Category Archives: stuff

Show me the evidence…

I think this line is really interesting from a recent discussion on the ALT Members mailing list.

…in particular to share these with academics when they ask for the evidence to show technology can make a difference.

Often when demonstrating the potential of TEL and learning technologies to academics, the issue of evidence of impact often arises.

You will have a conversation which focuses on the technology and then the academic or teacher asks for evidence of the impact of that technology.

From my experience when an academic asks for the evidence, then the problem is not the lack of evidence, but actually something else.

Yes there are academics who will respond positively when shown the “evidence”, however experience has taught me that even when that happens then there is then another reason/problem/lack of evidence that means that the academic will still not start to use technology to “make a difference”.

When an academic asks “for the evidence to show technology can make a difference” the problem is not the lack of evidence, but one of resistance to change, fear, culture, rhetoric and motivation.

You really need to solve those issues, rather than find the “evidence”, as even if you find the evidence, you will then get further responses such as, wouldn’t work with my students, not appropriate for my subject, it wouldn’t work here, it’s not quite the same, not transferable…. etc…

Despite years of “evidence” published in a range of journals, can studies from Jisc and others, you will find that what ever evidence you “provide” it won’t be good enough, to justify that academic to start embedding that technology into their practice.

As stated before, when someone asks for the “evidence” more often then not this is a stalling tactic so that they don’t have the invest the time, energy and resources into using that technology.

Sometimes it can be “fear” as they really don’t have the capabilities to use technology and lack the basic ICT confidence to actually use various learning technologies, and as a result rather then fess up their lack of skills, they ask for the “evidence”, again to delay things.

Just turn it around, when you ask those academics who do use technology then, you find that the “evidence” generally plays little or no part in their decisions to make effective use of technology.

So what solutions are there to solve this issue? Well we need to think about the actual problems.

A lot of people do like things to remain as they are, they like their patterns of work, they like to do what they’ve always done. This is sometimes called resistance to change, but I think it’s less resistance to change, and more sticking to what I know. I know what works, it works for me, and anything else would require effort. This strikes me more about culture, a culture where improvement, efficiency and effectiveness are seen as not important and the status quo is rarely challenged.

Unless an organisation is focused strategically and operationally in improvement, widening participation, becoming more efficient, then it is hard to get people to think about changing their practice.

When it comes to embedding learning technologies we often talking about changing the culture of an organisation. This can be hard, but doesn’t necessarily have to be slow. I am reminded of a conversation with Lawrie Phipps though in which he said we have to remember that academics often like the current culture, it’s why they work in that place and in that job. So don’t be surprised when you are met with resistance!

Creating a culture which reflects experimentation, builds curiosity and rewards innovation, isn’t easy, but also isn’t impossible. There are various ways in which this can be done, but one lesson I have learnt in making this happen, is that the process needs to be holstic and the whole organisation needs to embrace that need to change the culture. What I have found that you need to identify the key stakeholders in the organisation, the ones who actually have the power to make change happen. I found in one college I worked in that the real “power” wasn’t with the Senior Leadership Team (who often had the same frustrations I had when it came to change) but the Heads of Faculty, the managers who led and managed the curriculum leaders. They had the power to make things happen, but they didn’t always realise they held that power.

Getting the rhetoric right, but also understood across the organisation is critical for success in embedding learning technologies. Often messages are “broadcast” across an organisation, but staff don’t really understand what is meant by them and many staff don’t think it applies to them. Getting a shared understanding what is required from a key strategic objective is challenging. I have done this exercise a few times and it works quite well, pick a phrase from your strategic objectives and ask a room of staff or managers what it means and to write it down individually. You find that everyone usually had a different understanding of what it means. A couple of examples to try include buzz phrases such as “the digital university” and “embrace technology”.

Finally looking at what motivates people to use technology to improve teaching, learning and assessment.

When I was teaching, I would often experiment with technology to see if it made a difference, if it did, I adopted it, if it didn’t I stopped using it. The impact on the learners was minimal, as I didn’t continue to use technology that didn’t make a difference or was even having a negative impact. What I also did was I applied the same process and logic to all my teaching. So when I created games to demonstrate various economic processes, if they made a difference I used them again, if they didn’t then I would ask the learners how they would change or improve them. When I gave out a reading list of books, I would ask the learners for their feedback and, those that didn’t make a difference or had no positive impact, then they would be removed from the list! I was personally motivated, but we know you can’t just make that happen.

When I was managing a team I ensured that any experimentation or innovation was part of their annual objectives and created SMART actions that would ensure they would be “motivated” to do this. Again you need to identify the key stakeholders in the organisation, the ones who actually have the power to make this happen.

So when someone asks you to show them the evidence what do you do?

Just checking the e-mail…

iOS e-mail

What’s the first thing you do in the morning? What’s the first thing you do when you sit down at your desk at work? I suspect you are probably checking your e-mail? It wouldn’t surprise me that you leave your e-mail client (like Outlook) open all the time and respond as those little pop-ups appear on your screen. So how often do you check your e-mail?

Actually I would think that if you are reading this blog, having seen the link on social media, that your answers to those questions would differ from the norms of the behaviour of most people in the workplace.

For many people e-mail is their work. Usually the first activity when arriving at work (after making a coffee of course) is checking the e-mail. Then throughout the working day the e-mail is checked and checked again. Productive activity is interrupted by those lovely notifications popping up. Mobile devices like the iPhone suddenly make e-mail even more accessibly, those red numbers going up and up and make it essential the e-mail is checked again, even when travelling, at home and at weekends. Work is e-mail and e-mail is work.

I find it interesting how often we default to e-mail as the main communication tool, to the point where it replaces other forms of communication or discussion. People also often use e-mail for various activities that really e-mail wasn’t designed for.

Continue reading Just checking the e-mail…

On the tech side…

Birmingham

As some will now as well as talking about e-learning stuff, I also like to talk about the tech side of things too. Over the last few months I have been talking about things I have written about on this blog before.

In my blog post Mobile WordPress Theme I have covered the update to WP-Touch, which adds a dedicated mobile theme to WordPress blogs really easily and looks great. If you have your own WordPress installation, then this plug-in is really easy to install.

Mobile WordPress

In another article I talk about how we melted the wifi at the recent UCISA event on digital capabilities. The conference centre struggled to cope with 120 delegates as the wifi, that in theory could cope with 250 wireless clients, failed to deliver a stable consistent wifi connection.

On this blog I wrote about the fickle nature of the web based on the original article which appeared on the Tech Stuff blog. This was in response to the original decision by the BBC to remove the recipes from their BBC Food site.

Weston Village

In addition to the individual post mentioned above, I have also written about my continued issues with getting FTTC at home. As well as my new Three 4G connection, where I am getting nearly 50Mb download speeds.

So if you fancy a more technical read, then head over to the blog.

Visual Clutter

So why do we feel the need to fill the space with signs and notices.

At my local library/community space, I noticed how cluttered the new café area was with notices and signs. The end result was not clarity, but a visual cluttered mess.

The Campus Cafe

The nice and probably somewhat pricey wooden café sign is now covered with notices and menus. There are lots of notices and signs on the noticeboard behind the counter too.

Now I am sure whoever designed the new space probably didn’t think it would end up as cluttered as it has been. Likewise I am sure that the people who put up the notices didn’t start putting up notices and signs in order to clutter the visual environment. They probably had very good reasons, such as wanting to change behaviour, following a complaint that there wasn’t a sign, or there is an event they need to publicise.

The problem with visual clutter is that too many notices and signs usually has the end result that none of the signs work any more. We don’t see the signs and notices because there are too many.

Most new spaces start off as a blank canvas and then because of various issues, behavioural ones usually, signs are put up. Notices are also added to inform and advertise.

In order to maximise impact you can put up a large temporary sign or notice for a short amount of time. They key is to make it large, bright and visible. The other thing to note is to remove it, but don’t immediately replace it. The impact will be more noticeable and it might have the effect you are looking for.

I have often seen similar things in libraries, you have a nice clean visual environment, and then before you know it, the place is full of signs and notices. Signs telling you to work quietly, not to eat or drink, not to use the PCs for Facebook.

In terms of signs about behaviour, just because there isn’t a sign doesn’t mean that the behaviour is acceptable and just because their isn’t a sign doesn’t mean that you can do what you like. When I ran libraries we didn’t have a single sign saying no cycling, but that didn’t mean we would condone cycling in the library, and if there was a cyclist in the library, I doubt a no cycling sign would make any difference. Just because there wasn’t a sign, that didn’t mean that entitled someone to cycle in the library, as there wasn’t a sign.

So next time you are about to put up a notice or a sign, ask yourself is this the best way to achieve what I want to achieve?

Still Predicting

change

So where are the flying cars, the silver jumpsuits and video phones which were going to be part of everyday life in the 21st Century?

Making predictions about the future of technology is easy. However accurately predicting the future is not easy and to put it bluntly everyone gets it wrong. Either they try and push an existing process and technology and extrapolate and “miss” out on any future potential inventions that make the existing processes redundant. The other mistake that people make is assume that the process of adoption of new technologies will happen faster than it actually does. So whilst fashion is still quite conservative and cars clog the roads and don’t fly, we through technologies such as Skype and Facetime are able to not just video phone, but we can instant message, present and share our computer desktops at the same time, using the same tool!

The one constant in life is change, we have social change, technological change, political change. This makes predicting change and the impact of change a real challenge.

Predicting how life will change for the university student of the future is fraught with difficulties and challenges and no doubt it is easy to get it wrong… However it’s an interesting thought experiment to try, which is why I think that people do it.

There are many people out there predicting the end of formal education and the radical change to university life for students. This, here I go predicting the future, however in my opinion, is a nice idea, but isn’t going to happen. The culture within education and academics is so embedded and rigid that changes in technology are only flexing and tweaking education, not breaking it or resulting in a radical metamorphosis.

The university students who will start their studies in September 2016 would have been born in 1998 On September 4th 1998 was the day that Google was founded.

1998 Google Logo

A year later in 1999, the term Web 2.0 was first used in an article. These students do not know a world without the internet, within their primary and secondary schools they probably had ICT suites and depending on which FE College they went to they have used tablets, netbooks, mobile devices and wifi enabled laptops to support their learning. These students have mobile phones that in the main are more likely to be used for things other than phone calls. The students of 2016 are very different to the students of 2006 and 1996, or are they?

How different are the educational institutions of 2016 to those ten or twenty years ago? Yes of course they are different, libraries have changed, classroom technologies have changed, but has education changed that much? If not why? There are many factors to take into account the inertia that you find in education. The main one appears to be is culture and a preference for what has been done before. The introduction of technology either falls into the depths of the pilot pit or is used sparingly at the edges of what has been done before and always.

So with all this technology savviness and awareness, you will hear phrases such as the Google Generation and Digital Natives been banded about in the media and in education. The assumption is that as these learners have grown up in a world with technology immersed into their world, grown up with the internet, Web 2.0, social media, tablets, smartphones and other new technologies; that these learners are able to skilfully use these technologies to support, enhance and enrich their learning. A pretty poor assumption in many respects, as learners have also grown up with books and magazines, but often lack study skills to utilise academic books and journals to enhance and enrich their learning. Learners may be using technology and the internet on a regular basis, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they have the study skills to use these same technologies for learning. Study and information skills need to take into account the changes in technology and access to information that the internet allows.

The dependence on written assessment in education is a result of the high cost and time required for oral assessment. As a result there was a shift from oral to written testing and the end result is no longer do we have a questioning and probing assessment, no we have the challenge of writing four essays in three hours. So assessment has changed in the past, but can it make such a radical change in the future? Students can now carry thousands of books in a single device, can access journals when and wherever they have an internet connection, communicate with the world. This quick and easy access to content in likelihood probably changes how learners learn. However when it comes to much assessment, we turn off this access, restrict what learners can use, apart from that, which can be remembered. Often other forms of assessment are seen as having less value. If we are to take advantage of the access that new technologies bring to learners, we need to rethink the ways and medium of assessment.

Part of the problem for planning for the future using the same processes and protocols we have used for change in the past, is that the pace of technological change can be faster than the pace of change. For example just as we get round to the idea of students using their laptops in lectures and thinking we should therefore equip lecture theatres with power sockets and overcome the challenges put in place by over zealous health and safety officers with learners using their own devices within an institution. We find that the devices our learners are now using and will be using have batteries that allow the device to be used all day without needing to be charged up. The new power sockets are now redundant before they have been used.

The same can be said with connectivity, a single wireless router was probably more than ample where there were a small number of devices using small amounts of bandwidth. Now with students having multiple devices and accessing a range of high bandwidth content, wireless networks need to be robust, scalable and capable of handling large numbers of devices and provide sufficient bandwidth. Look in your own pockets and bags, how many wireless devices do you have?

The question that we do need to ask is are we using technology to extend and improve an existing process, or can we use technology to radically change processes? Expectations are that we can use technology to lever radical change in education. This has never happened before, it would be surprising if it happened now. A simple example, when the internet had limited bandwidth, it wasn’t possible to use video or even audio across the web, so people resorted to textual communication. Bulletin boards, usenet and discussions forums allowed asynchronous conversations. The depth of discussion and learning that can take place with such tools certainly outweighed the disadvantages of textual conversations. However these were challenging tools for learning as it required a change in thinking and culture. Many academics and learners found them difficult to use and challenging to change the way in which they delivered learning. As bandwidth improved and new synchronous tools arrived, we have seen how virtual classroom and webinar tools allow for live teaching. These tools have proved popular with academics and learners alike. We have to question why is this, part of the reason has to be that webinar tools are digitising a traditional lesson or lecture format. Academics and learners are comfortable with this format, so a virtual version is easy to grasp and understand. This affinity with traditional approaches, means when given a choice, they will choose a virtual version of something they understand rather than try a different possibly better process. It is this aversion to the new and preference for the comfortable means that radical change is highly unlikely.

Cynicism and resistance to technological change in education has been part of education as long as people have tried to introduce new technologies. Paper was seen as wasteful and extravagant when it replaced slates. Pen and ink was an expensive luxury and shouldn’t be used by education. Likewise there was widespread resistance to the introduction of calculators. Some of today’s academics are cynical and resistant to the use of the web and mobile devices, just as their predecessors were to the new technologies of their time. Some academics are not, just as some of their predecessors, they embrace and see the opportunities that new technologies bring to learning.

Changing technologies is only one factor that impacts and affects education, a look at the newspapers and news websites, as well as glancing at Twitter will show how changes in policy and funding can have a much greater impact than a change in technology.

Change is happening, and the one constant in life is change, but it is happening very slowly. One thing is certain though, things change and academics and institutions that see change as an opportunity and a challenge will probably thrive better than those that ignore or encounter resistance to change.