Maren Deepwell in conversation with… Sheila MacNeill

This is a very special interview as I (@marendeepwell) am joined by the Chair of ALT, Sheila MacNeill, FRSA, FHEA (@sheilmcn) who recently published ‘Conceptualising the Digital University: the intersection of policy, pedagogy and practice‘ and this time we talk not ‘just’ about Learning Technology, but also #femedtech and shoe tweets!

Maren: Tell us about what you are currently working on?

Sheila: I’ve recently changed my work life balance and set up my own consultancy business.  Just now I’m working with the University of Edinburgh on their Distance Learning at Scale (DLAS) project, developing an online course for staff new to teaching online.  I’m also working with the University of Durham around the development of their digital capabilities framework. My role as Chair of ALT also takes up a bit of my time. In that capacity I am involved a variety of activities from chairing meetings, to developing and implementing strategy. When I’m not doing that I am using my time for more artistic pursuits in such as  creating landscape paintings in a variety of mediums.

Maren: What influences your work? 

Sheila: Many things and people influence my work. But generally it is based on my own experience, the people I am working with and my PLN. My context if you like.  I am always looking for new ideas and inspiration. So I try and read a variety of blogs, keep an eye on twitter and linkedin. I also find that the ALT mailing list is a great way to find out what colleagues are doing in the sector.  I think when our world is in such a state of flux it is important to ensure that ethics and developing criticality are at the heart of education. We need to be questioning the validity and basis of everything just now.

Maren: Current recommended reading?  

Sheila: One the best books I’ve read this year is Invisible Women; exploring data bias in a world designed for men by Caroline Criado Perez. How 50% of the population have and continue to be ignored in everyday decision making is staggering. It also explains most of the everyday things that really irritate me.  I think everyone should  read it.

Maren: How do you make your to-do lists.. analogue or digital or both? 

Sheila: A bit of both. I have tried various apps but I tend to use them when I have big lists of things and then sort of forget about them. I try to keep my to do list quite short and often have a daily one. I still finding using a pen to score items off a list very satisfying.

Maren: On work travel, you are never without..? 

Sheila: My phone and charger, notepad and pen in case I forget the charger, tissues and  a packet of mints. 

Maren: Which learning technology makes the biggest difference to your work (and why)? 

Sheila: Now I am an independent consultant it is slightly different, but I think eduroam is pretty fantastic if you can access it. In terms of specific learning technology, I guess it is any collaborative space, from a VLE to a shared google/word doc. Connectivity is also key – I really need to be online for the majority of my work.

Maren: Who are your learning technology heroes?

Sheila: I don’t think there’s enough space to share all the names. But everyone I have every worked with, tweeted, mentioned in blog, spoke to a conference, they’re all my heroes. I feel so lucky that I have been able to work with so many talented people and  that there are so many great people out there who share so much. I sometimes feel that I have my very own, always growing band, of learning technology Avengers. Except my learning technology heroes have better shoes and less anger management issues. 

Maren: If you had learning technology superpowers for a day, what would you change? 

Sheila: To make everything work, for one day all day. So no loss of connections just as a webinar goes live, no 404 errors, no forgetting of passwords, no buffering … .

Maren: What are your favourite hashtags?  

Sheila: Just now #femedtech is a great and growing network (full of heroes), #altc, #lthechat.  Also if there are conferences that I can’t get to but am interested in then I tend to follow the conference hashtag for the duration. Also #shoes #shoetweets are always good for a bit of distraction -they are often combined with conference hashtag tweets too.

Maren: What’s the best way for someone to learn more about what you do?  

Sheila: Look at my blog ( and follow me on twitter (  for learning technology stuff and instagram ( for the art stuff. 

Maren: Fantastic, thank you #altc :)

If you enjoyed reading this article we invite you to join the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) as an individual member, and to encourage your own organisation to join ALT as an organisational or sponsoring member.

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