Digital Challenges, New Tech & the Space In-between: Thoughts on JISC Connect More

This week, a few of the TEL team attended the final event of the JISC Connect More series at Nottingham University. The day provided opportunities to connect with peers, share practice and explore new ways to teach and learn using digital technology.

Barriers, Challenges and Aspirations

The first presentation, led by Rachel Challen from Loughborough College, was on the barriers, challenges and aspirations that we face in the field of Learning Technology. Tying together institutional strategies and processes to work effectively within the changing digital landscape requires a lot of people and systems to work together, and it’s a tough job.

This theme continued throughout the day and it was encouraging (I think) to see that we’re all in the same boat – How can we engage with everyone in our institutions to think differently (and cohesively) about Technology Enhanced Learning and digital capabilities? It’s clearly a difficult challenge, and one of the things that’s great about events like this is that we can share the different ways, however successful, that we are trying to solve it. I got the sense that we’re all trying to move away from the perception of Learning Technologists as ‘point and click’ presenters, and embed ourselves much more within the academic community as specialists. Personally I think it’s a great thing, offering better value to the staff and students we work with in a collegial environment.

New Tech!

We also got the chance to try out some new technologies like the HTC Vive and Nao, a programmable robot. The HTC Vive was particularly interesting given the work I’ve already done with virtual reality in the last year. This was the first chance I’d had to use handheld trackers and they enabled me to create something in a 3D space – I was virtually painting, using TiltBrush by Google.

Instead of just having a flat canvas to draw on, I could now interact in all directions – forwards, backwards, up, down and everything in-between. If I drew a three dimensional shape, I could get inside it. I was able to experience the digital world as an actual space in which I could interact and move around, not confined or separated by a twRob VRo dimensional screen. There was a sense I was taking ownership of my own personal virtual space.

And this week, as I’ve watched Pokémon inhabit a shared digital space in the world, I’ve wondered if the convergence of technologies like VR and AR will allow us all to create our own personal digital spaces – They probably will and that’ll provide us with lots of exciting opportunities for creating new digital learning environments.

The Gap In-between

It was interesting to experience new technologies that are heading towards the classroom and at the same time hear how colleagues are meeting the current challenges of embedding digital capabilities within education. There’s clearly a gap in the middle that a lot of us sit in, connecting the dots between ever newer technologies and their educational application. It’ll be fascinating to see what an event like JISC Connect More looks like in 10 years. Over to you Nao…

Lego for Learning

I recently attended a Lego for Learning workshop hosted by Manchester Metropolitan University and led by Chrissi Nerantzi and Dr. Steven Powell. The idea of the workshop was to look at how Lego Serious Play methods can be used in teaching and learning. A range of colleagues from different educational sectors attended, which gave the day a nice, well rounded perspective.

Rob's Lego AnimalThe day began with a reflective warm up exercise using Lego – first create an animal, then add something to it which represents yourself, which wasn’t that easy when you’ve only got a minute to do it! The group then shared thoughts on their own creations and the representative elements we had each added. The idea of this was to get us in the mode of thinking about creating metaphorical models using Lego, and also reflecting on what they represented.

One of the interesting things about this process, even in the early part of the day, was that everybody in the group contributed, and this would continue throughout as we took part in the various exercises – it all felt very democratic.

Lego Learning EnvrionmentIn the next exercise we were asked to build a model of our ideal learning environment and then draw out shared themes which we could identify in each others models. We then constructed a shared model which collated our thoughts on the various themes – ours turned out to be a boat.

Lego Boat


Whilst this all might seem to be a bit fluffy on the surface, it actually led us into a deep discussion around learning environments and find commonalities that we felt were important in their design. It wasn’t really the Lego model which was important, it was how we used it to express our thoughts on learning design, and we articulated our thoughts differently than we would have if we had written them down. It was a very reflective process,  and by making something, however abstract, we’d engaged with the thought process in a different way and one which enabled us, very quickly, to engage in a creative discussion and generate a lot of ideas.

There’s plenty of theory around how and why Lego Serious Play methods work and the ArtLab website has lots of information on research projects which have been conducted. This video from Professor David Gauntlett is also well worth watching in which he explains the theory behind some of the methods he used to gather research using Lego:

Overall, the workshop was very enjoyable and I came away with a lot of ideas for different methods for using tools like Lego to engage students with theories, ideas, research or reflection. I also got some free Lego 🙂

Appy Monday – Storify

Banner showing Digital Derby and Appy Monday: Exploring mobile apps for learning and teaching

What is it?

Storify is an online tool for aggregating and curating social media content, allowing you to create stories from timelines such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.


What can it do?

Storify can create ‘Stories’ which feature relevant and curated content from different social media platforms. A Story could include a video from YouTube, a collection of tweets, a Flickr image or any combination of social media items.

Download it now

You can access Storify on the web by going to:

How could it be used for learning, teaching and assessment?

  • Create a research log
  • Create an annotated bibliography
  • Could be used as a presentation tool
  • Create a digital story of an event
  • Collate digital classroom resources

Short task:

Create an annotated collection of internet learning resources.

  • In Storify, create a ‘New Story’ .
  • Give your story a title and description relevant to your subject area.
  • Use the search bar to search for relevant content and drag items into your story.
  • Underneath each item add annotations if required.
  • Publish your story and share the link with your students.

Important note

Before using any mobile application or online service please check the terms and conditions to ensure you are aware of the implications of using the service. In particular, look out for items covering data security, ownership of content and public/private sharing options.

Further support

If you would like further support to get an idea of how you could use Storify within learning and teaching, please contact the Technology Enhanced Learning team on or ext 1865.

Useful resources

Sue Beckingham from Sheffield Hallam University has created a useful guide on using Storify for teaching and Learning:

Using Storify as a curation tool to build digital narratives


5 simple ways you can use video in your teaching

Using video can be a great way to add something extra to your teaching, and it can serve a multitude of purposes, from visualising tough concepts to bringing real life scenarios into the classroom.

At the University of Derby we create many different educational videos to enhance the courses we offer and are lucky enough to have an in-house production team to support this (which includes me!). We also encourage academics to produce their own content and the examples below are all things that could be made with the tools most people will have access to already, like a smartphone, iPad or a laptop.

So, here are 5 simple ways that you can use video in your teaching:

1. Interviewing experts

Bringing outside expertise to your students can be used to prompt discussion or thinking about new ideas. When we have guest speakers at Derby we often ask them to talk to us on camera, and they are usually more than happy to provide extra insight for our students. Interviews like this can be done very quickly and it gives you the chance to ask questions which relate directly to your students or course.

Here’s two examples of expert interviews that have been made recently for our students. The first is a discussion based interview and the second is a more traditional off-camera interview.

I’ve set this to start at 12m55s in:

2. Record your lectures

Why not record what you’re already doing. Lecture recording has many benefits: It creates revision aids, allows students to catch up after authorised absence and can be a great help to learners with English as a second language.

Here’s an example made using our lecture recording system: Electronics Revision Lecture

3. Demonstration videos

Sometimes students may not have the chance to take in a demonstration fully or may need to review aspects of a complicated process. Demonstration videos provide a resource which students can access over and over again, allowing them to pause and review content at their own pace.

Here’s an example made with a visualiser:

4. Student projects

Giving students a video project can sound a bit daunting but you may be surprised by the results. It can inspire creativity in students and give them new skills which increase employability. Resources like the Adobe Education Exchange have communities of educators who share multimedia projects they have had successes with and is well worth checking out.

Video can also be used to capture students reflections on their learning and can be a help to the following year’s cohort when tackling the same projects.

Here’s an example of student reflection:

5. Screencasts

Recording your computer screen and adding commentary to create a screencast can be used in many different ways. You could talk students through an online process or demonstrate a piece of software. Some of our own academics even use this to provide feedback on assignments.

Here’s an example in which we talk students through our our email system:

Whilst some of these examples have been made using professional equipment, you could create good content using a smartphone or an iPad. A 30 second video filmed on a smartphone could give students that vital extra information they need or help them visualise a concept they are struggling with.

….and don’t forget these are reusable resources, content like this can be used across many different related modules and for as long as it remains relevant. That same 30 second video could help thousands of students over many years.

Why not think about how you could use video in your course, everyone has that one question or topic that students ask about over and over again. Maybe a video is the key to helping them.

Follow @DerbyMediaTeam

The Media Production and Support team at the University of Derby can help create a wide range of effective video, audio and multimedia products for your course and also offer training in creating your own content and recording your lectures. This is a free service we offer to our academic staff.

If you would like to speak to someone about creating content for your course or undertaking training, please contact: or visit

My experience of a MOOC

Infographic on MOOC

Image by Giulia Forsythe (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Recently I decided to complete a MOOC, or massive open online course, through the website. The course I chose to take was ‘Introduction to  Digital Sound Design’ from Emory University and there were two reasons why I gave this a go, firstly, I wanted to increase my knowledge of audio production and secondly, I was interested in how the course content would be conveyed through the use of video and web technology.

The lesson setup was simple, all conveyed through video, a single shot of the lecturer talking to camera which occasionally switched to an interactive whiteboard for displaying the odd graph or audio waveform. Whilst this is rather basic (and slightly disappointing to someone who makes a living from creating video for education), it served its purpose well and the content and delivery were engaging enough to keep me interested. It’s worth noting that this is particularly important when the lure of TV, Xbox or simply avoiding a boring lecture are a closed laptop screen away. As with everything, content is king.

I felt like I was getting the same lesson that any student at Emory University would get, and this was important to me.  I didn’t want to feel like I was being taught something that I could find easily on YouTube, there had to be some added value within the course. I learned more than enough to justify my time taking the course and it didn’t feel too removed from traditional education other than the fact I could choose when to consume the content.

But there were a couple of areas which stood out and made the process different for me. The first was that people were very quick to dismiss parts of the course or exams and claim greater knowledge than the lecturer in the course forums, which made me feel slightly uncomfortable and question why some of the students would choose to be on a course they clearly felt they didn’t need. There were equally good comments and discussion which were incredibly useful, but the bad ones stood out to me. I can’t imagine students doing this in a traditional face to face setting.

The second was the way the assessments were approached. I’ve never liked exams, an entire grade based on a couple of hours worth of work has never really added up for me, so my first thoughts were that I’d probably fail. But these exams were slightly different, they were essentially an online quiz, there was no time limit and I could use all of the available course materials to help,  I just had to ‘promise’ not to use anything else, so Google and Wikipedia were out of the question.

Having the course materials available provided some comfort, at least I could trawl through the hours of video and course transcripts, searching for any answers I didn’t have. What I found though, was that having the opportunity to review answers and find answers I didn’t know, actually reinforced all the learning I had done in the course. Rather than being an assessment of the work I had done so far, the exam became an active part of the learning. I was able to fill in the gaps and parts of the course I wasn’t so sure of and answer the questions on the way. Previously these were the points where I would have to just guess the answer. Passing or failing became less important to me than the process of learning and taking in the content, I was enjoying knowing where I was right and determined to figure out where I was wrong.

Strangely, I found that while I’d preferred the video content for consumption of the lectures, I was using mainly the written content for review during the exam. I’d also much preferred taking the exam at a computer and found the integration of video, quizzes and more traditional content made for a more interesting and complete learning experience which led to me not only passing the course but also coming away feeling like I’d learnt something.

So now I know when to use a notch filter and how to analyse a spectrogram,  which is just a small portion of what I learnt, and all of which has become useful in my job here at The University of Derby. I’m still a little underwhelmed by the way video was used overall, but I know we are already doing good things here at Derby, using video in new ways that really enhance teaching and learning. I hope we can carry that forward as our own online course offerings increase.