Taking part in a Twitter-only conference: some reflections on #PressEDconf18


On 29th March 2018, I participated in the Twitter-based conference, #PressEDconf18. Those who follow me on Twitter (@cjrw) may know that I am an occasional contributor to the weekly Wednesday night #LTHEchat live discussion which has been running since 2014. I am also an enthusiastic live-tweeter at conferences, usually including the official Hashtag which allow for interested parties to follow what others are saying about the event as well as facilitating aggregation using the soon-to-be-sadly-missed Storify service.

This event was slightly different from a regular conference as there was no associated physical gathering. As keynote contributor Jim Groom noted, “I’ve been to conferences that used a hashtag, but this is my first conference that is a hashtag“.


Although this was not the first event to take this format, it was certainly one of the first, and it was interesting to be part of a pioneering approach. #PressEDconf18 was the brainchild of Natalie Lafferty (@nlafferty) and Pat Lockley (@Pgogy). The theme was educational uses of WordPress blogs (for full schedule see here). I submitted two proposals; they were in the format of a tweet, so it wasn’t an especially onerous task. One related to my use of a WordPress blog to host Careers After Biological Sciences, a repository of careers awareness resources built up over the past decade. The second was more generic advice for anyone considering starting up an educational blog. It was the latter that was accepted. Continue reading


Some tips for developing online educational repositories

As part of my work enthusing about the use of broadcast media in teaching, I am in the process of writing a guide to the use of Learning on Screen’s Box of Broadcasts resource. However my reflections on this project, coupled with the development of other blog-based resources such as Careers After Biological Science, set me thinking about some more generic recommendations for anyone thinking of setting up an online collection of educational resources. These crystallised quite naturally into a series of questions to ask oneself about the purpose, scope and authorship of the materials.

On the advice of a couple of colleagues, I submitted this to the Association for Learning Technology blog. I was delighted when they accepted it, since members of that community are likely to be developing similar resources. My self-check questions can be found via this link.



When technology models poor practice

Year1 assessmentOne of the difficulties in teaching first year students is to convey the importance of appropriate handling of data, both in terms of data display and degrees of significance. I’ve commented previously on this site about times when technology can produce utterly inappropriate graphic representation of results (see A bonus lesson in my data handling tutorial).

At the end of the first semester we conduct an online exam using the Blackboard quiz tool. The assessment is out of 200, marked automatically and scaled to a percentage. When the students submit their answers at the end of the test, they get  instant reporting of their result. The screenshot on the right shows a section from the gradebook where the results are recorded in exactly the detail each students gets, i.e. up to 5 decimal places! It is unfortunate that this inappropriate “accuracy” gets displayed to the students.

“Please send a photo”


One recent email exchange related to someone else’s order for running shoes, sent to me in error

I’ve recently had cause to contact three different companies about inadequacies in their service. The reasons for doing so in each case were very different, but there was a common thread to their replies: “Please send a photo of the [relevant item]”. When the third request came in, I started to see a pattern and this set me ruminating on why they were adding this extra step to dealing with my query.

And then it struck me, that this was exactly the reason – it was an extra step. It is part of a filtering process. It is easy enough for all and sundry to fire off email requests willy-nilly. As a mechanism to weed out the serious appellant from the time-waster there needed to be an additional hurdle. [I have vague memories from school history lessons that monasteries used to offer a similar process. Potential novices were never admitted at their first attempt, they were required to return on several occasions before securing entry into the monastic life.]

I mention this here, on my education blog, because I actually operate a similar system when it comes to requests from students. If you are involved in academia I am sure you recognise emails, particularly as exams loom, that go something like: Continue reading

Biosummit 2017

The University of East Anglia (Norwich) was the venue for the annual Biosummit, a gathering of UK bioscientists with an active interest in pedagogic research. As usual there was much to reflect upon. A summary of the event is captured in this Storified summary of tweets. My own formal contribution was limited to reflections on the value of using the Royal Society of Biology’s CPD framework as a valuable mechanism for capturing the evidence of activity, and reflection upon that activity, which is increasingly required for appraisals, accreditation and applications. The slides from my talk are available below (and via this link).

This continues to be a bona fide “Community of Practice”. One of the highlights is seeing like-minded friends and catching up on what they’re doing in their lives as well as in their work. The content of the conference, however, remains central. This year there were a number of highlights for me. Continue reading

The NSS and Enhancement (Review)

Coverage of the findings from the recent, new style, National Student Survey drew my attention to the Making it count report for the Higher Education Academy, coordinated by Alex Buckley (I’m afraid I’ve lost details of who pointed me towards the report, so cannot offer credit where credit is due).

make it countMaking it count is not new, it was published by the HEA in 2012, and therefore predates both the new-NSS and the introduction of the TEF. Nevertheless I found it a fascinating and worthwhile read – hence this reflective summary.

As most readers of this blog will know, the UK National Student Survey was introduced in 2005 and draws inspiration from the Australian Course Experience Questionnaire (CEQ), which had been in use since the early 1990s. From inception until 2016 there were a standard set of 23 questions in the NSS (see this link for complete list). The questions were all positively phrased and students in their final year were invited to respond using a standard five-point scale from “definitely agree” through “mostly agree”, “neither agree or disagree”, “mostly disagree” to “definitely disagree”  (“not applicable” was also an option). Following extensive consultation, the questions were changed for the first time in 2017. A total of 27 questions were included, with some original questions retained, some rephrased and some brand new added (see this link for 2017 questions). Continue reading

A case for Box of Broadcasts

I have recently been featured as a case study describing ways in which I use the Box of Broadcasts service from Learning on Screen. The full article can be found here.

BoB Case Study


  • Awards

    The Power of Comparative Genomics received a Special Commendation

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