Conference workshop tackling first year student engagement with learning technologies and the VLE

Delivered at The 16th Durham Blackboard User’s Conference – Jan 2016 themed ‘Learning from Failure’

I devised this workshop to sound out TEL folk across the sector on what they might want for their 1st year student experience and explore ways in which institutions prepare learners for study. This is based on the fact that it is a misconception that learners arrive at university with the ability to discern and select ‘appropriate’ learning tools.

Content given before group task

Split into three groups, 18 hardy colleagues from UK HEIs contributed by participating in the following tasks:

Task 1 – The Learner’s PLE 
Design a PLE (personal learning environment) that enhances a new student’s learning experience at university. The group may elect a specific subject area the student has chosen to study.

Task 2 – TEL Manifesto
Draft up an institutional TEL Manifesto intended for new students that enhances learning and enriches their online user experience.

The workshop was a mix of lively discussion and resolve. Groups had 20 minutes to work on both tasks and a further 5 minutes to share their findings. Overall outcomes demonstrated that educators need to be more proactive and prescriptive in advising learners what tools/apps they should use to enhance learning. Along with a learners’ preference of tools, alternatively known as their personal learning environment (PLE), the workshop explored what principals and guidance institutions give to new students to enhance learning and enrich their online user experience. Workshop participants worked in groups to tackle both these questions; outcomes can be viewed on the Padlet links below.

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Group 1 workshop outcomes

Group 2 workshop outcomes

Group 3 workshop outcomes


Padlet was used during the workshop so groups were able to disseminate their findings collectively on group board – this tool proved to be more effective in working collaboratively to gather ideas and place all associated workshop detail in one place.


Learning from Failure…

The 16th Durham Blackboard User’s Conference 2016

This conference was slightly different in that normally one would expect to share and disseminate success across the HE Sector, not reveal things that went wrong and messed up. But unpacking the concept, isn’t it always the journey that’s the most interesting aspect to a successful project… the things that were tried and failed for one reason or another.

Keynote by Eric Stoller

The Keynote ‘Why Educators Can’t Live Without Social Media’ by Eric Stoller highlighted the importance and power of tools such as Twitter and LinkedIn in that every person should have a profile. He also centred around what tools learners are using and how ‘tool selection’ is pivotal to learner success. This theme related to my own session, a workshop focusing around what advice educators should provide to learners when building their own personal learning environments (PLEs); and what guidance institutions should give to learners about using the VLE and associated technologies in the light of 81% of students use mobile devises to study.

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Interestingly, but not surprisingly Stoller spoke about how email matters – a great relief to institutions that completely depend on email for all core communications and day-to-day business. He spoke about the popularity of Snapchat and yik yak and how trends are moving towards anonymity and not exposing true identities. These tools, predominately used by Millennials foster new attitudes and social behaviour with peers.


This indeed introduces a form of semantic language whereby signifiers, like words, hashtags, signs, symbols and app functionality allow powerful and sophisticated ways of communicate. Along with anonymity comes the need to understand the implications of such tools. We have witnessed shame and disgrace on certain individuals that have openly voiced offensive opinions on social media. Employability and online profiles go hand in hand and educators need to make learners aware that the internet deletes nothing. Once a FB post or tweet is made there’s no going back. Undeniably learners need to be prepared for the potential onslaught social media can bring. Interestingly Stoller terms soft skills as human skills and advocates that digital skills need to be built into learners life skills.


But often, learners arrive at university unprepared for the world of social media and it’s greater implications to web ethics and online privacy. Institutions need to grapple with this problem and educate learners to protect their online reputation and create awareness around the misgivings careless and spontaneous actions on social media can cause.

Conference Sessions

Pre-Induction Course: Regents University London – Student Induction is always a nightmare and trying the pack everything into the induction week has proved ineffective and draining. Students are too preoccupied with settling in and forming peer groups, so preaching protocols, structures and processes is rather like pouring water through a sieve, the information will not hit the intended mark. That is one reason why I was interested to hear how Regent’s University London had tackled the problem. Steve Dawes presented a neat solution whereby the TEL team designed a Pre-Induction Course inside Blackboard for students to work through before they arrive at university. As the presentation demonstrated, this method proved highly successful, as the learners were far keener to explore the course area to gain insight to what they might find and expect at university.

Regents University London pre-induction course

Developing Presentation Skills: Durham University – Students were filmed during a 2 minute recording which was then uploaded to the VLE and used for peer review via adaptive release. Uploading the video clips was somewhat labour intensive but the exercise proved successful. Methods of giving peer feedback in this instance could be varied to suit the discipline. One method might be to use a blog post to embed the video and invite peers to comment, this could just as easily work in a locked down wiki page or Padlet which only the peer reviewers have the link.


Single input of grades from VLE to SIS: Glasgow Caledonian University – This is something all universities dream about and a true acclaim to being digital. Presented by Jim Emery, he revisits the term ‘Think Different’ with the laborious business of marks entered manually into the students records system, and the implications to data accuracy, pressure of time, system instability and staff stress. Piloting a new integration process that extracts Blackboard grades directly into SIS, GCU have successfully cracked the challenge.

Jim Emery from GCU presenting Blackboard Marks Integration with the Students Records System

The next step is system rollout but not before staff development, change management, and a simplified but effective workflow is implemented. Only then can GCU be deemed a digital university… the rest of us paper-bound manual institutions will look on in wonder and all want to work at GCU where things can only get better.

Incidental but of vital importance

One of the best parts of attending a conference is coming away with real gems often sourced from networking, below are my three DBBUser gems:

1 –

Blackboard’s building block – and to think we’ve had this resource for over two years and had no idea there was a building block that is accessed via the content mash-up tool. Installing this was painless, and Turning provided the API keys within hours.


2 – Turnitin’s Roster Sync

Casual chatting with colleagues about Turnitin’s Roster Sync was revelational, I discovered colleagues only needed to activate the Roster Sync to attach late students to a class – whereas in my institution there are no students listed to begin with and there’s a requirement to Roster Sync on every new module. Consequently, academics forget to do this and students cannot submit. A Turnitin support call is in progress.

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3 – Extending and Adapting Campus Pack

At last year’s Durham conference I gave a presentation about flexible learning spaces using Campus Pack (CP). One element of this was each student having an area for Professional Development Planning (PDP). At this year’s conference, I met a colleague who attended that presentation and stated she had implemented journals for each of her medical students using CP and got students to export these (as a webpage) to upload into Blackboard’s online submission area for assessment along with the various other assignment components. This extended practice not only enables all the work to be accessed from a central assessment location, it also exports a copy of the PDP at a point in time, so thereafter, learners can continue developing their journals in CP for the next assignment detail.

Web Literacy in Academia

Durham BB 2015 conference

The conference brought together examples of students as partners as well as question what this might mean to the future of education. The second conference keynote Radical Participation (slides below) was delivered by Doug Belshaw, web literacy lead at the Mozilla Foundation.

Doug spoke about a perceived value for academics to learn a certain literacy in order to come closer to the concept of students as partners, for example Facebook literacy, or Blackboard literacy. He defines the need for radical participation in order to succeed in this notion of partnership. Such engagement would fall into three key themes shown below.

Mozilla’s web literacy map


  • Composing for the web – Creating and curating content for the web
  • Remixing – Modifying existing web resources to create something new
  • Design and Accessibility – Creating universally effective communications through web resources
  • Coding/scripting – Creating interactive experiences on the web
  • Infrastructure – Understanding the Internet stack


  • Sharing – Creating web resources with others
  • Collaborating – Providing access to web resources
  • Community Participation – Getting involved in web communities and understanding their practices
  • Privacy – Examining the consequences of sharing data online
  • Open Practices – Helping to keep the web democratic and universally accessible


  • Navigation – Using software tools to browse the web
  • Web Mechanics – Understanding the web ecosystem
  • Search – Locating information, people and resources via the web
  • Credibility – Critically evaluating information found on the web
  • Security – Keeping systems, identities, and content

See for more about Mozilla’s work on web literacy.

A time when all academics are web literate

We need to ask ourselves honestly if such an ideal can ever be achieved? Indeed, I have seen a good number of new staff employed for their web and IT literacy skills over and above their subject based skills. From my own experience as a late starter to technology, messing around learning how new tools work and employing them effectively within pedagogy is extremely time consuming. I had the luxury of studying an MA in Online and Distance Education; so many hours were devoted to learning how these tools worked. I am not trying to make excuses for busy academics that never find the time to dabble with new learning technologies, I just wonder how they can when they teach, assess, produce research outputs, review course programs, manage staff and recruit new students.

Are we really expecting the impossible, or should there be a far greater focus on learning technologists working together at course level with academics to ensure real currency lies within the course’s pedagogy. One solution might be to offer student TEL ambassador scholarships whereby the student’s tuition fees are wavered if they become active partners and work to literally retain technical currency both within the course program and the people who deliver it.

Students as Partners

Durham BB 2015 conference

Conference signature image

This year’s Durham conference was centred around the theme of Students as Partners with Abbi Flint from the HEA giving one of the keynotes broadly based around the report Engagement through partnership: students as partners in learning and teaching in higher education that Mick Healey, Abbi Flint and Kathy Harrington have just published via the HEA.

Clearly the conference theme is a very timely topic that challenges our assumptions, practices and beliefs about learning, teaching and assessment. The educational experience a student today gets is very different from the one their tutors and teaching staff received as undergraduates. The conference questioned whether our own experiences are still valid reference points.

From my experience as a learning technologist of five years and MA student in online and distance education 3 years ago, I have witnessed rapid change in pedagogy with the onslaught of technology. This change has indeed reconceptualised education as we know it. The concept of students as partners may seem strange and some students might indeed ask why they should be partners when they pay 9k a year for a course program that is partly conceived by their peers. But unless educators can fully understand today’s digital technology and how new generations are using it, we can never hope to deliver a parallel learning experience that enhances and excites our learners. In fact, without working and learning from students in a form of partnership, we will be out of touch, ineffective and blatantly arrogant with the needs of learners. As Jim Emery from Glasgow Caledonian University stated in his presentation around student engagement “those who graduated even as recently as 4 years ago faced different challenges from the students of right now. The dynamic and relationship between a teacher and a learner is different, or if not it’s ineffective”.

But the notion of student as partner has to be genuine. To be a partner, one has to be fit for purpose, be able to understand the challenges, tensions and opportunities. For students to take partnership seriously, institutions need to man-up and take the responsibility of ensuring technical currency exists within the pedagogic delivery. This again can only be done with the student voice and institutions positively acting on their findings as Duune suggests below:

There is a subtle, but extremely important, difference between an institution that ‘listens’ to students and responds accordingly, and an institution that gives students the opportunity to explore areas that they believe to be significant, to recommend solutions and to bring about the required changes. (Dunne in Foreword to Dunne and Zandstra 2011, p. 4)

Students as Partners – Making it Happen

Measures such as student reps being on all university committees, including the exam reviews and assessment boards have been put into place by Hull York Medical School.

Student TEL Ambassadors at Hull York Medical School

Slide from HYMS presentation

They expelled the ‘token gesture’ principle and forged ahead to work with students as co-producers by involving them with getting a variety of curriculum development activities as paid university employees. Examples include working with the HYMS eLearning Team as Student TEL Ambassadors to ensure that the VLE courses for the new academic year are updated and evolve in appropriate ways both in curriculum design and content and to accommodate the changing profile of students. Often, this would involve the students working alongside clinical and academic staff as co-designers of learning resources and influencing the way they use technology to enhance learning and teaching. Students have also worked on research projects and developing eLearning resources such as virtual patients and e-tutorials.

Another significant and simple participation tool used in the open course GCUGameson was Padlet embedded into their Blackboard Course Site. This simple tool cut through all the red tape and complexity that comes with the Blackboard discussion tools.

Highlights from Blackboard’s L&T Conference 2014 – Dublin

My 3 days at this conference was a really worthwhile experience and below are some highlights I wanted to share and take forward in my own practice.

Keynote Address

The opening keynote was delivered by Professor Stephen Heppell – Chair of The Centre for Excellence in Media Practice, a research and innovation centre based in the Media School at Bournemouth University. His talk focused on the value and power of the ‘now learning’… such as Twitter and YouTube and the sense of connectedness through technology and social media. His work researches how kids in different environments react to a range of learning and teaching approaches. His photographs demonstrate how spatial surroundings affect mood and attitude to learning by using colour, soft furniture, audio and a relaxed sense of order. His classrooms are more like chill-out pads than the usual traditional desks lined up in front of a blackboard.  The Kids would often be encouraged to direct the learning, take the classes and engage in peer feedback. This notion of peer directed learning brings about the need to involve students far more into curriculum development – which ideally needs to happen when courses are conceived or revalidated – something a bit more radical than inviting a few student reps along to agree a near preordained course program.

A number of workshops tackled staff digital literacy with using a range of frameworks to implement mandatory assessment and a suite of needs-based training – Regents University London being one. Other presentations focused on how course teams and learning technologists transformed the curricula to employ a blended approach to learning – reducing traditional lectures, using webcasts, reflective journals and peer reviews.

Peer Review with Turnitin’s PeerMark

There were 2 very interesting sessions about Turnitin’s PeerMark assignment tool presented by Jiska Bomans-Memelink and Klazine Verdonschot from Leiden University and Dr Ronel Callaghan from the University of Pretoria. PeerMark allows students to review their peers’ papers based on scale and free response questions selected by the instructor. In all cases, the practice was extremely successful and adds an extremely important element to student learning with regard to criticality and self-reflection.

PeerMark Process in BlackboardPeerMark process in Blackboard – practiced by Dr Ronel Callaghan

A Menu of Learning Approaches from SHU

Brian Irwin, Head of TEL and Ian Glover from Sheffield Hallam University presented an excellent workshop around teaching approaches to encourage deeper engagement with TEL. The university had two big institutional challenges around consistency and not fulfilling TEL potential. They TEL team wanted a way to encourage staff to go beyond the minimum and transform their teaching with the use of technology. They felt a fixed framework such as the minimum expectations would not work for teaching given the diverse needs of different modules and different teaching styles/personalities of academics. To meet this goal they set up a project as part of the UK’s Changing the Learning Landscape programme, which explored the creation of a ‘menu’ of teaching approaches, which reflected the ways academics at SHU were teaching their students. The menu works by helping academics identify the different ways they could teach their students. For each teaching approach there are examples of how technology can enhance those approaches using the range of tools available at the institution.

Cards to use for different learning approaches in workshopsCards used in workshops for different learning approaches

Their approach was to focus on the things Shu was doing from a grassroots direction involving academics. They pulled together a project steering group including SU and academics. The prompts were initially about teaching approaches (not focused on technology). They got over 100 staff attending the focus groups and they put together a menu (not framework) so choice is at the fore. Technology was thought about in a broader sense. The SU also ran their own workshops to identify needs. People participating at the workshops are encouraged to talk about their teaching approaches. Pedagogic language was not used to sell the concept, neither was technology – icebreakers were used to kick off sessions and relax everyone. The workshops last around an hour. The PVC was extremely supportive and encouraged people to attend the workshops. This has become so embedded that course validations are reflecting on their teaching approaches and employing the changing the learning landscapes program.

What’s New in Blackboard

In terms of Blackboard’s new products and improvements, the April 2014 release offers:

– Student preview
– Anonymous and multiple marking (parallel marking)
– Opportunity to reconcile grades
– Improved Safe Assign integration

Interestingly, Blackboard now has a new partnership with Tribal so they will be able to integrate more with marks, assignments, user and module data.

Tribal and Blackboard integrationTribal partners with Blackboard for a joined-up process

Another important aspect they are working on is simplification – making the look and navigation far easier and simple to use. The ability to drag and drop material into course areas will become available and the look will become much sleeker. They want to cut down on the clicks esp. in the grade centre. I have to admit that some of the proposed designs and features look fabulous – it remains to be seen if they actually materialise.

Blackboard's new look grade centre

A preview of Blackboard’s new Grade Centre

In terms of Blackboard’s cloud social space, students can now opt in by signing an agreement, they can also delete their profile and any content they have added to the cloud. For mobility, they are working on responsive design so lets see how well this pans out and complements the Bb mobile learn.

Responsive Design from Blackboard

A vision of Blackboard’s responsive design

Collaborate (video conferencing tool) is I the middle of changing the JAVA function so in future users don’t have the problem of ‘can’t install the latest plugin’ to make it work on institute machines that are locked down as far as upgrades and installs go.

Empower and Enhance with course templates and community modulesFinally, my own presentation Empower and Enhance with Blackboard Course Templates and Community Modules can been seen in Slideshare. It demonstrates how the learning technologists at the University for the Creative Arts (UCA) use Blackboard’s tools to enhance staff/student learning

Sharing Practice at JISC’s SETS 2014

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending and participating as a finalist in SETS (Southeast Technology Showcase), JISC’s annual awards scheme, designed to identify, promote, reward and disseminate the best e-learning practice taking place across the Southeast of England (SETS was formally known as the HiFi Awards). Each presentation was awarded points (1-10) by everyone else in the room according to 1) benefits to learning and teaching and 2) benefits to the university. Along with UCA colleagues, we witnessed some truly amazing work, which I’ll attempt to highlight below. I’ll also have a stab at what UCA can learn and apply from this innovative practice.

Starting with my own contribution for the University for the Creative Arts and assisted by Librarian Ian Badger, we presented practice on ‘Moulding and integrating the VLE to meet institutional needs’ with the following context in mind:

  • The course portfolio
  • The changing structure to the university, departments & staff
  • Emerging technologies
  • Working smarter with less

Notably highlighted are some of the methodologies and mechanisms employed by UCA’s Learning Technologists to enable Library and Faculty staff to ‘centrally manage’ content residing in over 1000 courses and units. The submission also looks at how the learning technologists audit e-learning activity across the university, which in turn informs UCA’s seven Schools of their course’s strengths/weaknesses and gives each the ability to share and learn best practice collectively.

This slideshare is UCA’s presentation.

Read what the JISC judging panel said about this entry

Swim UK the SETS winner presented a very effective use of the iPad. The swimming instructor would simply video the learner swimming underwater which then allowed playback at the poolside to look at areas of improvement for stroke and technique…

…Personally, I was surprised this submission won compared to some of the very clever and innovative entries I saw. It really does demonstrate the importance of applying the appropriate use technology to the right context – and I guess this was spot-on – simple but extremely effective.

Reading College came runner up with 4 students talking very enthusiastically about their experience of using a Google+ Community as their virtual learning environment and how it served as a vital mechanism for honest peer-to-peer feedback. Studying Object Orientated Programming (OOP) the students consisted of 3 separate groups who are never in college at the same time. In place of the college’s Moodle LMS,  a Google + Community was chosen as a virtual classroom to encourage collaborative working. Set up as a private community with only the students and staff as members, this online space enabled a secure and supportive environment. The G+ community contained the assignment material, noticeboard and links to resources, students were asked to share their work at different stages throughout project and peer-to-peer feedback was encouraged. With the G+ app being available on range of devices it meant that students could gain access to the community anytime and anywhere….

…For me the most striking comment came from a student who said that learning on a tool they used everyday (their phone) and building applications such as game design, the use of Google + was second nature as this was the technology of their generation. Social media platforms do indeed provide a very strong aspect to peer review and feedback in a less formal manner. This informality might even prove to be more effective to student learning than traditional forms of peer review – be it blind or formally arranged by their teachers.

Student from Reading College presenting their ideas at SETS

Students from Reading College presenting their ideas at SETS

Eastleigh College showcased their use of iPads and help videos students used inside workshop from benches and some seriously big machinery.  Designed and produced by students, these iPads were encased in metal covers and perspex fronts that stood on workbenches or could be secured to lathes….

…Having these iPads to hand in a workshop situation in-situ proved beneficial to both students and staff as you can imagine. Technicians can easily locate demonstration videos to show learners – freeing up time to attend to all the other duties that videos cannot replace.

Kent Community Learning and Skills, a learning provider for Kent County Council presented their Virtual Classrooms using Blackboard Collaborate to deliver ESOL to social workers recruited from other EU countries. These learners required support with understanding English grammar and British slang. Being spread across Kent the virtual classrooms provided an excellent and cost effective learning/teaching tool. Indeed, this was one of our favourite showcases…

…For UCA, this practice would certainly be useful for group tutorials or one-to-one tutorials especially with International students. The spanner in the works is JAVA, a technology Collaborate uses. JAVA updates frequently, but without updating the plugin, Collaborate will not work. The computers at UCA are managed by IT Services and students/staff cannot update the JAVA plugin, as they do not have the admin rights. Therefore practically speaking, if we wanted to use this technology, our IT processes would need to change. Students with their own devices would of course not be affected. I remember at the OU, we also used Collaborate (with Moodle) and part of the orientation process was to get set-up, explore and check everything works before an actual live session so all the potential hiccups were dealt with.

MidKent College presented an extremely smart, user friendly Virtual Coach for use in Medway and Maidstone staff rooms to provide cross-site teacher learning resources, videos, communication and information. Built in HTML and Metro UI CSS, the tiled web resource also included a Skype video calling feature, which allows communicate between both sites by touching the relevant tile. This resource was obviously built around a need and demand premise. It allows virtual communication between 2 campuses and provides a learning platform to boot…

MidKent College presenting their Virtual Tutor at SETS

MidKent College presenting their Virtual Tutor at SETS

…For UCA, I don’t think this model would work so well as very little use is made of staff rooms and a good of majority of academic staff are sessional. Therefore a 24/7 anywhere, anytime web-based resource would work better. However, there are a few lessons to be learnt from the very slick user interface and ease of use MidKent

Hadlow College project focused on the support they given to help learners turn their newly acquired skills into opportunity for self-employment. It is more common for Florists to be self-employed rather than find employment working for others. The Facebook business page is seen as a good and cost effective method of presenting Floristry that helps to attract and retain clients. With a view to helping learners finding or improving self-employment on completing the course, the Floristry teachers decided to make effective Facebook presentation part of the curriculum starting in August last year. Consequently, recognition of this end point of study for many learners required the development of self-promoting technologies to help learners understand, design and prepare for developing a client based of their own…

…For UCA, the approach to use social media for self-promotion is not new. However I was interested in the Facebook business pages Hadlow students were encouraged to create under the guidance of their teachers. The many hurdles of using social media can be addressed at course level so the entrepreneurial efforts of these emerging Florists can bloom and grow into professional and successful businesses…. WELL DONE!

Havant Sixth Form College presented a Web-based system to enhance differentiation in teaching and learning. Used by the Learning Support Department, the system allows academic staff to be informed about each student’s learning needs. Very detailed information is held about the learning ability of each student such as the learning style, working memory, sequencing/processing skills, reading/writing speeds, etc. as well as information about the type of aids/techniques that would help improve learning. The system also contains various reports for the Learning Support Manager so that she can track the administration processes and ensure deadlines are met. The system integrates with the college MIS database and Moodle LMS to provide a subset of data relevant to academic staff…

This screen shows details of the student's Nature of learning difficulty / need along other notes and strategies

This screen shows details of the student’s Nature of learning difficulty / need along other notes and strategies

…This system works rather like Caseworker but is relevant to every student. Built very much around the needs of the College, it certainly impressed the people sitting on our table. Having such a system at UCA would bring great benefits to learning and teaching, meaning we would all be on the same page and no doubt retention figures would improve.

Southampton Solent University showcased their Reading List Project which provides students from foundation level to taught masters with reading lists that link to required readings, fully embedded in their VLE unit pages in the correct referencing style. The software enables the reading list to be linked to the Library catalogue for print materials and ebooks, and hyperlinks to online material such as ejournal articles, digitised chapters, videos and webpages. Lists are easily accessed on and off campus and via mobile devices. The system is very flexible so reading lists can be quickly amended or moved at any time once live. Multiple reading lists can be provided for each unit allowing staff to take different approaches (such as core, general, topic-based and weekly lists). The project, now in its 4th year, is a bespoke open source development integrating Moodle and RefWorks based on the Open University Telstar codebase…

…UCA has some of these elements but more work is needed to unify unit reading and embed this into myUCA. We subscribe to RefWorks but students do not employ it heavily. The work Solent has done gives us plenty to follow up on. Currently, unit reading lists are given within the unit handbook which is a print-based document uploaded to the VLE, having a referenced style hyperlinked reading list embedded within each unit is certainly an aspiration for UCA that’s not too far off from happening.

GLAD Conference 2014 – my thoughts

What is GLAD…? 

Group for Learning in Art and Design 

For those of you who don’t know about GLAD, it was established in 1990 as a grass roots network to improve student experience and stimulate debate in art and design education. This year’s conference theme looked at the studio and what it means to a student in 2014.

So, leaving Maidstone on a 6.25am train (destination Sheffield Hallam University) and retuning home at 9.30pm, we had a very packed day. Along with my co-presenter and work colleague Annamarie Mckie, we presented a poster session entitled a place of my own: reflective, formative online spaces for learning, teaching and assessment.

The poster displays the 3 main stakeholders and the benefits each stand to gain from using an innovative online space within the VLE that tutors can place formative feedback and students can respond. Click on the image below for a larger version – so you can read more about what these benefits are.


See poster above and here’s the background and case study.

The Keynote address – Revisionism v Chaos; The Studio Terroir was delivered by Professor Paul Haywood, Deputy Dean at Middlesex University. I found this talk to be the most inspiring part of the conference. Paul spoke and how a child learns by experience as construct but then is taught from parents etc. how things should look and gave painting as an example. He then took this theory into the artist’s studio and how ‘learning to paint’ has evolved through the centuries. He spoke of the moulded child/artist as being an inhibitor through construct – and does our current model of teaching foster a true creative process. His presentation displayed rich imagery and the red house struck a cord.

The second keynote – Open and Connected Classroom : A Show and Tell Presentation was delivered by Jonathan Worth, a photographer and teaching fellow at Coventry University. He spoke about the power of the virtual world and how someone’s images can be credible, believed and authoritative – or not as the case may be. His work with students explored questions about the benefits of the internet and the power of people connected together regardless of experience or qualification and how this has made a transformative impact on everyone’s lives. It led me to think about social boundaries and the absence of them in the virtual world – one example being the QuizUp app where you find yourself playing with someone in Texas (anywhere in fact) but complete strangers and people having ability to demand a rematch should you beat them, and if that’s not enough a chat tool and discussion board should you want to go deeper with making connections.

In terms of the planned workshops and presentations, the first focused around the technical studio and modes of student learning. I’ve highlighted the key aspects below:

  1. One day un-assessed workshops so students can learn freely and make mistakes – the notion of not being assessed opens a debate about the freedom to explore/experiment without the fear of being penalised.
  2. Google maps used as an icebreaker (for a digital literacy workshop) to see where students are located (even 2nd years)
  3. Pinterest used as collaborative boards to share visual dialogue and output.
  4. How students perceive feedback was another hot topic as some feared technical feedback, which students often sought and valued was not considered by students in the NSS.
  5. Helen Makin from Coventry University stated the delivery of making skills comes no longer comes from academic staff but from technical staff. The attitude from some sees the quality of making is a lesser skill to the conceptual skill. Consequently, technical staff feel somewhat short-changed and under valued – and I can fully sympathise here knowing what they are paid compared to academics.
  6. Students not turning up to workshops was another common problem, but as paying customers they expected workshops on demand and often one-to-one if they missed the planned session.
  7. Technical staff felt they needed more integration with project briefs in order to tailor and maximise learning outcomes – they saw themselves ‘working too much in the dark’,

The afternoon workshop explored the meaning of failing and how this relates to the studio space. In groups, we were asked to write a manifesto, this is our group’s offering:


‘The studio and how to fail in it”

  1. The studio is not destination transition
  2. Celebrate failure with less assessment and more scrutiny
  3. Failure is linked to a learning outcome
  4. Less prescription – allow some privacy
  5. Failure is contingent – students need to know this