Student Ambassadors for Learning Technology

E-Learning Services Manager Steve Hoole from Bucks New University gave a fascinating presentation at London’s BUG about how the university employ 2nd year students as Learning Technology Ambassadors (LTAs) to help bridge the gap in digital literacy and enhance the LMS for improved student learning. Employed on a casual basis, earning £8 per hour, (same as student ambassadors) three 2nd year students (during term-time) work 10 hours per week to help support and advocate the use of learning technology among staff and students at Bucks.

So intrigued (and impressed) about this practice, I’ve decided to share a few note-worthy tips…

Advertising the posts…

With help from Bucks Careers Service, calls for interest were sent via a mailshot advertising the positions, these stated applicants would need to have an avid interest in digital technologies along with the people skills to transfer such knowledge and expertise to people that might be less adapt (or familiar) with digital literacy.

Making a selection…

Selection was through interview and presentation. Student applicants were asked to present 2 of their favourite technologies and give reasons why they had made this selection. The interview process teased out the best of the bunch and 3 appointments were made.

Training up the troops…

Time was allocated to induct the LTAs with the Blackboard course environment and each was given access to a course training area with instructor permissions. This allowed the LTAs time and opportunity to explore the full range of tools and become familiar and confident with each. Apart from this LTA training area, they only had access to their own course areas in Blackboard as regular students. They  also used as a support resource to learn new software that might be required in their new job. The LTAs were also provided with a uniform (Bucks e-learning T-shirt or Sweatshirt) so people would easily identify them from the general mill of students.

Typical LTA activities…

  • Work with staff on a one-to-one basis showing them how to make resources available in the LMS
  • Working with academic staff to transform teaching material into more engaging and interactive learning resources with software such as Captivate.
  • Explaining to students/staff which software to use for researching, bookmarking and social/professional networking.
  • Giving practical demonstrations on file compression, Photoshop techniques etc.
  • Helping to man the virtual library’s 24hr instant messenger
  • Creating campaigns to promote the use of certain technologies
  • Creating campaigns to for different service areas
  • Working closely with the e-Leaning Team and Student Union to address areas of identified need in learning technology
  • Help to flag up problems students often encounter that would normally go unnoticed


The digital literacy gap has improved and staff/students feel more supported. I also see this initiative as helping to close the divide that sometimes happens between students and institutional systems – as the LTAs are able to bring a new dimension to the service whereby students feel they have more ownership and control of how learning happens and is delivered.

Lessons Learnt…

Bucks intends to repeat the initiative in 14/15 and providing funding can be found, I can see this being a great success at UCA if implemented – perhaps having a LTA at each campus. Certainly, the LTAs are the ideal candidates to help run focus groups and identify with those individuals that ‘have something worthwhile to say about what LMS the university uses and how’.

Well done Bucks!

Learning Technology Ambassador Action Sheet

Learning Technology Ambassador Action Sheet – Used to target specific areas of support and record action taken


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.

Wiki Wonker Tool Factory

Perhaps Wikipedia depicts best how wikis work as a collaborative platform to collect and share knowledge. Indeed they provide opportunities for groups of people to build many kinds of information sets. From my own experience, here’s how wikis can be used within a university’s VLE (virtual learning environment):

Collective research tool to source and share information
Wikis can be assigned to select students so they work in groups to research a subject and share their findings. Comments can also be added to wiki pages to provoke further activity or highlight certain aspects or provide collective feedback from the tutor.
Watch Wikipedia in action with Motorhead’s Umlaut

Wikis develop leadership, communication and negotiating skills
Students not only learn how to collectively work together on a research project, they also have the opportunity to fine-tune their leadership, communication and negotiating skills, all vital with regard to employability.
Watch how a wiki develops organisation skills

E-portfolio of students’ work
Within the creative disciplines, ownership of student work together with the flexibility of web 2.0 technologies, a wiki provide the perfect tool whereby students can place links to their digital portfolios and learn from each other. This practice allows learners a greater freedom to use the technologies they prefer, and the wiki provides a collective gallery of linked portfolios. This wiki then goes on to make a great archive for the university to showcase student work and cascade this model of learning to other academics.

Tutorial sign-up tool
Wikis are great tools to use for a quick tutorial sign-up list. Simply create a one-page wiki with a table of time-slots and ask students to put their name against their preferred time. This gives students greater flexibility in planning their time (around other responsibilities such as part-time work) as well as signing up remotely and saving a trip into college – just to sign-up.

wiki used for recording team meetingsWiki Meeting Record: agendas, detail, actions and notes

We use a wiki to record the activity of the Learning and Teaching team meetings. Each meeting is given a new wiki page and the agenda is put up in advance where the team add items. During the meeting notes are put directly on the wiki alongside and key points and actions. The first agenda item on each page always links back to the previous meeting notes. Using a wiki instead of the traditional agenda and minutes (in document form) means everything is held in one place remotely.

Collaborative Learning

Wikis combine a number of learning theories such as vicarious learning (also known as observational or social learning) which is learning that occurs through observing, retaining and replicating how others do things. It is closely associated psychologist Albert Bandura’s work, who carried out a number of seminal studies in Vicarious learning and initiated social learning theory. Kolb’s experiential learning theory is another that is highly regarded in collaborative learning. This four-stage learning cycle (or ‘training cycle’) represents a learning cycle or spiral where the learner ‘touches all the bases’, ie. a cycle of experiencing, reflecting, thinking, and acting.

Kolb's Learning Styles

Kolb's Learning Styles Diagram

Finally perhaps the most influential learning theory associated with wikis and collaborative learning is Wenger’s communities of practice. Although the notion of working together is not new, the practice of working together in collaborative communities is and in particular Wenger speaks of the power it can brings with regards to developing strategic capabilities in organizations. For example communities of practice enable practitioners to take collective responsibility for managing the knowledge they need. Wikis provide the ideal platform to deliver this premise. These communities are not limited by formal structures but moreover; they create connections among people across organizational and geographic boundaries.

The professional network LinkedIn has a similar function whereby the collective contributions of individuals grow to make up a network of professionals that each has some kind of connection. The difference here is that the individuals only manage their own profiles and it is the profiles and groups that create these communities or practice.


Personality Theories by Albert Bandura

David Kolb’s learning styles model and experiential learning theory (ELT)

Communities of practice by Etienne Wenger

Elearning concepts and themes

learning grid

Matrix for analyzing elearning concepts

Elearning is a more undefined way of learning whereby the exploratory path holds a broader transition into unknown areas. The tools have new terminology alongside the product… lurking… blogging… virtual classrooms and so forth so that is why we think of elearning as a distinct discipline with a need for its own concepts and vocabulary?

Formal and informal learning becomes very blurred in e-learning
Much can be learnt through peer recommendation via informal means. Twitter is one such tool that can jump in and out of so called traditional boundaries. Followers can be a mix of peers, tutors, family, heroes, heroines and so forth with each having an opinion about something. Educational institutions face dilemmas in embracing facebook or not and both arguments hold very valid reasons for doing so.

Creating the grid above was difficult as every learning opportunity hold a different learning context. Flexible learning might have once been considered a traditional part-time course but today it can also take on an entirely different meaning in learning such as dip-in/dip-out, modular online virtual classrooms with remote peer groups and tutors.

Two different axes for such an learning grid
I still think there is a great deal of traditional learning that me must not lose sight of. I remember some 25 years ago my daughter had this bear with a cassette tape inside it which told her a goodnight story. She loved that bear and it made a big impression on her life – it’s still knocking around in the attic somewhere. What I am trying to say is there has to be a balance somewhere, technology can only do so much, that bear was only a tiny part of her life but it had clout when it came to loyalty.

Today, I do find technology very frightening because of its sheer power. I also think much of social media has unrealised implications – both good and bad. So my axes would be about the unknown and unrealised outcomes elearning has which goes to make a well rounded individual that fits into society as we currently know it. I haven’t figured out what to call these axes yet, still thinking about it.

Exploring Innovation in E-learning

– Does an innovation have to be useful?
– Is it always disruptive?
– Does it lead to far-reaching changes in practice?
– How does innovation come about?

From my experience of innovation in elearning, I do think it needs to be useful, otherwise it serves no real purpose – innovation has to do something that helps the process of learning somehow. Innovation does not need always to be disruptive, as it may well complement and bolster existing practice, it can be disruptive whereby former practice becomes obsolete. An example being pigeonholes and student communication. All student correspondence is handled by email and the VLE; paper-based timetables pinned on faculty noticeboards simply don’t exist in many institutions. Technology and student expectations has been the driver for this change and institutions, once able to meet this demand, can go on to deliver a far more holistic teaching experience.

Innovation in elearning comes about by using technology in new ways. Currently there is a host of elarning tools that have intended purpose, but by exploring and approaching concepts from different perspectives and practices, new formulas emerge that can produce unintended results in both good and bad ways.

Many cloud based tools that scatter the Internet hold great potential for new uses. Twitter and Facebook have demonstrated uses that go beyond the creator’s wildest dreams, social media, Arab Spring, London riots all come to mind. But these are not exhaustive as new combinations of traditional methods being re-interpreted into digital settings provide unknown dimensions of potential learning.

From my own learning stance, opportunities need to exist that allow time and exploration ‘to become acquainted’ with new technologies. This paves a way that best suits my own learning journey which may not be innovative to others, but the process becomes innovative in the sense that I am encountering a unique path of my own learning which brings about an interpretation that is significant to this digital footprint.

Innovation in the sense of new technology (iPads, iPhones, Whiteboards, etc) can be far reaching in terms of how they are used from a personal perspective. In terms of new teaching innovations in using this technology the variables are infinite as each student group brings along a new dynamic with socio-economics and geographical factors not withstanding.

Does Video Conferencing work – depends on the facilitator.

My experience of video conferencing has been very mixed and it is normally down to the way it has been planned and manner delivered. In my own experience people are far happier using the text box to communicate their opinions over speaking into the microphone. Interestingly and speaking from experience, the more important the attendee, the less likely they are to talk openly in the forum. From a learner’s perspective I prefer the nature of asynchronous dialogue as it allows time for reflection and considered response.

Here’s some real innovation: