Happy new year and welcome to 2021! We hope you had a joyful and restful Christmas break and now the university has restarted, you are hopefully refreshed (both as teachers and learners) and ready to get back into the swing of things:

  • Teaching
  • Studying
  • Exams
  • Feedback

Between November and December 2020, DigiKnow had viewed a Learning App per week, this included:

Needless to say, there are numerous more Learning Apps we will write about and we hope you have found the Apps listed (thus far) useful in your teaching and/or studies.

In today’s post, let’s take a moment and reflect on the past year in terms of digital aspects.


The year 2020 started off well but nobody could predict how the pandemic was going to affect life, work and/or study.

In digital terms, the pandemic has been good and bad in equal measure. Let’s take a look at the good, the bad and ugly of all things digital in 2020!

The Good

Prior to the pandemic, teachers who wanted to create videos (reusable learning object) would come speak to an E-learning Developer about recording asynchronous teaching content. Discussions would include purpose and intentions, learning outcomes, the teaching content and perhaps some MCQs for students to self-assess their understanding.

This required co-coordinating calendar’s, scripts, storyboards, spaces booked to record in and time set aside for the recording, editing and re-editing of content until the recorded content was signed off and the teaching object published for student use.

Overall, this was a timely endeavour with both the teacher and E-learning Developer committing time and effort to create reusable learning objects.

Staff upskilling

Since the pandemic hit, staff have up-skilled their digital knowledge and expertise. Staff still contact E-learning for advice on best practice and for one-to-one training but generally, teachers are creating and publishing their own content. Job roles have changed!

For example, Microsoft PowerPoint has been capable of capturing audio for slide narration for years. This has not always been easy and it’s still reasonably basic in terms of editing but it does offer re-recording of individual slides.

Teachers have been producing asynchronous narrated PowerPoints with basic equipment (mic / laptop, webcam optional). Then exporting the content to MP4 (video format) and sharing these videos with their students via Canvas. Here’s a helpful guide for Recording Online Materials.

Digital suite

At Queen’s, we have the Canvas virtual learning environment (VLE) where all students have access to their modules of study. Between Canvas, Microsoft and a few other Queen’s systems, staff have access to a suite of digital tools for remote teaching.

We’ve already mentioned narrating slides. Teachers can also create quizzes, polls, discussions and interactive activities to engage students. These digital tools are intuitive and integrate well for the student learning experience.

Student experience

Live-teaching (synchronous) has been delivered by teachers on platforms such as Zoom or MS Teams. This benefited students during the pandemic as it resulted in no travel time/costs to attend class. The students’ journey to class can be stressful which may not be conducive to the best learning experience.

We understand not all students can attend live-teaching. In many instances lectures are recorded, further benefiting students as they can watch playback at a time suitable to them. Learning has become more Just In Time, flexible and accessible 24/7.

Students may previously have used Canvas pre-pandemic. However, Canvas is evolving. The available teaching materials are more personal. Through live-teaching, students are able to ask questions in real-time, thus affecting the direction of teaching and discussions. Students are assisting content creation.

Digital literacy

Students may not always be aware of which digital tool they are engaging with, i.e., MS Forms for quizzes or surveys, Google Docs or Word Online for collaboration, etc.

However, students are building up experience of using digital tools and services which can be used in their future careers. These skills will help students find, evaluate and compose information to allow them to live, learn and work in a digital society.

It is fair to say nothing stays the same. Digital skills learned today (2021) may well be obsolete tomorrow (2030) but a curious mind will enjoy learning new skills as time and technology changes.

Broadband services

During lockdown, broadband service providers struck a deal with the UK Government and lifted the data caps to their services (The Guardian).

The Bad

Creating and producing teaching materials takes time. Narrating slides takes time. Rendering slides to MP4 and uploading to Queen’s video hosting sites all takes time. Time is precious and realistically we all experience time pressures!

Before you ask, the PowerPoint slides for teaching may already exist and just need narration. However, teachers still need to find time to update, narrate, review and reiterate the content before releasing it to the realms of study.

Uploading teaching content to the Queen’s video hosting site from home (the new office) can take more time than normal due to Internet speeds and other Internet traffic. Another factor is the number of users also uploading content to the Queen’s video hosting sites. It can get pretty slow, frustrating and stressful.

It takes more time to create reusable content compared to delivering the same information during classroom teaching. Whilst classroom teaching is timebound, typically there’s a lecture, learning activities and opportunities for questions. All these activities have moved online.

Participation is key.

Digital fatigue

Another downside is the amount of screen time we are all experiencing. So much screen time leads to digital fatigue and concentration levels can diminish. This also has a knock on affect to our mental and physical health, relationships, sleep and diet.

Teachers, it’s best to shorten asynchronous lectures to no more than 20 minutes for online delivery and include activities to promote learning. This helps keep students engaged and focused on the content being taught.

Staff and students, typically we spend 6+ hours a day working/studying on our computers/devices. After which, we may also socialise online for another few hours. This can result in 10+ hours a day screen time.


Anxiety levels may increase if computers/devices won’t connect to the internet and/or services temporarily fail. Slow webpage loading times are annoying but also a telltale sign that many users are accessing the same service. See the Netflix example in The Ugly section.

Aches and pains

Physical aches and pains can occur for desk workers/studiers. The human body was not designed to sit for long periods of time arched over a computer terminal. We all like to get comfy and posture goes out the window. Assess yourself, do you suffer tension around your neck? Are your shoulders sore? Do your eyes feel hot and dry? What about stiff joints?

If you answered yes to more than one of these questions, you’re sitting in the same position for too long and need to get up and move more.


Do you spend too much time online to the detriment of relations with others? Yes, you may be socialising remotely with your bestie (who you can’t visit in person) but what about those you live with? Time online may impact relations with those offline and in close proximity. Time online may be for work/study, but the impact is the same.

Blurred boundaries

Let’s take a step back for a moment. Pre-internet (yes that’s a long time ago), the work day was typically 9.00am to 5.00pm, Monday to Friday. Once work was finished for the day, it was parked on a shelf in your mind until the next working day. Work wasn’t brought home as there was a definite work time / home time boundary.

Fast-forward to 2021. There’s few 9.00am to 5.00pm jobs left. Work is finished when the work is completed. The digital age has blurred the work/personal hours boundaries. Social media and email communications impinge our personal time and yet we’re addicted to responding to these pings on our devices. We have FOMO (fear of missing out).

The Ugly!

Besides the digital struggles we experienced personally and locally, it’s important to look further afield to global IT issues.

Reduced quality

Throughout the year, Tech companies were stretched. During the first lock down in March 2020, Netflix reduced the quality of content streaming across Europe to allow access to their services. This allowed Netflix to stream a lower quality to more people. Not ideal but an OK compromise to keep the service going.

Take overs

The tech giants (Facebook, Google, Apple and Microsoft) have had many acquisitions over the years. Whilst not all of these are Ugly, the tech giants have improved their services.

Some much loved standalone tech companies and their services are no longer available and/or free to use. Long gone are the days of simply using a service. Many Apps/services now require signing up, logging in and/or subscription (i.e., your details).

You can find the acquisitions for each tech giant below:

The main issue with such big companies and their acquisitions is when services crash. See the section on Crashes below.


Zoom and MS Teams have been improving their meetings experience as they go head to head (other meeting providers are available). This might seem pretty minor but at the start of the academic term, students across many universities and countries were feeling short-changed due to service glitches. Some students couldn’t join sessions, couldn’t see content and at times, the services crashed.


Google crashed in December 2020 for half an hour. This affected all Google controlled devices, i.e., Google Docs, YouTube, Gmail and devices/services such as home speakers and house lights. One person tweeted:

This may not seem like a big thing but surely, a lesson to us all about how much we rely on technology…

Next time

Our blog post next Monday will look at some mindfulness tips regards screen time to assist staff/students with some of the bads we highlighted in this blog.

Remember, the DigiKnow blog posts are now released at noon on a Monday.

Please do join us then to learn more and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter: @MDBSelearn.


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