To celebrate World Ocean Day, Euan Paterson, communications and media officer at SAMS, provides insights into work to gather underwater audio data, including the songs, calls and whistles of marine mammals.
We humans are simply fascinated with marine mammals.
Perhaps it’s their size, the distances they can travel or that some can communicate across an entire ocean. Maybe it’s because despite those things, we hardly get to see them at all.
After all, species such as whales and dolphins spend the vast majority of time below the water surface and out of sight.
But what if, instead of trying to see more, we listened better?
Scientists at SAMS specialise in a technique known as passive acoustic monitoring, which involves positioning hydrophones (underwater recorders) on the seabed and collecting audio data, including the songs, calls and whistles of marine mammals.
On recovering these hydrophones, the researchers gather terabytes of data and have to identify which sounds have been made by which species. This helps them to better understand marine mammal movements, population size and behaviours.
Such monitoring will be crucial as scientists seek to provide evidence for a number of policy and conservation decisions, including Marine Protected Area designation and management, marine renewable energy developments, fishing, aquaculture and shipping.
It is also important for the conservation of marine mammals to understand how climate change may be affecting their migrations and feeding opportunities.
Some species are so elusive that scientists need to rely on sounds to even estimate their population size.
In the case of the Atlantic white-sided dolphin, the species is so poorly understood in science that there are few accurate estimates on population size, although the dolphin is hunted in the Faroe Islands. Unlike the better-known common and bottlenose dolphins, it prefers the deep ocean to coastal waters and is rarely seen by humans, making it more difficult to study.
Scientists at SAMS have been examining recordings of Atlantic white sided dolphins to describe its vocal behaviour – or acoustic repertoire – in literature for the first time. From that foundation of knowledge, the marine science community will be able to better study this secretive cetacean.
But, while there are certain sounds that are unmistakably attributed to certain species, there are many sounds that can remain a mystery. The development at pace of artificial intelligence, however, is helping to fill the gaps. Passive acoustic monitoring scientists can use existing sounds to develop algorithms and effectively ‘train’ AI systems to do a lot of the identification – the proverbial heavy lifting – for them. This frees up time to work on identifying sounds that are less familiar.
On World Ocean Day (today), SAMS scientists have joined around 150 researchers across the world in deploying recording equipment as part of the World Ocean Passive Acoustic Monitoring project. It is the first ever global experiment to record the underwater sounds of animals in our ocean, lakes and rivers.
The aim is to gain a better understanding of the distribution of sound levels and types of sound in those areas around the world that occur at the same time. The recordings will also identify any man-made sounds, revealing our potential impact on the underwater environment.
Meanwhile, SAMS has this week launched its #WhaleTalk campaign with the aim of promoting SAMS’ expertise in passive acoustic monitoring.
As part of #WhaleTalk, SAMS will organise a series of events throughout the remainder of 2023 and is this week launching its new Ocean Explorer podcast with a first episode on underwater sounds. You can listen to and download first episode here: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1080152
We caught up with BSc Nursing student Darryl Geegan on pursuing his passion for nursing, where he’s headed next and why he chose to #LearnLocal with UHI.
What made you choose nursing with UHI?
Nursing is what I have always wanted to end up doing with my life. Exiting a 16-year-long career in hospitality during the COVID-19 pandemic put things firmly into perspective for me, and so I knew that it was my time to pursue my dreams.
I also live in Inverness, so it was only natural to me that I’d do my nursing degree where I could feel at home too. I already knew that UHI had a fantastic reputation and delivered an exceptional nursing programme, so there was never any doubt in my choice to stay and study here.
How have your student placements been so far?
I have been lucky enough to partake in a huge variety of placements in different clinical environments, which all offered their own unique learning opportunities. I have even been able to work alongside specialist nurses, ANP’s and consultants, which has helped enhance my knowledge in their respective areas of expertise.
What are your favourite things about UHI?
The modern campus, the beautiful location, and the exceptional academic staff!
What’s next for you?
I would like to enter a position where ongoing learning and development is encouraged. I plan to advance in my career when the time is right, so it’s important to me that I have appropriate opportunities to gain the expertise needed to progress.
As Adult Nursing students, we cover a broad range of health conditions within our learning materials. This has equipped me with enough knowledge to confidently enter a workplace environment, ready to keep on learning!
And finally, is there anything else you’d like to share?
I would recommend the UHI nursing course to anybody considering a career in nursing, whether as a school-leaver or a mature student. If you’re compassionate, caring and want to make a difference to people’s lives, UHI’s nursing course is for you!
Join fourth year student James Bauld on a recent trip to Stornoway for his final applied music residential at UHI Outer Hebrides and performances at An Lanntair:
For me, the final residency of the academic year, held in Stornoway, begins with the journey to the island. As the most important week of our academic year approaches, nerves are high, especially since ferry cancellations and broken buses occurred just days before. Having experienced the shortcomings in the past, I am not feeling at ease either, as last year my flight was more than four hours late, and they lost my luggage. However, I arrived safely, on time, and with all my luggage – albeit a little weary-eyed from my 4am awakening. A few friends and I were sharing a room in the Heb Hostel, which is within easy walking distance of everything we needed in Stornoway, very convenient as I haven’t yet learned to drive.
As everyone made their way to the UHI Outer Hebrides Stornoway campus in dribs and drabs, we were greeted with crepes in the foyer. The provided coffee was a much-needed boost before the stress management workshop and Anna Wendy’s refresher on session tunes ahead of the McNeills session night on Wednesday.
I slept early on the first evening to wake up and sort out all my technology ahead of my honours project showcase in the evening, featuring newly composed Scottish tunes on wooden flute combined with modern technology. I had experienced some difficulties recently, having to scrap everything using my interface and midi triggers, but some pedals can do the trick, helping me entertain people through a forty-minute solo flute set. With the omission of a proper board due to luggage space constraints, I went about duct-taping everything to a lid to minimise slipping, as I can’t look at my pedals when I’m playing into a microphone.
My mum came over to see me perform, so I managed to sneak out and meet her off the ferry, as well as enjoy some coffee and cake in the sun ahead of my soundcheck. Originally programmed in the evening were three of us, but one fell ill before the residency and was arriving later in the week, and the other’s wife went into labour a week earlier than due so left the Island, leaving me the last one standing. I was waiting for something ominous to happen all day, but thankfully I made it to my performance, and all was well. Another interpretation of this could be that I wanted all the attention on me, and so I sabotaged my fellow peers, but I’ll leave that for you to decide…
My two favourite workshops from the week were back-to-back on Thursday. The first was Peter’s workshop on song writing. Before arriving, I wasn’t sure what I would learn. As a composer, I have never written songs and as a musician, I am painfully aware of how awful my voice is. From the moment we arrived, Peter had us instantly engaged (even on the morning of the last full day!) and gave us great information about audience participation, involvement, as well as how to refine an idea. As an exercise, we all started with general themes and kept delving deeper until we had the main core of our song.
The second workshop I found specifically inspiring and useful was given by Sean Paul, the CEO of An Lanntair, the venue in which our honours performances and public performances were held. Sean Paul covered advice on booking, marketing yourself as an individual or band on social media, as well as philosophies on arts exposure in rural areas. Having grown up in tiny villages in the Highlands and Islands, I really admire what he is doing, showcasing a variety of arts in An Lanntair as well as providing opportunities for young people trying to break through in this competitive space. This was a super informative workshop with a great question and answer session at the end.
On the last evening, we had our public performance where students from all years had the opportunity to perform for the public. This always feels like the week is coming to an end with people beginning to show emotions, as for many of us, this is the end of our time at UHI. There were many words of encouragement as we all packed up backstage and headed to the pub for the last time. I also handed out a couple of copies of my recently released CDs to the people that have taught me over the last few years.
After our last morning, we had a few hours of free time and spent the afternoon in a very sunny Stornoway with sunglasses, sunscreen, and shandies before we all needed to get our various modes of transport back home. While flying back my checked bag was chosen for a “random” inspection. Due to the previously mentioned packing restrictions, all my clothes and pedals/tech were in the same box, so this poor member of staff was rummaging through the week’s underwear and tops to make sure my tech wasn’t a threat to the plane. Despite flying internationally, I have never had any trouble, having flown with flutes, pedals, and even crampons. However, 100% of the time departing from Stornoway airport, I have been searched. Starting to think I must look suspicious to the island locals!
We need to come up with some sort of excuse to meet up again on a remote island now that our time at UHI has come to an end. My vote would go to Madeira – probably just as easy to access!
Join first year student April on her recent trip to Stornoway for the applied music residential at UHI Outer Hebrides and performances at An Lanntair:
I arrived on Sunday night to get some rest and a good practice session in for Tuesday’s exam before all of the others arrived on the Monday morning ferry. We all met at UHI Outer Hebrides Stornoway campus on Monday and Anna-Wendy gave a welcome to us all before we got on with some sessions. Our first workshop was on performance stress and anxiety from Hez – he is great at what he does and puts things across in a very interactive way and taught us to try and make friends with our anxiety and use it in our performance for the better. We were then served gorgeous crepes at breaktime with as many toppings as you could think of!!
Next, we had our session workshop with Anna-Wendy, we got to hear and learn some of her top ten session tunes. After this I also went to Anna Murray’s Gaelic song workshop. She was a fantastic teacher, and we all learnt a waulking song together called “Hè mo Leannan”. This was my favourite workshop of the week! When walking back into the town from the campus, Fraser and I decided to have a practice of our song for the showcase concert on Thursday, we played outside Lews Castle and took some nice pictures and a video for our socials!
In the evening it was time for the first of the honours performances. We had Edie and Emilia who both equally blew me away!
Day two was exam day. It was quite early in the morning, so I was up to UHI Outer Hebrides campus nice and early. Exam went ok I think, fingers crossed! There was a huge feeling of relief, and I was ready to get on and enjoy the rest of the week! I managed to catch the last while of Allan’s song class when back in town and then myself and some of the other first years got some lunch from the Stornoway Street Food Café which was glè mhath! (very good)!
After this it was back to An Lanntair for step dancing, which I loved!! We had Anna-Wendy playing the fiddle for us while we danced which made it an even more authentic experience! Then we all went back to the campus for Allan’s talk on supernatural folklore of the Highlands and Islands. I’m really glad I went to this as I was absolutely mesmerised listening to Allan’s stories for the whole time, we were with him! It was amazing! He talked about stories local to me and stories involving people that I know personally, which made it even more interesting! At night-time we were treated to James’ composition portfolio performed live. This involved lots of hilarious travel stories as always with James and everyone loved it.
Wednesday morning we spent with Allan learning some tunes! It was a great workshop, and we learnt a handful of tunes and of course as always with Allan, had lots of stories!! The rest of the day was a little more chilled. We watched some more honours performances at lunchtime and then I did some study for my Gaelic class outside of the course in An Lanntair. In the afternoon some of us in first year were very lucky to have the opportunity to practice on the stage in An Lanntair with microphones etc. set up also. It was a great opportunity and we had such fun as this was the first time we’d ever played together.
At night we listened to the gorgeous singing of Melissa. She sang a set of all her own songs and accompanied herself, it was just magical. After this it was session time! We all gathered in McNeills and played tunes until the wee hours. There was a fire alarm while we were there and being music students… Ben and Daisy actually managed to play along with the noise in the same pitch!! Spot the music students in the room!
Showcase day!! I took part in Peter’s song writing class in the morning and really enjoyed it. I’ve never written a song and therefore learnt a lot and am currently in the process of writing my first song! We were very lucky to have the chance to have a chat with the CEO of An Lanntair in the afternoon, it was such an informative hour, and he was so helpful with how we should approach arts centres and venues like An Lanntair for gigs. Then it was one last honours performance before our soundcheck. At night we had our showcase concert in An Lanntair. This was amazing!!! I played alongside Fraser and we performed our song Angel Plays Dead. It was so well received, and it was so lovely to be able to play it live! Thursday was also open mic night in McNeills and lots of us sang songs and played tunes to those there!
Friday morning kickstarted with a 9am honours performance from Robert who managed to come back to the island after rushing home to see the birth of his little girl!! Robert performed all his own songs, and it was a great way to end the week. Anna-Wendy said a final goodbye and we all parted ways! Myself and some of the other first years visited the Lews Castle Museum on the way back into town before the ferry. We had good fun on the ferry and were lucky enough to get to watch a coastguard exercise happen in the middle of the Minch! Over the course of the week I learnt SO much from those around me and was totally blown away by those doing their honours performances. We were meant to take part in at least three workshops over the course of the week and I managed to squash in nine so I was delighted with that. I have come home feeling totally energised and inspired and am in the process of forming a band with some fellow course friends!
Nursing student Louise Hyett-Collins gives an insight into her passion for advocacy and her work as a Royal College of Nursing volunteer.
I started my nursing journey as a mid-life career change to support my mental health after 20 years as an English and sociology teacher in Wales, Devon and Cornwall. Already interested in the sociology of health, a period working in adult social care brought me into contact with a district nurse whose compassion and dedication inspired me to pursue nursing. I wanted to contribute something meaningful to someone else’s life and I love the mental stimulation of academic study.
Transitioning to nursing from teaching, I noticed parallels in some of the issues facing the professions. Volunteering as the student voice representative for my cohort seemed only natural as a keen advocate with an educational background. This role involves advocating for my peers and signposting to additional support and I have thoroughly enjoyed meeting and discussing issues with so many of my cohort. Additionally, I am a member of UHI Department of Nursing and Midwifery student staff consultative committee and the undergraduate committee, both of which allow me the opportunity to influence student experiences.
Union membership and the support and member voice that allows has always been important to me. I helped organise NUS protests in London against the introduction of tuition fees in the 90s whilst studying for my A Levels and took strike action during my teaching career. Joining the Royal College of Nursing as a nursing student seemed an obvious decision and, learning about the issues facing both nurses and student nurses and listening to the concerns of my peers, I felt I needed to help make a change.
As a result, I signed up as a Royal College of Nursing student ambassador which again involved championing the student voice as well as signposting and supporting members to services and resources, campaigning on student related issues and encouraging recruitment. I took the campaigning element of this further, becoming a voting volunteer which involved encouraging other union members to use their vote in the recent ballot on industrial action over nurses’ pay and conditions. These roles gave me a wealth of information and depth of understanding of the issues and challenges student nurses face and provided the impetus to see what more I could do in a practical manner.
Since then, I am privileged to have been elected as one of two seat holders representing Scotland on the national Royal College of Nursing students’ committee. Simply put, my role involves speaking to nursing students and student ambassadors about the issues affecting them and sharing this information at committee meetings every few months. This information helps us to identify common issues experienced by nursing students nationwide and set priorities for the committee for the year.
Committee members join sub-groups to work on areas of particular knowledge or interest such as student finance or support for neurodiverse students on placement. I am excited to attend the Royal College of Nursing congress in Brighton as a member of the student’s committee to experience debates, keynote speakers, fringe events, exhibitions and networking. Moreover, I hope to take to the podium seconding a Royal College of Nursing Scotland resolution around the use of student nurses to cover staffing gaps; time to see if leading all those assemblies will pay off on a larger stage!
Ultimately, I have a passion for nursing, for nurse education and for advocacy. I would love my membership of and activities with the Royal College of Nursing student committee to encourage other students to become more active in the Royal College of Nursing and use their voice to improve the student experience. As an LGBTQ+ nursing student, I’m also aware of prejudices others like me encounter on placement from both staff and patients and aim to use my time on the committee to challenge such attitudes and to be a role model to other LGBTQ+ students.
Upon qualifying next year, I hope to secure a role in community nursing with my ultimate long-term goal being a position where I can influence nursing education. Obviously, I anticipate supporting the Royal College of Nursing in whatever capacity I can throughout my career.
“We are a progressive and unique university, proud to be inclusive, offering flexible and supportive learning from access to PhD level.”
Stephanie Kirkham, newly appointed Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, aims to cultivate a more inclusive learning environment, enriching experiences and collaborating with staff and students to support, promote and celebrate equality, diversity and inclusion:
Our staff, students, and the communities we serve are central to our future planning and vision of becoming a connected and diverse organisation. Enhancing equality and inclusion will ensure all staff and students can be the best version of themselves, regardless of their socio-economic background or protected characteristic (age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage or civil partnership status, race, religion or belief, sex, or sexual orientation).
Our ‘Daring to be different’ strategic plan is built around our core values: Collaboration, Openness, Respect and Excellence. Each value reflects the essence of equality and diversity, where we aspire for everyone to feel a sense of belonging.
During Black History Month we are highlighting some online and in-person events taking place across Scotland.
To mark Dyslexia Awareness Week Scotland, our disability support coordinator Mark Ross has gathered insightsfrom staff who have experience of dyslexia and provides information about support services which are available.
Dyslexia has consistently been among the most disclosed disabilities within our university partnership and across further and higher education over the last few years. The university has clear processes in place to ensure the support requirements of individual students are identified, captured and communicated with relevant staff on a need-to-know basis.
Our disability and personal learning support plan processes enable us to make reasonable adjustments for students with dyslexia in line with our responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010. We also do as much as possible to ensure our provision is accessible to current and prospective students in advance and we recognise that not every student will require, or wish to set up, a personal learning support plan.
Gerald McLaughlin – Student Services Manager, Perth College UHI
The most often seen condition at Perth College UHI’s additional support service is specific learning difficulties. These conditions constitute around 40% to 45% of the students we support each year. Specific learning difficulties is an umbrella term for conditions such as dyslexia, dyspraxia and dyscalculia. The etymology (origin of the word) of these conditions is: dys – difficult, then add the suffix (or ending) lexis – speech (for dyslexia) or praxis – movement (for dyspraxia) and calculia – to count (for dyscalculia). The most common specific learning difficulties condition we see is dyslexia.
As a dyslexia specialist and specific learning difficulty assessor of a number of years now, it is clear that the benefits of a dyslexia diagnosis are multifaceted and, more often than not, personal to the individual. The obvious benefit for our higher education students is to unlock funding such as Disabled Students’ Allowance.
However, there is personal benefit in terms of a diagnosis too. Anecdotally speaking, after more than a decade working in additional support, you begin to see patterns of folk with specific conditions congregating in certain courses. While I have not done any formal research (although, I do believe I have a PhD thesis in here somewhere) my contention is as follows. People with dyslexia are attracted to jobs that are more practical in nature, childcare and early education being a good example.
From around 2012 onwards, colleges such as Perth College UHI saw a steady stream of early childhood practitioners come on to degree courses such as the BA (Hons) childhood practice. A number of these, usually mature, students began to struggle with the advanced literacy elements of their courses. The college support systems would kick in and dyslexia screening and eventual diagnosis would be scheduled. Having completed a number of diagnoses for these (predominantly female) students, the overwhelming feedback I would receive from is that of catharsis! The student would invariably feel a sense of relief. Some comments I would receive, would be along the lines of ‘I knew I wasn’t thick’ – ‘I always knew there was something not right’. There were sometimes even tears of relief.
Many of these students would continue their educational journey to success. They would often report a sense of achievement from their hard work and endeavour. You could see their negative experiences of education dissipate; it is almost tangible.
They would now be supported appropriately by the university support systems and have equal access to the curriculum, sometimes for the first time in their life.
My part in the student journey to success is relatively incidental. You simply give the student a key. It needs to be said though, as a specific learning difficulty assessor, being able to give someone the key that allows them to unlock their full potential is by far the biggest privilege you can have!
Dr Gareth Davies – Lecturer and Programme Leader, Lews Castle College UHI
I started secondary school in Wales in 1979 and I was told I was thick. In the late 70s there wasn’t as much known about dyslexia as there is today and there was far less understanding of the challenges that those with dyslexia faced daily. A teacher told me I was too thick to do “O” level English and the school refused to put me in the “O” level group.
Thus, I was denied the opportunity to study for one of the most basic and important gateway qualifications. Fortunately for me, my mother was an English teacher and she did not give up on me. She told the school that she would keep me home on a Thursday morning and teach me herself. She did and I passed, but that was not the end of the story. I struggled to gain a BTEC diploma in business studies and then got relatively mundane jobs.
One job was working in a shop on the high-street in Bangor. I spent Saturdays watching students from the university casually milling around and popping into the pubs and I thought that looked like a fun thing to do, so I signed up for “A” level English evening classes and I squeaked through with a grade D which was enough to get me into Bangor University to study psychology. I honestly thought that if I lasted until Christmas before they found out I was thick and booted me out, I would be doing well. But that did not matter because I was in university having a great time and I was not working in the shop. Much to my surprise, I made it through to the second year (a degree is three years in Wales and England).
As part of the degree, participation as a research subject was strongly encouraged so I signed up to be a control participant for Prof Tim Miles, a name that many in the dyslexia community will recognise. He told me I had come on the wrong day and that the subjects with dyslexia should come the following day. Of course, I protested that I did not have dyslexia, but Prof Miles just smiled and said that he was pretty sure that I was dyslexic. Who was I to argue? He referred me to an educational psychologist who confirmed his hunch. Thanks Tim!
Discovering that I had dyslexia was a moment that gave me the confidence to carry on with my studies. I did and I was successful. I had the feeling that a weight had been lifted from my shoulders and I was not, after all, “thick”. It was a great boost to my self-confidence.
I did a Master’s degree straight after my Bachelor’s degree and a few years later I completed a teaching qualification. A couple of years after that I did my PhD. The school was wrong, but to be fair, this was 35 years ago and dyslexia is now far better understood. Help and support is available in ways that didn’t exist when I was a student. There was some; I was given a computer and extra exam time and that was it. No one ever asked me how I was getting on. The university partnership has a host of resources that those with dyslexia can access so seek the help that is out there – it is far better than the help that was on offer 35 years ago.
The lesson I have taken away from all this is never to let anyone hold you back. Having dyslexia does not mean that you cannot succeed – you can. I did.
The university’s accessibility project
To help staff ensure their learning content is accessible and to comply with accessibility regulations, the university is running a project with staff training at the heart of it. Not only will this ensure that students with disabilities are able to access learning content, creating accessible learning resources also enhances the experience for all students.
The accessibility project team has:
Established a university-wide accessibility champions forum which will help staff locally
Created a self-directed accessibility support module for staff, comprising a suite of useful resources
Arranged online support which will include webinars, workshops, drop-ins and question and answer sessions
Used software tools to help make learning content accessible and available to students in alternative formats
Created an accessibility communications site which will give staff the information they need to start their accessibility enhancement journey
Students with dyslexia may find some of the available alternative formats such as audio, tagged PDF and BeeLine Reader useful. The BeeLine Reader is particularly helpful for people with dyslexia as it displays lines of text in different colours. For more information, see the BeeLine Reader section on Blackboard Ally’s alternative formats webpage.
University of the Highlands and Islands students can download the offline versions of Office 365 applications (e.g. Word, PowerPoint, etc) for use during their studies. Microsoft Office has several in-built accessibility tools which can be useful for students and staff alike.
Students who would like further details of available support can contact student services for advice.
Students can also contact their personal academic tutor for further information on the university’s accessibility project.
As the University of the Highlands and Islands celebrates its tenth birthday, our longest serving video conferencing expert, Roray Stewart, provides an insight into the importance of the technology to the development of the partnership.
When did you join the University of the Highlands and Islands partnership?
I started as an apprentice IT technician with Shetland College UHI in 1998, before becoming a video conference technician with the university in 2001. At the time there was an expansion of IT services taking place across the partnership. Partners could submit bids to host services. Shetland College UHI won the right to run the video conference service.
As part of my work at the college, I’d had some experience of helping staff and students use the video conference facilities. I found it interesting and could see that it had potential for becoming a more widely used technology. I worked alongside the senior video conference technician and video conference administrator.
How has your role changed over the time you have been with us?
There have been a few significant changes over the years:
The growth in video conferencing demand. In 2001 we ran 2200 conferences. Fast forward to 2019 and we were running 22140 conferences. For obvious reasons 2020 saw a significant growth with approximately 92,000 meetings on Webex alone. Add on Microsoft Teams and we will have hosted over 100,000 meetings!
The technology has moved on leaps and bounds with better quality audio and video and added features. Two of the main ones that enabled growth were desktop calling and recording of conferences.
We are no longer as hands on with scheduling meetings. We used to manually create each meeting the morning of the day it was due to take place.
What are some of your most memorable moments?
When we hit 10,000 conferences in a year in 2011. That seemed like such a milestone at the time.
Presenting at two online sessions which I would describe as being well outside my comfort zone. In August 2020 I ran a Webex training session to over 180 staff members. I had never presented to as many people before (or since). I also gave a presentation to the Webex community recently about the university and our transition to Webex. The live session reached 17 countries with 43 different organisations represented by 78 attendees.
Being lucky enough to have travelled around most of our campus locations throughout the years. The scenery is stunning and we have great staff around the partnership.
What is your proudest moment of working with the university?
Seeing university title granted and becoming the University of the Highlands and Islands. The hard work by many over the years had finally paid off.
Do you think the role of video conferencing has been vital to the development of our university partnership?
For me, it certainly has been one of the key tools in the development of the university partnership. Video conferencing has been used since the early days of getting the university off the ground, through the different phases of our development, to being awarded university title and now continuing through a global pandemic.
Due to our geographic spread, video conferencing will remain a key tool in our development going forward. It may take on a new name and the technology may change, but video will still be at the heart of it. Using a blend of face-to-face teaching and innovative technologies offers students the flexibility to study when and wherever they choose.
Do you think the university partnership is a pioneer in this area?
We were well known for being a pioneer in video conference use and our opinion was respected by other institutions, at conferences and by the equipment vendors. I remember colleagues that had attended or given presentations at conferences saying that the other attendees were always impressed by the sheer volume of video conferencing we did back then.
What do you think the future holds for video conferencing and online meetings?
Video conferencing and online meetings are here to stay – I think that’s safe to safe to say. Conferences and events will offer some form of online capability alongside in-person attendance for a while to come, although I’d expect that to reduce over time.
A couple of possible developments down the line could be 3D video conferencing or virtual reality meetings where attendees will meet in either a virtual representation of a real space or a purely virtual one. There are start-ups and companies already working on this, but whether they come to market time will tell.
For me it’s an exciting technology sector to work in and one I have a real passion for. Also, I finally no longer need to explain what my job is as everyone has been video calling or ‘Zooming’ for the last year or so!
When the University of the Highlands and Islands partnership was awarded university title in 2011, Professor Meg Bateman, a writer and senior lecturer at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig UHI, composed the celebratory poem, Let the Northern Land Shine. Ten years on, Professor Bateman, reflects on the development of the partnership and collaboration across its sites and subject areas.
Ten years ago, Alison Lochhead kindly asked me to write a poem to mark the University of the Highlands and Islands becoming a university. I was inspired. I saw our thirteen colleges like a constellation, pulling together an area that had become fragmented and demoralised by emigration, two world wars, distance from centres of power and the brain drain of its youth.
It wasn’t always so. It appears that the wider culture of building stone circles, and thousands of years later of building brochs, was initiated in the north of Scotland and moved south. Pictish, Gaelic and Norse culture had probed the land mass and aligned peoples with various centres of power, among them Burghead in Moray, Finlaggan in Islay (and Greece in the imagination), Orkney and Shetland, the Hebrides and Man. Far from the sea being isolating, it was enabling: of trade in gold from Ireland, wine from Spain and pigments from the Middle-East and of salvation as monks sailed to islands as far as Iceland and possibly even as far as Greenland and Canada, on sea-roads later extended by the Norse. Place-names too reveal a palimpsest of linguistic, religious, fiscal and topographic connections.
How wonderful that after generations of the young being ‘educated out’, it is now possible not only for students to remain on their native turf, but for the Highlands and Islands and its populations to become the beneficiaries and frame of reference.
By some alchemy of the ancient and modern, it is remarkable in our current environmental crisis that Gaelic poetry, lore and crofting offer a useful paradigm of man’s respectful and reciprocal relationship with nature (and there is archaeological evidence of this relationship being far older than Celtic civilisation). While the poetic trope of nature’s fertility being dependent on her satisfaction with her mate might be taught at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, its practical ramifications are manifest in the research on renewables in Shetland and Orkney and on the health of the sea at SAMS. It is often along such interdisciplinary fault-lines that understanding bubbles up.
I teach six hours of grammar a week before embarking on literature, philosophy and what-not. I undertake this attention to detail gladly: it feels like combing the hair of the language. But over and above that daily practice, I want to describe the satisfactions of interdisciplinarity in my involvement with cultural studies and the Institute for Northern Studies in Orkney College, much of it in co-operation with that powerhouse, Donna Heddle. First we wrote a course looking at the medieval literature of the Highlands and Islands in five languages (I handled one). Then she asked me to write ‘The Gaelic Legacy’, a core module for the MLitt in Highlands and Islands literature. In this, I tried to present the most interesting and salient aspects of Gaelic culture to post-graduates of other disciplines, for example, history, psychology, theology and geography.
The results were startling. An American student wrote an essay comparing Fionn mac Cumhaill and his Fenian band to a brotherhood of Vietnam war veterans, proud bikers on the edge of society. Instantly she had imbued these medieval tales and ballads with contemporary social and creative relevance. Another student looked at the archetype of the sovereignty goddess, who is both destructive and nurturing, as a precursor of the female warriors of modern animations.
The module is now taught by Iain Mac a’ Phearsain while I have a hand in supervising theses. We both feel that seeing Gaelic culture through the prism of other disciplines and vice versa has afforded us some of the deepest insights of our careers. Supervision has taken me where I would never have gone alone. My delight in selkie stories was challenged by their analysis in terms of toxic masculinity and rape apology. This year a student is showing how subjecting several Highland novels to a Jungian analysis can reveal and perhaps resolve some of our current social conflicts. While I have been to the City of Dreadful Night with another student, I have also seen the bareness of Hoy as key to the numinous in the writing of George Mackay Brown and in Sylvia Wishart’s art.
It is a privilege to work with this institution whose backdrop is the physical beauty of the Highlands and Islands and whose work feels like a slowly opening flower – let’s say my favourite, grass of Parnassus, which grows locally in acidic soils, delicate, green-veined and honey-scented.
It is essential that we talk together more, our focus, the characteristics and inhabitants of the land, skies and waters, their ecosystems and their cultures, past, present and future.
How promising to hear our new principal Todd Walker say that Gaelic is what most excites him about coming to the University of the Highlands and Islands. Good man!
Where learning means more | Far a bheil ionnsachadh a’ ciallachadh barrachd