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The FLANZ webinar ‘Is the Future of Education Inevitably Going to be Digital First?’, held 6th November 2020, was a conversation about how the world of higher education, in particular, has responded to the Covid-19 pandemic and whether the future looks different as a result.

Duncan O’Hara, FLANZ Vice-President, led contributors, Australian-based Professor Neil Selwyn of Monash University, and New Zealand-based Professor Giselle Byrnes of Massey University, and Dr Simon Paul Atkinson of the Open Polytechnic, through a series of questions.

All contributors agreed that the response of higher education institutions across the globe was nothing short of remarkable. A huge effort had been made, not least by technology-support and academic development units, alongside faculty, to serve students’ needs. There was a note of caution, however, that having moved so much learning online in haste, that management might perceive it as 'job done', a cheaper option or indeed a satisfactory learning experience for the majority of learners. The reality is that while some institutions have seized the opportunity to build-up from solid foundations and provided an enriched digital experience for their learners, others have supplied the bare minimal.

The panel largely agreed that there is no one-size-fits-all to learning. So, any decisions by institutions and policymakers need to be context-specific, putting the learner at the heart of any technology choice. 

A healthy debate was had around the issue of digital equity, ranging from access to devices, the appropriateness of those devices for the nature of the learning, network access and the disparity in digital literacy that has become emphasised in the Remote Emergency Teaching context resulting from Covid-19. The conversation turned to the Principles of the Design Justice Network ( advocating that all too impacted on design decisions need to be enabled to share their voices. This is as true for the technology tools and platforms in use as it is for the curricula that we curate.

The struggle to ensure that the learner remains at the centre of institutional policy-making decisions was evident in the discourse. However, the openness of the dialogue, and the questions and comments shared by participants, show great promise for the Australasian region, with all of its heterogeneity, that positive solutions are at hand.

This webinar was part of the inaugural Australasian Online Distance Learning Week #AODLW2020 run by FLANZ in association with ODLAA and EDEN, it’s Australian and European equivalents.

We need to continue to move away from seeing tertiary education as the imparting knowledge and see it rather as developing the skill of all students to be able to decide which learning pathways best suits their context, prior experience and aspirations. One of the consistent messages I try and instil in others' practice is the importance of the social context in which the student inhabits.

In November 2018 I contributed to an EDEN online webinar talking about 'Innovative Education' as part of the 2018 European Distance Learning Week. Here is my presentation, entitled "Designing Pathways: which way to innovation?"

On April 27th I had the pleasure of sharing a virtual platform with Alan Tait (Open University UK), hosted by Tim Read (UNED, Spain), for a webinar entitled 'How to Engage and Support Students Online'.

This is the EDEN (European Distance Education Network) community's response to the demands put on staff to teach remotely, many for the first time, with very little notice.  The webinar series, with all webinars available on the EDEN Youtube Channel covers a wide range of perspectives.

My contribution (starting at 27'50") was to highlight some of the tools and approaches that are widely available to ensure students and faculty can continue to make learning happen. I focussed on the notion of engaging students and advocated that everyone needs to adopt a learning model or approach that serves to make sense of the chaos. My own approach uses the SOLE model but any model would help structure responses at an individual and institutional level.

Here are the resources:

an Adobe Presenter version of the PowerPoint that I shared (on a separate page)

Screenshot of Adobe Presenter

A PDF version of the presentation with full notes here

A link to the EDEN YouTube recording of the full webinar available on the EDEN channel 218 Individuals attended the ZOOM meeting with 50 colleagues joined via YouTube Livestream.



I believe it is important to design learning from the learners perspective. That means learning that is both relevant, meaningful and motivating but also that is realistic and feasible within an agreed timeframe. This is a very brief explanation for those new to designing courses of how to work out "how much is enough?"

I believe we should calibrate our learning to take account of the 'notional study hours' or NSH (alternatively referred to as 'Notional Student Hours').

The calculation may vary from the country by country. In tertiary institutions in the United Kingdom, New Zealand, South Africa and other jurisdictions, a single academic credit equates to 10 hours of student learning. In the European Credit Transfer Scheme, one credit equates to 25 to 30 hours. My explanations below take the UK/NZ model and assume that a single course, worth 15 credits has an NSH value of 150 hours. A full-time student would be expected to study eight such courses in a year, 120 credits in the first year, 120 in the second and so resulting in 360 credits for a three year degree.

Remember that the NSH is the total students are expected to study to earn their credits, NOT the amount of time you have to be guiding them. Work out what time each week you are expecting students to spend on independent study (without any guidance from you) and what time you are responsible for guiding them on. This last number that is most important to faculty designing courses.

Here is a simplified list of actions that all Faculty might want to enact:

  1. Review the course documentation (check level and benchmark statements from national or regional quality assurance agencies)
  2. Remind yourself of any assumptions made as to prior learning
  3. Remind yourself of the learning outcomes for your course
4. Remind yourself as to the credit weighting and work out for your course NSH 1 Credit = 10 hours NSH

15 Credit= 150 hours NSH

5. Remind yourself of the number of hours expected to be guided, as opposed to independent study. Institutions sometimes have different interpretations of national guidance. Usually, they see a decline in the number of guided hours as you go up the level. First-year undergraduates receiving more guided hours (65%) than masters students for example (33%)
6. Remind yourself of the assessment hours allocated to your course. It is not uncommon to deduct a number of hours for overall assessment tasks, these are usually included in the independent study hours. So say we deduct 30 hours off the 150 hours for this 15 credit course.
7. Then do a calculation of the number of weeks over which your course is expected to run and divide the NSH of the course by the number of weeks. This will give you the number of notional study hours (NSH) for your course per week We would then take the remaining 120 hours, work out what percentage of that was appropriate for guided learning hours (@ first year let's say 120 x 0.65 = 78)

Divided by the number of weeks in a  course (say 12) that would mean in this example we would be expected to provide learners with (78/12) 6.5 hours of guided learning.

You need to work through an example based on guidance from your own quality assurance colleagues to ensure you stay in tune with regional or national guidelines.

What is essential is that you do not see the guided learning hours as time spent directly with students. It includes anything you direct a student to watch, read or listen to. Any activities you instruct them to undertake as well as any online resources you choose to provide.

It is very often the case that we are 'over-teaching' in our on-line courses. Being aware of the NSH for your course is a good place to start.

In this short video (5'52"), Simon touches on three basic principles of programming assessments. The first is that it should be programme wide, the second that assessing outcomes not content provides future flexibility, and the third that summative (or credit-bearing) assessments do not have to be final or terminal assessments. Assessment is one of the most difficult areas for faculty to become comfortable with. Most will have experienced badly designed assessment themselves and their expectations of their academic managers, programme leaders and their students are often low. This is a shame because well-designed assessment can be a pleasure for both students and faculty.

These resources from 2013-2017 are being shared to support colleagues new to teaching online in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.


This short lecture (10'22") presents the fundamentals of assessment for learning. Often referred to as formative assessment, I prefer to use the terms 'assessment for learning' and 'assessment of learning' instead of formative and summative. This is because 'summative assessment' is so often conflated with the notion of 'terminal assessment' that only happens at the end of a course of learning. In truth, assessment is a powerful motivator for learning if structured well. In this lecture, I outline the purposes, contexts and strategies that all educators should be reflecting on as they design their courses.

These resources from 2013-2017 are being shared to support colleagues new to teaching online in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This brief video (2'07") is a reminder of the structural support that intense learning outcomes provide to the course design process. Having an understanding of the need to align course/module outcomes with programme outcomes, and to differentiate these reassessed outcomes from non-assessed topic/weekly level objectives is important. It is important because well-aligned learning outcomes provides scaffolding to all students' learning.

These resources from 2013-2017 are being shared to support colleagues new to teaching online in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Consultancy for International Higher Education from Simon Paul Atkinson

A brief explanation (2'22") of the central importance of designing well-structured intended learning outcomes for courses. Five domains of learning, details of which are available here: are all important in a balanced course. Structuring outcomes with an active verb, subject and context are also shared.

These resources from 2013-2017 are being shared to support colleagues new to teaching online in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Consultancy for International Higher Education from Simon Paul Atkinson

Originally Posted to LinkedIn on Thursday 2nd April.

SOLE Model - changing nature of spaces


Change is often difficult. Actors who were adored as Vaudeville artists, glamorous or heroic, sounded unconsciously like clowns on the radio or looked clumsy and inarticulate on television. Many fell by the wayside, drifting into obscurity.

Does the current global shift into supporting learners online mean the end of some academic careers? Probably. Some will decide for themselves that they do not want to perform on this new stage, they will miss the smell of musty stage curtains and the face paint, the fever of anticipation, of adulation. There are many who will miss the lack of personal presence of their students enough to think it's a profession they no longer feel a part of. We, as leaders in tertiary education, whether as team leaders, Heads of Departments, Deans, Pro-Vice Chancellors, Proctors and others, need to understand this.

It is not just about 'shifting your content online', move your weekly lecture into a recorded version of the same or set yourself up with webinar software and substitute your seminar. The change that is being asked of many of our academic colleagues is profound. Most can transition into online delivery, and some will excel at it. Others will not. Both will need support. I want to suggest I may have a tool to help leaders talk through some of the challenges of changing roles with faculty.

A learning model: visualisation

Some years ago, 2011 to be precise, I produced a poster for a conference that mapped roles against a working learning model I had developed over the previous five years. The Student-Owned Learning Engagement model, SOLE for short (with apologies to Professor Sugata Mitra), is designed for course designers to map out their courses to ensure the curriculum is balanced, well-constructed and aligned. It also represents, I believe, an accurate picture of all of the facets of learning that a student should experience for that rounded education we purport to offer. Written on the assumption that courses reflect well-crafted intended learning outcomes across multiple domains of learning, the SOLE Model comes with an open Excel toolkit to support that process. The poster was a visual mapping of the SOLE Model against online and face-to-face spaces (and associated technologies), and the different student support roles that were required.

The details of the SOLE Model are available elsewhere, so I do not think it necessary to unpack it here. Suffice it to say, there are none elements that students need to have addressed in any course design, to varying degrees depending on discipline and level, but all are required. These are illustrated here;

SOLE Model - simple representation of the nine elements

Different spaces, different solutions

Traditional campus-based teaching has undergone a quiet revolution in recent years. Libraries have been at the forefront of developing social spaces, community forums, shared-working clusters, study pods and any manner of imaginative configurations. These designs have been a response to the belief that students want, and expect, to learn socially. Alongside this, there has been a steady number of lecture theatre refits that see u-shaped, parliamentary style, seating configurations rather than straight theatre styles. Seminars rooms are more likely to have reconfigurable desks, chairs on wheels, and writable walls. This has been in the belief that students learn better in cooperation with others rather than being 'lectured at'. My visualisation against the SOLE Model was about identifying the different types of spaces that support different forms of learning. It was designed to stimulate conversation at my institution about a ‘learning spaces’ strategy. Illustrated below, you can see that I used the SOLE Model to structure this classification of spaces. It is in no way presented as a 'complete' list of anything. It is merely a starting point.

SOLE Model - changing nature of spaces

Different roles

What is significant is that in thinking about the changing nature of learning spaces in the face-to-face world and the online environment, seen through the prism of the SOLE Model, it also became apparent that the same thing could be done with respect to those that support learners. Again, the SOLE Model was used to articulate a range of 'traditional' academic roles in their face-to-face context, mapped against each element of the Model, and this was then extended to the online world.

Visualisation of the SOLE model mapped to faculty roles


I would hope that some fairly apparent conclusions can be drawn from this exercise. The first is that in many institutions, the academic role is incredibly diverse. An individual academic may be course material author, lecturer, seminar lead, supervisor, pastoral carer, coach, marker and personal tutor. In other institutions some of these roles are subdivided and delegated, academics concern themselves primarily to inform-connect-engage, leaving others to assess-feedback. Yet others have groups of staff who support students to collaborate-contextualise-personalise and reflect.

The second thing that becomes evident is that the transition from any face-to-face role into its online substitute (and I carefully avoid the word ‘equivalent’ here) requires a whole range of particular skills to be developed. Going from producing your own in-class PowerPoints with no real concern about the ownership of images grabbed from Google to being a digital curator is for most a steep learning curve. There is no direct equivalency between running a face-to-face seminar from moderating a discussion forum, or between running an in-class role-play scenario and attempting to do the same online over the course of a week.

Yes, they are both teaching. There are still learners, and there is an established curriculum. But there is no smell of the musty curtains or the face paint. There is no bustling of the audience or the adrenalin rush when the lights go up. We, as academic developers, are not just helping people to ‘get their courses online’, we are helping them to redefine what it means to be a contemporary, agile, flexible and multifaceted academic.

If I see another VC or Pro-VC demand that their faculty, ‘just adjust’ and ‘get their courses online’, heckling from above, I am likely, Lord help me, lose it and storm the Royal Box.

You are not alone! If you are faced with putting an existing course online for the first time, see it as an opportunity to refine it, invigorate it, enhance the experience offered to your students. If it's a new online course there is all the more reason to make sure it's as good as it can be. This short video (5'30") suggests two partnerships you may want to factor into your design and development process, peers and students. Your peers will doubtless have ideas that can supplement yours, so now is not the time to 'practice the dark arts behind closed doors'. On the contrary, your online courses are likely to be more open for critique than most other forms of teaching and learner support. Embrace it. The second partnership worth forging is that with your existing or previous students (alumni). Both cohorts will be able to ensure your teaching materials, course structure and sequence, are pitched at the right level and will tell you if they are stimulating and meaningful.

#highered #learningdesign #id These resources from 2013-2017 are being shared to support colleagues new to teaching online in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Consultancy for International Higher Education from Simon Paul Atkinson

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