The Sustainability MOOC Team receiving their Green Gown award

May 31, 2023, by Helen Whitehead

13 years as a learning technologist

Long term Moodle maven Helen Whitehead retires at the beginning of June, so we asked her to reflect on her 13 years at the University.

How long have you been at the University?

I started in the Learning Technology Section in 2010 as a Learning Development Support Officer. I still do essentially the same job, but now called a Learning Technology Consultant.

What was different when you started?

We had WebCT as our VLE, and an online exam system called TouchStone had just emerged from the Medical School. Student records were held in SATURN. The Learning Technology Section was small, and only a very limited number of modules even used the VLE.

Tell us about some standout moments.

The introduction of Moodle was really exciting. Moodle is designed for learners (and teachers) not just for administrators. It isn’t just a poster board for resources, there are lots of ways to get students actively learning and collaborating.  “Flip Flop Day” was when we switched over to Moodle after a lot of work. I always thought we should have simulated blowing up a WebCT server…

Helen Whitehead by an illuminated fountain in Kuala LumpurMy visit to our Malaysia and China campuses was also an amazing opportunity. It was great to meet our colleagues in person and find out what mattered to them, and I’ve never forgotten to include our overseas colleagues and their needs in our work.

The pivot to online learning at the beginning of the pandemic was hugely significant. I and all my colleagues in Learning Technology were poised and ready to support staff and students, and we worked really hard and continuously from bedrooms and kitchens to support staff, some in beautiful loft conversions and some in cars to get away from their kids. And to help and reassure students who were taking exams sitting on the stairs because the wifi didn’t reach to their bedrooms.

What are you most proud of?

Receiving the Lord Dearing Award last year was right up there. It’s such an honour, especially as a non-academic, and lovely to be acknowledged as I neared retirement.

But I was also part of some award-winning groups such as the group who created the Perspectives on Sustainability NOOC and the Sustainability, Society and You MOOC, and were runners-up at the Green Gown Awards. Being part of the University’s first steps in NOOCs and MOOCs was exciting and challenging and fed back into good practice within the University.

Have you had any light-hearted moments?

“Locking” the PVC for Teaching and Learning in a cellar was probably a highlight. I first used Escape Games to provide a more palatable way for staff to learn marking in Turnitin – Escape the Paper Mountain”. Then as we welcomed students back during the pandemic I created an online Escape Game for induction, called Sarah’s Secrets, where the students had to work in groups to help Professor Speight escape from her cellar in time for the opening ceremonies. And I’m sure I had planned a presentation at an early E-Learning Community session called “Dr Who and the Monsters of Turnitin”…

And what will you be doing now?

I’m retiring to the seaside to swim and watch dolphins as well as volunteering for a small Heritage charity. I might have time for some Moodle muddling if anyone needs any help – but I might not!

It’s been a privilege to work in the Learning Technology team with intelligent and talented colleagues who have a deep knowledge both of learning systems and of pedagogy and the needs of students. There have been lots of laughs and I’ll miss the jelly babies!

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