Play – notes from a PM Studios lunchtime talk

I attended October’s lunchtime talk at Pervasive Media Studio by Simon Johnson of Free Ice Cream and igfest – about working in real world games. His big hit was the city-based zombie chase game, 2.8 Hours Later (these were heavier with social commentary than I had realised at the time – second version was about becoming an asylum seeker).

I loved his thought that playing a game is like running on a different operating system. And that it can help you see features of the existing operating system – say of a city – that would not otherwise be apparent. Creating a game was also described not as storytelling, but as creating a context in which people build their own stories.

This seems very relevant to thinking about teaching in the digital era, where dissemination of information is no longer such a key concern. We should be designing experiences which shake people out of their set patterns of thinking and allow them to explore new ones, helping them to try out new operating systems, creating rich environments in which they build their own stories.

Misc details

  • Simon emphasised the idea of fun – not “serious gaming”. Similar to Nic Whitton’s emphasis on playfulness?
  • His Cargo game, a city escape game focussed on how to build/undermine trust in a group, was designed to create a chaotic environment to test disaster relief principles.
  • igfest – a festival of interesting games that ran for several years. I think there were more frequent meet ups too. This gave game developers a play-testing community by regular events and some regular participants even became game designers.
  • Hat game – gps tracked bowler hat, whoever kept it longest would win (but there were unintended consequences… the hat-wearer ran away – the prize was too big)
  • theTweeture – such an advanced bot that people thought it was a puppet
  • A couple of the games were intended to help people conceptualise complex ideas: a hoop-rolling game set in a quantum computer; Calibration which puts the scale of the solar system in human terms.
  • He’s developing a conference-based game for the ODI to be played at the UN conference in March.

Learning design cross institutional network

On Wednesday 6th July I attended my first meeting of the Learning Design Cross Institutional Network, kindly organised by Lisette Toetenel of the Learning Design team at the Open University, and hosted by UCL.  The network has only been going for a year, but with an ever growing focus on systematic enhancement of teaching and the student experience across the HE sector, learning design is becoming a field of great interest to many institutions, and this was reflected in the attendance at the event, which was double the number of the previous meeting. Participants came from a range of organisations, including Liverpool, Edinburgh, UCL, Oxford, Greenwich, Northampton and the Open University.

So what exactly is learning design and why is it of such interest?

Fiona Hale from the University of Edinburgh has recently carried out a review of relevant literature and resources as well as interviews with practitioners across the sector, and opened the day with a summary of her work which is informing developments of the Edinburgh Learning Design roadmap (ELDeR) at her institution.  Fiona acknowledges the importance of learning design research but prioritises learning design practice which she defines as

the process of designing learning experiences (planning, structuring, sequencing) through facilitated activities that are pedagogically informed, explicit and make better use of technologies in teaching

(Learning Design Scoping: Final Report)

It is a creative process and distinct from development of courses, although it may involve prototyping of activities and getting feedback on these.

Why is this sort of process seen as so valuable? Firstly, research by Fiona and others has shown that traditionally course design often “just happens”. When there is an explicit design process this tends to be focussed more on content than thinking about the activities students will be undertaking in their  learning. Learning design foregrounds activity as opposed to content, on the basis that it is the activities which help students to engage with content. Content alone is not learning. 

Secondly traditional design practice often happens in silos, with individual academics working in isolation. Sometimes the person designing is not necessarily the person teaching, which can lead to a lack of coordination. The facilitated process Fiona and others use is a collaborative endeavour, involving as many colleagues from the unit and/or programme team as possible working together with library staff and learning technologists. Collaborative design has been shown to be effective, for example through the success of Gilly Salmon’s long-established Carpe Diem approach. ( )

Thirdly use of a structured process is easier to evaluate and scale as well as being easily shareable.  In Fiona’s case her team have been facilitating the workshops initially, but because there is a standard model and resources, they are now being cascaded down to facilitators in Schools, which has increased capacity and spread effective practice.

So what sort of approaches are other institutions taking?

At Edinburgh the process involves a workshop which takes place over two days, similar to the Northampton CaIeRO approach, both of which are based on Gilly Salmon’s Carpe Diem model.  Others use shorter interventions such as UCL’s one and a half hour ABC workshops. These do not provide an opportunity for any actual activity prototyping  though, in contrast to the approaches used at Edinburgh and Northampton.

All of the approaches are very active, with participants able to make use of visual resources such as activity cards to try out different sequences of types of activities in their designs. This hands on approach is quite different from other purely discursive review processes, and feedback from participants illustrates that they find this very effective in helping engagement and productive outcomes. 

Learning design as product

In addition to the process, learning design can generate a product, for which Dalziel uses the analogy of musical notation.  In the same way that musical notation attempts to capture the energy and complexity of music, a learning design representation tries to capture “the great ideas of teaching to be shared so that we can build that community knowledge”.

“Learning Design – conceptualising a framework for teaching and learning online” (2016) ed Dalziel 2016 )

Different attempts have been made to represent learning designs, including through use of tools like LAMS and the Learning Designer.   Helen Walmsley-Smith from Staffordshire University is one of those who are looking at challenges of categorising learning designs. In order to demonstrate this point Helen invited participants to have a go at analysing and categorising a series of descriptions  of learning activities. This revealed that the different ways that colleagues talk about teaching and learning can present challenges, as can the way teachers describe activities in their instructions for students. 

One of the frameworks that has proven widely useful in helping to categorise learning activities and thereby help with achieving balanced learning design is Diana Laurillard’s:


Laurillard types of learning

(Adapted from: Laurillard, D. (2012) Teaching as a design science: building pedagogical patterns for learning and technology )

We have used both this and the eight learning events model in a number of contexts including workshops and the TEL essentials online course, as ways of helping colleagues think about different ways in which TEL can effectively support learning.


(Leclerc and Poumay (2005) The 8 Learning Events Model and its principles

Diana’s framework is used in the Learning Designer tool, which allows colleagues to visualise through a pie chart the proportion of each different type of  activity in their course. This can then prompt reflection, for example if there appears to be a dominance of “Acquisition” type activity , this may lead to consideration of balancing this more with discussion or practice. 

Future of learning design

Diana provided the final presentation of the day, which looked to the future of learning design. She sees it as an essential to enable scaling up of engagement with learning technology, and to help good pedagogies to cross to different subject areas and contexts, for example between online and blended courses. She ended by suggesting some ways in which MOOCs could help, for example in sharing ideas and designs, and taking advantage of analytics to further research evidence of effectiveness.

(Slides and audio from presentation by Diana Laurillard)

This was an extremely useful day, and provided a great opportunity to meet colleagues who are both starting out on the learning design journey and others who have significant experience and for whom this process is really gaining traction and leading to better designed courses.  Many thanks to all of the contributors. 

We are very keen to trial one or more of these approaches at Bristol, and would love to hear from any colleagues who may be interested.  To find out more please email:

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.