digital badgers

As previously teased, I am delighted to say we are launching a 3-year pilot of BadgEd, a new Open Digital Badge service, so that students and staff can earn their stripes and show off their achievements in black and white!

It’s taken me a while to get this in place. I am indebted to Pat Lockley for first introducing me to the idea at Mozfest in 2010.

Open Digital Badges have become a standard way of recognising skills and achievements outside of credit-bearing course work. Within the University of Edinburgh, some departments have already been issuing digital badges for several years, which has highlighted the need for a central service. Our aim is to create consistency, to share best practice among colleagues, to support local issuers, and to provide an opportunity for more colleagues to get involved.  Our graphic design teams have been working hard on figuring out how to make branded setts.

The pilot will:

  • focus on the recognition of extra-curricular skills, achievements, or competencies through the awarding of a digital badge
  • support the growing interest in and recognition of digital badges
  • provide guidance on how to maintain the value of digital badges for both earners (students, staff, external learners) and issuers (Schools and Deaneries issuing a badge)
  • expand on stand alone badges to explore how badge pathways and skills frameworks could enhance the value of the badge to the earner. Find out more about our badger setts : BadgEd (Open Digital Badges) | The University of Edinburgh
#mozfest Barcelona 2010. Pat Lockley explains badges to me.

adding another VLE

Lovely illustrations for our playful engagement website by the LTW

A year ago we identified  a missing component in the University’s Digital Estate.

Each year the University attracts large numbers of Learners (non-matriculated students) to non-credited courses yet there is currently a gap in the University’s learning and teaching platforms to support them. Our review of short course provision in 22/23 estimated that there are upwards of 10,000  learners across hundreds of courses, this is already University business but the digital estate does not accommodate this activity well, as none of the current VLEs are optimised for this type of  external business. Our VLE(s) are designed to deliver credit-bearing taught courses and ensure a consistent and positive user experience. There are currently no service(s) that can deliver a University-wide catalogue of non-credit-bearing taught courses to externally facing users or offer a clear and consistent end-user, learning, teaching, or administrative experience for short courses including continuing professional development (CPD) and executive education.

Since nothing is optimized to their needs, learner experiences are mixed and courses can be difficult to find.

This gap for a short courses platform was included in the Digital Estate Strategy and has now been approved. A board has been convened to oversee the procurement and the procurement is now underway to deliver a short course platform that enhances the learners experience across the lifecycle, allowing them to;

  • access a single university catalogue helping them to browse all non-credit courses with consistent course information.
  • identify the course(s) that meet their requirements including learning outcomes, course dates and delivery method (face to face, online, hybrid).
  • register, pay and learn in a way that encourages them to continue their learning journey with the University of Edinburgh.

In addition to improving the overall learner experience the benefits to the University include;

  • increasing the diversity and widening participation (WP) of our university learning community by enabling staff to create engaging and accessible catalogue and learning content
  • improved management information for decisions and planning for non-matriculated learners, these learners are mostly missing completely from standard reporting impacting QA and WP reporting, and size and shape planning
  • encouraging continued learning with the University either on further short courses or on credited programmes through lead generation, and in turn increasing University income.
  • enabling process and operational efficiencies by replacing end of life systems and enabling the University platform strategy
  • reducing the risks of non-matriculated learners being granted access to systems which have been licenced based on student FTE numbers
  • reducing pressure on students services not designed to be accessed by large numbers of non-matriculated learners.

The new platform for short courses will address a lacuna and allow the University to optimize each platform for type of learning and the needs of the audience. The benefits will be seen in the fact that students will learn on a platform designed and tailored for their degree level courses, staff will learn on a platform designed for workplace development, and external and B2B learners will have a platform designed so their interactions with our University are optimized and so courses can meet University business and teaching objectives.

technology is what we can learn to do

‘I don’t know how to build and power a refrigerator, or program a computer, but I don’t know how to make a fishhook or a pair of shoes, either. I could learn. We all can learn. That’s the neat thing about technologies. They’re what we can learn to do.’ Ursula le Guin (2004)


Our Learn VLE has been rolled over and all new courses for the whole next academic year have been created in the new template and are now ready to be populated. This has been done more than a month earlier than normal to give people more time to build their courses. Staff should begin to rebuild their courses as soon as possible.

School and deaneries should be encouraging their staff, both academic and professional services, to engage with the changes as early as possible by:

  • Attending a training session
  • Engaging with guidance resources
  • Rebuilding courses early
  • Asking for help if needed, either through the School/Deanery Learning Technologist, or the IS Helpline.

100 MOOCs more

100 MOOCs logo
Celebrating 10 years and 100 MOOCs

University of Edinburgh has been publishing MOOCs as open educational resources for 10 years. Huge thanks go to all the academic teams who choose this route to share the knowledge they have created with learners all over the world.


The Edinburgh online learning portfolio currently includes 80 fully online distance-learning Masters courses drawn from all disciplines, and 90 massive online open short courses (MOOCs) and micro credentials across 3 global platforms. University of Edinburgh reaches 4.5 million learners across every country in the world. Each of the 21 academic schools and deaneries have either a Masters or a MOOC online, and many have both.  The services online students receive are excellent. E-learning students at Edinburgh currently report higher levels of satisfaction and ‘sense of belonging’ than their peers on campus. In 2023 University of Edinburgh is celebrating 10 years of return on investment in MOOCs.

When we began making massive open online courses (MOOCs) at Edinburgh our strategic position was to experiment with new ways of teaching online, to research the kind of learning and courses which could be achieved, and to have fun. We were never in it for the money. Although it was undeniably expensive at the start, the last ten years of this activity have brought considerable return on that investment in terms of what we have learned, the places we have reached and the impact we have had (inside and outwith our own institution).

As Assistant Principal for Online and Open Learning I have taken care to ensure that our online course portfolio is closely aligned with the university mission, values, civic responsibility and aspirations for the future.

Working with three global platform partners ( Coursera, Edx and Futurelearn) has given us unique insight into the business of scaling short courses online and a rich set of data about our materials and our learners. Each of the platforms has its own strengths and weaknesses and the pedagogical tools offered on each have changed rapidly during the ten years. Their business models have changed too and it has been useful to have an institutional platform strategy to help us target the right content on the right platform, for the right audience.  The advice and support available in the platform teams has been useful in understanding what works well. We have been privileged to be so able  to rigorously test our courses, to translate our content into multiple languages and to release significant proportions of it as open educational resources.

Making MOOCs has given us the opportunity to bring a wide range of our university community together. The many research groups, cultural organisations and charities who have developed content with us for the Edinburgh MOOCs have ensured that we have gained a diverse set of voices in discussions about how and why a university can and should make courses freely available online. The MOOCs have offered a rapid channel for knowledge translation and dissemination, public engagement with research, global reach, and a place for discussion and debate with an informed citizenry at times of major geo-political change. In ten years we have found 4.5 million people who choose to learn online from University of Edinburgh, an even though many might say the markets are hot for data skills and cyber-security, our consistently most popular course is one in Philosophy.

The value of these experiments in online learning can also be seen in the capacity building and up-skilling of colleagues. In making and delivering these courses more than 200 academic colleagues, media producers, learning designers and learning technologists cut their teeth and honed their skills for online learning. I am sure that this contributed to our ability to deliver in a crisis and develop resources to help others to do so too. Even during the years of the covid pandemic which closed our campus, our online courses and MOOCs continued to grow and some rapid-response effort from a teams across the university produced a short-course about emergency respiratory healthcare which was studied by 50,000 front-line workers the week it was launched.

Top tips for delivering free short online courses

    • Don’t be afraid to try something new, digital education is an evolving field and you never know where your experiments might lead
    • Get institutional buy-in by aligning your courses with your university’s strategic goals
    • If you have more than one learning platform, develop a platform strategy to ensure that you are using the right platform for the right audience.
    • Work closely with vendor and platform partners to get the most out of your partnership; ensure you can access any data they provide to evidence the reach your platforms deliver.
    • Pay attention to the licensing of all your course content; sharing it appropriately can make it accessible to many more learners globally

See our full list of short online courses Short online courses | The University of Edinburgh



Scottish Tech Workers Union

Scottish Tech Workers Charter
Scottish Tech Workers Charter

A few years ago i did a talk at ALT-C #altc about unions:  Sessions 18-47, 18-108 – ALT Annual Conference 2018 – YouTube and the relationships between learning technologists, academics and employers.

One of the questions from the audience was about the emergence of new, tech workers unions. This week I attended an event which I thought was about the launch of such a thing in Scotland.  It turned out that it wasn’t so much about that as being about encouraging tech workers to join a union ( in this case Prospect), which is fine.  The event was the launch of the Tech Workers Charter, which covers most of the stuff you would expect, and would probably get/expect from a larger employer.

The discussion was interesting. Several people talking about working in smaller tech organisations feeling that they could not request part-time working. It is interesting to see how interest in working part time is shifting from being something women traditionally want, to something everyone might have.

I also learned a bit about IP restrictions ( your employer could assert a right to the work you do in your spare time) and non-compete clauses which could restrict you from speaking to former colleagues or working in a similar place doing much the same stuff.  I don’t think that would work in universities.

The next night I spent a fun evening with old friends from union days. We mused on whether it was better not to be in the same union as your staff. Since I am often at odds with UCU ideologically, I might consider Prospect if they are reaching out to tech workers.

in defence of distance learning

Online learning in New York

Hybrid innovation is not good for online learning.

‘Hybrid’ teaching seems cool, but actually reduces the amount of flexibility for distance learners. Distance learning was supposed to free us from the tyranny of time and space.

Any time, any place, and pace. Slowly, over many years, flexible to be achieved in balance with their own lives, work and families.

Hybrid is this cool idea that your online learners should be able to join in synchronous sessions with the learners and teachers on campus.

As soon as you include in your fully online programme live sessions which are linked to the activities happening on campus you are requiring the distance learner , wherever they are in the world, to tie themselves to your time.   They may be any place, but no longer any time or any pace.

It is teacher-centred, campus-centred and risks ‘othering’ the online students in a way we have fought to avoid.

I think it is a backward step.

I think some colleagues have become intoxicated by Teams.

International Womens Day 2023

ribbon cutting action shot

IWD2023 is shaping up well for me so far.

We will be be naming a lecture theatre after an inspirational but overlooked woman of science- Charlotte Murchison

The book ‘Dangerous Women’ will be published in the USA

My article has been published in the JPAAP special edition Vol. 11 No. 1 (2023): Special Issue on Breaking the Gender Bias in Academia and Academic Practice

I am also giving a talk for edtech company Instructure (the people who have sold us our new badging system) about:

“Empowerment through Education: Discussing the importance of education in empowering women and girls.”

so I’d better get some thinking about that.

IWD began in 1908, when 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter working hours, better pay and the right to vote. A year later, the Socialist Party of America declared the first National Woman’s Day.

It is lovely to see so many activities across ISG to celebrate International Women’s Day this year as every year. It has been a real team effort to raise awareness, thank you.

International Women’s Day has become a date to celebrate how far women have come in society, in politics and in economics, while we are in the  middle of a sustained period of industrial action in this university  strikes and protests  and events are organised on campus to raise awareness of continued inequality. Striking ( collective bargaining by Beatrice Webb economist , founder of LSE)

The first theme adopted by the UN (in 1996) was “Celebrating the Past, Planning for the Future”.The UN’s theme for 2023 is “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality”. This theme aims to recognise and celebrate the contribution women and girls are making to technology and online education.

Some of you may have heard me before going on about the pay gap  ( big) and the pensions gap ( twice as big) . There is also a digital  gap  and the UN estimates that women’s lack of access to the online world will cause a $1.5 trillion loss to gross domestic product of low and middle-income countries by 2025 if action isn’t taken.

Advancements in digital technology offer immense opportunities to address development and humanitarian challenges, and to achieve the 2030 Agenda’s Sustainable Development Goals. Unfortunately, the opportunities of the digital revolution also present a risk of perpetuating existing patterns of gender inequality. Growing inequalities are becoming increasingly evident in the context of digital skills and access to technologies, with women being left behind as the result of this digital gender divide. The need for inclusive and transformative technology and digital education is therefore crucial for a sustainable future.

Digital literacy has become almost as important as traditional literacy.

Over 90% of jobs worldwide already have a digital component* and most jobs will soon require sophisticated digital skills. If we equip girls with digital skills through prioritising education in IT subjects,  girls will thrive in places  where digital skills are prized. This is already true.

We can strive to highlight the ways in which the work we do goes someway to addressing inequality and achieving the UNSDGs. Technology and digital education can increase the awareness of women and girls regarding their rights and civic engagement as well as offering careers for those with a range of digital skills.

In Scotland there is still a significant gap in IT education in schools. The recent report from the British Computing Society “Landscape Review: Computing Qualifications in the UK” found that in all UK nations, computer science subjects are the least popular amongst the sciences and male-female balance in class is often six to one.

  • girls are outnumbered six to one by boys in computer science classes across the UK.
  • women  who do choose computing,  outperform their male counterparts on average.

Participation in computer science in Scotland had been falling steadily over recent years but happily increased in 2021, possibly down to the growing popularity of new digitally focused areas of the curriculum, the higher profile of hybrid working and the good work EDINA have done to embed data science in so many schools. When fewer than 20% of the people working in the tech sector in Scotland are women, we must be vigilant to ensure that the kinds of work we do here in ISG is open to all.

“The Digimap for Schools service enables students to develop fundamental digital and data skills as well as increasing teacher confidence through the provision of valuable resources, lesson plans and ideas. Together with EDINA, we are confident that eligible schools will benefit greatly from free use of Digimap for Schools and the many associated learning resources.”

The Scottish Government has included digital technology as one of the six key sectors in which Scotland has a ‘distinct competitive advantage’. With low numbers of women working and girls studying to be in the sector, this competitive advantage is at risk.

Universities are big employers. University of Edinburgh is one of the largest tech employers in Scotland.

On the upside, in both the HE and IT sectors there are national pressures from policy organisations to increase the numbers of women in senior and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) roles. Highly qualified women are likely to be in high demand, and employers who offer visible support for inclusion will reap rewards in recruitment. You can find us on Women in Tech jobs board.

OfS Review of Blended Learning (2)

In the next couple of months I have a few speaking engagements which have come to me as a result of my being part of the panel who did this review. Our Lead, Prof Susan Orr has also spoken about our findings and I trust you have read the report. I don’t think I would stray far from Susan in describing our findings, or our recommendations. I will be interested to see how it plays out in reality for institutional practice.

The fact that there is no agreed definition of blended learning was a challenge for the panel, but we settled quickly on one which centred the deliberate and thoughtful blending of modes of teaching. A ‘blend’ is different from a ‘mix’. Metaphors can be helpful, particularly domestic ones. Do we aim for a blend which is like tea, or whisky, or a smoothie? is it alchemy, where the carefully selected ingredients are brought together to create a new, high quality desirable experience or is it where all the fresh and over-ripe bits are mushed together and we press extra hard for a few pulses on the liquidizer to ensure we break down the chunks of hard-to-swallow legacy content?

Or is blended learning more like a tossed salad, with each of the elements clearly distinguishable, and the option to have more of the cherry tomatoes if you particulalry like them and avoid entirely the sweetcorn.

How complex is the process of making  a good blend? Is it something anyone can do with some basic kitchen equipment or do you need years of training? Is it a binary task, are we blending just 2 modes or infact many different elements? who are our master blenders and are they our best technicians?

Susan mentions embroidery, I suggest tartan, where the threads and colours are still visible and weave through the piece in familar patterns but each adding an element to the whole.  When I was at school in art class we drew in chalks and used our fingers to blend the colours, to smooth the edges and blur the transitions. Now I expect we would use filters in photoshop or insta.

The context of the report was key. It is a snapshot at a certain time and in a certain regulatory environment. The ‘weaponising’ and demonising of online delivery – particularly ( recorded or not) lectures was palpable. Particularly in the media.  But we what we found was what we have always known, that lecture recordings are of great value to students. They are transformative in terms of accessibility and much in demand.  I suspect that lecture recording will continue to be a contested area in many universities for some time, but for those who have the infrastructure and services in place it is becoming one of the easiest elements of your blend.

‘Infrastructure and services in place’ is key.  I think my most significant contribution to the OfS review was the engagement with the heads of e-learning from each of the providers. We cannot assume all universities have the same or equivalent educational technology and digital services in place. There is diversity on the sector, and that is a good thing.

But if you have good IT staff and good learning technologists your lecture recording system is integrated with your VLE, timetable and in-room AV, it requires no extra time from colleagues to do.

When the panel for the review was announced, a couple of snarks suggested that it would be better done by eminent professors of digital education. I think that missed the point that one should not have to be a professor of pedagogy to understand what  your university’s blended learning offer is.  If you can’t explain it on your website to parents and students ( or regulators)  you can’t be surprised when they have different expectations.

The fact that university websites are full of out of date jargon is not a surprise finding. Neither is the fact that students and staff need good digital skills for the tasks they must do. Nor is the fact that quality of teaching is not dependent on modality. There is poor teaching online, or in blended modes, just as there is on campus. Digital does not fix bad work*.

There were a raft of recommendations in the report.  My big take-aways for strategic operational teams supporting blended learning now are:

-Check  your website. Are there still random pages from days in Covid where all and sundry tried to describe blended and online delivery in strangled, stretched and obscure terms?

-Check your digital estate. Technology proliferated and overlapped in the emergency investments and purchases of the last 3 years. You will need to rationalise that and revisit your vendor partnerships.

-Check your campus. Are you developing the physical estate for blended delivery? not all online activity happens from home.


What happens next? the next big shift will be when everyone realises that hybrid and blended are not the same thing.

The OfS were concerned with student choice. the students took that to mean that they should have a choice: Choosing whether and when or not to come on to campus, at short notice, on the day or to fit in with your own life. That, the panel felt, was quite a different propostion to knowing which bits of your course are on campus and which are not and being expected to plan accordingly.


*purgamentum innit, exit purgamentum.


making media accessible for teaching and learning

This is the cover of my book about designing learning.

At University of Edinburgh we centrally support and manage two large media services, Media Hopper Create and Media Hopper Replay.  Both Media Hoppers are named for Grace Hopper.

Media Hopper Create is our media asset management service (for long term storage and streaming of media) and Media Hopper Replay is our lecture recording service.  Both services are integrated into the VLE and core to the University’s teaching and learning.  Media Hopper Create’s usage sky rocketed during COVID and although there has been some reduction since the pandemic ended, usage is still very high compared to pre-pandemic.  Media Hopper Replay was used less during the pandemic but was used more for live streaming and for automatically pushing Zoom recordings. Now teaching is back  on campus, usage has gradually increased to pre-pandemic levels. 

Media Hopper Create is provided by  Kaltura and Media Hopper Replay is provided  Echo360.  These 2 edtech partners have been with us since 2015 and 2017 respectively.  

The scale of use of media in learning and teaching at Edinburgh is significant. In January this year 2,301 new media items were created in Media Hopper Create by 605 staff and students. 3,792 lectures captured in Media Hopper Replay in January, of which 235 were live streamed. This is an increase of approx. 1,000 from January 2022. Even allowing for some duplication as colleagues move content from one platform to another , that still amounts to around 5,000 new items added to our ‘born digital’  media collections. 

As a university, it’s clearly important that we have the tools we need to support teaching and learning.  During the last few years we’ve seen a change in the way teaching and assessment is being done at the University and with the development of the Curriculum Transformation project, the landscape will further change.  Given the advances in technology over the past few years and the developments with the Curriculum Transformation project, we should complete a detailed analysis in order to inform strategy for the future. 

A recent HEPI report highlights that lecture recordings are the most in-demand digital resources for students and that ‘Recordings should be uploaded for the duration of the course and the resource could improve accessibility for part-time students, students with caring responsibilities, and students who are otherwise unable to attend lectures in-person. Videos should be uploaded onto a single, user-friendly platform’.

Our media platforms integrate with our VLE and we have been looking at the accessibility of those materials for students.

During the summer of 2022, 597 pre-selected courses from 19 Schools and Deaneries across the University of Edinburgh were reviewed against a defined selection of accessibility criteria.  From the materials available, the review surveyed a selection of course materials published directly into Learn VLE , along with materials uploaded, URLs, images, and audio files. This review provides an overview of course accessibility by analysing a random selection of materials located within the courses. Over 7600 documents/URLs/audio/image files were reviewed overall.

  • From the audio and video files reviewed, an average of 95% provided a title that gave a reasonable expectation of the content within. 9 Schools and Deaneries had 100% accessibility rates on audio/video naming conventions.
  • An average of 73% showed the duration of the file as part of the description. In 8 Schools and Deaneries, more than 80% of checked files showed the relevant duration.
  • An average of 60% provided subtitles (or if no audio was present, this was made clear). In 13 Schools and Deaneries, at least 50% of checked files provided subtitles or a note that there was no audio.
  • From the files featuring subtitles/captioning, 91% were of reasonable quality.
  • Only about an average of 7% of checked files had made transcripts available to users. Only in 6 Schools and Deaneries did 5% or more of checked files provide transcripts.
  • 1.3x is the most popular playback speed.

Tempered radicals: how to bring change in open education without rocking the boat.

To be delivered at OER 23 4 – 6 April 2023, Inverness, Scotland

Tempered radicals: how to bring change in open education without rocking the boat.

‘Tempered radicals’ are individuals who are committed to and identify with the organisations in which they work and yet are also committed to a cause or ideology which is fundamentally at odds with the dominant culture in that workplace. Debra Meyerson  has written about how these change agents make tactical decisions to effect change without making trouble (Meyerson, 2008) . If you think you too may be a tempered radical this is the session for you.

We have been working for 10 years to build institution-wide approaches to releasing learning materials as open education resources which fundamentally challenges ingrained practices of  copyright, fees, IP protection  and academic ‘side-hustles’(Rhoads, Berdan, & Toven‐Lindsey, 2013; Weller, 2014). Opening up some of the most ancient and elite institutions like never before. (Walsh, 2011). We work not through revolution or protest but by balancing a delicate set of incremental initiatives and partnerships which provoke thought, nuance and behaviour change.

In our presentation we will share our experience of being ‘tempered radicals’ working toward transformational change in organisations with historical structural traditions while still being digital disruptors.  Bringing a researchers critical eye to ones’ own organisation can be challenging for ‘insider researchers’ who walk a delicate line between being part of a community or outwith. But there are insights and understanding that only an insider can bring to a task and the advantages which flow from being situated within the organisation may ensure that the resulting changes are more sustainable.

Early initiatives led to more substantial innovations in how education is delivered and consumed–even at the best institutions. You will be encouraged to think about how your own radical agendas have been tempered by your experiences of your workplace and how this tempering can be used to make you stronger and more successful as agents of change in the organization you care about. (Eggers, 2013)

In this reflective practice presentation we will offer a contribution towards the practice of open education with a reflective and critical component. We will share stories, evidence and data to describe the serendipitous impact this work can have.


Eggers, Dave. (2013). The circle : a novel.: Alfred A. Knopf.
Meyerson, Debra. (2008). Rocking the boat: How tempered radicals effect change without making trouble: Harvard Business Review Press.
Rhoads, Robert A, Berdan, Jennifer, & Toven‐Lindsey, Brit. (2013). The open courseware movement in higher education: Unmasking power and raising questions about the movement’s democratic potential. Educational Theory, 63(1), 87-110.
Walsh, Taylor. (2011). Unlocking the Gates. Princeton: Princeton University Press
Weller, Martin. (2014). The battle for open: Ubiquity Press.