Month: September 2014

space and time


Blended learning is all about breaking free of the restraints of space and time. You can do it any time, any place, any pace.  Providing an technology enhanced campus is all about mastering space and time: what can you do in the space and when?

The  distinction between IT and AV is becoming increasingly blurred- it’s all digital now.  For many colleagues it is the technology context; the technology available in the teaching rooms,  which  influences their choice whether to use cameras, microphones, audio, video, images, visualisations, Google-earth fly throughs,  clips from movies, recorded TV programmes,  who-wants-to-be-a-millionaire-style voting, virtual worlds, touch screens, simulations, animations, infographics and datasets in their presentations.

For many colleagues it is their fear ( or prior experience)  that the technology will not work in the room which exacerbates the stress of presenting. For many colleagues it is a complete mystery as to why the local IT staff who support the presentation machine do not support the data projector too. This situation is not unique to Edinburgh.

The layout of the room (and the number of power sockets) shapes choices with regard to students using laptops, cameras and phones to create learning materials for themselves. The strength of the wireless broadband determines whether video can be watched, shared and downloaded by many students at the same time. The comfiness of the seats, the ability to come and go and the proximity to coffee influences whether student choose to remain in this place while they learn.

When colleagues are asked to show innovation in ‘front of house’ teaching it behooves the colleges and schools to invest well in technology enhanced space for an excellent student experience.

The Learning Spaces Technology Section team work to ensure that teachers  and students have the best possible, quality and consistent,  choices of technology in centrally managed classrooms and study spaces. Jim and his team ensure that equal access to learning is offered via hearing loops, large projection and recordings for revision or transcription.  When the festival comes they take our AV kit out, when the festival goes they put our AV kit back in. They turn around fast and they work to ensure that the kit will work when you poke it with your digit to turn it on. They will also train you how to use it.

If you are interested in knowing more about the kit in the classrooms, or having a practice to become confident in the digital skills needed to master it, do contact us.


(c) University of Edinburgh Digital Image Collections CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

‘Have nothing in your library that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful’, William Morris might have said.  In our library we have a copy of the Decretals of Gratian, printed in 1472, which was reputedly the favourite printed book of its owner, Morris himself.

With a movement towards open practice in higher education the topic of learning design in technology enhanced education seems to have become popular again.

“Learning design is the practice of planning, sequencing and managing learning activities, usually using ICT-based tools to support both design and delivery.”1

Are our online courses useful and beautiful?  Much discussion at ALT, helpful JISC guides, toolkits , OER materials and some new tools in the space. It’s time to spend some time looking at the art and craft.

If we can be transparent about what we are doing we can reproduce the elegant elements.  If not, it’s curtains for us.

Jisc Learning Design Studio say the benefits of following learning design process are:

  • It acts as a means of eliciting designs from academics in a format that can be tested and reviewed by others involved in the design process, i.e. a common vocabulary and understanding of learning activities.
  • It provides a method by which designs can be reused, as opposed to just sharing content.
  • It can guide individuals through the process of creating new learning activities.
  • It helps create an audit trail of academic (and production) design decisions.
  • It can highlight policy implications for staff development, resource allocation, quality, etc.
  • It has the potential to aid learners and tutors in complex activities by guiding them through the activity sequence.

‘Learning design’ has suffered slightly in the UK, I think, from being  used interchangeably with ‘instructional design’ which has US and ‘training’ connotations which seem to make it unattractive to academic colleagues who prefer to think that learning is serendipitous, discovery based and personalised. There is also a difference between ‘designing for learning’, ‘learning by design’ and ‘learning design’.  One difference is that learning design comes with its own set of technical standards which shape tools and platforms.

time travellers

(c) The University of Edinburgh Fine Art Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
(c) The University of Edinburgh Fine Art Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

There is a steampunk science public engagement event  in Edinburgh on Friday* and it is the birthday of HG Wells today.  It seems appropriate in that context to let you know that I have discovered a time traveller in the University of Edinburgh Fine Art collection.

I am in the enviable position of being able to choose art from the collection to hang on the walls in my office. It’s a tough gig; choosing between a Blackadder and a Bellany, a Redpath and a Rodger, but I struggled through.  It has to be said that much of the fine art collection comprises portraits of dead white men with excellent facial hair, and there’s not many women artists in there.

My favourite picture in the collection is already exhibited ( quite rightly) in the school of Scottish Studies: Women Singing at a Table (Waulking the Cloth) by Keith Henderson is a stunning piece. I was offered  a naked Sean Connery from his time as a life model.

The first piece I have chosen however, is this painting by AE Borthwick. It is entitled ‘A Rocky Landscape’ and clearly shows a young woman recklessly using her laptop for virtual fieldwork while perched on a rock by a river. The artist died in 1955.


*Attendees are invited to dress in ‘your finest corsets, spats and gasmasks’.


it could have happened here

Charting the Nation Collection. University of Edinburgh Digital Images Collection

Last night I dreamt I went to Clackmannanshire again.  It’s hard to know what to write the morning after. Last week we had a workplace debate about the referendum. Colleagues  for Yes were a clear majority. There’s a lot of hurt being felt today. In the past I have granted compassionate leave following the loss of a loved one or the death of a pet. What should we give for mourning a dream?

The office is very quiet, one of the big topics of discussion is gone for a generation.

time to mark your X

Picture taken by me in the street. No rights reserved.

I wrote  a while ago about MOOCs as an extreme sport in a post called MOOC X-Games.

Engaging in MOOCs was always a bit of a leap into the unknown, colleagues who MOOC look like they have been engaging in a high adrenalin extreme sport. They  come back grinning from ear to ear. For them it has been a total rush.”

Perhaps this is what the X in xMOOC and EdX actually stands for, these are the new education  x-games and there’s a hunger for it.

“Putting yourself out there, not knowing how it will feel, managing the experience of mediating learners in their thousands and surviving unscathed. They want to do it again and again, and they want to know ‘what’s next?’

They also recognise the role of support teams who made it possible.   The striking benefit for institutions, beyond the increased dopamine levels of the individual  teaching academic, is the renewed boost to the engagement of academic colleagues with the learning technology/ edtech/ instructional design/ media production teams on campus.

When you are standing at the top about to jump, the support teams play a vital part in getting you there safely and supporting you when things get hairy.  They do the heavy lifting, they test the equipment,  they’ve got your back. They do their best to  help you manage the the high number of inherently uncontrollable variables. They give you the best advice they can on environmental conditions based on expertise and the best data they have.

Once you have  had that experience together,  you want to do more, you spread the word, you tell others how much fun it is, you encourage them to try too.   There is now  a queue of people, mustered, kitted up and ready step out into the void.

As with sport, whilst traditional educational success criteria may be adopted when assessing performance, extreme teaching performers tend to reject unified judging methods, with different MOOCs employing their own ideals and having the ability to evolve their activities with new  developments in the space. That is what makes it edgy, the experience will be different every time.”

Discussion around MOOC planning is mostly concerned with sustainability, guessing how many times a course can run, how it can be monetized, how long its shelf life will be, how it can be broken down for parts and re-used.

It is great to see some MOOCs such as the University of Edinburgh Understanding the Referendum FutureLearn MOOC which pay no heed to that. It is a one-time only, once in a lifetime, global-reach MOOC designed to get real engagement and learning around a significant  geo-political event which needs an informed and thoughtful citizenry*.

Sense-making in a maelstrom. That’s what universities are for. That’s our role in the digital space.  Much credit must go to Amy and the teams involved in getting it to this point.

I’m kinda glad we don’t have to run it more than once though. This referendum has been invigorating, extreme, exciting but exhausting. I hope all the MOOC learners who can, will vote tomorrow.

* you are wondering if they have filmed two different endings.

vision for video

University of Edinburgh Digital Image Collections CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
University of Edinburgh Digital Image Collections CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 ECA Photography Collection

University of Edinburgh is about to embark on a large scale media recording and management project, not unlike those going on at many of our peer universities. We aim to improve our media systems capability to support recording, storing, streaming and managing the increasing collection of audio and video assets used across the collegiate university for learning, teaching, research and public engagement. The existing infrastucture is outmoded and does not offer to the university the service and functionality users currently expect. Failing to refresh the existing systems represents a risk to the university, and to IS, in not being able to respond to business needs of the schools and colleges who wish to make more use of audio and video online for an improved student experience.

We will also explore approaches to the publishing of resources under intellectual property licenses ( eg Creative Commons) that permits use and repurposing ( re-use, revision, remixing, redistribution) by others where appropriate.

The early stages of such a project have the fun bits of finding out who in the University is doing what already in preparation for putting in place a multi-platform broadcast strategy. So far I have discovered You Tute, Research in a Nutshell, dozens of Youtube channels, Edinburgh University on ItunesU, Panopto, CaptureED and of course, our MOOC videos. We are also tracking down a list of all the video and audio recording studios around the place.

Edinburgh University subscribes to the excellent ‘Box of Broadcasts’ service. BoB enables all staff and students  to choose and record any broadcast programme from 60+ TV and radio channels. The recorded programmes are then kept indefinitely (no expiry) and added to a growing media archive (currently at over 1 million programmes), with all content shared by users.  Staff and students can record and catch-up on missed programmes on and off-campus, schedule recordings in advance, edit programmes into clips, create playlists, embed clips into Learn or Moodle, share what they are watching with others and search a growing archive of material. It will be fascinating to discover the ways in which this service is being used.

Edinburgh is also part of BUFVC which offers an amazing Moving Image gateway which includes 1,600 websites relating to moving image and sound materials in over 40 subject areas.

I am confident that Edinburgh must have a hefty collection of film in its own archives. It would be fun to do a project here like Oxford University IT Services have done this summer in Dreaming Spools. The project has engaged with alumni all over the world and discovered a wealth of film and video made by some of the most influential film makers, journalists, artists, writers, actors, activists and technicians during the periods when they were students.

stand up and be counted

University of Edinburgh Digital Image Collections CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
The Student newspaper. University of Edinburgh Digital Image Collections CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

It is no secret that I was born and raised in Scotland* and that my return home to work here co-incides conveniently with the opportunity to vote.

Our ‘Towards Scottish Independence? Understanding the Referendum‘ MOOC is well underway and on Wednesday evening this week I’ve been invited by Elize to chair our  #ISdecides event. The assembled staff of University of Edinburgh Information Services  will hear the options weighed in the balance and decide which side is wanting.

We’ll be bringing MOOC-style voting and polling  into the debate chamber. It’ll be a lively evening and no mistake.


* you can tell by my accent

Ada and Mary

Thomas Phillips - Mary Fairfax, Mrs William Somerville, 1780 - 1872. Writer on science - Google Art Project.jpg
“Thomas Phillips – Mary Fairfax, Mrs William Somerville, 1780 – 1872. Writer on science – Google Art Project” by Thomas Phillips – vgGXxVhiio34ew at Google Cultural Institute, zoom level maximum. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

So, we were talking about the connections between Ada Lovelace and great Scot, Mary Somerville.

It is exciting to mention Ada in connection with Lord Byron and it helps to easily situate her in historical context, but he really didn’t play much of a role in her life.  Byron allegedly had some concern that his own waywardness might be inherited, so he left Ada’s mother when Ada was still a baby*.

While it is also exciting to think of Ada Lovelace as a pioneer, she was not actually a crusader, nor a feminist actor on any poitical stage.

If you are looking for a a female scientist and activist to celebrate,   Mary Somerville is your woman.

Mary Somerville  played a key role in defining and categorizing the physical sciences, was one of the best known scientists of the nineteenth century and a passionate reformer. She was the author of best-selling books on science and a highly respected mathematician and astronomer.  She was  a very clever woman and was for several years Ada’s tutor and mentor. A staunch supporter of women’s suffrage and a great advocate of women’s education in 1868 Mary was the first person to sign J.S Mill’s petition to Parliament in support of women’s suffrage **.

If you are interested, the Mary Somerville collection, owned by Somerville College and held at the Bodleian Library, contains a significant number of letters from Lady Lovelace and her daughter to the Somerville family. They also include an invitation from Charles Babbage to Mary Somerville and her husband to view his new ‘Calculating Engine’.  Worth checking out***.


*Well he would say that, wouldn’t he.

**read more from Somervile college history website
*** perhaps someone will map the data and connections to create a visualisation of *that* social network.

dodo-Dodgson dodging

Picture taken by me in the street. No rights reserved.
Picture taken by me in the street. No rights reserved.

At ALT this week several colleagues asked if I was missing Oxford, and one very specifically asked if I was missing my umbilical connection to the splendid John Johnson Collection of Digitised Ephemera.

I was happy to report that Edinburgh is supplying me with a rich seam of images every time I turn a corner. The most recent being the new  Calum Colvin decoration of the dilapidated building* on Fountainbridge cyclepath which even features an Oxford-esque dodo**.

* former hot-water-bottle factory

**The National Museum of Scotland also has dodo.

copyright in teaching

University of Edinburgh Digital Image Collections CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 ECA Photography Collection

I get asked about this a lot.

As the library advice pages rightly say: It is a common misconception that there is an “exception” to copyright for educational purposes. In fact “fair dealing” only covers non-commercial research or study, criticism or review, or for the reporting of current events, but this does not extend to making copies of texts for students to use in the classroom, or to including images in presentations. It can be an infringement of copyright to include copyrighted images in teaching materials without permission.

Luckily there are a wealth of images collections which have been licensed for re-use with Creative Commons. In these collections you can easily see the permission you have been given and there is no need to undertake the onerous task of tracking down the copyright holder, or consulting a librarian.

Choosing Creative Commons images saves you time and effort as well as being good practice.

If you’re looking for content that you can freely and legally use, there is a giant pool of CC-licensed creativity available to you. There are hundreds of millions of works — from songs and videos to scientific and academic material — available to the public for free and legal use under the terms of our copyright licenses, with more being contributed every day. Flickr is a good place to start. Also Wellcome images, Wikimedia Commons, the British Library, Getty Images, Internet Archive or Edinburgh University Digital Image Collections.

Some of these collections even include handy tools to help you attribute the images once you have decided to use them so you will never again forget from where you got them.

JISC also provide a helpfulguide.