What’s a lightboard? – Weeknote #28 – 13th September 2019

The Old Bailey

So it was off to London on Monday for a couple of meetings. The weather on Sunday had been lovely, Monday it was raining.

I don’t think I would like to commute to London on a regular basis, as in every day, but don’t mind the fact that I am there three to five times a month in my role. I nearly said new role, I have been doing this job now for just over six months (Weeknote #28 is a bit of a giveaway), when does a new role, become just my role? Other parts of the country differ in their accessibility with public transport, so sometimes I drive.

The failings of the CIA over 9/11 have been well documented, though on Tuesday morning I did read the following BBC viewpoint article – Viewpoint: The CIA, 9/11 and collective blindness

These two quotes are what I really took from the article.

We are unconsciously drawn to people who think like ourselves, but rarely notice the danger because we are unaware of our own blind spots.

This applies to groups as well as organisations. We employ people that are like ourselves rather than think about the whole. You can measure diversity within an organisation, but that only tells you what you already know that your organisation isn’t diverse. Sometimes your organisation needs to be more diverse than the population, but how do you know that?

You may feel you have fair employment recruitment practices, but who decides what is “fair”, sometimes you will want to recruit people that wouldn’t be recruited if you were to be fair.

I am also reminded of unconscious bias, and the fact that this is easier to say then sometimes to actually do something about. This was echoed in the second quote from the article.

There is a science to putting together the right minds, with perspectives that challenge, augment, diverge and cross-pollinate rather than parrot, corroborate and restrict. This is how wholes become more than the sum of their parts.

There isn’t an easy solution to this, you could think outside the box and put together teams that are not like ourselves, but that is not as easy as it sounds. The rewards though, as the article says mean wholes become more than the sum of their parts.

Rochdale Canal in Manchester
Rochdale Canal in Manchester

Wednesday I caught the train to Manchester, to attend an internal product meeting where I was presenting on the drivers within the draft Jisc HE strategy.

It was quite along train journey there and back in a day, and though I did manage to get a fair bit of work done, the lack of connectivity did annoy me as it has before.

Rochdale Canal in Manchester
Rochdale Canal in Manchester

I wrote a blog post on making digital a choice,  in response to a BBC news article about a branch of Sainsbury’s in Holborn in London where the only choice to pay was via an app.

Digital should be a choice…

University of Leeds - Leeds Business School
Leeds Business School

Friday I was in Leeds to deliver a keynote on Education 4.0 for the Leeds Business School, I had travelled up the day before.

Leeds Business School Active Learning Studio
Leeds Business School Active Learning Studio

I showed a presentation, which is all photos. In the presentation I talked about who is Jisc, what do we mean by the Education 4.0 and some of the challenges we face in moving down the road to Education 4.0.

I also showed the Jisc Education 4.0 video we showed at UUK last year and at Digifest.

https://youtu.be/aVWHp8FsV1w

Frances Noble from the University of Leeds did a fantastic sketch note of my talk.

Education 4.0 Sketchnote

I attended a couple of sessions following my keynote including a demonstration of ClassVR.

ClassVR demonstration

I was also shown a piece of technology I had never heard of or seen in action.

The Lightboard (a.k.a. learning glass) is a glass chalkboard pumped full of light. It’s for recording video lecture topics.

My top tweet this week was this one.

Digital should be a choice…

Bananas - Image by StockSnap from Pixabay
Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

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 recently read an article on the BBC News website An experiment in shopping via app reveals consumers are not quite ready for till-free grocery buying about an experiment that the Sainsbury supermarket had been undertaking at one of their stores in London. It didn’t end well…

The branch of Sainsbury had removed all their tills and allowed shoppers to scan their goods with their phones and pay for them through the app. Removing the tills allowed them to have a wider range of goods on display.

The challenge was that a lot of people were going to to the help desk to pay for their goods as they didn’t want to, or couldn’t use the app. The result was long queues.

I suspect some people when they popped into to get some food and stuff didn’t realise that the only way to pay was though an app and assumed despite the posters that they could pay through a traditional checkout (or even one of the self-scan checkouts). When they couldn’t find one they went to the helpdesk. Not everyone wants to install an app either.

I think it also reflects that people like to have a choice. When we go “digital by default” we forget that this doesn’t mean “digital only” it means that the primary choice for people will be digital, but that other choices (analogue) should also be available.

This has implications for universities and colleges who are in the process of moving services to digital, whether that be self-service kiosks, chatbots, or using digital assistants like Alexa.

If 20% of the population don’t use the internet (as reported in this article) how is this reflected in the students who go to university? How many of them don’t use the internet, or have made the choice not to engage with internet services or apps. Some may not even have the devices required for access.

Then we need to be aware that not all of our potential users will want to use the internet, let alone use an app. They may not want to use a kiosk or ask Alexa.

Amazon Echo
Photo by Jan Antonin Kolar on Unsplash

Digital by default means making the first option digital, but there needs to be a second option, one that may require the use of people to deliver the service.

I am also reminded of this blog post by Lawrie Phipps The Darker side of Digital. Lawrie describes some of the darker aspects of digital by default. In the BBC article I link to, it means people were annoyed when doing their shopping. Lawrie points out how moving a service to digital only can be harmful to people’s welfare and their physical or mental health.

He quotes from an UN report on poverty in the UK.

“One wonders why some of the most vulnerable and those with poor digital literacy had to go first in what amounts to a nationwide digital experiment.”

When creating digital services, we need to remember that we are trying to enhance and increase access. This also means that we shouldn’t be constraining or reducing access.

Not going to ALT-C – Weeknote #27 – 6th September 2019

ALT conference 2019 , Edinburgh. Day one - Tuesday 3rd September.
ALT conference 2019, Edinburgh. Day one – Tuesday 3rd September. CC-BY-NC ALT

So it was back to a full week after a few short weeks and leave. September is traditionally the start of term in England for schools and FE, though HE usually start a little later. I would like to have gone to ALT-C in Edinburgh, alas I didn’t go this year as I needed to be close to home as my youngest started secondary school, and as most people know, transition is a challenging time for all. In the end there were very few issues, but I am glad I stayed behind.

I attended some of the ALT-C sessions remotely and participated via the Twitter as well.

Image by drippycat from Pixabay

Ten years ago at ALT-C in Manchester, we had The VLE is Dead session at ALT-C. So I wrote a blog post reminiscing about the debate.

The VLE is still dead… #altc

Spent some time booking travel for the weeks ahead and checking in some cases if I needed to travel. Liking our self-service portal for travel, as it does making life easier.

On Tuesday morning I listened to the ALT-C keynote from Sue Beckingham. She covered a range of stuff. I was reminded of a talk I gave on e-mail and how it is used (and abused). I hadn’t shared it before, so I uploaded it to slideshare.

I spent a lot of time working on a roadmap, which was an interesting, but challenging task, as there are so many unknown unknowns.

Working on a workshop for the Jisc board and it’s challenging to create an engaging interaction session that will add value, and has to be about forty five minutes!

Thursday I was reminded of the excellent Web 2.0 Slam – ‘Performing’ Innovative Practice workshop that I attended at ALT-C in 2007, so I wrote a blog post about it.

A blast from the past #altc

Looking over my blog posts over that date I wasn’t surprised to find some posts had missing images. I recently updated my blog hosting, so initially I thought it might be that, but checking the underlying code I realised what the problem was. The images that were original held on a remote server embedded into the post were no longer available.

Back then I used a service called ShoZu to add images as blog posts, it didn’t upload the images to WordPress, merely adding HTML code and embedding the images hosted on the ShoZu server. With ShoZu now defunct, there were no images. I had copies of the images on Flickr (and on Amazon photos) so I updated the old blog posts and added copies of the images.

It reminds me that embedding externally hosted content can be problematic, what happens when that service dies or is shut down. Just because something is free, doesn’t mean it will last forever.

I have written a longer blog post about this on my technology blog.

ShoZu shut down

It was announced that ALT-C 2020 will be in London and the co-chairs are

  • Roger Emery, Head of Learning Technologies, Solent University,
  • Farzana Latif, Digital Learning Manager, University of Sheffield,
  • Matt Lingard, Digital Learning Director, London College of Communication.

It will take place 9-11 September 2020.

My plan is to attend and present a session (or two) at the conference.

My top tweet this week was this one.

A blast from the past #altc

University of Nottingham

On this day in 2007 I was at the ALT Conference in Nottingham. This was the fourth ALT conference I had attended. What I really remember about this conference was how blogging became really big and important at the conference. We were blogging about the conference sessions, we were blogging about people blogging and lots of other stuff too. I think we were blogging because we didn’t have other tools that we could use, Twitter was just over a year old and most people were not using it (we didn’t have hashtags back then), so blogging was the only real online platform we could use.

I believe that people were blogging at previous conferences, but it was the first time that we had an RSS feed of all the blogs in one feed. This made it much easier to find blog articles on the conference and as a result the bloggers themselves. Importantly and this is why I think ALT-C 2007 was a sea change (and especially a sea change for me) was that these social relationships continued beyond the conference.

One of the sessions I attended at the conference was the Web 2.0 Slam – ‘Performing’ Innovative Practice workshop run by Josie Fraser, Helen Keegan and Frances Bell. This was (probably) the best session at the conference, certainly was for me and influenced a lot of stuff I did at later conferences.

Web 2.0 Slam - 'Performing' Innovative Practice

They started off with the classic Web 2.0 Machine Video, which was shown at a lot of conferences I had been attending.

I think it still resonates today.

One of my early comments on this (and this was before Twitter really took off, so I did it on my blog) was

Josie Fraser is now giving an overview of Web 2.0, “think of it as a wave”.

Did Josie predict Google Wave, two years before it was launched?

As we were in Nottingham and we were put into groups to prepare something, I was in a group with Andy Powell, Agnes Kukulska-Hulme and Kath Trinder. We decided to create a Web 2.0 movement. We created a blog, a Facebook group and probably other stuff lost to time…

We called our idea Hood 2.0 (well we were in Nottingham, with Robin Hood) and are vision statement was:

A group that looks at how Web 2.0 services can be used to take from the “rich” and gives to the “poor” in terms of user generated content, advice, guides and case studies.

There were lots of familiar faces in the room. We did a fairy bit of arm waving if I remember correctly.

I was certainly one of the few people using Twitter, so I did a few tweets from the workshop.

and

You can see these were limited in scope and content. We didn’t do images or hashtags back then.

Though we didn’t win (we was robbed) we certainly enjoyed the session.

I can’t remember who won, but hopefully someone can remember and put it in the comments.

Having said that we didn’t win, the website we created for the session still lives….

The VLE is still dead… #altc

Arnos Vale

Can you believe it has been ten years since we had The VLE is Dead session at ALT-C.

It was Tuesday 8th May 2009 at 13:40 at Manchester University that The VLE is Dead symposium was kicked off by Josie Frasier.

2009 was also the year that delegates at ALT-C discovered the Twitter! In 2008 there were roughly 300 tweets and about forty people tweeting, in 2009 the amount of tweeting went through the roof!

I personally remember 2009 as the year I won Learning Technologist of the Year. I was well chuffed to receive this prestigious award.

Most people though remember that year as the year I allegedly said the VLE was dead! We had certainly over the months leading up to the conference trailed the debate with blog posts, tweets and even a trailer.

The debate was huge, with hundreds of people in the room, sitting on the floor, standing by the walls and we also live streamed the debate over the internet (which was quite revolutionary at the time). Overall an amazing experience and an interesting debate that still goes on today.

If you watch the video of the debate and discussion you will see that my view was that the VLE was more of a concept a place where a learner starts their journey and other technologies could be plugged into the institutional VLE to enhance and enrich it.

I still hold that viewpoint that the VLE is a construction of different tools and services.

The abstract for the Death of the VLE Symposium was about the future of e-learning.

The future success of e-learning depends on appropriate selection of tools and services. This symposium will propose that the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) as an institutional tool is dead, no more, defunct, expired.

The session was chaired by Josie Fraser and as well as myself, we had three panellists.

There respective viewpoints were described as follows

The first panel member, Graham Attwell, will argue that many VLEs are not fit for purpose, and masquerade as solutions for the management of online learning. Some are little more than glorified e-mail systems. They will argue that VLEs provide a negative experience for learners.

The second member of the panel, Steve Wheeler, believes that the VLE is dead and that the Personal Learning Environment (PLE) is the solution to the needs of diverse learners. PLEs provide opportunities for learners, offering users the ability to develop their own spaces in which to reflect on their learning.

The third panel member, James Clay, however, believes that the VLE is not yet dead as a concept, but can be the starting point of a journey for many learners. Creating an online environment involving multiple tools that provides for an enhanced experience for learners can involve a VLE as a hub or centre.

The fourth panel member, Nick Sharratt, argues for the concept of the institutional VLE as essentially sound. VLEs provide a stable, reliable, self-contained and safe environment in which all teaching and learning activities can be conducted. It provides the best environment for the variety of learners within institutions.

The symposium began with an opportunity for attendees to voice their opinions on the future of the VLE. Each member of the panel then presented their case. The panel, with contributions from the audience, then debated the key issues that arose from the presentations.

So where did the whole concept of the debate come from?

Well it was an idea that had been around for a while

Martin Weller published a blog post in November 2007 “The VLE/LMS Is Dead”

Well there was a paper published a couple of years earlier by Mark Stiles, called “Death of the VLE – a challenge to a new orthodoxy”.

The VLE has become almost ubiquitous in both higher and further education, with the market becoming increasingly ‘mature’. E-learning is a major plank in both national and institutional strategies. But, is the VLE delivering what is needed in a world where flexibility of learning is para- mount, and the lifelong learner is becoming a reality? There are indications that rather than resulting in innovation, the use of VLEs has become fixed in an orthodoxy based on traditional educational approaches. The emergence of new services and tools on the web, developments in interoperability, and changing demands pose significant issues for institutions’ e-learning strategy and policy. Whether the VLE can remain the core of e-learning activity needs to be considered.

A year later, Lawrie Phipps, Dave Cormier and Mark Stiles published a paper in Educational Developments – The Magazine of the Staff and Educational Development Association Ltd (SEDA) entitled “Reflecting on the virtual learning systems – extinction or evolution?”

What is the role of Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) in the modern university? How are students using them? And are they as important as we once thought they would be? These are questions that a lot of people are now asking, given the rapid developments that can be characterised as the read/write web or Web 2.0.

So this wasn’t a new idea, it built on the shoulders of those who went before us.

One aspect of the debate was the publication of blog posts before the conference, the use of Twitter and even trailers…

One of my blog posts from August 2009 gave an insight into my viewpoint.

Using an institutional VLE does not preclude using other Web 2.0 services and tools, on the contrary, a VLE and web tools can be used together. For example this blog has an RSS feed which feeds directly into my institutional VLE.

It was certainly hyped up in a way that I hadn’t seen before at ALT conferences, and to be honest not since either.

Today though I see many people using their blogs and the Twitter to promote their sessions at conferences, so maybe we did start something.

I was planning to run a session at this year’s conference, but alas circumstances were against me, so a follow-up session never materialised.

So ten years later is the VLE dead?

It’s still here and still being used and people are still trying to get people to use it.

Will it still be here in another ten years?

Who knows!

Photographic Presentations – Weeknote #26 – 30th August 2019

Mine shaft at The Black Country Living Museum
Mine shaft at The Black Country Living Museum

A rather short week for me, as taking some leave. This week started for me on Wednesday as we had a bank holiday here in England and I took some additional leave.

Fetter Lane, London
Fetter Lane, London

I was off to London again, this time for an internal meeting about the Intelligent Campus, in which I provided some insights into the work I did on the project over the last few years. It reminded me about how much I enjoyed working on that project and the sheer quantity of ideas, use cases, blog posts I created and wrote over that time.

It also reminded me of how the presentation I created for the project evolved and developed over the life of the project.

When I ran the first community event at Sheffield Hallam in March 2018 the presentation was very wordy.

PPT Slides

When I spoke about the Intelligent Campus in March 2019 at Digifest, the presentation was nearly all images.

PPT Slides

I delivered variations of the presentation many times in that twelve month period, including a keynote in France, as well as versions at events and at meetings with universities. The more confident I got with the content and the details, meant I reduced the words and replaced them with images.

I have also been working on the assessment criteria for the Learning Technologist Technical Career Pathway using the SIFA framework.

I think it needs more work and some extra non-SIFA units to make it more aligned to the Learning Technologist role within Jisc.

I was only working two days this week, and Friday I was back in the office for more meetings and tying up loose ends from my growing inbox.

We have moved to a self-service model for booking travel and accommodation, which means for me less back and forth when booking hotels in cities I don’t know or have not stayed in before. Having booked a hotel for a trip to Leeds, my next booking will be for a meeting in Edinburgh.

Group working
Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

I did find this article from Wonkhe interesting and insightful

We’re failing black students if we don’t talk about recruitment bias

I remember a long time ago, getting a job, not just because I matched the criteria and did a good interview, but because the panel felt that I was someone they could drink coffee with first thing in the morning. In other words I fitted their expectations of a colleague they could both work with, but also fit into their culture.

I doubt back then “unconscious bias” was even thought about, let alone even considered as an issue. Did the other candidates make them feel uncomfortable? Did they even understand why that was?

Interesting it was in that job, that I started to realise as white middle class male that I had privileges that came to me just because of my gender and ethnicity. I started to recognise that when working with people that they had different backgrounds, cultures and challenges, that were nothing like mine, so I had to ensure I didn’t let this impact on the decisions I was making.

My top tweet this week was this one.

Podcasting in Liverpool – Weeknote #25 – 23rd August 2019

Mont St Michel

On Monday I was still on leave, so it wasn’t until Tuesday that I was back at work and then it was off to London for some meetings. I had expected a fair few e-mails in mu inbox, but in the end there was just over eighty. I managed to clear them all by 2pm (including all the extra ones that arrived after I started). I follow an Inbox Zero approach which works well for me.

Do you do the Inbox Zero?

There were a few other online places to check as well, Teams, Yammer and Slack. I also checked my Jira boards as well.

After being away on leave I find it usually takes me a day or so to re-adjust to work mode, catch up with what I am doing, what I have missed and what I need to do, including those urgent things. I haven’t yet found a quick way to do this. So when attending a 9:30am online meeting in Teams that morning, I wasn’t really in the zone… It certainly didn’t help that I was trying to attend the meeting whilst travelling at 125mph on a train. The connectivity wasn’t great, and as a result I missed some stuff, sometimes people sounded like a Dalek and the latency issues meant that I was unable to participate fully.

Farringdon Station development

Wednesday morning saw me in the Bristol office attending various meetings in my role as Head of HE and Student Experience. Various items were discussed both external facing topics as well as internal processes.

After a morning in the Bristol office it was up North to Liverpool where I am recording a podcast on the following day.

Thursday I was in Liverpool recording a podcast with John Cartwright at the University of Liverpool, no spoilers, but we discussed a range of topics and issues on digital, data as well as the student experience. We had a really good conversation and I hope this is captured in the podcast recording. I will link to the podcast once it is published.

University of Liverpool

Reflecting on that conversation on the way home, I was conscious about how some universities approach change. Often the focus is on a small number of big effort improvements, large changes, as opposed to a large number of small effort quick changes. Often organisation prefer big change, as it is often linked to strategy. It can be easier to ask for larger sums of money for high profile projects than lots of smaller sums for projects which will result in a small improvement.

I was reminded of marginal gains analysis. The marginal gains theory is concerned with small incremental improvements in any process, which, when added together, make a significant improvement.

Can the same be gained though one big improvement? Something for further reflection.

Friday I was back to the Bristol office for various calls and meetings. One of the things I have been working on was a roadmap to Education 4.0, which is proving somewhat challenging.

My top tweet this week was this one.

Future of Teaching – Weeknote #23 – 9th August 2019

Doctor Johnson's House
Doctor Johnson’s House in Gough Square

Monday was another trip to London, I had been expecting to participate in a workshop, but this was cancelled late last week, and I already had train tickets and another meeting in the diary so decided to head up anyhow. The weather was changeable, raining whilst on the train, but this cleared up by the time I arrived in London.

I saw this link in my news feed and it did make me think more about how we could use AI to support learning, but also reflect on some of the real challenges in making this happen. Also do we want this to happen!

China has started a grand experiment in AI education. It could reshape how the world learns. – MIT Technology Review

I wrote a blog post about some thoughts I had on this.

Is this the future of “teaching”?

In the afternoon in the office we were discussing Education 4.0 and how we are going to move this forward in terms of expert thinking and messages.

Tuesday was a busy day, first a meeting in the Bristol office, before heading up to Cheltenham for a meeting the HESA office.

CrossCountry train at Cheltenham Spa Railway Station
CrossCountry train at Cheltenham Spa Railway Station

I haven’t been on a CrossCountry train for a while now, so travelling to Cheltenham Spa from Bristol Temple Meads I was interested to see how the 3G connectivity issues I’ve always had on that route would be like, especially as I now have 4G with Three. Well same old problems, dipping in and out from 4G to 3G as well as periods of No Service. I would like to blame the train, but the reality is that there is poor phone signal connectivity on that route. As there is no incentive for mobile network providers to improve connectivity.

If I do go to Cheltenham again, I think I will take a book!

We were discussed the Data Matters 2020 Conference, which is now in my portfolio. Still a work in progress and the proposal needs to be signed off by key stakeholders.

Pub in Cheltenham
The Vine Pub in Cheltenham

Whilst I was in Cheltenham I bumped into my old colleague Deborah from Gloucestershire College and we had a chat about stuff. What was nice to hear was the number of my team and colleagues in that team that had started there in learning technology and were now doing new and more exciting jobs at universities across the UK.

Wednesday there was rain. I spent today preparing for a meeting in the afternoon and tidying up my inbox. Though I did find time for a coffee.

Flat White
Flat White from Hart’s Bakery

Thanks to Lawrie for the link, I read this report on the iPASS system, which uses data and analytics to identify students at risk.

The three institutions increased the emphasis on providing timely support, boosted their use of advising technologies, and used administrative and communication strategies to increase student contact with advisers.

This report shows that the enhancements generally produced only a modestly different experience for students in the program group compared with students in the control group, although at one college, the enhancements did substantially increase the number of students who had contact with an adviser. Consequently, it is not surprising that the enhancements have so far had no discernible positive effects on students’ academic performance.

Looks like that it didn’t have the impact that they thought it might.

In a couple of weeks I am recording a podcast and met with the organiser today to discuss content and format. Without giving too much away, we will be covering the importance of people in any digital transformation programme and ensuring that they are part of the process, consultation and are given appropriate training in the wider context of their overall skills and capabilities. You can’t just give people new digital systems and expect them to be able to use them from day one or with specific training. Familiarity with digital in its wider context is often critical, but is equally often forgotten.

Whilst writing a blog post about online learning I wrote the following

Conversations are really hard to follow in e-mail, mainly as people don’t respond in a linear manner, they add their comment to the top of their reply.

When I first started using e-mail in 1997, well actually I first started using e-mail in 1987, but then got flamed by the e-mail administrator at Brunel University, so stopped using it for ten years….

When I re-started using e-mail in 1997, there was an expectation when replying to e-mail that you would respond by writing your reply underneath the original e-mail, bottom posting, which really was something that I got from using usenet newsgroups. This from RFC 1855.

If you are sending a reply to a message or a posting be sure you summarize the original at the top of the message, or include just enough text of the original to give a context. This will make sure readers understand when they start to read your response. Since NetNews, especially, is proliferated by distributing the postings from one host to another, it is possible to see a response to a message before seeing the original. Giving context helps everyone. But do not include the entire original!

By the early 2000s lots more people were using e-mail and most of the time they were replying at the start of the e-mail, top-posting. There were quite a few people in my circles who continued to bottom post their replies, which made sense when reading a threaded conversation, but confused the hell out of people who didn’t understand why someone replied to a conversation, and from what they could see, hadn’t written anything!

Today top-posting appears to be the norm and I can’t recall when I last saw someone responding to an e-mail by replying at the end of the quoted reply.

Here is the blog post I wrote, about how online learning doesn’t just happen.

Online learning doesn’t just happen

Friday was about planning, planning and even some forward planning. One thing that has puzzled me for a long time was the difference between forward planning and planning. Thanks to Google I have a better idea now.

Forward planning is being pro-active, predicting the future and then planning to achieve that prediction.

The opposite is backward planning, which is more reactive, you wait until you get a request or management decision then create a plan to achieve it.

So what is plain and simple planning then?

Wikipedia says that planning is the process of thinking about the activities required to achieve a desired goal.

So some of what I am doing in my planning is responding to both requested goals and planning for some predicted goals.

We had our weekly meeting about the Technical Career Pathways we are developing at Jisc. I am responsible for the Learning and Research Technical Career Pathway.

My top tweet this week was this one.

Online learning doesn’t just happen

student on a laptop
Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay

When it comes to the delivery of online learning, the assumption is made that it will just happen. Assumptions are made that academics who are experts already in delivering learning will be able to easily transfer their skills to an online environment. Even if they are provided with some training, what they will require will be minimal. The training will usually be about the mechanics of online learning, as these academics are already experts in learning, so why would you even “insult” them with training about learning!

What can often happen is that the processes and methods that people use in the physical space will be translates verbatim to an online space. It will not taken into account the challenges of an online environment, or recognise the affordances of said environments. This also ignores the potential and affordances that online environments can bring to learning.

  • Lectures will become webinars.
  • Presentations will become PowerPoint slide decks.
  • Handouts will be Word documents to be downloaded.
  • Verbal communication will be done by e-mail.

The online environment will become a repository of materials that will be forgotten and ignored. The end result will be a lack of engagement by students and a deluge of complaints about this whole online learning experiment.

Writing in a notebook
Image by Pexels from Pixabay

The overall experience is expected to be the same, but merely re-creating the physical experience online is often disappointing for both students and academics. Many of the nuances of face to face learning can be lost when moving to online. Part of the issue is that physical learning activities don’t necessarily translate readily into an online environment, the nuances of what makes the face to face so valuable can be lost in translation, similarly the possibilities and affordances of the online space can be lost.

A lecture is more than just someone at the front talking to an audience. There is something about bringing together in a single place, the physicality of that “performance” adds to the whole experience. Though the oral nature of the delivery can be captured, the non-verbal aspects will often not be noticed, but are equally important as the verbal ones.Students will share a common experience, and they will have a similar experience to others in the room.

As webinar can be used as an online lecture, but you won’t have the non-verbal cues, even when using a webcam. The academic will miss out on the whole group experience and their non-verbal language in response to the lecture.

Using webinar technology can allow for a complex and fluid conversation to happen at the same time as the lecture. Using the chat functionality can enhance and enrich the experience. In my experience it helps to have someone else in the webinar space to manage the chat area, to respond, to provide links and content and to summarise at appropriate times to the academic delivering the webinar feedback from the group. It’s really hard for one person to do all that and deliver an engaging lecture. Another aspect that is often forgotten that online delivery (be it audio or video) appears flatter than when seeing it for “real” so one thing I do is up my performance a notch or two. Take it too far and you will become Alan Partridge, but it will make for better delivery if you brighten and enhance your delivery.

Of course webinars don’t have to be a lecture, they could be a group discussion. Why replace the lecture with a webinar, when you could replace it with a podcast of various experts discussing the topic of the lecture. Of course online means you can bring in experts from across the country (if not the world) to discuss the topic and record it for future listening by students.One of the affordances of online is that it doesn’t have to be live, it can be recorded and then watched by the student at a time and place to suit them. Suddenly this opens up a wide range of opportunities, why just record yourself in a lecture theatre, why not take to the road and turn your lecture into a radio programme. Why not create a film about what you want to talk about? Of course this takes time and effort, but sharing and collaboration (much easier to do these days online) means you could share the load with others in your field.

It is easy to upload files to an online environment, but in isolation what is the context. If you create great PowerPoint slide decks for your lectures, do they work without the lecture? Personally my slides are usually just images or single words, that look nice, but really without the talk tell you nothing I was talking about! There are tools and processes out there that can turn simple PowerPoint files into online videos through recording an audio track as they are presented. You could do this live (using webinar technology) or pre-record using the built-in tools. Something to recognise that these files can be quite large, will your students have the connectivity and the bandwidth outside campus to access them? Will you need to provide alternatives?

Though for many PowerPoint is a familiar tool, there are other tools in the toolbox that can create engaging online content. Some even allow you to add interactive elements. How you create good online content isn’t just about the technical aspects of using said tools, but also recognising the pedagogical principles that need to be followed when designing online learning content. If you start to add quizzes or questions, there is a whole new raft of skills that may need developing.

reading a Kindle
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Though it might be thought uploading Word documents to the online environment, is one way to get content to students, there are so many other resources out there to create an effective online learning experience. The subject of e-resources could fill a book and often does. Understanding what is possible with resources is one thing, understanding the wealth of resources out there is something else.

We know that everyone loves e-mail, and it is often the default online communication method for many. However using a single tool for all types and formats of communication is not effective or efficient. Who really wants their sacred inbox to be filled with numerous conversations and questions that are getting in the way of other “important” work e-mails. If you have more than one cohort, then it becomes even more difficult. Conversations are really hard to follow in e-mail, mainly as people don’t respond in a linear manner, they add their comment to the top of their reply. For conversations and discussion, e-mail is a really bad online tool, especially when there are so many better alternatives out there for doing this kind of thing.

I find e-mail is best for the one-to-one messaging (and occasional) conversation and for the broadcast style one-to-many messages (though even then I think there are better alternatives out there for even that kind of message). Using appropriate platforms for online conversations opens up a range of learning possibilities that could not happen in the offline world as well as re-creating the conversations students and academics have.

Overall there is more to online learning then learning the mechanics of online learning. That equally applies to students as well as academics. Don’t assume people can do online learning, there are skills, techniques and possibilities that need to be thought about and taken onboard. As well as the mechanics of using the system, there is the how of online learning, the process of learning that also needs to be considered. Really it should be considered first and then deliver the technical training.

So how are you approaching the subject of online learning with your academics? What works? What challenges have you come across and how did you overcome them?

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