Category Archives: stuff

e-Learning Stuff: Top Ten Blog Posts 2021

laptop and headphones
Image by Regina Störk from Pixabay

This year I have written 113 blog posts. In 2020 I had written 94 blog posts. In 2019 I had written 52 blog posts which was up from 2018 when I only wrote 17 blog posts.

I decided when I got my new role in March 2019 that I would publish a weekly blog post about my week. I did this all across 2021 as well which added to the number of posts. I did once get asked if these week notes were popular, not really, but they are much more for me than for others.

Well 2021 like 2020 was an unexpected and interesting year, this did have an impact on what blog posts were popular and those that people read. Due to the impact of the pandemic on higher education this influenced what I was writing about in 2021.  However many of the posts in the top ten are from the archive.

So the blog post at number ten in the top ten is an old post on Steering a supertanker… It’s pretty easy to be honest.

The ninth place was Ten ways to use QR Codes which was not a post about ten ways to use QR codes.

At number eight was a discussion piece on the The tyranny of the timetable.

Another old post was at number seven, 100 ways to use a VLE – #89 Embedding a Comic Strip

Asking Can I legally download a movie trailer? was the sixth most viewed post on the blog. One of the many copyright articles that I posted some years back, this one was in 2008. Things have changed since then, one of which is better connectivity which would allow you to stream content direct into a classroom, as for the legal issues well that’s something I am a little behind on the times though in that space.

The post at number five was from a series about translation of in-person to online delivery, Lost in translation: the lecture. Before having 4-5 hours in a lecture theatre or a classroom was certainly possible and done by many institutions. However merely translating that into 4 hours of Zoom video presentations and discussions is exhausting for those taking part, but also we need to remember that in this time there are huge number of other negative factors impacting on people’s wellbeing, energy and motivation. This post explored the options and possibilities that could be undertaken instead of merely translating a one hour lecture into a one hour Zoom presentation.

Fourth most popular post was a now obselete guide to Full Resolution Video on the PSP. Still surprised by how popular Full Resolution Video on the PSP was even though I am pretty sure that no one is still using PSPs.

The post at number three was from 2015, I can do that… What does “embrace technology” mean? was from the FE Area Reviews.

Second most viewed post was “million-to-one chances happen nine times out of ten”

The most popular post in 2021 is one of the all time popular posts, The iPad Pedagogy Wheel. Published in 2013, this was number one for many years, number two in 2019  and number three in 2020. I re-posted the iPad Pedagogy Wheel as I was getting asked a fair bit, “how can I use this nice shiny iPad that you have given me to support teaching and learning?”. It’s a really simple nice graphic that explores the different apps available and where they fit within Bloom’s Taxonomy. What I like about it is that you can start where you like, if you have an iPad app you like you can see how it fits into the pedagogy. Or you can work out which iPads apps fit into a pedagogical problem.

So there we have it, the top ten posts of 2021.

It wasn’t online learning!

laptop and headphones
Image by Regina Störk from Pixabay

One of things I have noticed is how often much of what was done during the numerous lockdowns was described as online learning.

Let’s be clear you can describe what was happening as an emergency response to a crisis, even simplistically a pivot, but what was happening across schools, colleges and universities could in no way be described as online learning.

That’s not so say that universities took advantage of the web tools and other online services to deliver teaching online, and the students were learning, whilst online. However, to describe what was happening using an existing term such as online learning, has resulted in the term online learning now tarnished with the less than satisfactory experiences of staff and students during the pandemic

Prior to the pandemic, the term online learning was used in a positive way to describe how learning could happen online.

During the pandemic, there was an emergency response to the crisis. Students and importantly the staff were in lockdown, with all the requisite baggage that came with that, in terms of isolating, looking after family and all the other stuff that was happening as a result of the pandemic.

I do think, having spoken to students and staff who have been through this process, how hard everyone worked during the pandemic to do their best to deliver teaching and support learning.

The reality is though that despite the hard work, there wasn’t the training, the staff development, the research, the preparation undertaken that would have been needed to deliver an outstanding online learning experience. Combined with that, the fact that the academic staff were also in lockdown as well, the actual experiences of students and staff are in fact quite amazing. However it wasn’t online learning. What we saw was translation of existing in-person practices to online versions; they lost the nuances of what made the in-person experience so good, and didn’t take advantage of the affordances of that online and digital can bring to the experience.

Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

What is online learning then?

Well, for one thing highly effective online learning is designed from scratch, it isn’t about converting, translating or digitising an original in-person programme. Experiences from universities across the UK have shown that, though this can be done, it isn’t necessarily the best and most effective way of designing an online course. Starting from a blank canvas and thinking holistically about the whole experience, and from a student perspective should result in a better student experience. It should not be constrained by the physical requirements of an in-person programme, such as rooms and timetables, likewise it can use the opportunities of asynchronous activities that digital can being to the table.

Designing and delivering online learning does require skills and knowledge, but over the last couple of decades there has been lots of papers and research on this topic, as well as people sharing their experiences of doing it.

Looking through that digital lens

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

The pandemic crisis has provided universities with serious challenges and required creative thinking to provide solutions. Universities have needed to act at pace and scale. They’ve needed to do this whilst staff and students are coping with yet another lockdown, social distancing and continuing restrictions. All of this whilst trying to navigate a highly charged political landscape, with often conflicting advice and guidance from central government. Despite the positive news of the rollout of vaccines, it will be sometime before things get back to normal, and we don’t yet know what that normal will be. Things could get worse before they get better. However we are seeing more in-person activities on campus and a sense of normality compared to the last eighteen months.

One aspect of education that has gained more prominence during the emergency response to the pandemic is the importance of online and digital in responding to the situation, and the use of technology to meet the changing needs of students and staff. There have been issues with hardware, software, remote technical support, and planning a blended hybrid curriculum that ensures a quality student experience, but they have, by and large, been overcome through the support of our teams across a range of professional services and with the experience and knowledge of all our staff.

Knowing that digital has been critical to dealing with the challenges of the pandemic, the question now remains: how and what role will digital play in the post-pandemic strategic priorities of the university?

There are two key questions facing universities?

Does the strategy still meet the needs of the university in this new, changing and uncertain landscape?

What role does digital play in helping universities achieve their [new] strategic aspirations?

There are various ways in which you can respond to these questions, you may want to create new strategic priorities, which reflect the new landscape in which universities will operate. Some universities will want to consider creating a digital strategy, or giving their existing one a major overhaul. A question that you may want to reflect on, do universities need a separate digital strategy? There are challenges with having additional strategies that are an addition to the core strategic priorities, and with more strategies in place it is sometimes easy for things to fall between them.. Additionally , the provision of a new strategy, with new digital priorities, may be seen as some kind of extra or addition to what staff are already doing. The end result is that the digital strategy is often ignored or left to one side. If you are tasked with writing a digital strategy, you could write it in isolation, but prepare for it to be a low priority for people higher up. Also expect people in other directorates or departments to ignore it as they focus on their own strategies.

Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay

I would argue that in order to get stronger “buy-in” by stakeholders there is a need to apply a digital lens to all strategies. What I mean by this, is reviewing and reflecting on the strategic priorities in turn and exploring and explaining how digital can be used to enable and achieve those priorities. This moves the emphasis away from a focus on a technology or a tool and onto the core focus of the business.

If you consider a strategic goal such as this one

We will respond flexibly to the challenges and opportunities ahead. Flexible modes of study will support our students to succeed and allow them to engage with a greater range of opportunities in education, extra-curricular activities and work experience.

You can start to see how a range of digital and online technologies can enable this to happen. The importance of digital platforms to enable flexibility of access to learning. Using online social platforms to increase engagement in extra-curricular activities.

The lens is made up of different aspects that need to be considered when applying digital to existing and intended structures.

It is necessary to identify which element will be looked at in digital contexts – for example, a particular teaching practice. Different digital options should then be explored to gain a thorough understanding of the range of possibilities. The benefits and risks of each possibility should be carefully weighed before deciding to deploy. As with all change, it is important to reflect and evaluate the nature and impact of the changes caused by the incorporation of digital.

The digital lens approach can enable effective and transformational behaviours to emerge by helping staff to understand and develop their capabilities and confidence in the context of their own work. The results can include an improved status quo and the identification of new goals for individuals and their organisations.

There is a history of people talking about applying a lens to challenges, to look at things differently. To give a different perspective on what has been written or talked about. These are sometimes called strategic lenses and can cover different area such as design, customer focus, resources, cultural amongst others.

Any departmental or methodology strategy should always link back to the organisational strategy and how the objectives and actions will support the organisational strategic aims.

If you apply a digital lens to the corporate strategy, you can demonstrate how digital technologies can enable that strategy. So rather than talk about how you are going to increase the use of digital technologies, the strategy talks about how the use of digital technologies will enable the strategic aims.

Digital does not exist in isolation and there may be other strategies, such as teaching and learning, assessment, environmental, wellbeing or community. The concept of a lens can be used here as well. Either placing a digital lens over the environmental strategy and exploring how digital and technology can enable the university to achieve it’s environmental strategic goals, or even using the same concept and applying an environmental lens to the core strategic priorities.

I have worked with universities across the country helping them to utilise the concept of the digital lens to enable transformation and more effective use of digital and online technologies that are aligned with their strategic priorities. A strategic digital lens allows universities to better understand how digital and technology can enable them to achieve their core strategic priorities. It can help inform staff how they will use digital in their work to meet the institutional priorities.


Jisc, 2018. Delivering digital change: strategy, practice and process. [online] Bristol: Jisc. Available at:

Clay, J., 2018. Why does no one care about my digital strategy? – eLearning Stuff. [online] eLearning Stuff. Available at:


Photo by Philippe Bout on Unsplash

Universities have traditionally designed courses for in-person face to face teaching. This process is based on years of experience in delivering programmes of study to cohorts of students.

The pandemic and subsequent lockdowns required a rapid emergency response and there was a swift transition from in-person delivery to remote delivery.

Most of the time this remote delivery took the form of that traditional delivery format been converted (or translated) into a remote delivery format. It was not converted to reflect the opportunities that online pedagogy can bring to the table.

This was not unexpected, academic staff had to quickly respond, they didn’t have the time or the resources to design, develop and delivery excellent online teaching and learning. Often they would not have the requisite and necessary digital capabilities as well. The end result was a translation of teaching and learning rather than transformation.

Moving forward, there is a need to reflect on the skills and capabilities required to deliver on the possibilities of digital teaching and learning.

Digital skills are only part of the challenge. Jisc’s work on digital capability has demonstrated again the need for a more holistic approach to the use of digital tools and services.

As well as the technical skills required for the various tools that are available, other skills are also required. These are skills around curriculum design, pedagogy, creativity, production, and innovation. The pandemic demonstrated that the technical skills were relatively easy to acquire, however for the other skills, training, development and application are more complex and challenging.

Success in digital teaching and learning is much about understanding about what is required for transformation to take advantage of the affordances and opportunities that digital can offer and not about taking what works in-person and making digital copies of existing practices.

Shared understanding

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The first Polish language dictionary (published 1746) included definitions such as: “Horse: Everyone knows what a horse is.”

Within the world of digital and online learning, assumptions are often made that everyone knows what is being discussed and there is a shared understanding of the terms being used. The reality is that often everyone has their own understanding of a term, such as blended learning, but they are not the same.

This lack of shared understanding can result in very different experiences for students.

It is critical when planning a shared curriculum and programmes of study that there is a common definition of key terms being used so that across all academic staff and the student body are working from the same understanding.

This shared understanding becomes even more critical when additional terms, such as hybrid or hyflex, are used. As across the higher education sector, there is a lack of consistency in how such terms are used.

A simple exercise that can be undertaken is asking a room of people to write down their definitions of a key term, such as blended learning onto a post-it note and then for people to share and like which definitions they agree with. Second part of the exercise is to come up with a single clear definition that everyone understands, which will then be used going forward.

The definition doesn’t need to be definitive, but the relevant stakeholders need to have clarity and a shared understanding of that definition.

What happens now?

Image by Peter H from Pixabay

So the Guardian is reporting that nine in ten university students in England have had at least one Covid jab. This does have implications for in-person teaching at universities across England.

Far from being irresponsible Covid spreaders, the vast majority of students at English universities have been vaccinated at least once and would request a test if they had symptoms, according to a survey.

This is a different scenario to last autumn when there wasn’t a vaccine and students were being accused of being super spreaders.

With more of the student population vaccinated then this should result in lower infection rates. We still need to consider those who may still be at risk from Covid despite being vaccinated as I found out recently it can still be quite nasty.

We know that there has been something of a backlash against online learning as a result of the experiences during the pandemic. We know that what was an emergency response, was in no way what would be described as online learning. How could staff deliver effective and engaging online learning, with no time for preparation, lack of skills and knowledge and remember they were also living through the pandemic.

Moving forward with demand from students and staff to have more in-person teaching, I don’t really want to say, going back to what they had, but we know how much students and staff missed in-person teaching. There is a pent up demand to return to in-person teaching. In some of the research we have been doing at Jisc, the students were very clear that when they said they missed in-person teaching that it wasn’t just the in-person learning experience it was also all the resulting interactions that happen before, during and after such in-person sessions.

This doesn’t mean that universities should stop doing stuff online, more that they need to think about what their students are saying, what their students are wanting, as well as working out the best way to deliver that, whether that be in-person or online.

Our discussions with students also showed that some things worked better online, they levelled things up between staff and students and were less intimidating than the face to face equivalents.

One thing we do need to recognise though, is that the pandemic is far from over. Infection rates which rose dramatically recently have started to drop, but winter is coming, and this means that it could rise again, combine with the other challenges that winter brings. Also new variants can reduce the efficacy of the vaccines, as well as the fact that the efficacy of the vaccine declines over time. Boosters are been given for a reason.

We may not go into another lockdown situation, but are universities prepared to pivot again to online delivery and teaching?

Hopefully we will start to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but we do need to be prepared, as that light may be further away than we think it is.

Turnitin is quite good, it once showed me that I had plagiarised myself

Gloucestershire College
Gloucestershire College by James Clay

Was reminded of this tweet this week.

Turnitin is quite good, it once showed me that JISC RSC London had plagiarised me. This was back in July 2012.

What happened was that for a Turnitin training session at Gloucestershire College I took three pieces of work.

  • A piece of work which was a straight copy of something from the internet.
  • A second piece which contained quotes of content from other sources.
  • A third and final piece of original content.

Each time I did the training I would have to create a new piece of original content, as once submitted it would flag another submission of the same content as plagiarised or with an originality warning.

So with confidence I went through the three pieces of work, so you can imagine the shock and surprise that the Turnitin system flagged my original content as being copied!

Time for a little detective work. The original piece of work (in theory) was authored by JISC RSC London. Though digging deeper, what had happened was that before then I had written a piece of work, which JISC RSC London then copied and used on their website.

When I wrote my original piece of writing, though it was written completely fresh, it bore a huge similarity to my writing that JISC RSC London had copied.

So what I thought was an original piece of work, was so similar to a piece I had written a fair few years ago, it was picked up by Turnitin. Though Turnitin didn’t pick up the original piece of work, it picked up the work by JISC RSC London that had copied my work.

That took some explaining to the academic staff in the training session.

Let’s be more innovative

We often talk about innovation in education and sometimes the context in which it used implies that innovation is required to make things better.

laptop user
Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

When I think about innovation in the use of technology in education, I always look at the formal dictionary definition of the word innovation, my dictionary, says it is “a new method, idea, product” whilst the Thesaurus says: change, alteration, revolution, upheaval, transformation, metamorphosis, reorganization, restructuring, rearrangement, recasting, remodelling, renovation, restyling, variation; new measures, new methods, new devices, novelty, newness, unconventionality, modernization, modernism; a break with tradition, a shift of emphasis, a departure, a change of direction.

This means that innovation for me means new or different. It doesn’t necessarily mean better or improved.

For me in the context of education technology, innovation means taking an existing non-digital educational processes and using technology to improve it.

It can also mean looking at how another innovation (such as a new device or an online service) and using it to improve teaching, learning and assessment.

I don’t actually think much of what is defined as innovative within educational technology is in fact innovative. Too much of it is small scale, poorly defined and low impact.

For me true innovation in educational technology is change which has significant impact across the whole organisation. However this isn’t always exciting and shiny! Too often we focus on the new and the shiny and less on those innovations, that are holistic, organisation-wide and would have a greater impact on the learner experience.

These are for me examples of innovations that had a positive impact.

Image by 377053 from Pixabay
  • Some staff from one college were using the collaborative aspects of Google Docs for assignment creation, with staff providing ongoing meaningful feedback as the assignment was created. There was also a plan to scale up and roll out across the whole college.
Image by WikimediaImages from Pixabay
  • At Gloucestershire College, Sports used video capture devices (originally PSPs with cameras, then tablets with cameras) for body movement analysis.
  • Cornwall College used a virtual world (Second Life) to create and display artworks that could not exist physically in the real world.
  • MMU redesigning their entire curriculum to allow for the embedding of the use of Moodle into teaching and learning.
Image by Jan Vašek from Pixabay

Is innovation a meaningful concept in education, or just a buzzword? Too often innovation focuses on tools and technologies, but innovation in processes and practice is often going to have a great impact.

The main barriers to innovation (change) in large organisations vary, but often a lack of understanding of what large scale implementation actually means. The words pilot and project are used interchangeably. Pilots often don’t scale as they haven’t been planned with a future large scale implementation in mind.

There is often a lack of desire to use existing research or results from other pilots and projects, a good example of this was the Sounds Good project from 2012 on audio feedback. The fact even now nine years later, we are still discussing audio feedback shows that innovation can take a long time.

A focus on innovation in relation to specific devices and tools over impact on teaching and learning.  It’s then about the technology and not the pedagogy. Though you do need to understand the potential of technology to successfully use technology innovatively to enhance and improve learning and teaching.

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Image by Jürgen Schmidtlein from Pixabay

The pandemic has demonstrated that organisations can change, but change caused by a crisis, is just that change caused by a crisis. It wasn’t planned, it wasn’t organized and the change we saw wasn’t necessarily the change we wanted.


Day 30: Showcase your EdTech Journey

This post is part of the #JuneEdTechChallenge series.

The final day of the #JuneEdTechChallenge asks you to showcase your EdTech Journey so I created an infographic of some of the key moments in my personal EdTech journey.

Part of the series for the #JuneEdTechChallenge.

For those who prefer real text or require a screen reader here is the text from the infographic. Also with links and images. Continue reading Day 30: Showcase your EdTech Journey

Day 29: A piece of your edtech past

This post is part of the #JuneEdTechChallenge series.

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Though I didn’t post these posts each day in June (and to be honest I didn’t post it each day on the Twitter either) except the final day, I have decided to retrospectively post blog posts about each of the challenges and back date them accordingly. There is sometimes more I want to say on the challenge then you can fit into 140 characters (well 280 these days).