May 07 2020

Moving to Flexible Education 2020


As you will know from previous communications from Katie Normington (21 April) and Ken Badcock, in the staff newsletter on Tuesday, the challenges we face over the next year are substantial. One important part of our response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the College has been to devise a flexible offer to recruit and retain as many students as possible in September 2020.
There are three major dimensions to this plan:

  • January starts for some UG and PGT programmes
  • Reorganisation of teaching within the academic year to protect experiential education and changes to assessment to build more resilience in our education
  • Development of flexible technology enhanced learning available both on campus and off campus, and using reworked learning resources and improved and new technology.

These are complex changes – and they may need to be adjusted as circumstances evolve - and everyone will, understandably, have a lot of questions around how this will be delivered. This message outlines our first steps.

There are two significant changes that will be needed to support flexible education.

  1. We will:
    • Develop our use of current technology enhanced learning (TEL) systems such as Moodle
    • Deploy MS Teams for Education and use more of its functionality including the delivery of a collaboration experience for students and staff
    • Integrate Moodle and Teams to improve student and staff experience.
  2. We also need to modify our teaching style, using some different approaches that work better online. These may include:
    • Making material more accessible in different ways including flipped and micro-learning, as well as recorded lectures
    • Getting better engagement with the use of quizzes and problem-solving exercises
    • Creating richer engagement with moderated discussion boards and fora
    •  Improving contact and interaction between staff and students with targeted online support.

The reason for focusing on this digital aspect of our education, alongside the on-campus mitigations, will be to make our teaching as resilient as possible in what is likely to be an unpredictable and varying situation.

We are also rightly proud of the high-quality teaching delivered across College and these measures will help us achieve a similar quality for our e-learning. It is important to be clear that we are not creating online degrees but rather making it possible for students to move seamlessly between face-to-face and online education, of similar qualities. Indeed, it is likely that some kinds of learning can be richer and more creative online and we will be able to improve our student experience in new ways not on campus but face-to-face.
The first stage of this process concentrates on the learning resources. This is about increasing and improving the programme content on Moodle to make our use more consistent and easier for the students to follow.
To this end we are asking all staff to adhere to ‘core requirements’ for Moodle pages – things that need to be there to make it easier for the students. The core requirements can be found here and are hosted on the Flexible Education 2020 hub on the staff intranet. These requirements have been created through consultation with the groups of staff and also with Heads of School and with the Students’ Union. Schools, through the directors of education, will be responsible for organising the creation of this material. There will be some centrally provided text for some sections and training will be available to support this work.

Key to our resilience will be the ability to move between face to face and online modes, so we are asking everyone to do two things:

  • Provide at least 50% of the core reading/resources and contextual resources/readings for any given topic in electronic format. (We recognise that some colleagues already do this but we need this to be consistent for all courses).
  • We are also asking that all new reading lists are created through Talis Aspire, and that current lists, if they are not on Talis Aspire, are also transferred to that system.

To facilitate these developments we are accelerating the annual rollover of Moodle by bringing a new environment into service. This will allow you to create new material from June onwards for 20/21 based on the existing content copied from 19/20. We will explore new Moodle functionality and plugins and provide plenty of training and support. The use of Moodle that spans the rollover will be supported as normal.
There will be further details on the extension of our Technology Enhanced Learning capacity, including the availability of the full Education version of MS Teams. This will give you access to collaborative class spaces and new communication tools to engage with students and one another online. We will rollout this new functionality in parallel with developments to Moodle and make recommendations on models of engagement between the platforms that most suit the needs of you and your students.
I hope that the below timeline will give you a useful overview of the developments planned for the next few months and your part in the creation of flexible education at the College. Students who study with us, or who have applied to Royal Holloway, will have done so on the basis of the on-campus education that we provide. We want to provide them with the confidence and opportunity to proceed with their plans and benefit from the full Royal Holloway education and experience whatever the circumstances.

Please do remember to look at the Flexible Learning hub on the staff intranet pages (which will be regularly expanded and updated over the next months), and come along to our first digital Teaching and Learning symposium on 2 June when you can learn more about our new technologies and approaches to digital teaching and learning.

These moves represent a considerable change of pace in digital learning for Royal Holloway. Once we move beyond the immediate context of a pandemic, I hope it will become clear that some elements of teaching and learning can be richer and more engaging online, and that there are some real opportunities for creativity and inventiveness. I hope that some of these will be absorbed into, and improve, our everyday teaching and learning experience.
Yours sincerely

Prof James Knowles
Senior Vice-Principal (Education)


Timetable for digital content development


Technology development

Tasks and deadlines


Environment available to E-Learning innovators


Flexible education webpages (intranet)

Moodle ‘core requirements’ available – 7 May 2020


Talis Aspire training

18 May 2020, 14:00-15:00

20 May 2020, 11:00-12:00

Further details on how to book will be posted here:


Preparatory training: see

‘How to teach on line’

(FutureLearn MOOC)



Development of digital learning content

Moodle 20/21 available



Demonstration of Moodle and MS Teams integration




Teaching and Learning Symposium – 2 June 2020


‘Core Requirements’ Moodle training (dates tbc)


Talis Aspire training

1 June 2020, 14:00-15:00

3 June 2020, 11:00-12:00


Module Design for Flexible Learning training (dates tbc)


Deadline for confirming essential readings with  Library Services – 22 June 2020



Development of digital learning content

MS Teams sandbox environment available to all staff

Deadline for confirming recommended and further reading with Library Services - 31 July 2020



Development of digital learning content

MS Teams production platform populated with Module framework

Peer review of Term One modules



Integration of TEL platform

MS Teams populated with student registrations and integrated with Moodle