Month: August 2021

what’s so special?

a special celebration

I have been thinking about what makes the landscape for digital education at Edinburgh so distinctive.  We are going through a programme of curriculum review. There is a tendency from some to see learning technology as something that ISG does to the rest of the university or ‘digital’ as something that is done to us by outsiders (commercial suppliers). Neither are true and Edinburgh has key distinctive elements which offer differentiation, USP and value alignment.

Off the top of my head in no particular order:

-Edinburgh  leads in open source software development. we take care to ensure that we are not entirely dependent on commerical solutions, we are committed to development of open source tools and to software development in house as part of open source communities. Our developers are contributing to and leading the development of tools e.g webPA. Software developers who will push frontiers and find new solutions. I want them working in my university. I want to attract them and I want them to stay. I need diversity of thinking in my creative teams. Values driven. Invest in areas which showcase and make clear the role we play in leading with these values.

-Edinburgh as a publisher and consumer of open educational learning materials- Faculty at Edinburgh publish thousands of items of OER which ensures we are one of the largest  Creative Commons content producers in UK HE, publishers of learning materials and open educational resources. UNSDG . values. Open education is one of those access to quality education for all, education for all and the redistribution of wealth in education through open sharing of learning materials and knowledge. Our open courses play an important role in supporting the SDGs. Our approach to developing and delivering digital education opportunities champions the fourth goal, to ‘ensure inclusive and equitable education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’, as learners anywhere in the world, at any stage of life, can gain access to free, flexible, accessible materials on a broad range of subjects. We source, create and publish all course materials under open licence, making a critical contribution to achieving the aims

-Edinburgh as a world leader – 70+masters courses online and 80+MOOCs. We have always taken an outward looking view. We are steeped in a history of Scotland spreading enlightened views around the world ( even as we struggle with our independence and secession issues at home)

Commercial innovation

Edinburgh as a commercial supplier – ethical edtech products and services developed and used within Edinburgh and supplied commercially to other schools and universities – Digimap, Digimap for Schools, DataNation, Notable.

We partner with 3 big global education platforms to offer strategic choice and access to new markets. Channel for translational research. shorten the distance from bench to bedside ( or barnyard) – public engagement. COVID MOOC

We have a direct route to market for our learning technology MOOCs

We offer learning technology MOOCs

We have the only UK Micromasters on EDx

Student engagement/Student voice

We employ students in our organisation to ensure their input into the development of our services

Data informed practice- We carry out mass surveys of student user experience to ensure that our services meet student needs. We support faculty in changing their practice in response to this research.

Data informed practice- we gather and analyse data on service usage and adapt to changed in behaviour, trends or gaps.

Students as learners – we have a huge programme of skills development available. For all, for free.

Professional practice

We have a more professionally accredited learning technologists that any other institution in the UK

More than half of our educational design team have teaching qualifications.

We sponsor PTAS research projects to ensure that ‘edinburgh experience’ is reflected in scholarship of teaching.

Faculty as learners – we have a huge programme of skills development available for faculty to learn how to teach and data on who attends.

Learning technology teams regularly network with colleagues across and outwith the university, participating in scholarship, presenting at conferences and sharing knowledge.

We meet to discuss ethical and EDI issues in our ISG reading group.

We employ an equality and data officer to help us ensure that our services are inclusive.

There’s no gender pay gap in our learning technologies group.

All ISG staff have ADRs and CPD.

Our procurement is rigorous and we take care with DPIAs and EQIAs.

We have data stewards in place. we have control of our own data and the ability to shape the technology to the way we want to teach. We should try to avoid having to say no, you cant’ teach that way because the technology won’t let you.

We understand cookies and analytics.

We understand accessibility.

We understand ethics.

Things which are not common at other universities:

We have a learning design service to support colleagues in designing courses.

We have a UX service to ensure that we consider the user experience of services.

We have an OER service to help staff make positive choices for sharing

We have an edtech policy officer to ensure that our policies are robust.

We have a data and equality officer

We host media platform for all staff and students so that they don’t have to use Youtube with adverts.

We host a blogging platform for all staff and students who want to blog so that they don’t get spammed.

We have lecture recording fitted in 400 rooms.

We have a wikimedian in residence to integrate digital skills and knowledge activism into the curriculum

We have cool makerspaces staffed by students in the library.

We have in-house media production studios dedicated to educational media production.

We have in-house graphic design.

We have computational notebooks available to all staff and students.

We understand how subtitles and captioning robots work.



Best Place to Work in Digital

As you know I always like to celebrate successes and so I am much chuffed to hear that we are shortlisted for two more industry awards.  This time from Computing magazine.

We are finalist in 2 categories: Best Place to Work in Digital – Large Organisations and   we are winners of Project Team of the Year. The awards are for the work we do in supporting student interns into our organisation and the work the interns do in Learn Foundations.

‘Our programme has created over 300 digital student internships. We work hard to attract the brightest students and take care to train and support them by creating an environment where they grow and thrive. The student workers in our organisation transform the culture, bring new viewpoints, ideas and diversity to our teams. They provide unique perspectives on our services.  Increasing the number of students who work in our organisation is our strategic ambition and a vital part of enabling the University effectively to meet future digital challenges’.

We have actually won awards for this work before, so to get more prizes reflects your sustained excellence.  The winners will be announced at a glamorous awards ceremony on Wednesday 13 October in fancy London.

return to the office

The old place still holds us.

As LTW staff prepare to return to Argyle House en masse here’s what I’m saying to my staff to encourage them to engage with our hybrid working experiments:

Dear All,

You will be aware that the University’s Hybrid Working Programme is looking at how working practices might evolve as we transition out of the pandemic and how best to support all staff whether working on or off campus.

There have been a number of communications issued to staff, the Hybrid Working SharePoint Site and Website are live, and you may also be aware that planning is underway around the re-opening of Argyle House, with the establishment of a Re-opening Building Review Team. Our reps on that group are Kevin and Billy. They are keen to hear from you.

I know you are all thinking about how we can ensure that our services are the best they can be for staff and students and I have always felt that one of the ways in which LTW is distinct from some other parts of ISG is through the close connections we get through meetings and usergroups, and being part of the community.

We’ve done really well at that during lockdown and I am confident that we will do well at it during this period of hybrid experiments.

Creative thinking needed to ensure LTW is the best working environment it can be.

With regards to working on campus, you may be aware that planning and risk assessments are based around natural ventilation and having windows open at all times when staff are working in each location. This will be challenging as we move towards the winter months, so we will need to be creative in thinking about comfort and care.

We’d be happy to hear any suggestions around LTW hoodies, knitted garments, knee rugs, thermos flasks or any other creative/colourful solutions. Please do let us know.  

During this experimental period you will need to be open and careful with keeping your diaries up to date so that your colleagues can find you and everyone can juggle the logistics of booking the right size of room.   You may also want to take this as an opportunity to start doing time-recording, (if you do not do that already) so that we can get an overview of how working in hybrid modes changes productivity of services and projects or adds new elements.  Our ideas and experiences can feed into the development of Hybr-ED teaching models, the hybrid meetings service, the hybrid events service and the university’s review in response to NSS and staff satisfaction surveys. As ever, I encourage you to be creative in thinking about how we can be the best LTW we can be.

From the top

Gavin and his SLT have been discussing their initial plans and have agreed that they will work together on-campus 2 days per week (Tuesdays and Thursdays), with individual SLT members working both on and off campus on Mondays and Wednesdays, and Fridays being reserved as no-SLT meeting, off-campus days to prioritise other work activities such as writing (code or prose).

LTW SMT have begun our initial planning and we are aware that discussions are now taking place within each Section to listen to colleagues and move towards the next phase, where individual conversations will take place, to determine the best, initial hybrid working options for each team and staff member.

It has been a long time since all of LTW were off campus. Several of our teams have been back on campus and working in hybrid modes for much of this year and last summer. You have been discussing the return to campus with your managers and I have been listening to your suggestions.

Many of you have said that you would appreciate clear starting points for hybrid working experiments in LTW and I am happy to give you those:

  • LTW staff living in Scotland should be on campus 2 days per week minimum.
  • Friday will be a day with no meetings in LTW. You 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.

For those of you not already working in hybrid modes you should start your experiments in week beginning 13, 20 or 27th Sept, agreeing the initial timeframe and review points with your manager. We will review what we are learning across LTW in December and have a clear steer towards agreeing ongoing hybrid working arrangements at the end of the first experimental year.

Involving everyone

It is clear that in some teams the fully online working has brought real benefits and we must ensure that hybrid working does too. Decisions about hybrid working in LTW should be inclusive, involving a wide range of voices, but also attention to difference. What works for you may not work for someone else, and we are all involved in multiple groups/communities with colleagues and students outwith LTW.

The Hybrid Working Programme is structured to evaluate Hybrid Working experiments, working collaboratively to continue to improve the Framework and agreeing a final version by May 2022. I am committed to ensuring that those experiments include everyone so that we can ensure that hybrid works for all our services and projects in the future.

Working for a hybrid university which has its ‘centre of gravity’ on campus will be different from the way things were in the Before Times and different again from the times we have been all working from home.  We have managed change like this successfully in the past, for instance in 2016 when we all moved from our separate, dispersed offices into fewer bases in Argyle House and Main Library and then again in 2020 when we all moved to remote working.

I hope you will embrace this opportunity to experiment with hybrid working, because what we learn now will shape the options which are offered to us for the rest of our time here. I’m in this for the long haul and I want to make sure we get the best range of possible models which recognise the different shapes and balances of our lives and help us to attract new colleagues in the future. 2 years ago the range of hybrid working options available to us was pretty limited, a year from now I hope they will be much more aligned to diverse needs.

Please see links below to some of the key resources and spend some time reviewing these. LTW colleagues have already been involved in shaping these through feedback in focus groups and hybrid working pilot groups.

Hybrid Working – Home (

Hybrid Working | The University of Edinburgh

Q&A: Hybrid working at Edinburgh – Bulletin magazine

Agreeing hybrid working arrangements – guidance for staff (

Research Insights (

Making sure you have the tools you need to do your job

Further details will follow from your line managers regarding the individual conversations. These will include consideration of the kit required to work effectively and connect staff who may be in multiple locations. The link below contains information and exemplars and we will look to collate requirements and, where required, order additional tech/kit to support both on and off campus working.

IT equipment exemplars (

Responding to your questions

We are aware that there are still questions and concerns we need to resolve before we are in a position to return to campus and we will ensure that we communicate regularly as we resolve these or receive additional guidance.  So please keep track of the situation as it evolves.

Please keep in touch with your manager and other members of your team so that we can engage in pro-active and creative problem solving.

Data informed decision-making

I hope we will have good data to evaluate hybrid working modes in semester 1 to shape what we do in semester 2. Please think in your teams about data we can collect within services to ensure that we maintain our high standards of service provision through a period which will be fairly chaotic for staff and students.

We will aim to be all together and use this data for the group work at our LTW all-staff meeting in December.