A week in the life of…Liz Falconer, University of West England

By Liz Falconer

I’m Professor of Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) at the University of West England (UWE), and lead up the e-learning Development Unit (ELDU) and the new Education Innovation Centre. This looks like being an interesting week, but then they all are. It’s such a busy time in TEL at UWE at the moment


So, another Monday is upon us. A morning free of meetings! I get so little time to sit down and do things; mornings like this are a real bonus. But it doesn’t last long, and at lunchtime I leave UWE to go to BBC Broadcasting House in Bristol for a UWE/BBC workshop. UWE and the BBC have a good working relationship that has been forged over many years, and this meeting is to take stock of what we do together now, and to look at ways to develop this for the future. As we have many media students at UWE there is a clear benefit for both organisations, and most importantly for the students themselves, in looking at ways in which we can offer further development and employment opportunities. It turns out to be a fascinating workshop with around 45 participants, and we learn a lot about how the BBC works – in turn the BBC learn quite a bit about us. We come away having made some real progress, and deciding that we’ll work on a range of projects together, including developing an on-line learning toolkit for both organisations to use collaboratively (my bit), developing apps for community generated news, an internship pool, projects with schools, shared CPD around diversity, and mentoring.


Tuesday morning and it’s our quarterly Technology Enhanced Learning Management Group meeting. This group includes colleagues from all the faculties at UWE, together with IT Services and Student Services, and is a great forum for discussing issues, seeing presentations of work going on across the University, sharing what we learn, running internal grant competitions (when we can find a bit of money to dish out) and providing an open forum which anyone with an interest can attend. We’ve moved away from the more restricted groups that were concerned with particular technologies like VLEs, to have one group that embraces the wide range of technologies that can (and are now being) used at the university. These include our Blackboard VLE and Web 2.0 technologies, including virtual worlds. A quick lunch and then a meeting with a colleague tutor from Business and Law who is interested in the use of e-readers for her business students. There are so many devices now, from Kindles to laptops, that could be used, and we discuss the types of devices and how they might be used to support her students. Ideas like providing devices pre-loaded with the course reading are some of the possibilities. We’d be keen to support this in the ELDU, particularly in carrying out evaluations of this kind of use. After that meeting I dash over to the site of our new Education Innovation Centre (EIC) which is situated in a building the university has just purchased from our neighbours, Hewlett Packard (HP). UWE has a strategic partnership with HP and its partners (e.g. Microsoft, Juniper, Polycom) which is a multi-million pound investment in new IT infrastructure, sponsored degrees and internships for our technology students. Part of that partnership is also the setting up of the EIC, which will form the locus for donated equipment from HP and its partners for us to develop learning and teaching innovations, which we will then share across the university and beyond. Today we’re meeting a representative from a Bristol signs company to see a 3D glass back-projection screen for the entrance to the EIC, which will look stunning! After the demo I’m completely hooked: hope the quote is affordable!


Phew, Wednesday. Today is spent on paperwork – in particular putting together a bid for the latest JISC learning innovation call with colleagues in our Education department. We’re doing a lot of work in virtual worlds now, so we’re hoping to get some funding to take some of this work forward to produce simulations that Education trainees can use to practice decision-making in different scenarios. I also need to get on with some formative feedback for my MSc Environmental Health students, who do an accident investigation and risk assessment in Second Life (for an evaluation of last year’s accident investigation see http://tinyurl.com/329zeg5) as part of the risk curriculum I teach; risk has been my academic background for many years. As part of the exercises they interviewed me individually or in pairs in-world (using text chat), with me playing the part of a manager in both organisations through different avatar identities. The transcripts of those interviews make fascinating reading and give me a great insight into their learning. So, I annotate them all as formative feedback and give them back to the students to reflect upon as part of their summatively assessed learning portfolio. It takes a lot of time, but I do think it’s well worth it.


The day begins with a Research Excellence Framework (REF) meeting with one of my colleague professors in Education. There is a lot of learning and teaching development work going on in UWE, but as always it can be difficult to pull it all together to tell a coherent research story. So, we’re starting to look at ways of doing that now, well ahead of the REF. In the afternoon I have a meeting with one of the Associate Deans for resources in one of the faculties. We’re exploring ways in which TEL can be supported in the faculties as effectively as possible. The ELDU is part of the Vice Chancellor’s office, which gives us the benefit of being able to work across the university very effectively, but also gives us the challenge of how best to help faculties embed TEL into their activities.


Friday comes round as quickly as ever. A really busy day today, starting with my car having to go to the garage at 8am. I pick up a courtesy car, have a terrifying five minutes getting used to it (weird clutch!) and then set off for work, late for a meeting of the group managing our new e-submission system, which will go live across the university in September this year. It’s part of our Blackboard VLE and will streamline submission, feedback and marking significantly. Back to the office straight after that to finish off prep for my MSc Environmental Health tutorial group at 12 noon. Because I have no timetable as such, I teach them mostly online through Blackboard, with six face-to-face tutorials over the academic year. They’re a lovely group that I’m very proud of. They’ve really taken to the online learning and virtual world work they’ve done with me this year, and are great contributors to all sorts of the collaborative things they do with me in wikis, discussions and the virtual world. Straight after the tutorial I grab a quick sandwich, get phoned by the garage to tell me the repairs to my car with come to the best part of £1,000 (what!!) and then go straight to a meeting of the internal panel judging who will go forward to the NTFS awards from UWE this year. There are some good applications, and it’s always pleasing to see the depth of learning and teaching work at the university, and the care and dedication colleagues bring to their work.

So, I wend my weary way home in the somewhat erratic courtesy car and pick up my old girl from the garage just before it closes. Do I spend the money or get a new car? We’re both middle-aged and needing some running repairs, so I think I’ll empathise and treat her to an overhaul. Wonder if they could fit me in too?

Liz Falconer
Professor of Technology Enhanced Learning
University of West England

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