SLE: Inspiring Practice Case-study @ City

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This blog post is designed to compliment the session – “Inspiring Practice at your Institution”, at the Changing the Learning Landscape event in London on 26th November 2013 in London. On the day a range of City staff will deliver short presentations about their participation and role in a particularly busy year at City, where many large and small scale Strategic Learning Environment (SLE) investment projects were implemented.The aim is to give a taste of how we work at City and whats its like to be part of delivering the SLE.

“Changing the Learning Landscape is about enabling higher education institutions in England, including colleges of further education providing higher education, to bring about change in their strategic approaches to technology in learning and teaching.”  Find out more here 


Provide an insight for a wide audience on:

  • How the concept and management structure led to us – being ahead of the curve – of adoption ( Moodle 2, advances use of multimedia, Learning spaces agenda)
  • What its actually been like working within the SLE at CIty – over a particularly busy period – at different levels / roles in the structure, including our key partners.


  • an introduction to the history of the SLE, how it was set up and how it works at different levels. How the Strategy and Governance group is made up, how they  operate and their successes
  • two or three perspectives on different aspects from a range of roles – SLE Manager, Senior Technologists – with an opportunity for questions on each section
  • the collaborative approach that helped engage and influence a range of stakeholders.

City’s Strategic Learning Environment (SLE)

Mike Hughes, Service Manager for City University’s Strategic Learning Environment (SLE)
Moodle developer, development manager and project manager.

The picture above links to the JISC website where Susannah talks in 2011 about the SLE Vision in a short video.

Prezi for the meeting by Mike Hughes.

Background to the SLE – City in numbers – SLE core themes – VLE review findings – aligning with institutional vision/strategic plan – the technology stack – learning spaces – Machiavelli on change

The following resources may be of interest:

Activity: How to instigate and lead change (e.g. new educational technology platform or major upgrade) in the face of resistance to change and mistrust of ‘IT’ projects which may have failed or been poorly executed in the past. What activities would you plan to get things going in the right direction?

Suggestions from the floor:

  • Showcase the new features and benefits, to create demand and interest
  • Explain the risks involved if you don’t move or change
  • Look for, prioritise and promote quick wins for all the community
  • Identify your organisations’ influencers (and critics) and get them involved
  • Involve your community, who may not be change averse but don’t like to be imposed upon
  • Work together with academics and identify and prioritise their pedagogic needs- better still get them to own/lead the change!
  • Communication & Collaboration … these are key

How did we organise ourselves into an effective structure? And did it work? 

Rae Bowdler, Senior Educational Technologist at City and ETC Community Member 2013

Click on image above to view the full size.

A snapshot of the Moodle Working Groups example

Nominal Group Technique Workshop

In October 2012

The Educational Technology Community came together for a workshop (facilitated by Olivia Fox & Annemarie Cancienne) and used a Nominal Group Technique(NGT) to address the following issue –  What changes would you recommend to make the community meeting a structure effective and enable us to discuss strategy, make decisions and share practice? NGT is a structured face-to-face technique which was originally developed in the 1970s as a technique for making decisions in large groups. The term Nominal Group arises from the fact that the activity is a group only in name as it relies on individual contributions in a group environment (O’ Neil and Jackson 1983, cited in Varga-Atkins et al. 2011). You can read more about how NGT works in Olivia’s blog.

The top five responses were:

  1. Establish sub-groups: Specialist Interest Groups and Working Groups
  2. Create, establish and develop an online community
  3. Remove operational focus from community meetings
  4. Agree an effective decision making process
  5. Sharing Practice

In October 2013

After a year working in the structure, members of the educational technology community were asked to complete an online questionnaire on the effectiveness of the meeting and communication structures.

Respondents found that ETC Central, Working Groups and SLE Ops/Testing had some level of effectiveness at meeting their objectives. Respondents agreed that the meeting structure was effective at supporting particular activities. These included:

  • enabling greater collaboration across the community than in previous years;
  • keeping the Educational Technology Community up-to-date with developments in different projects;
  • giving Schools/Services a voice on projects;
  • use of Moodle for organising the work and communications of the SLE Ops/testing group in particular.

Where aspects of the meetings and work of the group were less effective; respondents identified issues around:

  • a lack of a clear decision making structure;
  • the need for clearer roles and a fairer distribution of roles;
  • communications between the group and also around communicating project progress to a wider City audience, and
  • meeting administration – e.g. circulating meeting notes in timely manner, formal agendas.

How did our “working group” approach benefit City and help realise the SLE vision?

Working groups and decision-making

Smaller groups enabled good working relationships to develop, the responsibilities were shared out and importantly the whole group entrusted decision making – to the working groups. After the year of working across one or more these groups a shared approach has developed among its members.

Online community

The whole group knew – who was doing what – and could easily use the online community space to see how work was progressing or dip in and ask questions or get help. This transparency enabled us to focus on our own areas but to still feel in touch and involved with the direction of the whole initiative. Simple tracking tools were shared, so regular updates and reports to the strategy group were made simple.

I noticed the following overall benefits from forming working groups to tackle the educational technology change projects:

  • Reduced stress among team members
  • Less disputes and misunderstandings
  • Increased transparency
  • Efficient use of time and expertise
  • Easy to encourage membership from other departments, for a clearly defined task and timescale
  • Easy to integrate with other project methods in use at City e.g. Prince 2
  • Increased flexibility – we were able to respond quickly to changing priorities and share resources at busy times
  • The group developed a shared approach to project work and have experience of working together in small teams


2013 – a big year for Multimedia at City

Searching for solutions – The multi-media working group experience

Sandra Partington, Senior Educational Technologist at City and multi-media working group lead 2013

It’s not just about Moodle – The SLE comprises a suite of technologies and the community that champions, manages and governs them. City has developed a high level of practice using a range of multi-media tools and services to enhance and blend learning.

However a review of the use of digital video and associated technologies for educational purposes in 2012 found that although the current technologies were found to be well embedded and utilised across the subject areas at the University, it was apparent that they were no longer keeping up with changes in Higher Education (HE) and new demands from academics and students.

Our collaborative approach engaged colleagues from across the university’s schools and professional services, in order to surface and analyse our requirements. And then recommend additions and changes to the University’s existing suite of educational technologies; making the case for investment on a sound pedagogical basis. A key requirement of course was integration with our virtual learning environment, so back to that Moodle again!

The blog article, 101 things about video shows our extensive list of requirements that led to the selection of a new institution wide solution; designed to enable increased and innovative usage of video in education.




Communications – the challenge

Rae Bowdler, Senior Educational Technologist and Annemarie Cancienne, Head of Educational Technology team at City in collaboration with the ETC Community

Two strands – external and internal communication:

  • Multi-pronged approach
  • Postings to coincide with the releases
  • Development of guidance by the Guidance WG to be promoted
  • Tagging system
  • Project report updates at ETC
  • SLE Updates at team meetings and general encouragement for the wider ETC community to post out to their networks and schools.

 SLE Communications Plan

Educational Technology Guides

Guides for using all our educational technologies have been produced using the software confluence and are available at: and

Any questions?

What are your three biggest challenges in bringing about change in your organisation?

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One Response

  1. Paul Gentle

    November 27, 2013 5:03 pm

    The team’s approach to running their session was superbly planned and executed. It’s clear why City is regarded as a leader in thought and in practice in using TEL systemically.

    Much inspiration for everyone – thank you!


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