Lose the VLE!

The institutional VLE is often blamed for all sorts of issues and challenges around teaching in an increasingly digital landscape.  In a new addition to our workshop series, participants are given the chance to ‘lose the VLE’ and are tasked with redesigning one of their modules without using the VLE.  In doing so, participants reflect on their use of educational technology and the affordances it can bring.  This is achieved by identifying the activities undertaken in the VLE and attempting to undertake them in other systems.  By the end of the session participants will have a greater understanding of their VLE and be in a position to decide if it is the most appropriate tool to deliver their teaching activities.

For the purposes of the workshop we offer alternatives for three key areas of VLE activity:

  1. Communications & activities: Microsoft Teams which allows sharing, collaboration, chat, group video calls, and is more likely to be used by students when they enter the workplace.
  2. Content: Kortext (www.kortext.com) as a repository for reading materials and Mediasite (www.mediasite.com) for video related materials; both of which offer analytics on use.
  3. Assessment: Turnitin (www.turnitin.com) as an end-to-end assessment platform

The workshop design can accommodate small or large numbers, with participants sat in groups of 5-10 for the redesign activity, with the whole cohort coming together to share feedback.  At the end, participants are asked to vote on whether or not to keep their VLE – with some interesting results!

This workshop was first run at Perth UHI as part of their Learning & Teaching conference.



Service Development – Changing Landscapes

One of the best pieces of advice I have ever been given is to reflect regularly. One of the problems of being freelance is that reflection is often dropped to get the paid work done.

So today I re-read the paper I co-published at UoG with Vicki Dale & Josephine Adekola for the QAA Scotland Enhancement Theme, ’Student Transitions’ (https://journal.alt.ac.uk/index.php/rlt/article/view/1973/pdf_1). This paper provides a framework to support a campus based university in becoming capable in blended and online learning.

On re-reading it I have been pleasantly surprised at how well it resonates with much of the consultancy work I have undertaken since leaving Glasgow, as well as relating directly to keynotes and workshops delivered for HE & FE clients. Papers like this are essential underpinning to strategic change, but clients also need a tangible action plan with clearly identified activities and outcomes.

So, I have decided to start mapping actions against the framework to build a pick’n’mix set of options for universities and colleges as they develop their provision for learning & teaching in the evolving digital landscape – watch this space.


Academic Integrity

In November I was asked to update the Turnitin UK User Group on the progress of the joint Jisc/Turnitin data analytics project.  During the day I also took part in a panel session on academic integrity – with discussions around the fact that cheating, and in particular contract cheating is happening.  Views were expressed on whether or not it could be stopped, for example through better assessment design, better interaction with students, or using detection tools – and I think it is fair to say the general conclusion was that it couldn’t be stopped.

Although this might be a realistic view, it is also quite a pessimistic view. In reflecting on it, my thoughts turned to issues I had as an AV manager in HE.  In their early days data projectors were seen as high value items worth stealing and this led to a spate of thefts from universities. Professional thieves came ’tooled up’ and the damage they caused getting the projector was greater than the replacement cost of the projector. The disruption to teaching was also considerable, making it even more challenging to encourage academics to use classroom technology. The approach I, and many of my colleagues took was prosaic; we accepted that we couldn’t stop the thefts so we developed strategies to minimise theft, with the aim of deterring all but the most determined thieves. As well as making projectors difficult to get at (using cages, alarms, locating them high up), we also made it difficult for them to be passed on (marking, smart water, etc), and of course the consequences of being caught were severe, those being caught receiving criminal records.

So how does this relate to academic integrity?  I believe that a similar multi-faceted approach is useful. By making it difficult to cheat in the first place; assessment design, invigilation, assessment location, can all help.  We can make detection more likely using a range of tools and data analysis techniques. And when cheaters are caught, we make the consequences severe, losing degrees or even getting a criminal record. In doing so we can accept that we can’t eradicate the most determined but at the same time send a very clear message that cheating is not acceptable. 

However, these approaches deal with the symptoms not the cause. How much do students really understand what academic integrity is? In an increasingly digital and online educational world prevention is not enough, we need to help our students understand the reasons why we need to maintain academic integrity, and in doing so reject cheating.


General Election

With the UK election done and dusted I’ve been thinking about what the implications might be for UK HE. There will definitely be some impact on immigration, and the THE writes that there may be a change of emphasis towards vocational HE provision.  Could this take the form of increased online, open, and time shifted education?  If so this will be an interesting challenge for some universities, even those who already have some online provision.  In my experience of developing online provision in the HE sector, moving beyond the basics of a few courses requires institutional change across academic departments and professional services, and can throw up totally unexpected challenges in the least expected places.


KGCL Services Update

It is almost three years since I started this consultancy business so I felt it was time to refresh the website. In doing so I also wanted to take a fresh look at the services offered. The updated website is intended to make the services we offer clearer and in doing so help potential clients understand the benefit we can bring.


Chris Turnock joins KGCL

After a successful visit to CanvasCon in London this month, I am very pleased to announce that Chris Turnock from the University of Hull will be joining KGCL for a new initiative around VLE transition support.

Universities we spoke to have already sorted out the mechanics of change, and are keen to maximise the benefit for staff and students, and support development of their digital curriculum.  At KGCL we have direct experience of delivering VLE change within universities and are ideally placed to highlight opportunities and show universities how to achieve them.

Contact us for further details at enquiries@kerrgardiner.co.uk or call us on (+44) 1970 871208.


CanvasCon Europe 2018

Very pleased to announce that KGCL will be attending CanvasCon next week in London.

Canvas has seen a big uptake across the HE sector over the past few years and offers a solution that allows universities to get on with learning without having to worry about the software.

The move to a new VLE is a major change project for any university and bringing in external consultancy with direct experience of such a transition can make the difference between simply changing software and creating a whole new vision for online and blended learning.

At KGCL we have such expertise.  Our staff and associates have led a number of such transitions and have in-depth knowledge of the major platforms in the UK; Canvas, Moodle, & Blackboard.

If your university is thinking about change or in the process of change, then let us know and we can arrange a chat.


We are on Twitter!

Although I have been tweeting for a while (@KerrG) I felt it was time that the company had it’s own Twitter handle to highlight work and developments.

So here it is @KGCLtd is now live and twittering!


Will outlawing essay mills make plagiarism detection defunct?

The Times Higher this week (9-15 Aug 2018) has an interesting article about the Irish government passing legislation to make essay mills illegal and suggests that countries in the UK should think about following suit.

Although the article acknowledges that off-shore mills may well continue, it makes some very good points about the impact of legislation on the conversations universities might have with their students – moving from a ‘you shouldn’t’ to an ‘it is illegal and criminal’ dialogue.  It should also stop the blatant on-campus advertising that we see today for these mills, and may also stop people writing for the mills.

A natural conclusion may be that such legislation could remove the need for plagiarism detectors, very welcome at a time when budgets are severely stretched.  However, I would argue that it makes such tools not only more necessary, but would require them to become more sophisticated.

Submissions originating from high quality essay mills are by their nature difficult to detect as they can be original work meaning that standard originality checkers won’t pick them up.  If students know that there are no tools to detect output from higher quality essay mills, then the temptation will still be there.

So making essay mills illegal may actually increase the demand for tools to identify such cheating.



Kerr Gardiner Consulting Ltd

What a first few months of being freelance! I’ve had the great pleasure to work with a number of top level organisations including Turnitin, Jisc, and SeroHE as well as with universities including Abertay and Oxford.

I’ve been told the time has come that I need to stop being a sole trader and become incorporated, so am pleased to announce the launch of Kerr Gardiner Consulting Ltd.  Still the same service and experience but now with the added certainty of dealing with a limited company.

As I transition over and look forward to the New Year, I’d just like to take this opportunity to thank customers past, customers present, and customers future – and looking forward to our continuing relationship.