2018: Apparently it’s been rather busy

I wrote my first yearly review last year, prompted by that there Lorna Campbell and found it a useful (and perhaps cathartic) process so we’re going to do it all again for 2018. In no particular order, this is stuff I’ve been up to or that has happened this year that feels notable enough to write down. Honestly, I got a bit tired even trying to write this list before starting to barf on the blog. No wonder I need a sit down and a big cup of tea.

Listening to new things

I crowdsourced a few ideas for new things to listen to at the start of this year and I tried quite a few of them (though I totally failed to write about them). I don’t much like true crime it would appear. The world is a horrible enough place, and this year has been hard on me. One notable podcast missing from the list, but which I picked up via other routes and have enjoyed immensely is Benjamen Walker’s Theory of Everything.

Also, thanks to my brief sojourn in B.C. in March I’m firmly converted to WFMU. Pretty much nightly I’ve snoozed off to something good from the archives.

Talking at people

I’ve covered a fair bit of territory this year both physically and metaphorically at various conferences:

I also had a lot of fun organising a little internal event on AI and chatbots for Valentine’s Day, with my colleagues Colan Mehaffy and Stratos Filalithis.

* I’m awarding myself extra points for this one, as I walked off a flight into Sydney at 06:00, kicked into the Hackathon at 08:00 and made it right through to the pub at 23:00

** I was in bed in Vancouver when our presentation went out.

Thinking about learning technology

It’s kind of my day job to think about learning technology, so in one sense this isn’t notable at all, but I had a right good go at the NGDLE concept in 2017 and I’ve continued to think a lot about what the learning technology infrastructures of the near future might be in 2018.

In January 2018 JISC published their Next generation [digital] learning environments: present and future report to which I made a modest contribution. The quote I included there I think still stands up 12 months later:

“Learning analytics approaches have significant potential, but institutions need to move past the dominant focus on retention use cases and data dashboards to realise this. Analytics need to take into consideration the context in which learning is occurring, and better support all students. Single institution-wide analytics solutions may not be the answer, or the only answer.

Whilst students have some expectations that data are used to inform improvements to their learning experiences, the potentially “chilling” effects of always-on data collection in digital learning environments needs to be attended to. In the same way as there need to be open and closed learning spaces, there need to be surveillance-free or ephemeral spaces.

We have an opportunity to use our digital learning environments to develop critical data and digital literacy skills. In the spirit of co-creation, students in particular need to be more regularly and routinely involved in the discussions and decision-making around platforms.

It has never been the case that a single VLE platform can provide all the features that we want from a digital learning environment – it is quite normal to have assessment and media tools “plugged in” for example. The ability to innovate in this space will be determined by the availability of APIs and integration technologies, by institutional capacity and capability, and by the implicit maintenance costs of managing this complexity. However, we must also not underestimate the potential for continuing to include trailing edge technologies and simple integrations in our digital learning environments”

Since then I wrote about some of the challenges that learning technologists are facing or will face in the near future. In particular that the kinds of learning and teaching infrastructures we need, the kinds of assessment activities we need to facilitate, and the kinds of questions we are being asked are all changing.

I’ve also spent a quite a bit of time working with colleagues defining the technology and tools required to support scaling up of our distance learning provision to include MicroMasters programmes delivered with EdX; considering the kinds of learning and teaching infrastructures that will be required to support the Edinburgh Futures Institute; and thinking about IoT related applications in a range of contexts (whole buildings; labs).

I have another couple of half-written blog posts waiting for me to find the remaining words to complete them and I’m going to have another go at the NGDLE. It’s about time. I’ve also got a couple of thoughts about a recent move by Athabasca University which I need to put into some order.

Achieving CMALT

After much procrastination, I finally knuckled down and got my portfolio completed and was pleased to be awarded Certified Membership of the Association for Learning Technology in April. I found the process of reflecting on my own practice hugely rewarding, if a little exhausting at times. In much the same way as I think it’s important that learning technologists start moving into  leadership positions in institutions given the growing importance of digital education, I believe we need a strong sense of professional identity. The work that Maren Deepwell has been doing as CEO of ALT in the last few years is genuinely inspiring.

CMALT was also the kick in the pants I needed to try keep up some blogging across the year as it was much easier to pull in examples of work where I’d been keeping a regular record. I just about managed it. I fell off the wagon in mid-November.

Although my CMALT portfolio is currently private (I need to work on getting a redacted version opened up) I’d be happy to give access to colleagues who are working on their own. Please do just get in touch.

New blogging service

We launched a new blogging service; or more accurately, we better described the blogging systems we already support and then added in an extra option to plug what we identified as a big gap. We now have a supported WordPress blogging platform for the University and it’s ace. Honestly so much about it makes me happy. It’s a project I’ve wanted to do for a few years, but other bigger things had so far always got in the way. As well as delivering something that’s sorely needed, it’s been a great project for pulling together a team that’s seen a few changes this year. I could not be prouder of the work that the entire team have put in. It’s been a real joint effort.

This is another project where we’ve had strong support and input from a student intern. If you want to read more about Lila’s experience, read her blog post!

It’s also seen what started as some long-form rambling thoughts in January 2018 turned into code and released under an open-license by the end of the year. If you want to be able to connect WordPress to your VLE using LTI and auto-create blogs and blog users, then this is the plugin for you.

You might also want to check out the excellent resource on blogging to build a professional profile that Lorna Campbell has developed as part of the digital skills wrap for the service.

Next steps are to get a Domain of One’s Own service up and running…

More lecture recording

This was the end of the second year of our lecture recording programme. We are now two-thirds through this project and on course to end the rollout in September 2020. Thanks to an incredibly capable and competent team we are up to over 250 rooms equipped, including in many cases upgrades to microphones, signage, telephones etc.

The big piece of new work this year has been the integration with the University Timetabling system, timed to come on stream with the move to a new opt-out policy from January 2019. It’s been a significant piece of work to develop something that is deceptively simple. From a user perspective it provides an easy way for colleagues to opt-out of being recorded. Behind the scenes it does some pretty complex work reconciling Timetabling information with Echo360 recording schedules.

We’ve also continued to fund PTAS projects via our special call and various of the first wave of projects are now delivering valuable insight. We’ve captured this and other perspectives on the first 2 years in a series of posts on the Teaching Matters blog.

I’ve also found sitting on the PTAS adjudication panel hugely rewarding personally and am grateful for the opportunity.

Jupyter notebooks pilot service

We’ve been doing more work with our colleagues in Edina this year, not least helping them pilot the Noteable Jupyter notebooks service that they’ve developed. My colleague James Slack is leading the support for the pilots and you can read more about what we’re doing on his project blog. This is a great example of the kinds of learning technologies I think are coming down the track fast at us.

Noteable has been identified as a key technology to support the first Distance Learning at Scale courses (MicroMasters with EdX), and is highly likely to be required for the new programmes that will be developed within the Edinburgh Futures Institute. Engagement with the pilot has been strong, with 600 students across 6 Schools in Semester 1. It’s also been used by our Digital Skills colleagues to deliver introductory level Python courses.

As well as running this as a service ongoing for institutional learning and teaching use, we hope it might be of interest to sector colleagues as a paid-for service. Our experience running pilots so far has allowed us to build a few extra features in such as integration with VLEs using LTI to make it easy to set up notebooks for cohorts of students.


This year has seen some big changes in my teams – 2 new team managers have joined us, plus one whole new team. We’ve also done a lot more working across teams, and not just within my merry little band. It’s been hard at times, but colleagues have also commented on how rewarding they’ve found it.

I wrote a footnote in a blog post earlier this year about how lucky I think we are in my Directorate and it still encapsulates my feelings.

* I work in the Learning, Teaching and Web Directorate, which includes physical teaching spaces, digital teaching spaces, media services, course design & development, all kinds of pedagogical support, digital skills development, the University web portal, the University website, custom website and blog builds, custom digital teaching tools development, graphic design, interactive content development and the University search engine. That gives us a *ridiculous* skill set to draw on, and we are constantly looking for ways to crossover and blend what we do. (Going out of my head thinking about headless)

Wikimedia UK Partnership of the Year

Left to right: Stephanie (Charlie) Farley, Open Education Resources; Lorna Campbell, OER Service; Ewan McAndrew, Wikimedian in Residence; Anne-Marie Scott, Deputy Director of Learning, Teaching & Web Services.

I was thrilled when we won the Wikimedia UK Partnership of the Year for a second time. All the kudos belongs to my colleague Ewan McAndrew (our Wikimedian in Residence) and you can read his post all about it. Working with him on Wikimedia projects is one of the things I enjoy most as amongst other rewards, it’s one of the few places where I still get my hands dirty.

Vote100 – Processing

PROCESSIONS 2018 Edinburgh, an Artichoke Project Commissioned by 14-18 NOW. Photo by Lesley Martin

After making an unexpectedly emotional contribution to my friend Lindy Richardson’s Processions banner, I took up her offer to walk with it in the Processions parade in Edinburgh in June. I had embroidered the matriculation signatures of the Edinburgh Seven – the first women to matriculate in an UK university in 1869 – from images taken from the University Collections. On the day, the University banner was chosen to lead the entire parade and I found myself only a few rows back from the front being led by the most kickass female piper I have even seen (that girl has some pair of lungs on her).

It will remain one of my best memories for many years.

Vote100 – Making an exhibition

Our Wikimedia work continues to bed further into our institutional activities and this year we were able to use the product of various Vote100 editathons across the year to stage a small hybrid exhibition developed in conjunction with our Library and University Collections colleagues. It was an absolute pleasure to work with a small project team drawn from across our two Directorates and I think there’s much more we can now see to do together to support future exhibitions and University Collections activities.

The exhibition opened in the Main Library on 29 November and featured letters from the Collections and an interactive Histropedia Timeline of Scottish Suffragettes, based on Wikipedia articles. You can also see all of the exhibits in our online exhibition space.

Thanks to the Information Services Group Innovation Fund for supporting this and a solid shout out to the genius that is Navino Evans, along with Stewart Cromar, Ewan McAndrew, Rachel Hosker and Kirsty MacNab.

Ada Lovelace Day

Another Ada Lovelace Day celebrated at King’s Buildings. I can take no credit for the excellent programme that my colleagues pulled together, but I did very much enjoy leading the Wikipedia editathon and in particular helping Vicki Madden publish her first article. I think the girl is now hooked.

Apart from the perpetual delight that is working with Michael Seery in Chemistry, this event also saw a few new people in my team jump in and help with the organisation. Special mentions for Stewart Cromar and James Slack for helping organise the day, and to Stephen Donnelly and Liam Duffy for bringing the always excellent DIY Film School action.

DIY Film School

This is the best £5k I ever spent, hands-down. A couple of years ago, at the end of the rollout of our Kaltura media asset management service (Media Hopper Create) project there was a little slack in the budget and my Media Team Manager convinced me that it would be a good idea to buy some kit for filming with mobile phones (inspired by a recent visit to ex-colleagues at the BBC). I agreed on the basis that he ran a hands-on training course during the Festival of Creative Learning week 2016 and accepted my choice of name. Lo, the DIY Film School was born! Stephen was dead right about the need to focus on putting confidence and content creation tools in as many hands as possible.

In 2018, we’ve run courses and loaned kit to support student field trips, marketing and comms for online learning, and student vlogging workshops amongst many others. Visitors to our office from inside and outside the Uni always enjoy having a look at our toys. Of particular note though is the training we gave to colleagues in Digital Education who then took that expertise and our equipment to Turkey in order to train Syrian academics displaced by conflict.

Openly licensing our learning analytics policy

After quite a bit of positive feedback at the LAK18 conference (along with the stunning realisation that I should have offered a presentation on this) and various enquiries about re-use I was pleased to be able to release our Learning Analytics Principles and Purposes policy under an open license. I also wrote up some scrappy notes on the development of our learning analytics policies.

New Challenges

In addition to my work with the Mansfield Traquair Trust, I’ve taken on a couple of new challenges this year.

I was privileged to be elected to join the Board of the Apereo Foundation in June. I’ve had involvement with Apereo, and before that Jasig for many years. Making the case for using open source in Higher Education is something I’m passionate about, and that also requires making open source projects from Higher Education sustainable. That’s the work that Apereo aims to do, and I am pleased to be able to contribute.

I have also been privileged to work with 2 extremely impressive women – Sam Rhynas and Gail Logan – over the course of the year as we ran a consultation process and then formally took on the leadership of Girl Geek Scotland. Girl Geek Scotland is 10 years old this year and we’ve had the support and guidance of it’s founder, Morna Simpson, as we worked through this process. We’re looking forward to 2019 and putting our plans and the outputs of the consultation into action.

Sick Kids Mortuary Chapel

I’ve written a few times about the uncertain future that the Category A listed Mortuary Chapel at the Royal Hospital for Sick Kids in Edinburgh faces. This building is important as it’s the first set of murals that Phoebe Anna Traquair painted, and is an significant part of the history and story of the Mansfield Traquair Centre (the building that I am a Trustee of).

At the end of last year Sally-Anne Huxtable and myself organised for a set of new photos to be shot and released as openly licensed images. Since then I’ve written various Wikipedia articles to try ensure there’s something to find if someone starts Googling.

On a last minute whim this year I decided to chance my arm and see if it might be possible to open the Mortuary Chapel for Doors Open Day in September. NHS Lothian very graciously agreed on the basis that I could arrange staffing, logistics, and ensure it didn’t disrupt the operation of the hospital. I can’t say how grateful I am to the guiding team from the Mansfield Traquair Centre who stepped up in overwhelming numbers to help. I was kind of counting on their enthusiasm, but it was still gratifying, particularly as I’d already registered the space for Doors Open Day before anyone had agreed!

In 4 hours we took 350 people through the space. It’s a very small room, just big enough for a child’s bed, a cot, and some soft seating. For comparison we took 700 people through Mansfield Traquair the following day and that’s the largest un-pillared church space in city with a 60 foot high ceiling!

By Dianeholdsworth [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Enjoying the silence

External view of art deco cinema in black and white. Bo’Ness Hippodrome. Picture taken by me. No rights reserved.

I’ve enjoyed a lot more cinema trips this year and have become a bit of a regular at my favourite local cinema – the Bo’ness Hippodrome. This year they’ve had a very nice little series of silent films across the year and Ewan McAndrew and I have managed to catch most of them together.

In August we were inspired by classic thrillers:

In September it all got a bit Hitchcock inspired:

Gardening (and eating things from the garden)

We had a magnificent summer and I took every opportunity to enjoy it and spent as much time in my garden as I could. Sometimes I even did some actual gardening work. Memories of weekends spent reading, writing and thinking on my garden bench in the sunshine are giving me serious pause for thought about whether to move back into the city.

Instagram was jam packed with pictures like this for most of the summer. Foraging in the garden for treats was a regular occurrence. The size of some of the strawberries this year beggared belief.

Elephant in the room

The other thing that happened this year, and which permeates everything above, is calling time on a 20 year relationship. Whilst the gorey details are not for public consumption, much of what I’ve done this year has been influenced by this – having more time on my hands, or wanting the all-consuming distraction of work. What I do want to say here is that I have been bowled over by the kindnesses and support I’ve received over the year. Genuinely I’ve felt many hands holding me up.

You know who you are and I love you all.


Other good things too numerous to blog in detail:

  • Visits to exhibitions – Burne-Jones at Tate Britain; The Future Starts Here at the V&A; Frida Kahlo at the V&A; Raqib Shaw at the National Galleries of Scotland; Liberty Art Fabrics & Fashion at the Dovecot Studios; Astronomy Victorious at the University Main Library; Lucy Skaer | The Green Man at the Talbot Rice Gallery.
  • A visit to Charles Jenck’s Garden of Cosmic Speculation
  • A week in Verona holidaying on my own for the first time ever, including a precious few hours shooting the breeze in a cafe with Jim Groom.
  • Learning to make delicious Mexican food with Brian Lamb. Ceviche, and things I never thought possible for parsnips (grated!)
  • Walking – getting out at weekends and taking myself into the countryside; climbing local hills at sunset; walking river trails; visiting waterfalls.
  • More mentoring via both Aurora and the Mentoring Connections programme. I have had the benefit of very good mentors in my own career and am pleased to be able to offer something in return.
  • SPLOTs – this was the year I went from using them to making them.
  • MozFest18 – fifth year in a row at my favourite tech conference. There are about 8 blog posts sitting in draft related to this…
  • Swimming – back in the pools regularly for the first time in about 8 years.
  • Boots on the ground: This year I went back to wearing DM 8-holes after a 25 year hiatus. Why I waited this long I have no idea.
  • This face has also sustained me over the year:

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