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higheredukate https://higheredukate.com adventures in teaching and learning Sun, 09 Aug 2020 08:30:29 +0000 en hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=6.4.2 How I keep up to date with the latest in higher education learning and teaching news and research https://higheredukate.com/2020/08/09/how-i-keep-up-to-date-with-the-latest-in-higher-education-learning-and-teaching-news-and-research/ https://higheredukate.com/2020/08/09/how-i-keep-up-to-date-with-the-latest-in-higher-education-learning-and-teaching-news-and-research/#respond Sun, 09 Aug 2020 08:25:00 +0000 http://higheredukate.com/?p=355 Someone recently asked me where I find the articles that I share internally and in trying to respond, I realised my approach to current awareness is too complex to explain in a Discord chat. Instead, I thought I’d share the strategies I use to (attempt to) stay on top of the latest news and research related to higher education, educational technology, and online learning.


I maintain a Twitter list of key people and organisations in the field. I have this list in a column on TweetDeck, just to the right of my mentions, so that I can keep a close eye on what these accounts are sharing. This helps me to see the relevant stuff because my main Twitter feed moves fast and is full of a diverse range of people from a diverse range of fields. You can check out my list (and follow it if you’d like to). I add to it regularly as I find more people and organisations to follow.

During the week, I keep an eye on Twitter across the work day. I have it open on my laptop screen, behind my calendar app, and I check in as I’m task switching. I used to be much, much better at being present on Twitter and keeping up to date with what’s happening in my network. I’ve been thinking about why that’s changed over the years. I think it has become more difficult with time pressures in recent years. Also, now that I’m not actively using Twitter as one of my main communications channels with students (because I’m no longer in a teaching role), there isn’t the pull to be there as much. I’m also trying to be more focused and to reduce distraction, something I’ve been working on for a number of years. And, I also connect on a social level with a large portion of my professional network on Instagram today, which is really my happiest little corner of the internet. I do try to make an effort to scroll through my higher ed list once a day at least, and I do a deep dive on the weekend.

One other thing I do on Twitter that I think is really helpful: I have another (private) Twitter list of the higher ups at my institution so I see all of their tweets, too.


I subscribe to a range of blogs related to higher education, educational technology, teaching and learning, online learning, training and workplace learning, and K-12 education. I find I pick up a lot of useful content from training and workplace learning blogs like The eLearning Coach. I find out about new tools and new applications of old tools via K-12 education blogs. I also skim EdTech Update Daily (that’s the feed for the daily edition) for info on what’s happening in the K-12 blog world and more tips on tools and their application.

Besides those I mentioned above, some of my favourite blogs are:

If you’re interested in the full list of my subscriptions, you can download an OPML file.

I use Feedly as my RSS reader (though I am still mourning Google Reader) and my favourite thing to do on a Saturday afternoon is get comfy on the couch and clear out my feed reader, tweeting things I find interesting or share-worthy as I go.


I listen to arrange of podcasts to inform the teaching and learning work I do, including podcasts about teaching and learning, podcasts about technology, and podcasts about productivity.

Here’s my favourites across those categories.

Teaching and learning / higher ed

You’ll notice there’s a mix of higher ed and K-12 content in this list. While not always directly relevant to a higher ed content, I do pick up a lot from listening to the K-12 content.

For the next two categories, I have been extremely restrained. Technology and productivity, and particularly the space where they intersect, are my jam in terms of podcasts. The ones I’ve listed here are ones where can remember having picked up something practical that is directly relevant to me as a teacher or a curriculum and pedagogy professional, but in reality, I listen to a whole lot more of these podcasts and many of my all time favourites are missing from these lists. Feels a bit like choosing my favourite child!


  • Automators (for tips on automation that help me work smarter – very, very geeky!)
  • Mac Power Users (all Mac users should listen to this podcast. I pick up so many tips about things that help me work smarter)
  • Connected (for Mac news… What can I say? Mac nerd)


  • On the reg (new podcast from the Inger Mewburn of The Thesis Whisperer and Dr Jason Downes. I can already see this will be a firm fave)
  • Cortex (great discussions about ways of working)
  • Focused (because we all need more focus!)
  • Nested Folders

I listen to podcasts in the car on my ‘commute’ each day (for the last five-ish months, that’s meant my drive to pick up coffee in the morning), when I go anywhere else in the car, while I get ready in the morning, while I get ready for bed at night, while I’m cooking, and in lieu of reading books in bed at night (I’m currently having a fiction reading slump). I listen at between 1.5 and 1.75 times normal speed, using the app Overcast, which has a Smart Speed adjustment that reduces the length of silence. Apparently that’s saved me over 103 hours of listening time.


There’s lots of ways to be informed about the latest articles in relevant journals, including email subscriptions via databases or direct from publisher websites, and RSS feeds. In the past, I’ve tended to use email subscriptions, but my inbox is generally very fast moving and I’ve had to start thinking seriously about getting stuff out of my inbox. I use SaneBox to help manage my email and I have to confess… I’ve sent a few of those subscriptions to the Sane BlackHole recently to get them out of my inbox.

At the moment, watching for the latest research published in journals is probably the weakest link in my strategy. I follow journals that have Twitter accounts on Twitter, and I rely on my network to surface new articles that are of interest to me. What I’d like to do one Saturday afternoon soon is grab the RSS feeds for the main journals in the field and add those to Feedly, too.

How do you keep up to date with all things teaching and learning in higher ed? Is there anyone you think should be on my Twitter list, or any podcasts you’d recommend?

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How digital first design enables and enriches learning https://higheredukate.com/2020/05/26/how-digital-first-design-enables-and-enriches-learning/ https://higheredukate.com/2020/05/26/how-digital-first-design-enables-and-enriches-learning/#respond Tue, 26 May 2020 01:46:45 +0000 http://higheredukate.com/?p=336 Yesterday, I gave a presentation on digital first teaching and learning. This post shares resources related to the seminar.

In the presentation, I use the royal ‘we’ a lot. This ‘we’ mostly refers to the higher education sector as a whole.

The presentation gave a whirlwind overview of some learning theory and frameworks, and I wanted to share a list of recommended reading to support the presentation. Here’s the list!

Recommended readings

Links shared in the seminar

There were also some links and references shared in the chat in the seminar. I’m including these below.

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Don’t be distant: seven tips to step up your presence in your online course https://higheredukate.com/2020/03/23/dont-be-distant-seven-tips-to-step-up-your-presence-in-your-online-course/ https://higheredukate.com/2020/03/23/dont-be-distant-seven-tips-to-step-up-your-presence-in-your-online-course/#respond Mon, 23 Mar 2020 09:00:00 +0000 http://higheredukate.com/?p=330 The term ‘social distancing’ has entered the collective vocabulary in a big way. I think it’s a terrible term. What we should be doing is ‘physically distancing’ and stepping up our social presence using technology.

That holds true for our teaching. 

In the online environment, it’s easy for students to feel disconnected and uninformed. And what our students need now is the exact opposite. 

You’re probably familiar with the Community of Inquiry framework, in which two of the overlapping elements are teaching presence and social presence (with the third being cognitive presence). What I’m talking about here is the intersection of teaching and social presence. But it could also just be described as good communication practice. Theory and frameworks aside (because as useful as they are, at this point in time, practical tips are key), in this post, I want to offer seven practical suggestions for how you can be more present and more connected in your online teaching, and the positive pay off from doing so. 

1. Be yourself

Maintain the personality you present in person in the online environment. You don’t have to be formal and rigid in your communication, and injecting your personality and a bit of informality in your communication will make you seem more approachable. Using a conversational tone builds a sense of empathy. Be human. Forge personal connections with your students. Be a person first, and a teacher second.

2. Come up with a communication plan and tell your students what to expect

Set clear expectations for students so they know when and how they’ll be hearing from you, then deliver on those expectations. 

3. Communicate regularly 

Being informed is a powerful way to manage stress and anxiety. In the current unsettling context, regular communication with your students will help them to feel informed and in control of their studies. At the absolute minimum, I recommend posting a ‘Monday update’ announcement each week. Use it to introduce the content you’ll be covering that week, remind students of when classes are scheduled, remind them about due dates, and share relevant news. I also like to do a post-class update email, if I’m having a synchronous class, to surface relevant information for those students who weren’t there and who may not watch the recording right away (or ever!). 

4. Get out of the LMS

Learning Management Systems aren’t always the best place to foster conversation. To have natural dialogue with students, use the tools they use to stay connected in other parts of their lives. Communicate all essential information on the LMS but invite them to connect with you and their peers via social media, too, for more informal conversation and quick. Set up a Facebook group for the class or use a Twitter hashtag. Using social media can help you to be more responsive because it’s easier to see and act on a Facebook notification than to monitor discussions in the LMS forums. 

5. Use video

Video is a powerful medium for communicating information visually. It’s also a great way to up the ante on teacher presence because it allows students to see you and reminds them that there’s a person on the other side of the LMS. Shoot a three minute Monday update video in your home office using your smart phone and get your face in front of your students. Video of you talking to camera will support development of personal connections with your students. It allows you to communicate “emotional expression” and a sense of “closeness” (see Borup, West and Graham, 2011).

6. Use synchronous classes for interaction, not lectures

Tools like Zoom are great for synchronous online classes, but avoid the temptation to use them to lecture. The value of having students in a live online class is in the interaction that can happen there. Flipped learning models have gotten a lot of press for their use in blended learning environments, where you see students on campus for a face-to-face class, but they also work well online. Instead of running a one hour Zoom session to give a lecture, pre-record your lecture content (preferably in small chunks, but I know that mightn’t be achievable if you’re converting a face-to-face course to online in a hurry), and use the class time to talk with your students, run activities, provide assessment support, bring in guest speakers for your students to engage with, and generally foster a sense of connectedness.

7. Empathise

These are challenging times for everyone. Studying can be tough at the best of times. Studying in the middle of a global pandemic is new territory for everyone. Empathy is always important in teaching, but I’d argue that it’s critical right now. Put yourself in your students’ shoes and think about how they are experiencing study right now, at this extremely unsettled and unsettling time. What can you do to demonstrate care and empathy in your communications with your students? Fuller (2012) provides a discussion of strategies that might be useful in the article Building empathy in online courses: effective practical approaches

Give these seven strategies a try to step up your presence around your online teaching spaces. Being present will increase student confidence and help them feel supported., and you’ll also likely build a stronger sense of community in your courses. 

Articles cited in this post:

Borup, J., West, R. E. and Graham, C. R. (2011). Improving online social presence through asynchronous video. The Internet and Higher Education, 15(3). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.iheduc.2011.11.001 

Fuller, R. G. (2012). Building empathy in online courses: effective practical approaches. International Journal of Information and Communication Technology Education (IJICTE), 8(4), 38-48. http://doi:10.4018/jicte.2012100104  

Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T. and Archer, W. (2010). The first decade of the community of inquiry framework: a retrospective. The Internet and Higher Education, 13(1-2). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.iheduc.2009.10.003

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Web101: Content https://higheredukate.com/2019/11/19/web101-content/ https://higheredukate.com/2019/11/19/web101-content/#respond Tue, 19 Nov 2019 12:33:59 +0000 http://higheredukate.com/?p=322 A couple of months ago, I presented a seminar called Web 101. It focused on what educators, learning designers and learning support professionals can learn from disciplines related to the context we operate in: the web. The web is my classroom, and I know that pedagogy is only one part of good learning design. The other part is about understanding the web as a context for learning, knowing how it works, and borrowing from disciplines like web design, information architecture, user experience, and communication to design learning experiences that work online.

This blog post is the second in a series of short posts related to that seminar. In each post, I’ll briefly introduce a discipline or domain and talk through a handful of tips about how we can operationalise some of the practices from these domains in our teaching practice.

Let’s get started.


This post doesn’t really focus so much on a specific discipline, but straddles a number of content-related disciplines, from graphic design to videography, animation to sound. My key message here is this: The web is not a static text-based medium. So why do we rely so heavily on text in online teaching?

In my last post, I wrote about writing good web content. In this post, I want to encourage you to stop writing web content, and start producing other types of content that capitalise on trends in content consumption.

Tip 1: Don’t default to text

Instead of writing 20 pages of content for your module that students will download in PDF format, think about the learning outcomes you are trying to foster, the content you are dealing with, and the best way to communicate that content and achieve those outcomes. Text is not always the answer. In fact, I’d argue that text doesn’t need to be the answer – or the complete answer – in very many cases. Even when text might seem to be the best option for communicating content, I still thinking it’s really important that we challenge ourselves to bring in other types of media along with it.

Imagine you’re a student who has to read a 20 page text module every week, followed by three or four academic articles, for each course you’re enrolled in. Now think about the practical issues associated with that kind of text heavy engagement. These might include problems with retaining the content, issues with motivation, boredom due to lack of variety, inability to grasp concepts that are difficult to describe in text, and time management issues, along with many others.

If you really need to use a lot of text based content, break it up through strategic use of other media. Create graphical representations of key concepts and embed them in the text. Record a short video that concisely summarises a key theory and embed it at the point where the theory is referenced. Do an interview with someone from industry to illustrate a key concept and embed it in the module.

The web gives us the opportunity to push beyond the digital equivalent of a course reading brick by interweaving a variety of content formats to create dynamic and engaging experiences. Creating and curating a range of content types should be our new default.

Tip 2: Use other people’s content carefully and purposefully

There is a wealth of open content on the web that we can include in our courses, but we need to be purposeful about how we do this. I have seen courses using videos sourced from YouTube where the video sort of fits what was needed, or its of dubious quality, or its made by an organisation you probably don’t want to be seen to be endorsing. I’ve definitely been an offender of the ‘it sort of fits and I don’t have time to make something better so I’ll use it’ type.

I think using openly licensed content created by others in our courses is a fantastic idea. But it needs to be bang on topic, it needs to be high quality (and here I’m not just talking about production values, but rigour), and it needs to be made by a person or organisation that you’d feel comfortable endorsing publicly (one exception to that is, of course, where you are trying to purposefully illustrate and critique alternative perspectives). If it doesn’t meet these criteria, we really shouldn’t be using it.

And it goes without saying: only use content that is appropriately licensed.

Tip 3: Observe and draw on content trends

Be inspired by what’s going on with consumer content trends. Audio and video are two huge formats right now. Watching and listening to sped up video and audio allows me to consistently consume between three and six hours of content a day (yep, I monitor it!). This is content I can engage with while doing other things, like cooking, cleaning, driving, or sitting by the soccer sidelines.

Let’s hone in on podcasts as an example to help me get to my point… It’s not just the suitability of podcasts to multi-tasking that keeps me coming back to them, nor is it just that I can double the playback speed. It’s also the entertainment factor, the quality of the content, the way the content is designed and structured (I particularly enjoy interview-based or conversation podcasts), the fact new content is pushed to me through subscriptions, the easy access to show notes with relevant links, and the social element. It’s all of those characteristics together. It’s not just the container, but the style.

So if a lecturer was to record monologue lectures in lieu of text modules and post a link on the LMS, would the podcast lover in me be satisfied by that? Probably not. Because that wouldn’t really be drawing on the characteristics of the podcast as a format that draw me back to them again and again.

Instead, the lecturer might

  • host a weekly 15 minute interview-style podcast episode where they speak to a different person from industry each week
  • syndicate the content so students can subscribe in their favourite podcast app as well as access it through the LMS
  • provide relevant links and background in show notes that appear in the app and the LMS.

THAT would be learning from the podcast format.

I’ve used the podcast example here, but this applies to any type of content. Putting up a video recording of a lecture isn’t going to satisfy an avid watcher of vlogs. Capturing a day in the life of a professional in their field, vlog style, probably would. We need to look holistically at what makes these content types so successful and learn from those observations.

Tip 4: Don’t chop your lecture recordings into short videos

There’s been a lot of research and discussion around optimal length of videos for student engagement. I’m not going to get into the specifics of optimal length here because that’s not the point I’m trying to make. Let’s just say that in general terms, we know that shorter is better.

In reaction to this idea, I have seen academics chop up one or two hour lecture recordings into short videos. I might have even done that myself once or twice.

This is really not ideal.

A lecture is a bit like a paper. It has a narrative arc and an argument that is built up, expanded on, and fleshed out over the course of the lecture. We would never chop up an academic paper and publish the methodology in one journal, the literature review in another, and the findings in another. They need to be seen together to make sense. So why do it to a lecture?

Unless a lecture is specifically designed to be carved up in this way, it would be really hard to chop it up meaningfully.

Further, if you are just chopping 60 minutes of video into ten parts, you’re still asking students to watch the same quantity of video. You’ve just made it less convenient and more disjointed by chopping it up. It kind of defeats the purpose.

It is possible, though, to use your existing lectures as a starting point for brand new short videos that work as independent entities. When I first started using what I called ‘mini lecture videos’ a number of years ago, I started with my existing lectures then broke these up into key concepts and created videos about individual or groups of concepts. In practical terms, I did this by having my existing lecture recordings transcribed to give me a starting script, and then I developed a series of scripts and recorded a video for each. This resulted in a series of videos that I could embed in learning materials for each week. Each video was a discrete entity. They were far from perfect (far, far, far…), but they weren’t a cut up lecture and they worked in isolation of each other. From year to year, I could then go back and make edits and updates to the scripts and very quickly record updated versions.

Wherever possible, don’t just chop up your lecture recordings. Take the time to design individual videos. It will always result in better experiences for your students.

Tip 5: Not all content needs to have high production values

Not every piece of content needs to be made in a TV studio or recorded with professional sound equipment. It is possible to make ‘good enough’ videos without access to a fancy camera and rock star editing skills. It’s also possible to record and edit decent audio with some consumer tech and Audacity.

I use my iPhone, a Glif mount, a folding tripod and a lapel mic that plugs into my phone to record talking to camera videos in my home office, and iMovie to edit them. Will they win awards? Nope. Do they result in a stronger sense of teacher presence in my courses and make me seem more accessible to students? Yep! For example, I generally make an intro video at the start of each week in which I talk through key information for the coming week, demonstrate things on the course sites, share a resource and so forth. It would be a waste of time and money to shoot those in a studio because they are not necessarily reusable semester-to-semester. Quick and dirty does the job. And I would even argue, quick and dirty makes me seem more accessible.

I also make those mini lecture videos I mentioned earlier with a low production value because in the past I’ve taught in technology disciplines and I know I’m going to want to throw some of those videos out year to year. Again, a TV studio and a professional edit are just not required.

It would make more sense to invest in a fancy animation of a key theory that will likely come up in multiple courses than to invest in a video of me giving an overview of a social media platform that’s likely to look completely different next year.

Key message: It’s easy to get fixated on producing content with high production values but not all content was created equal. It’s not always necessary.

One thing I would add here: while you don’t need a professional quality video camera to record your weekly introduction video, I would suggest that you give some consideration to what you do use. If you have a recent smart phone, you will get a much, much better quality video if you use your smart phone to record talking to camera videos than if you use a webcam. Similarly, your audio will be loads better if you plug in a USB mic (or even, in a pinch, your iPhone headset) instead of using your laptop’s inbuilt microphone. Those are simple things that can make a big difference.

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Web101: Writing for the web https://higheredukate.com/2019/08/24/web101-writing-for-the-web/ https://higheredukate.com/2019/08/24/web101-writing-for-the-web/#comments Sat, 24 Aug 2019 10:04:07 +0000 http://higheredukate.com/?p=281 Last month, I presented a seminar called Web101. It focused on what educators, learning designers and learning support professionals can learn from disciplines related to the context we operate in: the web. The web is my classroom, and I know that pedagogy is only one part of good learning design. The other part is about understanding the web as a context for learning, knowing how it works, and borrowing from disciplines like web design, information architecture, user experience, and communication to design learning experiences that work online.

This blog post is the first in a series of short posts related to that seminar. In each post, I’ll briefly introduce a discipline or domain and talk through a handful of tips about how we can operationalise some of the practices from these domains in our teaching practice.

Let’s get started.

Writing for the web

Reading on the web is different, so our writing needs to be different, too.

When we read online, we typically scan text in an F-pattern, with our attention focused on words at the left of the page – particularly the top of the page. The word ‘scan’ is key here. If you think about your own practices with regard to reading online, you’ll probably recognise that you read differently on a screen than you do when you’re reading a printed book.

People don’t usually read every word on a webpage, in an app, or even in an article or text passage. Instead, they often scan — because their experience with many websites has taught them that scanning can deliver almost the same value (that is, amount of information) with significant less time and effort.

The Layer-Cake Pattern of Scanning Content on the Web.

These reading patterns don’t change the minute a student logs into the learning management system. Students bring their usual reading habits with them into the learning environment.

And yet, we often deliver text-heavy online learning content that is not appropriately structured for the web environment.

In this post, I’m sharing eight tips for writing engaging, web-appropriate teaching content.

Tip 1: Know and write for your audience

If you’re writing web content for a first year undergraduate cohort, odds are you’re presenting foundational content that students may be unfamiliar with. This is not the time to bring out your best academic jargon and write in lengthy, flowing prose. Quite aside from the fact that these aren’t good practices for writing on the web, they’re also not great practices for promoting student learning in general. It’s important to understand who your audience is and what they need to know, and to tailor you’re writing to the audience.

Tip 2: Make it scannable

On the web, people tend to scan, rather than read. Structuring content well for scanability makes it easier for readers to extract meaning by scanning, but it can also be a way of hooking them and getting them to transition from scanning to reading.

Here are some things you can do to make your content more scannable:

  • Break up chunks of text with headings and subheadings that are highly relevant.
  • Use short sentences and paragraphs.
  • Use simple sentence structures. If you have find yourself using lots of ‘ands’, semicolons, dashes or parentheses, you probably need to look at breaking those sentences up.
  • Write in a pyramid style, the way newspaper articles are written. The most important information should appear first. This ensures your reader actually engages with the important materials, but it cam also be a way to hook them.
  • Emphasise keywords to draw attention to them. This can be done using formatting (e.g. by bolding the words) or with hyperlinks to related content.
  • Pull out key quotes. Make use of the block quote format (in HTML, embed the text within the element) to both acknowledge that the text is a quote and draw attention to it. Select interesting, illustrative quotes that add value to the content.
  • Use appropriate anchor text for hyperlinks. I’ll come back to this one, as it’s a really common issue.
  • Use bullet points wherever you find yourself writing a list within a paragraph.
  • Limit yourself to one idea per paragraph. Start each paragraph with a topic sentence that signposts what the paragraph is about. When you find yourself writing about something different, start a new paragraph.

Tip 3: Be succinct

Succinct content is easier to scan and easier to understand. In the online environment, when our readers are less likely to read every word we write, writing succinct content is critical for comprehension. The following tips can help you with producing succinct text for the web.

  • ‘Chunk’ information into sections to make content portable, reusable, scannable, and digestible. Chunking also helps people remember what they’ve read.
  • Don’t include background or explanatory information on the page. Instead, link keywords to explainer content. People can then read it if they want or need to, and it’s not cluttering up the page.
  • Cut unnecessary words, phrases or sentences. If it’s not critical to the meaning, consider giving it the chop.
  • Use bullet points to avoid writing ‘filler’ content – the stuff that we write to stitch sentences together into prose.
  • Instructions for simple functions are not needed. Most people (me included!) don’t read instructions until they’ve tried and failed to do something independently – often many times. They clutter up the page and are unlikely to be used.
  • Write once, edit twice (at least). And don’t be like me, adding more content with each edit. Focus on reducing.
  • Avoid ‘happy talk’ like welcome messages and unnecessary instructions. It’s okay to put up a welcome post on your announcements feed in Week 1. But you don’t need to write ‘Welcome to Module X!’ at the start of every module. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Happy_talk

Tip 4: Use plain English

There’s a common misconception that writing in plain English is ‘dumbing it down’. It’s really not. Even when we’re writing for academic publications, using plain English is always a good idea. But when it comes to communicating complex concepts to audiences who are unfamiliar with them in a learning context, using plain English becomes even more important. In fact…

[in a] usability study with domain experts in science, technology, and medical fields, we discovered that even highly educated online readers crave succinct information that is easy to scan, just like everyone else.

Plain Language is for Everyone, Even Experts.

Writing in plain English is not ‘dumbing it down’. It’s actually good practice.

The more complex and unfamiliar the concepts, the more important this becomes.

Tip 5: Use active voice

Passive voice over complicates sentences and impedes conversation. For clarity, write in active voice whenever possible.

  1. Writing in active voice is an excellent strategy for simplifying your writing.
  2. An excellent strategy for simplifying your writing is writing in active voice.

When you see these examples together, it’s immediately clear that the first option is more direct, simpler, and easier to comprehend. But you’d be surprised how many people naturally lean towards the second approach – using passive voice.

This can be a tough one for academics. In some disciplines (particularly the sciences), passive voice is the norm. I find PhD students often write in passive voice until they have a sense of ownership over what they are doing, because it is less direct. I used to write in passive voice a lot – not by choice, but by default. Over time, I’ve learnt to lean towards active voice. It is possible to make the switch with time and consistent editing. It is absolutely worth the effort.

Tip 6: Use specific link text (death to ‘click here’)

Don’t hyperlink the words ‘click here’. It’s always avoidable, and never a good idea.

Hyperlink formatting is a way of giving emphasis to words. People use them as markers as they are scanning the page. Nobody wants to repeatedly have their attention drawn to the words ‘click here’.

It’s also important for people who are using screen readers, as screen readers read the link text to the user.

Instead, hyperlink keywords so users can quickly and easily tell what the link points to when they are scanning the page. Choose words that describe the content that you are linking to.

Here’s an example:

  1. Click here to download the assignment requirements.
  2. Download the assignment requirements.
  3. Download the assignment requirements.

We see the first example all over course sites. It’s not good practice. The second option is better because the link text is more descriptive. But it describes the action, rather than the content that’s being pointed to. I’d say the third option is the best approach, because the link text describes the content that is being linked to.

Here’s another example:

  1. Click here to go to the forums and share your thoughts on this week’s reading.
  2. Head to the forums and share your thoughts on this week’s reading.

It’s also easy to fall into the trap of using ‘more information’ as link text. That’s only marginally better than ‘click here’.

The following articles from the Nielson Norman Group are really useful reads on link text:

Tip 7: Infuse personality

When we’re working with online cohorts, the content we provide on our course sites is often one of the main ways we communicate with students. We may not get to engage with them in a synchronous environment like an online class. But it’s still possible to ‘be you’ in the content you communicate, even if you never get to deliver that content in person.

The web is a less formal medium than a textbook or journal article. I find that embracing that – infusing my personality in the content, adding warmth, being friendly – is a great way to communicate to students that I am approachable and keen to help them learn. Infusing personality is a way to make written content more accessible and more engaging.

Here are some tips for infusing personality in your writing:

  • Write less formally than you might in a piece of academic writing. Use contractions, simple sentences, first person and active voice. Cut the jargon. Write like you speak.
  • Tell stories and share anecdotes that you would use in your lecturing. Students love hearing about our experiences as professionals. Share those stories where they are relevant and appropriate.
  • Instead of writing about a topic, write to your audience, as though you are talking to them.
  • Be a little (but only a little!) lax with grammar and conventions. Start the occasional sentence with ‘And’ or ‘But’. We do it in conversation, and it serves to keep the tone a little less formally in web content.
  • Think about how you’d frame the content if you were writing a blog post, then write it that way.

Tip 8: Be accurate and up-to-date

The web is not a printed textbook with a lengthy publication timeline. It can be updated with minimal effort. Web users are accustomed to having fresh content on their screens constantly, and that creates a certain expectation when it comes to currency.

Don’t just roll your content over from one semester to the next without checking to make sure it is accurate and up-to-date. It’s not hard to check that links still work. It might take a little more effort to make sure you are presenting up-to-date case studies and readings, but it is worth the effort.

And don’t be afraid to make corrections or updates on the fly. If you find a mistake, acknowledge it and fix it.

Recommended reading

There is a wealth of content all over the web about writing for the web. Some of the best content you’ll find online comes from the Nielsen Norman Group. Dig into their archive of articles on writing for the web.

Blogs related to marketing and copy writing are also great sources for inspiration on writing for the web.

Do you have any favourite places to get inspiration on writing for the web that you’d like to share?


I’ve been teaching about writing for the web for over a decade, and I’ve read widely on the topic from the start. My tips here are the product of all that reading. I have also worked with some great content professionals over the years, who taught me a whole lot, including (let’s be real – mostly) Sofie Falkenbach. A few years back, Sofie joined my team at QUT and led a project that developed a standard information architecture and generic content for our course sites. She taught us all a whole lot in the process. Thanks Sofie!

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Student expectations of postgrad study and resulting challenges for educators https://higheredukate.com/2016/07/06/student-expectations-of-postgrad-study-and-the-resulting-challenges-for-educators/ https://higheredukate.com/2016/07/06/student-expectations-of-postgrad-study-and-the-resulting-challenges-for-educators/#respond Wed, 06 Jul 2016 10:25:55 +0000 http://higheredukate.com/?p=271 Back in April, I spoke on a panel of educators at the Postgraduate Student Experience Symposium. I talked about our degree, our students, our students’ expectations of the course, and the challenges my colleagues and I are facing as teachers in a multimodal (online and on campus) Masters degree.

The video of my presentation is now available and embedded below.

There were some great presentations on the day, including a keynote from Professor James Arvanitakis. All the presentation recordings are available on the Symposium website.

In my presentation, I spoke about some of the early findings from a project I’m working on with colleagues, called Refining the blend: developing a student centred framework for multimode education. I’d like to acknowledge those colleagues here. The project team is comprised of myself, Professor Helen Partridge, and Dr Elham Sayyad Abdi. We’re supported by a great team of research assistants, namely Katya Henry, Lynn McAllister, Clare Thorpe and Jen Thomas. More about the project.

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Why I put all my teaching videos on YouTube https://higheredukate.com/2016/06/14/why-i-put-all-my-teaching-videos-on-youtube/ https://higheredukate.com/2016/06/14/why-i-put-all-my-teaching-videos-on-youtube/#respond Tue, 14 Jun 2016 00:43:47 +0000 http://higheredukate.com/?p=261 At the beginning of the semester, a colleague asked me if I’d share my thoughts on the best place for hosting video content for teaching and learning with someone new to his team. I thought my response might be useful for others, too, so I’m sharing it here.

I put all of my teaching video content on YouTube. I manage this by making a channel for each of my units. Having separate channels has a number of benefits, some of which will become clear later in this post. But from an administrative perspective, the big advantage is I can give access to other members of the teaching team so they can upload or edit content. 

There are many reasons I use YouTube to host my video content. Here are some of them.


Students can subscribe to the unit channel and have content pushed to them. Using a separate channel for each unit means students can subscribe to just that unit’s channel, and only see updates related to that unit. If they subscribe, students see new content in their subscription feed when it goes live. I’ve only become a big user of YouTube subscriptions in the last year or so, and I don’t think I really understood the convenience factor until I started religiously watching a bunch of channels. While I’m sure students will never be as excited to see my videos pop up in their feeds as I am to see some of the stuff I subscribe to, for frequent YouTube users, I can see the benefits. 

Curating content

Putting videos on YouTube helps me with curating resource sets using tools like Storify. I can easily pull a YouTube video into a curated content set, but I can’t pull in content that’s locked behind a firewall (i.e. any content that’s hosted on my institution’s platforms). 

I can also create playlists for topics or weeks and incorporate my own videos with other videos from YouTube. Then I only have one thing to embed in the page – the playlist – rather than lots of videos. (Caveat: Make sure you point out it’s a playlist, or some students will watch the first video and assume that’s all there is.)

Accessible embeds

I can embed YouTube videos anywhere, and students can play it in context, with no pesky logins required to get the video to start playing. I can embed content captured with Echo360 in external sites, but it requires a log in to play the recording. That’s just one extra barrier to access.

Better mobile experience

YouTube videos are easy to watch on mobile devices. I’ve tried institutional platforms on my phone, and the experience just isn’t as good.

It’s also easy for students to find the content on their mobile devices because they can just search for the channel on YouTube (or better yet, they’d just see it in their subscription feed if they had subscribed). Going through Blackboard to Echo Centre and then watching the video play there is not a whole lot of fun on a mobile device. 

Easy, fast export and upload

It’s easier for me to export from iMovie or Camtasia directly to YouTube or to upload a video file manually to YouTube than to deal with our institutional media platforms. Video uploads and processes much faster on YouTube than using any institutional platforms.

Students like it

It’s become pretty evident over time that students like the way I use YouTube. I’ve only ever had one objection to it (at least that I know about!) and I’ve had a lot of positive feedback, like the comment below from one of my undergrads this semester (used with permission).

having YouTube videos to watch was a godsend. My usual lecture-viewing method involves downloading the video or audio from Echo360 (which, in itself, can be a nightmare due to the downloaded videos sometimes not being the ones you were expecting, poor naming conventions, misuse of new tabs, etc.) and then opening the file in VLC to watch at 1.5-2.0x speed for maximum time efficiency. With this unit, all I had to do was head to YouTube and speed videos up in its video player. While Echo360 supports playback speed adjusting, the player is slow to load, laggy and inflexible with resizing.

I value openness

The Masters course I teach in champions openness and I feel like I should model that by making my content publicly accessible and (when I remember to select the right settings!) Creative Commons attribution licensed for reuse.

In a nutshell…

Basically, hosting my content on YouTube makes my life easier and it makes it easier for students to access the content, which means they’re more likely to watch it. And anything I can do to increase the likelihood that my videos get watched is a good thing!

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Audio record assignment feedback https://higheredukate.com/2015/06/12/audio-record-assignment-feedback/ https://higheredukate.com/2015/06/12/audio-record-assignment-feedback/#comments Thu, 11 Jun 2015 23:00:23 +0000 http://higheredukate.com/?p=219 audio-record-assignment-feedback

I dislike marking so much that sometimes I wonder if I can actually do this academic gig for the rest of my career. It’s hard to explain my dislike because I also like it at the same time… It’s great to see how students are doing, and I particularly like marking reflective assignments where my students discuss their learning, plus assignments where they’ve built something, like a website, or made a video.

But no matter how much I like marking particular assignments, the relentless grind and the tedium that sets in after the first handful really gets to me.

Part of the problem is that I give stacks of feedback and I can’t seem to stop myself from doing that, which means I am quite possibly the world’s slowest marker. I also find it really hard not to copy edit and write stacks of feedback on the assignment document itself.

But I have found a method for marking that is speedy for me and means the students get heaps of feedback: audio recording my comments.

A couple of years ago, I slipped two discs in my lower back right when all my marking for the semester came flooding in. By necessity, I had to come up with a way to mark while lying flat on my back, and necessity is, of course, the mother of invention! So I came up with a solution where I put criteria sheets in Dropbox and used Good Reader on my iPad to highlight criteria and write the mark on the sheet. Then I saved them back to Dropbox. At the same time, I recorded my feedback on my phone using Voice Record Pro. After I made each recording, I modified the filename to match my normal naming convention, and saved them to Dropbox directly form Voice Record Pro with a single tap on my phone. In this instance, I was marking videos on YouTube, so I just played those on my iPad mini while recording on my phone and annotating the criteria sheet on my iPad. And it worked well. In fact, the audio recording worked great (highlighting the criteria sheets in Good Reader was a bit of a pain, to be honest, but served the purpose).

I have used voice recorded feedback on and off since then, but I’m going to make a wholesale switch to recording all my feedback. The great thing about it is that students get more feedback but it takes me less time.

I highly recommend Voice Record Pro for iPhone. The quality of the recordings is really good and the ability to rename the files easily in-app and then tap to save them to Dropbox is super handy.

In case you’re interested in giving this a try, here is my workflow.


  1. Open the assignment file and criteria sheet on your computer.
  2. In Voice Record Pro, tap the ‘REC’ button. Note this will not start the recording, but will take you to a settings screen.
  3. For the first recording, you will need to click on the ‘Advanced’ tab and choose ‘MP3’ as the format (the app records in MP4 format by default). I also recommend choosing ‘Medium’ for quality. These settings should stick for subsequent recordings.
  4. Hit the ‘REC’ button to start recording. I start with the student’s name and a statement like ‘This is feedback on Assignment 1 in IFN616. I’m going to record comments as I work through your assignment and finish with some summary comments.’
  5. Pause the recording and start working through the assignment. Restart the recording to make comments as you work through the assignment.
  6. When the recording is complete, tap the stop button.
  7. Change the filename to match your preferred naming convention – I name my files* like this: 2015 IAB260 Davis Kate IAB260-2.
  8. Save the file directly to Dropbox from the app, just by tapping ‘Save to Dropbox’ (note the new filename appears at the top of the screen).
  9. I highlight the criteria the student has achieved and write a grade on their criteria sheet. I use the same file name for the criteria sheet except I add ‘CRA’ at the end, so the file name is 2015 IAB260 Davis Kate IAB260-2 CRA.
  10. And then I do it all over again for the next one!

At the very end, I grab all of the audio files and criteria sheets and whack them into the same folder. Because I’m pedantic about file naming, everything files nicely, which speeds up the process of returning the assignments to students.

Just a note on file size: If the files are too big, you can import them into iTunes to compress them. You just need to change your import settings first.

(* Note I’m really pedantic about file naming for assignments because good file naming means less work when it comes to course accreditation because I can easily find the files I need. In particular I like to have the year and unit code at the beginning, preferably in square brackets but the app doesn’t support that, so I add them later.)

#blogjune 12/30

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Premium web services worth paying for https://higheredukate.com/2015/06/09/premium-web-services-worth-paying-for/ https://higheredukate.com/2015/06/09/premium-web-services-worth-paying-for/#comments Tue, 09 Jun 2015 00:00:32 +0000 http://higheredukate.com/?p=204 I’m always looking for ways to do things more efficiently and I thought I’d share some of my productivity ninja tips in a series of blog posts. Here’s the first!

Public domain image courtesy Pascal via flickr

Public domain image courtesy Pascal via flickr

I use about a bajillion different web services in my teaching, and I pay for premium subscriptions to many of them. This post provides an overview of the services I have premium subscriptions for, how I use them, and why it’s worth going premium.


We use Facebook groups for discussion forums and Buffer allows me to schedule posts to the groups in advance. It means I can schedule all the ‘what’s on this week’ posts, posts reminding about assignment due dates, and posts reminding students about my availability over the weekend when they have assessments due. I also schedule reminders about activities I want them to complete between classes.

I also use Buffer to schedule tweets for my research group’s Twitter account and our Facebook page.

Buffer basically allows me to plan ahead and means I don’t have to clutter my head or my to do list with reminders to make posts at key points.

Buffer’s premium plan is called the Awesome plan and costs USD$10 a month.

The Noun Project

The Noun Project was my find of 2014. It’s a freaking awesome site where you can source Creative Commons licensed icons for use however you like. You just need to attribute the creator. If you don’t want to attribute an icon, you can buy it. I did this for an icon I use on my business card, for example.

They also have NounPro accounts, which are essentially premium subscriptions. If you have a NounPro account, you don’t ever have to cite the icons. And when you make as many presentations as I do, that saves you a whole lotta time.

When you’re a NounPro account holder, you also get a desktop app where you can search for icons and drag and drop them into whatever application you’re working in. Super handy. The only problem with the app is you can’t access your folders of favourite icons (which are called ‘kits’) from the app. But I can live with that.

A NounPro account costs USD$99.90 per year.


WPMU Dev is a premium WordPress support, plugin and theme service. I started subscribing to this service a few years back because I got sick of making my own WordPress tutorial videos for students in the unit where I host students’ blogs on a WordPress network. These guys provide unbranded help videos that you can use on your own site. But this is only one part of the service. They also make premium themes and plugins, and in particular, they make stuff that works with WordPress Multisite and BuddyPress. These make it much easier for me to manage my WordPress based course sites.

Currently you can sign up for 12 months for USD$294.


Earlier this year a small child entered my iPhone password incorrectly enough times that my phone had to be reset. And I lost everything, including video I’d shot for teaching materials. I immediately signed us all up for 200GB iCloud plans and all of our devices now sync to the cloud when they’re plugged in.

200GB of storage costs $4.99 a month.

Web hosting

I have three different hosting accounts with three different providers. One is a shared server plan I’ve had for years, which costs about USD$80 a year. It’s fine, but I feel like a resource hog running a WordPress multisite network on a shared server, so I also have a virtual private server (VPS). The VPS costs USD$50 a month but I bump it up to the USD$100 a month plan during semester when I’m running a multisite WordPress network. I’m really unhappy with this VPS service and as soon as I’ve got time to move the sites that live there, I’ll be switching them to my new host, Reclaim Hosting. These guys are brilliant. Their plans for students are USD$25 a year including a free domain registration. I pay $45 for the faculty or organisation plan, which also includes a free domain. It has been brilliant. I cannot recommend them highly enough. Seriously, don’t pay for WordPress premium options at wordpress.com. Run your own install with a Reclaim shared hosting package.


My life is in Dropbox and I quite seriously don’t know what I did without it. I have to have a premium plan because I need the extra capacity.

Dropbox Pro costs $109 a year.


I think everyone loves Doodle for scheduling meetings. The Premium version gives you calendar integration (unless your organisation prevents it, which mine does), plus the ability to send automatic reminders, see who hasn’t responded, and ask for additional information like email addresses from responders.

Premium Doodle costs €39 a year.

Skype call credit

So this is not actually a premium service, but I always have some Skype credit available for times when I need to bring multiple people into a single phone conversation, or when I need to record a phone conversation.


CudaSign is a tool for filling out and signing forms, and for getting them signed by other people. I actually use it mostly to sign my own forms, where I have to use the same form repeated times. The form is set up as a template, so I just have to put in a couple of details and add my signature. It’s much faster than printing, filling out the form, signing it, and scanning it back in.

It costs US$1 a month per user and you really only need yourself on there as a user.


Spotify is an essential productivity tool because I can’t work in silence. Spotify Premium gives you unlimited access to any content, any time, and you can listen offline.

It costs $11.99 a month.

Your turn

What premium web service do you use and recommend?

#blogjune 9/30

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Using social technologies for connected learning https://higheredukate.com/2015/06/04/using-social-technologies-for-connected-learning/ https://higheredukate.com/2015/06/04/using-social-technologies-for-connected-learning/#respond Thu, 04 Jun 2015 13:36:50 +0000 http://higheredukate.com/?p=200 Last month I presented on using social technologies for connected learning at a QUT Twilight Teacher PD event for school teachers.

It was a lot of fun and led me to discover what I’m sure will be my next hobby: making programmable wearables. I have visions of sewing conductive thread through Miss 6’s Elsa dress and making snowflake necklaces. Zomg!

But programmable wearables aren’t the point of this post. The point of this post is to share a recording of my presentation. I broadcast this live using Periscope on my iPhone and I’ve got Periscope set to automatically save videos to my camera roll. The light was quite low in the room, so apologies for graininess. I’ve retrospectively synced the video with slides. There are a few dodgy edits at the very end where I’ve chopped out questions you couldn’t hear.

In the video, I mention I will make my rubric for assessing contributions to the learning community available. You can find it in an earlier blog post.

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