Blending face-to-face and online to deliver group seminars

Jeremy Lelean, Staff Engagement                                                                                                                                                 


Soil Security Programme (SSP), School of Agriculture, Planning and Development

PhD students, external institutions and organisations


 The Soil Security Programme is a PhD Student research network that includes a number of
other institutions and external bodies. Students are dispersed around the country and
sometimes abroad.
 The ability for the dispersed members of the network to join seminars held at Reading by PhD
students would help facilitate increased communications and information sharing.
 Two face-to-face seminar events have been held at which members have been able to join
remotely via Collaborate.
 Members were sent a ‘guest link’ and joining instructions and were able to watch the
presentations given in the physical room.
 The initial seminar had 11 participants, 9 in the room and 3 joined remotely.
 A USB speakerphone was attached to the laptop in the room to provide the audio and a
webcam was used to show what was happening. Presentations were delivered using
‘Application Share’ in Collaborate.
 Jeremy facilitated the session to ensure the remote participants were kept informed of what
was happening in the physical space.


Using Collaborate was a success and participants found the experience was very good. There
were some minor points raised but this did not detract from usability.
 Remote participants could easily join in sessions that they wouldn’t otherwise have been able to
 Recordings of the seminars were made available to members of the network.
 SSP plan to deliver an online conference using Collaborate to help build a community of early
career researchers and PhD students in the field of soil science.

Thoughts and reflections

 Remote participants weren’t able to see where the speakers were pointing to on the slides. Ask
speakers to use the inbuilt Pen and Laser Pointer tools when PowerPoint is used in Presenter
View to highlight slides.
 It was necessary to restart application share when moving between different PowerPoint
 Remind participants in the physical space to remember that there are remote participants.
 Participants in the physical space can’t see the chat taking place in Collaborate.
 Chat was particularly useful for communication between the facilitators and remote users
without disturbing the seminar speakers.
 Ensure that remote users can hear those speaking in the room clearly. It may be necessary for
the facilitators to repeat questions or ask people to speak more loudly.



During December 2016, we had the chance to share our teaching and learning experiences here at the University of Reading with thousands of other educators around the world by providing a case study for a seasonal online course called ‘The 12 apps of Christmas’.

The free, open, short, online Continuing Professional Development (CPD) course was run for the third time by the Dublin Institute of Technology. The programme released ‘an app a day’ for the first 12 weekdays in December and over 3,000 participants logged in to get quick outlines of different ways in which they could integrate mobile learning into their teaching and learning practices. The aim was to raise awareness of the benefits of mobile apps and technologies, to provide upskilling for educators and to help expand their personal learning networks. The course was a collaborative effort with case studies from Ireland, UK and the USA and now that it has finished, the site has been left online as an open resource for all to use. It is available here:

The case study was produced in collaboration with colleagues at the Universities of Sheffield and Chester as a dissemination activity for the Enhancing Fieldwork Learning (EFL) project.  The EFL team have been working together to research and share innovations in field teaching and learning with a particular focus on the use of mobile technologies.

The app we focused on for the case study was ‘Geospike’; this app allows instant location recording using the internal GPS of a mobile device, to which photos, videos and field notes can be attached. This functionality means the app can be used as a georeferenced field notebook. The pedagogic case study we wrote described how we used the app to log field sampling sites in Iceland with Final year undergraduates from the University of Reading and the University of Akureyri, Iceland on a joint Microbiology field-based module led by Prof Rob Jackson (School of Biological Sciences).

Photos from the Iceland fieldtrip showing students using the iPads to log their sampling locations in GeoSpike (we gratefully acknowledge the Annual Fund for their support in purchasing a set of iPads to support field learning at Reading)

The experience of sharing our pedagogic innovations through the 12 apps of Christmas provided us with the opportunity to interact with educators, students, librarians and learning technologists across the globe. The cohort included people with a multitude of different subject backgrounds and experiences which led to very interesting conversations through Twitter and exchanges of comments on the website.

Frances Boylan @boylanfm A map of #12appsDIT followers (

Several other apps with similar functionality to Geospike were discussed along with many suggestions of alternative, innovative uses of this kind of app in teaching and learning activities. Our favourite feedback was on Twitter from @LeithaD “#12appsDIT Really love the case study for GeoSpike. A nifty app is one thing, but a well-constructed learning activity is even better!”

Learn more:

Enhancing Fieldwork Learning

12 Apps of Christmas

Take part:

DIT aren’t running the 12 Apps of Christmas in 2017 but there are a couple of others to try this year:

Syllabusless: Students and staff engaging through research

Nathalie Folkerts, School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science                                                                                                          Year of activity: 2016/17


In this project, a group of students collaborated with academic staff in SAGES and the School of Agriculture, Policy and Development (SAPD), the two Schools that share the MSc Environmental Management programme, in order to create a database of interviews that would help inform future students’ choices for dissertation topics, supervisors, and module selection. Students discussed research interests and opportunities for engagement while also engaging on a more personal level, learning about topics such as research horror stories and favourite pastimes. This project was completed with the hope that future students would be able to learn more about their professors, whom they may not meet or have much opportunity to interact with, but whom they may want to have supervise their dissertation or discuss potential research projects with. These interviews were curated into 5-10 minute videos that will enable future students to learn more about academic staff, their classes, and the potential for research opportunities. Seven interviews were completed and compiled into a website that will continue to be expanded in coming years.


  • Increase student-staff collaboration on and understanding of research projects and opportunities outside of the classroom
  • Allow students to learn about potential opportunities for research and dissertation topics
  • Allow students to learn about and better match with potential supervisors


The MSc Environmental Management program is split between SAGES and SAPD; while this offers students an ability to interact with and pursue classes in a wide range of specialties, it also makes it difficult to understand all of the opportunities available and to connect to professors you may want to research with or have supervise your dissertation. Therefore, this project aims to help MSc Environmental Management students and others begin getting to learn more about their professors.


I coordinated a group of 5-6 students who were interested in performing the interviews. We developed the questions and a plan for how to progress moving forward. Some of our questions included:

  • Could you give us an elevator pitch for why students should care about your field and research?
  • Who is your academic hero?
  • What is a recent finding in your research?
  • Do you have any research horror stories?
  • If you were stranded on a desert island, what are three items you would bring with you?

We assigned different professors to each individual to contact and interview. Because of scheduling conflicts, this process took most of the spring term. I then compiled and edited the videos, uploaded them to a new website, which will be made available and discussed with future students.

Screenshot from Exploring Research Opportunities website
Screenshot from Exploring Research Opportunities website


We successfully completed 7 interviews with faculty members in SAPD and SAGES with several student volunteers. We also developed a website to house the videos and to provide future students with more information on academic staff and research opportunities. Now that the interview structure and website interface is developed, future students will be able to benefit and contribute to this project, allowing its impact to continue growing.


Overall, this project was successful in creating a space and platform for students and staff to connect on a more personal level outside of the classroom. One of the main difficulties in executing this project was finding students and staff who felt comfortable participating and who had sufficient time in their schedule. Because of this, we completed fewer interviews than originally planned. However, the professors we interviewed spanned a wide variety of disciplines and backgrounds, and we also established a simple and easily replicated format for future interviews. We created a sample script and now have several example videos that will allow future interviews to proceed smoothly and quickly. Additionally, continuing to add to this project year-round would allow more time to coordinate with student and staff busy schedules. This groundwork will therefore allow the project to continue to expand in future years.

Follow up

This project had multiple iterations and changed significantly over time. Working with other students who were interested in performing the interviews, we developed the final set of questions and format we would want to use. We opted for short interviews that we recorded and uploaded to a website. We decided, given the availability of professors, that it would be better to develop this into a resource for future students rather than a shorter project aimed at current students. Students will be able to use this interview collection as a resource, and as other professors see the purpose and format of the project, they may also be interested in completing interviews remotely to be uploaded onto the platform, thus expanding the project’s use. Due to the change in audience and a conflict with another departmental event, we had to cancel the original idea for an end-of-year event mixer where students could meet and mingle with professors, lecturers and fellows. However, as the project continues to expand, this may be something to consider in future years.


Embedding a virtual placement and professional mentoring in an MSc module to support student employability

Dr Sarah Cardey, School of Agriculture, Policy and Development
Year(s) of case study activity: 2012-13


9397A virtual placement was created with the C4D Network, allowing student taking Communication for Innovation and Development within the Graduate School for International Development and Applied Economics (GIIDAE) to benefit from professional mentoring and networking, improving their employability as a direct result.


  • Set up a placement opportunity for students taking Communication for Innovation and Development.
  • Enhance the employability of students after graduation through developing their skills.
  • Give students experience of networking with professionals in the field.


Students on degrees within GIIDAE had asked for internships and opportunities to gain experience with development practice, which would in turn enhance their employability after graduation. While this was a goal shared by GIIDAE, the workload of students and logistical factors with regards development practice made it difficult to implement a physical placement scheme. As a result, a virtual placement and access to professional mentoring were sought as a practicable alternative.


The C4D Network is a community of professionals working in the field of communication for development. Through the C4D Network a “virtual placement” was created, with a communication portal run out of Oxford, allowing students to collaborate on development projects and network with communication for development professionals.

Prior to the mentoring sessions, a focus group discussion was held with students to assess what they were hoping to get out of the mentoring sessions so these could be tailored to best meet student needs and expectations. In the sessions with Jackie Davies, the founder and Executive Director of the C4D Network, students were assisted with the creation of profiles on LinkedIn and the C4D Network, and also in tailoring CVs for certain roles or organisations, reflecting the needs students had oriented.

The students also attended a networking event, and were given specific tasks so that they were active participants in the event. Students were specifically introduced to people, giving them the opportunity to learn how to network and present themselves in a professional light.

The final activity was for students to create material that could be featured on the C4D Network website. Two creative pieces were set as assignments, with the idea being that once these had received feedback they would be revised to make the pieces suitable for online publication.


Student employability was definitely improved by the scheme, with many students having received employment in communication and development roles, and one student having been headhunted through the LinkedIn profile they created as a result of the scheme. Incorporating a professional mentoring and virtual placement scheme has allowed students to develop skills in areas which central to their finding employment beyond graduation.


Students provided positive feedback on the scheme, and responded particularly well to the mentoring sessions. Beyond the direct benefits to students, the monitoring sessions were beneficial as they allowed skills that students developed in the classroom to be highlighted as skills that should be presented on their CVs, and also identified areas in which the curriculum could be enhanced in order to better develop these employability skills.

The networking event was valuable, as in feedback students expressed appreciation of the opportunity to meet people who worked in organisations in which they were interested. There was, however, a reticence among students to introduce themselves and make connections, and during the debrief session students reflected that it was difficult to network, and that they had missed good connections because of their reticence. While learning that they needed to be more proactive when networking was an important lesson for the students, this suggested that more networking support was required.

The creation of material to be featured on the C4D Network website was ultimately unsuccessful. The nature of the class makeup was such that students did not have experience of writing a blog post, and the final content of the assignments reflected this. Whilst, from an academic perspective, having students conduct an unfamiliar task was beneficial, for the goal of publishing material on the C4D Network website the assignments were of insufficient quality. With student workload within GIIDAE being high, it was not feasible to have students make necessary revisions while expecting them to complete other assignments. As a result, it would be necessary to make changes to this aspect of the scheme.

Follow up

The virtual placement and mentoring scheme has continued to be offered within GIIDAE. In addition to the virtual placement, there are now a number of physical placements in Oxford with the C4D Network available to students.

As a result of having run the scheme more than once, it has been possible to make changes to the curriculum to reflect student needs that were made apparent during the pilot year, and has brought forward the inclusion of material. To overcome student reticence, networking has become a more focal aspect of the curriculum, as has engagement with different forms of media, including social media.

Assessment on the course has been better adapted to the workload of the students. Rather than having students produce blog posts, students now produce a research paper, with the opportunity for developing this for external publication.

Running the scheme has made it more apparent which skills industry requires from University of Reading graduates in the field of international development. As a result, it has been possible to create workshops to improve these skills, and ensure that Communication for Innovation and Development remains a relevant and current degree programme.

Whiteknights biodiversity monitoring: building an app to collate long-term monitoring data of campus wildlife

Dr. Alice Mauchline, School of Agriculture, Policy and Development; Dr Alastair Culham, School of Biological Sciences; Dr Karsten Lundqvist, School of Systems Engineering; Professor Alison Black, School of Arts and Communication Design; Dr Hazel McGoff, School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science

Year of activity: 2013-14

A mobile app was developed for the collection of field data, supporting the activities of the Whiteknights Biodiversity Blog, and providing a central database for students and staff to monitor long-term changes in the local environment on the University of Reading’s Whiteknights campus.


  • To develop an app, suitable for use with Android and iOS devices, that was user friendly and had strong branding and identity.
  • To build a community of users for the app that would utilise and enjoy the app for biodiversity monitoring objectives.
  • To create the app as a tool that would support the teaching of biodiversity in a range of modules across several schools.
  • To create an app that could support the work of the Whiteknights Biodiversity Blog in monitoring long-term changes in the local environment of Whiteknights campus, including the University of Reading Phenological Monitoring Network (UoRPMN).


The project to develop the app, which was named KiteSite, grew from Dr Mauchline’s involvement in Enhancing Fieldwork Learning, a Higher Education Academy funded project that sought to promote the use of technology in order to improve student learning in the conduct of fieldwork.

The need for the app grew out of the success of the Whiteknights Biodiversity blog. Since being established in June 2011, the blog generated increasing interest, and coordinated multiple records on biodiversity, including a growing phonological dataset, the UoRPMN. The app was conceived of as a field recording tool that would support the work of the blog in monitoring long-term changes in the local environment of Whiteknights campus. Crowd-sourcing data in the manner that such an app would allow will provide researchers with access to data on more species, over a greater area and period of time, than they may be able to collect themselves.


First, a scoping study and literature review were conducted in order to identify existing apps, software and online resources that could be utilised.  Concurrently, six student champions, drawn from five schools across the University, interviewed staff members within their schools in order to establish the teaching needs that could be met by the development of the app.

As a result of these findings, a ‘HackDay’ event was held in December 2013 in order to decide upon the requirements for the basic functions of the app.  EpiCollect was chosen as an open source, generic, data collection tool that could be modified but already provided the functionality of sending geotagged data forms and photos to a central project website from mobile devices. The student champions modified EpiCollect to produce a prototype app, which was then tested by user-groups and refined by agile development.

In order to test the app, a mock species identification session was run, followed by field data collection using the app.  This and further data collection and feedback allowed the app to be refined and the database to be developed and enhanced.

In anticipation of the launch of the app, which was named KiteSite, a website and social media profile were set up, while promotional materials were printed and disseminated.

Ultimately the app was launched in June 2014, and a launch event was held, attracting a number of teaching and learning staff who expressed interest in using the app in their teaching and learning.

KS thumbnail


The project successfully created the KiteSite app that is currently being used by a small community for the monitoring of biodiversity on the University of Reading’s Whiteknights campus, and supporting the University of Reading Phenological Monitoring Network dataset.


Those involved in the project felt that they benefited from working as part of a multi-disciplinary team, as they developed their skills in effective communication and learnt to avoid the use of subject specific jargon.  Given that team members also had other commitments besides the project, it was sometimes difficult for them to balance their workload.

While it was not possible to create a dedicated iOS app, as had originally been planned, a functioning equivalent within the existing EpiCollect app that operates on iOS was created.

The appointment of student champions was valuable, as by having the project led by the principle end-users, they were provided with the opportunity to shape how the final project could be used and developed most effectively for their needs. The student champions took the lead on developing the website for the app, and one of the student champions drafted the reflective paper that was then published in the Journal of Educational Innovation, Partnership and Change.

Follow up

The project team continue to seek further uses for the KiteSite app. While it is used in teaching, the current objective is to engage with student societies that might make use of the app, such as BirdSoc, an ornithology student society.

Other universities have expressed interest in the project, and are looking to set up similar resources mirroring KiteSite.