Schools and eLearning – Education ICT 2016 and visit to Microsoft

Last week I attended two events in London that gave a flavour of eLearning and the school sector. The first event was a conference entitled Education ICT 2016, the second was a visit to see education experts at Microsoft, who are doing a lot with schools and increasingly with Universities. Things are changing fast in schools, particularly with the use of tablets by students. We can learn from what is happening in the sector, and there is interest from schools in what we are doing in HE.

Education ICT Conference 2016

Pete Herbert and I presented at the Education ICT Conference in Westminster On Wednesday 29th June. We had the tough job of following an excellent presentation from  Dr Neelam Parmar, Director of Elearning at Ashford School. Neelam described her engagement in with staff to identify pedagogic approaches and develop workflows for a variety of apps used in class on tablet devices. Many of these apps are free and could be of use in HE.

Pete and I spoke about scaling up the digitisation of content through Mediasite and our aspirations to move beyond simply capturing content to doing something more transformative. Pete illustrated the scale of use of Mediasite at Bristol, which has had over a million views, and also described how academics here are:

  • using analytic data to determine the areas students return to in the recordings to ask questions about why students might focus on those elements, eg is there a concept they are trying to better understand?
  • using flipped techniques and video feedback. In other words, changing teaching practice through the technology.

We alluded to aspirations to partner with students in areas of course and material design and how we are learning from MOOCs to change what we deliver to our own students. I was then on a panel session with some challenging questions from the floor about how we engage staff and students in change, and how students can partner with us in making change happen. Coincidentally, one of the other panel members, Kevin Sait, Head of IT Strategy at Wymondham High Academy Trust, delivered part of the session I attended at Microsoft on Friday.

Visit to Microsoft

This was an opportunity to see what Microsoft are developing for the education market. The visit was arranged and attended by colleagues from IT Services. Colleagues from the Faculty of Health Sciences.

We enjoyed a demonstration of the Microsoft Surface Hub. In effect, this is a very advanced electronic whiteboard with powerful video conference functionality built in. The responsiveness of the touch screens in particular was impressive. This has been the main disadvantage of screens I have used in the past. The video conferencing (built on Skype) included Xbox technology that tracks the user to determine which camera to use. You can see that in the right sized classroom, and with the right use cases, this could be an extremely effective tool. They could, for example, support those teaching across the clinical academies.

Kevin Sait demonstrated a range of Microsoft collaboration tools built into Office 365 and Sharepoint. Of particular interest to one colleague was Sway (part of Office 365) billed as a digital storytelling tool. Much of the collaboration with students in Microsoft schools centres on Onenote, through which students can build and share content. Other colleagues could see huge potential of the cloud for collaborative staff activity eg collaboration on exam papers.

There are some differences between Schools and Universities (for example, class size and types of teaching space) but there is much we can learn from what they are doing in schools. University student expectations will evolve as a result of what they are seeing in schools. We can start experimenting with tools like Onenote and the office 365 package, which, like Google apps, have great potential for both staff and student collaborative activity.

Faculty learning communities

Last week I attended a workshop about Faculty Learning Communities (FLCs), organised by colleagues in Academic Staff Development . This was an extremely interesting day led by Milton Cox from Miami University (which Milton was keen to emphasise is not in Miami Florida, surprising many!)

In the morning we looked at evidence for the effectiveness of FLCs and recommendations for how to design and run them successfully.  Milton referred to a number of useful resources, many of which can be found on the FLCs website.  The afternoon started by considering scholarship of teaching and learning and how it can be supported through FLCs. Milton talked through examples, some of which had been presented at the Lilly conference on evidence-based teaching and learning. The day closed with a discussion of important factors when leading and facilitating FLCs.

Discussion and questions were varied during the day, including concerns about time,  opportunities afforded by cross disciplinary collaboration in FLCs, and ethical considerations in educational research. I was particularly interested in Milt’s repeated emphasis on the effectiveness of “people talking to people over time” in effecting changes in pedagogic practice. He spoke at length about evidence from implementation science, and particularly from the National Implementation Research Centre on the effectiveness of FLCs in delivering educational development.

Many thanks to ASD for organising the event. Milton was an engaging lead and the day provided plenty of food for thought for us at Bristol, as we embark on the new University  Strategy, which aims to nurture and grow our community of innovators and scholars in teaching and learning.

Mediasite European Summit

On the 26th May I attended the European user summit hosted by Leeds University and the Sonic Foundry Team. The conference provides Mediasite users a chance to talk to each other and hear from the Sonic Team on their plans for the product in the upcoming releases.

The day was kicked off by Neil Morris, Director of Digital Learning talking about the current developments at Leeds. For me the two interesting points he talked about where the launch of the first credit bearing MOOC on the Future Learn platform and the redesign of their teaching spaces to encourage digital learning and move away from the traditional Lecture theatre.

Sonic Foundry talked through their roadmap and the changing video landscape throughout the day – they covered a lot of ground and I feel the top five for me where –

  • Mediasite Catch – a software version of the capture solution designed to be deployed to presentation PCs extending the reach of Mediasite using the desktop audio rather than the room installation. This includes user interface improvements which will be rolled out to the Desktop Recorder. Hopefully we will get a look at the beta version later in the summer.
  • Media submission workflow – although in very early stages of development Sonic are working on a workflow that will allow students to submit work while retaining a copy for themselves.
  • Course level analytics – enhancement to the current analytic offering allowing instructors to look at a course as a whole rather than just individual recordings.
  • Changing video landscape – looking at the work Sonic developers do to horizon scan trends in online video streaming including the rise of mpeg dash to replace .mp4 as the web standard.
  • Auto Presentation management – (apologies this one may not appeal to all!) the ability to manage the content lifecycle automatically from surfacing content to recycling and deletion.

We also heard presentations from other institutions from around Europe on how they and their students use Mediasite – again my top picks where –

  • Student Production – allowing students to use the Desk Top Recorder and post to the institution public Showcase* channel.
  • Website feedback – using the desktop recorder to record users journeys through web pages.
  • Recording practice – a couple of examples for this one from a PGCE course recording trainee teachers for reflection and one from a Law course using the technology to record pleas.
  • Practical Physics – students recording themselves working through problems and talking through their thought process.
  • Laboratory sessions – students being provided with a no audio film and recording a voice over commentary.

I think the key theme running through these presentations is students want to be involved and not just passive consumers of media content.

Of course I should not forget Bristols own Lee Mills, Implementation Officer for the Mediasite project who co presented with Jim Bird, Application Support Specialist from Leeds University on their own experiences of implementing a large scale automated Lecture Capture project.



Lee in action.


*Showcase is the Mediasite public channel for Media content.

Introduction to digital storytelling – notes from talk at BBC Digital Bristol Week

In contrast to yesterday’s talk, this talk from Colin Savage (BBC) seemed more like a formula for producing digital stories. Central to this were four questions:

  1. What question does it answer?
  2. What character will drive the story?
  3. What structure/platform might fit your story?
  4. What are the emotional touchpoints of the story?

There were some really interesting examples mentioned:

CS talked about all stories needing to answer a question, and touched briefly on reincorporation (“show the gun in act 1, fire it in act 3”). Both seem to relate to the curiosity gap mentioned yesterday.

Digital Bristol: Mobile Movies – get smarter with your smartphone

The lovely Joseph Giddon with a rule of thirds grid overlayed via FILMic Plus.

A rule of thirds grid applied via FILMic Plus on Android.

Digital Bristol: Mobile Movies – get smarter with your smartphone

Yesterday I attended the Mobile Movies workshop at BBC Broadcasting House. This event was part of the Digital Bristol Week events held around the city this week.

The workshop came as two sessions. The first covered techniques for filming using mobile phones. The second looked at specific apps used by BBC Journalists. The focus was particularly on Mobile Journalism (mojo). Yet there was lot to take away for those creating video content for education.

Part one: Learn how to shoot on your phone like a professional, with Deirdre Mulcahy.

This session gave some solid gold tips on filming with mobile devices. Deirdre covered the pros and many cons (read limitations) of mobile filming. Some great advice here around composition/framing of shots as well as overcoming limitation. The session introduced a smattering of media theory (rule of thirds, authentic voice, distortion bubbles etc). There was also fantastic practical advice for setting up and filming an interview.

Deirdre also made a convincing argument for using a selfie stick to film interviews with. No really. I’m almost convinced.

I appreciated the practical advice/activities undertaken. Getting a chance to have some hands on time helped get to grips with the theme of the session.

Part two: Apps and accessories to take your device further, with Marc Settle.

Marc presented a whirwind of app recommendations. Despite the dreaded iOS focus disclaimer, he brought enough to keep Android users interested. Marc mentioned extra bits of kit that can improve footage. Selfie-sticks, monopods and portable lighting all came up at breakneck speed.

I lost count of the number of apps highlighted but the crux of the talk centered on apps suitable for Mojo. How to take your device beyond basic filming to creating a more polished product. The phone in your pocket has the oomph (technical term) to create polished video content.  Apps can help add text, sound and even branding should you need it – “So the D@#/y M@/l can’t steal your content” 

My main take away from Marc’s session is to find apps that ‘play nicely’ with your preferred workflow. But you also need a back up app that does a similar job – make sure you have a plan b.


Cutting a long story short – notes from a talk as part of BBC Digital Bristol Week

This was a panel discussion with Rowan Kerek Robertson (Taylor Kerek) chairing, Sam Bailey (online/video for BBC Radio 1), and Stephen Follows (Catsnake, a production house specialising in short videos often for campaigning charities).

There was discussion of the using different platforms. For SB, for a content idea to be good it must be able to lead to something for all platforms: iPlayer, radio, social (Twitter, Facebook), and Youtube. SF and SB talked about the difference between video content on different platforms based on audience expectations:

  • iPlayer – generally about 30 minutes long, people sitting down to watch telly
  • Youtube – shorter, grabbier, but people are geared up to be watching something
  • Facebook – autoplay without sound, people who just want to see what’s going on

There was discussion about social sharing of content. Shares is often used as a metric, but should be used with caution. If you really want people to watch the the end, or to take action, you need to measure that. SF recommended the book Contagious which, among other things, lists the 5 emotions that cause sharing as: anger, anxiety, awe, excitement, and humour (in Radio 1 parlance – WTF, OMG, LOL). SF said that they’ve found the most successful way to get meaningful shares is to target people “who already care” via blogs. Sites like Buzzfeed might give you lots of people loading your video, but will they actually watch it?

There was interesting detail from SF on how their production process. They start with an understanding of what their clients want: “who do you want to do what?”. From this they write a brief (eg “This film will get women aged 25-30 to share X because it will make them feel like Y”). Key performance indicators need to go in the brief and need to really reflect what the client is trying to achieve. They then have an ideas session with this visible. They don’t have a maximum length for videos (their greatest hit is 8 minutes). Digital allows you to be flexible: embrace that.

Testing has 3 stages.

  1. Informal focus group (friends, friends-of-friends) – just to get the feel of the demographic, not to test out ideas.
  2. Show the video to a few people from that group.
  3. Seeding (targeted Youtube views) to around 1-2k people.

This made it sound relatively light-touch and low-cost – great for higher education.

SF believes storytelling is a key way humans have passed on knowledge, so is a fundamental driver. Knowledge sharing leads to a joy in storytelling (just as the need for food leads to appreciation of cuisine, and reproduction leads to sex being pleasurable). A storytelling technique is the “curiosity gap” – something that isn’t fulfilled until the end (but not by tricking people, more like stringing out a joke so it gets more enjoyable the longer it goes on … and you know when to stop). Koney 2012 is an example of a video that uses this technique.

Relatedly, recent research suggests that men who tell good stories are seen as more attractive.

Blackboard Teaching and Learning Conference 6th-8th April 2016

Congratulations to Blackboard on this conference, which was by some way the best I have been to, both in terms of the wonderful location at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, the wide range of extremely useful presentations and the networking opportunities especially with other Blackboard users from around Europe and beyond. There were many interesting sessions which I could write about, but here are the top 5 things to interest and/or inspire me!

Students taking charge of Higher Education

Wednesday’s highlight for me was undoubtedly the host institution’s session entitled “Sharing Best Practice at the University of Groningen: A Student Centric Approach. This  covered two main areas, the development of a new student Portal and the role that students have in support for TEL.  The second of these was extremely impressive. There is a team of 24 students who provide first line support for a range of systems including Blackboard, which at Groningen is called Nestor. They have a thorough training and induction programme lasting 6 months, and then are typically employed, for up to 12 hours a week, for up to two and a half years.  Students manage the service, and they have recently developed a MOOC called “Students taking charge of higher education”, (with Futurelearn), which covers for example how students demonstrate professional  behaviours.

Jon Hummel talks about professional behaviours

Jon Hummel from the Nestor support team talks about how they help develop professional behaviours in their student led team

Exemplary course design

With the TELED team’s recent focus on course design, I was interested to hear Lloyd Stock and Alan Mason talk about the Blackboard exemplary course programme (ECP). Although already familiar with the rubric used, I found the examples they showed useful (including the YouTube playlist of course tours by winners), together with their ideas around promoting good course design through an awards programme, whether that be submitting courses to Blackboard’s own ECP or internally within the University, as for example done at the University of Aberystwyth.  This theme was picked up several times during the conference including by Danny Monaghan, and Pete Mella from the University of Sheffield, who talked about their institution’s experience of improving the quality of Blackboard courses through an exemplary course program, including academic colleagues using these as evidence for assignments in their equivalent of the CREATE programme.

Natalie Thorne from the Distance Learning Unit at Leeds Beckett University gave some insights into how they use Blackboard to support distance learning programmes in a very effective way. Natalie demonstrated some excellent visual design of courses including activity and page layouts , engaging learning activities using both native Blackboard and external tools,  as well as practical tips including how to reduce clicks by linking directly to learning modules from a course menu. Natalie’s session really reinforced the point that Blackboard can be an effective  environment for online distance learning, as long as courses are well-designed.

Blackboard developments

In the Blackboard roadmap session there was an emphasis on an updated look and feel and responsive theme for our version, 9.1. A  new system and course theme is due out in Summer 2016, and responsive design and mobile optimisation including for submission of assignments in the Autumn.

Blackboard demonstrated the new responsive theme for 9.1

Blackboard demonstrated the new responsive theme for 9.1


Farzana Latif stimulated much interest with her account of the University of Sheffield’s TELfest event. The week long festival takes place annually, and has had a significant impact in raising awareness of and interest in TEL. In the first year they had 175 colleagues attending at least one of the sessions, and in the second this went up to 280. There are a mixture of sessions, for the more and less experienced, some run by the TEL team, some by academics and others such as the Library. It has helped Farzana and her team both promote certain themes and/or new opportunities, but is also a valuable opportunity for them to listen to staff views, needs and concerns, for example in their “Blackboard listening session”, where representatives from the company have attended. They have found that the events attract staff who had not engaged with TEL before, and have helped new champions to emerge.

Assessment and feedback

Large scale online exams, electronic management of coursework, and implementation of the Blackboard Grades Journey were recurring themes.  A number of universities in Europe are successfully doing large scale computer based exams using Blackboard (as well as other systems)  with Groningen itself being an excellent example. I was extremely impressed with the photos they showed of their 600 seater exam hall, which has flexible desk space so it can be used for handwritten or computer-based exams, including typed essay style exams using an adapted version of the Blackboard text editor. They reported that their online exams on Blackboard managed hosting are going very well.

Groningen digital exam hall

Dr Lisette Bakalis from the University of Groningen talks about the digital exams they run.

There were some useful accounts of implementing the Grades Journey, which Joe Gliddon attended as this will be something he will be involved with in his secondment to the SLSP programme.  Last but not least, Joe and I had to wait until Friday morning to run our session “Submit work here” which looks at the work we have been doing here at Bristol on the use of Blackboard  packages to provide a scalable workflow for coursework assessment and feedback online. Our presentation was well-attended, over 30 participants almost filling the small room,  and there was plenty of discussion.

Participants in discussion

Participants in the Submit Work Here session in discussion

A number of colleagues from other institutions approached us with questions and comments, for example around ideas for other uses of packages, such as to provide learning activity templates.

Photo of the session posted in the Conference app

Photo of our session posted in the Conference app

Overall the conference provided plenty of insights and ideas for us to consider.  For the Ed Dev team the interest shown in exemplary course design and how this can be given recognition both internally and externally was particularly inspiring and timely. 

TeachMeet Bristol



On the 15th March, Martin and I where kindly invited by Subject Librarian Angela Joyce to attend and present at the South West Librarians TeachMeet. This event took place over one day and focussed on the sharing of practice amongst the library community on their teaching.

Angela had arranged a rich program of talks with each presenter only having 10 minutes which gave the day a great feel and pace. From a non Librarian perspective it was interesting to see the same themes weaving through the talks – pressure from increasing student numbers, how to engage with students, embedding information skills within the core curriculum and giving students the skills they need in a Digital age to name a few. From a TEL perspective it was amazing to see the innovative and creative use of Technology to address these problems.

We were treated to great uses of online tutorials, Media resources, Audience response systems, approaches to engaging students in a timely and coherent way and making the most out Lecture slots.

The openness and willingness to share ideas and practice amongst all of the attendees made for a very enjoyable day and real credit to Angela and her colleagues for a great event – Thank you again for inviting us!



i-Docs 2016

i-Docs_LOGO2Hosted by the Watershed and produced by the Digital Cultures Research Centre and UWE Bristol this conference is in its fourth iteration promoting dialogue around the fast developing world of interactive documentary.

Before moving on to why this is important for education a quick definition of what is an i-Doc would help those who are not familiar. Broadly an i-Doc is the documenting of a subject using interactive digital technology. This combination means that the audience becomes an agent, in that their interactions and/or contributions make the work unfold in a non-linear way and can include an element of gamification. (definition adapted from the about sections of the i-Docs webpages)

In addition to the Keynote speakers the symposium was divided in to three themes – Evolving Practice / Uses of Immersion / Tools for thought

Educational Applications –

While a large number of the projects where either made or curated by experienced film makers using tools that required a knowledge of editing and/or programming the applications of interactive media has great potential to transform teaching, student projects and research (both presentation of and data gathering).  Presenting interactive media, in particular video content, allows for teaching materials to become non linear and add an active experience for students. From embedding quizzes, branches to further resources or a completely non linear pathway from start to finish gives the students the options to engage with resources in the way that suits them and at a depth that their understanding of the subject requires.

For student and research projects the potential is greatest beyond the individual project in allowing collaborations between experts in their fields to work together, to design user interfaces and to present findings of others research. This practice again is not new to education and an increasing number of institutions are investing in areas of practice such as the Digital Humanities.

The projects below where presented at the event, not all would be achievable without considerable skills and or resource but, they present a great resource for thinking about what is possible. Due to the nature of some of the material in the projects a couple of them contain challenging content.

Projects –


1979 Iranian Revolution (Game Trailer)

Pirate Fishing (interactive Journalism – warning this is very addictive!)

WebDocs –

17,000 Islands  ( interactive documentary experiment, the audience, are invited to build new islands by stealing clips for your own film, using an innovative custom-built web video editor. As you steal their clips, the original film will be destroyed and the archipelago will gradually disintegrate, making way for a new living map.)

On Hamburger Square (multimedia documentary tour of down town Greensboro)

The Quipu Project (272,000 women and 21,000 men were sterilised in the 90’s in Peru. Thousands have claimed this happened without their consent, but until now they have been repeatedly silenced and denied justice.)

Copa Para Quem (interactive documentary looking at the negative affect of the world cup in Fortaleza, Northern Brazil)

Filming Revolution (A meta documentary of films created in Egypt since the revolution that invites you to explore defined pathways between films or create and share your own)

Virtual Reality –

Utopia 1.0 (Virtual Reality Project documenting the desertion of Second Life)

Tools –

Korsakow ( rule based editing tool)
Klynt (non Linear editing tool)