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Digital Education team blog


Ideas and reflections from UCL's Digital Education team


Obtain professional recognition for effective technology use in education

By Karen Shackleford-Cesare, on 1 December 2022

By joining the 2023 Bloomsbury Learning Exchange (BLE) Cohort and working towards CMALT accreditation. You may be a tutor, a PGTA, an ELO, a TA, a Librarian, a Learning Technologist, etc. Anyone in fact, who is a staff member at one of the institutions affiliated to the BLE (namely, Birkbeck, LSHTM, RVC, SOAS, UCL, City, University of London and UoL) and has been using technologies effectively to teach or support teaching and learning. Indeed, since the pandemic hit many more staff at UCL have been doing just that.

What is CMALT?

CMALT stands for Certified Membership of the Association for Learning Technology and the CMALT Accreditation Framework provides pathways to peer-assessed accreditation for a cross-section of learning technology focused professionals, educators and administrators in the UK and internationally.

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. There are three different pathways to choose from to best match your experience.

In the past five years, over 100 staff members from across the BLE partners have set off on their CMALT voyage – with many achieving their CMALT accreditation. Previous cohorts have comprised academics, course administrators, librarians, learning technologists, careers advisers and other professional support staff who all have a strong interest in technology to support learning.

Find out more about it

There will be two Introductory webinars on:

  1. Thursday 5th January 2-3pm 
  2. Thursday 19th January 1-2pm

Please complete this booking form to receive a link to join your preferred session or to watch a recording of it if you’re unable to attend either.

Digital storytelling and inclusivity – my reaction to #ALTC

By Matt Jenner, on 11 September 2015

ALTC LogoALTC (Association for Learning Technology Conference) is a valuable and strange conference – an event for anyone active in learning technology to come together and share experiences, views and personalities. With 500 people attending this year, ‘there’s always so much to see’ is a statement from everybody. And yet within this wide selection, we all curate a path through and try to get as much as we can.

My experience is likely similar to many others; I go with my profession in hand and choose topics based on my background and interests. I try to see sessions, and meet people, that align to these. I was happily surprised, however, to note that there was not much on distance learning, even less on ‘lifelong and continuing’ education and so therefore I was exploring outside my box – and seeing how I could fit it in.

Digital storytelling

Digital storytelling provides an approach and platform for people to share an experience to a group, via a digital medium. Storytelling predates writing and remains on many cave walls from millennia-past, sharing early experiences for others to see and learn about. Stories are integral to the development of civilization; creating and telling stories can be a highly authentic, personal and social experience, so one would hope they have value place in education. Except that the digitization of stories seems to remain a lesser-hero in higher education at the moment, although it is happening in some sectors – but I hope it’ll continue to grow in popularity. The value seems immense, even if the term ‘story’ is perhaps childish or too informal.

Sarah Copeland shared with the ALTC group about what digital storytelling (DST) and community digital storytelling (CDST) is and how she’s using it at Leeds Beckett University and in community groups in rural Yorkshire. Dr. Copeland shared the five principles of DST/CDST and it seemed that even one of these phases can be an important and enriching experience for a learner:

  1. Preparation – collate and structure what’ll be in the story
  2. Storytelling – bring everything together and shape it into a story
  3. Story digitisation – digitise the story and build it in a platform or capture with a device
  4. Digital story sense-making – reflection on the story, self-evaluate and review
  5. Digital story sharing (tricky if containing highly personal info) – share with others, on platforms or in groups.

In each of these phases a learner must go through a series of actions, reflections and sometimes quite social experiences that pave a strong way forward for a rich learning experience. It was important to highlight that digital storytelling is not a technology-based pedagogy, although it relies on the digital for some of the phases, the core activity could is not dominated by a certain tool. Digital storytelling in itself is an artifact and a transformative process – the idea is to couple narrative with a digital platform/environment. Community Digital Story Telling (CDST) adds an extra layer as it is also a social element; asking people to share their context, using a digital platform to provide a focus and helping to remove awkwardness for people to share their stories/views.

While Dr. Copeland suggests CDST/DST has to be small scale and to retain the authentic capturing of people I felt perhaps it could be countered against the ongoing effort to scale up education. Within increasingly large cohorts an institution can slip into neglect for personalisation for each individual. DST could help to provide an approach, or platform, to return the locus of learning upon the person and perhaps this goes some way to leveling an expansive playing field.


Laura Czerniewicz really highlighted how ALTC can have an impact by sharing her views on inequality as higher education goes online. While the world struggles to balance societal equality (and seemingly failing to achieve a positive trend), higher education remains firmly within this challenging balance. Everyone deserves to be educated and when they do, their lives, and peoples around them, tend to always improve. Society should make education increasingly available, to more people, as time goes on.

While countries like the USA and many in Europe are investing increasing amounts in the EduTech boom it comes with a western-oriented emphasis on technology in society. Luckily, different cultures do not all work the same but this diversity is at risk of becoming lost, or overshadowed within technology. It seemed to me that while Silicon Valley is producing a lot of great innovation, that localization and local developments in other countries remain paramount as to harness the transformative power of the information, and digital age.

Prof. Czerniewicz highlighted that universities and academics in Africa do not have the resources to work on ‘good things’ (like Moocs) they must focus on solving real problems. I suspect that projects such as Wikipedia Zero (free mobile access to Wikipedia on certain mobile networks and countries) sets a better direction than any MOOC platform has so far. Moocs use high-bandwidth media and inflated social interactions, well bandwidth is expensive and slower in many other countries, so only the privileged few can access them.

Map of 3G & 2G coverage of Africa - speeds can reach approx. 1.5Mbps

Map of 3G & 2G coverage of Africa – speeds can reach approx. 1.5Mbps

Map of 4G coverage of Africa - speeds can reach approx. 10Mbps - much faster, but no one's has it!

Map of 4G coverage of Africa – speeds can reach approx. 10Mbps – much faster, but no one’s has it!

Map of 3G and 4G across Europe - speeds can reach 10Mbps - 20Mbps

Map of 3G and 4G across Europe – speeds can reach 10Mbps – 20Mbps

(all maps taken 11 Sept 2015 from Opensignal.com)

The number of number of mobile subscriptions is rapid and far more numerous than that of broadband. Mobile connectivity is the future of globalised internet access. Yet in developing countries the State of Connectivity 2014 Report notes that only 20% of the population can afford a 500MB monthly data plan for their mobile device; 90% can afford 20MB monthly; which doesn’t equate to any other bulk download of media other than text. So that’s not fair and it must be resolved, but are we reliant on the mobile networks to resolve this inequality? Sure we could give people more money, but I know when I am roaming I switch off data due to the cost; the problem is systemic; you’re offline. My view is if we fix this technology problem, we might solve a societal issue. What power!

Digital storytelling and inclusivity

Linking data to stories – I can’t shake the idea that networking everyone and sharing stories would be a good thing. For too long digital networks have been centralised rather than personalised. Digital stories could be highly inclusive; by design their output is an opportunity for an individual to express and share. Mobile devices are an extension of our need, and desire, to be social. Let’s combine them.

Imagine, as a closing thought, we introduced cheap data and storytelling into the global migrant crisis. Each person sharing their story, accessing the information they need, reporting back home and learning the new language so they can make home in new lands. In addition, as they travel, that they curate their story, their reason for leaving, the ongoing change, struggles and hopes for the future. It might not seem educational – perhaps it’s more basic & functional – but for everyone else it could be a chance to learn from perspectives of people who could soon become their neighbour.

Further info / reading

Sarah Copeland, DST and CDST – ALTC talk 

Laura Czerniewicz, Inequality as higher education goes online (slides from ALTC keynote – video of ATLC keynote)

Benefits of MOOCS? More science needed!

By Matt Jenner, on 11 August 2014

Nearly six months ago I blogged about the benefits of MOOCs. I broadly categorised them into six main themes, each with six sub-themes. I’ve yet to see any contrasting work in this area so I’ll be flagrantly rude enough to say this is the most comprehensive list in the existence of all human knowledge. If that’s not enough to provoke a response, don’t worry, I’ve got more wild claims to come.


What? The Association of Learning Technology, Massive Open Online Course, Special Interest Group, met at UCL for their second session in June 20114, around 80-100 people turned up to discuss the latest and most important areas in the field of ‘MOOCs’. During this day many talkers relieved me from concerns my list of 36 was going to be torn apart. Firstly, the talks mentioned some key areas that I felt were already ‘covered’ in the themes, the most cited were:

  • engagement;
  • enriched resources (like rich media);
  • public engagement / widening participation;
  • OER / open educational resources.

Secondly, I was foolish enough to let people physically tear my list apart – it was printed, put up on boards and with pens dangled from strings a welcome invitation was left to add/edit/destroy whatever was missing/incorrect/hideous. We had some of the most provocative and innovative thinkers in this space in the world. So, without making a second grandiose claim, I felt like it was ratified, a bit. Or they were suitably distracted with good networking and yummy sandwiches, as I set this part as a lunchtime task!

Benefits of MOOCs? Add yours!

And then we did some science.

I was graced with the last session of the day, which means everyone is awake, the technology is working and nothing can fail. *sigh*.

  1. The technology let me down (blame the user; I made multiple mistakes)
  2. We had halved; with a head-count down to 41 people.

The original data (six themes, 36 sub-themes) was derived from researching 27 papers on the topic of MOOCs from the experiences of people who’s been active in this area. References for benefits of MOOCS – some academic nuggests and references.

The design of my session was simple, in theory:

  1. Present each theme
  2. Ask audience for some demographic data
  3. Audience votes for a single ‘top runner’ sub-theme per theme
  4. Six sub-themes, one for each theme, end up as the collective ‘best benefits of running MOOCs’
  5. Profit (somehow).

This didn’t go quite to plan, and if you feel like some light relief, here’s a somewhat comedic approach to science, where the presenter (hi!) makes a fool of himself for 25 minutes while trying to interact with the audience.

But the results are amazing. In spit of the pain; here’s some data to chew on:

Benefits of MOOCs?


Reputation – Outreach takes the lead as Encouraging engagement and Marketing gains seem like close runners. No-one does this for Alumni or Media coverage?


Innovation – Creating new capabilities knocks the socks off the others. But we had the most technological failure on this part. Needs more science.


Delivery – Widening participation and going Beyond traditional markets are clearly the front runners here, but the others are not too far behind. Translation, however, is not a benefit of MOOCS? That might change.

Service improvement

Service improvement – Pedagogical experimentation and Encouraging open education lead the way here, but perhaps in the future this might change? Or our term of ‘Service Improvement’ is too Blue Chip for you all! (Sorry)

Student outcomes

Student outcomes – hurrah, an even mix. This says a lot about the initial benefits of MOOCs, or at least we’re hoping that students are gaining something.


Others – anything we missed on the boards was included here, so the numbers are higher, but they can be incorporated along the way.

Conclusion (so far)

It would seem, at this stage, that the top six benefits of running a MOOC are:

  • Gain further outreach into demographics, cultures or locations. 
  • Creating new capabilities for teaching and learning.
  • Widen participation with a larger cohort than traditionally reached
  • Improve services, of offerings, via the opportunities of pedagogical experimentation 
  • Raise digital literacy up the agenda, or pave some way to making some kind of improvement(?)
  • For the offering of taster courses, perhaps with a view to sampling university life or what it means to study at a particular institution.

But this isn’t enough – we need to get more people answering, increase the number of contributions and ascertain what are the true benefits of MOOCs.

Take part – become a statistic!

It’s not every day you get to be a statistically relevant being, make your mark and contribute to our poll. This will increase out small data set and ensure we’re working with the best data possible.

Leaving note:

I have original paper with many citations etc which started all this work – I’ll publish it separately.

Data junkies:

Association of Learning Technology Conference (ALT-C) Day 1

By Jessica Gramp, on 11 September 2012

In the first plenary session for the ALT-C conference this year, Eric Mazur from Harvard University spoke about how student’s brain activity slows during lectures. The highlighted area to the immediate left of the circled lecture periods in the graph below shows that student’s brains are more active during sleep than during traditional lectures. Eric argues that analysing classroom data is essential to improving teaching.

Eric Mazur presenting a graph showing the brain activity of students during lectures (circled)

20120911_101657So how do students actually learn?

Information transfer is the easy part. The hard part where students need to understand the concepts is often being left to students to do on their own. Eric Mazur realised that most of his own “ah-hah” moments of understanding came outside of the classroom. He now uses voting handsets to involve students in his lectures. After voting he asks students to find someone who disagrees with their answer and then try to convince their neighbour  why their own answer is correct. His collaborative approach to teaching ensures students stay engaged during lectures.

Women in particular thrive in a collaborative environment as opposed to a competitive one, so they perform better when he involves them in his lectures.  He also encourages students to work together to complete their homework.

Lecture demonstrations are not as effective as students doing the activity themselves because students may make incorrect assumptions about what the demonstrator has done to achieve the results. Asking students to predict the outcome of the demonstration, record their observation of the demo and then discuss whether they correctly predicted the outcome of the demonstration with their peers leads to a better understanding of the core concepts.

The reason for this is that “the brain stores models not facts.” You need to give students time to re-adjust their models in the lecture. Otherwise students are more likely to continue to believe in their incorrect models. This effect is known in psychology as cognitive dissonance. Predicting, explaining and discussing the concepts makes a significant difference in the ability for students to absorb the correct models. The graph below shows a significant improvement in understanding by those students who had predicted the demonstration results and an even higher improvement by those who also discussed their predications after the demonstration.

Eric Mazur showing the improvement in results as students are asked to predict and discuss the results of a demonstration

2012-09-11 10.57.48

It’s difficult to teach students who have the wrong model, because teachers who understand the correct model find it difficult to understand where these students are coming from. Asking students to show their working out helps teachers to understand their misconceptions. Instead of just marking incorrect answers as wrong and leaving it at that, Eric Mazur argues that teachers should concentrate on understanding the thinking behind the incorrect answers. That way they can help students to re-adjust their thinking to incorporate the correct models.

Read more: Classroom Demonstrations: Learning Tools or Entertainment?

Eric Mazur also asks students to tell him what they find difficult or confusing from their readings before the lecture. He asked students to provide him with at least 2 concepts they found confusing and also some feedback on why they found the items confusing. If they found nothing difficult they had to provide him with two examples of what they found interesting and why. He then adapts his lecture to address the areas students found most difficult to comprehend.  This method is known as just in time teaching. You can find out more about this method in the book Just in time teaching: blending active learning with web technology (Novak et al., Prentice Hall, 1999).

Eric Mazur’s research shows that confused students are around twice as likely to understand a concept than those who claim they understand it2012-09-11 11.19.24

In Eric’s study, those students who mentioned they were confused by a concept were roughly twice as likely to demonstrate understanding than those who said they understood it, so “confusion doesn’t correlate with misunderstanding.”  He concluded that those students who claim to understand are likely to have passively read the material instead of properly comprehending it. It’s important to ask students to reflect on what they have read. One way to do this is to ask students to write their own analogy for difficult concepts. Eric Mazur says that “confusion is an essential part of the learning process…and should be elicited.”

Read more: Understanding Confusion

More information about Eric Mazur’s research is available from his website: http://mazur.harvard.edu