Tag: hybrid

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.


New ways of working

 – LTW reflections and learnings: 

  • In July 2021, as our focus shifted to hybrid working, we placed a strong emphasis on regular, clear and consistent comms within LTW to support planning for our return to campus. 
  • These comms aligned with high-level messaging around working for a hybrid university which has its ‘centre of gravity’ on campus, recognising that things will be different from the way they were in the Before Times and different again from the times we have been all working from home.  
  • We recognised that for some teams the fully online working has brought real benefits and we needed to ensure that hybrid working did too.  
  • Critical to this was our recognition that decisions about hybrid working in LTW should be inclusive, involving a wide range of voices, but also attention to difference. We recognised that what works for one person may not work for someone else, and we are all involved in multiple groups/communities with colleagues’ outwith LTW.  
  • As an SMT (Stuart, Stratos, Karen, Nikki, Euan, Kevin and Jenni) we concluded at an early stage that the only way to ensure inclusive input and decision making was by agreeing and communicating clear starting points for our hybrid working experiments. These were: 
  • The majority of colleagues should be on campus 2 days per week minimum 
  • Friday will be a day for writing, with no meetings in LTW. We 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 
  • We placed a strong emphasis on gathering and analysing data so that planning for hybrid working was informed by data from and about LTW staff, and that our commitment to fairness and understanding of the intersectional factors which shape an individuals’ workplace experience are reflected in our longer-term objective commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion in workforce planning and hybrid working. 
  • Listening to our staff sharing their experiences and comments around productivity, our comms referenced this and noted that the productivity benchmark for LTW is how we were before the pandemic and if we found that hybrid working dropped us below that level we would need to take care and figure out why, which is why it was so important that all our staff participated in hybrid working patterns.  
  • LTW heads, co-ordinated by Kevin, worked together to collate a shared set of working answers to various hybrid working issues so that all teams were getting consistent responses to queries raised. 
  • Communications from the LTW Director, Melissa, are shared every Friday to thank, acknowledge work done, and to highlight reasons to come on to campus. 
  • This resulted in around 80% of LTW staff adopting on-campus working patterns in the period to December 2021 – this figure has now increased to 98% of LTW working at least 2 days on-campus every week. 
  • We adapted and planned activities to encourage on-campus attendance, starting with our in-person December 2021 LTW Staff Meeting and social activities for a festive lunch. We followed this with a large all-day workshop session for all teams involved in Learn Ultra (50 people) attendance at the L&T conference and a summer all-staff meeting in July 2022.  
  • Our Data and Equality Officer, Lilinaz, has assisted and informed our SMT in using the data to inform our decision making around new ways of working. Her data insights have helped us to follow up with further data gathering from specific groups e.g managers and interns. 
  • We have reviewed and analysed centrally collated data at UoE, ISG and LTW levels, and, most importantly, have established local data gathering, via surveys and collaborative activities at team, section and directorate level, sharing resources, learnings and actions. The fact that decision-making is data informed has reassured staff that their views and experiences are being heard and considered. 
  • Our data gather highlighted a larger than expected number of staff with a declared disability and we have taken care to ensure that the office environment includes adjustments for their needs. 
  • Our Director presented our data and findings at 2 national events in the sector to gain and gather insights from other places. ‘UCISA New Ways of Working – The Good, The Bad and The Downright Experimental’ and ‘AbilityNet TechShare Pro 2021’.   
  • We continue with this work and have also recruited an Edtech Operations Intern to bring additional resource and focus to our planning for new ways of working from the end of the ‘official’ period of experimentation in October 2022. 
  • We have found it challenging to move beyond the current, rigid space constraints within AH to experiment with hybrid and collaborative spaces. We provided input to proposals via Small Capital Bids to prioritise the reconfiguration of spaces and the purchase and installation of pods, however, conscious that we/ISG have not yet been able to make any progress. 
  • Collated AH Space Data workbooks all directorates were asked to update by Corp/Facilities in Feb 22, LTW are actively maintaining this data and using this in our resource planning to assign desks to our intern cohorts and new starts. 
  • We urge the Hybrid Working Project to release/allow access to the data gathered in the most recent University –wide survey, noting that respondents were told when they did the survey that data and findings would be shared.  
  • To continue with our experimentation, we propose that we co-locate LTW staff on one dedicated wing – merging our teams on H/East and H/West. This will require input and agreement from other directorates on these wings and will allow us to experiment with increased cross-section collaboration and be able to use this space for a variety of activities without impacting on other directorates staff. We also hope this will support efforts in the area of staff morale, as many LTW staff are demoralised by looking across their wing to see totally empty desks, they would prefer to see their LTW colleagues. 

-LTW SMT, August 2022 

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 (sharepoint.com)

Hybrid Working | The University of Edinburgh

Q&A: Hybrid working at Edinburgh – Bulletin magazine

Agreeing hybrid working arrangements – guidance for staff (sharepoint.com)

Research Insights (sharepoint.com)

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 (sharepoint.com)

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.




design for hybrid life

This is the cover of my book about designing learning.

If you’ll forgive me for celebrating yet another really impressive piece of work completed by LTW and the team of learning technologists from across Schools to establish a co-ordinated learning design service to support hybrid courses in Learn. I’ve always suspected that learning design was key to delivering learning technologies at this institution, I’m glad we have such an excellent team across LTW and the Schools, and that people are able to give time, even when everything is so busy. Thank you to Jon, Ryan, Tracey, Neil, Brendan, Meredith, Lizzie, Graeme, Alison and Lorraine.

Learning design for hybrid.


They have

This is exactly what we need right here, right now.