Month: December 2020

2019 Centenary Commission on Adult Education

Image of the front cover of the report. Rights reserved.

In 2019 and 2020 I gave a chunk of my time to being part of the 2019 Centenary Commission on Adult Education.  Our report is here:

And news of our ongoing campaigns and events are here:

That was mostly pre-covid, of course. It will be interesting to see how the adult and community education sector, which has traditionally relied on high-touch, small group, locally based delivery changes for the future.   I expect there will be a renewed emphasis on economic recovery and reskilling.

A hundred years ago, as Britain recovered from a devastating World War, the Ministry of Reconstruction published an extraordinarily powerful report, visionary in its scope and practical in its detail, on the key role adult education had to play in fostering an active democracy, enriching communities, and nourishing curiosity and a love of learning. Adult education was it argued, ‘a permanent national necessity’.  We took these words from the 1919 Report as the vision for our Centenary Report. ‘We believe that ‘universal and lifelong’ access to adult education and learning is as necessary now as it was in rebuilding our society in the aftermath of the War to End All Wars.’

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation UNESCO defines lifelong learning :

The integration of learning and living, covering learning activities for people of all ages (at home, at school, in the workplace, in the community, etc.) through formal, non-formal and informal modalities, which together meet a wide range of learning needs and demands.

The  UN Sustainable Development Goal 4 supports adult education ‘to complement and supplement formal schooling, broad and flexible lifelong learning opportunities should be provided through non-formal pathways with adequate resources and mechanisms and through stimulating informal learning, including through use of ICT.

So digital education will be key.


Dominique and me presenting and representing in London

In developing an understanding of the perceptions of digital leaders in relation to diversity leadership in their workplace this study has found that there are personal and workplace factors which influence their motivations, choices and strategies to champion EDI. The data in this study includes a striking mismatch in understanding of the risks associated with championing EDI issues in the workplace. While all of the other managers were quickly able to identify a range of risks, personal and professional, the HR professional implied that they would be ‘surprised to hear’ that there were any risks for individuals in championing EDI.  These risks were identified by male and female managers and while they were different in nature, they were nevertheless a serious consideration for each of these individuals. This highlights an area for more work in understanding the support that managers need when they take these risks, to shed light on why some digital leaders are reluctant to champion diversity.  It is clear from the responses of these digital leaders that even though they could identify clear business drivers for diversity,  that did not entirely mitigate the perceived risks inherent in tackling the structural issues in the workplace. This represents a risk for the sector in that we may put effort into diversity recruitment, and winning external awards for that activity, but do no work to create motivational rewards or the inclusive environments needed for happy workplaces and valuing diversity. Huy (2011) warns that:

‘ limited attentional resources and time pressures in organizational life often lead even wellmeaning, competent executives to neglect the socialemotional aspects in their strategy implementation actions, and this explains, in part, the tall challenges of making new strategy happen in firms.’(Huy, 2011).

Digital leaders have limited time and attention to give to strategic change initiatives such as EDI and failure to spend time supporting them in the social and emotional aspects of these challenges risks making change a hard task. The data show that managers identify strongly with their role as digital leaders and understand the leadership role in supporting equality, diversity and inclusion in the workplace, and that they consider a wide range of personal and contextual factors in deciding how prominently to champion these issues. Their decisions are mitigated by their perception of risk. There are risks and it is these risks which are weighed up by managers before they make the choice to explicitly champion or ‘sell’ issues. It is clear that while many agree that support from leaders is needed to ensure that diversity initiatives are successful,  support for leaders is also essential if they themselves run the risk of backlash and defensive routines by colleagues.

 Supporting diversity in digital leadership

In order to move forwards in supporting diversity and inclusion activities promoting diversity in digital leadership in higher education it is important that universities recognise that:

  • Digital leaders represent a distinct identity group as distinct from other professional service areas and academic leaders.
  • Digital leaders struggle to find clear direction from the top with regard to EDI values in their organisations to which they can relate.
  • Recruitment and retention to the IT department is a highly competitive area with structural and contextual issues shaped by industry beyond higher education.

Practical steps can be taken to address the needs of digital leaders by:

  • Ensuring that IT staff are highlighted as a distinct group in organisational data reporting so that diversity can be tracked, evaluated and researched.
  • Including in diversity leadership programmes explicit understanding of the overlapping sectoral contexts of higher education and the tech sector.
  • Gaining a nuanced understanding of the career trajectories and personal identity backgrounds of digital leaders as a group who play an increasingly important role in organisational success.

Organisational development and HR professionals can support digital leaders by:

  • Engaging directly with the structural and power inequalities manifesting in the tech sector.
  • Recognising that even where they may be a clear management business case accepted for EDI, the reality for digital leaders delivering it carries inherent personal and professional risk.
  • Providing support for mangers who champion EDI where they themselves run the risk of backlash and defensive routines by colleagues.

menopause and homeworking

My collection of workplace fans.

You’ll remember that in the hot, hot offices of ISG on campus we had a bit of discussion about menopause. It was quite ‘the talk of the Steamie’ after I presented about it at the ISG all-staff meeting in Gordon Aikman Lecture theatre.

I’ll be presenting about it again at the upcoming  Advance HE EDI conference in the Spring.  I’m also presenting about  ‘tempered radicals’, but that’s a different story. Or perhaps not if it is all about heat.

In order to be up to date though we’d have to be thinking as employers about the different experience for menopausal women of working from home. During Covid, but perhaps for longer by choice.

Mary reminded me to update my thinking.

Working from home may infact be the best thing to happen to menopausal women as we now have choice, flexibiity and control over the temperature, number of cushions and our layers of clothing.

There was some evidence previously that working from an office while female and menopausal was so horrible that we lost women from our workforce at just the moment that they are at their most wise. Perhaps now we will be able to keep them.

Is anyone researching this? Of course they are!

Working from home: can it impact on menopause?

The health and socioeconomic impact on menopausal women of working from home

Supporting employees through menopause when working remotely

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

Screen shot of the BBC drama, showing the MOOC production team in front of the FutureLearn page for the MOOC. Lots of rights in this pic. None of them mine. Used for educational purposes and comment.

Speaking of representations of learning technologists in the media. Did you spot the MOOC production team in the BBC Drama ‘Traces’ on the telly in January 2021?

Val McDermid’s drama was written alongside a MOOC developed by University of Dundee.

That MOOC is now dead. It’s an x-mooc.

But at Edinburgh MOOCs are alive and kicking.

Three new 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.