CMALT Portfolio Review

It is time to review my CMALT (Certified Membership of the Association for Learning Technology) portfolio to maintain my accreditation. As with the first application to gain CMALT, I found the experience has helped me to reflect on the changes in my role, review my use of technology in my own learning and in teaching others, and set new goals for the future.

My original portfolio is available via PebblePad. I have made no changes to the original portfolio, providing the updated section of the portfolio in the blog post below.

Summary of recent work/practice

I found it fascinating to see how the seeds of some activities were planted in my original portfolio and encouraged to see how my career has developed. I am now a Lecturer in Distance Student Learning, which integrates well with my continuing role in supporting and teaching online students. I am still Director of the postgraduate Certificate in Advanced Veterinary Practice, and now also Deputy Director for the MVetSci in Advanced Clinical Practice. This dual role works well, as some students opt to take courses from both programmes and I have a clear overview of their transition, ensuring I can better support them. As both programmes are online, I maintain my connection with our Digital Education Unit and ensure I remain up-to-date with new technologies. New staff members have joined the Unit and, as a result, I have stepped back from directly providing learning technology guidance on online course development for colleagues, though I still provide informal guidance and learn from their experiences in turn.

As my role has developed, I have taken on new activities. I achieved my Senior Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy (SFHEA) in 2016. I mentor students and colleagues working towards their Fellowship at Associate, Fellow and Senior Fellow levels. This links with my work as a CMALT assessor and running webinars for those new to CMALT and assessing. My portfolio Future Plans suggested that I would be applying for a Doctorate in Education (EdD), which I did. As the programme was due to be reviewed, there was a delay in starting, so my supervisor encouraged me to switch to a PhD. It was an excellent option and I am now in my second year of a part-time PhD. This project focuses on the integration of digital and sustainable education building on my Specialist Option in my portfolio.

Projects reported in my portfolio have also developed in light of changes in technology. New technologies in the form of 3D printing, simulation, Virtual and Augmented Realities (VR and AR) are now being used in medical education, and I co-authored a paper with colleagues discussing the applications to veterinary medical education. I spoke about our use of Second Life in my portfolio and with time, we have stopped using the platform in my School. I still coordinate the virtual graduation, now for the College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine, within which my School sits. This now involves using a mixture of Skype, streaming video and pre-recorded videos, so that graduands can relax and enjoy their graduation ceremony at a distance without the pressure of worrying about technical difficulties. I have worked with colleagues to develop guidance for others across the University thinking about running their own virtual graduation. This video recorded by my colleague (and PhD supervisor) Dr Jen Ross demonstrates how this process worked for the Digital Education programme (running time 01:18).

I explore aspects of my role in more depth below and am happy to provide further information if required.

Overview of CPD activities over the past three years

My research profile is available via the Edinburgh Research Explorer.  This provides an overview of my role, activities and research output. In the last three years, I have become more active and involved in the policies and practices of the University. These new aspects of my role include co-chair of the College and School Equality and Diversity committees, co-convenor of the College Library Committee and member of the University Library Committee, and non-professorial member of Senate. Relating to my work with learning technology, this has allowed me to gain a better understanding of how communicating best practice feeds into the institution’s strategic planning for the future. It has also given me a better sense of how the University works and of my role within the institution.

In addition to my work with online learning programmes, I have also been involved in two MOOCs, as a facilitator for one year of Equine Nutrition and as a co-presenter for one week of the EDIVET MOOC (week 5 with Andrew Gardiner and colleagues). I investigated the benefits of the EDIVET MOOC in more detail in a paper co-authored with students and colleagues. Through that investigation, we were able to demonstrate how the MOOC helped participants to better understand the role of the veterinary professional. It also supported new applicants by giving them a sense of what it would be like to study at Edinburgh, to see and experience how we teach. There has been the added joy for me of meeting applicants at interview and students who remember seeing me in week 5.

I have looked at three examples of CPD-related activities in more detail below.

Example 1: Mentoring

I am inspired by working with others; it helps me develop my skills whether I am a mentee or mentor. Mentoring is woven into my work, both formally and informally. Informally, as I mentioned earlier, I support colleagues who are new to teaching online. I also coordinate sessions for our local journal club, including inviting speakers from across the University to share their teaching research and experiences. Formally, since I achieved my FHEA and SFHEA, I have mentored colleagues and students as they work towards their fellowships. I have also assessed a number of CMALT portfolios, as both lead and second assessor, and co-presented two online introductory sessions for new CMALT applicants and assessors.  I have taken part in the University’s Mentoring Connections scheme, first as a mentee in 2012 and then as a mentor in 2018.

In my original portfolio, I spoke about the online peer tutoring scheme I set up with a colleague for our postgraduate distance learning students. That scheme is ongoing and a small number of tutors choose to apply for their associate fellowships each year. Mentoring one of the groups coincided with me applying for my Senior Fellowship. Together, we reflected on what it meant to work towards our shared goals in a paper. We authored this online via a shared document, as we were located at distance from each other. That echoed the process we had used to mentor the tutors as they developed their teaching skills online. I feel this demonstrates how a scholarly community of practice can be supported with technology.

To help me with the varied aspects of my role, I took advantage of an opportunity provided in my School to gain career development coaching. I discuss my experience in the following video: (running time 01:20) to help colleagues thinking about applying. My comments about getting to grips with information overload link back to the talks for the journal club, as I used that as a route to share the lessons I had learned in dealing with email.

Example 2: Improving Academic Practice with Turnitin

I worked with colleagues from across the University to develop a short course looking at how Turnitin could be used to help improve academic practice. Funding was received in 2014, with the course going live in 2017. Details of the project are available via the Institute for Academic Development’s website and we co-authored a blog post about the inspiration for and benefits of the course.

This was a great opportunity to work with colleagues from other Colleges in the University, allowing me to explore in more depth what was expected of students in other disciplines and learn from the experiences of others. It was interesting to see how a tool such as Turnitin could be used to encourage students to develop their research and writing skills, rather than simply as a plagiarism checker. All of my students now have access to this course and this has led to in-depth discussions about the ways in which they can best make use of the tool. This project has shown me how valuable it can be to examine our use of technology to help design the best approach to support learning.

Example 3: Networked Learning

I attended the Networked Learning Conference in Zagreb, Croatia in May 2018. This gave me an opportunity to present my work in two ways: first through a standard paper presentation and second as a guest on a Virtually Connecting session online with fellow conference participants.

When I reviewed my original portfolio, I smiled to read my recommendation for the Networked Learning conference in my Specialist Options section. I continue to find it an inspiration as it allows me to meet with fellow researchers who are interested in the connections between learners and each other, IT, resources, the environment and more. This year, there was an added bonus in participating in my first Virtually Connecting session. The aim here is to widen participation in conferences for those who are unable to attend. It was exactly as described, a “great spontaneous hallways conversation”. It demonstrated how effectively technology can be employed to enhance the conference experience for all involved. I enjoyed it so much that I have since attended as a participant and have reflected about the benefits in a blog post.

Updated future plans

My CPD plan for the next three years is tied up with my PhD work. The project is specifically looking at the interplay of the digital and outdoors, thinking about how and if place-awareness can be encouraged at a distance, linking directly to my Specialist Option from the original portfolio. It will require me to keep up-to-date with new technologies and allow me to learn with and from my participants. At its heart, the project considers the interplay between learning and technology, the networked connections between learner and learner, and learner and environment. From my experience of the last year and a half of the project, I understand better what it entails. It will give me plenty of opportunity to research and reflect, there will be concerns and puzzles, and through it I will have the support of my supervisors, peers, colleagues, family and research team. I will also be considering applying for a Senior Lecturer position in the next three years. That is a portfolio activity in itself, so should keep me busy!

Updated confirmation and date

I declare that, to the best of my knowledge, the statements and evidence included in this submission accurately describe my practice and are drawn from my own work, with the input and support of others duly and clearly recognised. This is dated as the original live date of this post: 31 May 2018.

A hidden cost of conferences

I was at a conference last week; hence the lack of a weekly blog post. I had the best of intentions, thinking I would perhaps live-blog the conference, or at least get a post out last week talking about the top sessions, inspiration and ideas. The fact that I wasn’t able to do any of that and I’m still recharging gave me the topic for this week.

As I’ve mentioned before, I have multiple sclerosis. Chronic fatigue is a standard symptom. I have learned about managing my fatigue, not taking on too much or pushing myself beyond my limits. I’ve also had to reconsider what those limits are, ask for help, adapt and prioritise. My family and friends keep an eye on me, reminding me when I forget to take care of myself. My employer has been incredibly supportive in allowing me to work flexibly, so I can manage more things than you might expect, including doing a part-time PhD while working full time. I am very fortunate as I can still get out and about.

Then come the conferences with associated travel, increased social interaction, presentations and workshops. Conferences are an excellent way to share your research and meet new people, but they carry a hidden cost for me in the impact on my health. As an example, the conference last week was excellent and I was looking forward to it. Air-travel was required, but I was armed with tea tree oil and haven’t caught a cold. I sensibly opted to go to bed instead of attending the conference dinner. I had included additional time to sleep, scheduled a day off when I got back home, and my out-of-office message said I would respond to emails when I was able. Even with careful planning, it is a week later and I am aware that it will take me at least another three weeks to return to normal functioning energy levels. In the meantime, I am taking it easy – I see it as putting my dodgy battery on trickle charge 🙂

This blog site is entitled “The Sustainable Academic” and conferences negatively impact my academic sustainability in two ways. One – the environmental cost of travel. Two – the physical cost of attending. As with all my colleagues, I have to select the best conferences that meet my research needs. We all have limited budgets and time, so this choice is carefully made. What options are available to cover my additional costs?

One option is to increase and improve opportunities to connect online. The Association for Learning Technology (ALT) run an online winter conference. The Networked Learning conference has run online “hot seats” (discussions and presentations) in the past and plans to run these in the future. At this point, you may be saying to yourself “…but these events are for people already interested in engaging online”. True, but the lessons learned from these can be extended into other areas. An excellent example of a wise use of technology is the Virtually Connecting option. The aim is widening participation so that any who are unable to attend can have an online chat with key presenters and ask questions. If there is a conference you want to attend and can’t, you can contact the team and see if something can be organised. You can become a buddy (of many kinds) to help increase the number of events where this option is available. I had the good fortune to participate in a session last week and could see the incredible potential.

It is true that meeting in the same location will be the preferred choice for many. Personally, I’m excited about virtually connecting to the Festival of Learning in Vancouver next week!  For those wondering about the experience of living digitally, see @Annakwood’s excellent blog post: #MillionsMissing.

Right, that’s me for today. I will blog about last week’s conference in future posts, but for now, I’m off to tuck myself up and get busy recharging 🙂


Where do we go…?

In my post last week, I was thinking about how the digital could function as a “thin place”, creating that magical sense of almost there, a step apart from someone and somewhere on the planet. This week, Ruth Stalker-Firth kept my mind whirring on that thought. I love that sense of synchronicity when ideas seem to draw in others, though my supervisors tell me that happens when you are early in your PhD and everything seems connected to your research 🙂

Ruth asks “Where do we go when we go online?” and talks in her post about attending a live webinar with Eckhart Tolle. His talk focuses on living in the now,  discussing how we can live fully in the present, while considering how our online practices can serve to distract, pull us into the “collective unconscious” as Ruth terms it. We go online and lose awareness of time and place.

I began to wonder about presence, our physical presence like mine in the garden, and our virtual presence when we are connecting to the Internet… I was off wondering: Where do we go in the space? (Stalker-Firth, 2018)

I smiled as I read this – as Ruth was distracted from Eckhart’s talk as she wondered about our virtual presence, I was equally distracted from her discussion of the research, caught in her “peripheral” report of her surroundings. I was sitting in her garden listening to the birds tweet and the traffic go by, echoed in the sounds of tweet and traffic in my own garden. I was feeling my breath and thinking about my presence. I had stepped out of time, and through her description, my virtual self had traveled to sit with her. Her brief description of her garden was not enough for me to visualise my/her surroundings, but there I was, sitting beside her, eyes closed, breathing deep and listening to the birds.

This medium – the Internet – expands us and influences how the message is perceived and so, creates a symbiotic relationship. (Stalker-Firth, 2018)

By now, you will have realised I’m a sucker for symbiotic relationships. Ruth’s comment above weaves into my previous thoughts on this, on the digital, on the physical and the lack of boundaries between what is “me” and “everything else.

I believe it is our desire to connect and experience and be experienced which really drives our minds, not the technology. It is our willingness to want to reach out for are hardwired for connection and shared experiences are a quick way to connect. (Stalker-Firth, 2018)

My drive is to connect beyond the human to the more-than-humans that share the place where the networked human is located. I wonder if it is possible to reach out and connect with the meshwork of relations that are local to someone else. I’m aware that my experience of Ruth’s garden is tied to my current experience of birdsong and traffic in my local area, not hers. Margaret Somerville warned me already that this might be the case, that meaning-at-distance may come only through reference to my local place-based connections.

If we, as Tolle recommends, learn to cultivate a stillness inside us against which everything happens then it is will be easier to retain a sense of self online, a sense of presence, and our virtual and physical will be aligned. (Stalker-Firth, 2018)

Ruth asks “where do we go when we go online”; I add to that my own question “what do we bring with us”. If there is truly no division between “me” and “everything else”, perhaps cultivating that sense of stillness allows us to be more aware, to integrate and celebrate the all that is now and the all that surrounds and permeates us. We can acknowledge it and bring it with us, share it out into the network and allow other voices to be heard. We can welcome the presence of all our relations; I just need to fine-tune a few methods of doing that!

For now, there is more in Ruth’s post that I need to dig into, when I can stop myself getting distracted by the spring chorus. It may have only been based on my local place-connections, but it was nice to sit with Ruth in the garden, even if only for a virtual digital moment.


Somerville, M. (2007). Becoming-frog: a primary school place pedagogy. Australian Association for Research in Education Conference, Freemantle, 26-29 November.

Stalker-Firth, R. (2018). Virtual presence: where do we go when we go online?

Standing in a thin place

I have grown up with a fondness for “thin” places; places that have given me a sense that there is a “somewhere else” just a breath away. From a Celtic spirituality perspective, these places are described as sacred, close to the Otherworld, locations for pilgrimage and reflection (Béres, 2012). My thin places have rarely been those selected by tour companies; they are often liminal zones, edges of rivers, lakes, paths or woodlands, with a kind of somewhere-in-between-ness that makes me feel as if I have stepped out of the flow of time.

Close up of primrosesOne of my clearest memories as a child of such a place was a family holiday to a cottage my uncle had recently purchased. The cottage stood in the middle of a ploughed and mucky field (yeay, muck!) and at the edge of the field there was a small stream running in a deep mossy ditch under trees. Though the ditch was deep, the stream was not. I liked to wade in to the middle in my wellies and stand in the quiet cavern under the green tree canopy. The sound of chuckling water and birdlife and my breath. The scent of water and moss and green and primroses. I remember the primroses most of all, as the banks were covered in them and the scent wrapped all around me. It was a magical spot; if I stood long enough and still enough, I thought, I will see fairies. To this day, the scent and sight of primroses makes me smile.

I’m thinking about these thin places as I am exploring connections to place, reading about Indigenous research methods, and thinking about my own cultural heritage. As Béres (2012) states, there is a valid concern about appropriation of the ways of other cultures. I want to draw on my own cultural heritage and wonder what exactly that is. I wish to encompass Béres’ approach as outlined below.

I am able to honour, respect and learn from North American and Australian Aboriginal ways of being with the non-human world and also from Celtic spirituality (European ways of being in pre-Christian and early Christian times) regarding the sacredness of the non-human world. (Béres, 2012; p.183)

I talked about Newgrange last week; another location that was special for me. Again, that same sense of somewhere-in-between-ness. Unsurprisingly, things have changed in the 20-odd years since I was last there! In an excellent article by Stephen Brown (2006), it seems that heritage-park marketing has run a little wild. If I return, it won’t be to the Newgrange of my memory, though it sounds like they may still be using the same light bulb to replicate the solstice. Brown’s article considers the various contested interpretations of what it means to be “Celtic” as an introduction a special issue exploring “Celtic marketing”. There are three elements to Celtic marketing, Brown suggests: practice, paradigm and philosophy. Practice is the marketing of Celtic “goods and services”, from events to merchandise and everything in between.  Paradigm “celebrates intuition, idiosyncrasy, iconoclasm and irreverence” at the heart of the Celtic ethos, which sounds like fun. Philosophy, it seems, marketers share with the Celts, who Brown describes as “proto-entrepreneurs”. As with the Celts, Brown says, Celtic marketers are “simultaneously abhorred and admired, we attract and repel, we intrigue and infuriate”. What ties the practice, paradigm and philosophy together is storytelling; the Celts are renowned “yarn-spinners”. I inherited that tale-telling gene and wonder what the Celtic researcher practice, paradigm and philosophy is.

The articles may seem like strange bedfellows, loosely connected by Celtic association. However, both articles emphasise how places are not static, even those containing structures that have stood for thousands of years. My stream and the primroses are locked in a memory, as I do not know how to return to that location and the quiet cavern may be long gone. To know a place, and for a place to know us, is simply for the moment. My sense of thin places being those briefly outside the flow of time may be linked simply to my focus on being in that place at that time. Thinking about my research and connecting with other places at distance, the thin place may prove to be the shared online space with my participant, when they hold open the door for me to be with them in their place as I stand on a digital threshold. We will both be “somewhere else” and perhaps our shared places can allow us to feel as if we are just a breath away.


Béres, L. (2012) Celtic spirituality and postmodern geography. Journal for
the Study of Spirituality, 2:2, 170-185. #paywall

Brown, S. (2006) Tiocfaidh ár lá: introduction to the special issue. Journal of Strategic Marketing, 14:1, 1-9. #paywall