It’s the end of Semester – but not as we know it!

Exams are over, students would have been leaving Dundee, had the year not changed so dramatically in March.

I didn’t post last week – I think that ABC’s (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) article  “the dreaded third quarter of lockdown” rang very true for me, in particular

You’ve hidden the notifications from a recently downloaded exercise app and you’re no longer telling people you’ll learn Italian. You begin to suspect that your friends have their own Messenger group.

Perhaps I’m quite not at that stage, but I think I was in some ways last week- especially from a work aspect. However, this week has been busy! As exams draw to a close, some staff are thinking about next semester. We’ve been looking at UCL’s ABC, nothing to do with Antipodean News agencies, rather an approach to enhancing modules for some time now. Suddenly we’ve had to think about how to run it online – which has lead to a busy week, but one that seems much more positive than the last few. I’ve drafted a post on that on the work blog – will update this to link to it once it’s finalised.

I’ve mentioned a few times that I do feel I miss the informal and friendly aspects of the office – in the WonkHE Newsletter this week I read

meetings are happening online, leading to much stiffer scripted engagements and reduced opportunities for the subtle human crafts of influence and hustle

I don’t feel most of the meetings I’m in are scripted, but, those subtle human crafts are missing. Online meetings are tiring; I end up often feeling either as if I’ve spoken over others (not good for them), or not had my voice heard (not good for me). It can be hard to remember if it’s a decision making process, as long as I don’t radically disagree, (or, if I do,  I understand the logic), it shouldn’t really matter who said what, but it does – I guess that’s just part of being human.

On a much more positive front, on Reading’s TEL blog, I read

Despite being physically distanced, some of us have reflected that this shared experience is, in some ways, bringing us closer together as a team. We’ll have a shared memory on which to reflect at a later time.

They’re using their meeting space as the “TEL & Bottle” for a relaxing shared drink that the end of the week … I like that – going to suggest it to our team 🙂

ON the twittersphere, I spotted this from Alison,  I fully agree – I’m lucky, I do have space, I think I’d find it much more difficult if I didn’t have the space at home – and the added bonus of the sea at the end of the road!

Also, on the positive front, I’ve been listening to John Naughton’s “From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg” on Audible (I think my paper copy is still in the office … )

The cover of From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg

Having done the MSc in Information Systems as Portsmouth in 98-99 (my MSc project looked at that upstart Google, while all my classmates used Alta Vista)  – I’m finding this a fascinating mix of memories, and different ways of looking at things. I posted a couple of weeks ago that I thought that Covid would be the defining event in my life – I’ve revised that – it’s the web. How different, and more difficult would lockdown be without it. I’d highly recommend the book, by the way.

Finally – it’s great weather this weekend – hoping that today’s lunch weather continues all weekend 🙂

Lunch in the garden



A lockdown Birthday.

I guess it was going to be inevitable, a May birthday was unlikely to be outside lockdown. As it was, I got to experiment with yet another video conferencing tool to meet up with friends & family in the evening. After many Collaborate, Teams and a few Zoom meetings, I decided to try Google Meet, in no small part due to the fact that no download is needed … and you don’t have to have an account (though I don’t think I know that anyone who doesn’t)

Work wise, we’ve been busy, now starting to think even more about next academic year, thinking both about the technology and the pedagogy.

As some of you may have seen, I’ve done a bit of testing out the technologies that we use – been pleased to see the interest that using two devices in Collaborate has attracted.

However, I’m having a long weekend, so this is only going to be a short post, and I’ll be back with a longer post next week.

Spotted, Thursday evening on my walk

Live hand drawn content – Collaborate

Having demonstrated using a 2nd login with teams to share hand drawn content, I started to investigate how to do it in Collaborate.
From a teaching point of view, Collaborate has a lot of useful classroom type features (it was, after all, designed for them!) You’ve got a whiteboard, breakout rooms, hands up, students can set a status, and others.

While you can’t share an application from a mobile device, you can use the whiteboard or the video camera.

Getting ready

To use a 2nd device with Collaborate, there’s a bit of preparation you’ll need to do, as you can’t simply login into Collaborate twice – it will tell you you’re already logged in.

  1. Find the guest link for your session
  2. Start the session on the main computer – I’d do it a few minutes before you expect the students.
  3. Enter the guest link in a browser on the 2nd device – making sure that you mute the audio and microphone on the 2nd device.
  4. From your main computer, promote your 2nd user to moderator.

Using the Whiteboard

If you intend to use the Whiteboard, you will probably want to disable participants usage of the whiteboard. This can be done either when you create the session, or just when you want to use the whiteboard. (It will stop students accidentally deleting what you’re doing!)

Start the whiteboard, on either device. You’ll be drawing on the tablet, so it’s easiest to have the right panel closed, to give you as much space as possible.

You can now draw on the tablet, and use the main computer for audio, to follow chat etc.

Using a camera

If you are using your phone, you may find it’s easier to use it for video than the whiteboard. Though my phone offered me the opportunity to use both forward and rear facing camera, it wasn’t able to mirror the rear facing camera, so text was reversed. I therefore had to use the forward facing camera, which is a bit more fiddly.

I wasn’t able to mute my phone totally, so I just put a pair of headphones in it, to minimise the audio feedback between the two machines.

You’ll need to think about how you’ll support your phone, and be able to write at the same time. After trying a couple of different set ups using a tripod, I found that a mini lightbox with a hole in the top worked best.

Looking forward to seeing your solutions!

Remember, you can use Collaborate on your own if you’d like to prepare content in advance of a session – just remember to click record when you start!

Sharing a hand drawn image – using Collaborate and an iPod.

The defining event of my lifetime …

Over the years, had you asked me what I’d expect defining events of my lifetime to be, I suspect the list would have gone something like

  • Falklands War
  • Miners Strike
  • Berlin wall falling
  • Year 2000
  • Brexit
  • Covid-19

Right now, that feels as if Covid will be the defining event of my life – it’s certainly got a far greater global impact than any of the others. Today, though, Europe at least, is looking back on an event that very much shaped the Europe we know today – VE day.

This image was created and released by the Imperial War Museum on the IWM Non Commercial Licence. Photographs taken, or artworks created, by a member of the forces during their active service duties are covered by Crown Copyright provisions. Faithful reproductions may be reused under that licence, which is considered expired 50 years after their creation.

These two children may still be alive, their memories of VE day may be in the back of their minds, perhaps more from others’ descriptions of events than their own recollections.

Post war Britain brought in the NHS and major changes to education in the UK.  Will we make such radical changes to the way that life happens after Covid 19. My feeling is, that though there might not be such major, national changes, I could see major lifestyle changes. Flexible working and education – at least at Higher/Further education- are both now much more realistic than before. How that will pan out is yet to be seen. I’m still missing the office though, and would not like to become a fully remote worker. Actually, I think my ideal would be a 4 day week – I know that some areas have experimented in the past with a 4 day week/ 3 day weekend. Care workers, cleaners, shop assistants and many others being valued – that would be great were those things were to stay.

In other weeks, I’ve shared posts I’ve found useful – however, this week, I think I’ll look forward a bit

  • At home
    • Plant up some seeds
    • Try to rescue my pond from a severe pondweed issue, and get the fountain going – I don’t think it’s going to freeze again.
    • Finish that large Lego model I started
    • Start a jigsaw – we got one out right at the start of lockdown, and it’s stayed unopened.
  • At work next week
    • Looking forward to really getting going on projects we’ve had on the back burner for some time – a framework for best practice in use of the VLE, getting LearningSpaces, our blogging platform opened up more for general usage.
    • Doing a bit more reading of things I’ve bookmarked.
    • Who knows, perhaps that backlog of older drafts will get tackled – published or deleted!

And a photo from the week.


Drawing on screen

One of the more common questions we’ve been asked in the CTIL team is how to incorporate hand drawn content – such as equations, graphs etc.

I saw a tweet from James Clay, leading to his post on just this issue  – using a tablet as a separate whiteboard.

To summarise his post –

  • Start a teams meeting in the app, on the main computer.
  • Join the same meeting from your tablet.
  • Go to share, and select “screen” – that will share everything on the tablet’s screen.

I’ve tested it, both with an iPad and an Android Samsung tablet with success. A couple of points that I realised

  • Make sure that both the audio and mike are off on the tablet, to avoid any feedback.
  • Get the drawing package ready – so you can quickly switch to it.
  • Don’t forget to leave the team meeting on the tablet, once you’ve left it on the main device.

I’ve also tried using the tablet as a visualiser in the same way – by sharing the video, rather than the screen. I used a tripod and tablet holder. The tablet holder didn’t fit the iPad well without its case; however as I wanted to see the screen, the rear facing camera made sense, so I had to wedge it in a bit. Trying to get a good angle, so I could write on the paper, while still seeing the computer for any chat and talking – was a bit of a challenge! It was much easier with the tablet on the desk next to me, using the drawing package!

For a phone, though, that’s a little too small to draw on, I could see a phone (and home made stand) working well.

As you can see, writing under the tripod isn’t easy!

The whole other question is  “what’s the best app” to draw and annotate. But, I’ll leave that for another time.


There’s light at the end of the tunnel …

I’d started the notes for this towards the end of last week, and then forgot to do anything with those notes!

Having finally got all the exam modules ready and prepared; found a few issues, fixed them, and then staffed our online support on the Saturday am – no students needed support submitting their 23 hour exams that started on Friday.

“The light at the start of the tunnel” flickr photo by timchesney shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

Of course, there are probably hidden obstacles that I can’t see … but, right now, it’s definitely feeling good 🙂

I’m now starting to think about moving forward, next semester is a bigger challenge than the assessment period – but, it’s a challenge I’m looking forward to.

Things I read during the week

  • Pivoting to Open Educational Resources – while aimed at South African Universities, it’s relevant to all. They’ve also included links to OER Africa – and other sites that are valuable not only for the OER aspects, but to get internationalism into the curriculum.
  • Staying Healthy – it’s so important to look after ourselves – Mandy gives some useful tips (the working from home article linked has handy tips – and I really hope that Marie is lucky enough to have that workspace)
  • Lockdown Learning Steve Wheeler is always worth reading – this is no exception. While aspects of behaviour management that he discusses are less likely to be a concern for higher education than for schools, “but there is still (and never will be) a substitute for empathetic, knowledgeable teaching input” applies to all.

And finally

I just have to share this! (Thanks, Jo Badge for sharing)

What did you do today?

For a long time now, I’ve taken a Photo a day – since Jan 1st, 2011. I’ve only missed 1 day since – that said, if you have seen them, and have followed them on Flickr, you’ll perhaps have spotted that taking photos is one thing. Uploading them, another …

So, when during the week, I spotted a tweet from Ben Werdmuller, which lead to details of his latest project, Recording Life on the Ground  – it struck a cord. I’ve known of Elgg, his first major project, for a long time now; it impressed me when I first came across it.

This blog originally started out in Blogger (I think) and, when I started to investigate the possibility of linking WebCT and Elgg I moved my blog to Elgg. Sadly, we didn’t get the two linked, nor did I get Elgg set up at Portsmouth, but I did get those MScELT students who started in 2006 to use Elgg on what was then Elgg.Net

I’d never quite got into Known in the same way, though I have experimented with it. However, Ben’s latest project, designed to tie in with the current pandemic, is simple, but a good way to find out what people are actually doing.

Ben’s latest project, “Recording Life on the Ground” It’s based around a set of questions – he’d originally thought of 10, but 4 was the general consensus  – that’s not too onerous, but enough to get depth.

I’m looking forward to seeing the software, though of course there’s nothing to stop me answering those very questions here.

1: What did you do today?

I worked – mostly setting up exam modules for staff, but that wasn’t only it.

2. What did you enjoy?

The chatting – albeit on video, to members of the team; we had a few laughs, it was informal, but we got things done.

3. What did you find difficult? 

A very bizarre set of dates – one of my spreadsheets managed to have UK dates in one column – and US in another! Go figure! (Actually, I think it was because one column had decided to default to US dates, and the other had been left as a text column).

4. What has changed?

The weather 🙁 It’s finally broken. We’ve had a lot of sun. Today, it’s the last day of April, and finally the april showers arrived.


I’ve got teams, they’re multiplying…

… and I’m losing control.

Well, not quite, but it feels like that at times. Communication is so important. Methods of communication that suit everyone is so difficult. Teams have exploded recently, I’ve been added to quite a lot – I’ve actively joined some, mostly outwith the University, but I’ve not got the time to keep up with them, though I’d joined them for the range of information they offered.

I find teams difficult, in particular, the fact that I can’t sort out particular posts that I want to save. With email, I use folders extensively. Sometimes a post from a particular person goes to “their” folder, other times it’ll go to a subject based one. [Or it just lurks in the inbox … ] With teams, though, it stays in a team – I can’t sort it based on my personal logic. We’ve also realised as a group that some of the channels haven’t been named well, so changing them seems like a sensible solution – until you’re looking for a file in Sharepoint – and can’t quite remember what the channel started its life being called. I’ve also discovered that setting yourself to do not disturb while logged into teams on the laptop doesn’t really work if you forget to close the app on the iPad!

For all I grumble,  it’s got a lot of benefits, especially for information I need now, but not necessarily in the future. And I’ve discovered how to pin chats, favourite individuals, and the general differences between a group chat and a team – so it’s getting easier. I still prefer Slack, though …

This last week was very hectic, getting exams ready for next week. It’s really difficult; as we know that one size doesn’t fit all. That said, our team is small, and we can’t provide a custom set up for everyone, much as it would be good to be able to do. Making something that covers all needs has been a huge challenge – but I think we’re there! The next few weeks will be hectic, but it’s now a much clearer process having done the first week’s worth. That’s also why my Friday post has become a Sunday evening post.

Going forward to next week – I’d really hoped to be able to get time to have some more informal, 1:1 coffee break / chat times with colleagues. That didn’t work at all, nor did trying to catch up on the backlog of draft posts in here. It’s a new week tomorrow. Hopefully I’ll have time.

On a more personal front, the Lego model is being constructed and my garden is far more prepared for the summer than it’s ever been before/

Things I’ve read this week. 

Martin Weller’s Jaws and the Online Pivot – It’s years since I’ve seen Jaws, so I’d forgotten some of the plot – reading his post reminded me of the plot – and as always, he made pertinent points.

One of our students reminded us all of the importance of having routine during lockdown (wish I could managed to stop by 4pm each day!)

An article in today’s Observer looked at the issues facing Universities in the move to fully online teaching – up till now, as it’s so close to the end of term, most online teaching has been mostly communication, supporting students to prepare for assessment etc., rather than introducing new content. And, it’s generally with students who know the staff. In September, we’ll be in the same position as Australian and New Zealand’s Universities were in February – albeit we’ll have had more warning.

Steven Anderson’s tweet highlighting the important of activity over tool, using one of Prensky’s quotes.

What I’ll try to do this week

  • Get those at least 1 of those draft posts finished
  • Actually do some of the craft, reading, photography, and other things I’d planned to do in lockdown. Though, to be fair, had the weather not been so dry, they may have been done. On reflection, being outside trumps most things.

And a photo – this was taken one evening on a walk down on the beach.

If we can’t be 2m apart, lets just look opposite ways




Just a 4 day week :)

Two four day weeks, actually, with a 4 day weekend between. That really helped me this week, I think. I’d not realised how tired I was getting (or grumpy, though I suspect colleagues may have  …)

The weekend was spent well away from the computer – mostly in the garden, trying to prepare a bed that previously had been covered with weedproof membrane and shale bits. It’s now much improved and ready for planting.

During the week I got to join a  yoga class via Zoom, taught by a close friend (who just happens to be a yoga teacher). It’s a class I’ve missed a lot since moving to Scotland, so the lockdown has let me rejoin her classes 🙂

From a work point of view, we’re busy right now looking at exams, but already starting to think about next academic year. All I’m reading, and all we’re talking about, makes me really regret stopping doing my PhD. In that, I’d been looking at social networking (though at the time it was “Web2.0”) to support learning. I also worked on an  (online) MSc in eLearning that we ran at Portsmouth, which put a strong focus on students communicating and working collaboratively – indeed, it was for that MSc that I started this blog – we knew we wanted students to blog, so I realised I’d better set a good example.

I’m intending, over the next few weeks, to revisit what I’ve written here in the past, both the published posts, and that rather long list of started ideas – starting to draw together past experiences, with new ideas, new points raised, new technologies. When starting to do the PhD, I realised that focussing on tools wasn’t the right way, focussing on the media – text, audio, video – and the audience – how they can be used to enable students to engage with others, informally, supporting their learning, in a way that suits their needs the best. And that’s something that it’s now a case of balancing University supported tools, with those that students want to use. It’s then how we suggest way of using their own selection for their informal communication and support, with the more formalised use of University supported tools. I believe that we need to recognise both, and be able to make information available to students to help them make informed choices.

Things I’m going to do: 

As well as revisiting older blog posts and ideas, I’m going to try to focus on me. Starting yoga again and reading Marie’s blog post, has made me realise I really need to focus on the me. Having a 4 day weekend last weekend helped, but I know I can make time for me.

Things I’ve read this week:

  • Sheila McNeill’s Lockdown week 3 (I read it at the start of the week!) – The GastaGoesGlobal sounds good – would love to get time to participate in some of that next week.
  • Simon Horrocks Systematic Approach to Online learning I like the idea of co-ordinated sets of resources, as going back to my point about communication – they’d lend themselves well to curation for students to access, then time to discuss. (The ‘flipped’ classroom approach)
  • Stephen Downes got two hits this week! Creating an online curriculum hub looked at a similar idea to Simon’s – this time though for K-12 schools, rather than HE. The more critical to me was the need to update an online learning strategy
  • Wired’s review of World of Warcraft I’d listened to an interview with Bill Gates who’d mentioned that there are few models for a pandemic – which made me remember reading about the WoW incident at the time. I obviously wasn’t the only one to remember reading it 🙂

And a final picture. I’d treated myself a while ago to this. It’s large, and it’s taking time (some bits are very small & my fingers are getting older … but, Lego is so good for so many things! It’s for people of all ages. You’ll get the final when I’ve finished!

Assembly Square - Lego

It’s becoming the new normal …

I’ve heard this phrase a lot this week; I can relate to it – in several different ways. As well as getting used to working remotely, and all the changes that’s brought – there are a few other normals. Generally, Dundee (like most other Scottish Unis, as far as I know) treats Good Friday and Easter Monday as normal. That was a surprise after English Universities. But, this year, we’ve been given both as additional leave 🙂 [So why, you may ask, am I blogging … things are busy and didn’t have time yesterday.]

Another ‘normal’ was making Hot Cross Buns – I’ve not done that for many years, but as soon as a photo of me in the kitchen was shared, my sister promptly commented with “that was always your job” 🙂 Kneading the hot ctoss buns

From a work point of view, we’ve been working on assessments for students, trying to find what will work for the students, and whatever tech they have available, meet the requirements of the Professional bodies – and work for staff, who may well also have technical issues accessing them to mark.

As with everyone, I feel as if I’m spending a lot of time on line. While I do try to avoid too much, even in the office, it’s easy to spend too much time online and not enough talking. An old colleague and good friend, Alice points out: 

The use of screens have become a catalyst for community engagement during this crisis to support one another.

The thing that has hit me very much this week at work is how much I miss the more informal chats, sometimes over coffee, often in an office (i.e. away from the screen!). Vicki Dale put it well in a tweet –

We can’t have those away from the screen (well, not at work!) now, but I think I need to make the conscious effort to make the time for more coffee breaks

Tea, book and fire

I now have a long weekend – so can have tea without the screen at home! I’ve got some mundane tasks (weeds are no respector of a lockdown), I’ve a new bike that I’d like to get out on, we’ve also got a swingball – I’m intending to get out and play that!

Playing swingball