People were angry – Weeknote #76 – 14th August 2020

Took a few days leave this week.

Did some preparation this week for an online session I am facilitating next week on digital innovation in teaching and learning, part of the Jisc’s learning and teaching reimagined programme.

The next online session within learning and teaching reimagined will explore how you can encourage digital innovation across the learning and teaching spectrum, providing the opportunity to share examples of good and emerging practice in facilitating, developing and mainstreaming digital innovation.

Share and discuss thoughts and ideas on practical steps to encourage innovation in learning and teaching through the use of digital technologies and share exemplars of what has been working within the institutional environment.

I published another blog post in my translation series, this time on community and the challenges in translating the process of community building amongst student cohorts that usually occurs when they start a course, which may not happen if part or substantial parts of a course are delivered online. Back in March I wrote a blog post on building communities.

I wrote a short piece for our media team on approaches to blended learning.

I was on leave on Thursday, though I didn’t miss the huge uproar about the A Level results.

There is anger among schools, colleges and students, after nearly 40% of A-level grades awarded on Thursday were lower than teachers’ predictions.

After Scotland’s reversal of the SQA decision last week, I wonder if a similar thing will now happen in the rest of the UK.

Meanwhile in France….

France to create 10,000 new university places after record numbers passed school exams

How did France grade its Covid-19  impacted students? They took the average of first and second term marks, always rounding “up” and creating 10 000 extra university places. No negative algorithms were used.

The BBC published a couple of pieces this week about how university could be for new students this year.

What will university be like for freshers this year?

With A-levels results day out of the way, students across the UK will have a better idea of their future plans. But what will the university experience be like for “freshers” at what should be one of the most exciting times of their lives? Swansea University said plans to keep students safe include “bubbles” among flatmates, which means a ban on parties or having people over to stay.

Should I go to university this year?

There are 137 universities in the UK, and 89 out of 92 of those which replied to a Universities UK survey will provide some in-person teaching next term. This will be part of a “blended approach” to teaching and learning, with many universities announcing that lectures will be given online.

My top tweet this week was this one.

Lost in translation: community

I have been working on a series of blog posts about translating existing teaching practices into online models of delivery. In this post I am starting to look at some of the issues that will impact on the wider student experience, starting with the concept of community.

What do we even mean by community? Well if we look at a dictionary definition we get something like this:

a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.

The student community is not a static or defined group. Students will come together because they are in the same cohort, studying the same subject, sometimes because they live on the same floor of a halls of residence, they are members of a sports team or a student society. Students will be members a range of intersecting and discrete communities. They will join and leave them over the time of their study. Some will go dormant for a while and then emerge from hibernation as the need for them arises. Communities rarely have a common purpose or aim, which is the domain of groups more than communities.

When a cohort of students study a particular subject or a module they will often become a community, as they have the course as a  common characteristic. Students will interact with each, not just in class, but also before the session and afterwards. They will meet up in organised informal sessions, but they may also meet up happenstance and conversations and discussions will ensure. The community will grow and be sustained by more than what happens in the formal learning activities. Staff will rarely need to intervene or engage in fostering that community. Even if there is no real learning community within that cohort, this isn’t all bad, as likely the students will be members of other communities on campus.

So why are communities important? Well for many students, the social aspect of learning is a real motivator  that supports their learning. Supporting each other as they study, helping each other, motivating each other, learning from each other. Learning communities often enable students to stay engaged with a programme and succeed in their studies. Take it away and learning can become much more isolating and challenging.

With an online or hybrid programme of study, much of the building and developing of community is lost. There is no informal way to have a coffee and a chat before an online lecture in the same way that happens before a lecture in a physical space. Students will turn on their computers, listen to the lecture, engage in the course discussion and then, more than likely they will turn off Zoom or Teams and that’s that! They may not even want to stay online or in front a computer after an intense online session. Happenstance virtually disappears, whereas you probably will bump into other students from your cohort in the library, the computer lab or even the coffee place. This just doesn’t happen online in the same way. True you might bump into another student on Facebook or Twitter, but this is not the same kind of thing at all.

student on a laptop
Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay

Another aspect that will be missing in the autumn with hybrid and online programmes is that initial get together at the start of term will not happen, or will be limited in scope due to social distancing. So the chance of a community forming, even online, is diminished even further.

Being part of a community can support the wellbeing of students and help them when they meet challenges in their learning and other aspects of the student experience. Remove that community and students may find themselves isolated and without support.

One of the key aspects of building an online community is that it takes time and effort. Much of the nuances of community building that happens on the physical campus is just missing from the online environments that teaching and learning takes place. It will be simple things like, chatting whilst waiting for the previous class to finish, or waiting for the room to be opened and the session started. It will be going for coffee in the break between sessions. Walking back to halls after a long day studying. Going to the library together to find resources and work on assessments. Meeting up later in the evening or at the weekend socially. These things happen and are part of how communities form, build and cement themselves. You can’t just recreate these kinds of activities online, it just doesn’t work in the same way. 

Spiller & Cole Coffee Shop
Spiller & Cole Coffee Shop

You can imagine learners who have spent an hour in an online seminar staring at a screen, are not going to want to continue to stare at a screen on a virtual coffee break, they will probably want a “proper” coffee break, they may want to get some fresh air… As a result translating those things and activities that happen when communities form in the physical environment into online versions will just not work.

Academic staff rarely need to immerse themselves in the process of community building, they can generally leave the students to do this themselves.

This is something that higher education institutions who have delivered a range of online programmes for years know about. Staff teaching on these programmes realised they needed to create, develop and foster learning communities online to enable students to get that positive impact that they would easily achieve in a physical face to face situation.

You have to transform the process of community building and use different activities to enable that process to happen. This can mean encouraging informal activities to take place online, maybe even replacing some sessions to ensure students are not spending all their time online. Make the most of asynchronous activities, such as informal discussion forums. Create opportunities for non-course related discussion through sharing photographs, favourite films, etc…

Recognise that an online community is not the same as a physical community, it is not constrained by geography or time. This means communities can be more than just the university, it could be much wider.

So what things are you doing to build online communities with your students? What are you planning to do when term starts this autumn?

Back in March I wrote a blog post on building communities.

Back from France – Weeknote #75 – 7th August 2020

Monday was my first day back at work after a week on leave, where we went to France for a holiday. It was nice to get away from it all. The situation (at the time) in France was nice and calm. As we now approach the end of the week, it looks like the situation in France is looking worse than when we were there. It was pretty much a last minute affair in booking the holiday, we booked on the Tuesday and went on Sunday. I think if we had decided to go later in the summer, we probably wouldn’t have gone at all. It brings back to the fore the whole challenge of what is, or what isn’t going to happen in the next six to twelve months, or even longer.

After my leave, I was a little anxious when I got to my computer, how many unread e-mails would be in my inbox, but in the end there was just 143. Well there was 143 in the main inbox, there were others in folders that go there with the automatic rules I use for e-mail.

I use the Inbox Zero approach when it comes to e-mail. This means I don’t check my e-mail and see what is there, I read, process and deal with my e-mail. For each e-mail I process them using one of the following five criteria.

    • Delete or Archive
    • Delegate
    • Respond
    • Defer
    • Do

I try to ensure that I only ever read an e-mail once and then it is either deleted or archived having undertaken what was required. Read more about how I process my e-mail.

In the end it didn’t take me long to go through the e-mails (well it is August) and then do the one task that had arisen from them. Most of the e-mails were from mailing lists I am subscribed to, and though I have rules that push JiscMail ones to specific folders, others from vendors and event organisers generally tend to end up in the main inbox.

Microsoft appear to be developing Teams into a VLE with the news that educators can now use SCORM curricula within Microsoft Teams.

Colleges across England can now use SCORM learning materials for their students directly through Microsoft Teams. In a major development for schools, colleges and universities, GO1 have released their app for Microsoft Teams. This will support SCORM, xAPI and other rich learning content packages formats to be accessed within Teams for free. In 2015, more than half of further education institutions across the UK teamed up to form the Blended Learning Consortium. This allows them to pool their money and purchase a higher quality of learning resources than they could develop on their own. These resources are available to participating colleges within Teams via the GO1 app, which supports complex learning formats like SCORM.

Via Lawrie Phipps on the Twitter

Having cancelled Data Matters 2020 due to the covid-19 pandemic, we are now considering our options for 2021. When we cancelled the event, our initial thoughts were to re-schedule to January 2021, which reflected the original date for the 2019 event. However now needing to make decisions, social distancing and the fact that a lot of university staff may not actually want to (or be permitted) to travel to physical events, such as Data Matters. Could we do it online? Well would people be willing to pay for an online event?

It’s interesting to see how things keep changing adding much more to an uncertain future. I wrote a blog post about the continuing uncertainty and what this means for curriculum planning across the university sector.

The plan to use more localised lockdowns to contain the virus reminds us that the situation for many universities will be one of flux, as they or their cohorts of students may need to lockdown, as has happened with Aberdeen. The local lockdown there has resulted in the main university library closing down.

Set in the 23rd Century, Rene Auberjonois playing a Starfleet Colonel trying to convince his superiors of their technological advantage over the Klingons – by using a flip chart! Nice to know that they will still be extensively used in the future.

I published another blog post in my translation series, this time about the humble flip chart.

Spent some time thinking about innovation. We often forget that sometimes people don’t like innovation and innovation doesn’t automatically always mean better. Actually most of the time innovation for a lot of people is rarely better. Sometimes its worse than what was before, most of the time it’s just different. Innovation is defined as new or different, but it isn’t defined as been better that was there was before. I have written about this before last year and it’s something that has been, for most of my careers an important aspect. As we emerge from lockdown, we will need to be innovative in our practices.

The end of the week saw some meetings with my colleagues in my new directorate. Though I have not changed roles, where I sit within Jisc has changed. After sitting in Corporate Services to begin with, I moved (temporarily) into Data and Analytics, but now sit with the HE Directorate.

My top tweet this week was this one.

Lost in translation: flip chart paper

Set in the 23rd Century, Rene Auberjonois playing a Starfleet Colonel trying to convince his superiors of their technological advantage over the Klingons – by using a flip chart! Nice to know that they will still be extensively used in the future.

I have been working on a series of blog posts about translating existing teaching practices into online models of delivery.

What we have been seeing was many people translating their usual practice to an online version, some have called this practice mirroring.  As part of my work in looking at the challenges in delivering teaching remotely during this crisis period I have been reflecting on how teaching staff can translate their existing practice into new models of delivery that could result in better learning, but also have less of detrimental impact on staff an students.

I did kind of wonder if people actually still used flip charts and then remembered I do when delivering training, they’re up there with post-it notes as a great tool in the learning and teaching toolkit, as well as for those working in the field of training and development.

Many packages have a whiteboard function that can be used. However having used these many times, they are not a digital equivalent of a flip chart. It can be hard, if not impossible to draw and write with a mouse or a trackpad.

writing on the whiteboard
Image by Thought Catalog from Pixabay

Also with multiple people using the board at the same time, means it can become very confusing very quickly, this is something that doesn’t happen with a physical flip chart.

One option I have written about before is using an iPad with an Apple Pencil as a digital whiteboard within Teams.

An asynchronous option could be to use pen and paper and then using a camera or mobile phone take a photograph of what was written or drawn and upload to a discussion forum or other similar tool.

Then there are specific online tools such as Miro that can be used to replicate flip chart and post-it note activities.

These are of course technical solutions to the problem of translating the use of a flip chart into an online environment, however this is only part of the challenge.

Take a step back and think about what you are trying to achieve from a learning perspective and what outcomes you want from your students, you can then start to think differently about how to approach the challenge. A virtual flip chart may not actually be the technical solution you require.

Students could collaborate using a shared Google Doc (or shared Office 365 Word Doc). This allows for that live collaboration, but also can be shared with others or uploaded to another site. An advantage of this kind of collaborative document is that it allows you to see who made what contributions if needed.

It might also be useful to design activities that work asynchronously, so aren’t dependent on a continuous live internet connection to work.

Simply translating what we do in our physical buildings into a online remote version, is relatively simple, however it may not be effective. Thinking about what you want that learning experience to achieve and what you want the students to learn, means you can do different things. Of course knowing how to do those different things, is another challenge.

Uncertainty

Uncertain
Photo by Luis Villasmil on Unsplash

It’s interesting to see how things keep changing adding much more to an uncertain future.

Back at the end of June as we started to emerge from the coronavirus lockdown I wrote a blog post wondering if we needed to worry so much about planning for online delivery for September.

Over the last couple of months in lockdown I have written various blog posts about the challenges that universities and colleges have faced with their emergency response to dealing with the coronavirus lockdown and planning for a new academic year amidst, translation and transformationhybrid curriculumsocial distanced campuses and a huge helping of uncertainty.

That uncertainty is certainly a big challenge and in the last few days we have seen the government make big changes to the lockdown restrictions in place, and have planned further easing of lockdown.

In that blog post I was certainly overtly cautious about might happen.

Much has changed this week, and this means universities and colleges need to be more flexible and responsive as restrictions flex and change. We might see (hopefully) further easing of restrictions, but if the infection rate rises, then we might see a potential second wave and more restrictions imposed.

As the weeks went by and we saw restaurants and barbers reopen, I did think that by September that universities would be a good position to have relatively open campuses, face to face teaching with some elements of their programmes online. So overall creating a positive student experience.

Maybe, just maybe, universities wouldn’t need to worry as much as thought they might in designing and delivering courses online in the next academic year.

Chatting with a few people, it was apparent that across many universities where was still concerns about social distancing and reducing the risk of infection, so plans were still being made to deliver blended or hybrid programmes, at least until January.

The recent local lockdowns now happening regionally, has demonstrated once more the need for effective flexible, responsive curriculum planning.

Though we may see a national lockdown if there is a critical second wave, the current thinking from government appears to be to control local spikes with local lockdowns.

This has implications for universities which may find themselves going in and out of lockdown. This is doubling challenging for those universities that historically have a large number of commuter students. Their campus may be in locally lockdown or some of their students could be in a local lockdown. They will need to think carefully about how the curriculum will need to change if face to face teaching is no longer possible or viable. This isn’t just about the students, the teaching staff (who may be more at risk of serious complications with covid-19) may also not want to be on campus during these spikes.

As I have written before about implementing a hybrid curriculum could help universities deal with this uncertainty.

With a hybrid course, some sessions are physical face to face sessions. There are live online sessions and there are asynchronous online sessions. In addition there could be asynchronous offline sessions as well. You may not want to be online all the time!

Some sessions could be easily switched from one format to another. So if there is a change in lockdown restrictions (tightening or easing) then sessions can move to or from online or a physical location.

This needs to be more than the emergency response we saw in March and April, students will be expecting more than simple translation of physical face to face sessions to remote online formats. The online sessions need to be reflect the fact they are online and not in a physical space.

Alas designing flexible, responsive, hybrid curriculum does take not just time, but also expertise. I don’t think you can easily assume staff have the relevant digital skills, capabilities and experience to design, develop and build such curriculum models. There is a lot more to this then merely providing the guidance, training and support. Where do you start for example? What works and what doesn’t?

As I said back in June, what we do know is that the future is uncertain and that we probably will still need to wash our hands just as often.

Shorter – Weeknote #73 – 24th July 2020

A shorter week as I was on leave for a couple of days.

Over the weekend I published the thinking and an expanded textual version of my  presentation to the University of Hertfordshire, where I talked about the possibilities of technology, and the ethical, privacy and legal aspects of said technology.

Monday saw my end of year review meeting. These weeknotes have been useful in remembering what I have been doing and where. Blogging not just weeknotes, but also about events I have attended or presented at also helps in preparing for these kinds of things. Even if you don’t publish them as I do, maintaining some kind of record over the year helps with preparation for reviews.

tree trunk
Image by Picography from Pixabay

I am working with colleagues on the Learning and Teaching Reimagined project. We are looking at undertaking various activities, as well as publishing some definitive guides for leaders in relevant areas.

One of the key aspects, which we are ensuring is recognising that though the technological challenges and issues do need to be addressed and resolved, one of the core issues is looking at the pedagogy in using technology to deliver learning and teaching, remotely and online. As demonstrated with my series on translation, it is often easier to translate existing physical face to face practice into online version, but this loses the nuances of that physical delivery, whilst ignoring the affordances that online and digital can provide.

exam
Image by F1 Digitals from Pixabay

I found this opinion article on the Guardian on facial recognition interesting and relevant.

As students sit their exams during the pandemic, universities have turned to digital proctoring services. They range from human monitoring via webcams to remote access software enabling the takeover of a student’s browser. Others use artificial intelligence (AI) to flag body language and background noise that might point to cheating.

In my work on assessment I did research and look at digital proctoring. Most universities realised that the technology, despite the protestations of the companies involved, was unfair and could negatively impact on wellbeing. There were also concerns about the validity of such proctoring. Universities have also recognised that not every student was in a space, have the connection or the right kind of device to enable them to participate in said remote exams.

I wrote up my thoughts in this blog post.

Someone shared this excellent XKCD comic on the Twitter.

XKCD have a wonderful perspective of some of the key issues of the day and this diagram looking at the risks of Covid-19 along with risks of non-Covid-19 activities did raise a smile in me.

My top tweet this week was this one.

Consider the ethical issues first!

exam
Image by F1 Digitals from Pixabay

I found this opinion article on the Guardian on facial recognition interesting and relevant to some of the work and research I have been doing on assessment, specifically remote assessment during the lockdown and plans for the future.

As students sit their exams during the pandemic, universities have turned to digital proctoring services. They range from human monitoring via webcams to remote access software enabling the takeover of a student’s browser. Others use artificial intelligence (AI) to flag body language and background noise that might point to cheating.

In my work on assessment I did research and look at digital proctoring. Most universities realised that the technology, despite the protestations of the companies involved, was unfair and could negatively impact on wellbeing. There were also concerns about the validity of such proctoring. Universities have also recognised that not every student was in a space, have the connection or the right kind of device to enable them to participate in said remote exams.

However, professional bodies, such as the Bar Standards Board in the article, have decided to use digital proctoring for their professional exams, and their chosen technology uses face-matching technology.

The Guardian article author, Meg Foulkes, rightly expresses her concerns about the biased nature of said technologies and is concerned that they are been used without sufficient safeguards in place, such as stricter regulation and ethical standards, for instance.

The article specifically mentions the concern of many over the bias that these technologies have.

Of most concern is the racialised bias that face-matching and facial recognition technologies exhibit.

This article reminds me of the discussion I had a few weeks back in my presentation to the University of Hertfordshire, where I talked about the possibilities of technology, but I said, first consider the ethical, privacy and legal aspects of said technology before blindly implementing it with students. This applies not just to universities, but also the professional bodies that they work and collaborate with.

Learning Analytics and Ethics

So what are some of the key issues and challenges when it comes to learning analytics and ethics in higher education.

This was the challenge I was set for a presentation at the University of Hertfordshire Teaching and Learning Conference on the 10th July.

When this was originally planned I was going to travel over to Hatfield and deliver the presentation in person, however with the Covid-19 pandemic, it was soon apparent that this wasn’t going to happen. The conference was going to go ahead, but using Teams, and presenters such as myself would deliver their presentations online.

I have done this a fair few times, so I know what to expect, however it’s still a little weird delivering a presentation in front of my PowerPoint slides and not seeing the audience, nor any kind of audience reaction. At the end their were a fair few questions in the chat pane, so got to answer more questions than I would at a face to face event.

I didn’t really know initially how it went down, but there was some positive feedback on the Twitter. Continue reading Learning Analytics and Ethics

What have I been doing? – Weeknote #72 – 17th July 2020

Last Friday I delivered a presentation at the University of Hertfordshire Teaching & Learning Conference. There was some really nice feedback from delegates at the conference.

Really hard to gauge feedback when delivering via Teams and all I can see is my Powerpoint presentation screen. Twitter at least gives me some insight to how it was received.

It would appear that my blog post on the main Jisc website was picked up by academics at the University of Cape Town in South Africa.  Continue reading What have I been doing? – Weeknote #72 – 17th July 2020

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