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Guest post for ALT: The use and value of TEL Toolkits

Students in a technology booth

First published on the 2020 website

Our ongoing research shows that Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) toolkits are becoming a key part of the TEL offerings in Universities; outlining the uses and purposes of different tools to enhance our student learning experiences. Extensive use is now made across the sector of the JISC digital-experience insights tool, now gaining international momentum, and a key ‘go to’ benchmarking national survey offering a snapshot of the digital experience of our students across the sector. The work of UCISA continues to offer analysis of issue of interest to the sector, and at policy level, the Office for Students (OfS) continues to promote measurement metrics through the HESA and LEO databases, and of course the National Student Survey (NSS). Thus with all these metrics, we can reassure ourselves, in the words of Peter Druker, the management guru that ‘what get measured matters’.

However…. Drucker never actually said this. He drew upon a paper by Ridgway (1956) paper in 1956, entitled “ Dysfunctional consequences of performance measurements ‘ and this is the quote:

“What gets measured gets managed — even when it’s pointless to measure and manage it, and even if it harms the purpose of the organisation to do so”. 

Returning to our TEL toolkits and tools our students may use; our VLE suppliers can track, trace and analyse every click, download and keyboard stroke to inform us about our students’ progress. Indeed, the students have ‘completion bars’ to show how much they have progressed, and intelligent agent deployment can enable us to congratulate, cajole and offer critical feedback to our students, as they work through the tasks we set them. Knowledge acquisition is, however, ‘troublesome’ according to Meyer and Land (2001), and students approach threshold concepts to their learning at different times, making the march of digital knowledge acquisition a little more problematic than first anticipated. It is the underpinning pedagogy of our disciplines, that enables us to support our students as they ‘learn how to learn’, and we can best support them by using TEL tools, not as proxy for progress, but as a fluid, student-centred set of tools that enables a diverse cohort of students to find their pathway to study success.

Last year at ALT, we presented our work on hidden learning spaces, the result of surveying students on their use of the VLE. Our findings showed that while many students do access the VLE for core learning materials, 34% of respondents access core materials via peers. This may be attributable to student confidence in using the VLE (only 13% of our students reported the level of VLE usage as ‘expert’ whereas 66% reported expertise in internet use) and also to the generational characteristics that espouse a connectivist learning approach. The places our students choose to learn will not always be within the scope of our monitored systems and student learning does not progress along a linear path in line with a module’s timetable. Vigotskys’ notions of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) offer a useful set of concepts regarding differential learning.

‘because the actual developmental level defines functions that have already matured. The ZPD offer us a way exploring functions that will mature ‘tomorrow’ – Vygotsky defines these as ‘buds or ‘flowers’ of development rather than ‘fruits’ of development…the prospective mental development – and this can offer us insights for education, as our learners are on a journey to acquiring the knowledge of their discipline.’ (Debbie Holley and John Moran Doing Education Online: Learning from the Research Virtual Conference, Bournemouth University 17 July 2020)

The hidden learning space research warned again over-reliance on the analysis of VLE data and called for institutional and staff acceptance of the limitations of learning analytics data. In addition to a sceptical approach to learning analytics data, educators require a deep understanding of e-learning design, blending pedagogy and digital tools to encourage and promote self-managed learning, group learning, peer-to-peer learning and indeed, co-creation of knowledge, to inspire, encourage and support our learners. We need to remain mindful of the formal and informal spaces in which students learn, and offer credit and value to the life experiences they bring with them to our classrooms.

So yes, of course we need to support our students learning and offer intelligent ways forward with our TEL tools, but also appreciate that there are different pathways to success. The digital path better measured is not a proxy for student engagement, and the messages conveyed to the learners in our care need to be carefully constructed, with considerations for student mental health and wellbeing at the foreground as we automate our practices. The ‘Student Minds’ mental health Charity launched the University Mental Health Charter in summer 2020. In the guidance for designing learning for wellbeing, it recommends:

  1. Universities ensure that curriculum design, pedagogic practice and academic processes consider and seek to impact positively on the mental health and wellbeing of all students.

With Covid-19 we know already student self-harm cases are rising across the sector and are all too aware of limitations in student access to high quality technology and fast internet connections. The National Union of Students (2020) ‘Covid-19’ pandemic survey identified twenty per cent of students struggling with access to online learning, with black, Asian and minority ethnic students, those from poorer backgrounds, care leavers, students with caring responsibilities and students with disabilities particularly impacted.

TEL toolkits have huge benefits to hard-pressed academics scaling up learning for online delivery in a hurry. The underpinning pedagogies need to have equal weighting and these need to be made explicit with best practice disciplinary research and evidence bases articulated. It falls to us, as we work in the pedagogy/technology overlapping and entwining spaces, to bring clarity and focus to learning design. Our students should not be overwhelmed, but supported and scaffolded by the technologies we deploy, as they learn, online, offline, in the workplace, in the community and spaces in between, on our devices, their devices and in ways that suit their complex lives.

Selected Reading:

Meyer, and Land, R (2001) Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge: Linkages to Ways of Thinking and Practising within the Disciplines [Accessed 4 August 2020]

National Union of Students, (2020). Coronavirus and Students Survey. April 2020. Available at [Accessed 4 August 2020].

Ridgway, V.F., 1956. Dysfunctional consequences of performance measurements. Administrative science quarterly1(2), pp.240-247.

The Student Minds Mental Health Charter [Accessed 4 August 2020].

Vygotsky, L.S., 1980. Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Harvard University Press.


Debbie Holley is Professor of Learning Innovation at Bournemouth University, and Dr David Biggins is a senior academic in the Business School with research interests in Technology Enhanced Learning and learning analytics.

Here my colleague Anne Quinney reflects on the recent webinar we ran…

During the Covid-19 pandemic many of you will have experienced academic conferences being cancelled, postponed or hosted on-line.

Prof Debbie Holley and I (Anne Quinney) were scheduled to present at the Association of Learning Developers in Higher Education conference (ALDinHE) to be held at Northampton University but found ourselves presenting remotely last week.

The conference had moved online, using Google Hangouts. We had to change the focus of the paper for the online environment as the workshop format would not be possible. Our online conference presentation proved very memorable – in unexpected ways.  Our first challenge was the unfamiliarity of the format. We participated in some other sessions to get a sense of what it might look and feel like, updated our material and worked out how we would approach this new experience.  We uploaded the slides to slideshare, so we could share more widely with the audience, and shared them with session Chair –  a good idea as unexpected technology glitches happen to all of us working online and this created another layer of ‘back-up’.

Assessment and Feedback is our favourite topic! We talked about the principles of assessment underpinning the revision of the Bournemouth University Assessment Design strategy and policy, drawing on the work of Professors Dai Hounsell (ongoing) and Kay Sambell (2011) for enhancing assessment and feedback practices. We used slides interwoven with questions to encourage participant chat. We shared the BU Assessment and Feedback Toolkit; talked about the options for moving assessments online with a specific focus on examinations. We discussed the student perspective, and the opportunities and challenges online assessment can raise.

The chat questions came thick and fast, and the Chair was really helpful in summarising.

We did have some technology glitches;  at the start my camera switched off and I couldn’t configure the screen to see both the slides and my co-presenter. I quickly turned the computer off and started again….still only the slides in view but the camera light was back on!  Quickly improvising we decided that as Debbie’s screen was working as expected we would manage with whatever screen view we each had! We carried on, with self-deprecating humour, commenting that this was a real-life, live and improvised experience of the unfamiliar challenges that so many of us, staff and students, are dealing with. 

It felt strange not to talk with participants informally afterwards, not to  be able to ‘read’ the audience from their body language and facial expressions. Questions and responses came in very fast in the chat box and it was not possible to give time to them all.  At the end of the screen time, it was helpful to facetime each other to reflect on the experience, as we would have done if we were physically at the conference.

Whilst we didn’t have to travel upcountry to Northampton, sleep in an unfamiliar bed and eat communal meals at pre-set times, we missed the camaraderie of informally meeting with other delegates, the stimulation of two days focussing only on the conference themes and the opportunity to visit another university. The learning with and from one another that comes from the shared experience of co-presenting was still possible, and we certainly learnt more about improvising with the technology and equipment, about adjusting to a live but distant audience, and to ‘keep going and keep smiling’.

Quinney A and Holley D. 2020. Moving assessment online; resources to support staff in an unexpected distance learning scenario. May 6th. ALDinHE.

Links to our session:

Slides are here:

Video is here:


Sally Brown’s blog (UK). See the piece by Sally Brown and Kay Sambell as a response to Covid-19.

BU Technology Enhanced Learning Toolkit

Transforming Assessment (Australia)

Assessment Design Decisions (Australia)


Join members of the Association for Learning Development in Higher Education daily at 3pm! Our wonderful conference go cancelled, and we wanted to share some of the sessions

Here is the schedule up to Easter , all links available via the ALDinHE website

ALDinHE is committed to representing and supporting all those working in the field of Learning Development in the UK.

We aim to cultivate a community of practice, promote discussion and ideas exchange, and further the professional development of our members by offering training opportunities and quality assurance.

We have two aims:

  • To represent professionals employed in the field of Learning Development in Higher Education, primarily in the UK and Ireland, and those with an active interest in the field;  
  • To promote discussion about effective models for Learning Development (LD), cultivate a community of practice and act as a support network for the general professional development of staff involved with LD.  

 And we are guided by five values:

  • Working alongside students to make sense of and get the most out of HE learning
  • Making HE inclusive through emancipatory practice, partnership working and collaboration
  • Adopting and sharing effective Learning Development practice with (and external to) our own institutions
  • Critical self-reflection, on-going learning and a commitment to professional development
  • Commitment to a scholarly approach and research related to Learning Development.

These emerged from our Learning Development Manifesto.

What is over the horizon?

The JISC work on the digital student experience shows that students remain unconvinced that we are delivering the digital skills that employers are demanding. 74% of teaching staff never teach in a live online environment; and most (33%) learn from their colleagues, not in a structured and systematic way. Having to rapidly move to synchronous and asynchronous modes of online learning almost overnight is putting pressure on teams of academics and Learning Technologists alike; students are stressed and anxious, and mental health is finally being foregrounded – against a backdrop of 18% of teaching staff agreeing that they are informed about their responsibilities to help students behave safely online.

I have been reflecting on the WONKHE piece, ‘the clock is ticking on a decision about September entry’ by Alex Usher, challenging us educators to think about the ‘what-ifs’. Moving quickly to online as a response to crisis has seen teams across the sector move to online learning, and, getting content ‘out there’ has been the priority. Professional Bodies are  having to rethink their regulations, Universities are matching the flexibility and making every effort to ensure that our third year students graduate – and for health workers, graduating quickly is essential as the needs of the NHS escalate.

The ‘clock is ticking’ article notes:

“everyone is doing their level best to make the current situation work, but it’s all basically DIY right now, and it’s so far from good enough that there is now an entire sub-genre of humour devoted to it.”

Is there any good news out there we may well ask!

The awesome Educause  New Media Horizons report was launched just as we ran into our strike period, rapidly followed by Corona Virus. And yes is the answer…

Open Educational Resources  a variety of materials designed for teaching and learning that are both openly available for use by teachers and students and that are devoid of purchasing, licensing, and/ or royalty fees. The global community are actively developing and curating resources, pressuring Governments and institutions to share their resources. The University of Minnesota has developed and curated the Open Textbook Library, which includes nearly 700 peer-reviewed titles. To stay informed and up-to-date, sign up to the Association for Learning Technology OER Special interest Group. Embedding curated, quality assured resources in your reading lists, your curricula or even the powerpoints we share with our students makes a huge difference, and offers alternative, inclusive ways of accessing content.

The Association for Learning Technology are sharing a huge range of resources with the wider community. The link below has sections on:

Online Pivot, Courses, Remote conferences, links from partners, playful and creative resource, organisational perspectives and the ‘ALT ‘Know How’ on leading virtual teams