My previous portfolio for this area focussed on my work in and around the Medical Education Portal that I built and populated and then rebuilt (twice) to ensure it was responsive to all devices. For the next two years whilst I maintained and upadated it my role developed in other directions – leading digital education in the postgraduate provision within the school and representing the faculty on the VLE selection committee and, led the pilot of the winning system – Canvas – within the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences.
1a: An understanding of the constraints and benefits of different technology
After over fourteen years of leading the integration of digital technology within education in higher education I have used, learned about and then observed many products become obsolete. Some have been fun and afforded me to develop original and creative content, some have been complex and little used, some expensive, some open source, some with great UX and UI and others with poor UX and UI. I would not be able to count all of the digital platforms that I have used over my career but the common theme with the ones that I use on a daily basis is that they have been in use for many years and are freely available for students to use. For this section I will use two examples to illustrate the benefits and constraints and how I have navigated these in different contexts.
Big Picture Example: Virtual learning environments (VLE)
Central to my work have been three VLEs: a bespoke Medical Education Portal (build entirely in HTML/CSS), Canvas and Blackboard (note I have used Moodle as a student but not as an administrator). Each of these systems affords several benefits and constraints for students and staff which I summarise in the table below.
|Bespoke solution: Medical Education Portal
The Medical Education Portal provided students with an extremely high quality experience which addressed the complexity of the five year programme. Across the UK and Ireland no medical school has managed to fully address this complexity and I shared my experiences within medical education communities to help inform their approaches.
My role on the VLE tendering process in Queen’s was as faculty representative and through that presented the difficulties that many of the healthcare programmes had, were in part related to the VLE and in part related to how communication takes place between the student information system and the VLE. Sitting on one of the selection committees thus afforded me the chance to push for the inclusion of programme level spaces as well as module spaces. Once Canvas was selected I was the technical lead of the pilot rollout with several Master level programmes, working with staff to raise awareness and facilitate training sessions. This rollout replaced a SharePoint folder-based bespoke system so this afforded me the opportunity to encourage staff to design their modules anew with up-to-date content which was copyright compliant as well as replicate a consistent layout for navigation to minimise students’ cognitive load.
Smaller Picture Example: Digital Escape Rooms
At the end of the academic year 19/20, colleagues in the Careers department approached me regarding an initiative they were launching but needed guidance for remote delivery. I needed to devise a solution that was module agnostic and that empowered my colleagues to create their own content without further technical support.
I proposed using a combination of Microsoft OneNote and Forms in the form of a digital escape room, as it would be open to all students in the university via a single hyperlink. I created a pilot demonstration and then spent a session with the staff guiding them through how to build them step by step. Once the nine rooms were complete. This launched at the beginning of 2020/2021 and to date there have been over 600 certificates sent to students.
Whilst this worked well and continues to run nearly three years later, when I was tasked with creating a room for PGCertTL students in my role I decided to try out Microsoft Sway in order to provide a more modern visual and mobile responsive experience.
The extremely tight time constraints I had on the project meant that I had to rely on open education resources and practice and network closely with colleagues to support me in the technical areas that I didn’t have the skillset for such as building a PowerApp to automatically send an email confirmation to students once they had completed the escape rooms.
This inspired me to reflect on the gap in the sector of any dedicated space for sharing practice on the use of Escape Rooms in Education and I devised a day-long showcase which is taking place on 9th June, 2023. I will cover this in more detail within Communication and working with others.
For many years I had minimal exposure to off the shelf educational technology, such as Virtual Learning Environments, video production, webinars etc. Rather I developed my own resources (for many different reasons). Over the last few years, however, this has changed significantly with use of many different off-the-shelf platforms both as a student and staff. Whilst there are overlaps between the two approaches there remains a bit of a gap between the homemade and the out of the box. Tensions around technology versus humans (institutions prefer investing in the hardware/software from external suppliers but less so in people for the work); the number of decisions driven by the need for institutions to collect data rather than educational requirements; the impossibility of a one-size-fits all (higher education is incredibly complex, every programme with its own unique needs) which leads to systems that have a wealth of functionality that probably 80% of users are completely unaware of (CV1).
I miss developing and making learning resources and online content. I had full control over the quality, copyright, mobile responsiveness, digital accessibility to name but a few. However, all this came with a price of no functionality for collaboration or analytics.
Understanding the benefits and constraints of technology has been crucial now more than ever. Being able to articulate which systems do what and why there is no single magic solution that does it all is core to the success of all interactions I have with staff. As is understanding their position; throughout the last twelve months regardless of how much better one solution may be, if it is well beyond the skill set of the person I am working with I advocate they use the solution they are more comfortable with to ensure their wellbeing is considered. I try to encourage introducing one new element at a time and never running over the hour as that is simply too long to take anything in.
Joining the Office for Digital Learning, in 2019, I enjoyed getting to grips with every corner of Blackboard, learning new things every week, from colleagues and the Blackboard Irish User Group and online support (CV2, CV3). In both webinars and one-to-one sessions I ensured that I clearly understand what was required and then consider the technology; carefully balancing the workload of the person I spoke to but also that of students. Sometimes, a completely different solution was implemented from the one they had in mind coming into the session. Since the pandemic, I and my colleagues were led by our values and openly discussed with staff the tensions faced by everyone, for example with proctoring, online exams, cameras on mandates, lecture recording, captioning.
Upon joining the Learning and Teaching Academy I drew on my knowledge of Blackboard Collaborate Ultra and Microsoft Teams to support staff transitioning from the former to the latter in January 2023. No longer being a learning technologist this facilitated my transition into my new role (CV1). I was able to bring the knowledge of my escape room designs into the PGCertTL course as one of my first teaching sessions. It was great to see everyone enjoying the challenge in teams but also my use of Sway so inspired some that they went on to have some training sessions with me and submitted their summative assignment using it.
“Clare was instrumental in the rollout of the institutional VLE (Canvas) in Queen’s University Belfast. She led the Master level programmes in the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences in their adoption of the new technology during the rollout phase of Canvas in 2018-2019. She played a key role in shaping the design of the university’s online self-paced staff training materials. She critiqued training implementation strategies and provided guidance to the VLE Pedagogy Team in Queen’s on the specific needs of staff and students in her school and university-wide. She supported the institutional rollout events and online support mechanisms raising staff awareness, facilitating training sessions and providing one-to-one support for staff across the school. Her knowledge of web accessibility and copyright guidelines was invaluable and ensured that newer members of the team across the university were informed and knowledgeable also.“, Aideen Gibson, Learning Technologist
Keynote given at the Queen’s University Belfast / Northern Ireland Medical & Dental Training Agency (NIMDTA) Education Day on 22 September 2017: Technology Enhanced Learning: Navigating the Landscape.
Digital Escape Rooms
“Hi Clare and hope all is well with you. I know you’ve been working tirelessly with Cathy and Donna to develop the Future4UU escape rooms and thank you for that … a super positive flavour of how you have collaborated with Cathy & Donna. Such as the unique nature of the escape room digital approach and how you guys have worked well together and achieved a fantastic outcome.“, Employability Manager, Ulster University
Gasta presentation at ALT Winter Conference 2021 at 10:43 into the video:
Digital Escape Room for PGCertTL at Heriot-Watt: