digital internships

A picture of some of our interns in previopus years. Picture not taken by me. Original at:

In common with many other universities we worked with students over the summer  to prepare for hybrid learning and teaching.  LTW recruited and managed 44 student interns who migrated over 3000 courses from 20 schools into the institutional template in our VLE.

The Learn Foundations project team is experienced in employing student interns to support business requirements generated as a result of the implementation of the Learn Foundations approach.  This year however, the number of interns working with the team and School colleagues was quadrupled and the students all had to work remotely as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

From the support provided by the student interns, the following was achieved:

  • Over 3000 20/21 courses migrated onto the Learn Foundations template;
  • Over 1000 of the above courses supported with content migration;
  • Over 100 academics liaised with directly regarding content migration;
  • Over 600 courses were mapped with over 80, 000 items reviewed to allow for an institutional baseline for Learn courses to begin to be created;
  • Undertook over 16, 000 accessibility checks across circa 2000 19/20 Learn Courses to understand ‘how accessible’ content and courses are within Learn;

Careful thought went in to supporting the interns to bond as a team and structure their days with a mix of work, set breaks and social activities to keep them busy, motivated and refreshed.  A daily briefing session was held to discuss tasks, review progress and allocate activities, this also provided the interns with an opportunity to come together as a team.  These sessions have been positively evaluated by the students who valued the structure and sense of purpose they provided.  They also enabled students to raise questions with team members about technical questions and other issues.

“Having a set time for a call each morning was great as it provided a structure and set out the tasks. It also allowed us to feel more a part of the team.”

In addition to the morning briefing, the team instigated a twice-weekly social hour for students to come together and have a bit of fun.  These served to support team bonding and break up work flow.  These were managed by the project manager and project administrator and were positively evaluated by the students.

“The social hours were great to allow us to bond as a team. It created a healthier atmosphere and made us more comfortable working with each other.”


With such a large number of interns working remotely there was a risk that the coordination of task allocation and delivery could become fragmented and messy.  Microsoft Teams was used as a work platform with one central channel for all students and latterly, additional work specific channels were created for those students involved in certain tasks.

“I think working on Microsoft teams, having dedicated channels and a daily meeting worked well.”

There were challenges in managing workflow throughout the internship as a result of the large number of students involved and rapidly changing business requirements as a result of the speed with which School colleagues were adapting and adjusting to new ways of working.  When there was a break in workflow, students were encouraged to use LinkedIn Learning as a tool for professional development.

Hardware, software and the internet

Students were offered hardware to ensure they were able to deliver their work from home.  In previous years, computers and laptops would have been available from an office base.  Some of the students experienced a delay in receiving hardware which had an impact on their ability to get started straight away with their work.

The students commented on the challenges of remote working.  Some experienced periods of isolation and felt separated from their colleagues; most appreciated the effort that went in to building a team and keeping them involved and busy.

“It was tough doing this remotely as you couldn’t really get to know your colleagues. The social hours helped but I think it was often tough to organise fun activities with each other and people often backed out.”

“It was really nice that we were given so much social time, as it felt especially isolating working from home and not meeting other people.”

“It was challenging for a start to bond online however after a few weeks our team became quite close.”

The team was aware that technical and internet issues may impact on workflow and took positive steps to support the interns with hardware and software advice.  These issues were taken account of in the work flow to ensure the students were not placed under pressure or disadvantaged as a result of these factors which were out of their control.  This was appreciated by the students.

“The team was very understanding of technical or internet issues which was great because that could have been stressful.”

Remote working

Despite the challenges of engaging with such a large number of student interns working from home, the experience of remote working seems to have been valued by them.  They identified the challenges but most also commented on how beneficial the experience had been to them.

“It was a really developing experience because I think I learnt more about working in a team virtually than when working in the office! The number of emails and messages sent also made me much more comfortable with working online in a professional setting.”

“The opportunity to work remotely in a team has been a valuable experience. Because of this, I believe that my communication skills and confidence in working independently have improved.”

Investment and outcomes

Whilst the students have highly evaluated their internship experience, the investment required from the team to support such a large number of students and provide them with a high quality experience, was high, especially by the project manager and project administrator.  It is estimated that between them, the project manager and project administrator, invested the equivalent of 4 months of work over the internship period to supporting the students with additional resource from Colleges for supporting students allocated to them.  That said, the students delivered a collective equivalent of 21 months of work (based on the hours worked by each intern over the period).  This represents a four-fold return on investment.  The student interns effectively provided a focused resource boost, at scale, over the 5 months that they were employed.

Whilst this larger number of students has had to be carefully managed, the return has far outweighed the investment, although should this approach be adopted next year, consideration may need to be given to the appointment of an internship coordinator to ensure a continuing positive experience for the students and the ongoing quality of their work.  Feedback gained from School colleagues has been unanimously positive about the work completed by the student interns.

Without the considerable impact of the student interns, the project would not have been able to ease the burden from Schools of taking on the Learn Foundations approach, especially at such a business critical time, nor would the project have been in a position to work at such a granular level to ensure courses were effectively migrated to Learn Foundations.

With the dedicated support of the Learn Foundations team, the student interns have become ambassadors for Learn Foundations, widening the positive impact of the approach and demonstrating the value of student as partners in the delivery of University-wide activities.

Thank you, All.

lockdown skills

Lovely illustrations by the LTW interactive Content Team

In lockdown 6,100 people at University of Edinburgh have viewed 51,000 courses on LinkedIn Learning to update their digital skills.

The skills training teams at University of Edinburgh are a pretty impressive bunch.  In the last 6 months they have:

  • They trained almost 3000 staff how to use the learning technologies required for hybrid teaching, including 650 staff who went through the 7 week experiential staff develop programme “An Edinburgh Model for Online Teaching
  • Developed and delivered a Digital Manager module as part of the University-wide Edinburgh Manager programme exploring the digital landscape, digital transformation, links to key University strategies and highlighting to managers the importance of developing their and their team member’s digital capabilities.  This has been a long struggle to get colleagues in HR to see why this would even be needed, so well done to the digital skills team!
  • They magicked up from nowhere a whole programme of training for CoVid testers at 2 days notice and 260 people got trained so that 1,000 students could be tested on the first day.
  • Delivered a  Digital Skills Programme of live webinars for semester 1 including over 300 sessions to 2,500 attendees.
  • Added many new courses and resources to the programme this semester, including the MS Teams webinar which has been attended by over 500 staff and students.
  • Worked with a student interns to convert  and co-create two Python  training courses (Introduction to Python & Python for Data Science) to Media Hopper videos which were captioned, set-up in self-enrol Learn courses and made available as OERs.
  • With the the Academic Support Librarians they delivered start of term presentations and videos to inform new students about ISG’s essential  services.
  • They updated and expanded our Digital Skills Framework which now includes 700 resources that you can use to develop your digital skills.
  • They  created the openly licensed  OER Digital Citizenship Guide, developed a Digital Safety module for the Preparing for Study course for students and launched a new training session on Digital Safety and Citizenship.
  • They supported  84 University of Edinburgh staff to completethe Developing Your Data Skills Programme that ran from Sept 2019 – July 2020. This year there are 207 active participants and we are on target for 300 across the academic year.

And even within LTW we have been updating our own skills. Under the watchful eye of our Head of Operations 122 LTW staff, students and contractors have successfully completed mandatory training in ‘Equality and Diversity Essentials’, ‘Information Security Essentials’, ‘Data Protection’, ‘Understanding Annual Review’ and ‘Anti-Bribery and Corruption‘, and mostly updated our annual leave quotas in People and Money.

On Friday we are going to learn how to make a 3D paper star, Gingerbread cocktails and florentines.



MOOCs: alive and kicking it

Three University of Edinburgh MOOC courses  were launched in the first half of 2020 (Data Ethics, AI and Responsible Innovation; COVID-19 Critical Care: Understanding and Application; Making Blended Education Work), two are in their final stages of development (Christian-Muslim Relations: History, Scripture, Theology, Politics; Chronic Respiratory Diseases in Primary Care Settingsand will launch in early 2021.

As with other areas of University activity, Covid-19 has had an impact on our activities. Early in the pandemic Learning, Teaching, and Web Services were able to help the Critical Care team in MVM respond to a global shortage in health professionals trained to work in critical care settings by redeveloping teaching materials from an online masters degree into a MOOC delivered on FutureLearn. The course was launched in early April and rapidly achieved 46,138 enrolments worldwide, filling an essential gap in training for frontline workers. 

Over the summer, in response shift to hybrid teaching and the need to support new students with the information and study skills they would need for this new way of learning in higher education we delivered 5 new student-facing courses on Learn to help our new and returning students transition to hybrid teaching. These courses were designed to scale, making them available as cross-cutting, institution-wide courses for all students. 

We anticipate capacity to develop new courses in early 2021 and will work with the MOOC strategy group to align with emerging adaptation and renewal strategies. 

In the last year MOOCs have had direct links to University strategies including;  

  • Data Driven Innovation: offering pathways into using data for development and growth 
  • Sustainability: Tackling climate change and sustainable food production 
  • Public Engagement for Research: openly communicating research outputs, and 
  • Widening Participation: encouraging a culture of lifelong learning and offering accessible education

The global pandemic has shifted many of the University’s strategic plans and priorities, in April 2020 the MOOC “COVID-19 Critical Care: Understanding and Application” was rapidly produced to facilitate sharing of resources as part of the University’s response to the global pandemic. The fact that the materials have been developed in conjunction with the OER service in ISG ensures that we are able to support the university’s strategic goals in delivering open educational resources easily, across global platforms. 

Looking forward, the MOOC Strategy Group will be asked to consider how MOOCs can support the University’s adaption and renewal work. Recommendations will include 1) closer alignment between MOOCs and online masters programmes, 2) enabling opportunities for recruitment and sustainable repurposing of teaching materials and resources and 3) closer alignment of MOOC production to the work being done in curriculum review and valuesbased education in the Edinburgh offer, 4) contribution to the global demand for staff/faculty development support for online learning through the sharing of an Edinburgh model for online teaching. 

MOOCs continue to be a recruitment tools which gives the University a visible and high quality presence on global platforms where learners search for online courses. The numbers of people worldwide who have been searching for online learning during the global pandemic lockdown has increased hugely. This is an area of recruitment activity which is ripe for further investment. 

The LTW teams continue to work with academic colleagues to get the best value for money and return on investment from MOOC materials. The Fundamentals of Music Theory MOOC continues to be a popular course running on Coursera. The academic team have already repurposed the core materials of the course into a 20 credit level 7 foundation course for UG applicants to the music programme who do not have A pass marks at A-Level or Advanced Higher (or have passed the MOOC). The team also have a pending student experience grant application proposal to further repurpose the materials as an eBook. This is an excellent example of how the investment in high quality teaching materials can be maximized by ensuring activities are aligned. The course ‘Learning for Sustainability: Developing a Personal Ethic’, which has not run since 2015 is being updated and will be relaunched on FutureLearn soon. 

Globally there has been an increased interest in online education and the demand has continued for flexible lifelong learning that supports changes in the workplace. Discussions about microcredentialling continue at national level with in the SFC and internationally via UNA Europa. To enable this flexibility there is growing interest in both stand-alone for-credit courses and microcredentials. The idea of bundling short courses to provide micro-programmes and microcredentials is something each of our MOOC platform partners are working on, developing new products that work for both universities and the lifelong learner. We have been working with partners on a number of experiments in this area, keeping Edinburgh at the forefront of this innovation. 

We prioritised linguistic accessibility during the production of ‘Nitrogen: A Global Challenge’ MOOC on edX. To truly make an impact, the course would have to reach practitioners whose daily work is directly affected by nitrogen, such as farmers around the world. One of the goals of team is to create translations and it is currently available in seven languages (English, Hindi, Sinhalese, Urdu, Nepalese, Dari, and Hungarian) three more translations (Bengali, Maldivian and Dzonhgka) are on the way. In future, we plan to translate the course to several other major world languages such as Spanish and Chinese to cover the four most spoken languages of the world (English, Hindi, Spanish and Chinese). 

In 2019 the University’s Business School launched its first credited microcredential, a MicroMasters in Predictive Analytics, on edX. In October 2020 the Business School launched further Professional Certificate in Marketing Fundamentals, a not-for-credit, two course CPD programme also delivered on edX. We are currently working with the Vet School to bundle three existing MOOCs as a ‘Specialisation’ on Coursera (also not-for-credit), with a launch date early in the first half of next year. These experiments will provide valuable feedback on the demand for different types of microcredentials on our different partner platforms, helping the University to make informed decisions for targeted future activities. 

with the living voice

In completing a reflective portfolio for my doctorate  i have had to demonstrates the link between the theory I have read, the study I have done and my ongoing professional role in a rapidly changing, but under-researched area. Theory and practice are definitely intertwined for me as everything I have done has fed directly back into my practice and I have brought my experience of practice over many years to the analysis I have done. This record of my journey as a scholarly practitioner has given me insights and helped me to learn from my experience. My own reflexivity and commitment to feminist research ethic form a key part of my justification of the level that has been reached in my doctorate.

Doing the work has had impact on my ongoing practice in several ways. It has provided a framework and structure for me to engage with some thinking I needed to be doing in my own role to combine digital leadership and diversity leadership. One of the findings in my data was that digital leaders have very little ‘bandwidth’ available to engage with EDI issues in any nuanced way, over and above their day jobs. This would have been equally true for me had I not set aside this time to engage with the research.   My practice is undoubtedly now more research informed, and I hope better as a result. Doing an up to date literature review  has also given me the confidence and credibility to talk about EDI issues in professional fora. Previously I would have been drawing only on my own experience and opinions whereas now I am able to reference more published evidence which is academically credible rather than the management consultancy reports from Gartner, PWC etc. which flood my inbox. Engaging with feminist research philosophy has helped me to think about what the elements of feminist practice can be, and has served to make me more able to engage with my academic colleagues who write about being a feminist manager.

One of the recurring themes which appeared in the literature I was reading was the importance of data driven decision-making in organisations.   In my professional role I continue to do surveys and gather data about university IT staff experiences. I have a data researcher who works with me. In the period we have done 2 large surveys; one on workplace experiences of EDI and another on EDI elements of working from home during Covid lockdown. These surveys provide data which will be the basis of  management decision making in my organisation as we move forward. While these new surveys  ensure that I will continue to present, contribute to and practice leadership in digital and diversity leadership. I will disseminate those findings to the sector, applying what I have learned from my time as a research student  in years to come.

When I began my thesis there was relatively little published research looking at the experiences of managers in professional groups in higher education and even fewer looking specifically at university IT departments. In the course of the 3 years there is now a bit more published research about professional staff including a 2018 book (Abbot et al., 2018) which explores a range of aspects of working in universities  but still very little about the group of which I am part – those with specific digital leadership  roles, or my specific area of investigation – managers’ experiences of equality, diversity and inclusion (Equality Challenge Unit, 2017b). It is precisely in this area that this study has attempted to fill an important lacuna in practitioner research.  The other researchers working in this area have similarly highlighted that this area is a gap, and this serves to make my study even more timely, relevant and of interest to the sector.

In their 2018 book ‘Professional and Support Staff in Higher Education’ the authors note the absence of input from any digital, HR or IT professionals and suggest that  there is more work to be done in integrating the contribution of these groups to leadership and to scholarship.

“we (as contributors, colleagues, and more broadly as institutions) must take some deliberate steps to promote greater inclusion amongst authors contributing to research regarding professional and support staff, especially those who do not currently see themselves as part of the scholarly conversation. Professional and support staff within higher education are diverse, their roles multifaceted, and their contribution and experiences under-examined.”(Bossu, Brown, & Warren, 2018, p. 460)

The findings of this study may also be of particular interest or usefulness to practitioners and researchers working in universities who are interested in understanding how colleagues in professional roles relate to their larger organisation when they think about leadership of equality, diversity and inclusion.

about the place

I keep meaning to go back to this blog post and update it with further steps but in the meantime I have been out and about online while staying safely at home.

I was on the ALT Summer Summit Opening Plenary panel, ‘Learning Technology in times of Crisis, Care and Complexity – the Strategic view’ , 26th August 2020

I spoke at the University of Stavanger, Norway edtech event KnowHow EdTech, 23rd September

I gave a keynote  ‘Design For Life’ at the AACE Innovate Learning Summit,  November 3-5, 2020

I presented ‘The Value of Wikipedia Editing’ at the conference “Wikipedia’s Women Problem” – Università degli studi di Padova,  9th November 2020

and I’m scheduled to speak in Sheffield Hallam in December.

I was supposed to be at OEB in Berlin but I missed the email deadline to switch from Christmas markets to online.



‘Gradually, then suddenly’ as Hemingway would say.

Tassel shop in Madrid for all your matador needs. Picture taken by me, no rights reserved.

In The Sun Also Rises* one character asks another how they went broke. The reply is ‘Gradually, then suddenly’.  I am reminded of this when people ask me about the progress of digital education at scale at University of Edinburgh.  We have been world-leading in online masters courses for many years and our previous Principal invested heavily in digital innovation and technology for education. I am a  grateful beneficiary of this in working with such a large learning technology group.

We have, for many years been persuading, inspiring and supporting colleagues to make use of online technologies to do their teaching in different and new ways.  It was a long term, gradual, endeavor with 2 year, 5 year and 10 years plans.

And then Suddenly Last Summer**  we have lifted and shifted the entire, enormous, unwieldy, UoE undergraduate offering online.

It is perhaps challenging for online learning leaders and learning technology aficionados to come to terms with the fact that we did not deliver this change through careful support, inspirational argument or the power of convincing evidence. We had to do it  in ways we never anticipated. We have been forced to do things we hoped we would never have to do. We have put in place systems and support for rushed replication of on-campus delivery online.  We have become middleware.  We are at the same time  essential and largely irrelevant. And we are caught in a crazy world in which students and staff who would previously have mounted barricades to resist the use of technology in their teaching are balloting their unions and lobbying management to insist on it.

How will this play out? If students do well in their exams this year will we hail the lift and shift as a success? Perhaps all our previous insistence on planned, careful design was unwarranted. Are exam results the measure of good teaching and learning? If so, it’s a good thing each institution has autonomy in assessment and everything is open to interpretation. In whose interest is it for the shift to online story to be told as a huge success or a massive failure? A truth serum may be what we need.


*Ernest Hemingway

** Tennessee Williams

This post inspired by Vicki and Robyn who are missing a bit of gothic.




Shofar, so good.


We’ve been having a bit of a rocky time with some of our platforms as the activity ramps up wildly toward the start of semester and the head of the year.  We now have 92,995  items in Media Hopper Create,  8300 of those have been uploaded since the 1st of September.

That’s on top of the 63,000 items we have in our Replay Lecture recording system. That’s a huge collection of home grown, born digital content. Worth blasting and shouting about.

3470 of the items in Media Hopper have the open, creative commons licenses on them. I think we could do better on this.  If you have ideas how to encourage  more colleagues to choose that  option to make their materials open educational resources (OER) for others to use, that will help the university towards its commitment to the UN sustainable development goals.

Have a sweet new year.

*Update: after writing this post on 18th Sept our media platform ground to a halt and our VLE crashed. I assume this is my comeuppance and must duly atone.


to gather data about equality in university IT teams

Front Cover Issue 9 – Image of woman with household items: iron, thread etc. Usage terms: © Estate of Roger Perry Creative Commons Non-Commercial Licence – See more at:

In February 2018 an attempt was made from within UCISA to gather data about gender equality in university IT teams and to understand what focus there was on gender equality. An email survey of 20 questions gained 126 responses from 53 institutions.

The results are not formally published but have been presented at UCISA events in 2018 and influenced the decision to have a focus on gender equality at the UCISA leadership conference in 2019.  While recognising the limitations and unscientific nature of the email survey study it serves to highlight the need for further research and practice to support equality and diversity in IT departments in higher education in the UK.   Many of the respondents indicated that they did not think that their institution had in place policies to support gender equality and that in their workplace they could see that gender diversity was not widespread across teams, with project management and helpdesk teams having more women than other areas.

In the UCISA study the majority of respondents were concerned about gender equality and diversity in the IT profession – 80% indicated ‘definitely’ or ‘probably yes’ they were concerned, 11% were ‘not concerned’. 48% of respondents said their institution did not have any gender equality policies in place, and 57% reported that their IT departments did not have specific policies in place to support gender equality. (Fraser-Krauss & Priestley, 2018 unpublished?)

In their 2018 book ‘ Professional and Support Staff in Higher Education’ the authors note the absence of input from any digital, HR or IT professionals and suggest that there is more work to be done in integrating the contribution of these groups to leadership and scholarship:

“we (as contributors, colleagues, and more broadly as institutions) must take some deliberate steps to promote greater inclusion amongst authors contributing to research regarding professional and support staff, especially those who do not currently see themselves as part of the scholarly conversation. Professional and support staff within higher education are diverse, their roles multifaceted, and their contribution and experiences under-examined.”(Bossu et al., 2018b, p. 460)

The UCISA survey, however informal,  further informed the need for further, ongoing work to understand the experiences and perceptions of staff in university IT departments in relation to equality and diversity practice.

Here’s some data from University of Edinburgh IT Services Dept which we can add to the endeavour. EDI ISGReport Summary Report 2020


being a lert


Let me just say, being a woke IT director is exhausting.

Not only do you end up writing theses about ‘diversity and digital leadership‘, you also find yourself employing OER service managers (to research and promote equitable distribution of resources), E-Safety Officers (to support students and staff who discover that the internet is not a safe space), and Data and Equality Officers (to ensure that your services and workplaces even know what they are doing).

You end up talking about digital accessibility  and inclusion at every meeting and you keep your antennae poised to nip any potential carcrashes in the bud.

So much of what we do is actually just about how we communicate it.

This month I’ve suggested:

  • That ‘Race Sub Group’ may be a difficult name for a good effort.
  • That ‘Welcome Period’ sounds odd too.
  • As do ‘Courses to help you with transitions’
  • That  Estates and Digital Infrastructure (EDI) is not the same as Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI)
  • That using a picture of Chinese students wearing masks might contribute to Sinophobia on campus
  • That there’s not much evidence that  ‘EDI training’ actually works.
  • That some staff may want to attend more than one ‘identity network’ in the workplace.
  • That we could add rainbows to Teams backgrounds instead of distributing rainbow lanyards to people’s homes.
  • That even if you are wearing a mask you should still wear a lapel mike.
  • That Teams, Zoom and Collaborate may tend to search for white faces on camera more easily than black ones.
  • That those huge video files you are struggling to upload to Media Hopper are the same ones your students with low bandwidth will struggle to download.
  • That as well as removing the name ‘David Hume Tower’ we should check the slavery credentials of George Brown after whom the square is named.
  • That no EQIA was done on the decision to not fund an improved subtitling service.  ART was offered several options but chose to accept the risk of putting the workload on to individual owners of their materials.   The nature of these speech to text robots (and many other algorithms) is that they are structurally biased. The data sets on which they are trained are largely spoken corpora from business settings, in male voices and with US accents.  So the burden of correction will fall disproportionately on women, people with accents and anyone teaching disciplines with words the robots do not already know.
  • That students choosing to study online rather than come into class isn’t evidence that the online learning is excellent, only that it is more attractive than catching Covid.


how we tried to save our students from bad e-learning on a biblical scale

Painting the mouth of a paper mache dinosaur head. 1950
© Edinburgh College of Art

At ALT-C in 2018 I gave a reflective presentation entitled ‘Next expect locusts’ I talked about the importance of business continuity planning in the face of the big challenges which might beset universities. Little did I know.

At a time of uncertainty around the return of students and staff to campuses and the long term impact of major social behaviour change some institutions are facing an existential threat, or at least a major re-think about size, shape and funding.

It is vital that learning technologists at all levels in our universities and colleges take a nuanced view on how our services, support and evaluation will need to change.

The strength of our partnerships with academic colleagues, and our partnerships with vendors and platforms were tested under extreme conditions, as were our capacity and capability to work remotely from home. The policy environment for accessibility, inclusion, OER, assessment, e-safety and care online in our institutions suddenly became mainstreamed. The importance of staff training in online pedagogy was magnified and the role of learning technologist became the sexiest job in IT with hundreds of applications for any job advertised.

When we write our CMALT portfolios and reflect on critical incidents this year we will think about our core values, our specialist areas and the way we tried to save our students from bad e-learning on a biblical scale.


For me, for many of us as digital leaders the first, immediate priority was to look after our people. To keep our staff safe, to keep them in jobs and to channel all our resources into surviving the flood.

Once we were all safely home, in LTW we took a leap of faith in banking on the university having an ongoing need for learning technologists and secured permanent contracts for any that we could. Then we set about up-skilling, re-skilling and growing our own in-house.

I’ve written a guest post for ALT in advance of the Summer Summit this week.