summer migrations

In LTW we meet in person twice yearly for LTW All Staff meetings and our summer gathering this year takes place next week  at the recently opened Bessie Watson Lecture Theatre at the Outreach Centre. There will presentations from colleagues, group exercises and snacks.

Every 6 months I  ask each of the LTW Heads to send me their list of team achievements, so if you think they might have missed any, now is the time to remind them.

As I read through their lists this time I am struck by how much time we spend on procurements, replacements and migrations as technology changes. Some of our funding comes from capital pots, which might usually be used for buildings. But technology changes much faster than buildings and we have a rolling 5-10 year plan to replace platforms and technologies as ( or before) they go out of date.

It takes  an enormous amount of work it takes to move from one platform to another.

If colleagues suggest we should get a new VLE, or a new portal or a new media asset management platform it is a huge amount of work and sometimes it feels like there is very little gain. Migrations and replacement projects seem often to be replacing like with like. So it is important to be able to identify the benefits which we will see, improvements in managing, keeping up to data and mitigation against risk. Risks in LTW are risks for the whole institution.  If we don’t have up to date robust systems, learning teaching and the student experience will suffer.

Never underestimate how much work a procurement, replacement or migration can be. But no one will thank you for it. It is the hidden labour behind the fancy new tools colleagues and students demand.

I have spoken much about the upgrade and migration work required for Learn Ultra.

We’ve have also moved away from QMP on-Premise to the Cloud – Karen H estimates this was the longest upgrade project we’ve ever had.  Early next year for complete decommissioning of the on-premise system and then we’ll have our celebration.

Our largest migration on going is a huge move of the entire University website (1.5 million pages) from Drupal 7 to Drupal 10.   Of those 1.5 million pages I’d estimate around five of them were the same, so the work to automate this lift and shift at scale while building a new platform in flight has been a huge undertaking. Perhaps we were naive fools even to try.

We have new colleagues in our website migration project team. we have worked hard to find creative technical solutions and to keep colleagues with us through the move. We introduced more resource and optimised our processes and engagement.  Current migration count is 75 completed, 86 still to go, almost 50%. EdWeb to Web Publishing Platform migrations | Website and Communications

By the next LTW All Staff in December, all the migrations will be completed. And Stratos and I are looking for a date for the ‘end of migrations’ party.

That will be a well-deserved celebration.

who learns online and who attends class?

We have been looking at the data  about students attending skills courses.

At University of Edinburgh students have a choice of whether to work through online materials in LinkedIn Learning at their own pace or to attend synchronous teacher-led sessions with our Digital Skills Training team, in person or via webinars.

The data show that  students from the College of Science and Engineering use LinkedIn Learning at a higher proportion than they were represented in the overall population, and at nearly double the rate of those attending Digital Skills Training.

Whereas students from College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine were more likely to take Digital Skills Training than use LinkedIn Learning.

Students from College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences  were slightly more likely to attend Digital Skills Training than use LinkedIn Learning, but the difference was not as significant as for the other Colleges.



Short Courses Platform

Our new Short Courses Platform has met its first major milestone.

We have 18 early adopter courses and over 250 learners enrolled and using the new learning environment.

This allowed us to establish and test the basic platform configuration including notifications, basic learner/course set up, as well as the courses templates, training and guidance.

This is the first step in moving the University’s extensive credit short courses portfolio to the new Short Courses Platform.

The learners on our new platform will not have access to our closed Library collections, so all the courses will use open access materials on their resources and reading lists.

I am very pleased.

International Women’s Day 2024-Bessie Watson

My honour to open the Bessie Watson Lecture room on International Women’s day.  Beautiful ribbons in green, white, purple and red!  Not yet 100 years. Thank you to Lauren Johnston-Smith Lesley Greer, Katie Grieve Karen Howie Ellen Groen, Susanne Knowles for organising and Gillian Kidd for the fabulous artwork. These women have got the skills we value.

This is now becoming a theme for us to name rooms on-campus after inspirational women. There are so many rooms, buildings and roads named after men in this university it is great to be able to add some women’s names in there too.

We are featuring Bessie as the woman were are naming for today, but we have previously named Brenda Moon, Irene Young, Mary Somerville, Grace Hopper, Eleanor Ormerod, Marjorie Rackstraw, Annie Hutton Numbers, Xia Peisu and Charlotte Murchison

Bessie was born nearby, in the Vennel, which is now a very popular Instagram-able spot with great views up to the castle. She is famous for being a bag-pipe playing suffragette, but she’s also an alumna of Edinburgh. She studied French here and went on to a career as a music teacher and a modern languages teacher at Broughton High school, She married and lived  in Trinity and everyday for the rest of her life she played bagpipes at 11 am, which her neighbours obviously appreciated.  She died at 92.

But before that, when she was wee, played the bagpipes from a very young age. Her parents got her playing in the hope that it would strengthen her lungs against tuberculosis- an early example of proscribe culture.

Bessie and her mother were members of the Women’s Social and Political Union and that’s how she got her most famous gigs. She was invited to play the pipes in the famous procession down Princes Street, in 1909 she was 9. She also played lead the Scottish contingent at the Great Suffragette pageant in London in 1911. The procession was 5 miles long.

Those of you who study the history of the suffrage marches will know that they were difficult to organise because people had different ideas about who should go first and in what order, and which groups were more established, and in America, whether white and black women would march together or separately

In Edinburgh they decided to avoid all that and march in alphabetical order. Christabel Pankhurst was the star speaker at the march and afterwards she gave Bessie a brooch to commemorate the occasion- it was a brooch depicting queen Boudica,

Bessie continued to be actively involved in suffrage, wearing purple, green and white hair ribbons to school. And she piped outside Calton Gaol to raise the spirits of the suffragettes imprisoned there, who were being force-fed. The women were on hunger strike, and force-feeding of women at Calton jail started in February 1914, so around 110 years ago. Most of the force-feeding actually went on in Dundee and in London and She played the pipes on the platform of Waverley station as trains carrying convicted suffragettes departed to Holloway Prison in London.

It’s worth remembering that some of the convictions were for destroying property, damaging paintings of the King, blowing things up, it is hard to know how the campaign would have progressed were it not for the start of the First World War. One of the places they attempted to blow up was the royal observatory up near our campus at King’s Buildings. You can still see part of the bomb in the visitor centre.

Edinburgh University has connections to a number of Suffragettes, and a few years ago for the vote 100 campaign, colleagues and students worked together to create a histropedia timeline on Wikipedia,

The suffragettes and suffragists were campaigning for women’s rights, sex-based rights, struggling to get the right to do things like vote, access to education, the right have a bank account,  ability to get a mortgage in your own name , to not have to leave your job when you got married.

The right for all women to vote was not secured in the UK until 1928.  So we are not yet at 100 years.

The Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act 1928 It is sometimes referred to as the Fifth Reform Act.[2][3] The 1928 Act widened suffrage by giving women electoral equality with men. It gave the vote to all women over 21 years old, regardless of property ownership. Prior to this act only women over 30 who met minimum property qualifications could vote.

About 30% of my current staff in LTW are under 30, so the women in our office wouldn’t have been able to vote.

This was Tory reform and one of the reasons that Bessie later gave her Boudica brooch to Margaret Thatcher, the first woman to become Prime Minister. Some of those rights were still not in place until well into the 1970s, and still are not in many countries in the world.

I am privileged to have grown up in a time when I was able to go to university, get a job and pay my own mortgage. It wasn’t until the sex discrimination act 1975 after that banks were required to treat women equally and women were able to get mortgages in their own name without a male guarantor. Still women suffer a structural pay gap.  there is no English region where a single woman on median earnings can afford to rent or buy an averagely priced house.

But now we are allowed to have an education, and we can work in universities and so we do.  This year for the first time, LTW is equally filled with men and women and the pay gap is as small as I can possibly get it.

Our Learning Spaces teams teams’ fit out these rooms, and all the other central teaching spaces on campus- that’s 400 rooms, which a combined collection of around 10,000 pieces of kit.

if you were here last year, I made a tenuous connection between Charlotte’s work finding fossils in chalk cliff and classroom chalk,

This year I am going to make a similarly tenuous connection between playing the bagpipes and being heard.

Microphones and catch boxes.  Not only that presenter should be their microphones, but that students should not be shy in requesting a microphone if they want to speak, we have catch boxes available in every room and they are for students to use. Let your voice be heard.


Building a new learning platform for University of Edinburgh

So many short courses
So many short courses

It’s not often you get to start from scratch putting together a new learning platform for a University. Most learning technologists and digital leaders have experienced the procurement of a replacement VLE, or a migration or upgrade.  It is rare that we get to work with partners to design from the start, thinking about the new relationships you can make with your learners if you do it right.

Bringing courses from across the University together on a single platform with a consistent learner experience will require both technical and business changes to processes, training and best practice. The Short Courses Platform will be delivered through a phased rollout where we develop capability, test with early adopters and then scale the platform and service. 

The plan is being finalised and key dates will be published  when they are available. For now we are:

  • Holding workshops throughout March 2024 to co-design the new processes and specifications with the steering groups.
  • Establishing platform based roles/permissions, SSO and configuration to support the initial early adopter courses.
  • Working with a small set of agreed early adopter courses and tutors, from the Centre for Open Learning (COL), to develop support and guidance and trial the initial course templates and learner experience for courses running from Summer ’24. 
  • Developing the University’s new short course platform web catalogue including the course search and course description pages. 
  • Collating the short course inventory to understand when courses may move to the Short Courses Platform.  

The introduction of the platform, and supporting service, is the latest step in the University’s Digital Estate Strategy and aims to provide accessible and appropriate teaching and learning experiences for non-credited short courses. It is the start of a new relationship with Edinburgh learners who are not matriculated ‘students’ and who bring a new set of expectations.

Matriculated learners on campus and online will continue to learn via our Learn Ultra VLE, and staff development courses will be delivered on our corporate L&D platform. MOOC learners will still find us on EdX, Futurelearn and Coursera. But this new platform will provide a new home of CPD, PPD, Exec Ed, microcredentials, Data upskilling, lifelong learning, workplace learning, B2B and adult learning.

The Vision for Change 

The vision for the Short Courses Platform is that it will:  

  • Encourage wider access to, and continued learning with, the University through consistent learner experiences and the ability to promote further study.
  • Increase diversity in our university learning community through increased visibility of courses and the expansion of adult education.
  • Improve management information, strategic overview and reporting on non-matriculated learners and non-credited courses.
  • Streamline the learner journey, directing them to the systems and services which are licenced and resourced specifically for non-matriculated, short-course learners.
  • Enable process and system efficiencies by replacing end of life systems and delivering a platform designed specifically for non-credited learners.

This project aligns with Strategy 2030 (Opens in a new window). Key areas from the strategy that this project supports:

  • Social and Civic Responsibility – widening participation in higher education and supporting inclusion.
  • Teaching and Learning – encourage a culture of lifelong learning, greater focus on focuses on experience, employability. 
  • People – bring together people from a wide range of backgrounds and experience, both close to home and across the globe.
  • Research – as a research institution, many of the University’s short courses extend the impact of research taking place by bringing outputs and findings direct to learners across the world.

In January 2024, we started working with Instructure, and their delivery partners Drieam, to design and configure the system alongside establishing the service processes, migrating courses and drafting guidance and training.

Steering Groups with representatives from across the University will support the Board and guide the implementation. Visit Project Governance for more information and details of the Board and Steering Group members. 


Summer interns 2024

I aim to  promote an inclusive culture in my organisation. I have a focus on promoting cross-generational working. We welcome student interns as staff, and while not all students are young, they do tend to lower the average age about the place.

I am delighted to have such a great group of interns who work with us in Learning, Teaching and Web Services (LTW) all year, across all of our teams and projects.

Currently we host around 40 interns. In the summer we will add around 20 more.

I am pleased to see we will have new interns looking at AI in L&D, Green Web Estate, VLE Excellence, Web Migration, Accessibility, Training and Events and Communications.

All our internships are paid. We aim to support students at times of rising living costs by providing high quality work experience opportunities which will offer them a head start into digital jobs in the future.

The 2024 summer internship adverts are live on Unitemps: University of Edinburgh Jobs – Unitemps

Marking and Assessment projects 2024 – a crowded space

There is a sudden urgent interest in improving systems which support assessment in the University. Possibly related to the considerable impact felt from the Marking and Assessment Boycott (MAB) by the staff union (UCU) last year.

The role of learning technology systems in enabling assessment, and the student experience of assessment ( and feedback) is key.  Well-designed workflows in systems can relieve pain points and save time, – particularly in an institution with many devolved systems and practice. Systems and platforms can also be used to monitor activity and make more visible areas of overload or duplication.

We have a number of projects planned as part of our on-going programmes of Digital Estate Planning (DEP) and VLE Excellence.

Work is progressing at the start of 2024 to map the within scope, outwith scope and overlaps between the technology projects.

Choosing names for these projects is complicated because there are so many initiatives now in the area of feedback, marking and assessment, so I have divided them up into a set of  acronyms which double as a celebration of some of our historic education pioneers.

FLORA (Formal exams, Learning, Online Rubrics and Assessment)  for Flora Stevenson, one of the first women in the United Kingdom to be elected to a School Board.

LOUISA  (Learn Optimised for In-course Submission and Assessment) For Louisa Stevenson, campaigner for women’s university education and co-founder of Edinburgh’s Queen Margaret University.

SADIE  (Scoping AI Developments in EdTech at Edinburgh) for Sadie L Adams, influential Black American suffragist

LAURA (Learning Analytics in ULTRA) for Laura Willson, engineer, builder, working class hero.

PHOEBE ( Portfolios for Online, Experiential, Blogging and Evidence)  For Phoebe Byth, Edinburgh campaigner for women’s training and employment.


International Womens Day 2024

This year we will be naming of the Bessie Watson Lecture Theatre in the Outreach Centre, Holyrood Campus on International Women’s Day 2024.

Please join me  from 9.15-10.15 a.m. on Friday 8th March to honour Bessie Watson (1900-1992), Scotland’s youngest suffragette.

Bessie marched and played the bagpipes for the Women’s Social and Political Union in the early 20th century, aged just nine. She continued to be involved in the suffrage movement throughout her childhood, piping outside Calton Jail to raise the morale of the imprisoned women. She went on to study French at the University of Edinburgh, and had a career teaching violin and modern languages across the city.



We will also be editing Wikipedia.  to help write women onto Wikipedia as part of IWD 2024.

“Women in Red” – a Wikipedia editathon will celebrate the lives and contributions of all the inspiring women of Scotland (and around the world) missing from the world’s go-to site for information.

This event will focus on the women activists, past and present, who have campaigned for women’s rights, education, universal suffrage and global justice around the world.

Where and when – Friday 9th March, 1pm-4.30pm in Digital Scholarship Centre, Main Library

Book your spot via Eventbrite here.

FLORA Project

Flora Stevenson
Flora Stevenson

FLORA (Feedback, Learning, Online Rubrics and Assessment)

Ensuring staff and students have an appropriate platform for Exams / Digital Exams

Digital tools to support assessment done under exam conditions (with an open question about what ‘exam conditions’ mean in digital contexts … could be in-person computer lab, online, take-home … and involve different types of restrictions to support academic integrity: locked browser, in-person invigilated, online invigilated, open book, various levels of time restriction).

The reliability and security of digital exam platforms is essential for delivery of high stakes elements of students’ experience at the University of Edinburgh. The current situation and digital estate add complexity, stress, burden, and confusion to the workload for both staff and students. It is not sustainable and carries several risks to university business of marking and assessment. 

Analysis work done in the Autumn of 2023 looked deeper into exams, taking testimony from Teaching Office staff across all schools, to build a clearer understanding of what exam provision looks like across the institution.  This included what role technology plays in exams, marking and exam boards.  Gaining insight into what changes are anticipated in the use of technology to support exams, marking and exam boards.  Plus looking to identify barriers to the wider adoption of online exams.   

The analysis has shown that as an institution we do not fully understand how many ‘digital exams’ take place as there is no central collation of this data, but we do know that many different types of exams involve a digital element in their workflow e.g. scanning and marking. 

This project through its various work packages will look to better ensure staff and students have access to appropriate platforms for Exams / Digital Exams.  This will include the aim that exams are not taking place on the main virtual learning environment (Learn), but are on separate, robust platform(s) designed to support assessment done under exam conditions.  The project will also examine the reasons behind institutional exam data being disjointed and present options for change.  

Why now?

  • The reliability  of assessment platforms is essential for delivery of high stakes elements of students’ experience at the university of Edinburgh. The current situation and digital estate add complexity, stress, burden and confusion to the workload for both staff and students. It is not sustainable and carries a number of risks to university business of marking and assessment.
  • A previous procurement failed, but we must try again, 5 years on,  with better knowledge and more support from the digital estate strategy governance processes.  The market (after covid) has changed and we think suppliers are more attuned to UK HE needs.
  • The ISG teams who will lead this work have successfully delivered the VLE upgrade and are ready to revisit this area now. We want to provide good assessment platforms to the University in line with business needs.
  • The project will have three elementsInstitutional gap analysis to fully understand the current picture for assessment and exam workflows at the universityOnce requirements have been established the procurement of an exam system can commence if necessaryAdditionally, the project will examine, and if appropriate procure a tool to support the marking process on digital, or digitised paper exams.   

The impact we expect on people is: 

  • improving the staff and student experience: Staff will find the new services easier and quicker to use giving them back more time to do other things.  Also, there should be opportunities to do more innovative assessment types where needed.
  • For students their assessment experience will be better – with more consistency over platform usage, giving them the chance to become familiar with them.  They should be easier to use and more reliable, reducing student stress.
  • Closer working relationships between ISG LTW with Exams Office and Timetabling unit timetabling information about exams/types of exams to allow support requirements to be pinned down in advance of diet. At the moment, it’s hard to do this, so this would be better.
  • Mitigate risks  around poor experience, poor support, high stakes data on random platforms.
  • Easing the strain on availability of physical spaces for exams/during exam periods.

The project team wanted the name of the project to be reflective of the work, memorable and to ensure ease of recognition when there are other large initiatives across the institution that may overlap with teams across the campus. 

FLORA was suggested for the pioneering history of the person Flora Stevenson (Flora Stevenson Wikipedia) and also that it could fit much of the scope of the work we are looking to take forward. 

Thank you to everyone working on starting our sister projects, LOUISA and FLORA  for our focus on how our systems are used to support assessment. If you would like to know more about some inspirational women Louisa Stevenson – Wikipedia and Flora Stevenson – Wikipedia

LOUISA Project

Louisa Stevenson
Louisa Stevenson

LOUISA (Learn Optimised for In-course Submission and Assessment)

At the November 2023 Learn Ultra project board, we discussed the business analysis that was undertaken via the Learn Ultra project, focusing on assessment and feedback practices across the University, and the workflows which interacted in/with Learn.

The business analysis identified that there was an inconsistent approach to assessment and feedback practices within and across Schools, resulting in unnecessary inconsistencies impacting on both staff and student experiences. Many of these complexities and inconsistencies are of our own making and arise from the culture and distributed nature of the institution.  It will be a challenging process of change to tackle these in ways which benefit but do not disrupt the aims of teaching and assessment. I am confident that the engagement we have done and the experience of our previous project s to optimise the learning environment will stand us in good stead. 

LOUISA (Learn Optimised for In-course Submission and Assessment) and is currently being planned as a 3-year project that will adopt a similar working partnership approach to its predecessors (Learn Ultra and Learn Foundations), working closely with Schools to understand their current workflows and practices and looking at where there are opportunities to improve. 

In Scope  

  • All courses on the VLE (on-campus and online along with undergraduate and postgraduate);  
  • All coursework within the VLE;  
  • Creation of consistent approaches to assessment and feedback within the VLE;  
  • Removal of all non-coursework assessments (such as digital exams) from the VLE;  
  • Review, design, and delivery of a suite of training courses to support with assessment and feedback within the VLE;  
  • Review and streamlining of both VLE-native and VLE-integrated assessment and feedback tools to support key assessment practices;  
  • User experience review of current assessment and feedback workflows;  
  • Programme of communications and engagement to gain buy-in; 
  • Learning Analytics  and reporting of assessment and feedback within Learn. 

Out of Scope  

  • Our other (VLE) learning platforms  such as SCP
  • Development or procurement of new tools or systems to support with assessment and feedback;  
  • Exams, Remote proctoring and invigilation ( a separate, sister project FLORA, will look at these).; 
  • Monitoring of staff performance;  
  • Developments to existing integrations and tools.  

LOUISA will build on the existing knowledge gathered around pain points in relation to assessment and feedback to help understand changes required to enhance and provide a more consistent student and staff experience moving forward.   

Our systems provide a deadline for student submissions and also a feedback return date by which time the staff need to have submitted feedback. All feedback is revealed to students (other than those with extensions) at the same time.  New functionality in Learn Ultra will help to consolidate workflows and reduce our reliance on multiple systems.

  • 3-year project beginning July 2024;
  • Split across three phases:
  • Phase one – July 2024 to July 2025: Business Analysis/User Experience and Early Adopters;
  • Phase Two – July 2025 to July 2026: Delivery of new workflows and with at-scale training;
  • Phase Three – July 2026 to July 2027: Embed and Evaluate.
  • Project closure – August 2027.

Thank you to everyone working on starting our sister projects, LOUISA and FLORA  for our focus on how our systems are used to support assessment. If you would like to know more about some inspirational women Louisa Stevenson – Wikipedia and Flora Stevenson – Wikipedia

Watch this space for updates and progress.