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5 October 2020

When the Rest of the World Joined the Early Adopters – Learning from Focus On: Technology Enhanced Learning



Debra Macfarlane
Quality Enhancement Manager, QAA Scotland

Alison Eales
Quality Enhancement Specialist, QAA Scotland

Amy Eberlin
Quality Enhancement Specialist, QAA Scotland

In this blog, the QAA Scotland Focus On team reflect on the positive changes brought about by the rapid pivot to online delivery and explore the opportunity for applying learning from Focus On: Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) in the next academic year.


Microsoft Teams arrived remotely by some IT wizardry on our screens in January 2020. The Focus On: TEL (FO:TEL) team were not all early adopters of such newly fangled ideas, so the new app was brazenly ignored. Like many of us in the sector, that changed in March 2020 when the world became smaller (about the size of a laptop screen).


Our beautifully designed in-person event was scheduled for 1 April 2020 but, in early March, it became apparent to the FO:TEL team that we would need to re-design our planned event for a digital, rather than physical space. Our April event was set to feature sharing practice sessions delivered by sector colleagues with a healthy smattering of learning technologists. As the full extent of the impact of the pandemic on higher education institutions came to light, we realised that our presenters were the very individuals that institutions were relying on to support the transition to emergency remote teaching. Much like the rest of the sector, we reflected and then we pivoted …


We reached out to colleagues at JISC, including our stellar original keynote, Kellie Mote, as well as key sector colleagues, specifically the indomitable Rosemarie McIlwhan, Assistant Professor of Learning and Teaching Enhancement (Heriot-Watt University). With their help, we designed a new accessible and engaging programme. Moving to an online event in a matter of weeks was a crash course in working collaboratively in an online environment. At first, we imagined that the team would be able to remain working together in the office. In reality, our kitchens, living rooms, anywhere that spare desk space could be found, became our offices.


Moving our event online taught us that the programme did not need bells and whistles – a well organised programme with relevant, timely content and engaging speakers was exactly what was needed at that moment in time. Having the space and the opportunity to catch up with sector colleagues, both new and old, about their practice, their experience of the move to emergency remote learning, and to provide support and kindness to each other was central to the success of the event.


What began as an exercise of humility and knowledge building for our team eventually resulted in the development of the Focus On: TEL Resource Hub, a collection of advice, guidance, signposting, materials to steal – it is truly a one-stop shop of support if you’re self-developing, struggling and/or panicking about what this academic year will hold. These resources have been generously provided by Scottish institutions, friends across the UK and internationally, and sector colleagues from JISC, ALT and sparqs.


Our ultimate message and bit of learning from FO:TEL is that you are not alone in this journey – we’re all here with you and there are colleagues out there who you may not even know yet who’ll step up to offer support. QAA and our institutional and sector agency partners will continue to explore the management of learning and teaching in a digital space as part of our new Enhancement Theme, Resilient Learning Communities. We hope that you will join us. (If you would like to be involved with discussions to shape the next Theme, visit the Enhancement Themes website for more information).


Where are we right now? Well we’re still mainly at the kitchen table. With that in mind we’re running another event, Views from the kitchen table: Sharing practice in supporting students – on 21 October. We know we’re entering an academic year full of questions: What’s the right balance of digital and in-person learning (and how do you know)? What will the student experience look like? How can I build on the skills I learned (perhaps very hastily in an adrenaline-filled rush) back in March? How do I keep myself, and my students, going amidst this uncertainty? How will assessment work this year? What’s going to happen next? Bring your own coffee and join us.


As you face the challenges of 2020-21, we hope you will keep returning to the resources and supports developed as part of Focus On: TEL. If you want to share your practice or resources that you’ve developed, please reach out – we’ll be walking beside you as we journey into the 2020-21 academic year.