Heriot-Watt’s Student Learning Online Team recognised with award



The team behind Heriot-Watt University’s rapid transition to support student online learning in the wake of Covid-19 has been recognised with a major award. 

The Association for Learning Technology (ALT) named Heriot-Watt’s Supporting Student Learning Online (SSLO) project, the Learning Technology Team of the Year for 2020 at its Winter Conference held this week. 

The SSLO project was formed in March to develop specialist support for students and staff as they moved into lockdown working. This included taking the necessary steps to ensure the University was well positioned to implement its longer-term Responsive Blended Learning approach for the academic year 2020/21. 

The upskilling and support the SSLO team offered, helped the University to navigate the challenges of the initial lockdown and built the foundations of what became our Responsive Blended Learning model.

Kathy McCabe, Director of Information Services

A true collaboration, the team was led by Heriot-Watt’s Learning and Teaching Academy alongside colleagues from the Learning Technology Enhancement Service, the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) project team and learning technologists based in Schools pulling together to support staff across all campuses. Between them, they developed a bespoke ‘Rapid Response’ toolkit for colleagues that became a blueprint for many other universities to adapt and adopt. They also provided practical support around using online tools and guidance on adapting teaching for an online environment. 

Recognising the significant disruption and anxiety caused by the pandemic, the project focussed on delivering the key message of ‘care, kindness and compassion’ in online support. The SSLO approach actively encouraged staff to focus on people, not technology, as the priority when supporting students and each other. This helped as people new to teaching and learning online could experience this new environment as a friendly, caring place and enable them to build their confidence in using tools and interacting in new spaces.  

Professor Martha Caddell from the Learning and Teaching Academy said on the award: “I am thrilled that the SSLO team has been recognised in this way. 

“In those early days of the pandemic, they offered a lifeline of support for colleagues across the University, focusing on kindness and care alongside technical and pedagogic guidance. Their generosity of time and expertise and their commitment to working together as an emergency response team was truly exceptional.”

Kathy McCabe, Director of Information Services, added: “It is a wonderful achievement to be recognised by ALT in this way, especially in this most exceptional of years for learning technology. The upskilling and support the SSLO team offered, helped the University to navigate the challenges of the initial lockdown and built the foundations of what became our Responsive Blended Learning model. The ALT Learning Technologist Team Award is a fitting recognition of the tremendous collaborative efforts of all involved and is a really positive way to round off 2020.”

The ALT Learning Technologist of the Year Awards celebrate and reward excellent research and practice and outstanding achievement in Learning Technology. Established in 2007, the Awards have set a benchmark for outstanding achievement in Learning Technology on a national scale and attract competitive entries from the UK and internationally. All entries are reviewed by an independent judging panel chaired by the President of ALT.  

More information on the SSLO toolkit can be found at the LTA website while a blog on the SSLO project by Rosemarie McIIwhan, Assistant Professor in the Learning and Teaching Academy, is also available to view.


Craig McManamon

Job title
Communications officer