Wednesday, 19 June 2019

BLE Service Manager wins exciting award

Sarah Sherman (BLE Service Manager) and Amy Eyre (University of York, were named joint winners of the Blackboard Catalyst Award for Community Engagement, which recognises customers who are dedicated to improving student achievement by fostering a connection between institutions, educators, students, and their communities. 

Founded in 2005, the annual Catalyst Awards recognise and honour innovation and excellence in the Blackboard global community of practice, where millions of educators and learners work every day to redefine what is possible when leveraging technology. Winners are selected by a cross-functional team of Blackboard experts.

Sarah and Amy achieved the honoured distinction of being among a select group of winners in the Blackboard community to receive this award. This award program is designed to enhance the visibility of the innovation taking place and to recognise the efforts of staff. 

The efforts made by Sarah really do make a difference in enhancing the learning experience at the Bloomsbury member institutions and for many other institutions across the globe. 

“I’m proud to recognise this year’s outstanding recipients of the Blackboard Catalyst Award for their demonstrated commitment to using technology to enhance the learning experience, and sharing their best practices with the education community,” said Lee Blakemore, Chief Client Officer and President, Global Client Operations & Success at Blackboard. “Their outstanding contributions will help to support learner success in the Blackboard user community.”

Sarah and Amy were honoured alongside other Blackboard Catalyst Award winners during the TLC Europe 2019, Blackboard’s user conference held on 13th-16th May in Newcastle. 

For more information on the Blackboard Catalyst Awards, please visit: 

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Unlocking the stable door?

Preparing learners for digital learning before they enrol on their studies

The House of Lords Select Committee on Digital Skills reported in their 2014-15 paper that ‘universities should ensure that all graduates are digitally competent’. However, rather than being an issue primarily for graduates, gaps in digital skills create issues for students from day one of their academic careers. As learning technology practitioners (whether we are based in the library, IT services or course support), we are regularly presented with students who have arrived at our institutions with little or no understanding of what an online learning environment is. The fact is, they often lack the digital skills required to navigate through their studies before they even get anywhere near graduating. By focusing on our students’ digital competence as they near completion, to get them ready for life in the real world, are we doing a disservice to their learning and knowledge acquisition? 

image of a horse in a stableOver recent years, agencies such as Jisc and UCISA, have researched and written much about how to best prepare students for the digital workplace (UCISA 2014). In 2015, Jisc noted that ‘developing learners who can learn and thrive in a digital society is a key role for universities and colleges’. Where we cannot deny the importance that higher education institutions have on preparing learners for their careers, are we locking the stable door once the horse has already bolted? The BLE's Digital Awareness Course focuses specifically on equipping students with some key capabilities required to learn and successfully achieve their qualifications. Moreover, the instruction is intended to be delivered before the student arrives at the gates of the institution. The focus on graduates entering the workplace has lent itself to ‘bolt-on’ interventions, which are often too little, too late; our plan is to embed these skills from the outset.

The course comprises four short sections, which follow a brief introduction to what is meant by digital skills:
  • General technologies
  • Learning technologies
  • Access, Safety & Sharing
  • Getting Organised
Right now, we have internal pilots running at Birkbeck, LSHTM, RVC, SOAS and SAS to try out the course on the incoming students about to head through our doors. 

empty tableOn Tuesday 10th September 2018, I presented this collaborative project at the annual ALT Conference. I provided a little context and described the research we conducted to help us design the course. I then explained the structure of the course and demonstrated how it will look to students. The metaphorical suggestion that I proposed is that we can unlock the stable door and let our students to roam free, safe in the knowledge that they are digitally aware in terms of their learning.

You can watch the presentation below and access my slides here.


House of Lords Select Committee on Digital Skills Report of Session (2014–15). Make or Break: The UK’s Digital Future. Availble at: [Accessed 26.03.18]

Jisc (2015) Developing students’ digital literacy. Available at: [Accessed 26.03.18]

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Summer in the BLE

Here's a short round-up of some of the key BLE activity during the 2018 summer term.

In May, we celebrated one year since the the launch of our MOOC, Get Interactive: Practical Teaching with Technology. In that time, over 10,000 users have registered from over 130 countries - the top three being the USA (16%), UK (15%) and India (7%). Many of the participants who complete the course choose to purchase a completion certificate, which brings a small amount of revenue back to the BLE. This funding is used to feed back into the development of the MOOC, so it is continually monitored, refreshed and kept up to date. To support us, we have recruited three mentors who each participated and successfully completed the MOOC. Carol, Sarah and Sonya work tirelessly behind the scenes - as volunteers - to ensure participants are welcomed and their contributions are acknowledged. Huge thanks to them - and of course to Nancy who keeps the whole thing ticking over. Here's a lovely quote from a recent participant:
"First of all, it's a great honor to be part of this special course. I learned a lot, really. I'm an ICT teacher for technology although we don't have the best technology in the Philippines but we can absolutely use the tools you've provided and taught us. I enjoyed this course sooooooooo much. Maybe I took the assignment too seriously and put a lot of effort on them but that only shows how engaging this course is. It's a little sad =). I'd like to thank my peers, and MOST ESPECIALLY OUR INSTRUCTORS AND TRAINERS. Ms Sherman, Dr. Weiz and Dr Kennedy, I thank you so much!!!!!!!!!!"

Also in May, we ran a series of lunchtime workshops with staff from across the consortium to guide them through the Jisc Digital Discovery Tool, which offers a picture about one's professional digital practices in education. Based on responses to a self-administered quiz, users received a personalised report with links and access to resources and guidance. The tool is designed to be reflective, informative and developmental – it’s not an objective measure of an individual’s digital performance and any personal data is not be made available to anyone else. The plan is now to produce a short report based on the anonymised summary data we received from the 36 colleagues who attended the workshops.

At the end of June, in partnership with the University of London, the BLE ran a two-day User Experience Conference comprising three workshops: User Testing, User Centred Content and Moodle & Accessibility. Over the course of the two days, delegates from across the University of London member institutions came together to share practice and learn new and better ways of designing, testing and presenting content across a range of media. For more information - including edited videos from the sessions - visit this link.

Throughout the year, Nancy and Sarah have been working on a new course for students about to start their degree programmes regarding the digital skills they will need to have the best possible learning experience. The Digital Awareness course is designed to avoid surprises and elicit any "I wish I'd known that before I started" responses from students. Based on research we conducted with both staff and current students, we structured the short course on four topics: General Technologies, Learning Technologies, Access, Sharing & Safety and Getting Organised. The course will soon be piloted with specific groups from Birkbeck, SOAS and the RVC, where the respective institutions will customise certain aspects with local links and information. Later in 2018-19, we will release a public version, with a Creative Commons licence, for the wider education community to use. Sarah will be presenting about the project at the ALT-C conference in Manchester in September.

The fun never ends in the BLE - and we look forward to progressing the Digital Capabilities theme in 2018-19.

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

BLE CMALT Cohort scheme open for registration

Following our introductory session last month, the BLE CMALT Cohort is now open for registration for staff at the BLE partner institutions. If you were not able to attend the meeting, a recording of the session is available here. The slides shown during the meeting are here
Please confirm your intent to register by completing this form by Friday 31st August 2018. You will be sent an introductory welcome email from ALT with links to all relevant documents. You will also then be given access to the BLE CMALT course on Moodle and added to the BLE CMALT mailing list.

The cohort will meet monthly on the first Wednesday of the month during lunch time; the first meeting will take place on Wednesday 5th September, 1230-1430 in Bloomsbury.

Registration is usually £150 per person. However, for groups of between 5 and 9 candidates, ALT offers 10% off each registration, which would be £135. For groups of 10+ they offer 20% off each registration, which would be £120., I will be able to confirm the fees once we reach those thresholds.

Further information 

CMALT (Certified Membership of the Association for Learning Technology) is the professional accreditation scheme developed by ALT (the Association for Learning Technology) for anyone whose work involves learning technology. The scheme enables candidates to
● have their experience and capabilities certified by peers;
● demonstrate that they are taking a committed and serious approach to their professional development.

Accreditation is achieved by successful submission of a reflective, online portfolio, which evidences skills and experience in learning technology across four core areas and a specialist area. In the past three years, over 50 staff members from across the BLE partners have set off on their CMALT voyage - many have now achieved their CMALT accreditation. Previous cohorts have comprised academics, librarians, learning technologists, careers advisers and professional support staff who all have a strong interest in learning technology.

For any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact Sarah Sherman

Saturday, 21 April 2018

It’s lovely out here: how we (self) published in the open

UK Copyright Literacy

This post was originally published on the UK Copyright Literacy blog here
In this piece, Sarah Sherman and Leo Havemann share how they published a free, open access ebook based on work they had completed during a two year project. Here, they offer their tale as a guide to publishing openly.

The Bloomsbury Learning Environment (BLE) is a shared e-learning service comprising six London-based HEIs. The BLE brokers shared software licences for learning technologies for its members, organises staff development events and manages collaborative projects. In 2014, the BLE directed its attention to the ways in which learning technologies can enhance and support assessment and feedback. We wanted to gain an overview of our local practices, and at the same time uncover and share examples of people making use of learning technologies in ways which go beyond the norm of usual practice. Over the two subsequent academic years, we organised a programme of online and face-to-face events, conducted some research, and collected case studies highlighting good practice. 

Why write a book?
Unlike academic research, which by default tends to be shared through publishing and conferences, teaching in HE is often seen as a more individual pursuit. In our experience, teaching staff simply don’t have much opportunity to find out what their peers are doing in the classroom or VLE. We hadn’t originally set out to produce a book as part of the project, as throughout the process we had been gathering and publishing case studies on our project website, but slowly it dawned on us that we actually had sufficient material to put together an edited collection. We felt that producing and launching a book would provide a way of declaring the project complete and getting more attention for the authors who had generously contributed these insights into their practice. We also felt that a book might be viewed as more scholarly by the academics whose practice we wanted to develop. Therefore, we decided to collate all the written outputs from our project into a single volume, which we also chose to publish as a freely available, open access ebook entitled Assessment, Feedback and Technology: Contexts and Case Studies in Bloomsbury.

What did we include?
The ebook contains over 20 chapters, which were contributed by academics, learning technologists, administrators and consultants, bringing a variety of perspectives to the topic. Following the editorial introduction (written by us at the very end of the process), the first three chapters are longer research papers produced during the project, which capture macro-level snapshots of current practice across the BLE partner institutions. Each paper stands alone as a distinct piece of research but together, they offer a good sense of the assessment and feedback landscape in Bloomsbury.

During the project, we also collected 21 pedagogic and three technical case studies from our colleagues to share their practice; to aid the collection and coherence of these, we had developed a case study template consisting of headings and prompts. This ensured they were roughly similar in length and more importantly, addressed a standard set of questions. Once the case studies had been written, they were peer reviewed by members of the project team (most of whom were also case study authors).

How did we produce our book - and what help did we need?
You might think, as we did, that since all the chapters of the book were (more or less) complete, there is little else remaining for editors to worry about. This is not the case, at least not if you are publishing it yourself. For about 6 months after the project itself had closed, we slowly worked on pulling all the content together into one giant Google Document and editing it during quieter times. Ideally, the process would have been faster, perhaps with the eventual publication coinciding with the close of the project, but as we hadn’t initially planned on publishing a book we hadn’t allocated time within the project to do this. Without dedicated time of our own, or other dedicated project resources, we appealed to the better nature of various colleagues and friends for help at different times. Sonya Powney, Elizabeth Charles, Dawn Marsh, Sarah Turner, Nicola Proudfoot and David Hipple kindly proofread, copy-edited and formatted the text into a presentable and printable state.

We were grateful for the artwork used as the front cover that our friend Sonja Grussendorf created for us. We were really lucky that not only is Sonja a talented artist, she is also a learning technologist based at LSE, so really understood what the book was attempting to achieve.

What was our budget?
We didn’t really have a budget! Our proofreaders (Sonya, Elizabeth and Dawn), copy editors (Sarah and Nicola) and cover artist (Sonja) worked for free out of the goodness of their hearts. We were able to pay two days of consultancy to David just before publication to sort out the design, layout and typography, ensuring it was in a presentable state to be released (it had been less presentable than we had realised!). But David worked for much longer than this and we were very grateful for his commitment and enthusiasm. We launched the book in October 2017 at an event hosted at one of the BLE member institutions, so we were not charged a room booking fee. We sought sponsorship to fund the catering from a commercial vendor (Panopto), which was referenced in several of the chapters, and we offered them the platform to say a few words about the topic of the book. They also wrote a post on their own blog discussing one of our case studies.

How did we make it available?
At the same time as producing an Open Access (OA) book, we also envisaged our book as an Open Educational Resource (OER) for the wider education community; we did not want to charge readers nor did we wish to charge anyone for work conducted under our employment. Also, we felt we would make a greater impact if the publication was a free download, and as such, we applied a Creative Commons Attribution - Non Commercial - No Derivatives licence (CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 - you can see the range of CC licence options at We added the licence to the copyright page of the book (for more information about the ‘front matter’ of books, see

We chose this particular licence as we felt that we wanted to make our work available to be freely downloaded and distributed, always attributed to us as editors and individual chapter authors (BY), but remaining in its original form without being amended, remixed or repurposed without gaining our express permission first (ND), and we didn’t want anyone attempting to sell the book or part of it (NC). Licensing decisions are sometimes hotly debated in the OER community as it is felt by some that the application of ND and NC elements to a work renders it much less open, and part of the ethos of OER is that resources should be adaptable. We felt that here however, in this case of a collection of authored papers, that it is not the book or paper itself we are inviting someone to adapt, but the ideas contained within it.

We uploaded our final version - a pdf file - onto Figshare, an open, online repository which enables users to “make all of their research outputs available in a citable, shareable and discoverable manner” (see: Importantly, Figshare provides each item uploaded with a DOI (Digital Object Identifier), which uniquely identifies an output and provides “a persistent link to its location on the Internet” (see We thought about getting an ISBN but this didn’t seem necessary for our purposes.

We also investigated uploading the book to Amazon (using Kindle Direct Publishing). Once we worked out how to tweak the table of contents according to the instructions provided, we found the book converted serviceably into Kindle format. We therefore added a version of the book but were disappointed to learn that we couldn’t make it free; the minimum possible price is 99p. At various times, a special ‘promotional’ period allows the book to be free. So, although the book is available via Amazon, we do not promote this version.

As a dedicated ‘home page’ for the book, we created a page on the BLE website with a simple URL ( to provide additional information about the content. One of the advantages of hosting the book on Figshare was the option to embed the platform’s content viewer on our own site, which we did. We therefore referenced the book’s home page in all publicity in promotion in order to drive readers to download the Figshare version, enabling us to keep track of the numbers of views, downloads and (eventually) citations. That said, we also uploaded the book into all the BLE institutional repositories and onto academic social network sites ( and ResearchGate), to increase visibility.

How did we promote and publicise it?
Publicity and promotion was conducted under a variety of methods: we sent a press release to all the participating institutions in the BLE in order to have announcements on the institutional newsletters and/or websites, and we wrote a post for the Birkbeck Research blog. We then posted to Twitter (using relevant hashtags), the BLE blog and emailed mailing lists to get the word out. Over the past six months, we have presented at various conference and events - internal and external. We have also been invited by several institutions (including international) to talk about the book and its content.

At the time of writing, there have been over 1,600 views and 1,100 downloads of the Figshare version alone. Our book acknowledges the inspiring work of our colleagues but also contributes to the wider discussion in the education community regarding improvements to assessment and feedback. Most of all, we hope the collection will be of interest to learning practitioners who are curious to learn about and develop new assessment approaches. We would absolutely consider writing (and publishing) another book in the same way, but would schedule firmer deadlines. Hindsight is valuable; now we’ve done it once, we are sure it will be much easier to repeat. Well, easier…