‘Blowing my own digital trumpet’ #DSCHOLAR

I’ve had a bit of gap since my last post due to a number of big projects coming to an end (CMALT, #Mahoodle18 and the compilation of an internal TEL review), but I am now ready to continue my journey into recognising and practicing digital scholarship.

As mentioned previously, research and teaching are not a requirement of my job, but I do support those who do, and will also dip my (extremely pointed) toes into teaching and research whenever I can. Therefore these notes are just for my own personal consumption, as I am sure you will glean from the Digital Scholar course what you need for your own practice.


  • A good online identity should go hand-in-hand with ‘traditional’ means of academic clout, however those assessing your output may not deem it worthy during review periods or for promotions. For me, I feel that it is important to share what I am doing, after all I seem to held in higher regard externally for my work on ePortfolios and online learning than I do by my own institution.
  • Twitter can give academics a voice in an otherwise crowded physical room where the ‘celebrities’ often take centre stage. Cases of ‘oh yeah I know you from twitter’ or ‘I saw your tweet the other week’ can be a great ice-breaker when meeting people in real life.
  • Try to build in openness from the start – you get out of it what you put in.
  • Being more visible online could lead to an increase in citations and invitations to participate in projects and to keynote. This is particularly true in my case as through twitter I have made connections that have led to 3 invitations to keynote in Germany, New Zealand and in Ireland.
  • For PDR purposes, keynoting is great for two reasons: 1) Reputation: demonstrates that I have gained a significant standing in my field of interest, and have influenced the decisions of others based on my own findings, and 2) Impact: everyone at the event would have seen my presentation!

So, should we try and measure open practice by traditional means?  I say no in my case, but it would be nice for those way above me to recognise the impact I’m having outside the walls of my institution.

“We continually make the error of subjugating technology to our present practice rather than allowing it to free us from the tyranny of past mistakes”

Stephen Heppell (2001)

Image: https://pixabay.com/en/colorful-prismatic-chromatic-1312965/ 

Engaging with the public (#dscholar)

Week 4 was all about the Application stage of Boyer’s Scholarship framework: how you put your newly acquired knowledge into good use. We specifically looked into Public Engagement and how we can use the digital, open and networked world to share our findings.

Traditionally staff are encouraged to go down the journal/book/conference paths when it comes to disseminating their findings. This is great, if you are able to do it, however the same can be achieved using other means such as blogs, podcasts and videos. If you are going to go down the digital and open route you must check your institution’s policies. Can your resources/content/data be shared with:

  • Your department?
  • Your school?
  • Your Univeristy
  • The world wide web?

Thinking about the nature of our courses (and the cost – oh the cost), not many academics would be allowed to openly share their resources or research outputs freely online. However, they can share their methods and processes – just like I can 🙂

Academic staff generate a lot of content too – much of it wouldn’t be of any use to the majority of the public, AND THAT’S OK! As this content is a by-product anyway, it doesn’t cost anything to produce as it’s already been produced, it can be shared without any edits. Those with a niche interest in your subject would still like access to it. Subjects that staff are creating work on often include common lessons: study skills, psychology, maths, scientific principals etc. Could these be place in an OER repository? It could, at least, for internal staff to re-use.

Engaging the public isn’t just something you do at the end; they can help with designing the question, offer themselves as participants and provide feedback on findings so far.

What do we need?

Time and space.
It’s what we always need.
Time to learn new skills, space to trial and experiment with these new skills.

I’m very fortunate that my boss supports us in identifying new skills that we’d like to learn, and our regular one-to-ones are used to update her on what we are learning. One thing I’d like to propose to her is something similar to what I took part in as a team building day in a previous job. We were split into two teams, given a camcorder, and told to produce a video based on a theme… Christmas is Cancelled. Together we worked on a story board, wrote a script, went round interviewing random people on camera, then edited the video clips together into what looked like a news report. Not only was this fun, but we learned so many new skills and experiences along the way.

At the moment I’m interested in creating learning resources in H5P. Perhaps as a department we could pair up and each generate a learning resource in H5P that can then be shared among the group? Hmm needs work – but it could be a great way of learning a new skill 🙂

The end of week 4 marks the midway point in the course, and the quiz that counted towards the completion badge was very difficult. I don’t do well at multiple choice quizzes where they ask for one or more answers as I never trust that one answer will be enough. Oh well, I still passed – YAY!!!

Image source: https://pixabay.com/en/new-york-skyline-laptop-monitor-1071162/

Improving interdisciplinarity via your PLN (#dscholar)

“Wow, another post”, I hear you cry. Well I’m currently in my PJs in bed with a throat infection, dosed up on a variety of pills…and bored, Very bored. So thought I’d dive into another week of the wonderful Digital Scholar OpenLearn course.

This week took you through the ways in which social networks can help you to make connections across different disciplines. It was quite a beefy bit of learning so I won’t write out all of it (I actually hope you’ll actually go and take part in it instead). What I will do is share my thoughts as I went through it.

People matter!

Martin Weller argues that having a diverse online network (as opposed to an echo chamber) increases the opportunities for connections to be made across different disciplines. Whilst watching the video he produced I sketched out a diagram (see my basic but tidy version of it below):

making connections

In a traditional setting, research is usually divided into categories and subjects. Libraries, journals etc house all the information very neatly. In an online setting the data is scattered across the web. When utilising your network there’s a chance that someone can identify a connection between different subject areas (symbolised by a blue star in my diagram). The more varied your network, the more connections there could be.

Other ways in which engaging with a community can help is via crowd sourcing information. People like to contribute and feel part of something, if they can. Plus it may not just be text that can be contributed; images, sketches, videos, animations, audio etc. can convey so many different messages, providing a richer source of information.


Having a large and varied twitter network can help you to increase your geographic reach. Being as I’ve presented to delegates in Germany, Ireland and New Zealand, and have been involved in projects and initiatives in Europe, Australia and America, I seem to have a very ‘western-centric’ following. Thinking further about my network I can clearly see the key groups of people I engage with:

  • People who have a similar job role as I do (in Learning Technologies)
  • Those who I have worked with at Solent and Cranfield Uni
  • Software interests such as Moodle and Mahara
  • Hobbies including dance, archery and boardgaming
  • TV shows – especially #strictly and #lastweektonight 😉

Do I need to start following those with different views and politics in order to increase the chance of interdisciplinarity in my results? Probably not. My net is cast far and wide. But with regards to software interests, there is so much knowledge in the areas of proprietary software that can also be applied in Open Source software, so perhaps I need a bigger net 😉

I’m looking forward to week 4!


Photo by José Martín Ramírez C on Unsplash

via: https://pixabay.com/en/laptop-apple-macbook-computer-2562211/

My name is Sam, and I am a ‘Guerrilla Researcher’ (#dscholar)

Since getting involved with the work of TEL I’ve never really considered myself a ‘researcher’. If I wanted information on a specific topic I googled it or asked my PLN via Twitter or Facebook. I would ask for examples and suggestions of links to follow up on. I read personal accounts via blogs and newsletters in the area that I’m interested in. None of this felt like ‘proper’ researching. So imagine my surprise when I came to week two of the marvelous Digital Scholar course on OpenLearn. In it Martin Weller pretty much describes the way in which I seek out information as ‘Guerrilla Research’. How cool! I now have another thing to go in my Twitter bio 😉

Guerrilla: Referring to actions or activities performed in an impromptu way, often without authorisation.

Oxford English Dictionary


For one of the reflective activities we have been asked to:

Consider an area that you are interested in, either relating to your professional practice, or personal interest. Think about how you could adopt a ‘guerrilla research’ approach to investigating one aspect of it. Make sure it accords to the characteristics set out in the previous extract. It can use open data, invite contributions from others, or perform analysis of other content, but it should not require permission or funding to realise, and should be something you can do largely on your own.

Please see the following as my response to this:

What to research: Tech-enhanced group work approaches

How I’ll collect my ‘data’:

  • Ustilise Twitter/LinkedIn/JISCMAIL/Yammer to ask for case studies of how group work is being facilitated. Hopefully this could lead to forming relationships that could lead to larger research projects such as a focus on designing tool kits.
  • Online Library search for journal articles and conference papers containing case studies and evaluations on when and where TEL has been implemented.
  • Conference websites that have VLE/ePortfolio/TEL interests.
  • Google search for blog posts.

This activity has been great as legitimises what have been doing in the past regarding my research methods. You don’t need a big multi-team project in order to get the groundwork done. From data collected from the above methods I should have some good ideas of how students are using tech to support their group work, and could choose a handful of them to implement at my current university as a project.

I wonder if I’ll be asked to carry out this activity during the next weeks 😉

Image source: via: https://pixabay.com/en/laptop-apple-macbook-computer-2562211/

Digital Scholar – week 1 notes (#dscholar)

As with many UK universities, we are having to tighten our belts when it comes to CPD and networking opportunities, and therefore have had to turn to other types of opportunities to learn new skills. This week I came across a tweet by Fiona Harvey who shared her joy at completing the Digital Scholar course via OpenLearn and just had to take a look. Throughout the first week you are encouraged to keep a blog and share it (how digitally scholarly eh?), and being as I’m cooped up in bed with a throat infection I thought I’d have a go.

My notes are just for me to record what goes through my mind with reference to the various concepts that are presented and do not in any way represent the course as a whole. If you are in the business of educating and/or researching, I urge you to take part in this course 🙂

Week 1 notes:

According to Martin Weller, Digital Scholarship is the intersection of the following 3:

  • Digital content
  • Networked distribution
  • Open practices

Thinking about my own approach, I feel that I could call myself a digital scholar; I create digital content (screen grabs, examples of activities, presentation slides), I share them via various communication channels (twitter, LinkedIn, newsletters etc) and allow them to be used for whatever purpose. All I ask is that feedback is provided when any of my activities are being used so that I can evaluate and further develop them.

Digital tools can be used to bookmark, share or filter resources (eg I use Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Yammer, WordPress etc). These I use for many purposes: work, hobbies, personal interests and to keep family and friends updated. The way in which I use them are different though; I’d never post about my archery success on LinkedIn and Yammer, but would on Facebook, Twitter and my archery blog. This post is being publicly shared on my blog, distributed via Twitter, LinkedIn and Yammer, so that others may also be inspired to take part (just like I was when reading Fiona’s tweet).

The creation of Web 2.0 forced a shift from consuming digital content, to contributing content. YouTube, SlideShare, Flickr – all these sites rely on users sharing their creations, with areas for discussion underneath. By embracing open values this content can then be used by others for many different purposes. This can support others in their quest for knowledge.

The final part of week one looked at Ernest Boyer’s model of scholarship:

  • Discovery: creation of new knowledge
  • Integration: making connections across disciplines
  • Application: service – engage with audience, peer reviews, panels, committee memberships etc
  • Teaching: passing knowledge on in a way that it can be applied


Image found via: http://teachingcenter.wustl.edu/scholarship/


I’m pleased that my current approach to working in academia can be deemed as digitally scholarly. It has encouraged me to think more about what I put out there and how I can encourage other colleagues to do so too. Week 1 has been a great eye opener and I am already thinking about how I can use this course to develop my skills and inform peers.

I am currently working on a number of online activities to support staff and students with developing their digital skills – perhaps this could be its own unit of study?

I look forward to week 2!


Wordcloud of The Digital Scholar

via www.wordle.net/

Mahara theming on a budget!

Some institutions are very lucky to have a team that can develop bespoke themes for their online sites. Here at Cranfield University, we don’t have that luxury, so we’ve often just gone for a theme that’s ‘out of the box’ for our Mahara site. This time around we thought we’d be a bit smarter and try to customise our site so that the system better reflects our needs. This is our journey from ‘drab to fab’.


The evolution of ‘the look’

For our first proper run of Mahara (September 2015), we used one of the in-built themes and added our logo. We also decided to edit the static page so that it contained some text about what Mahara can do, and included a link to our Support Guide and examples of existing Mahara pages. Everything else we kept the same:


For the 2016/2017 academic year we moved to version 16.04 and changed the theme so it looked a little less busy. We removed as much of the text as possible from the front page and added a ‘What do you want to do?’ section. We also had just undergone a university-wide re-brand so needed to update the logo. Earlier this year a wonderful animated video was released, so we added that to our site as we felt that it captured what Mahara does perfectly!


For the 2017/2018 academic year we upgraded to version 17.04 and changed the theme (again) to the default one. Mahara has many useful in-built features, but we still felt that they were too advanced for first time users who are still trying to figure out ‘what to do’.


Time to try something new!

The Create, Share and Engage information block on the Dashboard is wonderful for frequent users, but can really confuse those who are just getting to grips with how Mahara works. We decided to replace them so that they would point to Cranfield specific support pages. The problem was that none of us in the team knew how to edit the code to do this, so we ‘cheated’! We switched off the block on the Dashboard and hard coded three new images to act as buttons into the static page. Luckily we were able to get a designer to create these images fairly quickly (but you could always create them yourself).


The addition of these buttons, cutting out more text, and freeing up space by removing the Homepage/Dashboard block helped to streamline the Dashboard even more.

We now feel that we have a Mahara site that is fit for our Cranfield staff and students – so hopefully no more tinkering will be needed :)Sam x


We found that with our version of Mahara that any images displayed in a static page were only viewable by those with an admin role (see bug: https://bugs.launchpad.net/mahara/+bug/1356638)! So if you do try and use images in a static page, please test that all users can see them.

Many thanks to Kristina for helping me out!

MoodleMoot IE & UK 2016


Oh wow – it’s been about 8 years since I last went to one, and oh my, I was blown away!

Very inspiring conference with so many lovely and knowledgeable people to talk to and swap ideas with. The keynotes did their job – all 4 had something really inspiring to share, and every break out session I went to was full of new and interesting ways in which Moodle is enhancing the teaching and learning experience for both staff and students.


FLSC team with the ‘main man’ himself – founder and CEO of Moodle, Martin Dougiamas 🙂

We were also shown a great video all about the Moodle Users Association and how it works. The video below gives a great overview:

As you can imagine, my notes run on for many pages, but the key points that my colleagues and I will be exploring include:

  • Resurrecting monthly TEL awareness sessions (teachers don’t know what they don’t know)
  • Exploring all the new and exciting plugins for Moodle 3
    • Group choice
    • Level Up
    • My Feedback
    • Progress bar
  • Developing a VLE framework, based on the UCL Moodle Baseline guidance, that is accompanied by Module page MOTs, hands on workshops and online guides
    • Developing a better module page template that adheres to the VLE framework
  • Enabling Webservices so that the Moodle app can work with our system
    • Gavin Henrick used the Choice tool as a great alternative to the expensive ‘clickers’
  • Evaluating alternatives to the Turnitin submission tool – plugins & feedback tools within the Moodle Assignment
  • Looking at supporting the ‘Late Majority & Early Adopters’ (see below)

Both of our presentations went down very well with over 150 people in the audience each time! We spoke to quite a few people afterwards about how our Turnitin Inductions are helping improve students’ assignment writing, and how Mahara is supporting group work and assessment. (See abstracts here)

Our audience for our first presentation! Eeek!

Oh drat – wasn’t going to write a long post was I? Oh well, it was amazing and hats off to Gavin Henrick and crew for organising such a wonderful conference. I’ll be back – don’t you worry!!!

Sam 🙂