Category: People, Place and Work

Scottish Tech Workers Union

Scottish Tech Workers Charter
Scottish Tech Workers Charter

A few years ago i did a talk at ALT-C #altc about unions:  Sessions 18-47, 18-108 – ALT Annual Conference 2018 – YouTube and the relationships between learning technologists, academics and employers.

One of the questions from the audience was about the emergence of new, tech workers unions. This week I attended an event which I thought was about the launch of such a thing in Scotland.  It turned out that it wasn’t so much about that as being about encouraging tech workers to join a union ( in this case Prospect), which is fine.  The event was the launch of the Tech Workers Charter, which covers most of the stuff you would expect, and would probably get/expect from a larger employer.

The discussion was interesting. Several people talking about working in smaller tech organisations feeling that they could not request part-time working. It is interesting to see how interest in working part time is shifting from being something women traditionally want, to something everyone might have.

I also learned a bit about IP restrictions ( your employer could assert a right to the work you do in your spare time) and non-compete clauses which could restrict you from speaking to former colleagues or working in a similar place doing much the same stuff.  I don’t think that would work in universities.

The next night I spent a fun evening with old friends from union days. We mused on whether it was better not to be in the same union as your staff. Since I am often at odds with UCU ideologically, I might consider Prospect if they are reaching out to tech workers.

International Womens Day 2023

ribbon cutting action shot

IWD2023 is shaping up well for me so far.

We will be be naming a lecture theatre after an inspirational but overlooked woman of science- Charlotte Murchison

The book ‘Dangerous Women’ will be published in the USA

My article has been published in the JPAAP special edition Vol. 11 No. 1 (2023): Special Issue on Breaking the Gender Bias in Academia and Academic Practice

I am also giving a talk for edtech company Instructure (the people who have sold us our new badging system) about:

“Empowerment through Education: Discussing the importance of education in empowering women and girls.”

so I’d better get some thinking about that.

IWD began in 1908, when 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter working hours, better pay and the right to vote. A year later, the Socialist Party of America declared the first National Woman’s Day.

It is lovely to see so many activities across ISG to celebrate International Women’s Day this year as every year. It has been a real team effort to raise awareness, thank you.

International Women’s Day has become a date to celebrate how far women have come in society, in politics and in economics, while we are in the  middle of a sustained period of industrial action in this university  strikes and protests  and events are organised on campus to raise awareness of continued inequality. Striking ( collective bargaining by Beatrice Webb economist , founder of LSE)

The first theme adopted by the UN (in 1996) was “Celebrating the Past, Planning for the Future”.The UN’s theme for 2023 is “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality”. This theme aims to recognise and celebrate the contribution women and girls are making to technology and online education.

Some of you may have heard me before going on about the pay gap  ( big) and the pensions gap ( twice as big) . There is also a digital  gap  and the UN estimates that women’s lack of access to the online world will cause a $1.5 trillion loss to gross domestic product of low and middle-income countries by 2025 if action isn’t taken.

Advancements in digital technology offer immense opportunities to address development and humanitarian challenges, and to achieve the 2030 Agenda’s Sustainable Development Goals. Unfortunately, the opportunities of the digital revolution also present a risk of perpetuating existing patterns of gender inequality. Growing inequalities are becoming increasingly evident in the context of digital skills and access to technologies, with women being left behind as the result of this digital gender divide. The need for inclusive and transformative technology and digital education is therefore crucial for a sustainable future.

Digital literacy has become almost as important as traditional literacy.

Over 90% of jobs worldwide already have a digital component* and most jobs will soon require sophisticated digital skills. If we equip girls with digital skills through prioritising education in IT subjects,  girls will thrive in places  where digital skills are prized. This is already true.

We can strive to highlight the ways in which the work we do goes someway to addressing inequality and achieving the UNSDGs. Technology and digital education can increase the awareness of women and girls regarding their rights and civic engagement as well as offering careers for those with a range of digital skills.

In Scotland there is still a significant gap in IT education in schools. The recent report from the British Computing Society “Landscape Review: Computing Qualifications in the UK” found that in all UK nations, computer science subjects are the least popular amongst the sciences and male-female balance in class is often six to one.

  • girls are outnumbered six to one by boys in computer science classes across the UK.
  • women  who do choose computing,  outperform their male counterparts on average.

Participation in computer science in Scotland had been falling steadily over recent years but happily increased in 2021, possibly down to the growing popularity of new digitally focused areas of the curriculum, the higher profile of hybrid working and the good work EDINA have done to embed data science in so many schools. When fewer than 20% of the people working in the tech sector in Scotland are women, we must be vigilant to ensure that the kinds of work we do here in ISG is open to all.

“The Digimap for Schools service enables students to develop fundamental digital and data skills as well as increasing teacher confidence through the provision of valuable resources, lesson plans and ideas. Together with EDINA, we are confident that eligible schools will benefit greatly from free use of Digimap for Schools and the many associated learning resources.”

The Scottish Government has included digital technology as one of the six key sectors in which Scotland has a ‘distinct competitive advantage’. With low numbers of women working and girls studying to be in the sector, this competitive advantage is at risk.

Universities are big employers. University of Edinburgh is one of the largest tech employers in Scotland.

On the upside, in both the HE and IT sectors there are national pressures from policy organisations to increase the numbers of women in senior and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) roles. Highly qualified women are likely to be in high demand, and employers who offer visible support for inclusion will reap rewards in recruitment. You can find us on Women in Tech jobs board.

OfS Review of Blended Learning (2)

In the next couple of months I have a few speaking engagements which have come to me as a result of my being part of the panel who did this review. Our Lead, Prof Susan Orr has also spoken about our findings and I trust you have read the report. I don’t think I would stray far from Susan in describing our findings, or our recommendations. I will be interested to see how it plays out in reality for institutional practice.

The fact that there is no agreed definition of blended learning was a challenge for the panel, but we settled quickly on one which centred the deliberate and thoughtful blending of modes of teaching. A ‘blend’ is different from a ‘mix’. Metaphors can be helpful, particularly domestic ones. Do we aim for a blend which is like tea, or whisky, or a smoothie? is it alchemy, where the carefully selected ingredients are brought together to create a new, high quality desirable experience or is it where all the fresh and over-ripe bits are mushed together and we press extra hard for a few pulses on the liquidizer to ensure we break down the chunks of hard-to-swallow legacy content?

Or is blended learning more like a tossed salad, with each of the elements clearly distinguishable, and the option to have more of the cherry tomatoes if you particulalry like them and avoid entirely the sweetcorn.

How complex is the process of making  a good blend? Is it something anyone can do with some basic kitchen equipment or do you need years of training? Is it a binary task, are we blending just 2 modes or infact many different elements? who are our master blenders and are they our best technicians?

Susan mentions embroidery, I suggest tartan, where the threads and colours are still visible and weave through the piece in familar patterns but each adding an element to the whole.  When I was at school in art class we drew in chalks and used our fingers to blend the colours, to smooth the edges and blur the transitions. Now I expect we would use filters in photoshop or insta.

The context of the report was key. It is a snapshot at a certain time and in a certain regulatory environment. The ‘weaponising’ and demonising of online delivery – particularly ( recorded or not) lectures was palpable. Particularly in the media.  But we what we found was what we have always known, that lecture recordings are of great value to students. They are transformative in terms of accessibility and much in demand.  I suspect that lecture recording will continue to be a contested area in many universities for some time, but for those who have the infrastructure and services in place it is becoming one of the easiest elements of your blend.

‘Infrastructure and services in place’ is key.  I think my most significant contribution to the OfS review was the engagement with the heads of e-learning from each of the providers. We cannot assume all universities have the same or equivalent educational technology and digital services in place. There is diversity on the sector, and that is a good thing.

But if you have good IT staff and good learning technologists your lecture recording system is integrated with your VLE, timetable and in-room AV, it requires no extra time from colleagues to do.

When the panel for the review was announced, a couple of snarks suggested that it would be better done by eminent professors of digital education. I think that missed the point that one should not have to be a professor of pedagogy to understand what  your university’s blended learning offer is.  If you can’t explain it on your website to parents and students ( or regulators)  you can’t be surprised when they have different expectations.

The fact that university websites are full of out of date jargon is not a surprise finding. Neither is the fact that students and staff need good digital skills for the tasks they must do. Nor is the fact that quality of teaching is not dependent on modality. There is poor teaching online, or in blended modes, just as there is on campus. Digital does not fix bad work*.

There were a raft of recommendations in the report.  My big take-aways for strategic operational teams supporting blended learning now are:

-Check  your website. Are there still random pages from days in Covid where all and sundry tried to describe blended and online delivery in strangled, stretched and obscure terms?

-Check your digital estate. Technology proliferated and overlapped in the emergency investments and purchases of the last 3 years. You will need to rationalise that and revisit your vendor partnerships.

-Check your campus. Are you developing the physical estate for blended delivery? not all online activity happens from home.


What happens next? the next big shift will be when everyone realises that hybrid and blended are not the same thing.

The OfS were concerned with student choice. the students took that to mean that they should have a choice: Choosing whether and when or not to come on to campus, at short notice, on the day or to fit in with your own life. That, the panel felt, was quite a different propostion to knowing which bits of your course are on campus and which are not and being expected to plan accordingly.


*purgamentum innit, exit purgamentum.


making media accessible for teaching and learning

This is the cover of my book about designing learning.

At University of Edinburgh we centrally support and manage two large media services, Media Hopper Create and Media Hopper Replay.  Both Media Hoppers are named for Grace Hopper.

Media Hopper Create is our media asset management service (for long term storage and streaming of media) and Media Hopper Replay is our lecture recording service.  Both services are integrated into the VLE and core to the University’s teaching and learning.  Media Hopper Create’s usage sky rocketed during COVID and although there has been some reduction since the pandemic ended, usage is still very high compared to pre-pandemic.  Media Hopper Replay was used less during the pandemic but was used more for live streaming and for automatically pushing Zoom recordings. Now teaching is back  on campus, usage has gradually increased to pre-pandemic levels. 

Media Hopper Create is provided by  Kaltura and Media Hopper Replay is provided  Echo360.  These 2 edtech partners have been with us since 2015 and 2017 respectively.  

The scale of use of media in learning and teaching at Edinburgh is significant. In January this year 2,301 new media items were created in Media Hopper Create by 605 staff and students. 3,792 lectures captured in Media Hopper Replay in January, of which 235 were live streamed. This is an increase of approx. 1,000 from January 2022. Even allowing for some duplication as colleagues move content from one platform to another , that still amounts to around 5,000 new items added to our ‘born digital’  media collections. 

As a university, it’s clearly important that we have the tools we need to support teaching and learning.  During the last few years we’ve seen a change in the way teaching and assessment is being done at the University and with the development of the Curriculum Transformation project, the landscape will further change.  Given the advances in technology over the past few years and the developments with the Curriculum Transformation project, we should complete a detailed analysis in order to inform strategy for the future. 

A recent HEPI report highlights that lecture recordings are the most in-demand digital resources for students and that ‘Recordings should be uploaded for the duration of the course and the resource could improve accessibility for part-time students, students with caring responsibilities, and students who are otherwise unable to attend lectures in-person. Videos should be uploaded onto a single, user-friendly platform’.

Our media platforms integrate with our VLE and we have been looking at the accessibility of those materials for students.

During the summer of 2022, 597 pre-selected courses from 19 Schools and Deaneries across the University of Edinburgh were reviewed against a defined selection of accessibility criteria.  From the materials available, the review surveyed a selection of course materials published directly into Learn VLE , along with materials uploaded, URLs, images, and audio files. This review provides an overview of course accessibility by analysing a random selection of materials located within the courses. Over 7600 documents/URLs/audio/image files were reviewed overall.

  • From the audio and video files reviewed, an average of 95% provided a title that gave a reasonable expectation of the content within. 9 Schools and Deaneries had 100% accessibility rates on audio/video naming conventions.
  • An average of 73% showed the duration of the file as part of the description. In 8 Schools and Deaneries, more than 80% of checked files showed the relevant duration.
  • An average of 60% provided subtitles (or if no audio was present, this was made clear). In 13 Schools and Deaneries, at least 50% of checked files provided subtitles or a note that there was no audio.
  • From the files featuring subtitles/captioning, 91% were of reasonable quality.
  • Only about an average of 7% of checked files had made transcripts available to users. Only in 6 Schools and Deaneries did 5% or more of checked files provide transcripts.
  • 1.3x is the most popular playback speed.

International Womens Day 2023 -Charlotte Murchison

Murchison-Charlotte-1860 We have named the lecture theatre in Murchison House, ‘ The Charlotte Murchison Lecture Theatre’.  We will have its celebratory opening on International Women’s Day 2023. This will follow nicely from other rooms at Kings Buildings which we have named for Mary Somerville and Xia Peisu.

It is from Mary Somerville’s writing that we know something of Charlotte

“an amiable accomplished woman, [who] drew prettily and – what was rare at the time – she had studied science, especially geology, and it was chiefly owing to her example that her husband turned his mind to those pursuits in which he afterwards obtained such distinction.”[1]

if you will indulge me:


Did you know that IWD began with a strike by the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU)? It was originally called “International Working Women’s Day“, its purpose was to give laboring women a focusing point in their struggle for fair working conditions and pay.  ‘International’ in this context may have meant ‘immigrant’ international ladies, rather than being an international union.

My great grandma Sadie was a member of ILGWU.  A Jewish woman working in dangerous factory conditions as a garment worker in New York.

15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter working hours, better pay and the right to vote.

It was first celebrated internationally in 1911. The centenary was celebrated in 2011, so this year we’re celebrating the 111th International Women’s Day.

International Women’s Day has become a date to celebrate how far women have come in society, in politics and in economics, while we are in the  middle of a sustained period of industrial action in this university  strikes and protests  and events are organised on campus to raise awareness of continued inequality. Striking ( collective bargaining by Beatrice Webb)

The first theme adopted by the UN (in 1996) was “Celebrating the Past, Planning for the Future”.

The UN’s theme for 2023 is “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality”. This theme aims to recognise and celebrate the contribution women and girls are making to technology and online education.

Some of you may have heard me before going on about the pay gap and the pensions gap. There is also a digital gender gap  and the UN estimates that women’s lack of access to the online world will cause a $1.5 trillion dollar loss to gross domestic product of low and middle-income countries by 2025 if action isn’t taken.

Naming lecture theatres

This year’s IWD theme is #embraceequity, emphasizing the need to challenge gender bias and inequality to create a more inclusive world for all. Charlotte chose to challenge the fact that Charles Lyell did not allow women to attend his Geology lectures. She and her friend Mary Somerville would repeatedly turn up to his lectures and ask to be let in. Eventually he relented and his lectures became a little bit more inclusive after all.

Charlotte Rocks

Charlotte Murchison, Lady Murchison (née Hugonin; 18 April 1788 – 9 February 1869) was a British geologist who traveled widely with her husband Roderick. She was the daughter of a botanist and she was the one who had the passion for science, he was primarily interested in horseriding and fox hunting, but she managed to get him to see this as fun way to spend time and travel with friends.

Charlotte developed a significant collection of fossils during  their travels, and created geological sketches of important features.

She  knew the importance of social networks, she hosted gatherings and parties ( scientific salons), inviting many of the  scientists of the time. She was friends with Mary Somerville, Benjamin Disraeli, William and Mary Buckland, Charles and Mary Lyell, Humphrey Davy and Mary Anning.

What I know of the Bucklands, parties at their house in Oxford would have been quite the thing, as they were Zoophagists – they ate their way through an entire zoological and natural history collection.

The reason we are naming a lecture theatre: In addition to the obvious reasons for celebrating the history of women in scince and having visible role models for our students. She was keen to access higher education and when Lyell initially refused to let women attend his geology lectures ( at Kings College London) Charlotte and Mary Somerville were part of the crowd who turned up to gain entrance. Her lobbying resulted in his change of mind and women were allowed in. This was in 1831. Although Lyell allowed them in, Kings banned them again the following year, and Lyell resigned.

This was not a bad-natured interaction, they were close friends, infact Lyell and the Murchisons travelled together. In 1828 they travelled around Europe. We can find in the Murchison and Lyell papers  information about how they conducted their research as a team.   They divided up the tasks in order to be more productive. Lyell and Roderick Murchison decided about routes and research topics and travelled long distances walking and climbing, taking stratigraphical sections and correlations of structures. Charlotte did most of the time-consuming fossil-hunting, sketching of landscapes and geological structures and, since she spoke French, engaged with local experts. Her fluency in languages and skills in drawing undoubtedly contibuted to the success of her husbands research. (Similar stories for Mary Buckland and Mary Lyell) Like Somerville, she lived to old age, died at 80.

Her work on fossils attracted acclaim and a find in Portree, Isle of Skye in Scotland  inspired Ammonites murchinsoniae to be named in her honor. James Sowerby  named the ammonite after her, which seems only fair as she was the one who found it.

She is widely recognised now as a woman who made significant contribution to the study of geology and fossil hunting but was overlooked in her own time .

Charlotte’s important fossil collection appeared in  William Fitton’s  ‘Strata Below the Chalk’ showing how areas of the earth had been sea, then lake or river, then sea again.

Tenuous link to talking about chalk.

The learning technology teams at University of Edinburgh look after learning spaces and teaching rooms across all our campuses. Information about all centrally managed teaching spaces supported by Learning Spaces Technology. Choose “Room details” to get more detail

The room we are naming is in the Murchison Building on the Kings Buildings campus. Kings Buildings is a campus which is rapidly changing. Our most recent big fit out is the new Nucleus building. It is a huge new space. All the lecture theatres are named after trees.

Although we fit a lot of digital technology in teaching spaces now, one of the most poular tools is still the good old chalk board.

The Nucleus Building has five state of the art lecture theatres which offer a variety of teaching styles from traditional 400 seat “eyes front” to collaborative 300 seat “turn & learn” spaces, all equipped with enhanced audio-visual equipment. And nearly 90 sq meters of chalk board writing surface.  Once fitted, easy to maintain, no need for a user guide, lasts for years. probably our most sustainable, lowest impact learning technology tools.

Writing surfaces like chalk boards slow the pace of teaching with speaking and explaining at the speed of writing.  It also keep the lights on, using a chalkboard means the lights in the classroom have to be up.  It’s when the lights go down and the lecture theatre becomes more like a cinema that students start to fall asleep.

Thank you for coming, thank you to the teams in Learning Spaces Teachnology and graphic design ( Lesley Greer and Julie Freeman)  and all the team who help me in getting this done.

Just to return to the fact that The UN’s theme for 2023 is “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality”.

this requires gender-responsive approach to innovation, technology and digital education which raises  awareness of women and girls regarding their rights and civic engagement and access to education

even as we talk about the university’s commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals the opportunities of the digital revolution  risk perpetuating existing patterns of gender inequality.  inclusive and transformative technology and digital education is  crucial for a sustainable future.

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.

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

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.

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.