Inside Track – Professor Neil Morris: Positive progress in digital education

Professor Neil Morris, Dean of Digital Education, provides a comprehensive update on a range of digital education initiatives at Leeds, and explains how you can play your part in planned improvements.


I am writing this fully aware of the very difficult situation currently facing us in relation to the availability of Minerva, and the challenges this is causing for all staff and students.

Of course, we are all fully aware that with the request to make more use of digital technology to support our students, comes a responsibility to ensure our systems are resilient and available. Updates on Minerva live service and the project to migrate Minerva to cloud hosting are available on For Staff.

Aside from the issues with Minerva, this term has seen a lot of positive progress in the area of digital education due to the work of many people, which I would like to summarise here with updates on the following initiatives and projects:

  • Blended Learning and Digital Literacy frameworks
  • Top Hat mobile voting system
  • Learning Analytics system
  • Microsoft Teams
  • Inclusive teaching practice; and
  • Electronic marking. 

Blended learning and digital literacy

This month, the Taught Student Education Board will be considering a Blended Learning Framework and a Digital Literacy Framework. These have been drafted and consulted widely across the University, following a lot of work by teams led by Dr Edward Venn (Music) and Louise Woodcock (OD&PL).

Once approved, these frameworks will be rolled out during the coming year, and will set expectations in terms of use of digital technology to support students’ learning, alongside support and professional development to enhance digital literacy. These frameworks will be adaptable to disciplinary contexts and sensitive to a range of pedagogical approaches. It is hoped they will provide ‘scaffolded’ support for staff to continue to enhance their pedagogic practice using digital technology, and will offer staff and students opportunities to enhance their digital literacies.

Mobile voting

We launched the Top Hat mobile voting system institutionally this academic year. This tool is intended to support our blended learning strategy, and encourage students’ active participation in teaching sessions.

So far, more than 13,000 students have registered for a Top Hat account and engaged in quizzes in teaching sessions. This is a fantastic springboard for the future, and we hope that all students will soon be able to benefit from active engagement in teaching sessions using Top Hat. Remember that the tools within Top Hat can be used to stimulate discussion, test knowledge and give and receive feedback. Contact Gail Hardwick in the Digital Education Service (DES) for advice on how to get started with Top Hat.

Learning analytics

Following the approval of our Learning Analytics Strategy and Code of Practice at the end of the past academic year, work has begun in earnest to define our requirements for a learning analytics system. We have held a number of sessions, for staff and students, to help define the key aspects of a system to allow our students to monitor their progress and to help personal tutors to support them with their academic studies. Once these requirements are agreed, we will be inviting a variety of suppliers to the University to demonstrate how their products meet our needs, and from there we will be finalising our business case.

Alongside this work, we are progressing our plans for an institutional eportfolio system, and bringing both eportfolios and learning analytics under the Leeds for Life brand to understand how personal tutors and students will use these systems to support personal and professional development conversations and activities. Contact Jaime Hesketh in the DES if you would like to be involved in these discussions.

Microsoft Teams

The IT Service successfully launched Microsoft Teams for staff towards the end of the past academic year, and there has been a lot of interest from colleagues in this tool and its potential value to support student learning. We are currently working hard on a strategy to roll out Microsoft Teams to students, to allow for rich team-based conversations in learning and teaching scenarios and other, informal, teams.

Currently, a major challenge to an institutional rollout of Teams for students is a lack of a data sync between Banner and MS Teams, meaning any module level Teams would have to be created and maintained manually. This would create an excessive administrative burden and would result in a poor student experience. Therefore, until this data sync is in place, our use of Microsoft Teams for students at a module level will be restricted. Contact Deborah Gibbs in the DES if you would like to be involved in a small-scale pilot of Microsoft Teams for students.

Inclusive teaching practice

New legislation was recently introduced about web accessibility, which will impact us all. The legislation requires us to make our website, systems and online content accessible by September 2020. These changes will enhance the student education offer at Leeds and are entirely aligned with our inclusive teaching practice baselines, further information about which can be found on the new inclusive teaching practice website. The resources on the site will help you to design, teach and assess inclusively, as well as providing you with advice on creating digitally accessible content (which can also be found by going directly to the Digital Accessibility website). It will also help you to create inclusive learning and teaching environments and understand some of the barriers inherent to many common practices in higher education. Further guidance and support for making your learning and teaching materials digitally accessible will be issued throughout 2020.

Electronic marking

The Senate approved principles for a policy on electronic marking earlier this year, and we have now discussed the roadmap for implementation of this policy at all Faculty Student Education Committees. There is general support for the direction of travel towards a position where students are only submitting their coursework online (where practicable) and that coursework is marked online, and we are encouraging schools and faculties to begin making the transition to this position using the Turnitin Grademark system.

During the coming years, we will be working with schools where this presents challenges, to provide solutions and advice to overcome barriers, and we will be formalising our ‘electronic marking of coursework’ policy. We will be focussing on electronic marking of coursework at present, and will revisit the plans to digitise and mark examination scripts online at a later time.

Have your say

Finally, remember that you can give feedback on digital education systems via the DES user group, which meets termly. You can sign up for updates and join this group via Yammer or by contacting Rebecca Milnes in the DES.

Professor Neil Morris, Dean of Digital Education

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