Author Archives: howsheilaseesIT

The lockdown diaries week 15: still not normal . . .⤴


Another week of easing out of lock down and the death toll  in the UK as I write is 44,198.  There are still over 100 people dying everyday in the UK from COVID-19, this is not over. Lock down restrictions are lifting across the UK and different paces.  Non essential shops opened this week in Scotland. I found seeing shops open a heartening sign but to be honest it also made me feel a bit uneasy. From next Friday it will be mandatory to wear face coverings/masks in shops in Scotland.  Again, I am fine with that, but I do have worries about the invincibility behaviour some people seem to demonstrate when wearing masks – no need for physical distancing, no need for hand sanitizer, or washing hands.

The death rate in Scotland is now very low, and the impact in divergence of approach from the UK government is becoming more apparent. I just hope that the  rush to “get back to normal”, economic factors will be prioritised over health priorities.

As we get back to some sort of normal, I have become quite nostalgic for some of the elements of the early days of lockdown – little or no traffic, saying hello to people you passed as you were out for your daily walk on the canal, and people smiling and saying hello back with that knowing understanding and shared relief of being allowed to be outside for a bit.   Not being able to go anywhere, see anyone was easier in some ways easier than working out who and when you can see now . . .

Overall though, this has been quite a good week for me work wise.  I gave a keynote at the London Met Teaching and Learning Conference on Tuesday. It built on some of the ideas I presented earlier this year at the GMIT event, particularly around notions of “being and belonging” at university (both physically and digitally) for students and staff. This is going to be quite different as we move forward, and we really need to make sure we are giving our students and staff plenty of time to become confident and comfortable with the spaces and places they will be “be” at university from now on.

The first local lockdown in Leicester  this week also highlighted the need for flexibility. Staff and students could be off campus again at very short notice, so we need to be prepared for that and really seriously think about design and refocus on our current context, notions of care, inclusion, accessibility as we expand our notions of curriculum development and day to day delivery.

It’s always nice to get positive feedback from any speaking event, but I was thrilled to get almost instant positive feedback afterwards, and I’m looking forward to speaking with a smaller group of colleagues from there later in the month.

On Friday I was part of a panel in SEDA webinar about the challenges and opportunities facing educational development and learning technology just now.  Here’s what I hoped to say.  One of my fellow panelists, Teresa McKinnon wrote a really powerful reflection of her experience with a slight tech glitch, and the need for ensuring we care for our students when they are using technology, give them lots of opportunities to build up their confidence and get things wrong and cope with with in low stakes activities before getting them to do high stakes activities.  We need to keep reminding ourselves that whilst a lot of us have been having zoom-tactic times over the past few months, not everyone has, and using any kind of technology in an educational context changes everything.

What the future of our new normal will be in education is still up for grabs. I can recommend this paper by Eamon Costello and colleagues, a re-imagining of how things might turn out.  I was thrilled to see this published, and also to be given such a lovely acknowledgement – I am seriously considering changed my bio to “Thought-smith Sheila-who-sees-MacNeill

I feel that the lockdown context is changing too, so this might be the last in this series of posts. Maybe I’ll do a final reflection next week. Until then dear reader, stay safe. I’ll leave you with a song that might be one of my favourites over the past few months.

The straight lines or the asterix: some thoughts on time, space and place⤴


On Friday 3 July I was delighted to be a part of the panel in the second of an occasional series of webinars hosted by SEDA. Theme of the webinar was educational technology and educational development:challenges and opportunities. More information and a recording of the session is available here. Many thanks to SEDA for hosting the session, to all my fellow presenters and everyone who attended and engaged so readily and thoughfully with all of my fellow speakers.

Speakers were given 5 minutes to share their views, which is not very long. I perhaps rather foolishly said that I would look at some of the broader issues I feel that everyone, not just educational developers and learning learning technologists, need to be giving really serious consideration to right now – time, space and place. It’s hard to to do justice to those themes in 5 hours let alone 5 minutes, so below is what I hoped to say – some of it I had to cut due to time. It should take less than 5 minutes to read.

I have the pleasure of being first to speak this afternoon, so please bear with me, and indulge me as I go backwards to think about how we go forward in relation to what I feel are our most pressing challenges – time, space and place.

Now the past few months have indeed been strange times – in all aspects of our life, not just in educational development. With lockdown everyone has forced to work at home – with the rest of our families.  Our traditional spaces, places and times of work were taken away from us as quite short notice, and it’s still unclear when and how we will get back to them. In the short to medium term if, and when we do, it will be in quite different contexts and times.

Time is always an issue in educational development – there’s just never enough time to try something new, to find out how to do that thing in the VLE,  to integrate more active learning, peer assessment, whatever . . . But over the past 3 months people have had to find the time to do all sorts of things, particularly with technology that they previously never had the time for before. That has meant moving into new and not so new spaces and places that many had previously never been too.

One of the ways I have been spending my time during lockdown is listening to more radio, podcasts and radio theatre, and one of the best things I have experienced is a play called Adventures with the Painted People (by David Greig) part of a series of works called Culture in Quarantine, from the BBC.

It’s set at the time of the Roman invasion/incursion in Scotland,  and it’s set in the village of Kenmore. It is a basically a two hander between Eithne, the village witch, and a Roman official and wannabe poet,  Lucius. who Eithne has got some local lads to capture.  Eithne wants to find more about the Romans and much of the play is centred around the differences between their two cultures.

One of the things that strikes Eithne about the Romans is their apparent obsession with straight lines, she says quite early on in the play

“ the world’s not straight, it wiggles”  When I heard that, I thought that is so true – how wiggly has our world been of late?

Lucius tries to explain history to Eithne, a concept that is quite alien to her.  To explain he draws a line, a time line, marking events. In response she draws her version of time and says  “time looks like this”, to which Lucius says, equally baffled  “that’s an asterix”  and then Eithne replies

 “everything that has ever been leads inevitably to one place – here and now”

Now this little exchange really resonated with me and has stayed in my mind since I heard it. Over the lockdown my notions of time have really changed – and I know I’m not alone. March seems, not like a couple of months ago but at times like years ago. I feel like I flit from one thing to another – and the connections between space, place and time have become far more fluid.

So as we go forward we really need to give far more serious consideration to notions of time and move away from our “straight lines’’  – of the default 1 hour allocated time slots, the dominant line from 9-5. 

Now if we were Pictish witches like Eithne, we would be able to free our minds and swim through rivers or fly over mountains to do that, but as we’re not we do need to look to technology help us do that. To help us find and understand the intersections between time, space and place, but most importantly to help us focus on people on connecting and sustaining our emerging hybrid communities of learning.  

I think we don’t  want to get obsessed with tech but I think moving forward, taking some time to reflect on how, where and when our staff and students are using and moving between spaces and places, both physical and digital, is going to be really important to help us rearticulate what the student experience (and ergo the teaching experience) is evolving into.

Maybe we should start to think about how to allow for digital desire trails or elephant paths to emerge. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, (and I always think of the wonderful Kate Bowles when I talk about them as she introduced their actual name to me)  desire paths or elephant trails, are those not hand- made but foot or boot- made paths you see that cut across the formal pavements or paths around green spaces on campus or actually around any building complex with green space -even parks. Are their digital equivalents?

But the straight lines can’t be kept at bay for long. The edtech companies, the bigger powers that surround us, that fund us, they want the straight lines – they can’t cope with the wiggles. The want to give us neat, ordered straight lines – to create new narratives, to help us fix and bring about our new normal. But going back to Eithne, she says history is our stories, our songs, it is all around us, constantly evolving.

We need to be sharing our stories, singing our songs more than ever and I know that many people are researching experiences of staff  and students during lockdown we need to be sharing the data from these projects as openly as possible so we can learn together, and evolve our practice.

So let’s look to the asterix not the straight line, and find ways to share our stories, explore new desire paths that allow us and our students to move in and around  spaces and places at times that work for all of us. Let’s  focus on our communities, and finding the ways  that lead us all  to our here and now, wherever and whenever that may be.

The lock down diaries week 14: endings and shoots of new beginnings⤴


Another week of lock down and the death toll in the UK as I write is 43,514, keeping the UK firmly in the top 3 highest death tolls in the world.  I take some small comfort that the death rate in Scotland is steadily lowering. We’ve had no days for several days now. It is all so fragile and temporary.  

The moves the ease lock down continue, and whilst I am stupidly happy about the announcement that hairdressers in Scotland can open from 15th July, the crowds on beaches, the police closing parks very close to where I live do worry me.  

How can we move out of lockdown and not raise infection and death rates? Local lockdowns are already on the way.  Perhaps there is just an overwhelming denial that getting back to any sense of “normal” is ever going to happen.  However, I guess we can’t all stay on lock down forever so we have to try to tentatively sow some shoots of movement and dealing with the realities of physical distancing at scale.

Meanwhile, back in my little bubble the past week has included a bit of a milestone.  The first part of the week was very ALT focused with the ALT Scotland annual (online) gathering on Monday. Around 70 colleagues from across all sectors of Scottish education joined the meeting. Once again it was so inspiring to see the amount of sharing of practice and ideas across the sector.  

Then on Wednesday there was the AGM, again online – but actually this might be a more effective way to run the AGMs.  Huge congratulations to Teresa McKinnon who received an Honorary Lifetime Membership Award during the meeting. Teresa in my mind really is the embodiment of ALT.  And of course the AGM brought my term as Chair of the Association to end (more about how I feel about this here).  I was really touched by the digital crest that I was presented with too.

I’ll still be an active member of the ALT community, and of course have a bit more time for other things – like my consultancy – so if you need and support with online/digital learning just drop me a line!  

So far this year work has been fine for me but what will happen in the next 6 months who knows.  It was good to read Phil Barker’s post where he celebrates 3 years of the consultancy life and a great summary of what is happening just now in the HE sector .  Hopefully I’ll still be here in another 2 years. 

Sherri Spelic wrote a really powerful post earlier in the week about history. How easy it is to avoid, but how it won’t hide and eventually we all need to embrace it, and understand our place in it.  I read that on Monday, Windrush Day, a day to celebrate people from the Caribbean who were invited to the UK in the 1950s.  There is still a shameful legacy of how many of these people have been treated by the UK state, of how the recommendations from the official enquiry are still to be implemented.

This is all part of my history, my present, my future. Reading White Fragility is helping me to make sense of my inner conflicts around this.  I was brought up in a very small, very white community on the west coast of Scotland. Different races were few and far between. Racism was however hidden in plain sight everywhere. Embraced in the normality of language and knowing looks around “them” and “people like that”.  

I did find out this week that I do have an ancestor who went to America and was hung for freeing slaves. How he ended up in a position to own let alone free slaves I need to find out more about – this may well be a family myth. 

We are of course living through a really significant period of history. Despite the multiple opportunities for multiple narratives to be created and shared, there are still dominant narratives, particularly around education that need to be addressed notleast around the role of technology and technology providers.

Anne-Marie Scott has written an excellent post on some of the recent “discussions” around online proctoring and the need for academic integrity. Whilst universities are dealing with the financial impact of COVID-19, and many colleagues are rightly worried about their jobs, there is still money to be made in education. There is a huge amount of data waiting to be mined and exploited. Just think how much data Zoom now has about the education sector, and actually all of us.  

With reduced funding from central government more attention needs to be focused on the tech companies and funders who are all going provide solutions for “the future”.  Angel investors are ready to swoop – it’s interesting to see this partnership. I have a feeling that ed-tech and investment companies’ “new normal” is much the same as their “old normal”, And, of course that is always about the money, not of fundamentally changing access and equity to education – ultimately that doesn’t pay. 

Until next week, dear read, stay safe. 

The lockdown diaries week 13: the stress of next steps⤴


Another week of lock down and the death toll in the UK as I write is 42,589. The death and infection rates are slowly decreasing but they are still very high. Like many others I worry about:  a second spike, people taking more risks with travel (still can’t understand why anyone would want to go on a plane on holiday just now), with seeing others in groups, people not quite getting the importance of the physical distance part of social distancing, people behaving like the virus has gone away instead of realising that we are only now getting back to somewhere near the levels of infection and people in ICUs as we were at the start of lockdown.  This article in the Guardian earlier this week summed up a lot of my concerns. 

That said, this past week has been a much better week for me personally than the previous one. I’ve felt more focused and almost positive.  I got a lovely gift from ALT on Monday morning to mark my time as Chair, so that did help to get the week off to a good start.

the gifts from ALT

The weather has been lovely and I got to see my sister and niece face to face for the first time in 3 months. That afternoon in their garden, though so similar to many others we have spent there, was really special.  

On Monday afternoon I took part in a really enjoyable panel session in the OU’s CARLG conference with Amber Thomas, Dave Cormier, Dave White and Roger Emery, chaired by Mark Childs.  The overall theme of the session was based on a post Roger shared originally on LinkedIn but which crossed over to twitter and, then ended up as session at the conference.

It was timely to discuss not only acknowledgement of themes such as presence, connectedness, eventedness, facilitation and activities/content in the context of what has happened over the past few months and how people are planning for the new academic sessions.

Presence is so important in any teaching and learning situation – not just for the teacher but also for the students.  How we facilitate and nurture student online presence is going to be of increasing importance over the coming months.

John Casey shared this short recording “the end of university as we know it?  from Professor Mary Beards on the ALT list over the weekend. In the podcast she shares her thoughts on the future of universities, and in particularly her sadness over the loss of the physical lecture.  There’s quite a discussion on the ALT list about it just now. To me it is the physical presence of her students that she is really missing and she doesn’t quite know how to get any sort equivalence during an online session.  

She describes the lecture as being a conversation, and the importance of eye contact – all of which I agree with. However it is possible to have a conversation online too. We need to help our colleagues find ways other than eye contact and scanning “the room” to get a sense of engagement and presence of their students -which I think we covered in the panel session on Monday. She also makes some really sensible points about assessments and exams and not have piles of hand written exam scripts on her kitchen table just now – it’s worth taking 10 minutes to listen to.

This week coming is quite ALT focused with the ALT Scotland meet up on Monday and the AGM on Wednesday when my time as Chair ends. I think next week will be another up and down one!  Until then, dear reader, stay safe and well. 

Open leadership: legacy and succession and a farewell to my time as #altc Chair⤴


This is my final contribution to this series of posts where I have tried to share some of what I consider to be the key aspects of leadership in my role as Chair of ALT. You can read the other posts, here, here here and here.

My tenure of Chair comes to an end at the AGM on 24th June. This is slightly earlier that I had anticipated at the beginning of this year. Normally our AGMs occur during our annual conference in September, but of course due to the current global pandemic we have had to cancel all our face to face events for the rest of this year.  Moving the AGM online and to an early date is another in a series of rapid changes ALT has had to adopt over the past few months.

However, this move could actually set another precedent for the AGM as it might actually make more sense to keep it decoupled from any conference/event, and run it online. We are hoping that it might actually be easier for more of our members to join online. And of course the AGM is open to all – not just our members.

When Martin Weller ( current President) and I wrote this blog post as part of the recruitment for the new Chair, we could never have anticipated the enormous changes the world has gone through in the last few months. However, as I say in our annual report which will formally be presented at the AGM,  ALT has managed to negotiate these unprecedented times in, what I consider, a positive and agile way.  I would love to say that this was all down to me and my leadership – but of course it’s not just down to me 😉  Our CEO Maren and our CIO Martin as well as all the core ALT staff have risen to the challenge of almost completely rewriting work plans and adapting core business in response the changing times.

One, if not the, key reasons they were able to do that successfully was due to the changes the organisation has gone through over the past three years. When I took over as Chair, ALT was in the process of changing its charitable status, its governance structure ( I am the first Chair to serve a 3 year, as opposed to 1 year term), and crucially becoming an independent, virtual, distributed organisation.   ALT staff didn’t have to pivot to online – they were already there.  No zoom revolution needed.  The speed of decision making over the past three months has been rapid to say the least.  

Our governance structures have allowed us to react in a timely, yet considered manner. Ensuring that the interests of our community are continued to be served and our finances are still in a positive position.  That is no mean feat. The commitment of all our Trustees who have attended extra meetings in the midst of their own challenging and changing contexts has allowed us to ensure the stability of the Association and support our core staff. It has been a pleasure and a privilege to lead and work with all the Trustees during my time as Chair.

It has also been a pleasure and a privilege to work with all the ALT core staff – not just over the past three years but over the six years I have been on the Board.  Maren and Martin are of course the faces most members know (and love), but they are supported by Jane, Fiona, Debbie, Emma Jane and Jane (currently on maternity leave). They really are a great team.  One of the things I was really keen to during my time as Chair was to connect the Board and the staff more, so there wasn’t a such a gulf between “the Board” and “the staff”. As I see it, we are all part of the core team and I have particularly enjoyed joining team meetings.  Once again I want to thank all the ALT staff I have worked with over the past three years.

It’s hard, actually almost impossible, to pick  highlights from the past three years, there have been so many. But the 2018 Annual conference which marked the 25th anniversary of the Association was special as I was one of the co-chairs and we took the opportunity to focus in on ALT itself a bit more. However, every ALT conference is special each one holds a special place for me.  I remember going to my first ALT conference (a long, long time ago now);  it never crossed my mind that I would ever be on a stage as a co-chair of an ALT  conference or indeed be the Chair of the  Association – just shows you kids – dreams can come true!  Over the past few years, being able to present new CMALT holders with their certificates at the conference has also been a highlight. It’s great to see so many people taking the time to get professional recognition for their work and of course, become part of the CMALT community as well as the wider ALT community too. 

The ALT values are very dear to me, particularly community. ALT is, and always has, been more than the sum of its parts. If I leave any legacy I would like it to be that clear focus community. Without our community we are nothing. If it’s not clear how what we do serves our community we shouldn’t be doing it.  Of course sustaining and growing a community is a constant challenge – particularly when you have a such a diverse membership as we do in  ALT.  

However, our steadily growing membership over the past 3 years is testament to our focus on supporting the needs of our community by the work of our core ALT team, and of course all voluntary work the members who run and contribute to our range of special interest groups ALT supports.  

Over the past 3 years I believe our communication about what we do continues to  improve.  The launch of the 2017 – 2020  Impact Report earlier this year was a particularly highlight for me as I believe it so clearly illustrated the huge range of work ALT has supported over the past 3 years, and the robustness of our last strategy. I hope this is the first of many such reports.

Although we have a diverse community in the sense of the range of job descriptions our members hold, we of course can do much more to support wider diversity and equality. We are making inroads, but there is a still  a way to go.  I am acutely aware of how our membership reflects the imbalance of ethnicity and gender that is prevalent across the UK eduction sector – particularly HE. I believe that ALT community is an inclusive one, and has a place for everyone involved in promoting the use and impact of learning technology. I also know that it is easy for me to say that from my position of white privilege. That said,  I do believe that the work ALT does to support open education, research and reflective professional development does provide multiple platforms for our community to critically reflect on its context and, help to promote and support increasing diversity and inclusion. If there is more we can do or a different way we can do things, then there is an open door to anyone with ideas.

So as I end my time as Chair, I am very optimistic about the future of ALT. The sense of community has shone through over the past few months, with so many resources and so much advice being shared openly. We were able to rapidly provide spaces for much needed community support in a time of confusion and crisis for all.

So whilst I’m obviously a bit sad about leaving the role which has been such a large part of my life for the past 3 years I do feel it is a good time for me to hand over to someone else.  I have no doubt that the incoming Chair, Helen O’Sullivan will be able to lead the Association and bring so much of her experience and knowledge to the role as ALT implements its new new strategy.  I know Helen is committed to our community and all of our core values, and will be supported by a very able Board.

A key part of leadership is knowing when to move on, and feeling confident about doing that – which I do. Of course I won’t be disappearing completely, I will still be an active member of the ALT community – particularly,  as part of the ALT Scotland team, and as a CMALT assessor.  

I have always felt a huge sense of privilege and gratitude to the ALT community, firstly for voting me onto the Board and then for supporting my nomination as Chair. I hope over the last three years, that trust in me and my leadership has been fulfilled. It’s been an amazing experience. To paraphrase the words of Benny and Bjorn; I’m nothing special, but leading ALT has been one of the most special and rewarding experiences of my professional life. So thank you for the music ALT, and so, so much more. 

The lockdown diaries week 12: the hardest week yet⤴


Another week of lock down and the death toll in the UK as I write is 41,662.  The numbers are slowly decreasing but the UK is still in the top three highest death tolls in the world.

We are still very far away from it “all being over”.  I hope our politicians are looking to  New Zealand as an example of how to manage a pandemic.  but I very much doubt that they are. We’re not out of this outbreak, and already there is talk of the second wave. I really hope that there isn’t one, but fear that there will be as economic drivers always outweigh everything else I strongly suspect there will be. 

I really struggled this week.  It was the first week since lock down that I hadn’t had any work related meetings, but I just could settle to anything else. Perhaps my malaise was just a natural reaction to “the situation”.  We seem so close to being able to do a bit more, see more people, but still so far away from it.  Perhaps my feelings of helplessness were increased by the attempt to overshadow the black lives matter movement with neoliberal ideologies and distractions and a nagging feeling of “what can I do?” The increasing attempts by politicians  to obfuscate civil and civic rights with law and order, the global pandemic and the need to “be alert” and “stay safe”.  And then I read this piece by Henry Giroux.  He writes:

Neoliberalism is not only an economic system, it is also an ideological apparatus that relentlessly attempts to structure consciousness, values, desires and modes of identification in ways that align individuals with its governing structures. Central to this pedagogical project is the attempt to prevent individuals from translating private issues and troubles into broader systemic considerations. By doing this, it becomes difficult for individuals to grasp the historical, social, economic and political forces at work in shaping a social order as a human activity deeply immersed in specific relations of power.

Reducing individuals to isolated, discrete, hermetically sealed human beings whose lives are shaped only by notions of self-reliance and self-sufficiency is a pedagogical strategy that utterly depoliticizes people leading them to believe that however a society is shaped, it is part of a natural order.

In our rush to get back to the “new normal” the need for critical pedagogy is more important than ever. We need to be able to critique our contexts, to not divert back to technology providing the answers to our new problems (or are they opportunities) in education.  To that end Sean Michael Morris’s piece “technology is not pedagogy” is worth reading.   A good contrast to this Microsoft’s position paper on re-imagining the future of education. Amazing what they are so convinced they know about after only a couple of months  . . .  I’m also still working my way through Ben Williamson’s UCU Scotland Report “ The Automatic University:  a review of datafication and automation in universities.” 

We need to arm ourselves and our students to be able to critique and question, to not just take a piece meal approach to decolonizing the curriculum, but use this time to explore our history. To have an informed debate about the role and location of statues, the gender and racial inequalities they perpetuate, the value system they represent.  These issues are fundamental to our future, to our “new normal”.   

Anyway, I hope this week coming will be better. I am feeling more positive again so that is good. In the meantime, dear reader, stay safe.  

spotted on one of my walks this week

The lockdown diaries week 11:, #blacklivesmatter, doomscrolling and a bit of panic-ogy⤴


Another week of lock down and the death toll in the UK as I write is 40,465. Whilst the UK keeps near the top of  the world COVID death charts, chatter around holidays, and air bridges filled the airwaves this week. Why any country would allow people from the UK into their countries right now is beyond me. Why anyone from the UK would want to go on holiday to another country and risk taking COVID-19 there is also beyond me. Meanwhile the slow easing of lockdown continues. MacDonald’s drive throughs opened,  many traffic jams ensued. Is this really our new normal?

Of course this week has been dominated by #blacklivesmatter and the growing protests around the murder of George Floyd.  The global pandemic has done much to highlight existing inequalities in society. We can’t carry on like this.  Like so many I am haunted by the words “I can’t breathe”. Though I didn’t think it was possible, I have been even more shocked by President Trumps reaction to the groundswell of rage and (largely peaceful on the side of the protestors) protests.

I hadn’t heard the term “elite panic” before but goodness me it made so much sense to me this week. Of course what is happening in the USA has resonated here in the UK.  The history of black oppression in both countries is intrinsically linked. The “power and glory” of many white men rested on the oppression and death of millions of slaves.  Glasgow, the city where I live, was built on the profits of the slave trade. Many of the main streets in the city centre are named after men who made their fortunes from the slave trade.

One part of the current protests has been highlight an ongoing campaign to rename them.  Would that make a difference? Just highlighting the connection is a start. I know the renaming of a Glasgow city centre square from St George’s Place  to Nelson Mandela Place in the 1980s  raised awareness of the apartheid regime in South Africa.  Like so many things, education is key to changing society.

People need to understand history and how the current context is intertwined through our shared past. And how history is written and shared – mainly through the lens of the victors.  As a white middle class woman I know I need to  examine my privilege, the everyday things I take for granted, that others still have to struggle for.  We all need to rally against the elite panic, that tries to stop protest under the seemingly logical guise of public health.

However there have been some other things that have attracted my attention this week.  I really enjoyed the QAA Scotland Enhancement Themes conference. Some great keynotes and sessions and the recordings are available from the website.  Sally Kift’s keynote amongst other things introduced me to “panic-ogy” to describe what has actually happened in HE over the past couple of months. I really enjoyed her call for education to be leading the discussion around what happens in our sector. Her call for universities to be resetting their social contract with their communities really resonated with much of my work and thinking.

 One of the highlights of the conference was the day 2 student panel on “student engagement in a time of crisis”. It was really heartening to hear how much they felt they had, and are, involved in the move to remote teaching and the plans for the coming academic year.  It was also interesting to hear what they felt had worked well in the move to online delivery.  

Flexibility was a common theme, as was the importance communication and the need for multiple spaces for community building.  It was also highlighted that many students have had a really positive experience of open book exams (which kind of resonated with this piece on the University of Edinburgh’s teaching matters blog later in the week).  There was also agreement that students were “tired of lectures” and really wanted more active learning experiences – both on campus and online.    

But how do you teach in physical distanced spaces? Nic Whitton (Durham University) has set up a google doc to crowd source some ideas around this. How we teach, how we think about the use of spaces (both physical and digital), how can we develop timetables to reflect more active learning in multiple physical and digital spaces, are all key issues now. 

I found this week hard on many levels, from the big societal issues to the personal, mundane ones. But, as much society and some people dismay me, others give me hope. So thank you to everyone who I spoke to this week who helped to cheer me up and to those who are raising the big questions.  In the meantime, dear reader, stay safe. 

The lockdown diaries week 10: beginnings of endings⤴


Another week of lock down and the death toll in the UK as I write is 38,376. One of the highest in the world.  I am still very angry about the whole Dominic Cummings lockdown rule breaking fiasco I alluded to last week.  

A week certainly is a long time in politics. Neither Cummings or the UK Prime Minister have had the decency to apologise for the quite extraordinary tales of lockdown breaches.  The level that the whole UK cabinet have gone to defend Cummings is quite extraordinary.

This article by Guardian columnist Zoe Williams  really summed up my frustration – particularly her description of “hysterical emotional response”. As she so succinctly put it:

“there is so much wrongdoing, so much plain nonsense, that we circle it endlessly, castigate it relentlessly, but we can’t see our way past the authority of those responsible, and can’t see any way of acting on our anger.”

Let’s hope it in the long term it will hurt them as much as their actions this week have dismayed and hurt the UK population.

This week saw the start of the  beginnings of easing of lockdown here in Scotland as we moved into Phase 1 of the Scottish Government’s roadmap. This means we can go out a bit more and, more importantly see friends and family outside, but still within our local areas. I’ll have to wait a bit longer to see my family as they don’t live locally. However, I’m willing do that as long as we can try to keep the spread of the virus under control.

I have already found being among more people, even in the supermarket or the park to be quite unsettling and anxiety inducing. There really is so much we don’t know about this virus and how it works, and what effect it will have on all our mental health in the longer term.

Meanwhile the we see more of the beginning of the end for casual staff in universities, whilst more attention is given to technological solutions to ensure the ‘new normal’ is as much like the ‘old normal’ as possible. This article of the student experience of online proctored exams I found quite terrifying. Yet I suspect that some of leaders who will cut staff will invest in software like this as “the solution”, instead of taking the opportunity to work with staff and students to develop forms of assessment that don’t require this level of privacy invasion, and that are much more authentic, caring and appropriate for our context.

Meanwhile my working week has been relatively online meeting free and I have been able to concentrate on reviews and writing for clients. My term as Chair of ALT is coming to an end, and I had one of my last catch ups with Maren Deepwell and Martin Hawksey to prepare for the (now online) AGM in June.  I’ll write more about that in separate post. Much as I have enjoyed being part of the leadership and governance of ALT, it is time for me to move on.

I also had a series of lovely catch ups with former and current work colleagues, including one with Mia Zamora. We had hoped to catch up during the OER conference but obviously with it going online that didn’t happen. So it was lovely to catch up and chat about a whole range of things. Once again I am so thankful for my PLN and the wonderful, inspiring, open and kind people in it. 

Until next week, dear reader, stay safe.

Mixed media, by Sheila MacNeill

The lockdown diaries week 9: the lecture is dead, long live the lecture⤴


Another week of lock down and the death toll in the UK is now over 36,600. As lock down eases across the UK – roll on Thursday when restrictions lift a little here in Scotland – we find out that one man can flout the government guidance and rules without (so far) any consequences. 

As we come to end of mental health awareness week I just wonder how much additional stress finding out that a government aide can be excused for driving half way across England, whilst so many people have been unable to see family, have been unable to visit dying relatives, for the past 9 weeks has caused. I know it’s made me very angry. 

This week there was a bit of a furore around the announcement from Cambridge that it was putting all its lectures online.  The lecture is dead, long live the lecture . . .

In reality, the model that Cambridge uses with very small tutorial groups and lots of 1-2-1 tutorials will allow it to very probably return to some kind of normal far quicker than the majority of UK universities who are also putting lots of lectures online as part of their plans for the coming new academic year.  

There’s also a lot of other ’stuff’ going to be available for students too. Lectures aren’t the only way method of learning and teaching at university level, and haven’t been for quite some time.  However the entrenched myth of “proper” university education equating to rows of students in large lecture halls persists.

Now don’t get me wrong I do enjoy a “good” (and by that I mean engaging, interesting) lecture – but surely this is the time for the sector to be changing the discourse and dialogue around what university teaching is, will and can be.  As you know dear reader, I think we really need to be seriously looking at what the student experience is going to be and using that as the starting point to  reframe our planning.  That would naturally take the emphasis away from the lecture and allow us to work with students to come to more nuanced understandings of what the new student experience actually looks like.

We need to be thinking really carefully about how we make the synchronous time we have with students really worthwhile. I think team approaches could work well here and again that would move away from the “traditional” lecture format to something that could be much more active, and hopefully more engaging for students.  This could also provide much needed opportunities for students to meet for example in smaller break out groups to discuss key issues, and then share back with a larger group.  That’s hard to do on your own but with a 2 or 3 staff it’s much more feasible, and less daunting. We also shouldn’t forget the power of audio.  As most of us hate looking at ourselves, short audio recordings/podcasts are a great lecture recording alternative too.  I will no doubt come back to all  this in a dedicated post.

Until next week, dear reader, stay safe and I’ll leave you with another little bit of covid-19 walks along the canal inspired artwork.

Original artwork by Sheila MacNeill, mixed media on paper

The Lockdown diaries week 8: a bit of a mini break and some service design⤴


Another week of lock down and the death toll in the UK is now over 33,600. Well, when I say another week of lock down, it has been here in Scotland (and Wales and Northern Ireland), but not in England where some restrictions have been lifted.

Last week I, along with millions of others watched the UK Prime Minister give what can only be described as confusing address to the nation. In his haste to give give some “good news” he seemed to forget that the measures he was describing only applied to England and not the rest of the “great nation” he claims to love so much.  

The confusion, derision this statement caused compares so starkly with other countries such as New Zealand who not only have keep their death toll and infection rates low, but have also manage to provide clear, consistent messaging to their citizens and even more excitingly have allowed hairdressers to re-open.  The clumsiness of the change of messaging to “stay alert” has exposed the rising challenges within our political system around the importance of people over profit. We all need to “get back to work” and stop enjoy this self enforced holiday!

This week I had a bit of a break, not quite a holiday, but I did enjoy a few email and twitter free days. At the start of this year I promised myself I would be better at taking “proper” holidays. When you work for yourself, there is a temptation to work as much as you can and never be too far from your email, just in case something pops up.  I was a good decision and I feel much better for it.  I even managed to get a bit of painting done.  This is my reaction to the tracking app I wrote about 2 weeks ago.  The beauty of the tulip representing the apparent beautiful ease and simplicity of using an app to track and trace people, without enough attention being applied to the wider implications of data gathering and civil liberties.  

Track, trace, tulip, acrylic on canvas, Sheila MacNeill, 2020

So my week of online conferences were pretty much all social.   Apart from Friday morning when I joined the Service Design in Education webinar.

 I have an awareness of service design from a quite a few years ago when I was at CETIS and we were staring to look at learning analytics.  I wrote a couple of briefing papers with Jean Mutton (who at that point was working at the University of Derby) and her developing use of service design approaches.  It was lovey to catch up with Jean again too on Friday. 

There is now an emerging service design community across the education sector, and it was really interesting to get an overview of some of the work that is being done, Katie Murrie and the team at the Service Design Academy in Dundee and August college have been doing some really fabulous work across all education sectors through service design approaches.  I need to find out more about the differences an similarities between service design and universal design at some point too.  I think my natural instincts for educational/learning design is a mish-mash of both!

I have to say it was also a really well designed and delivered session which added to the overall high levels of engagement from all the delegates – design really does matter! It was the first time I have actually been in a zoom session using breakout rooms and that all worked well.  I’m certainly going to keep an eye on developments in this community.  You can find out more about the emerging community here.

During the week I became even more convinced that we need to be using the term physical distancing more than social distancing. I wrote about this a few weeks ago, but just now I think it’s really not getting through to people that the physical distance between us is really important. Wearing a mask doesn’t mean  you can ignore that 2 meter guidance.  But I know it’s hard.  

Like everyone I miss people, I really do.  So when I heard an interview with the wonderful Benjamin Zephaniah, this poem really resonated with what we are experiencing right now. So I’ll leave you with this version of it, dear reader. Until next week stay safe.