Portfolio Review: Overview of CPD activities

Overview of CPD activities

Please see my list of conference papers, projects and involvement in working groups which is representative of my CPD activity over the last three years. See also my list of conference attendance, personal blog posts and blog posts for the University of York E-Learning Development Team.

The three CPD activities selected below for further discussion and reflection represent three different dimensions of my role I have developed recently that I believe to be important for a learning technologist to be effective: evidence-led practice, supporting the development of others, and evaluating appropriate use of learning technologies.

a) Critical research into lecture capture learning benefits

As part of my MA in Online Distance Education I undertook a research methods module which has informed my practice as Lecture Recording Coordinator. Within this role I aimed to bring a critical perspective to the roll-out of lecture capture (automated audio and digital projector recordings), challenging assumptions about the learning impact of capture provision. Whilst student demand focuses on the way captures can be used to support revision and allow for flexible engagement with lecture content, there are few studies that show how learning behaviours are affected as a result of making recordings available. I was particularly taken by a paper by Owston et al. (2011) that suggested changes in behaviour, using a simple yes/no response from students. However, the lack of explanation I felt needed addressing in order that I could better convey the possible learning benefits of captures to academic staff to gain buy-in.

I developed a research project that was mainly qualitative in nature, drawing upon approaches I explored in my research methods module (see extract from research methods formative work [PDF]). Notably, the approach by Conole et al., (2008) to use learning logs to espouse approaches to learning at the point they occur and analysis of students’ notes (Valtonen et al., 2011) appeared to provide the depth of impact of provision of captures I wished to explore. I complemented this with semi-structured interviews, largely based on the questions posed by Owston et al. (2011) in their quantitative study.

I interviewed and collected logs from 12 students who regularly use recordings to explore how their study behaviour has changed both in class and during private study. Through this activity I developed my interviewing skills, early on learning how to allow participants to freely elaborate on themes I wished to investigate by asking follow-on questions rather than sticking to a formal interview structure. This method provided me a greater insight into the way that technology fits within students’ personal approaches to learning, avoiding prejudgement. As one example, a student explained how they used an online quiz tool to create their own self-check quizzes to help them revise. Whilst I had considered that students would utilise perhaps social media platforms and learning technologies offered as part of their module, I had not considered that students would be seeking out technologies specifically for learning activities on their own. Such behaviours and the integration of technology, the lecture capture resources, and their own notes from lectures, prompted me to consider how different study workflows would be useful to other students. As a result, one of the research outputs is a series of workflows that show how lecture captures are used by students throughout term time, not just in the revision period. Without this qualitative approach, I would not have learnt about students’ approaches in as much detail, nor been able to support students new to using lecture captures with the advice and workflows that stem from the findings. This process has changed the way I evaluate learning and teaching interventions, and even within survey approaches I now focus more on the qualitative aspects to explore ‘why’ rather than ‘what’ technologies are contributing to learning and teaching. There have been consequential impacts of this work beyond my institution as I have provided consultancy, delivered conference papers and have been invited to present my findings to support other universities in their roll-out of lecture capture.

Supporting evidence:


Conole, G., de Laat, M., Dillon, T., Darby, J. (2008) ‘‘Disruptive technologies’, ‘pedagogical innovation’: What’s new? Findings from an in-depth study of students’ use and perception of technology’, Computers & Education, vol.50, no.2, pp.511-524.

Owston, R., Lupshenyuk, D. and Wideman, H. (2011) ‘Lecture capture in large undergraduate classes: Student perceptions and academic performance’, Internet and Higher Education, 14(4), 262-268.

Valtonen, T., Havu-Nuutinen, P.D. and Vesisenaho, M. (2011) ‘Facilitating collaboration in lecture-based learning through shared notes using wireless technologies’, Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, vol.27, no.6, pp.575-586.

b) CMALT assessor and peer-support leader

I have been a CMALT assessor since 2011, becoming a lead assessor shortly afterwards. I enjoy reviewing portfolios as it keeps me up to date with other practitioners in the field, but also where other institutions are prioritising their use of learning technologies. Aware of how much time goes into creating portfolios, I have developed my feedback approach to target where specific improvements can be made, avoiding generic feedback statements. One of my regular observations has been on the difficulty evidencing and reflecting upon the wider context, prompting me to write guidance for future applicants (also circulated via Twitter). My experience reviewing portfolios has led me to support peer-writing groups: as a guest speaker for another institution on the way the wider context impacts learning technologists’ practice, and subsequently as co-chair for a group of CMALT applicants within the University of York. I adapted the approach from a fellow learning technologist from another institution, the University of Sheffield, and structured over six months the portfolio writing process by having lunchtime review sessions to encourage reflective writing and explaining the CMALT criteria. I set up a Google Group to enable the group to keep in contact, to which I also provided a summary of each session. Most participants engaged well, and crucially there was much discussion about their own practice and reflection on the relationship between learning and technology.

Being a CMALT assessor has also changed my thinking about specific technologies. One example is Xerte, a content development tool, I had heard of many years ago, but was not familiar with the updates and developments. I had previously dismissed the technology as it was clunky in parts and not cross-platform compatible (particularly with reliance of Flash-based technology it would not work on certain mobile devices). A CMALT portfolio brought the tool to my attention again as a practical way to structure self-paced learning objects. I subsequently found out more at a local learning technology meeting showcasing examples and discovered its HTML5 compatibility and improved design. Subject to resourcing, would like to provide Xerte as a tool for colleagues to use to create online material.

The impact therefore of being a CMALT assessor is that I have been able to support the development of others, whilst also being more aware of trends and interests in the sector. This is vitally important when working in a small team as I do, as often there is limited opportunity to spend time monitoring all developments in the field of learning technology. Without the ‘horizon scanning’ that reviewing CMALT portfolios provide, I would not be as aware of new innovations and approaches in technology-enhanced learning.

Supporting evidence:

c) Leading on Blackboard Collaborate

During May 2014, whilst still working in SPSW, I participated in online training for the web conferencing tool Blackboard Collaborate. The tool was being piloted at my institution and I saw potential for supporting students on placement as well as providing synchronous contact points for distance learners. When I joined the central e-learning team, I took the lead on promotion of Collaborate and delivered lunchtime demonstrations showcasing the software and potential use cases. However, take up was limited, in part due to the complexity of the software which made other alternatives (such as Skype) more appealing.

I explored the pedagogic models for using synchronous online tools specifically designed for learning and teaching in more detail. Particularly informed by a community of inquiry model applied to synchronous online interactions by De Freitas and Neumann (2009), I summarised three high-level abstracted learning design approaches: additional point of contact, delivery of content, and the double-flipped classroom. Whilst these models made it easier to translate the potential of webinars to campus-based courses, the use of Collaborate was still most strongly used within distance learning programmes.

As case studies have been a key resource for generating engagement in new technologies within my institution, I wanted to explore how educators have used synchronous online tools for face-to-face programmes. If there were transferable approaches, this could provide more innovative uses of Collaborate beyond distance learning. Campus programmes may have strong blended components, require students to undertake ongoing group work, aim to bring in expertise from outside the institution and have students on placement. To explore this potential, I devised and delivered a workshop at the Durham Blackboard Users’ Conference with the aim to draw upon the collective expertise from participants and unpick where any learning benefits of Collaborate may exist for blended learning. As a result of the workshop, I collated the ideas from participants and presented these online. I have come to the conclusion that whilst Collaborate may offer particular strengths in supporting interaction with students at a distance (either distance learning, or as suggested in an example from the workshop, remote participation across campus), other informal learning tools such as Facebook, Twitter and indeed face-to-face interactions, offer the immediacy and connectivity within a more familiar context than Collaborate’s environment. I will continue to promote Collaborate on its strengths, such as for placement students and delivery of presentations remotely, but now acknowledge more clearly the limitations for blended learning.

Attendance at the conference also introduced me to the way two versions of the Collaborate software could be used for different learning and teaching goals. I had previously dismissed Collaborate Ultra (the new, browser-based version) for its lack of interactive tools and focus on voice/video chat. A presentation from the University of Edinburgh noted how staff new to online webinars may find the simpler interface and in-browser experience easier to get to grips with; they won’t necessarily know the features that are missing. As a result, I have pitched Collaborate Ultra as suitable for ‘broadcast’ format webinars and informal web conferencing, whereas the original version is best for engagement throughout a webinar. Indeed, because of the interactive functions, I continue to use the older version of Collaborate myself when delivering technology-enhanced learning lunchtime webinars. The impact of my understanding of the benefits and constraints of Collaborate is demonstrated through recently exploration of both systems with a distance learning lecturer. I advised on each system, and through discussion of the intended learning experience and practical experience, the lecturer to decided that the interactive elements of the original version, such as polling, allowed for a more fluid and structured online learning for students.

Supporting evidence


De Freitas, S., Neumann, T. (2009). Pedagogic strategies supporting the use of Synchronous Audiographic Conferencing: A review of the literature, British Journal of Educational Technology, 40(6), 980-998.

Next: Updated future plans