Monday, 18 March 2019

Doing Digital Transformation #OpenBlog19

So I find myself challenged by Neil Withnell to contribute to #OpenBlog19, an idea that generated from David Hopkins — so I will try to do the challenge justice.

The topic provided "Doing digital transformation"

As someone whose career and interests revolve around Science, Engineering, Computing and how we teach these subjects, it is not going to be a surprise to anyone that I see the digital transformation as a largely exciting. But, I am not entirely sure though I know what exactly it means. There seems to various takes. seeming to come down the direction you come at it, as an example Digital transformation in education: The FutureLearn view focuses on MOOCs. So my take, is that we can start playing around with different ways of working with digital approaches, in partnership with our students and the advice of others, accepting they wouldn't always work - but it was probably fun getting there. I am going to try and illustrate this with an example.

A long-term personal interest has been introducing robots into the teaching programming; it is physical, visual and has had a history of being used in primary schools. Feedback from students on using robots was positive and their feedback and suggestions lead to changes in the nature of the tasks and how it is used.

Now for the but; there have been some issues:

  • It is difficult to scale - going from a module with 20-30 students to one with 160 (or over 200 with partner colleges) leads to resources issues. This has a knock-on effect on assignments, limited robots lead to less flexibility in where and when the assignment can be done.
  • Equipment failures or parts going missing also affects the experience.
So a change was implemented, moving across to simulated robot activities rather than physical robots; which came out of the collaboration with a number of colleagues and discussion with students.

This transformation of introducing robots was partially successful, it was liked and commented on by the students, but it has had issues. It was the collaboration with colleagues, students and the interaction with the wider community (both HE and Primary School educators)  that improved it. 

I believe doing digital transformation is not (or perhaps shouldn't be) a solo activity, but one that benefits from openness and sharing of practices. We might have to accept is not always going to be the outstanding success we initially hope for, but it can still be successful. The chances are as well, it was positive for both the students and us, getting there.


All views are the authors, and may not reflect the views of any organisation the author is connected with in any way.

Friday, 11 January 2019

Reflection on #SocMedHE18 via selected tweets (mine and others)


All views are the authors, and may not reflect the views of any organisation the author is connected with in any way.

Saturday, 5 January 2019

Volunteering, good for students, communities and the University

Volunteering, It is good for the students, communities and the University: Reflections on STEM volunteering

This Invited Talk presented at 
the "Higher Education for the Development of Iraq Conference" 14-15th September 2018 London; revolves around reflections on student volunteering. Considers the experience from one university in the UK on using volunteering to enhance the employability of computing students, but also includes some insights into the benefits for the wider community of students volunteering. Are the lessons that can be transferred to Iraq?

The conference was aimed at looking at the integration between the work of the Iraqi Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research and the development needs in Iraq; by identifying problems in all sectors and contributing to the creation of a knowledge economy. 
This talk fitted under "This section is about the problems and challenges face the Iraqi economy which can be resolved by higher education outcomes.  

e economy.

All views are the authors, and may not reflect the views of any organisation the author is connected with in any way.

Monday, 31 December 2018

Top 5 most read posts on the Learning and Teaching blog during December 2018

All views are the authors, and may not reflect the views of any organisation the author is connected with in any way.

Saturday, 29 December 2018

Golden Tweeting Award

I was very pleased and honoured to be awarded a Golden Tweeter Award for my engagement with the Learning and Teaching in Higher Education Twitter Chat (#LTHEchat). To learn more about the award click on the image below.

Golden Tweeter Award Badge

There have been nine of these given out at the time of writing and two of these have gone to people at the University of Northampton. The other being Dr Hala Mansour in 2016.

What is #LTHEChat
The #LTHEChat is a weekly chat, 20:00-21:00 (UK time) Wednesdays,  conceived by Dr Chrissi Nerantzi and shared with Sue Beckingham as an opportunity for educators in higher education to discuss learning and teaching. It is an open weekly chat for anyone interested in higher education and providing an opportunity to share practices as well as ideas and connect with other practitioners on a regular basis. Each week the chat has a different focus, aimed at looking at a specific aspect of learning and teaching in HE. You don't have to say anything to be part of it, though after a while you probably will want to, following the discussion is ok. In fact you don't need a Twitter account to following passively just go to 

Why I get involved is the people on it; every week you get an opportunity to discuss ideas, pick up new tools to help in my own teaching; but largely a great networking chance with some really interesting and supportive people.  

All views are the authors, and may not reflect the views of any organisation the author is connected with in any way.

Friday, 14 December 2018

Social Media in Education

The 2018 Social Media for Learning in Higher Education Conference (#SocMedHE18) comes to Nottingham Trent University, UK on the 9th January 2019 (yes I did get the date right).

Maren Deepwell, Chief Executive of the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) is providing the keynote, aligning with the conference themes of Openness, Creativity and Digital Identity in Higher Education.

Sessions will include (but definitely not exclusive to)

  • running course twitter accounts, 
  • engaging students on social media, 
  • personas, 
  • Serious Lego Play, 
  • collaborative learning,
  • Active Learning Sets for off-site students
  • twitter conversations
  • institutional policy
  • lurking

Full session list is available at 

Book your place at

All views are the authors, and may not reflect the views of any organisation the author is connected with in any way.

Monday, 28 May 2018

Physical Computing on an MSc Computing course

What do you do with students on an Internet Programming module on an MSc when they can program on the internet already- offer something more.

I have recently been teaching a module on Internet Programming on an MSc Computing programme (see related links) and was looking for a way to introduce a little bit more of physical computing to finish off the module - micro:bits offered a route.

So a bit of context; most of the students on the module had first degrees in either networking or software engineering; so before they start the module they are competent in programming with Javascript, HTML, CSS and PHP. Therefore the module looked to develop new areas such as introductory blockchain,  virtual reality via the web (e.g. WebVR), using social media sources (bit controversial at the moment); but lastly looking at physical computing leading to an insight into the Internet of Things (IoT). As part of this last topic gaining some experience of programming and very simple networking was looked at using the micro:bit.

An activity was produced where:

  • they, in pairs, initially replicate some code and work out how it worked;
  • they then took the code and experimented with their own ideas.
In some respects it follows elements of the PRIMM method of Dr Sue Sentance of predicting what the code is going to do, before running, investigate, modified and make their own solutions. More on PRIMM can be found at 

In all cases they had to produce something that allowed doing something on one micro:bit, caused another micro:bit to do something in response.

Initially, javascript blocks (as above) were used and some students stuck with the graphical blocks, others moved into the text-based version. As far as the activity went it didn't matter; the main goals were to see the programming of a physical device via a web interface; to break a little mystique that it is as ways much harder to program physical devices and to get a bit of very simple networking going on.

Many of the students, started to investigate getting sounds to play on headphones and getting one micro:bit to trigger the other to play. One group went and started playing with python. 

Reflection bit - If I had similar, competent group again I would start this earlier; the level of engagement seemed high and the activities could then start developing towards IoT. Though, I admit to a positive bias for physical computing, it is appropriate in HE teaching; even using tools primarily designed for schools like the micro:bit.

Related Links
MSc Computing
MSc Computing (Computer Network Engineering)
MSc Computing (Software Engineering)

All opinions in this blog are the Author's and should not in any way be seen as reflecting the views of any organisation the Author has any association with. Twitter @scottturneruon

All views are the authors, and may not reflect the views of any organisation the author is connected with in any way.

Friday, 27 April 2018

Teaching Blockchain and Distributed Ledger 2: Some Programming

In a previous post, I discussed examples of the work I have done on teaching introductory blockchain. In that post, a kind of 'unplugged' approach was being used; a paper-based game and exercises in starting to think through some issues.

Within this post some of the teaching programming examples used in the class and the logic behind them will be discussed. Health warning: These are simple examples; only meant to get some basic ideas across that the students can then build on.

1. Javascript version
This section looks at a producing a blockchain on a local machine - to build up the ideas gradually. Confession time, my starting point was the fantastic videos shown below from Simply Explained -Savjee - really nice introduction.

So as in the video Visual Studio Code was used to develop the solution; using JavaScript and running Node.js - a little bit of setting up is needed but certainly on a Mac or Linux machine it wasn't too difficult. So the code was built up and the following produced.
//adapted from the videos of Simple Explained -Savjee

const SHA256 =require('crypto-js/sha256');

class Block{
constructor (index,timestamp, data, previousHash = ''){
this.index = index;
this.timestamp = timestamp; = data;
this.previousHash = previousHash;
this.hash = this.calcHash();
this.nonce =0;

return SHA256(this.index+this.previousHash+this.timestamp+JSON.stringify(;

while(this.hash.substring(0,difficulty) != Array(difficulty+1).join("0")){
this.hash = this.calcHash();
console.log("Block mined hash: "+ this.hash);

class Blockchain{
this.chain = [this.createGenesisBlock()];
this.difficulty = 4;

return new Block("0","13/3/2017","Start","0");

return this.chain[this.chain.length-1];


for (let loop=1; loop<this.chain.length; loop++){
const current = this.chain[loop];
const prevOne = this.chain[loop-1];
if((current.hash != current.calcHash())||(current.previousHash != prevOne.hash)){
return false;
return true;

let educoin = new Blockchain();
educoin.addBlock(new Block(1,"10/7/2018", {name : "Ali", qual : "PhD", qual1 : "BSc"}));
educoin.addBlock(new Block(2,"10/7/2018", {name : "Scott", qual : "PhD"}));
educoin.addBlock(new Block(3,"10/4/2018", {name : "Scott", qual1 : "Swimming Certificate"}));

console.log("Is the chain valid ? "+educoin.isChainValidOne().toString());

The idea of going down this route was the students are familiar with JavaScript so it follows on from what they know; promotes the idea that blockchains are not language specific and lastly the elements of the block and blockchain can be seen - without the language getting 'clever' and hiding how it is done.

2. Solidity
The second stage was build up an example to go onto the Ethereum blockchain. So I decide to show Solidity, which is a programming language for doing this. After experimenting with various options I decided to use the free (always good) online integrated environment from Ethereum called Remix ( and stick with the online version. Remix meant that there wasn't any extra installation, it is pretty self-contained and it comes from Ethereum itself. 

So the code produced is inspired by the #BlockchainEducationalPassport ( project - but much simpler. The code sets up a record for a student (name and qualification) and adds it to a list/array of students.

pragma solidity ^0.4.0;

contract educoin1 {
        struct edRec {
            string name;
            string qual;
        address public student;
        mapping (address => edRec) public Students;
        address[] studentsByAddress;
        function add(string _student, string _qual) public {
            address thisAddress=msg.sender;
            Students[thisAddress].name = _student;

The figures below show a 'record' being added (figure 1) and then looking at waht is stored (figure 2)

Figure 1: Entering the record

Figure 2: Seeing the transactions
Following links to material on Solidity, the students were asked to alter the solution in ways that interest them.

3. Where next
The final section was to look at Distributed Ledger alternatives to Blockchain - but not the programming them so the Tangle used in IOTA was discussed.

All views are the authors, and may not reflect the views of any organisation the author is connected with in any way.

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Teaching Blockchain and Distributed Ledger approaches 1

Recently started developing materials to teach blockchain to a group of MSc Computing students within a module on internet programming. So what is the problem? 

Not really a problem, but:

  • deciding where to start;
  • wanting the students to consider what are blockchain and distributed ledger techniques;
  • thinking like programmers about the techniques rather than the hype - they may in the future be the one who has to persuade someone to either go with a distributed ledger solution or equally not.
1. First teaching approach
My decision was to initially go with a flipped approach of providing a set of materials on blockchain before the session, expecting the students to use them with some guidance and following it with the 'blockchain game' and user case example activity.

2.The Blockchain Game

2.1 Rules You will be placed into groups by the tutor, please do not use the computer for anything else during the task part of the activity, but as a source of the rules of the activity. Each group will need

  • one sticky note/sheet of paper per group to store the 'blockchain'
  • paper and pen for each member of the group.
Please note groups are of different sizes on purpose - this is part of the exercise. 
Now your group's sticky note divide the note up in the same way as below.
Start of the blockchain game.

We are now ready to start the game.

Rounds in the game
1. The tutor will provide a new 'block' it will be in this case a single number each round, this is the data. (Note: in an actual blockchain this will be a much more complex bit of data).

2. To slow the system down, increase security - the winner needs to do some work. This is the Proof of Work concept. Each member of the group needs to individually calculate the new Hash value using the following rule:
HASH = Prev + (Data*25)-1255
3. Each group decides on their answer and is trying to be the first to give the correct answer. Only one answer per group at a time. Before starting the game the group will decide on a mechanism for giving the answer - e.g. agree and answer or first to get the correct answer says it.
4. The tutor will decide who wins - the decision is final.

5. The winning team gets the win and every group now writes down the data and the new hash BUT only after the winner has been found. also start a new block with the hash just being calculate written in as the previous hash in the new block.

6. So a blockchain has a new item in the blockchain and every group's blockchain is the same. Now go back to step 1 the games carries on until the tutor ends it.

2.2 Reflection activities
Groups that have only one member during the task join together now to be a new group called the 'one and only'. Groups with two members only will join together to be a single larger group called 'two's companies' and the group(s) with four or more members will join together to form a single group called 'hydra'
Step 1 Individually - no discussion at this time do the following (15 minutes)
1. What I have learnt during this activity?
2. Do you think there is some benefit to larger group sizes for this problem?
3. What do you think the role of the hash and proof-of-work is?
4. What do you think would happen if someone tried to alter the data in the middle of the blockchain after other blocks have been added?
Step 2 Group. (15 minutes)
Using the same questions 1 to 4 come up with, after discussion, a single set of answers for the whole group.
Step 3 Sharing. Each group will present their findings. (10 minutes)
When not presenting the other two groups are expected to listen, take notes where appropriate and after the presenting group has finished be prepared to ask questions.
Step 4 (outside of the class): To consider individually or as a group.
(a) Think about your individual answers, group's answer, new insights you gained from the other groups and from sources external to the class; then possibly revise your answers. 
(b) Can you improve the game, for example change it so it might take several iterations to get the right hash (look up how bitcoin does this - no need in the game though for SHA256)

3. User Case Activity
In this activity, the three groups are given three different scenarios; sample examples include a social solution, cryptocurrency or supply chain activity. They were asked to consider a range of issues that a programmer or developer might have to consider for example
- What data would need to be stored within the blockchain for this scenario?
- Who would hold and mine a copy of the blockchain?
- Why would someone hold and mine the blockchain? What is their incentive?
- Why not use a centralised database for the scenario?

4. Summary
These initial activities were purposely designed to not involve coding. Though the choice of programming language is not always independent of the approach, I believe cutting through to the requirements is a central part of the programming the solution, and this is largely independent of the approach.

In the next post in the series, I will look at the coding.

All views are the authors, and may not reflect the views of any organisation the author is connected with in any way.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Teaching VR through the Web

This post documents my personal experience with teaching WebVR - Web based Virtual Reality within a module on Internet Programming. In this case, based on the wonderful A-Frame ( and exploring it with MSc Computing students.

The three insights: 

  • It is great fun (which I did expect) to teach;
  • It is nowhere near as hard as I thought it was going to be when I first started;
  • Students seem to enjoy it

1. The approach
I needed a way of doing it that doesn't require a lot of setting up and can be done on a variety of machines. The approach used was using A-Frame ( inside Thimble ( ). Thimble was selected because it is an online editor,  simple to use, it is free and you see the preview immediately. One restriction to bear in mind is that the filesizes of images and videos have to be small though.

2. How easy is it?
You can treat it as if was HTML, after you have added the script file shown in bold.


The video below shows setting up and adding a box to the scene.

This next video takes this a little further by adding rotation to an object.


In this video below, mapping an image to an object and changing camera position is looked at.


3. Adding video
Actual in some ways it as easy to add video as adding an image, at it's simplest adding src="" with either the URL or relative filename in the speech marks can be used for both images and video. Alternatively using  combination with again the filename or URL between speech marks adds a block and pastes the video on top. The video below shows a worked example of these two approaches


4. 360 degree video.
A-Frame allows 360 degree to be incorporated into the scene using the  tag. The video below shows a worked example of this. The video below shows another worked example.


5. 3D objects and Assets
We can also add 3D models that others have developed into our scene. In the video below a Penguin, defined externally using .obj for the model and .mtl for the material, is loaded into the scene.


6. Overview
Teaching this was fun, and lends itself to a problem-focused approach. Small projects are set up and worked through but the visual nature I believe encourages experimentation. The students were very quickly able to develop their own small projects and were experimenting with a range of objects.

One interesting feature I found when looking around for supporting materials is there is a very limited range of books on A-Frame and WebVR but some fantastic resources online including the best place to start: 

All opinions in this blog are the Author's and should not in any way be seen as reflecting the views of any organisation the Author has any association with. Twitter @scottturneruon