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#Digifest19: The technology conference encouraging more human interactions

The following post was written by Amy Palmer, BILT Digital Resources Officer.

This year’s Digifest explored the theme ‘Shaping education for a hyper-connected world’, in which ideas around the digital challenges we are facing were shared and discussed. I attended three panel events while I was there and found that similar conclusions were drawn from them all: the use of technology may be increasing, it is imperative that we do not lose human interaction. This may seem obvious, but throughout the day there were moments where I felt a tension between discussions around how technology in education was becoming central to the learning experience and technology’s role in the creation of current mental health challenges facing universities.

The first session I attended looked at a report recently released by Jisc in which a qualitative study was undertaken with lecturers across the sector.  Five key themes emerged from 2-hour interviews with staff, with a number of recommendations being made. The one I’d like to highlight is:

 ‘Teaching staff are concerned to support students’ wellbeing and they take a holistic approach to student welfare. Currently, much of this work is done face-to-face. With time and space at a premium, universities and colleges could consider how digital technologies can help to support student wellbeing as well as other, less strictly academic aspects of the student experience’

One part of this statement really jumped out at me, ‘digital technologies can help to support student wellbeing’ – my mind immediately conjured a scene in which a student having a mental health crisis was faced with a computer instead of a human and the potentially damaging impact this would have. I opened the conference magazine to a double-page spread looking at this exact question, ‘Can technology ease the mental health challenge facing universities today?’, with six solutions set out, the most striking of which was chatbots – a solution recently employed by Bolton College in which students struggling with stress or self-harm are provided links by a chatbot to online information and contact details for the mental health team. I couldn’t help but feel this was more a cost-saving approach that one that had direct benefits for these students in need (but perhaps I’m being cynical).  

I was encouraged by comments made from panellists in which they emphasized the importance of human interactions, agreeing that face-to-face engagement should be maximised, but that appropriate space on campus was needed for this. Risks around disengagement from students where they can not attended were raised, but were balanced by risks of students feeling isolated and lonely when too much emphasis was placed on technologies.

The second session was a horizon-scanning panel discussion in which the 2019 Jisc Horizons report was launched. The report’s title is ‘Emerging technologies and the mental health challenge’ with panel members discussing the different ways this could be addressed. One panel member suggested technology could be used to ‘streamline human interaction’ – another concept I felt uneasy with.

It was agreed that a balance needs to be struck between the increased use of learner analytics and the potential reduction of human interactions though increasing number of online services (such as lecture capture and VLEs) and the mental health challenges facing universities. The panel members all agreed that a key take-home message from the report was that there was a need for a person-centred approach and that the technology must not replace the human, though I wondered how this would practically play out in a climate of reduced budgets, streamlining of staff, automation of administrative tasks and increased reliance on online services.

The final panel discussion I attended was on the ‘fourth education revolution’ – with the host asking the participants what they believed was ‘Education 4.0’. Responses were mixed, but all centred around the idea that education needed to be personalised, on-demand and customisable. The relationship is changing between the student and professor from one which is a transactional to a more balanced, less hierarchical one. All panel members had a background in educational technologies, but all noted that these services created more time and space for richer, face-to-face interactions.

At the end of this session a question was raised about whether we would even need a physical campus in the future, which leads me beautifully onto the final part of my day.

Jisc have created a virtual reality experience, ‘Natalie 4.0’, in which the user can experience a day in the life of a student that does not attend a physical campus. You wake up in a ‘bedroom’ at the beginning of your day and interact with tutors and students though making choices in the virtual world. The experience was eye-opening and something I believe many others in the University would enjoy – we hope to put on an event with Jisc in the near future to allow staff to try out this new way of learning!

Head shot of Sian Bayne

Near Future Teaching


Within universities there is a growing trend to apply futures and design thinking to our teaching and learning, often as a way of understanding how digital shifts are affecting education. These initiatives tend to be characterised by their focus on speculative, big ideas, and by collaborative approaches which engage with as wide a group of people as possible.

At The University of Edinburgh we are applying ‘futures’ work to digital education: our aim is to enable a wide conversation to take place among students and staff around how we would like to see digital education grow over the coming decades, and from that to build a vision for the university which balances technological change with the values of our academic and student body.

In this talk I will describe how we are going about this project, and will share some of the project outputs and ideas. I will explore some of the key themes which are emerging – including the ‘hollowing out’ of the campus, automation of teaching, creativity and diversity – and speculate on the implications of these for how we plan our digital futures.


Sian Bayne is Professor of Digital Education and Assistant Principal for Digital Education at The University of Edinburgh. Based in the Centre for Research in Digital Education, her research is currently focused on open and distance education and the application of theory from the humanities and social sciences to digital education. More information about her work is on her web site at:

digital education office logo

Learning Games #2

If you’ve ever used games in your teaching, wondered how, or want to hear what other people are doing, come along to the latest Learning Games lunch on the 17th January between 1-2pm. This event is a chance to share your plans, get ideas and meet others who are interested in the topic.

This event does not require booking, but as lunch is provided we would be grateful if you could email Suzi Wells to let us know you intend to come. We will let you know the location of the event upon your email. 


‘Using Games in Teaching’ – 26/10/2018

The first ‘Using Games in Teaching’ event, organised by Chrysanthi Tseloudi and Suzi Wells from the Digital Education Office, saw 25 colleagues from across the University come together to discuss their experiences, hopes and ideas for gamifying learning. A wide range of staff attended the event, with both Professional Services and Academic staff represented, and with a wealth of experience among them.

Staff sat at a table at the using games in teaching event

The event started with an introduction from each member of the group, a summary of their experience with games and explanation as to why they had attended the session. It was clear that the understanding and experience of types of games varied vastly, from computer games to card games, everyone had a different perspective on what ‘using games in teaching’ meant.

The main part of the event looked at ‘Decisions and Disruptions‘, a decision-making game using Lego models and cards originally developed at Lancaster University and now being developed further by Ben Shreeve from the School of Computer Science. The game was created to try to understand how organisations have made their investment decisions in the hope to understand how cyber security failures occur. Players work as a team to advise their company what they should buy (items are on the cards), then once these decisions have been made players suffer various cyber-attacks and participants see how their decisions have impacted the organisation. They play the game through four rounds, attempting to secure the organisation over time with a finite budget and multiple consequences. The game is beneficial as it allows staff to work as a team with both technical and non-technical staff, with the Lego working as a visual aid to help the players relate to their own workplace. The tactile element of the Lego also helps embed the learning (a point which was seconded by a number of others around the room).

Ben Shreeve and his Lego/ card decision making game (pictured here making a paper aeroplane!).

We concluded the event with a small and simple game to play. We were asked how often we would like the ‘Using Games in Teaching’ events to take place in future, ranging from once a teaching block to once a month, with a physical scale being shown from one end of the room to the other. The ‘game’ element came when we were asked to show our answers using a paper aeroplane we had just created launched across the room. This simple yet amusing activity lifted the session and was something which could easily be done in the classroom to add a little fun and make the session more memorable.

Please contact Chrysanthi Tseloudi or Suzi Wells if you’d like to come along to the next one.

Designing and Creating Digital Materials (DEO)

The increased availability of mobile devices gives teaching staff an opportunity to allow guided and self-paced learning to continue outside of traditional settings. This workshop will help you to get started in creating digital materials, moving from the initial idea through to creation and publishing the final content. The course will give you hands on experience with content creation tools and approaches and is intended for anyone wanting to create their own online or electronic resources. 
By the end of the workshop participants will be able to :
  • Develop a concept from an initial idea
  • Select appropriate tools
  • Design to improve materials ‘flow’
  • Storyboard content
  • Work through the development process
  • Implement the finished content

If you have any queries or would like to discuss further whether this course is suitable for you, please contact Martin Nutbeem.

Synchronous Online Teaching with Blackboard Collaborate (DEO)

Blackboard Collaborate is an interactive web conferencing tool available for staff and students. This hands on workshop will help you set up online spaces, timed sessions and use interactive tools with remote users and external guests. Share screens, create breakout rooms for groups and setup spaces for collaborate work. From feedback meetings to webinars, Collaborate can help you take teaching beyond the classroom.

Introduction to Blackboard for Academic and Research Staff (DEO)

The aims of this workshop are to provide an overview of the tools and features of Blackboard, explore ideas on how Blackboard can be used to support learning and teaching, and enable participants to design and edit their own courses.

By the end of the workshop participants will:

  1. be familiar with key features of Blackboard
  2. be able to design and edit a Blackboard course that includes content and activities 
  3. know how to access further help and support

Getting the Most out of the Blackboard Grade Centre: Advanced Administration Skills for EMA (DEO)

Increasing numbers of staff are supporting electronic management of assessment (EMA) in Blackboard. This workshop is aimed at colleagues who wish to deepen their knowledge and expertise of administering the grade centre effectively, in particular when dealing with large cohorts of students. During the workshop participants will be able to explore examples and try out a range of advanced grade centre tools. They will also be given access to a set of resources to take away.

By the end of the workshop participants will:

  • be able to apply advanced features of the grade centre to their Courses eg use grading periods to organise assignments by teaching block.
  • be able to make the grade centre easier to work with eg for markers and moderators
  • have strategies to administer the grade centre effectively including filtered views and managing large cohorts of students
  • be able to import and export data from the grade centre from/to other systems.
  • be able to ensure controlled student access to relevant grade centre data

*Participants should already have a basic knowledge of setting up and managing assignments in Blackboard.

Video for Teaching and Learning (DEO)

This workshop aims to introduce staff to the educational application of media, for example providing content prior to a lecture, clarification post lecture or feedback. It will take participants through the planning, design, production and evaluation of media rich resources. The workshop will include a hands on session where participants can use the Mediasite Desktop recorder to create and publish content.

By the end of the workshop participants will:

  • Have explored and considered how video could be used as part of their teaching practice

  • Have planned and designed a media resource considering the intended learning outcomes, content and length

  • Have produced and published a recording using the Mediasite Desktop Recorder and Blackboard

  • Have viewed the analytics area of a recording for evaluating its use by the intended audience

  • Have a knowledge of other tools available to use

  • Know where to access further support

Icons available on the Office 365 package

Exploring Microsoft Office 365 for Teaching and Learning

The ‘Exploring Microsoft Office 365 for Teaching and Learning’ event took place on Monday 10th September in Great George Street, and aimed to answer four questions:

  • How would tools for education improve learning, teaching, and experience of students?
  • What innovative practice could be brought in?
  • How would it work for HE and how would it scale?
  • What are the next steps for implementing these tools, in terms of experimentation and learning?

The Current Picture

The session started with review of the relevant strategic picture (BILT, Digital Learning Environment phase 2 and the Digital Workspace Programme, and examples from Bristol of Office and Google tools used for Education.  Mike Cameron from the Digital Education Office discussed their use of:

  • Google Docs to record collaborative group work/workshops. Roger Gardner from the DEO uses this tool as a collaborative scratch pad in workshops. One of the main benefits is that it saves time with sharing ideas in groups. The software runs relatively smoothly when multiple users are adding simultaneously.
  • Google Sheets and Forms to create a peer-review market, in which each student could post work for review, other students could volunteer to review it and the whole thing would run on a points system where students got marks for any reviewing they did and it cost them points to get their work reviewed. Whilst this only made it to the prototype stage, there could be great potential in developing the approach through Office tools in the future.
  • Yammer (part of the Office 365 package) as a channel for communication in the ‘MsC in Strategy, Change and Leadership’. This tool is more appropriate than Facebook though offers similar functionality to that of Facebook.
  • Excel Online (also part of the Office 365 package) to complete collaborative work in classroom and at a distance, with groups of 4 working collectively on a spreadsheet. The plan is for this to run as part of the Bristol Futures optional unit, ‘Inequality, Crisis and Prosperity: How to Make Sense of the Global Economy’, with collaborative work taking place regardless of being in a physical or digital space.
  • Blended learning in Modern Languages (with David Perkins de Oliveira). Most of the ‘blended learning’ has taken place via setting work before class groups. Students give feedback on problems they’ve identified in the pre-work so that the seminar can be tailored to the group’s needs.

A Case Study – OneNote in the Centre for Medical Education

A case study was then presented by Martin van Eker and Jane Williams, from the Centre for Medical Education eLearning team, on their use of OneNote for case-based learning.

You can view the case study here – for further details please contact Martin or Jane.

Office 365 Highlights and Tips

Ian Woolner, the Microsoft Representative, then showed the group the Office 365 Training Center, a place where staff and students can find training videos, PDFs and tip on how to make the most of the Office 365 tools. He highlighted some of the best tools he believed are available as part of the Office 365 package, including:

  • Quick Starter – builds a PPT template based on a web search. It is estimated that 20% of time working on a PPT is on the presentation; Quick Starter does this for you.
  • Translator – translates transcripts and then emailed back to you. This can subtitle live speech, so can support remote learning. Free add on, available now.
  • The Office 365 package complements VLE, but will not replace VLE. It links with Blackboard, in part using a CSV connector to enable Blackboard and Office to integrate.
  • Microsoft are currently consolidating different versions of programmes e.g. Excel Online and Excel Desktop. The interfaces of the online and desktop versions will soon become more similar. He explained that eventually there will only be one version that all will use though it will take approximately 5 years for full functionality to be available on the online versions.

Ian also highlighted Microsoft Teams as a key tool to support the Education agenda at Bristol. The interface for this tool has been vastly improved, making it easier to add and remove members, and with a great deal of added functionality. Some of the benefits Ian listed were; it supports students resolving issues together rather than going to a tutor, and therefore create opportunities for collaborative problem solving. ‘Teams’ also includes: IM and logs the chats (like an Outlook inbox); a calendar; Skype functionality and; details on team members. Get in touch with the Digital Education Office if you’d like to find out more about using Teams with your students.

Moving Forward

The final part of the session considered what will happen next, and how to move the conversations that had taken place forward. By the start of the 2019 academic year, all staff and all students will have access to Office 365 and be using Outlook as their email server (some students are using the Gmail server). In 2018/19 first year students will be using Outlook as their email server. The 2018/19 academic year will be seen as an experimental period in which selected programmes and units can test different tools in order to facilitate learning about functionality/ limitations/ scalability, etc. Both Bristol Futures and the CREATE programme were suggested as places for experimentation.

The Office 365 package can meet a number of benefits the Education Strategy hopes to bring. The availability of tools online means that more online and blended learning can take place, though discussion about how this can be scaled still need to take place. The package also allows for equal access to all students – this supports students from widening participation and alternative route background. Further to this, using tools such as OneNote and Teams also allows for greater personalisation in teaching and creates links between spaces (digital and physical) and the individual.

The package can also support the Bristol Futures curriculum. The work around assessment, pedagogy and Programme Level Assessment, specifically how we can use technology to support inclusive assessment, can also be supported by the use of Office 365. The increased feasibility of online assessment needs to be met with questions about what value is brought by bringing assessment online, and the type of assessments that are used – are they fit for purpose when assessing students on different tasks?

Wider questions were then considered about the use of space in the University and how the Office 365 package, and general technology use, fits into this. The constraints of room bookings and timetabling were brought as a potential issue, as were issues about training.

It is imperative the tools do not drive the practice, and that pedagogy always comes first. A space where staff can record the activities and tools they experiment with, as well as the context in which they are being used, is essential for sharing practice and ensuring thinking and practice is ‘joined up’, rather than taking place in small pockets.

For more information about using any of the tools available in Office365, please contact the Digital Eduaction Office.

If you’re currently using the tools and would like to share your practice with colleague, please contact BILT.