5. Specialist Option


In describing your specialist option you should refer to the values listed in the guidelines. Because these are specialist options you should be clear what makes your work distinct from common practice; many people use databases, for example, but designing specific relational databases with tailored reports that are interoperable with the institution’s Managed Learning Environment would be considered specialist. Similarly, many teachers provide blended learning, but developing and sharing guidelines for such practice or working with a distinctive blend of contexts might distinguish your work as specialist. It may be that your specialist option is common amongst the group that you work in as you all work in a similar area; that is perfectly acceptable. Evidence for your specialist activity is likely to be very specific but could include: reports, papers or presentations you have written; this could be backed up by a job description plus written statements supporting your specialist knowledge from colleagues, clients or managers; active membership of professional or other bodies; certificates of completion of specialist training programmes or courses.


I am presenting my creation of three new online training courses as my specialist option within this portfolio. These were initially produced for our Academic Partnership Office as a scalable way to provide training for partner tutors.

I led the design and production of the three courses; basics, enhancements and assessments with feedback and support from others in the Learning Technology team.

These were released incrementally from 2016 to 2018 to partner tutors. After which the Head of Learning Technology Rob Howe  requested them to be adapted for all academic staff at the University. Having been revised they now provide a sustainable E-learning solution for all of our University staff on the use of our Learning Technologies and are easily accessible from our VLE NILE help page.

Creating the courses.

I started this project in Spring 2016 with the assistance of content developer Craig Ball, we worked together to scope the first course ‘Basics’ by reviewing older guides.

Due to staffing changes, I took over the full development of the courses in Summer 2016 and developed the first draft. This was shared with the Learning Technology team who provided feedback. Once the first course was signed off by our Academic Partnership team I continued to manage the project and developed the two subsequent courses; Assessments and Enhancements. 

When writing courses I was responsible for:

  • Testing and Identifying a suitable platform for online learning.
  • Reviewing and adapting previous guides and resources and linking to existing guidance from tool providers.
  • Facilitating the production of new video training guides by training and supporting academic staff who support partners in the creation of these.
  • Linking to both existing and new case studies.
  • Adding Learning Design resources from the Learning Design S.H.E.D site. 
  • Summarising the benefits and considerations of the choice of technologies into bullet points.
  • Requesting feedback from colleagues and making improvements based on these.
  • Platform Testing and logging technical issues with Edublogs.
  • Checking content and platform for accessibility (update CSS and use Divi Accessibility checker).
  • Managing the design and construction of each course.
  • Launching and promoting the new online training courses within the institution.

The creation of these courses was greatly helped by the feedback provided by members of the Learning Technology team including Belinda Green, Liane Robinson, and Nicola Denning and Learning Technology managers Vicki Brown and Robert Farmer prior to their launch.

Since their release, I have sought to make these courses more visible to staff by adding links to: 

  • The Universities weekly newsletter ‘Unify’.
  • Our Staff Development training site on NILE (our VLE)
  • Our reading list ‘Support for tutors’ which is included in every module site.
  • A new Help tab which prominently links to the online courses.

Skills demonstrated in this project: 

  • Producing learning materials.
  • Project management, including resource management, in learning technology.
  • Training, mentoring and developing others.
  • Management/administration of a sustainable e-learning process.
  • Designing distance learning and blended learning courses.
  • Managing and sourcing content.
  • Working with others.
  • Delivering staff training that is sustainable and self-directed.

Reflection and Feedback

Feelings – what were you thinking and feeling?

I was highly motivated to create these courses as I wanted to address the need for training for partner tutors who are unable to attend face to face training sessions. I was very pleased to adapt these for all staff in September 2018.

Evaluation – What was good and what was bad about the experience.

One personal benefit of creating these online courses is that I now have a much better understanding of all the tools I support and can now confidently discuss the benefits and considerations of each.

Personally it has been a challenge to develop these courses, both in terms of balancing the amount of time required for their creation against my other commitments as a Learning Technologist, but also in the complexity of writing the guidance. This is especially true of the ‘Enhancements’ course, as this looks at how our technologies can support Active Blended Learning. I found that this was more subjective than writing the guidance for the basics and assessments courses and I was very fortunate to be helped with the development of the Enhancements course by colleagues in the Institution of Learning and Teaching who helped to align the course materials with the pedagogy of Active Blended Learning.

The platform of CoursePress presented a number of technical issues which have been addressed by our provider CampusPress whilst I developing these courses.

I have also trialed a newer version of the CoursePress platform (V3) but after testing this I found that this newer plugin had a number of issues, and having reported these our provider they agreed to continue to support CoursePress V1 rather than move us onto a newer plugin. 

Analysis – What sense can you make of the situation

Since the launch of these online training courses I have received positive feedback from a number of new staff within the faculty of Business and Law who completed these when joining the faculty.

Existing staff have not been as motivated to invest their time in undertaking the courses, most likely because they have less free time available due to their teaching commitments and are already confident with most of our tools. They also already have established methods of support via email and face to face meetings which suit their needs. 

Conclusion – What else could you have done? 

To date these courses contain information in the form of videos, explanatory text, links to guides and basic questions to check users progress. As a first versions of each this content is sufficient, however in the future I would like to make these more interactive and engaging.

In order to work towards this I met with the University Content Developer Anne Misselbrook who made two suggestions: Firstly, provide staff with a simple a way of trying the tools – by developing interactive screen recordings with the software Articulate Storyline. and secondly; consider developing characters and scenarios so that staff can engage emotionally with a narrative in how they are planning to use Learning Technologies. To do the later I suggested we may explore the new branching video tool within our video platform Kaltura.

To date I have created basic prototypes using articulate but have yet to prototype branching videos.

Action Plan – If it arose again what would I do?

When I began this project I did not appreciate how much time it would take to complete the production of each course. In hindsight the project would have benefited from a broader team of developers so that they could have been developed in a shorter amount of time. However I am very pleased to have completed them. 


NILE Online training courses (Project Coordinator / Content Creator)


Online training enrolments – September 03 2018.

16 – Learntech / APO staff enrolled.
15 – UoN On Campus Academics enrolled.
34 – Academic Partners enrolled.

Total 65.


Online training enrolments – March 25 2019.

21 -Learntech / APO staff enrolled.
87 – UoN On Campus Academics enrolled.
79 – Academic Partners enrolled.

Total 187.


Online training enrollments

03/09/18, 65 users.
25/03/19, 187 users.
350 course users.
03/12/19, 387 course users.


Testimonial from Maggie Anderson (Senior Lecturer HRM & Organisational Behaviour)

“I worked closely with Richard on an online NILE training platform for use by staff, my main focus was on how this type of resource could benefit academic staff in our partner institutions.  My main role was working with partner staff, many of whom are in far flung locations.

Richard had starting creating the content with staff in the academic partnerships office and asked for my feedback and input.  I was glad that Richard asked for my opinion because I felt I could help to explain the processes in a step by step way as using Nile for teaching and learning, grading and feedback was a big part of my role. I also knew from experience that many partner staff struggled to use NILE and would appreciate some guidance. I felt that video content provided an additional support to written guides as staff could work through the videos whilst working on their own NILE sites.

As a self-confessed technophobe I did require a lot of help with using the video recording platform Kaltura , I had no concerns with providing the voice over and I am quite confident in presenting but in terms of using the technology I was very nervous.

 Richard was incredibly patient with me, taking me through the process step by step. Richard also quickly realised that written instructions and guides did not really work for me and the only way I was going to get to grips with this was to actually do it.

Richard guided me through the process step by step and sat with me for my first few attempts. He then helped me to get set up but waited outside in case I needed any help. Once I became more confident I set up the recordings myself and worked out how to save, store and access them.

I am much more confident is using Kaltura and even show our partner staff how to use this!

I use the training videos when I carry out in country training and staff development for new partners and often refer partner staff to the videos when they have queries.  The creation of these videos has really cut down on the number of queries we get from partners asking how to use NILE functions.

I think the NILE training courses are an excellent resource and well received by partners. The thing I didn’t consider at the time was that the videos would need to be updated when our approach to using NILE or the NILE functions are updated.”





Email to Rob Howe, Head of Learning Technology at UoN, on actions required to make courses available for all staff. 

13 July 2018 17:18

“Hi Rob, 

I have been through the first NILE basics course and there are only a few tweaks that I need to make to adapt this for on campus staff. (see notes attached.)
I’ll be going through the second course assessments on Monday, and expect that this will need a little more work as the assessment videos were recorded by Maggie and therefore they reference APO more heavily, (I’ll need to edit the videos as well as the text) 
Regarding the release of these courses for UoN staff, when Kate S tried to copy a CoursePress course across to another site recently it failed, so I will need to do a little testing to see if this is possible, if not then it would be best for us to wait until Ale Armellini has agreed to the publication of the ‘Enhancements’ course so we can make a full copy of the site in one go. Has he given you an indication of when he will be able to look at this?
I’ve copied Al and Belinda in as both have offered to help with the launch of this for UoN staff. (where time allows)
Many thanks.
Richard Byles.
UoN Learning Technologist.


Email to Rob Howe, Head of Learning Technology at UoN, on actions releasing courses to all staff.

20 November 2018 09:46

“Hi Rob,

You recently asked about the progress of the NILE training courses we’ve put together, here’s an update.
As you know there were some changes required to make the courses suitable for both UoN and Partner tutors, these changes have all been made and all three courses have been re-proofed and checked by Nicola Denning – she’s been amazing and has provided lots of really useful feedback.
Since I demonstrated the courses in the team meeting, some of the team have sent out links to new starters and tutors, (Al had some very good feedback which he shared with me) we now have: 
  • 72 users on the NILE Basics course
  • 53 users on the NILE Assessments course
  • 32 users on the NILE Enhancements course
I would like to make these resources more visible to all our tutors and been in discussion with Rob F about adding a link to a staff only NILE home page,attaching a custom domain in the same way as the Skillshub does. and swapping the links to the current NILE guides on the help tab over to the new training courses.
I’ve also noticed that Jim Atkinson has been promoting his courses on the UN Staff Facebook group, and we sent out a message about the digital literacy work that Jim put together, so I wondered if at some time in the future we could post a link on there to these courses? 
We have also met with APO last month and looked at the current partner users on the courses and they have agreed to better promote the courses to our Partners.
Finally, there are still a few minor bugs with our version of CoursePress, but we are now able to test CoursePress V3 which Edublogs have installed on a development server for us. I’m in communication with Edublogs as to how we can port across the courses and user progress. I will chase them up on this and keep you updated. 
All the best.”
Richard Byles.