectives?)
  2. Keep a pace of 140-180 words per minute. The video should be no longer than 4-6 minutes long.
  3. Present an opening hook to attract your audience. Break your concept into three.
  4. Use simple conversational speech.
  5. Consolidate learning through asking questions, or setting a task for students to complete.

Further details surrounding video design and production can be found in Koumi (2016), available at the following address:

Metcalfe (2016), from the University of Plymouth, had the following advice when delivering lectures to large groups of students via a webinar tool (up to 500 students):

  1. Don’t run it as a traditional lecture.
  2. Familiarise your students with the software you are going to be using.
  3. Record sessions for later recap.
  4. Make it interactive (i.e. ask more questions, be responsive to questions, add activities, use polls and include breakout activities).
  5. Lastly, for large sessions, have a colleague to assist. They can coordinate questions and respond to any technical difficulties a student may have.

Students tends to assume that they know how to make the best use of lecture capture. Metcalfe, therefore, presents some useful guidance on how students use lecture captures for learning.

Apart from video, there were a number of other themes including VLE design, learning analytics, use of e-portfolios.  Some of which were covered in a previous post by Lynne Burroughs. However, there were two sector-wide launches during the conference.

The Student Voice Highlighting Change

JISC, the UK’s not-for-profit organisation for digital services and solutions for the Higher, Further Education and skills sectors, launched the second pilot of their digital experience tracker at the ALT conference.  Led by Helen Beetham, Sarah Knight and Tabetha Newman (JISC, 2016), the tracker is a short survey, delivered through the Bristol Online Surveys platform, to allow evidence gathering from learners about their digital experience and make better provision regarding their digital environment. This tool also has an added advantage of giving institutions who partake an opportunity to benchmark their practice against others.  While this is an opportunity for institutions to look forward, there has already been some results from the pioneer pilots.  A synopsis of some initial findings has since been published.

Benchmarking of TEL across UK HE

Lastly, during the conference, UCISA launched their results of the 2016 Survey into Technology Enhanced Learning completed by 110 Heads of e-Learning across the UK HE sector.  The report states that enhancing the quality of learning and teaching remain the key driver for considering using TEL, while availability of TEL support staff is the leading factor encouraging development of TEL. Lack of time and Institutional culture continue to be the biggest barriers.

For a detailed report, please visit the USICA pages.


Begklis, F. (2016), Pedagogic video design: A framework for producing instructional videos. Session 1344, Association of Learning Technologies Conference, University of Warwick, 6th to 8th September 2016.

JISC. (2016), Student Digital Experience Tracker. Available at: (accessed 1st October 2016)

Koumi, J.  (2016), Guidelines for video design and production. Available at: (accessed 1st October 2016)

Metcalfe, D. (2016), Evaluating webinars as a tool for delivering lectures and seminars at a distance in a healthcare setting, Session 1347, Association of Learning Technologies Conference, University of Warwick, 6th to 8th September 2016.

Smith, A. (2016), Using Periscope to teach Wannabee Network Engineers. Session 1258, Association of Learning Technologies Conference, University of Warwick, 6th to 8th September 2016.

UCISA. (2016), UCISA TEL Report 2016. Available at: (accessed 1st October  2016)

ALT-C 2016: A Few Reflections

“CB_080916_ALT_433” by Association for Learning Technology. Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC
CB_080916_ALT_433” by Association for Learning Technology. Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC

On the 6th,7th and 8th September 2016 I was one of the learning technologists lucky enough to attend the Association of Learning Technology (ALT) Annual Conference at the University of Warwick. The conference theme was ‘Connect, Collaborate, Create’ with many parallel workshops on different topics. The keynote presentations were interesting and engaging and I was particularly struck by the keynote by Jane Secker (LSE) titled ‘Copyright and E-Learning: Understanding our privileges and freedoms’ (Video of this presentation available on YouTube). Jane argued that copyright is about ethics and respect for others ideas and is a fundamental part of information and digital literacy. She argued that creative commons licences were critical in preserving our ‘open commons’.

One of the topics of the workshops throughout the conference was learning analytics (LA). The JISC definition states “learning analytics refers to the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of data about the progress of learners and the contexts in which learning takes place”. Whereas the Higher Education Academy stipulates that “learning Analytics is the process of measuring and collecting data about learners and learning with the aim of improving teaching and learning practice through analysis of the data”.

One of the presentations I attended was titled ‘What can we learn from learning analytics? A case study based on an analysis of student use of video recordings’ presented by Moira Sarsfield and John Conway from Imperial College, London. They presented the results of their research into students use of video recordings of lectures across a range of subject areas. Their research found that students use of lecture recordings varied considerably with some students viewing parts of the lectures, whilst others viewed all the lectures. Interestingly, the time of the year students viewed the lectures also varied with some subjects using the videos for revision more than others. As a result of the research there are actionable insights to provide advice for students to view recordings early and maintain application through the course. However, student success was not directly correlated with viewing lecture recordings in this research. As we are launching a pilot of lecture capture next year it was interesting to consider the analysis that could be made of the student viewing to help improve teaching and learning.

Another presentation I attended was titled Embedding ePortfolio in the Curriculum and was presented by Emma Purnell from the University of Plymouth. She outlined their use of the PebblePad workbook at the University. We have had PebblePad for 3 years at CCCU, but it has been used primarily within the Health and Wellbeing and Education Faculties. These case studies included use in a Business module to provide evidence of students skills and use for collaboration and group work for employability. Plymouth University have begun a project to provide a workbook for all students for each graduate attribute that could be shared with their personal tutor. This institution-wide project illustrates how an e-portfolio can be used to support learning for all students.

Overall it was an interesting and thought provoking conference to attend. As is often the case at conferences, one of the most useful things was to be able to meet and network with colleagues from other institutions.

Durham Blackboard Users’ Conference 2016: A Few Reflections

"Durham Cathedral" by dun_deagh. Creative Commons licence CC BY-SA
Durham Cathedral” by dun_deagh. Creative Commons licence CC BY-SA

Each year Durham University hosts a Blackboard Users’ conference, organised by the user community, for the user community. This year was the 16th annual conference that took place on 7th & 8th January 2016. This year’s theme was “Learning from Failure” which focused on areas such as:

  • Blended Learning;
  • Learner Analytics;
  • Course Design;
  • Lecture Capture and many more!

The conference regularly attracts over 140 delegates from Further Education and Higher Education institutions, ranging from: learning technologists, system administrators, librarians and academics. Luke Dunmall and I attended the conference on behalf of the Learning Technology Team.

Rather than reporting on each of the sessions attended, I am going to offer some of my reflections on those sessions that resonated with me.

#1: Designing pre-induction materials

Steve Dawes, from Regent’s University London, ran a short 25 minute session called “Designing a Pre-Induction Course: Mistakes, Issues and Successes”. In his session, Steve discussed the institutional drivers for the development of an online induction course and the need to provide specialist pre-arrival information for large intakes of international students. A key focus of the project was to develop a student-centric platform that could be easily accessed before the students received their computing accounts.

After reviewing the available options, it was decided that Blackboard would be utilised for both the creation and delivery of the pre-induction course. By using the University’s Blackboard virtual learning environment, this allowed students to become familiar with both the system and course layout before commencing their studies, due to the pre-induction course being based on the University’s standard course template design. The use of Blackboard, also provided opportunities to include interactive elements, which may not have been possible if another platform had been used.

The learning design for the induction course consisted of a simplified, sectional design which guided the prospective students through the relevant parts of the course. Plain English and brevity were also used throughout, to avoid information overload. The course also made use of some html elements, to allow the display of navigational tabs and interactive elements such as quizzes, to provide an interactive checklist for the students with contextualised prompts/feedback. Links to the University’s various social media channels were also included within the course to encourage interaction.

Since introducing the pre-induction course, the University have seen a reduction in the number of enrolment-related questions being referred to the student support teams. In addition, it is estimated that each applicant accessed the pre-induction course at least 3.6 times. Future improvements/considerations to include: accessibility on mobile devices, face-to-face web conferencing sessions and improved multimedia content.

Further information on designing effective induction programmes for international students, can be found in the following Higher Education Academy publication.

#2: An approach to transferring grades from Blackboard to the student record system

Jim Emery, from Glasgow Caledonian University, delivered a 55 minute session called “Marks Integration and the Digital University: Our Experience of Using Blackboard’s Grade Journey”. In his session, Jim provided an overview of the administrative burden faced by many universities regarding the transfer of grades from virtual learning environments (VLE) such as Blackboard to student information systems (SIS). Although a large proportion of grades are captured electronically, these often have to be manually inputted by academic or professional services staff into the student information system to meet university regulations. In order to improve staff/student satisfaction and to become a ‘more digital’ university, a project was undertaken by Glasgow Caledonian University to explore the use of Blackboard’s ‘Grades Journey’ tool, to automate the process of grade transfer between the VLE and SIS.

The tool works by exporting the assignment details of each module held in the SIS and passes this through to Blackboard. Once the relevant assessments have taken place in the VLE e.g. completion of a Turnitin Assignment, Computer Aided Assessment (online tests) the grades can be transferred at a click of a button from the Blackboard Grade Centre to the SIS. Therefore, avoiding the need for hours of manual input.

Although this tool is not currently available at CCCU, the session provided an informative overview of the tool (including some of the technical challenges experienced) and demonstrated how the capabilities of the University VLE, Blackboard, can be expanded/improved to better meet the needs of staff and students.

#3: Introducing OneNote to students

Alaric Pritchard & Elaine Tan, from Durham University, delivered a 25 minute session called “OneNote: The Gold Mine we treat like a coal mine”. In their session, Alaric and Elaine described an approach taken by Durham University to encourage students to take more effective notes i.e. notes which are accessible, searchable and shareable. Whilst at the same time developing the skills and abilities of their students, in key areas such as; organisation, comprehension, and time management skills. Their approach, introduce students to a tool that most students already have access to, but have probably never heard of – OneNote.

OneNote is a tool available as part of the Office 365 suite (currently licenced by the University) or is available for free with a Microsoft account and works on any device. It is a digital note-taking application, which provides an easy way to store notes, photos, audio recordings, web clippings and much more in a searchable digital repository. Notes can be organised within notebooks and by using tabs, pages and tags. With notes being stored in the ‘cloud’, these can be accessed on any device, wherever the student is. Notes can also be easily shared with others, allowing easy collaboration. By using an industry standard tool such as OneNote, this can help to improve student’s employability through the development of transferable skills.

One of the main things that stood out to me both during the session and also in my follow up research into OneNote, was the simplicity of the tool due to it using a similar layout and design of other Microsoft Office applications such as Word and PowerPoint. Therefore, avoiding the need for students to learn a completely new tool, with much of their existing knowledge being transferable to OneNote.

For more information about OneNote, check out the following web resources:

ALT-C 2015: A Few Reflections

“CB_ALT_080915_194” by Association for Learning Technology. Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC-SA
CB_ALT_080915_194” by Association for Learning Technology. Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC-SA


The Association for Learning Technology (ALT) holds an annual conference each year. This year was the 22nd annual conference that took place on 8-10 September 2015 at the University of Manchester. This year’s theme was “Shaping the Future of Learning Together” which focused upon the following areas:

  • Harnessing the power of the crowd – collaboration and connectivist learning;
  • Social media in learning and teaching;
  • Open educational practice;
  • Learners as agents of change;
  • Participatory approaches to the development of learning technologies.

The conference was host to almost 500 delegates from around the world and ran 185 sessions over three days (ALT, 2015). Simon Starr and I attended the conference and presented a session called “The Chamber of Fear: A Role Playing Approach to the Recruitment and Selection of Learning Technologists”, you can read my reflections on how our session went on my personal blog.

Rather than report verbatim on the 33 sessions that I had attended, what I would like to do is to offer some of my reflections on some of those sessions that resonated with me.

#1: A new model to describe e-portfolios

In John Couperthwaite’s session, “Nailing jelly to the wall: defining and describing eportfolio”, he discusses the thorny issue that surrounds the “conversational confusion about e-portfolios”, much of it stems from how an e-portfolio is perceived. Strivens (2015) suggests that there are three types of e-portfolio:

  1. Type A (Represent One’s Self)
  2. Type B (Presentation of Evidence), and
  3. Type C (Demonstrate Achievement)

This largely draws upon the early work of Barrett (2004). John’s colleague, Shane Sutherland of PebblePad, offers a different solution, the “e-Portfolio Format Model”, which “suggests that an e-portfolio is the product of the interplay between the audience, the message being conveyed, and the content it presents” (Sutherland, 2015). In this model, the e-portfolio can be conceived as either “Me-Portfolios” or “Task-Portfolios”, of which there are a number of related purposes:

  • Me-Portfolios (tends to focus on the author)
    • Personal
    • Professional
    • Promotional
  • Task-Portfolios (tends to focus on an activity)
    • Process
    • Project
    • Placement
    • Production
    • Pedagogical

Whilst this might be a useful step in helping people to conceptualise what an e-portfolio is, there is still, I think, a lot of work need to be done in demonstrating the “value” of an e-portfolio.

#2: An approach to developing digital capabilities for staff

Liz Bennett & Sue Folley, from the University of Huddersfield, reported in their session, “A positive and participatory approach to developing digital capabilities”, about a one year strategic project to investigate and develop the digital literacies of academic staff at their university. A particular focus of the project was to try and achieve high levels of confidence and skill for those academics who might be classified as the ‘late adopters’, those who are not usually the innovators or early adopters of technology (Rogers, 1983). Much has been made of the notion of “digital capabilities” by JISC, the HEA and the QAA. The University of Huddersfield had embedded digital literacy for staff in their current Learning & Teaching strategy.

The team used a “Trojan horse” approach to staff digital literacy by embedding it within a 2.5 hour Curriculum Design workshop in a bid to change academics belief systems around the value of learning technology. Adopting an appreciative enquiry approach and using the JISC ViewPoints cards developed by the University of Ulster, the team got the academic staff to think about their curriculum; how it fitted within institutional agendas; look at issues identified by the academic team; involve cross-functional teams (Learning Technologists and Librarians); look at how technology could be meaningfully incorporated within their redesign; and identify support for it.

This is a very interesting and powerful way to develop staff digital literacy skills through the intervention of a curriculum design workshop. As was noted by the presenters, a 2.5 hour workshop is not sufficient. Somewhere down the line, institutions need to create some valuable space and time so that academic staff are able to engage with far-reaching agendas in a friendly, but critical, environment.

#3: The Student Dashboard

Ann Liggett and Ed Foster, from Nottingham Trent University, ran a short 15 minute presentation called “The Student Dashboard: An Innovative Collaboration in Learning Analytics” (a variation of their presentation can be found here). Their presentation related to a pilot project, involving 500 students and over 40 tutors, whereby the institution wanted to use an assortment of student support systems more effectively to support the student journey. This ‘dashboard’ provided views for both students and staff and drew data from a variety of sources such as:

  • Student biographical information (e.g. enrolment status)
  • Evidence of student engagement, which include:
    • door swipes (where appropriate)
    • Library book loans
    • VLE usage
    • dropbox submissions

Future enhancements to the ‘dashboard’ will feature student attendance and e-resource usage. Furthermore, the ‘dashboard’ provides a mechanism that compares individual student profiles with that of their cohort and generates a simple ranking, from high to low. This has, apparently, prompted 27% (135) of the students to become more engaged with their studies.

In addition, tutor alerts are automatically generated for attention of personal tutors, if a student has no engagement at all for a fortnight or fails an assignment. However, the presenters were not entirely sure if the tutors were using the ‘dashboard’ in a consistent way. Unsurprisingly, it was noted that there were ethical issues that needed to be addressed in dealing with such ‘big data’.

Learning Analytics, as it is called, has been quite prevalent in the US for some time and is beginning to make inroads into the HE sector from the likes of JISC and the HEA. Potentially, this can give tutors an almost 360o perspective of their students, drawing upon a vast array of data that could help tutors to better support their students, thus helping towards dealing with student retention and attrition.


ALT. (2015). Press release: Annual Conference 2015. We have the power to shape the future of learning – together. Oxford, England: Association for Learning Technology (ALT). Available at: [Accessed 22.9.2015].

Barrett, H. (2004). “Selecting ePortfolio Software”. ePortfolios for Learning blog, 01.06.2004. Available from: [Assessed 22.9.2015].

Rogers, E.M. (1983). Diffusion of Innovation. 3rd Edition. London, England: Free Press.

Strivens, J. (2015). “A Typology of ePortfolios”. RAPPORT: The International Journal for Recording Achievement, Planning and Portfolios, 1(1), pp. 3-5. Available at: [Accessed 22.9.2015].

Sutherland, S. (2015). “Reflections of the Typology”. RAPPORT: The International Journal for Recording Achievement, Planning and Portfolios, 1(1), pp. 6-10. Available at: [Accessed 22.9.2015].

Flexible Learning: Technology-Enhanced Learning

Source: The Higher Education Academy (HEA)
Source: The Higher Education Academy (HEA)

This is the sixth in a short series of posts on the work undertaken by the Higher Education Academy (HEA) on flexible learning.


The report on technology-enhanced learning (TEL) (Gordon, 2014) is the fourth (and final) in a short series of complementary reports from the HEA that go under the banner of “flexible pedagogies”. The report is guided by the HEA’s overarching research question:

Why and to what extent might flexible pedagogies be promoted, and in what ways?

The report considers the role of information and communications technology (ICT) and information technology (IT) through the three “main dimensions” of flexible learning that supports pace (e.g. accelerated and decelerated degrees), place (e.g. work-based learning and employer engagement), and mode of learning (e.g. blended learning).

Whilst the report is suggestive of the opportunities that technology could bring to flexible provision, it was also mindful that it could generate new dilemmas for institutions, with fresh issues around collaborative learning, plagiarism and the resource implications of allowing such choices.

Levels of Flexibility

Complementing the three “main dimensions” of flexible learning, the report (Gordon, 2014) suggests three “levels of flexibility” which are a mix of philosophical and practical perspectives. These are articulated in the following way:

  • ontological – the flexibility of the students themselves, such as how flexible they are to deal with different learning approaches as well as the wider context around them that affect their studies and their future development;
  • pedagogical – theories and delivery of learning in terms of the flexibility of the teaching, its approaches and modes; and
  • systems – how institutional structures and processes allow for flexibility in teaching (pedagogy) and learning (ontology).

Similarly these “levels” can be viewed as both opportunities and challenges to Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) who want to adopt a flexible TEL approach.

Examples of TEL

The report offers a number of examples of how learning technologies are enabling learning, teaching and assessment. These include:

  • team projects, group work and peer assessment;
  • balancing and utilising formative and summative assessments when using computer aided assessment;
  • adopting e-submission and providing informative and timely e-feedback; and
  • applying new approaches to engage and motivate students.

However, as noted in the HEA Flexible Learning Pathfinders project, whilst learning technologies can be an enabler for greater flexibility in learning; there are other ways in which flexibility could be introduced that was not necessarily dependent on a technological solution (Outram 2011).

Technology-Enabled Models

The report describes a range of approaches to learning that are significantly dependent on technology. These include:

  • personalised learning – tailoring the learning experience to an individual student’s needs and desires;
  • support for synchronous and asynchronous activities – the former representing activities done in real time with immediate interaction (e.g. webinar), the latter those done over a period of time (e.g. discussion board);
  • flexible learning – similar to personalised but with a greater focus on how the material adapts to an individual’s progress, and may include adaptive/flexi-level testing;
  • gamification – the use of game techniques (especially game mechanics) to encourage and motivate activities can be especially relevant to learning;
  • online learning – the use of Internet-based TEL to deliver content that supports anytime, anywhere, anyplace characteristics; and
  • blended learning – a mix of physical/real-world interaction complemented by virtual/digital-world interaction.

The report acknowledges that whilst the above list is not exhaustive, it does indicate those areas that can provide scalable and pragmatic solutions. By way of a conclusion, the report recognises that the fundamental learning and teaching activities are “not altered”; that is accessing concepts and ideas, assimilating these through practice and ultimately demonstrating mastery. What technology offers, the report’s author notes, is scalability, flexibility and new ways of learning.


Gordon, N. (2014). Flexible Pedagogies: Technology-Enhanced Learning. York, England: The Higher Education Academy (HEA). Available at: [Accessed 17.3.2015].

Outram, S. (2011). Final Evaluation of the HEFCE-funded Flexible Learning Pathfinder Projects. York, England: The Higher Education Academy (HEA). Available at: [Accessed 17.3.2015].

The Really Useful #EdTechBook

"The Really Useful #EdTechBook"
The Really Useful #EdTechBook” by David Hopkins. Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC-SA

I contributed a chapter to a book called “The Really Useful #EdTechBook” which was published on 28th January 2015. The book was edited by David Hopkins (@hopkinsdavid), an eLearning Consultant for the Warwick Business School, who had assembled a number of very respected individuals from different educational sectors and backgrounds to write about differents aspects of learning technology and learning technologists. As David explains:

‘The Really Useful #EdTechBook’ is about experiences, reflections, hopes, passions, expectations, and professionalism of those working with, in, and for the use of technology in education. Not only is it an insight into how, or why, we work with these technologies, it’s about how we as learning professionals got to where we are and how we go forward with our own development.

My own contribution to the book considers the challenges that learning technologists face in trying to make sense of this role and what it means. The chapter is called “‘…and what do you do?’: Can we explain the unexplainable?“, and the following abstract should whet your appetite:

Unlike other occupations, the job title of ‘learning technologist’ does not elicit the same kind of shared, universal understanding of most other professions, such as teacher, doctor or solicitor. We find that even within our own communities of practice that it is a little difficult to explain or define what it is that we do. Furthermore, Browne & Beetham (2010) note in their report that there are “varying nuances” between the terms ‘learning technology’ and ‘educational technology’. Thus, exasperating an already complex and divergent field that is still trying to make sense of the confusing and contradictory nature surrounding the terminology and interpretation of names and job titles that have been generated through the likes of definitions, lists, and socially constructed discourses.

In this book chapter, through my own personal experience, I will try and derive some sense of meaning behind those troublesome terms and consider how this impacts on how we, as learning professionals, are perceived from within and outside of our professional communities and institutions.

The book can be purchased from Amazon, or in the spirit to promote openness and collaborative learning practices, a PDF version of the book can be freely downloaded from David’s blog.


Browne, T. & Beetham, H. (2010). The positioning of educational technologists in enhancing the student experience. Report funded by The Higher Education Academy under their Call4: Enhancing Learning and Teaching through the use of Technology. Oxford, England: Association for Learning Technology (ALT) and The Higher Education Academy (HEA). Available at: [Accessed 1.2.2015].