Tag Archives: digital leadership

A common language

Image by Patrik Houštecký from Pixabay

So what do you understand by the term blended learning? What about an online course? A hybrid programme? Could you provide a clear explanation of what student wellbeing is?

In recent conversations, it has become more and more apparent that we are using a range of terminology across the sector and we don’t necessarily have a shared understanding of what we mean when we say phrases or words.

This was something we covered in early incarnations of the Jisc Digital Leaders Programme, when we discussed how something like “The Digital University” could mean very different things to different people within a university. For some people it could mean to them a university which maximises the use of digital technologies, or digital by default. Other people could see digital as equating to online, so a virtual (digital) university where students learn online.

It’s a similar challenge with terms like hybrid or online or blended.

I published a blog post about hybrid courses back in May, my definition was very much about a programme of study which would react  and respond to the changing environment.

With a hybrid course, some sessions are physical face to face sessions. There are live online sessions and there are asynchronous online sessions. In addition there could be asynchronous offline sessions as well. You may not want to be online all the time!

Some sessions could be easily switched from one format to another. So if there is a change in lockdown restrictions (tightening or easing) then sessions can move to or from online or a physical location.

Listening to a conversation someone was talking about hybrid courses as a mix between online and face to face, but didn’t mention the responsiveness or the potential flexibility.

Without a shared understanding we know that this can result in confusion, mixed messaging, with the differences in course design and delivery, as well as problems with student expectations.

So what can we do about this?

There are glossaries out there that can help, especially for a sector wide shared understanding.

The key with language is never assume that people will have the same understanding of the terms used that you have. Explanations of what terms means in documents and planning processes will ensure that everyone has a shared understanding of those terms.

Lost in translation: mapping your teaching

old map
Image by Dariusz Sankowski from Pixabay

With the rapid change to emergency remote delivery because of the coronavirus pandemic seeing universities being forced to undertake an emergency response to teaching. We saw that many had to quickly and at scale move to remote and online delivery. Many staff were thrown into using online tools such as Zoom and Teams with little time to reflect on how best to use them effectively to support learning.

As we move away from reactionary responses and start the future planning of courses and modules that may be a combination of online, hybrid and blended than we need to ensure that the staff involved in the delivery of learning are able to design and plan for high quality and effective online or hybrid courses. In addition we will need to put contingency plans in case another emergency response is required if there is a second spike in covid-19 infections resulting in a second lockdown.

lecture theatre
Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

I did start to think if mapping could be useful in helping staff plan their future course and curriculum design.

When I was delivering the Jisc Digital Leadership Programme, we used the concept of Visitors and Residents to map behaviours and the tools people used. The Visitors and Residents mapping exercise in the main covers digital communication, collaboration and participation. In 2015 following delivering with Lawrie Phipps, the Jisc Digital Leadership Programme I thought about how we could use a similar concept to map teaching practice and curriculum design. The result of this was a blog post published about how to map the teaching and learning.

This post resonated with quite a few people, such as Sheila MacNeill (than at GCU) and Henry Keil from Harper Adams.

Continue reading Lost in translation: mapping your teaching

The future of learning… ten years later!


On the 2nd October 2009 I was at the ULCC Event, The Future of Technology in Education.

Little did I know the impact that this presentation would have on me, my future career and education in general.

I felt a little intimidated to be invited to talk at the event, we wouldn’t have called it imposter syndrome back then, but I did wonder if I was the right person to talk at such an interesting conference. It certainly had a TED talk feel to it. I must thank Frank Steiner and Tim Bush from ULCC for their support and help and inviting me to talk at this FOTE and future FOTE events.

2009 was quite a year for me, I had won the ALT Learning Technologist of the Year award that year. It was also the year of “The VLE is Dead” debate at the ALT Conference.

The event took place at the Royal Geographical Society in Kensington, which I remember wasn’t the easiest place to get to via the underground. Knowing London better now I think I would probably have just walked across Hyde Park from Paddington to get there. From about 2001 I started going to London a lot for work, well a few times a year, which was considerably more than when I was a lecturer in Bristol. I use to go to London, arrive at Paddington, take the underground, pop up somewhere, go to a meeting or an event, before popping back down into the underground on my way home. These days I visit London a lot more and have spent a lot more time walking around London, so have a much better grasp of the geography of the place. I remember being quite impressed with the place, and that you could see the nearby Albert Hall.

Albert Hall

I spent a fair bit of time putting my presentation together, in the end it comprised 82 slides… and I only had twenty minutes to deliver my talk. A challenge that took some doing.

My presentation was entitled The future of learning… The aim of my presentation was to discuss how learning would and could change with the affordances of technological change.

So what of my predictions?

Well we know predicting the future is hard and generally most people get it wrong.

You will no doubt not be surprised that I got a lot of things wrong…

One thing I feel I did get right was that mobile was going to be big and important. I said how I felt mobile was the future. The audience did have a range of mobile devices themselves, but most phones were nothing more than phones that could do SMS and the Snake game. There were a few smartphones out there, but if my experience was to go by, they were clunky and difficult to use. We had the iPhone, but it hadn’t quite had the impact that it has had by today.

We didn’t have the iPad, that would arrive the following year. So no surprise that in my talk at FOTE I didn’t mention tablets

My talk actually started off talking about the past, how we are still impacted and embedded by the past, which makes change challenging and difficult.

I then talked about the present and some of the issues and problems that technology was causing in classrooms and lecture theatres. PAT testing was a real concern for many back then, don’t hear much about it these days in relation to BYOD or learner devices.

One of the challenges I saw back then was how academics and educationalists wanted to categorise learning, so we had e-learning, m-learning, mobile learning, online learning, digital learning, etc….

I said that I thought categorising learning and putting it into different boxes was restricting and that really we should focus on learning and blur the boxes, blur the boundaries.


It was fine to talk about the “boxes” at conferences and in papers, but experience has shown that categorising learning into boxes caused confusion for teachers and academics, who rightly focussed on the word before the learning as a problem to be solved and then found it challenging.

However back then I said, and I still stand by this today, is that learners and academics need to understand the potential of technology and digital to better understand the affordances and opportunities that it can provide for learning. You don’t need to be ab le to do the technology, but you do need to know what it can do.

I also brought in scepticism about technological advances, something I would draw upon in future talks and presentations.

Nokia N95

Video (and film) had been used for learning for years, but people were sceptical and convinced that video (ie lecture capture) would stop traditional learning activities. However we know that television didn’t destroy radio, we know that radio didn’t kill newspaper, books didn’t replace folk stories. When we have a new technological development, often the result is a negative impact on existing technologies, but often the result is affordances about the potential of the new technology, enabling access that otherwise wouldn’t be possible.

I also talked about the potential of video on mobile devices. Video cameras were getting smaller and cheaper, the quality was getting better as well. You could buy video cameras which could record HD video, even if it was a challenge to capture and edit it on standard computers of the time. This was before the concept of streaming became mainstream. I showed a Sanyo Xacti camera which was waterproof and dropped it in a jug of water. These cameras could be used in dirty and dusty environments and the washed under the tap!

James Clay presenting at FOTE09

Mobile phone video has become so much better now. I am still impressed that my iPhone can record 4K video… If only we could get people to record video in landscape!

GPS was usually an option on devices back then, today it is more prevalent in the devices we buy. I saw this as an opportunity, the concept of geo-location based learning was something that felt quite magical at the time. Your device knows where you are, so personalises the learning based on your location. What I missed was how location tracking and would become a very big issue for people.

There was a bit of a backlash against e-Books back in 2009, as people felt that they weren’t as good as “real” books. For me they weren’t a replacement for books, they enabled different ways of reading. For many e-Books and e-book readers enabled a new way to access books and content, that otherwise would mean they wouldn’t have access. I presented on the future of reading at #FOTE10 the following year. I became a bit of an expert on e-books as as result. I presented on e-books at many different events and conferences, as well as writing a chapter in a book, and finally a book on Preparing for Effective Adoption and Use of Ebooks in Education in 2012.

Today e-books are part and parcel off education with easier access to books by students from academic libraries. As I did predict, we didn’t see the end of physical books, we still have bookstores and people still buy physical books.

reading a Kindle
Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Back then in 2009 connectivity was either slightly haphazard, or expensive, or both. We had 3G, but it wasn’t widespread, it would be another three years before we saw 4G.

WiFi was there, but it didn’t always work and network congestion would often cause the WiFi to fail. This happened with frequent regularity at events and conferences I attended back then, as delegates killed the WiFi with too many connections.

In the future I felt connectivity wouldn’t just be important, it would be critical for the future of learning.

Today we have really good (and cheap) mobile data, 4G is more available and 5G is starting to appear. Ubiquitous WiFi is certainly there compared to ten years ago, Eduroam has made it easier for people in education to connect when travelling, but WiFi is easily found in most places. This has allowed users to do so much more when travelling and moving about, or just when drinking coffee. I certainly notice how many people are streaming video, having video chat, doing so much more, because they had the connection and the bandwidth to do so.

Mobile often means battery power, and access to charging. Everyone remembers how their Nokia phone would last days on a single charge, today, most people seem to complain how their smartphone battery doesn’t last the day. Batteries may not seem to have got better, they have, just that we demand more power for our complex devices. We have seen significant improvements in battery technology, but we have seen a huge increase in our demand for power on our devices. Streaming video requires more power than reading an e-mail. One thing that has taken time to filter through was the importance of the ability to charge devices. Since 2009 we have seen trains and buses adding power sockets, and USB ports for charging as well. Hotels have added similar sockets. Some lecture theatres now have plug sockets as well.

In my 2009 presentation I talked about the technological penknife.

Image by Karolina Grabowska from Pixabay
Image by Karolina Grabowska from Pixabay

This is one thing I got very wrong, I thought that the idea that a device that did everything meant it did everything badly. A penknife has multiple tools, but most of them aren’t very good doing the stuff they are designed to do. People would prefer to have specialist devices for specific activities. Why would you have rubbish video from a phone, when you could have a decent HD video camera? Why would you use the rubbish microphone on a device, when a specialist recording device would do it so much better? Well that didn’t happen, in reality we have seen devices become so much better that we don’t need to have multiple devices. We have the penknife, but it’s a really good penknife, really good at everything.

I then went on to talk about change and the importance of managing change. I talked about how change can be a series of small steps, but noted the importance of missing steps, endless steps and steps that trip you up.

These slides were really where I started to understand strategy and writing strategies much more. This certainly helped me in future roles and influenced heavily the design of certain aspects of the Jisc Digital Leaders Programme in which I was part of the research and development team led by Lawrie Phipps.

I talked about activity, technology should never be about the technology, it needed to be about how it could enhance or improve activities. Or where the affordances created new opportunities for different activities. We still have a perception that we shouldn’t talk about technology first, though sometimes I think we should.

Technology allow for flexibility, flexible curriculum, flexible approaches to delivery, flexible learning. I think we have made a little progress here, but so much more is possible these days. The technology enables flexibility, but that doesn’t mean it will just happen, there is so much more that needs to happen to enable flexibility.

Back then I felt sharing was important, not just sharing content (as in open) but also sharing ideas, concepts and approaches. Not that this didn’t happen, but it was difficult to do so. Today it is much easier to share than it was back then, so much so, I think we have forgotten about the time when this didn’t happen.

I talked about the importance of working collaboratively. Since the talk online tools have made it so much easier to collaborate. Collaboration across institutions (and countries) is so much easier these days. Tools such as Slack enable groups to talk and work together.

I talked about innovation, celebrating ideas. Innovation doesn’t always mean better, it means different or new. Following on from that I talked about experimentation and encouraging it within our institutions.

If you want innovation, then it needs to be embedded into the strategy, rewarded and not penalised when things go wrong. It needs to be done in collaboration with learners not done to them. I think we are seeing much more innovation and collaboration these days, and the student voice is helping to inform developments and ideas.

I said we need to re-think assessment, technology was going to have an impact. I think it has, but not in the way we thought it would. We try and use technology to “fix’ assessment today, rather than re-imagine how we assess.

I talked about culture and how culture can enable change, but also frustrate it. Culture is about what and who we are, it’s the sum of the people within an organisation. This was something we covered years later in the Jisc Digital Leaders Programme.

I have written about the importance of culture and strategy in this blog post on writing strategies.

I have always seen technology as a solution to a problem. Technology in itself is not the problem needing to be solved. This was something that I wrote about in 2018.

I finished the presentation about talking about the future and how the future was about the learner, the student. It was about how they wanted to learn, where they wanted to learn, what they wanted to learn and with whom they wanted to learn. Why did we need to think about the future, it was because we needed to think about the learners, then, now and in the future.

So did I predict the future?


It certainly though had a huge impact on my future, some of which I have outlined above. As a result of this talk I was invited to speak at a range of events and conferences on the future of learning and a range of mobile learning events. I spoke the following year at FOTE 10 about the future of reading, which resulted in me doing much more in the e-book space.

So there is also a video of me (looking much younger) presenting, if you want to watch what happened…

So long and thanks for all the fish…

Well time for a new job. Having spent just over three years at Jisc as a Senior Co-Design Manager, I have a new role at Jisc as the Head of higher education and student experience.

I have enjoyed my three years in the Futures Directorate at Jisc starting working for Sarah Davies on the digital capabilities project, before moving onto developing the Digital Leaders Programme with Lawrie Phipps, and working in the apprenticeships space and the Intelligent Campus.

I have had the opportunity to work with some great people in Futures and from the sector. I did start to list them and realised that there had been so many I was bound to miss someone out. Thanks to everyone.

As Jisc’s Head of higher education and student experience I coordinate Jisc’s overall strategy for HE learning, teaching and student experience and have lead responsbility for promoting the total programme and value and impact of all HE learning, teaching and student experience products and services delivered by Jisc.

I lead the ongoing review of Jisc’s HE learning and teaching strategy, positioning this work within the organisation’s overall strategy I ensure that Jisc’s portfolio of activity in this area remains in line with Jisc’s HE learning and teaching priorities and work closely with colleagues to develop Jisc’s understanding of the value and impact of all of our HE learning, teaching and student experience activities.

As Head of higher education and student experience I am also responsible for framing how current and future challenges in this area can be resolved by technological innovation and translating the key insights into actionable innovation pipelines that deliver real impact.

I manage the monitoring of national and regional HE learning, teaching and student experience customer and funder priorities, and work with Jisc account managers to examine the value ascribed by customers to Jisc products and services in this area, the join up of intelligence from funders and customers and the internal sharing of this, as appropriate.

I also manage the process of directorates identifying and mapping operational activities to our HE learning, teaching and student experience priorities, and the tracking and measuring of impact, highlighting gaps, challenging work if it is not aligned to priorities and identify emerging opportunities as these materialise.

If you are going to Jisc’s Digifest next week, come and say hello.

Looking at things differently…


Though we talk about embedding digital technologies into practice, the reality is what we want to do is to undertake practices differently, and one way of doing this is through the use of digital.

So if you want to increase use of the VLE, we approach the problem by thinking how we can get people to use the VLE, use it more and use it in different ways.

By looking at things differently, using the VLE stops being the problem you are trying to solve, but the solution to a different problem.

The challenge can be that learners want to have access to a range of materials, resources, activities and conversations at a pace, time and place that suits them on a device of their choosing.

How do you get those resources and activities to the learner?

Well you could post them the printed resources, however you may not know which specific ones they want, so you would need to send them all! They would also be all in printed format, no video, no audio just print!


You could create conversation opportunities in specific rooms (or off campus locations) at a time and place that suited you, some learners, but not all.

You could determine when and where learning activities should take place, but give no flexibility to the learners about their circumstances or choices.

If we go back to the problem

…learners want to have access to a range of materials, resources, activities and conversations at a pace, time and place that suits them…

Then the VLE starts to become part of the solution to the problem of access, inclusion and flexibility.

An online space like the VLE can be used to store all the resources, the learner can choose which ones they want to access when (and where).

An online space like the VLE means you can do more than just text, you can have video files, audio recordings, even interactive content.
The VLE or other online spaces allow asynchronous conversations to happen, allowing discussion at different times and places for different learners. There are also opportunities for synchronous live conversations too, which can be combined with other resources and activities.

The VLE isn’t the problem, it’s part of the solution.

Mapping the learning and teaching


During the recent Jisc Digital Leadership Programme, we looked at mapping our use of social networking tools using the concept of Visitors and Residents. We were lucky to have the influential Donna Lanclos and Dave White supporting us.

I like how the mapping exercise makes you consider how you are using various tools and what needs to happen to change that map, how do you become more resident when using a tool such as Twitter for example. Or how do you start using a tool which is currently not on your map, such as a professional blog?

The key thing I like to remind people about when using the mapping that this is a continuum and not a distinction between two groups. Your personal VandR map is not, and should not be a static thing. The mapping changes as new tools are introduced, old ones retire and your role and behaviours change.

In my own professional life, Google+ was a major part of my map in 2014, I would have placed it covering both personal, institutional down the resident’s end of the continuum. Now in 2016 it has shrunk right down and I would say it has moved over to the visitor side of the continuum. In this case the shrinking and movement is out of my control, but what could I have done to mitigate that change? Thinking about how you use tools over time can result in using the right tools in the right contexts. We should also remember that this is not about good and bad, visitor and residents are not about good and bad behaviours, it’s about understanding where you are when online.

The mapping exercise in the main covers digital communication, collaboration and participation. I then started to think about how we could use a similar concept to map teaching practice and curriculum design. This lead onto thinking about mapping the “learning” of our learners. Where are they learning, is that learning scheduled and formalised? Is that learning ad-hoc? Is it individual, group, collaborative? So the next stage was to map this in a similar manner to the Visitor and Residents, but what axes could we use when mapping learning?

On the horizontal axis we have a spectrum from broadcast to engagement. Broadcast could be considered one way, and could be one to one, or one to many. So a formal lecture would be considered broadcast, one way to many students. If lectures have opportunities for discussion and questions, then you can see how that would move down the continuum into engagement. Likewise reading a library book in the library, is also one way, author to reader, but this is more likely to be informal with little potential for engagement.

On the vertical axis we have, well this started me to think. In some respects you could have online and offline. The problem with this feels like the focus is on the tools we use and it’s the tools as well as spaces that I want to place on the map. Also online is really a space in itself. So for me a better choice would be to consider a spectrum of formal and informal. In this instance I see formal as being planned and scheduled, whereas informal is more about flexible, responsive and a matter of personal choice. So what we get is a two axes onto which we can map different activities and behaviours.

Mapping your teaching practice

What I did next was to map a “traditional” course to the map, the type of thing I use to deliver when I was a Business Studies lecturer in the 1990s and what I experienced at University in the 1980s.

Mapping your teaching practice

The use of the library, for example, is a space which is used in the main for informal learning and relatively little engagement. Learners choose when to visit the library and makes choices about what they do there. Most of the activity is consuming content (books and journals). Now in more modern libraries we see spaces for group and collaborative working, so as a result I have extended the library into the engagement side of the continuum.

A seminar has an abundance of engagement, but is more formal. This could be a scheduled session, but this is active learning, no passive listening here.

Study groups could be both formal and informal, those organised by the teacher and those self-organised by the students. I also put in the idea that recreational areas (such as a coffee shop) could also be used for learning.


The next map takes that same map as before but adds digital to the learning.

Mapping your teaching practice

This kind of map is the way in which many institutions digital is added to the curriculum and delivery. The lecturer starts posting links from a Twitter account. They post resources and content to the VLE for learners to use. The VLE used in the main as a repository could be seen as broadcast and informal, learners choosing when to visit the VLE and accessing resources they want or need. They may run the odd webinar or two, mainly using it to deliver an online lecture. The learners may use Facebook to discuss aspects of the course in addition the usual activity of posting pictures of cats and photographs of friends that their friends would rather they didn’t.

One issue that does arise from this kind of approach to embedding digital into teaching and learning is that the previous activities haven’t changed, it’s more of an additionality, a bolt-on to existing practices. You can start to understand why some staff don’t want to engage with digital as they see it as something extra, more work to do.

Now if we draw another map, this time almost starting afresh and rethinking (or redesigning) the entire curriculum.

Mapping your teaching practice

Someone may be using the VLE extensively for content, discussion, chat, assessment and as a result this will look very different to someone who uses the VLE merely as a place for lecture notes and presentations. When the functionality of the VLE is used more effectively, using discussion forums and chat facilities, you can see how this will be more about engagement and possibly planned (so more formal). You can see how this will change the shape of the VLE on the mapping activity and is broken down into two shapes on the map.

The library and use of the library is both expanded and in some cases formalised, putting the library at the heart of the students’ learning.

Twitter can still be used as a informal broadcast tool, but using a Facebook Group with appropriate guidance and advice, suddenly becomes more effective in supporting learners.

Webinars become online seminars, with discussion and engagement.

Notice how there are still lectures and seminars, smaller than in the previous maps, but still an useful medium for teaching and learning.

The mapping provides an insight into how the curriculum is designed and how learners interact and engage with the different spaces, tools and delivery mechanisms.

The next stage following mapping you may want to then consider how you could push or pull certain behaviours, as well as inflating or shrinking them.

What needs to happen to inflate and expand the VLE on the map? How do you push (or expand) the use of the VLE into the engagement side of the continuum? What training or guidance needs to be in place to make that happen?

How do you increase usage of the library and use it for both informal and informal learning?

What does the library need to do, to increase engagement? Is there changes they can make to how the space is used, or do they need to engage with curriculum staff to enable learners to make more effective use of the resources and staff within the library?

What does the institution need to do to informal spaces to increase learning activities taking place there? A coffee shop may have groups of learners engaging in various activities related to their course, but it may not be the best kind of environment for this to happen, there’s no wifi or power sockets for example. How could learning be encouraged in informal spaces?


As well as mapping your own teaching practice, you could use the concepts to map the curriculum design for the whole course.

You could even think about the teacher mapping their practice and then the learners in a separate exercise mapping their experience. Then compare the two maps!

Mapping is an useful exercise to think about practice and though any such map may not be accurate or complete, it does allow you to consider and think about actions and training required to change behaviours or how spaces and tools are used.

Thank you Lawrie Phipps for your valued input and comments on this blog post.