Another year in pictures

I’ve managed to share 364 pictures this year on the phot a day site blipfoto. The day I missed was the first day of the ALT-C conference – so blaming work and possibly chatting too late at the bar for that one.

My pictures range from the almost quite good to deadly dull, but I really like the routine of taking a picture to share everyday. It makes me think in a different way, to look at and out for things that are visually interesting.

Some days it is hard to find something to take a picture of. Those are the days I revert to my safety shots (usually flowers I have somewhere at home) or a shadow on the wall. Other days it’s easier – but conversely hard to choose just one picture.

Anyway, I think I’ll keep going for a third year and would encourage anyone to give it a go. You can see my blips here.

This is one of my better blips – Christmas Day at Port Charlotte on Islay.


Happy New Year. I wonder what pictures 2015 will bring?

2014 in review

So stats helper monkeys helpfully prepared a 2014 annual report for this (and I presume every other wordpress) blog.

Here's an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 7,300 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 6 trips to carry that many people.

I don’t get a huge volume of traffic on my blog but it is a key part of my professional practice and is in many ways my professional memory and portfolio. Thanks to everyone who has dropped by and a special thanks to those of you who have left comments – that engagement with my peers is much more important to me than the numbers.

Click here to see the complete report.

Continue reading 2014 in review

My fantasy end of year wrap up – the best learning environment ever?

So this is the time when a lot of people are making predictions, sharing their views on developments and trends over the past year. When ever I read these posts, I tend to get a sense of plus ça change plus ça la meme chose. So I’m not going to critique any of these reviews instead I’m going to share with you, dear reader,  what I can remember of a dream I had last night about what my end of year post would be.

I don’t know if you have ever listened to Tenacious D (stay with me on this) on one of their albums they have a song called The Best Song Ever. It’s a cautionary tale of a rendezvous with the Devil, writing “the best song ever” or words to that effect, forgetting almost all of it the next morning but having the frustration and knowledge that they had indeed written the best song ever – if only they could remember the killer riff and the words. This post may be a bit like that . . .

image of calendar

(image: CC0

What a year it’s been. I think we’ve finally cracked it. As you’re aware over the last couple of years we’ve made some pretty radical changes not only to our physical campus but also to the structure of our academic year. After our digital participation conversation – open to staff, students, alumni, our (local and international) community, we decided that our third trimester would be one where no formal teaching takes place. Instead this now is a time where all our staff and students really focus on developing a range of approaches to building, creating and maintaining our approach to “the common weal”. All our students are either on placement in industry, within the 3rd sector, or in the university itself. If students are in the university they are working with staff on a range of different projects. From reviewing and redesigning all our programmes, reviewing our learning and teaching spaces, our technological infrastructure to reviewing and extending our data sources and ethical use of data policy. No-one has classes to go, school/uni committee meetings are suspended until the last two weeks of the trimester when there are round of review, publish, and where next meetings. So everyone is able to turn up for projects meetings and get “stuff done”.

After a couple of iterations we think we’ve cracked the module evaluation, course redesign, OER resources creation and research cycle. Our staff are rotated during this trimester so they are focusing on one aspect. This seems to be working well now and we are seeing much more informed feedback from students as they understand what is involved in module design, have actively been part of the process and understand what kind of feedback is needed and is useful.

Staff get time to develop and/or repurpose (open) learning and teaching resources. We also run a series of one event based open programmes where our students not only get the change to co-design the events but they also are offered opportunities to be online teaching assistants. Our research outputs are on the increase and our new digital scholarship recognition scheme which offers staff a dedicated sabbatical during trimester C for either creating learning and teaching resources, research activity or any type of digital scholarship is being extended to accommodate additional staff numbers.

Our open data policy and open data stack allows students to create their own GCU homepage with the feeds that they find most useful to them. Each year our student mentors help our new students (face to face and online) design their own. Our most popular feed is still from the cafeteria, students still really want to know what’s for lunch.

This year our wearable technology working group as well as coming up with some really sensible guidelines for the use of wearable tech in the classroom, also have come up with some great ideas which they are taking to the City Council about why retailers should not be able to allow access to certain retail spaces based on financial data assumptions via loyalty app points. Glasgow city centre is for all the people of Glasgow – not just those who can afford designer handbags. A draft paper on our website site has attracted considerable interest internationally and the group have submitted several conference paper submissions. A video summary of their recommendations has had 250,000 hits on Youtube.

Our more traditional research also benefits during this trimester as we now host our social innovation research sprint. Over a week a number of key local (and increasingly international) businesses work with our staff and students to develop ideas and pitches for short real world research projects. At the end of the week teams of researchers are selected to work on the best of these projects. The businesses provide varying levels of support for the research teams depending on the nature of their business and the research being carried out.

Stress from exam marking has gone down (and all our systems are fully integrated so any mark on any system automagically gets fed into our student record system). Students are more engaged, have more real world and ideas for projects to work on for their final year dissertations. Our results on all levels are steadily increasing.

As well as changing our traditional trimesters we also have become a much more flexible working environment. Gone is the 9-5 replaced by a number of flexible working patterns the allow the physical campus to be open for classes from 10 am – 9pm. Despite initial concerns from Unions, staff are finding the flexibility this provides really useful, particularly for those staff with child care responsibilities. No one is on a zero hours contract. This more flexible approach, combined with our greater online provision has also proved attractive for students and we are seeing our numbers steadily increasing. Our outreach activities are growing with pop-up learning cafes on particular areas, as well as maker spaces open to everyone a regular part of campus life. The campus really is providing a central space for the community.

We have developed our own agile approach to creating achievable and measurable results. Our senior management are actively involved in at least one learning and teaching or research project and some of them are actually teaching again, our staff numbers are going up. OK, things get a bit fuzzy around here, but for a while there last night it really was the best year ever . . .

On why I write and why I’m not writing a book . . . yet

Photo of old books
(image: Timeless books,, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.)

Reflecting on my twitter stream recently, it seems like everyone is writing a book, or to be more accurate has just (self) published a book. Well maybe not quite everyone, but three of my favourite ed-tech peeps (Audrey Watters, David Kernohan and Martin Weller) have all recently done that book thang. Download/buy these books – they all deserve to be read.

I’m actually on the periphery of the self publishing activity. I have just co-authored a chapter with David Walker for a book David Hopkins is editing and self publishing (plug #EdTechBook) which is due out in early January. Writing a book “all by myself” isn’t something that I’m thinking of doing anytime soon. That said there is something very appealing to me trying collate some of my blog posts into a more coherent body of work. Audrey, David and Martin have all used their blogs (to a greater and lesser extent – Audrey’s book is based on her presentations over the past year, but they are all published on her blog) as the basis for their books. In his reflection of why he wrote a book Martin says “I don’t know how any academic writer functions without a blog”.

I don’t claim to be an academic writer, I don’t write a lot of proper “academic stuff”. However I do persist with my blogging which at times has a whiff of academese in it. I blog now because it I enjoy the writing process. More importantly it gives me an outlet to record and reflect on what I’m doing and/or what is happening within my community. I still get a buzz when I get comments on something I’ve written, but it is more a personal record or perhaps more accurately my professional memory. If something is important to me I am now in the habit of blogging about it, even if it is a sentence or two in my semi regular “what sheila’s seen this week’ posts. George Couros has recently written an excellent post, 5 reasons your portfolio should be a blog, where he argues that a portfolio should be more than a “digital dump”, it should be about connecting, finding your voice. I whole heartedly agree.

I’m in the process of compiling my application for fellowship of the HEA. Here at GCU we have a portfolio based route for more experienced staff. I can’t begin to explain just how useful my blogging has been in this process. It has acted not only as a memory jolt, but also as evidence and structure for my submission. I am toying with trying to collate the posts I wrote when I was at the height of my MOOC madness into perhaps a booklet, not sure about a book, but “my little MOOC-y book-y” is a tempting title. . .

The HEA are now looking “good standing” measures for Fellows. How better to show engagement and good standing within your discipline/community than through a blog? It can link to presentations, papers, drafts, anything – just like a portfolio. To go back to Martin’s quote I actually don’t know in this day and age how any academic functions without a blog.

Politics, power and location

Like many people I have been following events at Warwick University very closely over the past couple of days.  Whilst not condoning an form of violent protest I always cheer inside (and sometimes on the outside) when I see student protests. Partly this is due to the lack of political engagement in society in general, and the slow demise of student activism. But this isn’t going to be a diatribe about that.

I was struck about the Warwick situation, can be summed up by this tweet.

The students were part of a series of protests across England about tuition fees. At this point I could rant about how angry it makes me that so many of our political leaders (present and recent past) benefited from free higher education, with state funding for living expenses, yet seemed to be more than happy to abolish that system and apart from the Scottish Government haven’t abolished them – but I won’t.

The other thing that struck me was where the protest and “incident” took place – in the university’s “corridors of power” – Senate House.  If my experience is anything to go by, the offices of the VC and senior management of most universities are places where students, and indeed most “everyday” academic and support staff are rarely seen.  In this age of student engagement isn’t it ironic that incidents like this can pave the way for more physical barriers to be put between senior management and students.  After a similar incident in my former institution a security guard is now permanently on duty in the corridor leading to the Principal’s office.

But why does it have to be this way?  We are at the beginning of a major new redevelopment of our campus.  A major part of this is the creation of a new central student experience/ services area.  I know this is a crazy, madcap, Friday afternoon idea,  but wouldn’t it be great if the Senior Executive offices were also there, or near there. Then they would actually see and hear students all the time you never know they might actually engage with them in new, perhaps even innovative ways . . .

What Sheila's seen this week – rebooting CPD, poundland pedagogy, bricolage and more learning analytics

It’s been another busy week here at Blended Learning Towers, so this post is really a whirlwind reminder of where I’ve been this week and some things that have caught my eye.

On Tuesday I attended the ALT Winter conference – Rebooting CPD at the University of Edinburgh. There were a number of really great presentations as well as the opportunity to have a play with google glass, occulus rift and mincecraft. I was particularly taken with the presentation from James Kieft from Reading College about their staff led staff development programme. I’ve still to explore properly the open version of their Pass it on Friday site but I want to take some time to explore the reflective practices encouraged by activities such as “poundland pedagogy” and “open classrooms”.  There seemed to be a genuine (and growing) spirit of collaboration and sharing of practice. I’m sure there is lots we in HE can learn from our FE colleages.

I also enjoyed Nic Whitton’s “proceed with caution: the application of gamification to learning” presentation. As a “proper” gamer and educator Nic’s presentation gave a very entertaining overview of the  where, why, when and how to/not to use gaming in learning and teaching.  She also stretched my visual note taking ability with references to Mary Poppins.  All in all it was a grand day out and great opportunity to catch up with many colleagues. Thanks to all the speakers and all at ALT for organising what will hopefully be a regular calendar feature.  You can see all my visual notes from the day on my (CC licenced) flickr folder.

Visual notes from Nic Whitton presentation








On Wednesday I attended the Universities Scotland Learning and Teaching Committee to give a short overview and introduction to Learning Analytics ( you can access my slides here).  Not quite sure what to make of the meeting, there were lots of nodding heads and questions about cost but it just reinforced how early a stage we are at across the UK sector.  Here a GCU we are certainly still in the finding  and sharing our data internally stage in terms of more general analytics. I am ever hopeful that we will be able to start moving again quickly in the new year when we have a new CIO.  I noticed today too that Jisc has released a report on the ethical and legal challenges of learning analytics – something else to add to the reading list.

Yesterday we had another meeting of our Blended Learning Coffee Club and we had a really good discussion about the merits of open badges. So as part of #BYOD4L in January we’re thinking of running an open badge workshop for staff.  We also were discussed the OU Innovating Pedagogy report. We tried to do a very quick mapping of the 10 innovations listed in the report to actual practice here at GCU. There were some immediate examples including GCU Games On with event based learning, SMILE/SMIRK for learning to learn, lots of examples of bring your own device (including response systems such as nearpod, padlet etc). We had a bit of a smile about bricolage – it’s one of those words isn’t it? It makes you smile when you say it, doesn’t it?   Anyway,  we decided that actually bricolage was pretty much what most people did by default – particularly when they were trying to use technology in their teaching.

Hopefully a more thoughtful blog post soon there are lot of things brewing in my mind just now.  And just a wee reminder – why not take a few minutes to fill in the ALT annual survey? You can even get a badge.

Participate in the ALT Annual Survey 2014