Meet James Gerrard talking about his favourite object

Dr Gerrard and a large amphora.
Meet Dr James Gerrard as he talks about his favourite object in the Great North Museum’s Hadrian Gallery.

Introducing Dr James Gerrard who contributes to week 2 of our free online course Hadrian’s Wall: Life on the Roman Frontier. This video was shot in the Great North Museum: Hancock, Newcastle upon Tyne which is right next door to Newcastle University, and where many of the objects in the Roman collections of both the University and The Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne are housed.

James will be talking about vessels for food and drink in the second week of the course, and here he talks about his favourite piece in the Hadrian Gallery at the Great North Museum – a large olive oil amphora with the letters QMCCCAS stamped on the handle.

Why build the Wall? A fascinating extra….

Discussion with eminent experts on why Hadrian's Wall was built.
Discussion with experts – a special addition. Click on the picture for a special video.

A special discussion featuring Professor Ian Haynes, Lead Educator and Professor of Archaeology, Newcastle University, together with leading world experts Professor David Breeze (Visiting Professor, Newcastle University), Dr Sue Stallibrass (English Heritage Regional Science Advisor, NW England) and Dr Nick Hodgson (Principal Keeper of Archaeology: Strategic Project Management, Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums) examining why Hadrian’s Wall might have been built.

As we draw near the end of week one of Hadrian’s Wall: Life on the Roman Frontier we thought you might like to delve a little deeper into why the Wall might have been built, with the views of four eminent experts in this fascinating discussion to help you reflect a little more on this fascinating topic.

Have their ideas changed your own thoughts at all?

Try a Roman inspired recipe this weekend! #saturdaykitchen

Celebrity chef John Crouch cooked us some Roman inspired food for our free online course Hadrian’s Wall: Life on the Roman Frontier which starts on Monday.

John very kindly said we could share his recipes. Why not try cooking one of them this weekend?

Visualising a Roman banquet at Arbeia.
Visualising a Roman banquet


1 white cabbage
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons clear honey
a bunch of fresh coriander leaves
a sprig of fresh rue
1 teaspoon asafoetida powder
salt (optional)

Thinly slice the cabbage as for a coleslaw and arrange in a salad bowl. Combine the vinegar with the honey in a cup. Finely chop the coriander and rue and add to the honeyed vinegar. Season with salt if you wish, although the dressing is strong enough not to need it. Stir the asafoetida into the dressing and pour over the cabbage. Toss before


1½kg (3lb) hare

1 tablespoon olive oil
250ml (½pt) chicken stock
65ml (1/8pt) reduced chicken stock
2 teaspoons chives
1 teaspoon coriander
pinch of aniseed

¼ teaspoon ground pepper
1 teaspoon celery or lovage seed
½ teaspoon cumin
pinch of fennel
1 teaspoon mint
pinch of rosemary
1 small onion, chopped
2 teaspoons honey
125ml (¼pt) stewing pan juices
125ml (¼pt) boiled red wine
1 teaspoon white wine or cider vinegar

In a stewing pot, put the olive oil, stock, chives, coriander, and aniseed. Cut up the hare into pieces and add to the pot. Cover, bring to a boil, and cook the hare for about 1 hour over low heat.
For the sauce, in a mortar grind the pepper, celery or lovage seed, cumin, coriander seeds, fennel, mint, and a pinch of rosemary. Add the onion, and combine with the honey, liquid from the hare pan, boiled wine, and vinegar.
Uncover the hare, add the sauce to the stewing pan, and cook for a further 30 minutes. Thicken the sauce with flour, and serve the meat drenched in sauce. Sprinkle with pepper at the table.


200g (8oz) nettles
100g (4oz) fresh mushrooms, sliced
200g (8oz) cheese, grated
1 medium onion, sliced in rings
100g (4oz) flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon fish-pickle
3 eggs
350ml (12floz) cream
1 teaspoon coriander
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Pick a basket of young spring nettles and steam in a covered pan for 30 minutes. Take 200g (8oz) of nettles, drain and chop. Arrange in a buttered quiche dish. Cover with layers of mushrooms, cheese, and onion. Now blend the flour, salt, fish-pickle, well beaten eggs, cream, coriander, and pepper. Pour the mixture over the dry ingredients in the quiche dish. Bake in a 200°C (400°F/Gas Mark 4) oven for 35 to 40 minutes, and serve hot with a sprinkling of pepper. Alternatively, chill and serve cold.

We’ll share some more recipes with you as we get nearer to the visualisation of a Roman banquet at Arbeia Roman Fort, South Shields.

Have a great weekend.

Ageing Well: Falls is open for signups

Everyone knows someone who has fallen…..

Domino metaphor for falls course.
The course image for Ageing Well: Falls

Newcastle University’s second free online course opened for signups yesterday – see

Whether you have been affected by falls yourself or care for someone who has, this course will help you understand what you can do to prevent falls and also what you can do if you have experienced a fall.

We have consulted with Voice North during the development of the course, to ensure that the course will appeal to people who have fallen. As well the knowledge and experience of as Professor Julia Newton and Dr James Frith, the course Lead Educators, our Meet the Experts series includes work with the award winning Falls and Syncope Service (FASS) at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary – the largest unit of its kind in Europe, recognised internationally for its innovative work in the field of falls and blackouts.

IMG_2301_lo_resAs the course page went live, and the signup button appeared, James was in Durham with our film crew, making a video about human and primate skeletons.

Beyond the VLE – Audrey Waters Sept 5th 2014

We were very lucky to receive a presentation form Audrey Waters. On her blog, Audrey describes herself as “… an education writer, a recovering academic, a serial dropout, a rabble-rouser, and ed-tech’s Cassandra”.

The presentation focused on the role of virtual learning environments in shaping pedagogy, and the need to break down and open up the walls that such environments have built up.

Link to slides and audio of the talk (Recap)

Audrey’s web pages


Pizza, Pop and Practice event 1: Using video in teaching Thursday 10th July 2014, 12pm – 2pm


This practice based workshop was the first of four that is focused on helping you improve your teaching practice with hands on support.

We aimed to help attendees develop skills in the following three areas:

Pre-production: idea generation, storyboarding, resources and time planning

Pre-production and storyboard slides (pdf)

 Storyboard template (PDF)

See also: JISC Digital Media InfoKit on pre-production

Production: camera work and techniques (indoor and location shooting)

Many thanks to  Hugh Kelly of Swingbridge Media for stepping in at the last minute and expertly facilitating this session with really good feedback!

See also: JISC Digital Media InfoKit on production

Post-production: editing techniques, software and titles.

See JISC Digital Media Guide: Free software 

We are very lucky to have an excellent video production team at the University. see Digital Media Team: who we are and what we do (pdf file) and their web pages for more information.

Feedback from the session:

I feel a bit more confident using video. Plus, it will allow me to make more informed decisions about how to use video in teaching. I would NEVER have been brave enough to even open the video editing software- wouldn’t have know where to look. I now plan on giving both the shooting and editing of video a try.


…the fact that the Uni is supporting an initiative like this is phenomenal. This is one of the few times I have felt that what I need as an academic is being listened to and addressed. Great session and I look forward to more of them.

Educational vodka: Making every step count

The FutureLearn Challenge

One of the challenges of developing a course in FutureLearn is ensuring the content and activities engage rather than overwhelm your audience. The participants have no exam to pass and they haven’t paid a fee. They will have varied education background and different levels of English. Some may be approaching the subject for the first time, others may  have a great deal of knowledge. They can leave the course at any time with no repercussion and the only thing likely to keeping them on task is intrinsic interest in the subject.

We know from the statistics we see from FutureLearn that If a video is too long, if a step requires too much scrolling, or if a week has too many steps (more than 20) you will lose a good chuck of your audience. At the same time, we want to facilitate deeper understanding and do justice to the complexity of the material.

Ian Haynes, the course leader for Hadrian’s Wall now views the challenge as ‘making every second count’. Rob Collins, working on the same course, describes it as, not dumbing down, but ‘distilling the essence of the learning, like making educational vodka’.

Educational vodka Recipe Ideas

We are very much still learning but we think the following can help:

  1. Signposting and calls to action. The learner (participant) needs to know what is coming and what is expected of them. FutureLearn often mention ‘Calls to Action’, which in marketing terms is what viewers need to do (sign up or buy something). In FutureLearn make it explicit that the learner should read the article, watch the video and them discuss what they have learnt, take the quiz, or do something with the information
  2. Focus on the key learning outcomes (this will help plan activities). At the same time make sure they are initially presented more like a documentary TV series, with “hooks” and possibly even a 3 act structure. Documentaries start by capturing the viewers’ attention, creating curiosity as a teaser for the rest of the series. Why did they build Hadrian’s Wall? What was it for? How might the skull have been found in the ditch etc. What are the obstacles to answering these questions? In Act 2 of a documentary, the protagonist attempts to resolve the problems, before a resolution in Act 3. It is interesting to think who the protagonist could be in a MOOC. It could be the teacher, academics, the discipline, or the subjects of a study (eg the Romans and Barbarians), but would it be more engaging if it is the learner (participant) who faces the challenges and overcomes at least some of the obstacles themselves?
  3. Journalists use Inverted pyramid writing, presenting the eye catching important information, and the “who, what, when and where” first, and the detail further down.
  4. Less is more. Keep articles and videos as short as possible. In essence, what does the learner know at the start and what do they need to do/discover to get to the next level of understanding?
  5. Balance of activities and engagement. Make sure that there are steps within activities that allow the learners to discuss, self-test or do something. Provide prompts in the form of questions that encourage reflection

Making the Most of the Steps You Have

  •  Each week’s content in FutureLearn is broken into activities which themselves  consist of a series of steps. Each activity starts with an image and 230 characters which does not itself count as a step. Use these 230 characters to introduce the content and hook the learner
  •  You shouldn’t put all the answers in the text and videos. The aim is for the learner to engage with materials (not passively receive all the answers). You can gradually reveal information through well facilitated discussions, whilst giving learners the opportunity to interpret evidence you give them, or show off their knowledge if they are more expert. If they make mistakes, that is part of the learning. Other learners as well as moderators can help the best answers float to the surface and steer others back on track. Peer reviews can serve a similar function
  • Articles and video steps can have additional files (pdfs) attached as well as links to websites. This can be a great way to give extra information to people who may be interested in finding out more. They should not be used for core material
  • There are weekly emails sent to participants as the course runs. These can be more responsive to learners, again offering links to answers or further opportunities
  • You could keep an external blog that runs during the course to provide additional information
  • Live events that take place during the course (eg Google Hangouts) not only provide a sense of interaction between learner and facilitator, they can provide additional content and learning as well. For one Hadrian’s Wall challenge, we are considering using a live event as a ‘reveal’ for an activity with a debate.
  • Quizzes are 1 step in the platform, but have an introduction page and can have further information and images as part of each question. Could an article be reformatted as an interactive case study style quiz? Could this be a more digestible way of working through the content, checking understanding as you go?

Altars, mud and cake

We were extremely grateful to the Senhouse Roman Museum for their hospitality and patience as they hosted a visit from us last week.

The Museum has a great location, with fine views over the Solway Firth – it holds examples of altars, monuments and sculptures most of which come from the Roman fort and settlement at Maryport.  (A bonus in the summer months the modest entrance fee includes a tour of the excavations).

Our mission was to interview the site director Tony Wilmott, capture pictures and record students at work in the Roman Temple Project Excavation.  Our crack Digital Media Team:  Kevin, Stephen and Helen got to work identifying good filming locations and setting up equipment.


Lunch time gave a chance to meet some of the team of archaeologists, many of whom are Newcastle University students.  We noted considerable trade in cake from the Museum shop.  Clearly cake is as important as sunscreen on site!

Then, a short walk from the museum to the site, to a crafty viewpoint on top of the excavation mound to view the activity at work.  Ian  skilfully summaried the work to camera before the team were let loose with hand held cameras to film students close up.


ian wiht sky


You’ll be able to spot the footage in Hadrian’s Wall: Life on the Roman Frontier when it starts on 22 September.  Look out for it when we consider frontier communities, ritual and religion.

Developing Academic and Employability Skills Case Study

Reflective blogging with the e-portfolio and enabling students to ‘wake up and smell the coffee’!

What did you do?

Use of the e-portfolio to underpin BUS1005 (Developing Academic and Employability Skills) to create reflective learning ‘blogging’ opportunities for first year students to make connections between their skills and skills required for current/future learning and employability.

Who is involved?

Fiona Thompson (Module leader/tutor of BUS1005 Developing Academic and Employability Skills to first year BSc Marketing students) supported by Graeme Boxwell.
Reflective learning was introduced at the start of the module and together with a computer session led by Graeme Boxwell the students were introduced to the e-portfolio system and encouraged to start using the eportfolio to blog about their learning journey.

How did you do it?

Each lecture – had a ‘blog about this’ element as well as a skills audit or diagnostic each week on team building, time management, learning style etc. for students to blog about. This continual reminder helped re-inforce the importance of blogging. The module tutor added comments to student blogs which helped to motivate students to contribute and also kept records of who had/hadn’t blogged and followed up by email/class discussion encouraging students to blog. A prize of free books was offered by the DPD for the most blogs for a male and female student which also reinforced the importance of eportfolio and reflective blogs. The reflective blogs were also part of the mark for the first and second semester assignments as they helped to provide the stepping stones through the students learning journey and added deeper context to the reflective essays that was part of the assessment.

Why did you do it?

Reflective practice and developing the ability to self judge yourself and your progress is an important and sometimes overlooked academic skill. Especially with first year students we need to help them ‘wake up and smell the coffee’ as early as possible so they can engage at all levels and also make the successful transition from being spoon fed at Sixth form/College into becoming an independent and effective learner at university. Unfortunately, the rush to the tape of each assessment hand in means students are on a continual roll and sometimes do not take the time out to think about how they could improve their evaluative or written skills in the future. The reflective blogs with the e-portfolio enables them to ‘take some time out’ to think about how they could improve their skills in the future so they break out of the cycle and can improve their written or critical evaluation skills which also attract the higher marks.

Does it work?

Feedback from student blogs, anecdotal feedback and written evidence from reflective essays all show that students have benefited from reflective learning/use of the e-portfolio blog. It has enabled them to talk openly and share things with the tutor which they may not put into an email or talk to the tutor about. This has enabled them to feel supported in their learning and think about how they can improve their academic skills as well as what they need to do now to reduce their ‘skills gap’ for future employment.
Reflective blogging with the e-portfolio and enabling students to ‘wake up and smell the coffee’!

We get asked the strangest things….

Bubble wrap by Free photos and art from CC-BY 2.0
Bubble wrap by Free photos and art from CC-BY 2.0

It’s a bit of a rollercoaster ride, this project.

We are working with all three faculties here at Newcastle University to produce one course each for delivery on the FutureLearn platform.

All three are now in various stages of production, and our picture research, propping and copyright skills are being tested fairly regularly. For the first time in a long time I am bringing all my experience from all of my career history into use in one delightful and slightly mad course development, production and delivery whirlwind.

All of us are bringing our varied experiences to bear in the team – we are very lucky to have serial MOOCer Nuala working with us with her accessibility experience, and Mike’s calm and measured approach to applying online and distance pedagogy to MOOC development is keeping us all grounded.

Our hybrid project management approach seems to be working, though perceived by some to be slightly unorthodox, we all think we have the right checks and balances in place.

I thought it might be fun to share some of the unusual requests that have come through our office in the last couple of weeks, without (yet) giving away what it is we are actually working on…. public course announcements come a bit later.

So far, we have been asked to:

  • find a human skeleton (easy, I used to work in the medical school)
  • find a primate skeleton
  • buy a very large roll of bubble wrap and a lot of clear parcel tape
  • employ two compliant actors
  • source a magic embroidery machine (and operator)
  • engage a local leatherworker
  • get packed lunches for 20
  • mind a large lump of reproduction silver
  • encourage academics to challenge everything they know about learning and teaching
  • carry a set of Roman tools around campus, several times
  • get permission to use a digital reproduction of Raphael’s Transfiguration from the Vatican
  • think carefully about Game of Thrones and the indyref
  • arrange a shed on a beach

the list is endless….