On 31st March 2020, I attended an online conference as a newbie.  I was interested in how this would work, 200 delegates, around 15 presentations, plus an exhibitor space.

………A few minutes in and I was totally sold.

The University of Derby team were fantastic in setting this up and steering the events during the day.  Sure there were some back room issues, mics not turned on, slides not moving but actually this added to the human aspect of the day, otherwise it may well have just been pre-recorded.  For me it is even more personal somehow having a speaker broadcast into your room, into your headphones.  I sat back, cup of tea in hand by the fire and enjoyed the presentations.  Actually, to be honest for the first presentation I sat eating breakfast wearing pyjamas, which I’m sure is quite normal….isn’t it?

Julie Stone, Associate PVC Dean External Affairs and Director of University of Derby Online Learning set the day up with some illuminating figures about the demand for online education. A massive growth in need for education of the global population.  16% growth in USA and 7.3% decline in F2F.  Online global growth in online learners to 325 billion people by 2025.  Wow.  Julie also brought up many questions such as; how will we ensure this meets needs of employers and employees?

Julie also asked, how will this transform Universities?  Our International offer?  Accessibility? Efficiency? Modernisation? Who will access to this growth in tertiary Education? Why are we doing it and what are the benefits?  How do we integrate this?  Do we integrate this or have it as an outlier?  Are we doing this just because we can?

Will all this effort this bring financial stability and financial resilience to Universities.


Shifting Place and Pace New Futures for Online Learning
Next up was  Keynote, Melissa Highton. I recognised Melissa’s name as my former tutor on the PGCAP at Leeds in 2006.  Now impressively, Director of Learning, Teaching and Web Services at the University of Edinburgh.

Melisa Highton stated, “Distance is a positive, not a deficit”.

Edinburgh University has made some significant progress in developing their online offer, primarily in postgraduate with 70 online masters.   With support from centre these masters were developed locally by academic teams, Their support for online development was part of their general IT support.  The approach was to “Let 1000 flowers bloom”.  This provided lots of development and lots of diversity.  15 types of VLE platforms were used by different academic teams, each seeking the most appropriate for their disciplines.  Highton noted that their central team  have been moving these to a smaller set of platforms to make supporting the existing course and the development of future courses more sustainable.

Highton suggested that that this local format brings ownership, which she suggested was important.  If you have academic buy in, then it is their build.  Academics were Involved in choices and there would always be discussion around the pedagogy and technology which would lessen if you move them into a more controlled shape and space.

Notably Edinburgh offer “Micro masters” online courses as Learn for free or pay for credits. Their Post grad courses are based on small group teaching and going forward, they were interested in teaching in this way at scale with assessment in larger groups.

Highton finished by discussing some of the questions around ‘near future teaching’, for example, are there closed attitudes at an organisational level to online and unbundled teaching?  If you do unbundle, how do you market, bundle and price?

Link to Mellisa’s blog here.

Edinburgh workshop – image from slides (Highton 2020)

Katharine Stapleford, Lecturer, University of Leeds

Sometimes in a conference you pick up an amazingly simple but very useful tip for use in your teaching.  If you are involved in online teaching and deliver webinars to online groups, you will know that building a community of engaged learners on your module is one of the most important and challenging aspects.  Stapelford shared just such a technique.  Based on flipped learning using the Jigsaw technique and a wiki, this approach is really useful to build engagement in synchronous webinars.

The technique combines asynchronous private study and synchronous webinars to construct learning and build social engagement online.


Image – Slide from presentation by K Stapleford

Top tips for facilitated remote teaching

Paula Shaw, Academic Manager at the University of Derby Online Learning provided a really useful slide which identified 10 top tips for ‘us’ the teachers while we are at home.

Future thinking about Online learning – foresight and i4.0

Gilly Salmon hosted an interesting workshop.  The workshop posed questions around the fourth industrial revolution.  Quoting from a recent publication, cleverly titled “ May the Fourth Be with you” https://jl4d.org/index.php/ejl4d/article/view/352 Salmon set the historical context for the changes ahead.  The workshop split all 99 participants into rooms in collaborate to discuss the potential impacts of 4.0 on education.

One interesting link was to a website which highlighted different skill graduates and in fact all of us need as we embrace changes brought about by 4.0. https://nextskills.org/future-skills-report-2019/

Foresight isn’t a process I would normally associate with an educational conference and is more typical in business, innovation and marketing.  However it was clear from the discussions that the impact of 4.0 and all things digital are about to overwhelm the educational sector.  As I write this I am in lockdown in the UK due to the outbreak of COVID-19.  Most educators are scrambling to use what they know or for what they can learn very quickly about delivering distance education through a computer screen.  We may be too late for foresight and soon we will be utilising the next best thing …….hindsight.

Being a learner in an online community

It was a real eyeopener being part of this experience.  We were put into groups in collaborate and had an interesting discussion around the future of education in relation to Industry 4.0, the fourth Industrial revolution.

Being in a discussion group is quite high pressure, when do you talk, who talks first, not wanting to say something silly etc etc.  The facilitators used some slides which we added our comments to. I thought this was really useful so I share the example below which used DeBonos Six hats.

The first example was filled in by the facilitator and the second drawn on by the participants.  The completed templates were then brought back to the main room as a screen grab or pdf.  Such slides are not only useful for aiding feedback during the session but also handy as takeaways for participants.

Concluding Thoughts

A really interesting experience and ‘hats off’ to the team at the University of Derby for their amazing technical wizardry in making this happen so smoothly.


Salmon, G., 2019. May the Fourth Be with you: Creating Education 4.0. Journal of Learning for Development-JL4D6(2).

People Mentioned:

  • Mellisa Highton
  • Katherine Stapleford
  • Gilly Salmon
  • Paula Shaw
  • Julie Stone
ISSOTL – america
Digital Futures "The fun we had"