Assembling the heterogeneous elements for (digital) learning

Communication and professional learning for teaching at Universities

One of the significant challenges I’ll be facing in the new position are around how to help the institution effectively engage teaching academics in relevant communication/professional learning that will help them. One of the immediate challenges from this task is identifying examples of good practice that have attempted to unify communication and professional learning for teaching at Universities into something user-centered and contemporary.

One example from Sydney University is used to illustrate what this might look like, are there others?

There is some good work

There are lots of good examples of individual projects. For example, way back in 2012 (5 years ago!!) @sthcrft kicked off the idea of Coffee Courses at UNE. That idea has been adopted and run with at ANU with apparently great success. So much so that an upcoming Coffee Course on Open Educational Practice is being run by some colleagues of mine from USQ.

What about integration at the institutional level?

But the ANU coffee courses appear to be run (quite effectively) by ANU Online. But I wonder how well it integrates/connects with the rest of the ANU activity around helping teaching academics improve their teaching? If I visit the ANU Centre for Higher Education, Learning and Teaching, I can’t immediately see any mention of coffee courses. If I visit ANU Online, I also can’t immediately see mention of coffee courses, but I can see evidence of a raft of other professional learning opportunities. Just like many institutions (including mine) there doesn’t seem to be any integration of communication and professional learning for teaching at Universities.


  • Though ANU is my alma mater, I’ve no understanding of the organisational structure or other supports that may be provided to ANU teaching staff to help them navigate. I could have missed something simple.
  • The ANU online environment seems to be quite a few steps ahead of my own institution in terms of supporting professional learning for teaching.

Teaching@Sydney: A better example?

Earlier this week I saw the following tweet (once again proving even a cursory glance at a poorly curated twitter feed can provide significant benefit)

This led me to discover and explore Teaching@Sydney, which is described as

Teaching@Sydney is a blog, website, newsletter and place for staff and students to contribute and share anything related to teaching and learning at Sydney.

I’ve not talked with anyone behind the design of Teaching@Sydney. There may well be a range of limitations or issues that are only apparent when attempting to use it for periods of time. However, there are numerous aspects of this approach that I think are worthy of copying adapting. This is not to say it isn’t without it’s flaws.

An integrated approach that supports separation

It takes an institutional focus (“branded” as Teaching@Sydney) but brings together all (or at least many) of the parts of the institution and provides space for them.

Roll your mouse over the Faculties heading and then roll over the different faculty names and you see a list of recent posts relevant to those faculties. It allows individual groups to focus on what’s immediately relevant, but at the same time allows everyone to see what other people in other faculties are doing, breaking down silos.

The site also provides links to what appear to be most of the other relevant links around learning and teaching.

It’s social

From the “about”

blog, website, newsletter and place for staff and students to contribute and share anything related to teaching and learning at Sydney

It has a defined process for writing and given the number of posts it seems to be working.

Though, on my quick skim, I didn’t see much evidence of comments on posts. So wondering about whether conversations are generated. Perhaps that happens face-to-face.

The content is openly available

e.g. I came across this site via this tweet, which comes from an associated Twitter account (with 169 followers). Since it was open I – as someone outside Sydney Uni, have been able to go in and look around and gain inspiration from the work.

I’m also able to see quite detailed information about the teaching environment at Sydney Uni. e.g. the post titled “Knowing your students – Deep insight into your cohort”, which provides some discussion of features specific to the institution.

Technology used to improve user experience

Visit the registrations section and you’ll see a list of workshops. Each one has a register button. Click on it and you can register. The same process at my institution is a bit more involved.

What’s missing?

There’s probably quite of list of features that are missing or could be improved. Many of them context specific. There aren’t that many immediately apparent to me.


Open is a priority at my institution. Hence we’d probably lean toward applying an open license on posts.

Social curation of posts

I wonder whether any thought has been given to offering a variety of curated lists of resources for specific purposes. In particular, building into the approach active support for people to create, share and improve specific curated lists. The Sydney site provides various categories for different purposes that appear to be created automatically via WordPress categories. No categorisation scheme is going to suit every purpose. Enabling social curation might increase variety and also enable people to order posts in ways other than date of publication.

Integration with professional learning events

An early approach we’re working on is that every formal, face-to-face professional learning even will have a specific URL where all associated resources can be found. For example, this page around the application process for AAUT awards. Currently we’re doing this using my blog, would make more sense to do this on an institutional site (if there were one).

Explore situated reuse

At the moment, it appears that the content on Teaching@Sydney is only visible on that site. I’m wondering if there’s value in being able to reuse relevant resources within specific teaching contexts. e.g. having information about the pedagogical use of a particular LMS feature visible from within that LMS feature; or, perhaps a mobile app that will provide technical and pedagogical advice on how to use the technology in a given teaching space.

Explore federated approaches

I’m also keen to explore how a more federated approach to some of these types of resources might work and make available


Thinking about (more) reproducible research and learning analytics


How we are rethinking L&T grants, awards and professional learning


  1. Bill Wade

    Thanks David – a good scan of the landscape, as much as time would permit you, I expect. I continue to follow NAVITAS’s Learning and Teaching updates:

    They have established an institutional “space” to assure sharing of practice.

    So one example of attempt to gather, collect and share. I wonder what you and others think of this approach?

    • admin

      Bill, thanks for the additional pointer to another example. Valuable, especially since the above really isn’t a scan. It’s more sharing an accidental discovery during the week (Teaching@Sydney), connecting it to what I already knew (@sthcrft’s coffee courses & ANU’s adoption thereof), and reflecting on the difference and what might be.

      Bigger scan yet to come. So keep the pointers coming.

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