Month: February 2024

Building a new learning platform for University of Edinburgh

So many short courses
So many short courses

It’s not often you get to start from scratch putting together a new learning platform for a University. Most learning technologists and digital leaders have experienced the procurement of a replacement VLE, or a migration or upgrade.  It is rare that we get to work with partners to design from the start, thinking about the new relationships you can make with your learners if you do it right.

Bringing courses from across the University together on a single platform with a consistent learner experience will require both technical and business changes to processes, training and best practice. The Short Courses Platform will be delivered through a phased rollout where we develop capability, test with early adopters and then scale the platform and service. 

The plan is being finalised and key dates will be published  when they are available. For now we are:

  • Holding workshops throughout March 2024 to co-design the new processes and specifications with the steering groups.
  • Establishing platform based roles/permissions, SSO and configuration to support the initial early adopter courses.
  • Working with a small set of agreed early adopter courses and tutors, from the Centre for Open Learning (COL), to develop support and guidance and trial the initial course templates and learner experience for courses running from Summer ’24. 
  • Developing the University’s new short course platform web catalogue including the course search and course description pages. 
  • Collating the short course inventory to understand when courses may move to the Short Courses Platform.  

The introduction of the platform, and supporting service, is the latest step in the University’s Digital Estate Strategy and aims to provide accessible and appropriate teaching and learning experiences for non-credited short courses. It is the start of a new relationship with Edinburgh learners who are not matriculated ‘students’ and who bring a new set of expectations.

Matriculated learners on campus and online will continue to learn via our Learn Ultra VLE, and staff development courses will be delivered on our corporate L&D platform. MOOC learners will still find us on EdX, Futurelearn and Coursera. But this new platform will provide a new home of CPD, PPD, Exec Ed, microcredentials, Data upskilling, lifelong learning, workplace learning, B2B and adult learning.

The Vision for Change 

The vision for the Short Courses Platform is that it will:  

  • Encourage wider access to, and continued learning with, the University through consistent learner experiences and the ability to promote further study.
  • Increase diversity in our university learning community through increased visibility of courses and the expansion of adult education.
  • Improve management information, strategic overview and reporting on non-matriculated learners and non-credited courses.
  • Streamline the learner journey, directing them to the systems and services which are licenced and resourced specifically for non-matriculated, short-course learners.
  • Enable process and system efficiencies by replacing end of life systems and delivering a platform designed specifically for non-credited learners.

This project aligns with Strategy 2030 (Opens in a new window). Key areas from the strategy that this project supports:

  • Social and Civic Responsibility – widening participation in higher education and supporting inclusion.
  • Teaching and Learning – encourage a culture of lifelong learning, greater focus on focuses on experience, employability. 
  • People – bring together people from a wide range of backgrounds and experience, both close to home and across the globe.
  • Research – as a research institution, many of the University’s short courses extend the impact of research taking place by bringing outputs and findings direct to learners across the world.

In January 2024, we started working with Instructure, and their delivery partners Drieam, to design and configure the system alongside establishing the service processes, migrating courses and drafting guidance and training.

Steering Groups with representatives from across the University will support the Board and guide the implementation. Visit Project Governance for more information and details of the Board and Steering Group members. 


Summer interns 2024

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 work with us in Learning, Teaching and Web Services (LTW) all year, across all of our teams and projects.

Currently we host around 40 interns. In the summer we will add around 20 more.

I am pleased to see we will have new interns looking at AI in L&D, Green Web Estate, VLE Excellence, Web Migration, Accessibility, Training and Events and Communications.

All our internships are paid. We aim to support students at times of rising living costs by providing high quality work experience opportunities which will offer them a head start into digital jobs in the future.

The 2024 summer internship adverts are live on Unitemps: University of Edinburgh Jobs – Unitemps

Marking and Assessment projects 2024 – a crowded space

There is a sudden urgent interest in improving systems which support assessment in the University. Possibly related to the considerable impact felt from the Marking and Assessment Boycott (MAB) by the staff union (UCU) last year.

The role of learning technology systems in enabling assessment, and the student experience of assessment ( and feedback) is key.  Well-designed workflows in systems can relieve pain points and save time, – particularly in an institution with many devolved systems and practice. Systems and platforms can also be used to monitor activity and make more visible areas of overload or duplication.

We have a number of projects planned as part of our on-going programmes of Digital Estate Planning (DEP) and VLE Excellence.

Work is progressing at the start of 2024 to map the within scope, outwith scope and overlaps between the technology projects.

Choosing names for these projects is complicated because there are so many initiatives now in the area of feedback, marking and assessment, so I have divided them up into a set of  acronyms which double as a celebration of some of our historic education pioneers.

FLORA (Formal exams, Learning, Online Rubrics and Assessment)  for Flora Stevenson, one of the first women in the United Kingdom to be elected to a School Board.

LOUISA  (Learn Optimised for In-course Submission and Assessment) For Louisa Stevenson, campaigner for women’s university education and co-founder of Edinburgh’s Queen Margaret University.

SADIE  (Scoping AI Developments in EdTech at Edinburgh) for Sadie L Adams, influential Black American suffragist

LAURA (Learning Analytics in ULTRA) for Laura Willson, engineer, builder, working class hero.

PHOEBE ( Portfolios for Online, Experiential, Blogging and Evidence)  For Phoebe Byth, Edinburgh campaigner for women’s training and employment.


International Womens Day 2024

This year we will be naming of the Bessie Watson Lecture Theatre in the Outreach Centre, Holyrood Campus on International Women’s Day 2024.

Please join me  from 9.15-10.15 a.m. on Friday 8th March to honour Bessie Watson (1900-1992), Scotland’s youngest suffragette.

Bessie marched and played the bagpipes for the Women’s Social and Political Union in the early 20th century, aged just nine. She continued to be involved in the suffrage movement throughout her childhood, piping outside Calton Jail to raise the morale of the imprisoned women. She went on to study French at the University of Edinburgh, and had a career teaching violin and modern languages across the city.



We will also be editing Wikipedia.  to help write women onto Wikipedia as part of IWD 2024.

“Women in Red” – a Wikipedia editathon will celebrate the lives and contributions of all the inspiring women of Scotland (and around the world) missing from the world’s go-to site for information.

This event will focus on the women activists, past and present, who have campaigned for women’s rights, education, universal suffrage and global justice around the world.

Where and when – Friday 9th March, 1pm-4.30pm in Digital Scholarship Centre, Main Library

Book your spot via Eventbrite here.

FLORA Project

Flora Stevenson
Flora Stevenson

FLORA (Feedback, Learning, Online Rubrics and Assessment)

Ensuring staff and students have an appropriate platform for Exams / Digital Exams

Digital tools to support assessment done under exam conditions (with an open question about what ‘exam conditions’ mean in digital contexts … could be in-person computer lab, online, take-home … and involve different types of restrictions to support academic integrity: locked browser, in-person invigilated, online invigilated, open book, various levels of time restriction).

The reliability and security of digital exam platforms is essential for delivery of high stakes elements of students’ experience at the University of Edinburgh. The current situation and digital estate add complexity, stress, burden, and confusion to the workload for both staff and students. It is not sustainable and carries several risks to university business of marking and assessment. 

Analysis work done in the Autumn of 2023 looked deeper into exams, taking testimony from Teaching Office staff across all schools, to build a clearer understanding of what exam provision looks like across the institution.  This included what role technology plays in exams, marking and exam boards.  Gaining insight into what changes are anticipated in the use of technology to support exams, marking and exam boards.  Plus looking to identify barriers to the wider adoption of online exams.   

The analysis has shown that as an institution we do not fully understand how many ‘digital exams’ take place as there is no central collation of this data, but we do know that many different types of exams involve a digital element in their workflow e.g. scanning and marking. 

This project through its various work packages will look to better ensure staff and students have access to appropriate platforms for Exams / Digital Exams.  This will include the aim that exams are not taking place on the main virtual learning environment (Learn), but are on separate, robust platform(s) designed to support assessment done under exam conditions.  The project will also examine the reasons behind institutional exam data being disjointed and present options for change.  

Why now?

  • The reliability  of assessment platforms is essential for delivery of high stakes elements of students’ experience at the university of Edinburgh. The current situation and digital estate add complexity, stress, burden and confusion to the workload for both staff and students. It is not sustainable and carries a number of risks to university business of marking and assessment.
  • A previous procurement failed, but we must try again, 5 years on,  with better knowledge and more support from the digital estate strategy governance processes.  The market (after covid) has changed and we think suppliers are more attuned to UK HE needs.
  • The ISG teams who will lead this work have successfully delivered the VLE upgrade and are ready to revisit this area now. We want to provide good assessment platforms to the University in line with business needs.
  • The project will have three elementsInstitutional gap analysis to fully understand the current picture for assessment and exam workflows at the universityOnce requirements have been established the procurement of an exam system can commence if necessaryAdditionally, the project will examine, and if appropriate procure a tool to support the marking process on digital, or digitised paper exams.   

The impact we expect on people is: 

  • improving the staff and student experience: Staff will find the new services easier and quicker to use giving them back more time to do other things.  Also, there should be opportunities to do more innovative assessment types where needed.
  • For students their assessment experience will be better – with more consistency over platform usage, giving them the chance to become familiar with them.  They should be easier to use and more reliable, reducing student stress.
  • Closer working relationships between ISG LTW with Exams Office and Timetabling unit timetabling information about exams/types of exams to allow support requirements to be pinned down in advance of diet. At the moment, it’s hard to do this, so this would be better.
  • Mitigate risks  around poor experience, poor support, high stakes data on random platforms.
  • Easing the strain on availability of physical spaces for exams/during exam periods.

The project team wanted the name of the project to be reflective of the work, memorable and to ensure ease of recognition when there are other large initiatives across the institution that may overlap with teams across the campus. 

FLORA was suggested for the pioneering history of the person Flora Stevenson (Flora Stevenson Wikipedia) and also that it could fit much of the scope of the work we are looking to take forward. 

Thank you to everyone working on starting our sister projects, LOUISA and FLORA  for our focus on how our systems are used to support assessment. If you would like to know more about some inspirational women Louisa Stevenson – Wikipedia and Flora Stevenson – Wikipedia

LOUISA Project

Louisa Stevenson
Louisa Stevenson

LOUISA (Learn Optimised for In-course Submission and Assessment)

At the November 2023 Learn Ultra project board, we discussed the business analysis that was undertaken via the Learn Ultra project, focusing on assessment and feedback practices across the University, and the workflows which interacted in/with Learn.

The business analysis identified that there was an inconsistent approach to assessment and feedback practices within and across Schools, resulting in unnecessary inconsistencies impacting on both staff and student experiences. Many of these complexities and inconsistencies are of our own making and arise from the culture and distributed nature of the institution.  It will be a challenging process of change to tackle these in ways which benefit but do not disrupt the aims of teaching and assessment. I am confident that the engagement we have done and the experience of our previous project s to optimise the learning environment will stand us in good stead. 

LOUISA (Learn Optimised for In-course Submission and Assessment) and is currently being planned as a 3-year project that will adopt a similar working partnership approach to its predecessors (Learn Ultra and Learn Foundations), working closely with Schools to understand their current workflows and practices and looking at where there are opportunities to improve. 

In Scope  

  • All courses on the VLE (on-campus and online along with undergraduate and postgraduate);  
  • All coursework within the VLE;  
  • Creation of consistent approaches to assessment and feedback within the VLE;  
  • Removal of all non-coursework assessments (such as digital exams) from the VLE;  
  • Review, design, and delivery of a suite of training courses to support with assessment and feedback within the VLE;  
  • Review and streamlining of both VLE-native and VLE-integrated assessment and feedback tools to support key assessment practices;  
  • User experience review of current assessment and feedback workflows;  
  • Programme of communications and engagement to gain buy-in; 
  • Learning Analytics  and reporting of assessment and feedback within Learn. 

Out of Scope  

  • Our other (VLE) learning platforms  such as SCP
  • Development or procurement of new tools or systems to support with assessment and feedback;  
  • Exams, Remote proctoring and invigilation ( a separate, sister project FLORA, will look at these).; 
  • Monitoring of staff performance;  
  • Developments to existing integrations and tools.  

LOUISA will build on the existing knowledge gathered around pain points in relation to assessment and feedback to help understand changes required to enhance and provide a more consistent student and staff experience moving forward.   

Our systems provide a deadline for student submissions and also a feedback return date by which time the staff need to have submitted feedback. All feedback is revealed to students (other than those with extensions) at the same time.  New functionality in Learn Ultra will help to consolidate workflows and reduce our reliance on multiple systems.

  • 3-year project beginning July 2024;
  • Split across three phases:
  • Phase one – July 2024 to July 2025: Business Analysis/User Experience and Early Adopters;
  • Phase Two – July 2025 to July 2026: Delivery of new workflows and with at-scale training;
  • Phase Three – July 2026 to July 2027: Embed and Evaluate.
  • Project closure – August 2027.

Thank you to everyone working on starting our sister projects, LOUISA and FLORA  for our focus on how our systems are used to support assessment. If you would like to know more about some inspirational women Louisa Stevenson – Wikipedia and Flora Stevenson – Wikipedia

Watch this space for updates and progress.

LAURA Project

LAURA (Learning Analytics in ULTRA)

This project will support improving the student experience by ensuring that students, teachers and student support staff are making best use of the data, information and dashboards that are currently available in Learn, and other centrally supported learning technology applications, to gain useful insights. It will tackle perceived gaps in reporting, activity data and tools and ensure that more people know where to look and how to use the information. This project will identify data, information and dashboards that are currently available in Learn, and other centrally supported learning technology applications, that may be useful for both staff and students to enhance the student learning experience.   The project will work as part of the VLE Excellence programme to improve staff and student digital experience and enhance engagement by enabling staff and students to access relevant data to support and advance their teaching and learning.   Where skills and knowledge gaps are identified, the project will develop digital skills training resources to help students and staff make best use of existing information in an informed and ethical manner.  

The project will include a key theme of digital and data Skills training and development to encourage data fluency and ethical data driven decision-making amongst colleagues who teach and support learning. Together with our Educational Technology Policy Officer and Learning Analytics governance group, the project team will review the institution’s Learning Analytics Policy, Principles and Practice and may propose updates, changes and amendments via Senate Education Committee. 

The Learning Analytics project will set out to achieve the below objectives:  

  • Identify useful learning analytics data currently available to staff and students.  The project will focus on Learn in the first instance before looking at applications that interface with Learn, with the potential to include other centrally supported learning technologies as time allows.  
  • Explore how courses can be structured to provide better information.  
  • Identify skills gaps and development required by staff and students to be able to access and benefit from existing data and dashboards.  
  • Develop digital skills training and resources for staff and students. 
  • Review and revise Learning Analytics policy, principles and practice.  
  • Review composition and remit of the Learning Analytics governance group established by Senate Learning and Teaching Committee (LTC) and Knowledge Strategy Committee (KSC) in 2018 to scrutinise plans for substantial new learning analytics activities.  
  • Share learning analytics practice with other institutions across the sector and learn from their experience.

Benefits and Success Criteria 

As a result of the Learning Analytics project, the below benefits are expected to be achieved:  

  • Raised awareness of existing learning analytics data and how it can be used to enhance teaching, learning and assessment.  
  • More consistent, accessible data in Learn.  
  • Improved student experience.  
  • Published support and guidance for Learn and platforms that integrate with Learn. 
  • Improved digital skills and data fluency for staff and students.  
  • Learning Analytics policy, principles & practice that are current and fit for purpose.  
  • Renewed engagement with learning analytics for teaching and learning across the institution.  
  • Network of colleagues sharing learning analytics experiences and practice.  


  • Learn VLE; 
  • Applications that interface with Learn; 
  • Learning Analytics Policy; 
  • Learning Analytics Principles and Practice; 
  • Learning Analytics Governance Group. 


Laura Annie Willson – Wikipedia

SADIE Project

Sadie L Adams
Sadie L Adams

SADIE (Scoping AI Developments in EdTech at Edinburgh)

we are currently scoping work to understand the current AI landscape within centrally supported learning technology.​ The scoping activity is being delivered via the VLE Excellence programme and is a precursor to the SADIE (Scoping AI Developments in EdTech at Edinburgh) project as part of the VLE Excellence Programme.Discussions around decisions, management and governance for AI in Learning Technology are the next required steps.


SADIE (Scoping Ai Developments In Edtech at Edinburgh) 



SADIE will build on the existing knowledge gathered by Learning, Teaching and Web Services (LTW) to understand the current AI developments and opportunities available within EdTech at Edinburgh. These AI developments may take the form of new tools or functionality being offered by our existing vendor partners, or new products being offered to us by new vendors. With this knowledge and experience, the project team will look to create a set of recommendations. Local learning technologists will be engaged to discuss needs and impacts in Schools. As a result of the project to support with future proofing the management of AI in EdTech. 



As part of the work being undertaken within the SADIE project, a recommendation on policy requirements will be provided. 



SADIE is a 6-month project, undertaken in the 23/24 academic year focusing on: 

In Scope 

·         AI developments in EdTech at Edinburgh; 

·         Identification of training gaps in AI tools in Edtech 


Out of Scope 

·         Generative AI; 

·         Creation of training course(s) identified via the training gaps

·         Support and guidance on using AI developments in EdTech at Edinburgh


Upon the delivery of SADIE, the following benefits should be achieved:  


·         An understanding of the current ‘state of the nation’ for AI in EdTech at the University of Edinburgh; 

·         A consistent approach to the management of AI developments within EdTech at the University of Edinburgh; 

·         Transparency around the decision-making process for the management of AI developments within EdTech at the University of Edinburgh. 


Success Criteria  

Upon the delivery of the SADIE project, the following success criteria should be achieved:  

·         A process for the management of AI developments within EdTech at the University of Edinburgh; 

·         Creation of a public space that provides a transparent overview of the decisions made in the AI in EdTech space at the University of Edinburgh 

o    A final report, providing recommendations; 

o    Policy requirements;