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) articleย  “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, ย 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. Weโ€™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 ๐Ÿ™‚

ON the twittersphere, I spotted this from Alison, ย 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)ย  – 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 ๐Ÿ™‚

Lunch in the garden



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. ย 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 issueย  – 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 areย offย 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 itย in a bit.ย 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 ย “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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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)

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,ย  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.ย 

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 haveย  …)

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 aย  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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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 anย  (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:ย 

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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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 ๐Ÿ™‚ [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” ๐Ÿ™‚ 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:ย 

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

The days are getting longer …

… and time is flying

So, it’s now the end of week 3; I’m getting more familiar with teams – and still not really liking it. I’ve also experienced a much bigger teams meeting than I have before – I think I’d have found collaborate much easier for that particular meeting.

I was also meant to be doing a conference presentation for QAA Scotland. It would have been the first for a long time, so was both looking forward to getting back to going to conferences & presenting, but a wee bit nervous. Of course, it was cancelled. They wanted the presentation in advance if possible, and work meant that it wasn’t really finished until the night before, and it wasn’t quite what I’d have done face to face. I didn’t have the time to find good photos (either from my own Flickr stream, or elsewhere)

This is it.

The QAA session, what I saw of it via twitter and a couple of live streams was useful – I just wish I’d been there, as I think I’d have got a lot from it. OER20 looked excellent (as usual) from their twitter stream. I’m hoping that next week, as the students have their Easter break, I’ll have time to catch up on the resources from both.

Another thing I’m hoping to have time for next week, is a few more of the informal 1:1 calls – with a coffee – I think I’m missing that a lot! I managed one this week. Given that our team task for the day was to share a favourite biscuit, here’s mine (as I’ve given up chocolate for Lent, it’s not my own photo)

A jaffa cake

By Asim18 – Own work, Public Domain,

The weekend is rapidly approaching – this caught my attention last Friday so I’ll repeat it today.

Juggling with water …

… and drowning in a sea of URLs.

While in some ways this week was easier than last week – I was, after all, in the same location all week, it’s also been yet another week of change.

At the weekend, I’d decided my old bike was on its last wheels, so went to get a new one. All ordered, and agreed to pick up later in the week. Then it was the lockdown, though luckily I discovered the following day that cycle shops were exempt.

That aside, I’ve been finding this week that there are so many things that need to be done, we’ve meetings galore – meetings online are tiring, but they get easier as you get used to them. The daily drop in support sessions we’ve been doing for staff have gone really well – the chance to chat to staff about what they’re doing – they’re so appreciative that it’s worth it ย – despite the odd technical glitch. It’s also giving us an insight as to what staff are coping with – they have far more people in a session than we do; often with a greater range of technical skills.

It’s not just drop ins, though, I’ve been trying, for most of the week, to make screencasts of aspects of Turnitin – trying to remember what I’d say in a classroom session, but to make it more concise (something I fear I don’t do well). I sadly didn’t manage to get to more than a few moments of this year’s PressEd conference – and I’m painfully aware that I should be doing a presentation for another conference that’s due to be delivered online next week …

That’s the juggling with water for this week.

Now the sea of URLs. As with so many, I accumulate URLs, I see them in Twitter, on news feeds, I find them who knows where; they get flung into pocket and generally just go there to wither. Some were from how people are thriving, moving learning online; I’m impressed by the time they seem to have to get things done, the quantity and quality of what they can generate seemingly in the here and now. There were, however, posts that chimed more immediately with me.

Firstly, It’s always useful to see what tools students are suggesting for other students – thanks to Matty, Kai, Curtis and Gagan for this.

Moving to the staff view,ย Alan Levine has summed this up as a ‘flawed experiment’ – though I’d like to think that at the end of it all, though not the best experimental design, we have found ways to help others over that chasm. That when it’s all back to “normal” – whatever the new normal will be, we can find ways to support change to the unknown.

Lee Skallerup Bessette has a powerful post looking at the juggling we’re all doing – though it’s a little more controlled than my water, I feel! She makes so many points that I agree with, so rather than pointing out any key ones, I’ll just say – I agree 100%.

From a technical point of view – I want to find an app that lets me do the slide images that the BBC are using so effectively here – if anyone knows a relevant plugin for WordPress, do let me know – I think I’m using the wrong search term!

In our team, we’ve been doing a daily challenge – today it was favourite children’s books. So many fun ones have been suggested!

Just to finish up – I was able to pick my bike up mid week – looking forward to giving it a bit of a test (locally!) at the weekend.

What a week!

Looking at my blog, I realise I haven’t blogged for over a year. I think, though, in the last week, more has changed in many ways than the whole of this period.

This time last week, we were assuming teaching would continue on campus, albeit with lots of hand washing. Sunday morning we heard face to face teaching would cease with immediate effect. Monday morning came – the campus was, naturally, much quieter than usual, though most staff – at least those in the library and that I came into contact with were on campus. We’d got the first of our drop in sessions to support staff transitioning to teaching online – we had over 60 people at one stage. I had to send for reinforcements! Oh, and I got an email from Marie, saying she’d posted my guest blog post

Tuesday – and the University decided that if you could work at home, you should. Luckily, I had my car, and took all I thought I’d need.

A pile of stuff!

Now, what did I forget?

Wednesday, the first day of working from home, thinking about the practical set up – at the time that was put my work stuff on my craft table, and leave my personal Mac on the desk. I’m now thinking of switching them at the weekend, as it’ll give me more space on the craft table for hobbies.

Thursday, and I discovered I couldn’t find my Apple mouse, my craft table doesn’t have a flat surface, and finally I’d got the wrong charger for the laptop. I’d managed to book a hair appointment – so escaped back to Dundee for a while. The train was more or less empty, the library almost deserted, but I did manage to have a wonderful haircut (v. short), buy some flour (which I later realised was gluten free) and just feel far more relaxed for the evening session I’d previously arranged on using TII for some (already distant) staff.

Empty office

Empty office (Thanks to Hamish for the photo)ย 

And now it’s Friday. The library is closing completely at 4; I’ve figured out teams a bit more, but I’m now starting to think of the weekend, and what I can do to amuse myself when so many things are closed.

So, some of my ideas for things to do:

  1. Get the bike sorted out – then use it!
  2. Explore all those hills that are on my doorstep
  3. Actually complete the Lego Chalet books covers! ( I realise I need to sort out the flickr album!)
  4. Start to tackle the To Be Read pile.
  5. Garden more
  6. Blog more. Will I manage to do this once a week, I wonder. I’m going to try. It’s going to be such a different time, that maybe I will be able to get the momentum I didn’t have before.