OfS review of Blended Learning

In March 2002 the Office for Students announced their plan to review blended learning provision in English universities.  I was delighted to be invited to be part of the expert panel doing the review.

The OfS currently hold no sway in Scotland, but they shape the ways in which some of the universities in England and Wales describe their provision, and students have a choice. I am very aware that we in Scotland need to pay attention to the regulatory environment in the rest of the UK as students, parents and teachers will compare and contrast.

Blended learning is not a phrase I use much anymore, but it is what seemed to have caught the headlines. Reviewing the provision was an interesting research task. As a panel we met with staff and students in a number of universities of varying size, shape, age and mission. We developed a set of questions specific to each group which would ensure we collected the data necessary to get a clear understanding of blended learning approaches being taken. It was important to speak to a range of people within each provider to allow us to triangulate the information we collected and gain as full a picture of the situation at each provider as possible. The technology context was different in each provider, and this technology context was essential for understanding how blended learning provision was enabled, quality assured and available equally to course leaders and students across their institution.  I asked that each provider identify someone as the most senior learning technologist or head of e-learning so that their viewpoints could be heard. l met with a senior member of staff in each institution to ensure that the panel had good information about the technology available for high quality, up to date and inclusive blended delivery.

The panel members brought different backgrounds and positionality to the review, but we all agreed that an effective relationship between in-person and online or digital elements is important for courses delivered through blended learning, and we all agreed that considerations of equality, diversity and inclusion were key to quality provision.

We worked closely with the OfS’s student panel throughout our review.  Four student panel members joined us on the review panel in the fieldwork interviews. A student panel member attended and asked questions at every meeting with staff. Student panel members led all interviews with student groups. The views and perspectives of students informed the approach taken and the questions asked of providers throughout the fieldwork phase. I was able to provide learning technology expertise to help unpick/interpret some of the things the students were saying about how they find and use their learning materials, VLE, library catalogue etc. I was very pleased to hear the ways in which the learning technology teams had responded and scaled their services to keep the universities in the business of teaching and learning.

The themes in the report arose partly from the literature, but mostly from the data.  We worked quickly to get a lot of data which meant we had time to engage in a process of checking, reflecting and reviewing the data before drawing our recommendations.

The report has been published. I hope you find it useful.  Blended learning and OfS regulation – Office for Students

There is the panel’s report: Blended learning review panel report (officeforstudents.org.uk)

the OfS response: Blended learning and OfS regulation (officeforstudents.org.uk)

and various commentary responses so far:

WonkHe, The blend gets another tweak | Wonkhe

Jisc Jisc response to the blended learning review | Jisc

ALT ALT welcomes OfS Blended Learning Review | Association for Learning Technology

Menopause in the workplace: A hot topic for discussion

My fans. Picture taken by me. No rights reserved by me.

On World Menopause Day (October 18th)  I’ll be leading a workshop in University of Edinburgh to discuss why menopause is a workplace issue.

One in ten women in the UK who worked during the menopause say they have left a job due to their symptoms. Are we at risk of losing some of our best staff at a time when they have the most wisdom and organisational knowledge? How can we adapt to ensure that all our colleagues have the support they need? Is this another leak in the pipeline for women in STEM?

At this workshop we will look at best practice guidance from professional bodies and trade unions and think about how University of Edinburgh can respond.  Your input and ideas are invaluable. We must work with leadership teams to ensure that workplaces are inclusive, and together we can tackle this ‘last taboo’.  We must discuss well-being, plans, policies and implications of hybrid working and come up with some actionable suggestions to take forward.

When I first began thinking about menopause as a workplace issue, I was struck by the data gap.  We do not know how much of an impact it has because we do not gather data properly. Days off work when you have menopause are often sporadic, here and there when you are having a bad time of it. Managers can take a good guess at the number of staff who may be experiencing menopause by looking at sex and age data, but without a specific category in absence reporting  women may be choosing a variety of categories in their absence reporting such as ‘anxiety’, ‘depression’, ‘mental health’ ‘hip leg, foot, shoulders, neck pain’  etc  so we are not getting a full picture of where to target support.

When I first raised this I was told to ‘wait for P&M, it’ll be better then’. I waited, but when P&M launched despite there being categories for ‘pregnancy’ and ‘menstrual related illness’, there was still no sign of ‘menopause’. Not enough middle-aged women in the data team perhaps.

Anyway, after a bit of gentle reminding, I can report that P&M now includes a category for menopause!   It’s listed under ‘S’ of course.

But we will need to help women feel confident that letting their employer know is a good thing to do, and that is a bigger question.


Ada Lovelace Day 2022

Badger. (Photo taken by Miki Sun, Thank you.)

As every year, I gathered colleagues, friends and students to celebrate Ada Lovelace Day again.  There was story on the BBC that this year might be the end for ALD, but I am not convinced. There is still much work to be done.

“According to data published by STEM Women – a company which organises networking and careers events – there has been little recent improvement in addressing gender inequality in the sector.Figures which it has compiled indicate the number of women in the STEM workforce in the UK increased marginally between 2016 and 2019, from 21% to 24%. It says data trend analysis suggests women will still hold under 30% of the jobs in the sector by the end of the decade.”

If Ada Day should fail, we can begin to create Mary Somerville Day as the Scottish equivalent. Maybe RBS will be our sponsor.

We keep an ongoing blog of our Edinburgh University Ada Lovelace celebrations, our guests, activities and OER.  We were delighted to have Prof Emma Hart as our guest and the audience enjoyed equally hearing about her work and hearing about her experience as a TED speaker. My teams were all buzzing afterwards.

New ways of working

 – LTW reflections and learnings: 

  • In July 2021, as our focus shifted to hybrid working, we placed a strong emphasis on regular, clear and consistent comms within LTW to support planning for our return to campus. 
  • These comms aligned with high-level messaging around working for a hybrid university which has its ‘centre of gravity’ on campus, recognising that things will be different from the way they were in the Before Times and different again from the times we have been all working from home.  
  • We recognised that for some teams the fully online working has brought real benefits and we needed to ensure that hybrid working did too.  
  • Critical to this was our recognition that decisions about hybrid working in LTW should be inclusive, involving a wide range of voices, but also attention to difference. We recognised that what works for one person may not work for someone else, and we are all involved in multiple groups/communities with colleagues’ outwith LTW.  
  • As an SMT (Stuart, Stratos, Karen, Nikki, Euan, Kevin and Jenni) we concluded at an early stage that the only way to ensure inclusive input and decision making was by agreeing and communicating clear starting points for our hybrid working experiments. These were: 
  • The majority of colleagues should be on campus 2 days per week minimum 
  • Friday will be a day for writing, with no meetings in LTW. We can use this day for focus and writing without having to stop and start for meetings.  
  • Meetings which include academic staff and students and cover content/subjects relating to learning, teaching and the student experience should be prioritised on-campus 
  • We placed a strong emphasis on gathering and analysing data so that planning for hybrid working was informed by data from and about LTW staff, and that our commitment to fairness and understanding of the intersectional factors which shape an individuals’ workplace experience are reflected in our longer-term objective commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion in workforce planning and hybrid working. 
  • Listening to our staff sharing their experiences and comments around productivity, our comms referenced this and noted that the productivity benchmark for LTW is how we were before the pandemic and if we found that hybrid working dropped us below that level we would need to take care and figure out why, which is why it was so important that all our staff participated in hybrid working patterns.  
  • LTW heads, co-ordinated by Kevin, worked together to collate a shared set of working answers to various hybrid working issues so that all teams were getting consistent responses to queries raised. 
  • Communications from the LTW Director, Melissa, are shared every Friday to thank, acknowledge work done, and to highlight reasons to come on to campus. 
  • This resulted in around 80% of LTW staff adopting on-campus working patterns in the period to December 2021 – this figure has now increased to 98% of LTW working at least 2 days on-campus every week. 
  • We adapted and planned activities to encourage on-campus attendance, starting with our in-person December 2021 LTW Staff Meeting and social activities for a festive lunch. We followed this with a large all-day workshop session for all teams involved in Learn Ultra (50 people) attendance at the L&T conference and a summer all-staff meeting in July 2022.  
  • Our Data and Equality Officer, Lilinaz, has assisted and informed our SMT in using the data to inform our decision making around new ways of working. Her data insights have helped us to follow up with further data gathering from specific groups e.g managers and interns. 
  • We have reviewed and analysed centrally collated data at UoE, ISG and LTW levels, and, most importantly, have established local data gathering, via surveys and collaborative activities at team, section and directorate level, sharing resources, learnings and actions. The fact that decision-making is data informed has reassured staff that their views and experiences are being heard and considered. 
  • Our data gather highlighted a larger than expected number of staff with a declared disability and we have taken care to ensure that the office environment includes adjustments for their needs. 
  • Our Director presented our data and findings at 2 national events in the sector to gain and gather insights from other places. ‘UCISA New Ways of Working – The Good, The Bad and The Downright Experimental’ and ‘AbilityNet TechShare Pro 2021’.   
  • We continue with this work and have also recruited an Edtech Operations Intern to bring additional resource and focus to our planning for new ways of working from the end of the ‘official’ period of experimentation in October 2022. 
  • We have found it challenging to move beyond the current, rigid space constraints within AH to experiment with hybrid and collaborative spaces. We provided input to proposals via Small Capital Bids to prioritise the reconfiguration of spaces and the purchase and installation of pods, however, conscious that we/ISG have not yet been able to make any progress. 
  • Collated AH Space Data workbooks all directorates were asked to update by Corp/Facilities in Feb 22, LTW are actively maintaining this data and using this in our resource planning to assign desks to our intern cohorts and new starts. 
  • We urge the Hybrid Working Project to release/allow access to the data gathered in the most recent University –wide survey, noting that respondents were told when they did the survey that data and findings would be shared.  
  • To continue with our experimentation, we propose that we co-locate LTW staff on one dedicated wing – merging our teams on H/East and H/West. This will require input and agreement from other directorates on these wings and will allow us to experiment with increased cross-section collaboration and be able to use this space for a variety of activities without impacting on other directorates staff. We also hope this will support efforts in the area of staff morale, as many LTW staff are demoralised by looking across their wing to see totally empty desks, they would prefer to see their LTW colleagues. 

-LTW SMT, August 2022 

digital leadership in education: a feminist perspective

I am delighted that a chapter I wrote, based on my research has now been published in the  Handbook of Digital Higher Education

Chapter 28: The importance of diversity and digital leadership in education: a feminist perspective from higher education https://www.elgaronline.com/view/book/9781800888494/book-part-9781800888494-39.xml

creating an inclusive organisation

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 will work with us all year across all of our teams and projects.

Joining our two Napier Web Development Interns (who work with us full-time) and our Web Governance Intern ( who has been with us for ages), we also have this year: a Digital Content Training Research Intern, a  Digital Marketing Intern, a Diversity Recruitment and Attraction Intern,  a Media Administration Intern, an Edtech Operations Intern, a Design System and Web Media Intern, a Nudge Intern, a Student Notifications Service Software Developer Intern, a User Research Intern,  2 Digital Learning Interns,  7 Learn Foundations Interns, 4 Web Content Migration Liaison Assistants and a Digital Skills Trainer – Coding Intern!

I will also be having regular ‘Heads Learn from Interns’ session where the LTW senior management team will hear recommendations and advice from the interns, based on their insights and expertise.

And yes, many of our interns do stay, or return and have careers with us after they graduate.

Nudges in learning tech

I am delighted to have been able to create a post this summer for a ‘Nudge Intern’ to work with us to think about how we can use Nudge theory  in designing our services and supporting our users.

Annika has written a blog about her thinking and a report for me about why I need a longer term role in my team.  I must say, she has convinced me and if she agrees, we will keep her as part of our team for the rest of this year.

The team uses a human-centred design approach and an iterative development process incorporating feedback and gradual improvement. These similarities make the UX and Digital Consultancy team a great place to begin to incorporate nudges. There are complexities that make implementing nudges more challenging but should prove to be surmountable given additional time. It takes time to come up to speed on longer-term projects. Planning nudges should take place throughout the project timeline and be implemented as an iterative process with feedback. Additionally, the University structure with self- governing schools and deaneries makes it difficult to implement comprehensive nudges. Instead, individual nudges may need to be drafted for each.

Groups within LTW that already identify pain points are better prepared to start nudging. Being able to spot and define unwanted behaviour easily makes designing a nudge simpler.
The report provides recommendations for continuing the work of implementing nudges in LTW. The first recommendation involves nudging users toward creating better online
content. The existing resources are excellent but are being underutilised. I discuss recommendations to bring the guidelines to the users while using the Web Publishing Platform. Next, I outline a recommendation to enhance the use of data analytics within LTW. There is a need to combine the preexisting data into a format to facilitate and inform data-driven decision-making. The final recommendation is to introduce nudges in ways of working. This would increase familiarity with what nudges are and how to implement them.”


Read more about nudges How nudge can help you and your users – Website and Communications Blog (ed.ac.uk)

fairytales, fables and ethics in learning technology

Stuart and I will be presenting at ALT conference in Manchester next month if you want to come see us tell stories:

Rapid adoption of learning technologies as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic has revealed shortcomings in our vision and understanding of ethical learning technology practices, with the potential for long term negative impact on students’ experiences of educational opportunities. It is critical that educational institutions consider technology decisions within the overall ethical responsibility for care and well-being of their students. Emerging frameworks and models of practice for learning technology ethics need further research and reflection in order to help practitioners navigate increasingly complex and widening ethico-political decision-making. In this session we will use storytelling as a means of exploring areas of light and darkness to investigate how practitioners balance different moral modes of thinking when presented with ethical challenges.

We will think about how stories are used as a means of management and control, to tame complexity and “suppress certain conflicts and mask multiple interpretations” (Leonardi & Jackson 2004, p 615). Even our own “capacity for imagining something new or different … is greatly influenced by prior imaginations” (Markham 2021, p 385). We draw analogies with fables and fairy tales as mechanisms for enabling or constraining different ethical ways of thinking. Fables “wear their moral messages on their sleeves, shut down possibilities for independent ethical development, and allow no freedom for the individual imagination”, whereas fairy tales, “open-textured from the perspectives of teller and of hearer … allow fantasy to flex our ethical and meaning-making muscles” (McKinnell 2019, p 197). In these stories we might recognise the different modes of ethical practice that address justice or care.

In this session we exemplify these approaches through storytelling, unpicking where we might want to tame or free ethical complexity in practice. It is through stories that we help inform the cradled practices of learning technology ethics based on professional frameworks emerging.


Leonardi, P.M. & Jackson, M.H. (2004) Technological determinism and discursive closure in organizational mergers. Journal of Organizational Change Management. 17 (6), 615–631.

Markham, A. (2021) The limits of the imaginary: Challenges to intervening in future speculations of memory, data, and algorithms. New Media and Society. 23 (2), 382–405.

McKinnell, L. (2019) The ethics of enchantment: The role of folk tales and fairy tales in the ethical imagination. Philosophy and Literature. 43 (1), 192–209.

honourary membership

wikipedia logo
wikipedia logo

I am honoured that the Board of Trustees of Wikimedia UK offered me Honorary Membership of Wikimedia UK.

This is in recognition of the significant contribution that I have made to the charity over a number of years, as a long standing champion for Wikimedia’s role in higher education. In particular,  in establishing a Wikimedian in Residence role at the University of Edinburgh, and for the ongoing success and impact of this programme.

I was delighted to accept, of course, but a bit embarrassed as I am not a particularly good editor of Wikipedia and I often get a bit grumpy when my edits are  reverted.   I support Wikimedia UK because it is the right thing to do. Wikipedia is the largest open educational resource in the world and essential for staff and students in higher education.

But I edit as a pass time, hobby,  for my own distraction and amusement.

I also invented the category  for ‘muses‘  which I note now has 130 entries.   I started it for Stella Cartwright.

enduring fellowship

The Radcliffe Camera, Oxford

It has been noted that I have not blogged for a while. So I will give some updates here:

I am delighted to be continuing my visiting stint as a Fellow of Kellogg College, Oxford. I was a Fellow when I worked at Oxford and the college generously allow me to keep that affiliation in the hope that I will visit and be a useful member of the Fellowship.

I don’t visit very often it has to be said, and I feel that is partly because whenever I have vacation time at the beginning or end of term, the Oxford terms have already finished. They are very short. But that’s just an excuse.   I will try harder this year to get a time for an actual work visit.