An ‘Edinburgh Model’ for Online Teaching Programme: Notes from a pilot run

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In this post, Dr Michael Gallagher, a Lecturer in the Centre for Research in Digital Education, describes how he and colleagues drew on current expertise and research within The University of Edinburgh to inform and design a new online course…

On the 9th and 10th September this year, over 20 colleagues from across the University gathered at Argyle House to pilot a new short online course: An Edinburgh Model for Online Teaching. This course was developed through the collaboration of Learning, Teaching, and Web (Stuart Nicol and Andres Ordorica), the Centre for Research in Digital Education (Michael Gallagher), and external consultant Sheila MacNeill. The course is designed to provide a foundation for online teaching for those new to the space, and it does so largely through the distillation of much of the work already being undertaken at the University (hence it being an ‘Edinburgh’ model).

Aside from the wealth of experience in digital education across all three of our Colleges and current research in this field here at The University of Edinburgh, much of what is distilled in the course comes from the outcomes of the Near Future Teaching project and the Manifesto for Teaching Online. A central part of the course content comes from interviews with teaching staff from across the University sharing their experiences of online teaching: fears, successes, thoughts on assessments, community, and everything in between. Drawing on our collective experience in online education across the entire University and on the current research in the field, and incorporating that explicitly into the design of the course itself, makes this an Edinburgh model.

It has been designed to focus explicitly on a set of thematic areas central to what we see as ‘teaching’ at The University of Edinburgh: engaged online teaching, engaged learning communities, and feedback and assessment. It has been designed to complement existing continuing professional development around teaching in higher education currently being offered by the University. The course has been developed as part of the Distance Learning at Scale (DLAS) project; however, the model is applicable for all online teaching scenarios.  

While designed to be complementary to existing continuing professional development opportunities around teaching in higher education at the University, this course approaches teaching online largely conceptually and experientially, and links all course activity to the core parts of the model we are attempting to advance here: engaged online teaching; engaged learning communities; and meaningful feedback and assessment. 

So, on the 9th and 10th of September, the ~20 participants, along with Sheila and I teaching, gathered to experience, explore and review the online activities and resources. With engaged online teaching, we featured the idea of ‘transactional distance’ (Moore, 2013) and how that (emotional, cognitive, political, and spatial) distance can be managed through establishing teacher presence, through positioning teaching as a creative act, and teaching as a relationship with time (and how time skews online in often surprising ways). With engaged learning communities, we explored campus, cohorts, and larger communities online, and how these can be encouraged, developed, and sustained. With the module on feedback and assessment, we worked with feedback on the platform we were using (edX Edge), explored how data might suggest feedback (and the limitations of that data), and talked about absence and presence of online students, and what meaningful feedback and assessment might mean to them.

We designed the course to draw, again, on the expertise within The University of Edinburgh itself, to illustrate what we already know to be true: that digital education, when designed and taught properly, works: ‘That distance is a positive principle, not a deficit’. It can generate meaningful learning opportunities and a positive student experience; it can build community; and it can advance a values-led and professionalising position of teaching, one that does not downgrade teaching into (mere) facilitation. These principles are key for us.

This first pilot of the course was run face to face to allow the team to focus on specific areas and get rapid feedback from participants. However, the course has been designed as an online experience and so we are planning to run the course fully online in early 2020, and then at intervals thereafter. If interested, please contact Michael Gallagher for more information. 


Moore, M. G. (2013). The theory of transactional distance. In M. G. Moore (Ed.) Handbook of distance education (3rd ed., pp. 66-85). New York, NY: Routledge.

Michael Gallagher

Dr Michael Gallagher is a member of the Centre for Research in Digital Education at Moray House and Director of Panoply Digital, a consultancy dedicated to mobile for development (M4D). His research focus is on mobility, mobile learning, and digital education to support teaching and learning in the humanities in higher education, particularly in the Asia Pacific and sub-Saharan African regions.

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