Tag: student experience

revisiting Woolf in Virginia

The Generall Historie of Virginia, New England & The Summer Isles © The University of Edinburgh http://images.is.ed.ac.uk/luna/servlet/s/vh1rqf
The Generall Historie of Virginia, New England & The Summer Isles © The University of Edinburgh http://images.is.ed.ac.uk/luna/servlet/s/vh1rqf

Virginia Woolf wrote ‘a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction’*.  A room of ones own is a luxury which few could afford at the time without help from husband or family.

As a woman who values enormously the space I have from which to write my blog, I am particularly keen to do what I can to lower the barriers and restrictions which stop any individual or group writing openly.

I was in Virginia this week to hear more about the ‘Domain of One’s Own’ project at the University of Mary Washington. The project provides all incoming freshmen with their own domain names and Web space.  Students have the freedom to create subdomains, install any LAMP-compatible software, setup databases and email addresses, and carve out their own space on the web that they own and control.  The University picks up the cost of paying for the domain as long as the student is a student. When they stop being a UMW student, they can choose to take over paying for the hosting or let it lapse. In the meantime they have learned valuable digital literacy skills and contributed web-based user-created content to all or any of their courses and activities. The university is not afraid of what the students might do in the space.

It seems to me that this approach is very much in line with University of Edinburgh’s recent ‘Digital Footprint’ campaign, and if we chose to follow it, would build on our commitment to developing the student experience. It is certainly one of the more interesting ways to link student use of the web to their time as part of the university community.

Not cheap though, for 30,000 students.


*A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf is available as OER e-bookvia Project Gutenberg of Australia.

visitors and residents

Unique creation by Sophie of Kellogg. Commercial use by negotiation.
Unique creation by Sophie of Kellogg. Commercial use by negotiation.

Last night I dined at Kellogg again. Now that I am a visiting fellow rather than a resident one I was pleased to be invited to be guest Chamberlaine for the evening.

It was Scholars evening, so we celebrated the many generous gifts of donors to the College, some of whom are alumni, and others who just believe that the work of the College and the work of these individual students is worth supporting. I had lovely company at dinner sitting with social policy champion Amanda and Heather, Desmond Tutu Scholar and Wikipedia researcher.

I chose the importance of voting as the theme for my after dinner speech. We had a number of guests from Somerville College so I was able to make reference to Mary Somerville’s campaigns for women’s suffrage as well as the recent MCR elections, the Scottish independence referendum and the imminent general election.

I was also able to remind the current University of Oxford students that until 1950 as a graduate of that ( and this) university you would actually have had 2 votes in a UK general election. One for the area of the country where you reside, one for the university constituency.

The university constituencies, Oxford, Cambridge, University of London, the ancient Scottish universities and Queens Belfast all sent elected MPs to Westminster.

This was a wheeze started by the Scots and imported to England following the union of the crowns. It went on for a very long time. Several Cromwells, Pitt the Younger, Lord Palmerston, Francis Bacon, Issac Newton, Robert Peel and Ramsay MacDonald benefitted from the arrangement. Needless to say, it did nothing for the town and gown relations in any of the cities and was all ended by the Representation of the Peoples Act in 1948.

In preparing the speech I made use of a very handy OER from University of Cambridge: ‘Dons in the House’.


the open union

Teviot Row House, Edinburgh, pen drawing, c1888
Teviot Row House, Edinburgh, pen drawing, c1888.By Sydney Mitchell (Life time: 1930) [Public domain or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Teviot Row house is celebrating its 125th birthday this year and alumni are being welcomed back to share stories.

It is the oldest purpose built student union building in the world and it is stunning. It was designed to be fit for purpose, politics, power and community: ‘And with a house furnished as our Union is, our fellow-students may rest assured that they have much in their power to promote their own welfare.’

If you have ever tried to navigate your way around inside Teviot you might wonder what the original architect* imagined would be going on in there, and there is something of Hogwarts about its staircases, turrets and towers**.

It is a slightly disconcerting space and it takes you a few tries to get where you are going.  But if you persist there are rich environments, private spaces and favourite nooks to be found.

My memories of Teviot stem from my time as a student here, but also from the many summers it served as the Fringe Club during the Edinburgh Festivals. In recent years I have been lucky to spend time in there again as a trustee on the EUSA Board.

25th Oct 1889 description of Teviot’s opening, The Student


To assist in helping Teviot to celebrate, Claire found this snippet in the archives of The Student newspaper from 1889 when the Union  first opened for all.

‘It remains with the students themselves to make the Union what it ought to be, and if they join it as they ought they will be the gainers from it. The want is now supplied, and we shall look with interest on the progress of the new factor in our University life.’

The funding for the building was generated through an early ‘crowdsourcing-initiative’ 1 from amongst the students themselves. It would be fascinating to see if there is any record of that in the archives.

There was a book written for the 100th anniversary, it’s probably in the Library, called No spirits and precious few women‘, a reference to the fact that neither spirits nor women were included in Teviot until the early 1970s, which makes it sound like a rather dull place to me.  Nowadays, however, it is lively and buzzing with student councils, ceilidhs and tasty snacks.


*The architect, Sydney Mitchell was an alumnus of Edinburgh too.

** The creator of Hogwarts, J.K Rowling, is an alumna of Edinburgh too.


space and time


Blended learning is all about breaking free of the restraints of space and time. You can do it any time, any place, any pace.  Providing an technology enhanced campus is all about mastering space and time: what can you do in the space and when?

The  distinction between IT and AV is becoming increasingly blurred- it’s all digital now.  For many colleagues it is the technology context; the technology available in the teaching rooms,  which  influences their choice whether to use cameras, microphones, audio, video, images, visualisations, Google-earth fly throughs,  clips from movies, recorded TV programmes,  who-wants-to-be-a-millionaire-style voting, virtual worlds, touch screens, simulations, animations, infographics and datasets in their presentations.

For many colleagues it is their fear ( or prior experience)  that the technology will not work in the room which exacerbates the stress of presenting. For many colleagues it is a complete mystery as to why the local IT staff who support the presentation machine do not support the data projector too. This situation is not unique to Edinburgh.

The layout of the room (and the number of power sockets) shapes choices with regard to students using laptops, cameras and phones to create learning materials for themselves. The strength of the wireless broadband determines whether video can be watched, shared and downloaded by many students at the same time. The comfiness of the seats, the ability to come and go and the proximity to coffee influences whether student choose to remain in this place while they learn.

When colleagues are asked to show innovation in ‘front of house’ teaching it behooves the colleges and schools to invest well in technology enhanced space for an excellent student experience.

The Learning Spaces Technology Section team work to ensure that teachers  and students have the best possible, quality and consistent,  choices of technology in centrally managed classrooms and study spaces. Jim and his team ensure that equal access to learning is offered via hearing loops, large projection and recordings for revision or transcription.  When the festival comes they take our AV kit out, when the festival goes they put our AV kit back in. They turn around fast and they work to ensure that the kit will work when you poke it with your digit to turn it on. They will also train you how to use it.

If you are interested in knowing more about the kit in the classrooms, or having a practice to become confident in the digital skills needed to master it, do contact us.