#ALTNWESIG 2016: Tuesday 7th June at University of Cumbria

#ALTNWESIG 2016 - University of Cumbria Tuesday 7th June, 2016 from Alex Spiers

Chris and I stormed up the M6 to Lancaster to visit the University of Cumbria, which has taken over old the St Martins college campus. This meeting was attended by 22 professionals from across the region and beyond! These included:

Edge Hill University
Keele University
Liverpool John Moores University
Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine
Manchester Metropolitan University
University of Cumbria
University of Lancaster
University of Liverpool
University of Manchester

A representative from Smart Technologies was also present.

BYOD Policy

Meg Juss kicked off the meeting with a question about BYOD (Bring Your Own Devices) policies.  EHU are looking at developing a policy that address some of the recent changes with DSA, by providing guidance on productivity apps. Very few attendees indicated that their institutions had an explicit Mobile policy: Keele only. However, Lancaster University have implemented a Digital University strategy where considerations for mobile learning, support and access are implicit. The conversation then moved through some very familiar territory:

1.  Wifi and network reliability – LJMU and others have invested heavily. Issues early on, no longer the case. Unreliability impacts on staff engagement.
2.  Staff support and engagement – have we as learning technologists done enough to ensure staff are ready to take the opportunity
3.  BYOD vs Institutional Owned – LJMU
4.  Institutional apps – their purpose and how they are used (or not!) at our institutions. We focused on Ombiel and Blackboard

TEF White Paper

Professor Chris Jones (LJMU) gave an impassioned presentation on possible implication of the TEF white paper. Framed around the continued marketisation of Higher Education, he highlighted difficulties (and irony!) in the proposed structure of the processes. Specifically students are not represented in the Office for students (see diagram in Slideshare). He also raised concerns about the limitations of the data used in the metrics, suggesting that, similar to the early years of the RAE, it will take some years to for institutions to be fully prepared to respond to the demands of this significant change. Against a backdrop of Brexit and quickly moving politics, one thing is for certain is that the TEF affects everyone in all departments in Higher Education.  It is important that we keep our eyes on how the policy evolves.


After a lavish lunch, Sarah Ruston (University of Cumbria) gave us an excellent tour of the Pebblepad interface and shared the different ways it has been embedded at the institution.  Practice at the university is well established, as they have been using it since 2005. The flexibility of the software is in evidence as we hear about the variety of different ways staff and students use it.  Hosting content, supporting UKPSF, staff PDR, workbooks for placements, weekly reflections, as well as the more traditional ePortfolio uses.  As such, they are taking a long hard look at the new version (V5) which has just been released, but have no plans to move to it yet. The latest version is a move away from Flash and has a more user friendly interface and supporting app (PebblePocket). The discussion moved on from the upgrade to V5 and onto the range of eportfolio systems in use across the region: Blackboard, BrightSpace, Weebly, Mahara and My Showcase Me.


We ended the day with, what has become, a standing item at our meeting - a discussion about Turnitin. The tool has come in for some criticism over the past few years due to poor communications, technical issues with building blocks and inconsistent service at peak assessment times in the UK. This has led some to begin reviewing other tools on the market such as Blackboard’s Safe Assign and Urkund. Many in the group were keen to hear about these alternative tools and it was suggested by the group that we approach Urkund and see if they are available for or the following meeting.

There will be an informal meeting in Warwick at this year’s ALT conference in September. If you are attending please do drop in and say hello. After that we will have our final meeting of the year in October at the University of Chester.