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ALT Annual Conference 2018

Oct 1, 2018 4:41:00 PM

Sarah Brady

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Learning Technologist Sean Farrell from SUPA and John Wilson CEO Ajenta present at ALT Conference 2018 -
“Using learning technology to enhance teaching and learning by connecting a community of 1200 physics, academics, research staff and postgraduate students” 


John Wilson Ajenta ALT Conference workshopThe Ajenta team were out in force in September at the ALT Annual Conference at Manchester University. We were absolutely thrilled to have such an innovating partner SUPA along with us to share their Vscene story.

SUPA, the Scottish Universities Physics Alliance, is a strategic alliance of eight physics schools with a shared strategy for research. The Universities of Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Heriot-Watt, St Andrews, Strathclyde and West of Scotland are all SUPA members. As one of Vscene’s largest users, SUPA manage 30+ virtual classroom sessions each week.

Launched in 2004 with the aim of placing Scotland at the forefront of research in physics, SUPA has been highly successful in establishing Scotland as a recognised international leader in research and advanced postgraduate training in physics. SUPA is a community of over 1,200 physicists (academics, research staff and postgraduate students) across Scotland.

The SUPA Graduate School with 600 PhD students, provides postgraduate education and training to Scottish physicists. The program offers 50 courses, corresponding to over 800 hours of lectures delivered annually via network of video classrooms, covering all seven of SUPA’s research themes.

SUPA collaborate with several RCUK funded Doctoral Training Centres, research institutes and other alliances. These prestigious competitive awards attract excellent students to study for a PhD in Scotland of which are delivered via Ajenta’s custom built Hybrid Classroom solutions in each of the eight SUPA institutions.

While SUPA recognised that having a taught component for postgraduate researchers would produce better physicists, they were also aware that this would not be economically viable for individual institutions to run due to the small number of participants involved. A distributed graduate school based in up to eight institutions across Scotland made any possibility of having frequent classes unfeasible.

The Solution

The solution was to use video conferencing to allow face-to-face style classes, thereby sharing the teaching load and achieving critical mass. Staff wanted more flexibility and accessibility to support both synchronous collaboration (via real-time video links between university classrooms) and asynchronous learning (via recorded lectures supporting video, audio and content sharing). Each session needed to be recorded in HD for future reference and webcast to provide real-time inclusion for a much larger web-based audience.

SUPA required parallel classes, their main priority was to find a quality solution that could be easily accessed by everyone from any device. Supporting such aspects as advanced physics courses, careers and outreach events, research seminars, Visitor programme, Exchanges Industry placements and Integration with SUSSP summer schools.

The Workshop

During our ALT workshop, SUPA shared a live link to real classrooms in each location to show class scheduling, lecture capture, workspace collaboration, recording library and in-call moderation in action.SUPA ALT Conference

ALT attendees gained a real experience of how fully achieve synchronous collaboration whilst enhancing teaching and learning by offering a wider range of themes. Student satisfaction surveys were shared to show the successful model and reflect the positive experiences of students and staff. Followed by a Q & A session fielded by SUPA.

SUPA’s successful practice delivery and growth is reflected in its year on year growth; SUPA held 885 video conference lectures and meetings last year, increasing by 88 from the previous year. SUPA believe Vscene has enhanced learning and increased outreach.

Extending Reach

Courses for students with visa delays – SUPA have had several students who have experienced delays in starting at their university due to delays in getting a visa. Through the use of Vscene, SUPA were able to include several international students and allow them to join their lecture courses early, even though they were not yet in the UK. These students would otherwise have been delayed by a full year in attending these courses, and it enabled meaningful early engagement with the student.

Widening partnerships and Increasing participation

SUPA have some new courses in collaboration with ScotCHEM, and work closely with several of the Centres for Doctoral Training which are based in our partner universities which will be delivered virtually over Vscene.

Increasing participation and overcoming course cancellations 

SUPA have had lectures cancelled due extreme weather causing travel issues. SUPA were able to use the Vscene recordings centrally to identify issues and follow up with academic staff to decide how to proceed. Some of the staff involved rescheduled additional lectures, and others asked for recordings from the previous year to be released to students.

Sustainable and cost effective – SUPA run several events each year, where they bring their students together, extensive use of video conference lectures means that they can deliver a full programme of events with very low travel costs. Having the facility to deliver lectures over video conferencing has made it possible for SUPA to continue a very extensive programme of lectures to support our PhD students, despite the organisation moving into a phase of extended and more limited financial support.

Student satisfaction

SUPA continually seek feedback from students and survey staff involved in the programme of lectures each semester. Attendees are given an insight into satisfaction survey results. The impact is reflected in terms of the increased accessibility to a wider curriculum as well as increased participation and attendance compared to a classroom delivery method and positive feedback from students.

Replicate success

SUPA further shared their plans to replicate the success of this practice through partnerships with other universities/physics departments throughout the UK and globally to further improve the delivery of teaching and learning. This will enable further impact of attracting more students from aboard and again offering a wider curriculum.

Overall attendees gained an insight into the successful method of delivery and how SUPA are delivering synchronous collaboration in Scotland and abroad whilst maintaining a level of excellence internationally in Physics. 



ALT Session overview - Using learning technology to enhance teaching and learning by connecting a community of 1200 physics, academics, research staff and postgraduate students enabling synchronous collaboration. 



Digital Teaching & Learning - Lessons from Lockdown

This webinar, hosted by FutureScot, in association with Vscene, discusses digital teaching and learning – lessons from lockdown.

Watch Video

Case Study - Ajenta & Scottish University Physics Alliance.


“Using learning technology to enhance teaching and learning by connecting a community of 1200 physics, academics, research staff and postgraduate students”

Learning Technologist Sean Farrell from SUPA Heriot Watt University.