Category Archives: Strategic


At the start of the year I read this Guardian article calling for politicians to trust teachers, and it set me thinking about trust in education.  Then yesterday I saw this which shows just how bad it can get when you don’t trust your teachers/staff.

So what would an Education system based on trust look like and how would it be different to what we currently have?

creative commons licensed ( BY-ND ) flickr photo shared by Andrew E. Larsen

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Nuts and bolts of running a Peer Review Market

First off for those of you who just want to use it link is here.

When you take a copy it will ask if it can send emails using your account – if you want it to email students when things happen you need to say yes to this.

When you take a copy of the spreadsheet you will also get 4 Forms – you need to find a way to provide all 4 forms to your students and give them access to view the published spreadsheet (for forms File send form or File embed for spreadsheet click file, publish to web – then use the link or embed code).  I like embedding them into a webpage/vle but you can simply put up the links if you find that easier.

Alanya Market 50

You also need somewhere students can add files and get links – Google Drive is good, dropbox is another good alternative – for both if you want anonymity you will have to set it so anyone with the link can edit/upload.

Returning to the spreadsheet – there are a number of hidden sheets, you need to click view hidden sheets, “Username and Anonymous name

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Transferring grades from Blackboard your student information system – a semi automated process

Recently on one of the Blackboard mailing lists someone asked about transferring grades from Blackboard to their student information system.  Now this is something that off and on people keep asking about, there are integrations in America but in the UK none of the big student information systems have been integrated.
Thats not to say people haven’t tried a number of Uni’s have attempted it with varying success – but if anyone has totally solved it I haven’t come across them sharing their methods.  I believe Blackboard corp are even looking at making some integrations themselves but this might take some time.

Now in my last job at City of Bristol College about 6 years ago we did a lot of work moving grades around and I had something that worked well as a “Semi” automatic method.
So I thought I would show people how because with a few tweaks it could work for you.

If you dont use Blackboard the rest is probably a bit boring for you….

Einstein blackboard

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Nodal University – where your learning evolves around you! #FutureEd

So the final task for the #FutureEd mooc made you the Vice Chancellor for a new educational establishment and you had to write the mission statement design the structure and decide what you institution was for.  Below is my attempt, I would be very interested in what others think of it

 (please watch video for Vice Chancellors welcome speech: I deliberately made it using only free technology – youtube – as a contrast to the professionally produced videos that most VCs have done for them)

Create, Share, Collaborate – are the 3 pillars on which our university stands

We want creators, of Art, of Science, of Humanities.  Making objects, thoughts, reports, procedures and performances

Share is about more than the “share button” its about how, what and to who and what not to share.  Our sharers are digitally literate students experimenting with different mediums and methods of sharing what they create or curate

Collaborate – working together, learning together, helping each other.  We help our students to be both leaders and followers the kind of person you would follow anywhere and the kind you can rely on to use their intelligence to make your project succeed.

There were some buzzwords, but I think a place where you create wonderful things share them with the world and work with interesting people on things that excite them – is a place I would like to learn at.

Our Academic staff – we recruit the best we can find, but only those who are happy with our way of working.  How do we work? well it will be a limited form of “Open Allocation” more on this later.

Who are the students? Much like how we recruit our staff the students we admit will be the best we can find who want to learn and study in our environment.  Because a diverse group of students provides a richer learning environment the recruitment process will favor selecting students from a variety of backgrounds so we select the best student cohort rather than just the best individual students.

Our admissions criteria: For a degree excellent a level results, however we have a foundation year for those with lower grades or non-traditional and mature students

Who pays and how much £9000 by students via student loans, this is pretty much standard in the UK (although in an ideal world Government would pay a significant % via general taxation)

How do the courses meet? Varies

What are the assessments? Projects will make up the majority of assessments, it will vary depending on the units that you select but you will be marked on what you produce and what your contribution was to the groups that you worked with. ePortfolios and personal blogs will contribute to overall grades.

What constitutes mastery of content? Performance and understanding of concepts as evidenced through personal blogs.  Exams will be uncommon and only used for Units where there is no practical alternative.

Are there diplomas? Yes! Most students will be aiming for a 3 year bachelor’s degree although we do aim to offer some postgraduate qualifications

With the invention of the internet education changed, it is no longer necessary to memorise facts and it is possible to communicate with experts around the world.  To take advantage of this all staff and students should have an internet enabled device with them most of the time (and there will be bursaries as part of the hardship fund for those students unable to afford them).

Staff design and chose the units they want to teach (with a few compulsory units always running). Students chose which units they want to study (in addition to the compulsory units they have to take).  Every unit will have a core of material/skills that staff feel is essential the students learn, beyond that the information and learning will be curated and created by the student cohort with students taking a lead in their education.  A large part of each unit will be project based with students working to make (in its widest sense) something that contributes to their subject.  Students will be responsible for creating and maintaining ePortfolios of their work and publishing a personal blog throughout their degree – it is important that our learners both evidence and reflect on their learning.

All learning materials will be online (with exceptions for disabled students who need alternative arrangements) and the content of a unit will be delivered via video, readings and other online materials.  Contact time with staff will not be in lecture format but will be devoted to seminar and project work – staff will record short videos to cover key points for students (see flipped classroom for details).  Staff will be encouraged to involve students with their research to both increase their productivity and to give students a deeper understanding of the subject.

Learning with loose boundaries – we wish to encourage cross disciplinary work and wide collaboration between students (and staff) as such working with students who are not studying the same unit as you will be supported and you can include evidence of what you have achieved with others in your portfolio of work for the Units you are taking along with explanations of why it is relevant.  Similarly students will be allowed to take units from other disciplines if they have the preliminary skills required by the Unit.

Teaching with loose boundaries – as part of our open allocation policy for staff, staff will be hired to work in their specific discipline and will chose the majority of their work within this area.  They will however be encouraged to work with and co teach with staff from other disciplines.  Career progression will be

  • “Mentee Lecturer” – new lecturer who is helped and supported in their teaching and research by experienced staff
  • “Lecturer”  – member of staff fully responsible for own workload who works with other staff
  • “Mentor Lecturer” – responsible for own workload and guiding a number of Mentee Lecturers with theirs.

Support staff will be hired to support various essential functions but will also be encouraged to work across boundaries and will have a similar career structure to academics.

Alumni and the wider world – students and staff will be encouraged to take advantage of the internet to extend the boundaries of the classroom and work with people from around the world.  Our alumni will be a key resource in this with students being strongly encouraged to connect with alumni, and alumni encouraged to pass real world problems to staff for students to solve as part of their units.  Alumni will also have the option to enrol on individual units to keep their skills current.


Recommendations for students

Danger Educators

I have recently been thinking about the advice that should be given to students about what they should be doing with technology.  I am thinking about advice to all students (not just online students but face2face as well) something we could put on our VLE that would be useful to our entire student body.  This is my first rough draft – feel free to suggest anything I might have missed


Technology is a key part of the modern world and you will not be surprised to find that it will be a key part of your studies.  Each degree is different and so it is not easy to give advice on how to interact with the online parts of your particular course that is applicable to everyone, however here are some of the things that we feel the digital scholar should be

Hardworking – yes we know you are going to work hard while you are here but you also need to be certain that you are working online enough, the data from a number of universities around the world shows a clear (if faint) trend between number of times logging onto the VLE and degree grade.  At a minimum you should try to log on twice per lecture once before to get materials in advance and once after a lecture to get notes and handouts. You might also be interested to know there is a clear trend between books/journals taken out from the library and degree grade (Hard working students do well – who knew!)

Reflective – you are going to learn a vast amount while you are here, and reflecting on what you have learnt dramatically increases the amount you will retain.  One of the best ways to do this is to create a blog and post regularly about what you are learning, you will also find that it helps your understanding as when you write it out for your blog audience you will find yourself explaining the subject and one of the best ways to learn something is to explain it to someone else.

This post on “5 reasons your students should blog” gives some more reasons, I feel point 5 is particularly important – by the time you leave this University if your name is Googled it should point to a positive digital footprint containing your thoughtful comments on your chosen field.

Collaborative – one of the most useful resources that you will have during your time at this University is your classmates.  A group of intelligent people who are learning approximately the same thing as you at around the same time, you should be discussing what you are learning with them.  Using social media it is very easy to keep in touch with them and share your ideas and thoughts.

You can use Facebook etc but it is probably worth keeping a divide between your recreational and academic lives so we would recommend that you try G+ to form your academic learning network (not least because at our University you all have Gmail and so can join G+ with one click and have an integrated experience).

You can use this to share your blog posts and to share any interesting articles you find about the topics on your course (you should be spending time reading around your subject – when you find something useful, share it).  If a number of your classmates start sharing then you should get a steady stream of useful reading, you should also consider looking outside your peer group for other students or subject experts that you can follow – see this article on Using social media to advance your academic research goals for more ideas in this area.

Connected – your phone/laptop/tablet has access to the internet (at Uni you get free wifi access), this gives you access to all human knowledge (as well as access to your course) and it allows you to work anywhere (taking notes, pictures watching videos etc).  You should aim to have at least one internet enabled device with you at all times as this will allow you to engage with your subject at any time.  You will also find that in a lot of lectures having access to the internet allows you to more deeply engage with the lesson (such as using the Backchannel) although do try not to get distracted!

You will also find that our Blackboard has a mobile app so you can access and engage with your courses using your mobile.

My vision of a TEL team

package-36804_640Last month I was talking with someone about having a vision for your team.  Now I have discussed how individual academics should use the VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) and how institutions should use TEL (Technology Enhanced Learning).  I haven’t previously talked about my vision of what a TEL team is for, so here goes

The Why?

Having recently see this ted talk

I am going to start with “Why” (why have a team, why do these things) and because you should fit your vision into the wider vision of your organisation I will look first at the “Why” for my whole organisation.

For any educational establishment the overall “Why” should be something like – “We believe in creating and sharing knowledge

We are part of the Academic Registry and so need to fit into their vision – fortunately our Academic Registrar recently came up with a new motto “Academic Registry: enabling academic endeavour, supporting the student journey” which is pretty good and nicely maps to the overall “Why” as it is about supporting the creating and sharing of knowledge.

So for the TEL team? “We believe technology can enhance academic endeavour and improve the student journey


Support – although showing what buttons to press can be boring, any TEL team should have a key part of its role being the support of staff when they want to do something with technology.

Provide guidance (using a VLE posts) – this goes beyond support and lays out the different things staff can achieve with technology and why they would want to do this.  The guidance should look at “meta-level” ideas and show the possibilities/advantages of online

For example,
Sharing – unlike standard written works, online writing can be freely and widely distributed
Collaboration – unlike standard written work, online writing can be simultaneously and collaboratively edited
Multimedia – unlike standard written work, online expression can be enhanced with sound, images and video

Push guidance, TEL staff are experts in their narrow field (the use of technology in education) and they should have the confidence to recommend what other staff should be doing in their courses.  The key word here is “should” and I will come back to this.

Systematic engagement, historically TEL teams have been very good at building “islands of excellence” engaging in deep interactions with a small handful of staff.  This is no longer good enough, my vision would involve working with functional areas (Department/School/Faculty) to identify what is important in their practice and thus what staff in those areas should be doing and use this to provide area wide change.

Lower barrier to engagement and then a gentle persistent push, this follows on from the systematic engagement we would make the change as easy as possible (example dropping the key tools with supporting materials into all courses rather than expecting all staff to create from scratch) and then follow up with awareness, training and support to allow all staff to make those changes.

Coming back to “should” all staff “should” be using technology in the ways suggested, however some will have good reasons why not (they are doing something else/something better) and this is fantastic, however the 2 reasons “I don’t know how”, “I don’t have time” will no longer be relevant reasons because they will know how and we will have made it easy.

Google ecology – our University has given all staff and students gmail accounts.  There is a whole raft of google tools that can be accessed using these accounts.  The TEL team will become expert in this ecology and will support and encourage use of these sharing tools and networks.  As with guidance above the TEL team will show how the google tools fit into the “meta level” ideas and what advantages come from their use. 

Communities of practice(COP) (leading to Personal Learning Networks (PLNs)) the TEL team will seed communities of practice around the different areas of TEL use, this will allow staff to talk to others interested in the same things and allow them to share good practice from their own experience, think of it as crowd sourcing the training (How to get your workforce to love your LMS)

COP/PLN also has wider implications for the students as Don Arnoldy said “the role of education is to prepare the students for participation in the communities they hope to join”. By allowing our student to join and participate in these communities during their degree we are giving them additional tools they need to succeed in their chosen career.

The idea of the connected educator is important to the vision but is too big a subject to cover here – this post by Steve Wheeler would be a good place to get a starting idea of what a connected educator means and this by Helen Crump for a more wide ranging discussion and this regarding students.

Recommendations to students because a lot of TEL teams don’t directly support the students and because every single VLE course may be completely different, it has been hard to provide recommendations that make sense to all students (example – you should regularly check the discussion boards in your course and provide thoughtful replies to the posts of other students – doesnt really work if the instructor doesn’t use discussion boards).

However by taking a step back and looking at the activity rather than the tool we can make recommendations (example – you should regularly discuss the course with other students and provide thoughtful responses to their posts – this would work even if they were chatting on Facebook) particularly now cloud tools allow students to share/collaborate even if the instructor hasn’t provided a tool in the VLE.

A clear set of recommendations to students about how they can use technology to support their learning should be a key deliverable for any TEL team.

Release early and iterate, TEL is a fast moving field – however Universities can be quite slow moving beasts.  The tendency to want to make sure something is as good as it can be, sometimes results in it never happening.  My TEL team would act, releasing things as soon as they are “good enough” and then going back and improving them as many times as required.

And that, in a nutshell is my vision for a TEL team

Part 4: How to make Technology Enhanced Learning work for a University – Recognition

Building on my last post on culture change I want to look at how providing recognition for staff will increase the uptake of TEL and strengthen the cultural change.

If someone gets recognition/praise/esteem for something they have done they are dramatically more likely to do something similar.  Similarly others that see them get this recognition are more likely to try doing something similar

33rd America's Cup - Valencia, Spain

Internal recognition – you should by now have a group of staff that you have done a significant amount of work with.  You can provide them with some recognition by writing up what they have done as case studies (and surfacing the case studies on your website/VLE etc) and asking them to speak at any conferences that you organise.

Similarly you might wish to nominate some of them for Teaching and Learning awards if your organisation has such awards (interestingly at Bristol for the past 2 years every single person receiving an award has been someone that has done work with the TEL team – although the awards were frequently for something else they had done).

If you ever have the opportunity mention the work staff have done to their management.  Although it is outside of your control, informing areas about staff who are making a change increases the chance they will be praised for that work and may even lead to them being allocated time to do further work in this area.

Mention their names to others that are planning similar work (“we did this with Dr X last year, have a talk to her I am sure she would be happy to give you some advice”).

External recognition

Of course you can do the traditional things and name check people if you present to external conferences, you might even want to co-publish a research paper on some of the work you have done with staff if you have the academic background.

However there is a more immediate form of external recognition available – blogs, social media and communities

Now there are advantages to being a connected educator, and I hope that by the time you are considering external recognition you have already been encouraging your staff to blog. If your staff are engaging and connecting via a PLN (personal learning network) then they will be sharing what they do – and the first time they get a like/+1/comment they will get a little rush of endorphins because someone likes what they are doing.  The more they do it the more they will get.  You as a TEL team can jump start the process by providing/directing staff to communities to share with so that they have an immediate audience and don’t have to start out sharing with emptyness


Actually this is an area that TEL staff have very little influence over, the decision to make TEL part of your professional practice is either

  • an individual’s decision (“I want to teach well, I believe integrating technology into my practice makes my teaching better, thus using technology is part of my job“)
  • Or an Organisational decision (“This University believes in good teaching and believes effective use of technology encourages good teaching.  So we will discuss TEL in recruitment, promotion and annual review.  Thus using technology is part of everybody’s job“)

What TEL staff can do is make sure the support structure is in place so that when those decisions are made they are a concrete change rather than just an optimistic expression of intent.