Wednesday 7 October 2020

Creating Teaching Resources: Online Courses

This is the sixth in a series of blog posts looking at my experiences of developing online learning materials. Hopefully sharing these experiences is helpful as people work to adapt and deliver their own online training. As always, this blog post only represents my own views and experiences with the tools I used.

Building an online course is a huge task and I cannot cover everything you need to know in one blog post so I would be really interested in comments from others on their own experience and how these can help others who are starting to develop their own programmes as we go forward with an academic year focused on online teaching.

What is it?

Online courses are becoming an increasing fact of life for anyone who teaches. Rather than discrete sessions, an online course involves a programme of content designed to be followed over time towards an ultimate goal.

Creating an online course - whether starting from scratch or adapting existing content - is a very involved process and not one that should be rushed. No matter how many times you have delivered a session in-person before, you will need to think carefully about translate this to online delivery. The mistake that a lot of people make it to replicate the content they usually deliver in person without thinking about how this will work in a different format. I speak from experience - the observations below come from my own project and the things I did wrong so please don't think I got everything right straight away. I freely admit that I'm still learning!

How are we using it?

This post is going to focus on the major online course I have created - the Research Support Ambassador Programme. This has progressed from an intensive face-to-face programme into an asynchronous online course which is open to all (an open educational resource). Over the last four years I have taken this from in-person sessions to webinars, an internal VLE course and now a public facing resource available via a LibGuide.

Aimed at library staff, it introduces the essentials of scholarly communication. It contains a range of formats including text, video and audio as well as activities which learners can use to test their knowledge. I've written a lot before on the development of the programme and you can read about the first few years of development in this OA article and about the move to an OER in this blog post from 2019. The course covers six core units which can be taken individually or as a whole programme.

How to...

There are far too many elements involved in building an online course to discuss in one blog post and it depends a lot on the type of programme you want to deliver. Instead, I'm going to outline some of the key decisions you need to take when planning your course:

  • Synchronous or asynchronous? These are terms more of us are familiar with now but as a recap - do you want people to take the course online together or do you want them to work at their own pace. This is one of the biggest decisions you will need to make so make it early.
  • What is the outcome you're aiming for? You are likely to want people to learn something but is this theory based or practical based? Think about what people need to be able to do and then work backwards from that when planning. For more information on this you should explore the work of Wiggins and McTighe on Backward Design. Alison Hicks does great work for librarianship in this area and this presentation from LILAC 2018 (with Charlie Inskip) has some useful information.
  • Think carefully about potential platforms. I used LibGuides as this was the best I had access to within the confines of my project. My key concerns were being able to add University branding and have a course that was as open as possible but your considerations may be different so investigate all options thoroughly.
  • How will you evaluate success or (more importantly) will you do this at all? This will depend on the  nature of your audience. The Research Ambassadors is intended to be an OER (Open Educational Resource) meaning that anyone can take part in any way they like. Assessing this myself wasn't practical in the same way it was when it was a defined audience so I used self-assessment activities instead. If you are working with a smaller group then you may want to use more formal assessment methods.
  • How will you ensure accessibility of your materials? Anyone designing online materials needs to make sure that these are available to as many people as possible. You need to think about transcripts for videos, al text for images and alternative formats for content - and that's just for starters. You won't get everything right first time but you should put accessibility at the top of your list.
  • Following on from the above, remember that designing a course is an iterative process. Things will change over time as new sources and formats become available and as your own learning develops. Build in feedback to your course and act on it where you can. There will be changes to be made but usually if people are giving you feedback it means they are invested in improving your course in some way so you must be doing something right!


The main plus point of online courses in the time of COVID is that you don't have to come into physical contact with people and (in theory) these courses can be taken from anywhere which will help learners as well. Taking the time to build a good online course now will mean that when education returns to something more 'normal' you will have tools to offer content in a range of formats which will appeal to different people. Developing an online course is also a really good way to take a step back and evaluate programmes you have been delivering for a while in a new way, something long overdue for many of them (mine included!).


In case it's not obvious from the above - developing an online course is HARD. WORK! It's not something that can be done quickly and it requires a lot of forward planning and thinking around the big questions. Done well it can have benefits for both teacher and learner but it's a big commitment so be sure you're ready for it.

Next steps

Like most people, the last few months have been spent in frantic planning and adapting to changes in the middle of a pandemic and I haven't had much time to think about the next steps I want to take with the Research Support Ambassadors. In the future I would like to make it part of a blended learning programme and create more online courses but first I think I need to take my own advice and plan before I take the next steps.

Tuesday 7 July 2020

Creating Teaching Resources: Podcasts

This is the fifth in a series of blog posts looking at my experiences of developing online learning materials. Hopefully sharing these is helpful as people work to deliver online training at their own. As always, this blog post only represents my own views and experiences. A lot of people will be focused on creating video resources (for more on this area see the previous posts on webinars and making short videos) but you can also create other types of resource which are equally as effective. 

Podcasts and other audio formats are growing in popularity so we decided to tap into this with our training initiative. 

What is it?

Many people will be familiar with podcasts - audio recordings usually released in an episodic format. There are thousands of examples available from TED Talks and radio shows through to comedy chats and mystery solvers. Both podcasts and audio books have become popular in recent years as people seek to reduce screen time and/or multitask - people listen on the commute, when doing the ironing or whilst relaxing in the bath. Podcasts tend to be less formal than other communication methods and often work well as a chatty format with a couple of presenters and/or an interviewee. 

How are we using it?

At first glance this doesn't sound like the ideal way to offer library training but we have had some success with the format. I first started using it in a previous role as another way to provide access to video content. Although videos work well in certain situations they are not suitable for everyone. There are accessibility issues for those with certain disabilities but also practical issues such as people who are accessing content on handheld devices, in countries which block access to common video sharing sites or in areas where playing a video is impractical (yes, I'm looking at everyone who watches videos in public without headphones!). 

We offer video transcripts as standard but there is something about being able to hear a narration which is helpful for some people. There is also a theory that hearing terms spoken about can help learners to better understand the language of their discipline - something especially important in a terminology rich environment such as research support. To begin with we extracted the audio of a video and shared this separately in the form of a podcast but this had mixed success. We need to remember that narration of a video and a podcast are two different formats and what is appropriate for one can sound like the world's most boring audio book in another. There is also the problem of podcasts not coming with slides - something we take for granted when narrating a video. This means that in podcasts using the phrase 'as you see on the slide' is redundant so we found that we needed to adapt content to suit the new format. This led to us taking a more informal, chatty approach which was more suitable for a podcast. You can listen to some of the results via the (now defunct) OSC Podcast page.

How to...

There are many different tools you can use to record and share podcasts. Most smartphones and tablets come with some form of recording app which usually works pretty well to capture audio. We used which is available as both a website and an app (the app version actually seems more stable). As always, users will need an account but this is free and gives access to most features the novice podcaster will need.

Anchor dashboard

Recording a podcast is very simple. Using the website or app you simply record your audio directly into the programme and save it. We recorded the audio in short sections within the episode and then divided these up with jingles (or transitions) which were available on Anchor. Then it was simply a case of drag and drop to position the content in the right order. We made sure to keep track of length so it wasn't getting too long-winded and tried to break up the content at natural points to keep the flow of discussion. Once we were happy we pressed publish and were guided through a very simple process. Anchor allows you to publish to some of the most popular podcast sharing sites including Spotify and iTunes at the click of a button. We created some graphics for the overall podcast and individual episodes (see earlier post about Canva) and we were ready to go. The podcasts weren't launched as a separate resource but placed alongside the videos as an alternative format. 

Anchor offers some useful FAQs for those wanting to know more.


The main advantage to us of using Anchor was it's simplicity. It was easy to use, easy to record audio and sharing was done at the touch of a button. Podcasting was an experiment and something we didn't have a lot of time to play with so it was great to find a tool which made things easier for us. It is quite simplistic but as novice podcasters who were not in it for the money it did everything we needed it to do.

The main advantage of podcasting was that it allowed us to reach out to a new audience with a different format. It also meant that we were making our content more accessible, something which is very important when you're involved in areas such as open access which are all about opening up knowledge to the many.


As mentioned above I found the Anchor web experience a little glitchy, even when using a stable connection. More than once I had to re-record audio which was a little frustrating and one of the main drivers which led to us recording in short segments rather than taking a longer recording and splitting it later. Although podcasting appealed to some, listener numbers were not off the charts. Although the lack of promotion had something to do with this it is an investment of time which needs to be balanced. Finally, we did have to spend time adapting the format of our presentations to podcasts and remembering that people couldn't see the slides. This required a lot of work with some episodes but less for others. It's important to remember that the chatty format of podcasts might not work for all content/audiences so you might need to really think about this beforehand.

Next steps

Podcasting is something I want to continue experimenting with as I settle more into my new role but adapting training in a pandemic has forced me to take a bit of a step back. I can see how the format will be useful going forward as we adapt to delivering socially distanced content and how useful it could be for getting a group discussion together to share knowledge. A feature of Anchor that I'm keen to explore is the Recording with Friends option which allows more than one presenter to contribute - something that could turn a recording from a single person drone into an interesting listening experience. 

Wednesday 1 July 2020

Creating Teaching Resources: Canva

This is the fourth in a series of blog posts looking at my experiences of developing online learning materials. Hopefully sharing these is helpful as people work to deliver online training at their own. As always, this blog post only represents my own views and experiences. A lot of people will be focused on creating video resources (for more on this area see the previous posts on webinars and making short videos) but you can also create other types of visual resource which are equally as effective. 

What is it?

Canva describes itself as a 'graphic design platform' which allows you to create a range of visual materials including presentation slides, social media graphics, certificates and more. This selection of formats has grown over the years and now includes content such as websites, t-shirt prints, videos and worksheets. Canva offers templates for all of these formats meaning that you don't have to possess any great design skills to create something which looks professional and eye-catching. It also includes several images and fonts which you can use to customise the templates as needed. As with most sites there are free and paid for versions but you can do most things with the free version. It offers access to almost every feature although you will have to pay a small amount to use some elements (usually around 99p a time). However it's easy to upload images to the site if needed which usually helps to avoid the need to pay.

At a time when visual social media sites are rising in popularity and it is increasingly hard to capture our users' attention, creating visual resources which are easy to share online is a definite plus to using Canva.

How are we using it?

We've used Canva for nearly all of our training formats over the last year or so. We have made presentation slides, social media graphics, session handouts and posters - and that's just for a start! The two projects we've had the biggest success with have been our Moore About Guides and our Instagram Stories.

The Moore About Guides are short, four page booklets which can be printed out or viewed online. Each one covers the essentials of a topic our users need to know about such as data management or avoiding plagiarism. They are designed to be both useful and visually attractive so we needed a design that would work for both. As I have no innate design skills (everything I make myself looks worryingly like a 1990s PowerPoint presentation) Canva was really useful here for providing ready made templates. I chose a template for a flyer that I thought would fit and changed some of the elements to make it more appealing and on brand for our library such as the font and colour. Then it was simply a matter of adding the appropriate images and text to complete the guide. The hardest part of putting the guides together is making sure that we balance the amount of text with the amount of images whilst still getting across the information we need to. We have intentionally made the resources quite visual so we didn't want to overwhelm this with text. At the same time we are talking about complex topics like copyright and referencing so we need to make sure that we don't simplify things so much that they become confusing or misleading. Given that the guides have proved really popular with both users and other librarians we think we've managed to strike the right balance! You can see an example of a guide in the GIF below:


Our other main use for Canva is to create graphics for Instagram. This is a relatively new area for us but we were keen to reach out to a new audience who might not otherwise engage with our training materials. Given the rise in popularity of image based sites like Instagram we have had to rethink how we present our resources and Canva has really helped with this. We have created a series of simple images overlaid with text which form a mini-slideshow which shares top tips on topics as a way to advertise our other resources. 

These stories are really simple but have proven to be quite effective. Using Canva makes the whole process much less hassle than using other image software and the hardest part is writing the text to overlay the images since, as with the guides, this needs to be both concise and informative. We try and use these graphics to signpost people towards our other resources which have room to expand on the topic in more detail. 

How to...

The good news is that Canva is really simple to use but makes it look like you have lots of skills in the design department! You will need an account (which is free) but once logged in you will be presented with a range of format options depending on what you create. The list of available formats has grown a lot recently but there is a useful search option where you can find the format you're after (presentation, Twitter graphic, newsletter - the choice is endless). There is also the option to specify a custom size but this can be a bit hit and miss. 

Once you have chosen your format you are presented with a blank page and a range of options in the on-screen menu. These include a range of templates (very useful for inspiration), photos, text, videos and background. The most interesting item on the menu is the Elements option which contains all of the images and layout elements that you might need to create your masterpiece. There is also an Uploads tab if you want to add your own images or other elements. Once you have found what you want it's a simple matter of drag and drop onto your blank document. Everything is very easy to position, resize and delete as needed. One word of warning - some elements within the free account are paid for options and those with a crown on are for professional accounts only.

Canva offers an extensive Design School with several courses on everything you could want to know. As well as learning how to use Canva, the lessons here around branding and social media marketing are transferable to other platforms so are worth a look.


There are several good points to Canva, the main one being that it is so easy to create professional looking graphics. It offers just about every format you could want and you can always add your own sizing if needed. I also find the templates great for inspiration (even if I do end up moving some things around!). One really handy thing about these formats and templates is that they automatically resize for social media   - something I have spent hours trying to do in the past. You can also share many of your graphics straight to social media once you link the accounts, another timesaver.


As always with these sites there are also some negatives. An increasing amount of content such as images and photographs have moved to become paid for over the last few years and I've noticed that this is happening with fonts as well. Although there is usually something else to use or the option to upload your own content this does take away from the simplicity of using Canva - its main selling point. The site does offer the option to purchase individual elements at a temptingly low price but this does begin to add up after a while, something I can't help but feel is a trick designed to lure you into a subscription....

Next steps

Canva is definitely a tool that we will keep using, especially as social media moves towards image heavy posts to attract attention. We want to keep experimenting with the new options that are being offered such as animated slides and social media graphics to try and make our content more engaging. However, we have to balance this with the need to stay on brand and keep everything to a certain look so it's recognisable for our users. As long as Canva keeps it looking like I have design skills beyond my secondary school experiments with PowerPoint I'll keep using it!

Monday 15 June 2020

Creating Teaching Resources: Webinars

This is the third in a series of blog posts looking at my experiences of developing online learning materials. Hopefully sharing these is helpful as people work to deliver online training at their own. As always, this blog post only represents my own views and experiences. Webinars have been around for a while but they have taken on an increased significance during the COVID-19 crisis. Suddenly everyone seems to be offering webinars - with varying degrees of success! 

What is it?

Most people are probably familiar with webinars - certainly more so than before they went into lockdown! There may even be some webinar fatigue starting to set in... 

A webinar is an online presentation which is usually delivered live and/or recorded so other people can catch up later. They are often used to replicate lecture style sessions or conference presentations - anything where a presenter would be talking to an audience. Traditionally this involves talking over a set of slides, much as you would in a traditional lecture. Live webinars increasingly involve elements of interaction such as quizzes and online chats designed to engage learners.

How are we using it?

I first started giving training sessions as webinars in 2017. At the time I was responsible for an educational programme aimed at teaching librarians the basics of scholarly communication and one of the biggest problems was getting people to attend face-to-face sessions. Cambridge is a large university with locations spread both across and outside the city. For some people, coming to an in-person session meant a half day commitment with travelling time and this resulted in a drop in attendance. I introduced webinars to replace the majority of the lecture style sessions meaning more people could attend online and then had more free time to attend the interactive workshop style sessions. Since then I have regularly given webinars to both staff and students, both live and recorded sessions. These typically last between 45 and 60 minutes and you can see a recent example below:

How to...

The good news is that most of the popular online meeting tools such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams can also be used to record videos and deliver webinar like sessions using screen screensharing. Up until recently at Cambridge we have used a paid-for tool called Adobe Connect but unfortunately that is being discontinued by the University so I've had to get up to speed on other methods quite fast! One thing I've learnt is that you don't get a lot for free and most of the true webinar features of these tools such as chat boxes are only available via paid accounts (often as an extra cost add on). However, you can still deliver online presentations to a live audience and record them using the free versions. 

There are many how-to guides available so I won't reinvent the wheel:
I will add a few top tips I've learnt from hosting webinars on different platforms over the years:
  • If possible have two people to host a webinar, one to deliver the content and the other to moderate. This helps to deal with any chat messages and technical issues without distracting the presenter.
  • Send out joining instructions a few days before the event, even if you think people know how to use the software. It can help to answer many questions and deal with last minute problems.
  • If possible, mute participant microphones when the main presenter is talking. This helps to stop pets/children/noisy neighbours making background noise that can make it hard to concentrate on a webinar. You can always unmute people if they have questions. To eliminate your own background noise invest in a set of headphones with a microphone. I bought some for about £25 when I first started hosting webinars and they really help the audio quality.
  • Run through the webinar first without an audience. If you're recording the session, a rehearsal can sometimes be a good time to do this. It allows you both to practice what you're going to say and allows you to create a recording with no identifying attendee information/questions. This obviously depends on how interactive your webinar is intended to be.
  • For live sessions try to include some level of interactivity which makes it worth the audience taking the time to attend. One of the negative pieces of feedback I got from my sessions was that there was little incentive to attend the live session if it would be just as easy to watch the recording later (a fair point).


For teachers, webinars are one of the easiest ways to replicate the content of a face-to-face session, especially if there was minimal interaction involved. You will already have some slides and a script/notes so all you really need to do is to choose the right tech and you're ready to go. The webinar format really forces teachers to think about their slides and general presentation style - something I see as a positive although I can appreciate that others won't! Getting the design and content right is always important with a presentation but I think it's even more vital when giving online sessions as this is the main thing people will have to focus on. Students find webinars useful as a way to review topics they might want to go over again as they can access the content on demand. It can also be nice in these times of social isolation for both the teacher and the student to have some interaction during a live session and many good webinars start or end with some general chat. Of course one of the main benefits of webinars is that it means those who wouldn't be able to attend a face to face sessions have a chance to get some of the same experience - something particularly important at the moment. 


The big mistake people make with webinars is assuming that they will be a straight replacement for a face-to-face session. You can replicate the content but not the experience in a webinar and you need to treat it as a different type of reaching session. For teachers delivering content online it can be really hard because it feels as though you are talking to no one (and I've held webinars where this has literally been the case!). This can make your delivery quite stilted which in turn makes the session boring for attendees. It can be hard to keep attention over a long session so shorter is better. I'm rethinking the length of the webinars I deliver as I think that even 45 minutes is too long in my context. It might be worth thinking about chunking up the content into several shorter sessions or at the very least including a time-stamped index to content. It's harder (although not impossible) to include interactivity in a webinar. You need to consider both your own and attendees technical capabilities including access to broadband. It's great to plan a highly interactive session but not much point if this causes everything to freeze. It's impossible to find a time to suit everyone who might want to attend so just go for the best you can and make a recording if possible. Again, this impacts on interactivity as those watching the recording are unlikely to get the same benefits as those attending live. Finally, remember that your attendees are likely to be suffering from webinar fatigue. Since lockdown began and sessions began to run online there has been a dramatic increase in webinars covering all sorts of topics and it may be hard to convince them to attend yet another one. Consider whether a webinar is really the best format to deliver your session and consider looking for alternatives that might be better suited for both you and your students.

Next steps

Webinars are definitely something I'll continue to deliver as we move into the new academic term but I'm going to need to rethink exactly how I deliver them and what I include. So many of our students and researchers have returned to their homes across different time zones that it is going to be impossible to find a time to suit everyone. This means that I'll be relying on recordings and so I need to balance this with  including interactive elements. I also want to shorten the length of the sessions in order to encourage higher attendance. Not everyone is experienced with delivering or attending online training and a successful webinar can be a good introduction into moving towards online learning. 

Tuesday 2 June 2020

Creating Teaching Resources: Lumen5

This is the second in a series of posts discussing my experiences of creating online learning materials. I've had some successes and some things which haven't worked so well but I get asked about them a lot so I thought that now was as good a time as any to share what I've learnt!  As always, this blog post only reflects my opinions and experiences and I'd be open to hearing from anyone else who has tried similar tools and wants to add  their own thoughts in the comments section below. 

This post will talk about my experiences of making short videos using Lumen5 - an online tool which lets you create short videos with images, music and onscreen text. This is one of the most popular tools we have used and the resulting videos have been viewed thousands of times across a range of platforms  - a great result considering how simple they were to create. They were also one of the most fun things to put together and offered a nice distraction when other forms of training got a bit heavy!

What is it?

As described above, Lumen5 is an online tool which lets you create short videos. It's entirely web and app based which means that it can be accessed anywhere - a definite bonus when working across multiple sites/machines/working from home. There are lots of tools for video creation out there but one thing that makes Lumen5 stand out from the crowd is that you can paste text straight into the editor or add the URL of a blog post and it will create a video for you. It does this using AI to select 'appropriate' images but this can be a bit hit and miss! However it can sometimes save a lot of time or provide inspiration if you don't know where to start. You can also just enter your text and create a video from scratch using the media within the site or uploading your own. I find the short videos it creates a great way to present text heavy content in a more engaging way. Videos can have static images, videos or a plain background with on-screen text. There is no real option to record a voice over unless you upgrade to a professional account and add your own audio track but this isn't really a problem for most videos. Like other sites there are paid-for account options which give you extra features like removing the Lumen5 branding and using a wider range of stock images but the free version hasn't let me down yet.

How are we using it?

Lumen5 video title cards
I've used Lumen5 in both my current and previous roles to make short videos explaining key research topics. These started as a series of videos called Research in 3 Minutes but because condensing topics such as open access into three minutes wasn't enough of a challenge these have evolved into the Moore Minute series which are roughly 60 seconds in length. They cover a range of scholarly communication topics from across the research lifecycle such as OA, data management, copyright and publishing. I find that most people (including busy researchers) have short attention spans and although video is an increasingly popular way to reach out, only the most dedicated will watch a video for more than a couple of minutes. 

The Moore Minutes in particular have been successful in reaching out to a new audience who might not otherwise engage. They can be shared on most social media sites and function almost as an advert for our other training and resources. The videos are also useful tools to embed in other online training resources such as Moodle or Sway. As the videos are so short they are a really good reflective tool for me as a teacher as they force me to think about what the audience really needs to know about a topic. There isn't much room for error and there have been hard decisions about what ends up on the cutting room floor to get some videos to time but overall I'm happy with the results. You can see an example video below:

How to...

Lumen5 is a fairly intuitive tool. You will need to register for an account to use it and although paid for options are offered I've always been able to do what I need to on the free version. 

Lumen5 main menu
Lumen5 main menu
When you first log in you will be offered a choice of options depending on how you want to build your video. You can copy text directly from a blog and let the AI do the work, add your own text, upload your own media or skip any of these options to go straight to the editing tool and get to work. A range of templates are also offered if you are new to using the tool or lacking inspiration. Whichever option you choose you will be sent to an editing page to begin changing or creating your video. You can alter the text (known here as the story), add media like videos or images from the built in library, or change the style or format of the video. You can find a lots of media on the in-tool database but I would be careful when choosing and double check any of the copyright restrictions. You can also upload your own media which is useful if you want to use screenshots or in-house branding on any of the videos. Constructing a video is a matter of planning out the content, finding the appropriate background to suit and then altering the times so that people have a chance to read the text on screen. I find it easier to plan out what I want to say first as a short series of bullet point and then create a video straight in the editor but otherswill have different ways of doing things.

One of the most useful features is being able to alter the format of a video at the click of a button. This means that you can change things like the orientation, making it more suitable for a different social media sites, without having to create a whole new video. There is sometimes a slight rearrangement of content needed but it saves a lot of time. Once completed, videos can be downloaded to add to YouTube or shared directly via social media sites. Even with fast download speeds the videos take a short time to render once published but I just use this an excuse to get a well-deserved cup of tea after my hard work!


As mentioned above, although Lumen5 offers paid options I've always been able to do everything I need to in the free account. This is listed on the sign-up page as 'forever free' but you never really know with online tools! The main advantage is that you can create engaging videos really easily as everything is provided for you. You can even set it up to automatically create videos from blog content (although double check the output before sharing!). Although it's an online tool you can download your videos and store them where you like which is good if like me you've lost content before when a site has disappeared or changed hands. Personally, a major advantage for me is that you can create something which looks good without having a lot of design skill. The templates are a little limited but it's easy enough to find something that will work without spending hours agonizing over a concept.


The major disadvantage comes from using the AI to construct videos automatically as some of the choices are just bonkers! Many of the stock videos/images used as backgrounds are also a bit cheesy so sometimes it takes careful hunting to find what you want. I would also recommend triple checking the copyright of any media you add to your video, especially music. We have been caught out when uploading a completed video to YouTube and having it held for copyright infringement due to the music we used (which claimed to be available). The accessibility of the finished videos is another concern. Although having the text appear on screen allows the videos to be viewed without sound making them easier to access for some there are concerns around how this works for those using screenreaders and other software. I am not an expert in this area but it's  something to think about with all online training. Finally, the free account limits you to creating five videos a month which are watermarked with the Lumen5 logo. I've found that this is more than enough and that the logo is unobtrusive but it might be a block for some people depending on circumstances.  

Next steps

Using Lumen5 to create videos has been one of the most successful of my experiments in online training. The videos have been really popular and they are very versatile which means I can use them in other training resources such as presentations and LibGuides. If anyone else is using Lumen5 and has tips they want to share please feel free to share them in the comments section so we can all benefit.

You can find some helpful guidance on how to use Lumen5 in their online Learning Centre which seems to be accessible to all even if you don't have an account.

Saturday 30 May 2020

Creating Teaching Resources: Microsoft Sway

Like many people I've been thinking about how I can pivot the training I offer students to a fully online format. Although I've had plenty of practice creating online resources in recent years I decided that I wanted to try something different. I was looking for something that could replicate the information delivered in a face-to-face session but without having to record a long webinar that I wasn't sure people would watch! I had come across Microsoft Sway in the Office package that Cambridge subscribes to and although I had looked at it briefly I had never had the chance to fully investigate it until now. It's been a useful tool and one I will be using as we move into the next academic year. I know that other academic libraries have used Sway but I struggled to find many examples online so wanted to share some thoughts in case other teaching librarians were looking for a new tool.

What is it?

Billed as an 'online presentation package' and a successor to the much derided PowerPoint, Sway enables you to build an interactive presentation which users can navigate through. The end result is a professional looking site which brings together a range of content including text, images, video and links to more information. I've seen Sway described as a narrative tool and this is a good way of thinking about it. You can create a narrative to guide your learners through a topic, including other content and building on it as they move through.

How are we using it?

As mentioned above, we are using Sway as a way to offer what would have been our face-to-face sessions in an asynchronous online format. As a multinational university our users are all over the world and even with the best planning in the world it would be hard to replicate our content as live webinars which all attendees would get the most out of. I produce detailed presenter notes for any sessions I give (online or in person) and these have formed the basis of the text you see in a Sway.

You can see an example of our first Sway on responsible metrics at the link below:

Go to this Sway

If you look at the start of the Sway itself you will see a set of learning outcomes which deliberately mirror those you would find in one of our face-to-face session. I have also identified the section of the research lifecycle where the topic best fits. As more resources are built up the plan is to map these to each stage of the lifecycle so that researchers are supported whatever stage of their work they are at.

For me one of the major benefits of using Sway is that it allows me to bring together some of the existing online training formats I've been developing such as the Moore Minute videos and the Moore About guides on various topics. These have usually been produced in conjunction with face to face sessions and the replacement Sways will allow this practice to continue with new content produced for the Sway which can then be repurposed to a different format/audience. 

Finally, each Sway will contain activities throughout the module and at its conclusion. This offers users a chance to think about how they can put into practice what they are learning in their own work. This applied learning approach was something that worked well when I used it for the Research Support Ambassador Programme (aimed at library and administrative staff) and I wanted to give learners the same opportunity here. In a classroom situation this might be a time when we had a small discussion about some element of the content or a hands-on exercise to try something out. Obviously in the Sway these activities are optional and I have no way of knowing if people have engaged but in this context that is less important to me. The activities are there if people want to do them and hopefully they will at least offer a moment to stop and reflect.

How to...

I always find it helpful to have some how-tos when I'm trying out a new tool.  Sway is pretty intuitive to use once you have had a chance to play with some of the features. It is essentially made up of two main sections - the storyline and the design.

Storyline is where you add your content such as text and images. This is done by defining presentation sections and then adding 'cards'. Each type of content has it's own card and these can either be static or dynamic - for example a static paragraph of text or a dynamic slideshow of images. As with PowerPoint there are templates which you can use of you can start from scratch. My top tip: plan as much of your content as you can first before seeing how it will work in Sway otherwise it is easy to get sidetracked.

Design is much like the design option in PowerPoint and offers some different ways of presenting your information. Here you can select colour options, change the font and most importantly decide how your content will be presented. There are three main options: horizontal scroll, vertical scroll or slides which operates as a scrolling slideshow. My top tip here: choose a design concept fairly early in the design process. You can toggle between them fairly easily but you might find that your content is displaced if you do this too often.

It is worth noting that you can also convert an existing PowerPoint to a Sway although you might find that you have to play around with the content quite a lot to make it work in the new format. I tried this but on balance decided I would spend less time if I started from scratch!


There are several positives to using Sway. It is an easy to use tool which makes it relatively simple to create an engaging, professional looking product with little technical expertise. The Sway can be embedded easily either as a static link (as above) or a dynamic view of the presentation itself. Again, this is done through a simple link provided by the tool which seems to work well with existing library tools such as Moodle and LibGuides and means that learners don't have to leave the space where they are to access the resource. Sway allows easy embedding of dynamic content such as videos and images, something which works well for us as we already have these and can just include them in the new format which saves time. Being a relatively new tool it was designed to work with mobile devices and some thought has been given to accessibility. There is the usual facility to add alt-text to images and Sway also offers an accessibility view of the resource as a whole - essentially a PDF which retains the dynamic content (a 'normal' PDF can also be downloaded for printing). Although not perfect, it does go a long way in making the resource available to as many people as possible.


Obviously there are also some downsides. Sway is a Microsoft product and so ultimately works best with other Microsoft products. For example, it is much easier to embed a Microsoft Form rather than a Google Form which may be an issue for some and limits what you can include in terms of interactivity. As a Cloud based tool it might be hard for some creators to use, especially with current strains on broadband capacity. Although it offers choices in layout and font these are fairly limited which might not fit with existing branding. In replicating a 45 minute session there is a lot of content to go through and even after careful editing and adaptation of some content the resulting resource is longer than I would like and requires a lot of scrolling. However this may well be my fault rather than the tool itself! The biggest problem that I have come across so far is an inability to link to a specific section of a Sway. So for example in the responsible metrics resource it would be great to be able to link straight to the section on 'metric limitations' for use in other resources. A quick Google reveals that despite being one of the most asked about features there is as yet no way of doing this on Sway which is a real disappointment.

Next steps

Although there are issues with Sway this is true of any tool and in the current environment it is something which I can use to replicate my face-to-face sessions without resorting to a webinar. Time will tell what the researchers it is aimed at will think but the responses I've had so far have been positive and it offers a way to make the best use of the materials we already have.

I've put together a list of some of the main resources I've been using to educate myself about Sway:

Monday 18 May 2020

Moving Your Teaching Online

Many of us are having to adapt to delivering training and other interactions online instead of face to face. This is a situation likely to continue for some time and it can be daunting to know where to start if you are new to developing online materials.

I have recently joined a team running a teaching course for librarians at Cambridge and my first task was to curate a list of resources on how to move training materials online. It's far from exhaustive and mainly represents what I have come across on Twitter or online but I'm sharing it here as a starting point if you are looking for similar resources. Please add any others you have found useful in the comments section and I can add them to the list.


The current circumstances mean that there is an increased emphasis on the development of online educational materials. With traditional face-to-face training unlikely to resume for some time, many teachers will be thinking about how they can adapt their existing content for online delivery. This process is not as simple as just replicating the physical environment online or copying and pasting the content. It is worth spending some time thinking about the best way to deliver the training you can with the resources you have. The most important things to consider are the needs of your students and how you can meet these online.

General guidance on moving teaching online
Many teachers and trainers with experience in online teaching have shared their insights over the last few months. The following sources are particularly useful:

Moving classes and seminars online - Cambridge Centre for Teaching and Learning. 
CCTL has prepared a comprehensive guide to many different aspects of online teaching including accessibility concerns, dealing with interactions and how to prepare online materials.

Excellent blog post from Veronica Phillips from Cambridge Medical Library on her experiences of adapting her training for online delivery.

Teaching online in a time of crisis - Jane Secker and Kathryn Drumm.
Blog post from City University detailing their experiences of moving training online and including top tips for others looking to do similar.

Developing online instruction according to best practices – Ashley Lierman and Ariana Santiago.
This article from the Journal of Information Literacy contains a useful literature review and outlines some best practice for developing asynchronous online instruction.

A longer read but contains lots of thought provoking questions to encourage readers to consider how you can make the best use of moving teaching online.

Useful guidance on what you need to do to move to online sessions in a hurry.

Recording lectures
Creating videos is one of the easiest ways to adapt existing content, especially if you are presenting a lecture style session. All you need is a slide deck, your notes and some type of recording software. Many of the tools you will have been using for online meetings can be used to record lecture videos. These often use screen sharing to show slides whilst the teacher adds a narration. The teacher can choose to be seen on camera or hidden as they wish.

Webinars can be a little boring for the listener so try to make them as engaging as possible. This advice from Jisc is a good place to start if you are new to developing or delivering webinars. People have shorter attention spans online so consider recording a long webinar as shorter sessions e.g. four fifteen minute videos rather than an hour long session. If you do create a longer session consider adding an index to topics in the description. You can see an example on this YouTube video from the Moore Library (you will need to click on See More in the description section). This creates a clickable index so that viewers can go straight to the appropriate section.

Shorter videos
You can create effective videos outlining key concepts which can be used either on their own or as part of a larger resource/session. The advantage is that these videos can be viewed again if learners want to refresh their knowledge. There are many tools available to produce short videos, depending on the feel you are aiming for. Some suggestions to investigate are Animotica, Lumen5, Powtoon. You can find more details of some of these tools in this CILIP MMIT webinar (with slides).

In order to produce successful videos it’s important to understand how students learn online. This article on creating Effective educational videos by Cyntia J. Brame explains some of the theory behind developing good videos that help people learn.

Where your sessions involve live demonstrations of software or websites it might be a good idea to think about recording screencasts which can be included in online training. This involves capturing a recording of your screen as you perform a task (such as finding an item in the catalogue) and can be narrated if you feel this is needed. If you’re new to screencasting Screencastomatic and Screencastify are easy to use tools.

It is a good idea to keep these screencasts short if possible. Software and web platforms frequently change and it is easier to update shorter videos than re-record long ones, especially if you don’t have access to video editing software. This guide to free online video editing tools is useful if you want to investigate editing.

It’s important to think about how you can build interactivity into your sessions. This may be led by you as the teacher, students talking to other students or it may just be a reflective activity which students complete themselves. This interactivity can help students to relate otherwise abstract concepts to their own circumstances and help to embed learning. This graphic from Jo Boaler from Stanford University outlines some of the key principles for making online teaching interactive in small and easy to manage ways whilst the article 6 steps to effective online group work by Peter Hartley and Mark Dawson has some great tips on getting people to work together as well as a useful table comparing common tools that learners may have access to.

Top tips
There are plenty of lists with top tips for online teaching. Here are just a few:
Edited 30/5/20
Since I wrote this post I've found additional links which might be useful. These are included below:

Sunday 15 March 2020

Online training in a hurry - please help yourself

I've thought long and hard about posting this. There are many more important things in the world to worry about right now and I don't want to be accused as cashing in on problems (although as I'm making no money from this that might be hard!) but I do want to do my small part to help.

Over the last few years I have been working on producing online training to compliment the face to face sessions I regularly deliver on scholarly communication and research support. As a result I have a bank of materials on this area ready to go including videos, slides and handouts. I know a lot of librarians are either moving to online instruction or thinking about it, something that will hopefully make both teacher and student safer whilst still getting the message across. Putting together even the most basic of sessions takes time so if it's useful please feel free to help yourselves to any of the resources below as a starting point.

I've compiled most things I've produced on a single website as even I have trouble finding it occasionally! Everything is organised by subject and then format within that e.g. presentations, webinar etc. There are slide decks and presenter notes for most sessions and I'm working on adding more as they are developed. Most of the content is aimed at librarians but it's pretty transferable for students.

There are also some resources for ready to go webinars:

I'm working on adding the current online content I'm developing for students and currently have slides and notes for predatory publishers and data management with more coming in the next few weeks.

Alternatively if you're self-isolating and want to use this time for some self education feel free to have a look at the online Research Support Ambassador Programme which covers the basics of library support around the scholarly communications lifecycle. It's an introduction but it's a start! 

If you are looking to develop your own online teaching materials then you could do worse than this guidance from Alison Yang:

Whatever approach you take during this time above all stay safe, stay healthy and wash your hands!