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Digital education

ALT Winter Conference 2020, blog post 3

15 February 2021

Updates from the ALT Online Winter Conference 2020

Given that the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) Online Winter Conference took place at the end of 2020, it was not surprising that a number of the conference sessions were directly related to the pivot to online learning as a result of the pandemic.

In this final update from the conference, we look at some of the sessions that reflected on the significant developments that took place across the sector during 2020, and how institutions are moving beyond emergency provision to developing their approach to meet the demands of our new normal where there is far more emphasis on digital learning and assessment.

All the conference session recordings are now available online:

Digital Education – beyond emergency

Moving beyond emergency provision at University of Sydney

The presentation by the University of Sydney Business School reiterated the scale and the global nature of the challenges faced by universities in terms of the pivot to online learning during 2020. At Sydney, they viewed the changes over the past year not just about managing the situation and the initial emergency response, but an opportunity to re-imagine the learning experiences for a post-crisis world.

A survey of their staff highlighted that whilst they were happy to use Zoom and the VLE, it was more challenging to migrate to using new techniques and learning technology tools better suited for a digital environment rather than attempting to replicate existing behaviours; and their survey of students highlighted how their own environments weren’t necessarily suitable or safe spaces for learning, and how a number of students felt isolated during the initial period. The School demonstrated how these issues are being addressed through a curriculum enhancement project, using a co-design approach to adapt modules to the new environment and providing short-term additional expertise and focus.

As video content becomes more central to learning delivery, Sydney have created a DIY studio/recording booth ( to help academics create high-quality content in a quiet, controlled environment. The objective is to give staff an alternative to recording at home and with standard desktop equipment, providing additional tools like tablets and teleprompters, while recognising that high-end documentary style videos are usually not needed for good teaching and learning. In Cardiff, we are doing something similar and are currently developing three recording booths across both campuses – one in Queen’s Building, one in Julian Hodge and one in Neuadd Meirionnydd. These spaces are funded by our successful bid to the HEFCW Higher Education Investment and Recovery Fund and which we hope will be available for use by staff in the coming months. More details will be included in future CESI newsletters.

Moving beyond emergency provision at the University of Edinburgh

At the University of Edinburgh, they viewed the changes required during 2020 in terms of people, practice and policy – and migrating their provision to hybrid learning, leveraging on their experience at the Edinburgh of developing fully online provision. They used their existing ‘Learn Foundations’ project as the vehicle to deliver the pivot to hybrid learning. This is a 3-year internal project to establish a consistent template within their VLE and migrating courses at scale.

A third year Computer Science student, one of 47 student interns employed by Edinburgh during June-September 2020, outlined how he was involved in the project to migrate courses in collaboration with academic staff; course mapping; reviewing accessibility; and captioning and subtitling videos. In addition to providing additional capacity for the project, the students were also able to add their specific experience of using the VLE from a student’s perspective, and providing valuable insights into what works, and what doesn’t, across a wide range of different subject areas. At Cardiff, during summer 2021, CESI is piloting a digital education student placements scheme. This scheme will enable our students to undertake a paid work placement alongside academic and professional services staff to deliver an innovative digital education project. This is an excellent opportunity for staff and students to work in partnership to deliver a project at the end of a most exceptional year in higher education. Look out for further updates in future blogs.

“Old wine in new bottles” – academics’ pedagogical beliefs and the pivot online

The Dublin City University (DCU) team highlighted how they responded to the pandemic, moving from emergency to planned delivery; surveying students and staff; developing their hybrid learning principles; investing in IT infrastructure; and establishing the new unit to support the academic staff in the pivot online. In July 2020, a new Digital Learning Design Unit was established at DCU, providing a step-change in terms of the resources required to enable this work.

The Unit provides learning design support to academics, modules and programmes – initially provided as 2-day sprints using the ABC approach to learning design, which is also the approach used at Cardiff. The approach at DCU has now evolved into a more tailored approach across the university with the Unit now providing support with 1-1 design consultations; module redesign; and new module design and development.


It was clear from the conference sessions that the majority of universities faced similar challenges in terms of the initial emergency response. There is also clearly an impetus to maximise on this opportunity to look at how the digital education model can be further improved, including the effective use of learning technologies that maximises the opportunities and flexibility provided by online learning and assessment, rather than attempting to replicate existing approaches and processes. At Cardiff, this is being enabled through the Digital Learning Framework, which has been co-created with Schools to ensure that all modules provide a consistent, high-quality learning experience for all our students.

Written by Owain Huw, Learning Technology Manager