It’s as simple as a boing!

Dr Julie Thomson reveals how even “Retro Technology” can encourage student interaction!

I love technology and I have somehow managed to get the nickname Technology Thomson, but I am keen to live up to this name!

I enjoy using technology to enhance my teaching and to make it more interactive for my students but there is always the risk that it might not go so smoothly on the day and in some cases it can be time consuming to set up.

The potential for technology to support educational experiences has been well documented. However, now, coming up to the end of my second year of teaching, although using apps such as Socrative and Adobe Voice to great effect, I really feel that I have only just scraped the surface on the technologies available to us as facilitators of student learning.  There is so much more out there and we need to learn from each others practice – by presenting at events such as the University’s annual ‘Celebration of Learning and Teaching’.

Meanwhile, I am just coming to the end of my postgraduate certificate in Learning and Teaching and I have learned a great deal about student motivation and the needs of individual learners. Sabine McKinnon, GCULead, delivered a very enlightening workshop during the course, on the impact of national cultures. This really got me thinking about how I could engage the international students in my modules, students who rarely spoke to me, despite my encouragement. Sabine commented that “Just because they don’t speak does not mean that they are not thinking”. Cultural differences can determine how the student addresses the lecturer. When we consider a student as not responding in class, we often jump to the conclusion that there is a lack of engagement or low self-confidence, however, could it instead be due to them showing respect for you, the lecturer, who is a specialist in the subject and thus they feel uncomfortable at responding?  Nevertheless they must learn to respond but it takes time to get used to our culture and ways of doing things.

It got me thinking, could I use technology to support the needs of these students?  However, I tried something far simpler than that.  I had purchased a set of answer buzzers, all with different sounding tones…which we tested out at our staff Christmas party!



I used some existing module material and created a quiz based on the last seminar of the course.  I put the students into groups and encouraged them to be competitive, giving them a score for each correct answer.  A rapid fire of questions later and one student, who had not spoken to me all trimester, pressed the buzzer and answered the question. Eureka!  So really, with all the technologies out there…it really can be as simple as a boing!

Dr Julie Thomson

Dr Julie Thomson

Julie originally started out her career in science and worked in industry for a number of years before crossing disciplines to the business world. She was a knowledge transfer officer in another Higher Education Institution where she also gained her PhD in the field of Open Innovation before joining GCU in 2013 as a lecturer in Business Management.

Last year she took on Programme Leadership of the BA Management, Technology Enterprise Programme and module leadership of Operations and Service Management. She has a keen interest in enhancing the student learning experience using technology.


One Little Thing

Siobhan White has the blended learning bug and explains how she has developed her teaching by trying one little thing…

So; when comes that point that you try something different?

For me, was it a new role, such as mine with Departmental LTQ Lead, or the realisation that this year I have been at GCU 20 years!! Whatever, over the past year I have tried “one little thing…”.   And soon one little thing has become a few little things!

I am not the most confident or able IT individual therefore have often shied away from technology, but learning and teaching is not all focussed on this area. Doing one little thing differently in any aspect of your teaching makes all the difference.

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Transition and Community of Practice (CoP)

Robert Kielty talks about student transition and the importance of community, identity and practice.

Two things I learned very early as a student teacher at the Scottish School of Physical Education was the importance of being connected and earning the respect of your peers and staff. Thankfully 25 years later – these factors are still highly relevant in education and continue to frame my approach to teaching and learning in the area of transition.

To refresh, part of this university’s mission is to develop effective institutional responses to support students make the transition into, through and out of GCU with a specific focus on entrepreneurial and employability transition skills.

Student transition is always a major factor in the recruitment and retention of programmes within Higher Education and thus a strong transitional portfolio for the BA (HONS) International Sports Management is one of my main objectives as Programme Leader for this new degree. As a relatively small programme, it is critical that we hold onto our cohort and develop their employability skills in excess of other rivals. There is no time like the present and I started this by creating, contacting and organising a Community of Practice (CoP) in applied sporting settings where I have a network and where the work by Lave and Wenger (1991; 1993; 2003) provides a strong theoretical underpinning, particularly the importance of factors such as domain, community ,identity and practice.

These settings have been embedded into the Year 1 Sports Development assessment which formally requires students to present both a development plan and concept rationale for their project. The in-situ (practice) element exposes students to employability skills in every project (e.g. leading, coaching, instructing, and planning, delegating, evaluating, networking)

The community’s portfolio currently includes an international teaching exchange scheduled for 2016, a school festival, college students connecting into module seminars and a community sport internship.

Students as coaching mentors

Students as coaching mentors

A CoP organises around some particular area of knowledge and activity that give members a sense of joint enterprise and identity. For a CoP to function it needs to generate and appropriate a shared repertoire of ideas, commitments and memories (Wenger 2003). It also needs to develop various resources such as tools, documents, routines, vocabulary and symbols that in some way carry the accumulated knowledge of the community. In other words, it involves practice – ways of doing and approaching things that are shared to some significant extent among members.

RK Blog post 1

The transitional value of this first community of practice is already evident:-

  • Two students are now employed as hockey coaches at Jordanhill School. Another is employed as their secondary school football coach
  • I have been appointed onto the board at Royston Youth Action as they go towards community sports hub status
  • College students volunteering as sports mentors with forthcoming Caledonian Club S5 & S6 Sport & Events Project
  • 2 student intern positions with Royston Youth Action
Student coaching secondary school football

Student coaching school football

One of the key characteristics is that projects belong to the International Sports Management programme – WE have created or developed them from inception – this means that OUR students are empowered into volunteering and teaching in communities that WE created – this provides rich transitional experiences which correlate to employment opportunities.

It remains a work in progress but a reunion in the summer of 2014 attended by many of our successful and happy Sport Alumni was evidence of the power of this teaching and learning approach.

Robert Kielty

Robert is a qualified teacher and UEFA coach who has helped 8 different European professional clubs achieve success. He is head of football science at the Fife Elite Football Academy and acts as a player mentor on the SPFA/ FIFPRO education programme. His applied work in Football has included the successful transition into professional careers of more than 100 young players. Before entering academia, Robert was managing director of a company that introduced specialised paediatric sports programmes into UK Leisure trusts.

Now Programme Leader of the BA (HONS) International Sports Management, his research interests include elite sports performance and models of sports internship development.

PowerPoint. Can’t live with it…

Dr Patrick Ring presents some thoughts about the use of PowerPoint in lectures…

It’s the staple of many lectures, my own included. But what is the point? Really.

Am I walking through a pre-prepared route-map, treading from one bullet point to the next, squeezing the life out of a class that hopes fervently the next slide might be more interesting than the last one? Or are the students hanging on my every slide, treating it as the last (and for a few less industrious students, only) word on the matter? The latter is quite a thought if, for whatever reason, I had to hastily ‘bash out’ a presentation the night before for my 9am lecture.

I should say at this point, my purpose is not to share my personal tribulations in the lecture room – that might require a much larger discussion! But considering my use of PowerPoint raises for me the nature and purpose of my lecture. Is it a performance? An experience? Are the students meant to leave with a sense of enquiry, or a set of notes? Is it an interactive exchange, a call to investigate, a challenge to think? It may well be a bit of all of these things – but is PowerPoint really helping?

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Why I blog

Sheila MacNeill explains how blogging has become part of her professional portfolio.

Picture of hand on keyboard


I’m really delighted that Shirley has asked me to be an occasional contributor to this new school blog. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m part of the Blended Learning team within GCU LEAD. You can find out more about me here and here.  In this post I’m going to share some of my motivations for blogging.

I have been blogging for about 7 or maybe even 8 years now.  So why do I do it? Well to begin with, I didn’t have any choice I was told that I had to.  That was quite scary.  I was working for one of the Jisc Innovation Support Centres, Cetis, and it was decided that our new web home page would be populated by individual blog posts. That way we would have constantly updated content.  It took a while for me to find and be comfortable with “my blogging voice”.  However after quite a short time,  I found that blogging provided me a perfect channel to connect and share what I was working on, where I had been (conferences, meetings) and generally help raise the profile of my work.  In 2013 I won the ALT Learning Technologist of the Year award, and this was largely down to the contribution I had made to the sector via my blog.

On of the first things I did when I left Cetis was set up my own blog.  Having found my blogging voice I didn’t want to lose it.  I  also wanted to keep the habit of blogging at least once a week.  People often ask me how I find the time to blog. The answer is simple, I make time.  Some weeks it might be half an hour, others an hour, others a day, other 10 minutes.  But finding time to consolidate my thoughts on “stuff” is now part and parcel of my working life. I keep doing it because it is really useful.  I don’t get huge traffic on my blog and that’s not my main driver. I write for me, if other people want to read it then that’s great.  I still get a buzz when I get comments on my blog, having that engagement with an extended peer network is really useful.

My blog is in many ways my professional portfolio and memory. If something is important I blog about it. Having that record of “stuff” has proved useful time and time again. I have just completed the AcceleRATE portfolio route for HEA accreditation, my blog was an invaluable, easy to find and reference source of evidence.

Here is a quick list of some of the main reasons I blog.

  • It gets and keeps you in the writing habit.
  • It’s a great middle ground between ideas and more formal academic publishing.
  • It is a good place to share ideas and connect.
  • It helps build your reputation within your peer group.
  • It can become your professional memory.
  • It can lead to unexpected opportunities.

I’m really looking forward to seeing this blog flourish and grow with the range of voices from within the school and be part of a growing blogging community, including the Blended Learning Team blog, within GCU.

Sheila MacNeill is a Senior Lecturer in Blended Learning at Glasgow Caledonian University, based in the Centre for Learning Enhancement and Academic Development (GCU LEAD).  Sheila is particularly interested in the development of open educational practice, digital literacies and exploring the potential of learning analytics in relation to learning design. 

Brown Bag Sessions

Elizabeth McGlone, of GSBS, writes about the latest edition of her series of Brown Bag Sessions.

Shortly after commencing my role as a Learning Technologist at GCU, I introduced monthly Brown Bag Sessions for staff. Traditionally, a brown-bag session is a training or information session during a lunch break. The term “brown bag” refers to the packed lunch meals that are brought along by or provided for the attendees. I wanted to provide an informal forum where staff could share ideas and exchange experiences in the use of the embedded tools within our VLE and the different technologies they had used both to enhance their own teaching and increase student engagement.

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Better Blended Learning!

Today, we finally launched the much anticipated support community for our colleagues in GSBS. It’s called “GSBS Better Blended Learning!” and will be a source of resources which will support you in delivering blended learning.

The main focus will be on the use of our VLE – GCULearn – but we will also be including information about external resources. For example, after our recent Five Days of Twitter event, we’ll be including demonstrations and instructions on how to embed Twitter into GCULearn. In fact, a bit like this!


If the community hasn’t already shown up in the My Communities box on the front page when you log in to GCULearn, don’t worry;  I’ll be enabling self-enrolment shortly and sending out the instruction on how to get on by self-service.

Some of the content will be produced by Elizabeth and I, as the Schools’ learning technologists, but we also hope to showcase contributions from you, the academic staff. The content which you’ll find today will grow over the coming days, weeks and months. Whether you’re a complete beginner or a more experienced user, we hope you’ll find something of interest. We look forward to your participation…

Gary Smith is a Learning Technologist at Glasgow Caledonian University.  He transferred to the Glasgow School for Business and Society towards the end of 2011, after spending almost 18 years working in IT Support at GCU.