Senior CMALT Update 2021

I submitted my Senior CMALT application in 2018 in the form of a performance I gave at ALT-C. You can see it linked below.  I submitted my 3-year update renewal based on a collection of messages I have written to my staff over the last 18 months and various blog updates.

Summary of recent work/practice

My recent work practice has mostly been working from home and leading a large team of multi-professional staff in edtech and information services through a scary time in a global pandemic. Every Friday I write an email message to my teams in LTW. I’ve long been a blogger and I find writing to be vital for my mental health. This record of my journey as a manager has given me insights and helped me to learn from my experience. My own reflexivity and commitment to appreciative enquiry form a key part of my justification of the level of expertise that has been reached in my practice.

In my Friday messages I try to focus on our edtech and web achievements and successes. I keep them here to look back upon as we come out the other side. They serve to be an impressive list of what the teams have been doing and an aide memoir for my reflection. My Friday messages now comprise more that 25,000 words. The same size as a masters dissertation.  I post the messages openly  on my blog because I am proud of all the work we do,  I want any new staff to be able to look back at what has happened, and I secretly want a wider audience for my puns.

The learning technology teams took a barrage of insults from academic colleagues. My messages aimed to reassure them that they were doing  important work and the university appreciated the contribution we were making. Our darkest days were when Learn VLE went down for 100 minutes at the start of term, when Kaltura storage ground to a halt and when colleagues discovered that captioning software robots weren’t magic wizard fairies.

Staying grounded in what we know has been important. University of Edinburgh has been world-leading in online masters courses for many years and invested heavily in digital innovation and technology for distance education which put us in a better position than many of our peer universities . Our distance learning business is booming, with recrutment up by 50%. MOOC production never stopped and more online courses were added as demand for learning from home increased. Our pedagogical training for faculty has expanded and our courses about how to design courses are online.

We have a  strong culture of sharing open resources and a good understanding of the licencing  issues involved in re-using materials from elsewhere. In some of our services this commitment to openness and sharing ensured that we were able to stay in business.  We have good infrastructure for media which ensured that we didn’t have to resort to YouTube. Senate Education Committee have spent time on the policies for privacy, ethics and accessibility in digital teaching. We have a strong culture of research informed delivery and we have ensured that learning technology at Edinburgh is shaped by published educational research about uses of learning technology in pedagogy.

The learning technology community of practice has grown fast this year and it is important to take time to ensure than new members were welcomed. During this pandemic year the university has recruited a dozen new learning technologists and in order that they were all able to join our community with a shared understanding of the technologies we have on campus, we put together a training programme available to Schools to ensure that their new recruits were quickly up to speed as expert users of the university systems and a reading group to provide a place to discuss some of the more nuanced aspects of technologies such as bias, surveillance and online harms. We invested quickly in a ‘grow your own‘ strategy for up-skilling and cross-skilling  other technology staff to support learning technologies and in recruiting and training students to help us with the up-scaling and heavy-lifting in our services. Last summer 40 students joined us to help with Learn and  many of them returned to ISG this summer for another stint as interns. Their input and insights are energising.

Recognising the professionalism of the community we have continued to support colleagues in completing their professional accreditation and CPD to develop in their roles.  Reflections on the demands of this year have provided good content for their portfolios. Our national networks have been essential for understanding that in each institution the learning technologists are tacking the same challenges. Many of us deal directly with the same software suppliers. We have swapped guidance, experience and shared stories to keep each other going and offered help to those whose systems collapsed.

My staff are very kind and often send me feedback. I have an open leadership style which includes regular all-staff meetings, well-being surveys, regular newsletters and social media.  I aim to ensure the best possible working environment for colleagues, improving staff wellbeing.  I work closely with my management teams to ensure our staff are engaged and happy and this can be seen in feedback data. Whenever staff surveys are done in the University, our teams achieve response rates and positive scores higher than comparative scores for the wider university.

My job hasn’t changed formally, but of course due to the switch to online learning during the pandemic the services my teams provide have become significantly more core to the university’s business. I was lucky to be able to expand some of my teams and offer permanent contracts to some who were on precarious contracts. We did a lot of work to develop the skills and careers of learning technologists across the institution. 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.

Since I last wrote my SCMALT I have added Dr and Open to my title. So I am now Assistant Principal, Online and Open Learning.

Overview of CPD activities over the past 3 years

1. Research. The most significant piece of CPD I have done in the last 3 years is a doctorate. I attended research methods training and learned about epistemology, ontology and axiology. All the ‘ologies. I studied part-time over three years. I spent my annual leave, weekends and evenings writing.  A couple of long strike periods also helped. The result was a thesis based on original research. My topic is Diversity and Digital Leadership. Digital leadership is an area of leadership studies which is gaining popularity as organisations seek to ensure that their businesses are best positioned to thrive in an increasingly digital world. The experiences and attitudes of leaders to issues of equality, diversity and inclusion is key to institutions’ organizational culture and the context in which institutional vision, policy and strategy for digital education is developed and delivered. This is a further development of the work I have done previously on policy, culture and the relationship between academic colleagues and learning technologists.   My study provides management level insights which will inform practice and provide a basis for further research. It serves to highlight structural issues of power and inequality which exist in the work context of HE IT and the extent to which that is similar or different to the wider digital sector in Scotland.

My CPD manifests in 3 ways: the development for myself as a studentas  a researcher and as a communicator sharing findings with the sector.

I have delivered CPD webinars for ALT and UCISA membership.  In each case I am drawing upon new data and evidence gathered from staff, students and professional service colleagues in higher education. In each case I am celebrating and showcasing research done by the women with whom I work.

2. Fellowship of CILIP – I gained Fellowship of CILIP. It’s primarily targetted for librarians, but I would encourage other learning technologists to explore it as an option, because generally I think the professions overlap.  Completing the portfolio was a chore  but it was worth it.  In the spirit of open practice I shared the structure of my portfolio. Preparing and collecting the evidence for my  portfolio was been a great way to evaluate the impact I have had on the organisations in which I have worked and on and the wider profession. CILIP include a section on ethics and values. I am committed to the ethical values of equality and diversity in the workplace. I have established a programme of work at University of Edinburgh designed specifically to promote gender diversity in our IT services. After three years this work is now delivering positive impact and I am able to report on metrics for improvement and use data driven decision-making for management practice. I have also won a number of national awards for this work in taking intersectional approaches to promoting diversity in the workplace. The  CILIP reviewers were very kind.

3. Sitting on advisory committees. I have been an invited member of the  2019 Centenary Commission on Adult Education . That was mostly pre-covid.  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. 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.

Updated future plans

I will present again at ALT-C in September 2021. This will be another opportunity for me to synthesise and apply the learning from my recent CPD. I am presenting with colleagues. We will talk about making changes for adult education ( micro-credentials) and doing action research ( anti-racism in learning technology).

As Assistant Principal, Online and Open Learning I will continue to plan , develop and deliver projects and services for University of Edinburgh. I suspect our big new areas will be the introduction of our own microcredentials frameworks and a VLE upgrade. I always swore I would never do another VLE migration, but perhaps an upgrade won’t be quite as bad. Actually, I know it wont, because the teams who lead this work have done so well in their Learn Foundations project. They are award winning. They won the Blackboard innovation award and are 2021 finalists in computing magazine awards for ‘Best Place to work in Digital’ and ‘Best Project Team’. We will gather together in London with our student intern alumni to celebrate.

If things ever get back to normal we will be able to properly celebrate 5+ years of open educational resources and wikimedia in the curriculum  at Edinburgh. I am part of the senior team contributing to the University’s readiness to support implementation of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Scotland through services and programmes, including open education and digital inclusion, so you can expect more blog posts on that subject over the next few months, particularly in relation to COP26.

I wil have ( I hope) 2 new mentees  through the university’s Mentoring Connections programme and I will sit as a member of Advance HE ‘s Teaching and Learning Strategic Advisory Group.

I will also continue my research and scholarship. In 2020 we published the second edition of ‘Designing Learning’. Butcher, C., Davies, C., & Highton, M. (2019). Designing learning: from module outline to effective teaching. Routledge. I’m writing a chapter on ‘The Importance of Diversity and Digital Leadership in Education‘ for an upcoming Handbook for Digital Higher Education, and I hope in 2021 to see publication of this book ‘Dangerous Women ‘ in which I have a chapter



Senior CMALT, September 2018

I wrote my initial CMALT application in 2008, I renewed and updated in 2016 (see below) and in 2018 I’m upgrading to the new ‘Senior CMALT’.

In my original portfolio I wrote about the policies which shaped the context of my work. At that time those were:  The new HEA UKPSF framework, the University of Leeds strategy and vision towards 2015, the HEFCE e-learning strategy, SENDA legislation on accessibility, copyright and emerging Creative Commons and CETIS -led technology standards.

My two specialist areas were: ‘Collaborative online learning for staff development’ and ‘Leadership and learning technology’.

For Senior CMALT I now need to evidence an ‘advanced area’. For this I’m returning to the area of policy , but also leadership.

Future Plans

I will Co-Chair AltC2019 in Edinburgh. Along with Keith Smyth and Louise Jones and the ALT professional team  ( and many other volunteers) we’ll aim to provide a valuable and practical forum for practitioners, researchers, managers and policy-makers from education and industry to solve problems, explore, reflect, influence and learn. I am very pleased and proud to have so many CMALT holders at University of Edinburgh, and encouraging them to present and contribute to their ‘home’ conference will be a big part of my work for the coming year.

Advanced area: Policy Making

In line with my commitment to communicating and disseminating effective practice I delivered a session at AltC 2018 exploring the interplay between technology and teaching, and learning technologists and academic colleagues. In it I talked about the importance of working alongside colleagues from different backgrounds and I used a ‘learning from critical incidents’ framework for my reflection.

I spoke from my position as a learning technologist,  union member,  senior management and business service owner.  I spoke about my experience of writing, and consulting on, an institution-wide opt-out policy for lecture recording. I hoped that colleagues would be aware that if we work with technology for teaching and learning then all our technology comes into contention during a strike. My blog posts during the strike can be found here.

The published outline of the session is on the ALT web pages and here on my blog.  The session was streamed live and recorded and can be seen on YouTube here.  As mentioned in the recording, I am reading from a pre-prepared script, so a full transcript is available from me on request.

After my performance colleagues were very kind.  I asked my peers for their assessment. Maren, Amber, Janet, Frances, Lorna, Nicola, Susan, Sheila, Catherine and James all seemed  to think it fit the criteria  for evidence of reflection well. The twitter comments referred to it as ‘brave’, ‘thoughtful’, ‘reflective’, ‘thought provoking’ and ‘important’, and it has inspired a couple of blog posts from colleagues Martin , Sheila   and a further reflective event hosted by Mira  and Leonard.

I hope that will be strong enough evidence to get me a pass, and I hope more colleagues will evidence their reflection through performance  of open practice too.


CMALT Update, August 2016

In line with my support for CMALT at Edinburgh and before I head off to ALT conference I need to update my own portfolio.

Central to the CMALT scheme is the definition of learning technology agreed within ALT.“Learning technology is the broad range of communication, information and related technologies that can be used to support learning, teaching, and assessment.”

The principles and values that inform the development of the scheme are:

  • A commitment to exploring and understanding the interplay between technology and learning.
  • A commitment to keep up to date with new technologies.
  • An empathy with and willingness to learn from colleagues from different backgrounds and specialist options.
  • A commitment to communicate and disseminate effective practice.

Here’s my update:

Summary of recent work/practice

The new, updated, section of the portfolio should start with a summary of your recent work or practice and be no longer than 500 words. This should be related to the contextual statement in the original sections of your portfolio or the summary from the last update. In this section you should describe how your role or more broadly your career have developed over the past 3 years and how this relates to your work with Learning Technology.

Cover image of BITS magazine. BITS Issue 14, Spring 2016
Cover image of BITS magazine. BITS Issue 14, Spring 2016

When I wrote my initial CMALT application in 2008 I was just about to leave University of Leeds to embark on a new adventure in a new role as Head of Learning Technologies at University of Oxford. I stayed in that role for 6 years, becoming Director of Academic IT as the teams and workload grew. Oxford is a very different institution to Leeds and I experienced a vertiginous learning curve. The institution is ancient and complex, but also intriguing and inspiring. During my time there I experienced a number of significant shifts in my thinking particularly around received learning technology wisdom and the true nature of ‘a community practice’ with shared endeavour, shared history, shared language and shared assets.

During the 6 years I worked at Oxford I continued to blog regularly; to reflect on my practice and to be open in my thinking. My work during that period  focussed on the emerging area of podcasting ( launching Oxford on itunesU in 2008), online publishing, digital skills, VLE development, crowdsourcing, citizen science, agent based modelling, and OER, co-inciding with several rounds to JISC funding to which we bid successfully.  My move from a staff development unit at Leeds to a central IT service at Oxford ensured that I gained from technical colleagues a much greater understanding of the nature and choice and potential of open source technologies and from IT management colleagues a mature understanding of the principles of project and service management to add to my expertise in pedagogy and edtech.

I wrote an institutional case study for JISC about the open approaches at Oxford.  I also spent a year as a SCORE Fellow researching ‘Authorship and use of OER as academic practice’ . During my time at Oxford I continued to blog, a practice I had begun at Leeds.

My Oxford blog: Light out for the Territories ahead of the rest

My time at Oxford was transformational for me in exploring and understanding the interplay between technology and learning in small group teaching. My decision to leave was partly a desire to keep up to date with the new technologies around delivering higher education at scale. I wanted to be involved in the development of MOOCs and distance learning. My move to Edinburgh in 2014 has brought me back into the world of large classes and overloaded student systems. The work I did in researching the student digital experience at Oxford has helped to inform my work in this new institution, but the challenges are quite different and exciting.

I am now working with colleagues whose specialist areas are varied and complex. The University of Edinburgh has taken some ‘interesting’ IT decisions in the past. Along with the rest of the senior management teams I am currently involved in a major programme of digital transformation and innovation in central IT which provides a new opportunity to communicate and disseminate effective practice, service excellence and shake up some of the old ways of doing things. In recognition of my continued excellence in this work I have recently been appointed Assistant Principal for Online Learning with a remit to lead and develop university strategy in this area.

Overview of CPD activities over the past 3 years

When choosing your examples, consider how they relate to your development over the past 3 years. For each example you must include:

  • A brief description of what you have done;
  • Evidence to support this;
  • Reflection on what you learnt as a result of doing it.

I find as I get older, my professional development activities become less about attending courses or conferences and more about taking on new and challenging areas of work outside my main ‘job description’. My recent professional development in my role as Director of Learning, Teaching and Web Services at University of Edinburgh has been focused in three areas:

  1. Championing OER at an institutional level through the development of strategy and policy and at a national level through co-chairing  the recent OER16 conference.

I was co-chair of a large conference about open culture in Edinburgh in April this year- the conference was part of a larger ‘festival of digital education’ at the University as we also hosted Learning @Scale and LAK learning analytics research conference back to back. As Chair I was involved in establishing the themes for the conference and attracting the keynote speakers. I was also the venue host and

Interpretation of my #OER16 keynote (c) Beck Pitt CC-BY
Interpretation of my #OER16 keynote (c) Beck Pitt CC-BY

opened the conference with a welcome to the University and closed it with a keynote on the challenges of championing OER at an institution-wide level. The conference was a big success and was notable in bringing together speakers not only from HE, but also the GLAM sector and Wikimedia UK. The partnership of OER16 and University of Edinburgh has recently won a Wikimedia partnership award. What I learned as a result of the experience of hosting a large conference is most certainly about the importance of teamwork, but also of the value of networks and role models across a career and the seemingly quite rare /lonely situation I find myself in- being a director of IT with a remit and commitment to OER.

  1. Women in Learning Technology Leadership: Engaging at an institutional level with initiatives around gender equality with particular focus on the lack of women in IT senior management and technical roles.

In 2014 the University of Edinburgh invested in some expensive ‘Unconscious Bias’ training for senior management as part of the University commitment to Athena Swan. Following this training I have become equality and diversity champion within Information Services and I have launched a group-wide ( 700 staff) inititative called ‘The Playfair Steps;’ to promote equality for all and diversity in decision-making teams. I have employed a number of student interns to carry our gender equality surveys within ISG and to identify actions we could take to recruit, retain and promote more women. I have also taken steps to ensure that my creative and decision-making teams are as diverse as possible in the interest of better business performance. I have been blogging about progess.

  1. Understanding the student experience and promoting their engagement with emerging digital education issues though my involvement as a trustee of Edinburgh University Students Association (EUSA)
University of Edinburgh Digital Image Collections CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
University of Edinburgh Digital Image Collections CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

It has been a concern of mine for sometime that many university groups ( particularly IT ) have very poor understanding firstly of the students experience of digital systems, and secondly of the organisations and strtuctures and role which student unions play in student representation at all levels of the organisation. Three years ago to I had the opportunity to become an external trustee of EUSA and sit on their governance board. This was an incredibly rewarding learning experience for me and I hope for them, further more I am able to use that experience every time as a senior manger of ISG we discuss the best way to engage students in what we are doing. As a result of my close working relationship with EUSA I am now able to help IT colleagues to understand how best to work with the sabbatical officers and elected convenors. I worked closely with the student leadership to develop the OER vision for University of Edinburgh and  I presented this, together with the VP Academic Affairs at OER15 conference. The senior management of ISG have regular meetings with the sabbatical officers in EUSA and given Edinburgh’s rather poor NSS scores, this seems like a good step in the right direction. In addition to close working with the elected officers I am now able to offer a range of work experience to students via our ISG  student internship scheme.

Updated future plans

This is the final new section for the updated portfolio and should build on both the summary of recent work and the CPD section to give a sense of your future plans. You might reflect on areas for future development or training, skills you wish to develop or ways in which you hope to change your role or career over the next 3 years.


Looking back at my 2008 portfolio I notice that I wrote about copyright, learning design and leadership. Those are still some of my passions. My interest in copyright has lead me to where I am now in establishing an OER vision, policy and service for University of OPENED_A1vs2Edinburgh. I don’t teach my own courses in the VLE anymore but I am business owner for multiple VLEs at Edinburgh and for our nascent learning design service, lecture capture, learning analytics, maker spaces, interactive design, assessment and feedback and AV tech across the campus. As well as the university website, the student portal, MOOCs , distance learning,  OER, one hundred people and a fairly complex budget. As for learning technology leadership, in my new role as assistant principal my career in leadership, my research and experimentation and my championing of authentic, open practice will continue.

Check here for regular updates.