Creeping back up… – Weeknote #82 – 25th September 2020

After a lovely weekend (well Sunday) in Lynmouth it was back to work on Monday. Well back to the desk in my house. The office, not so much.

The coronavirus figures have started to creep back up, so we’ve been put into a new lockdown of sorts. Schools are remaining open, but people are been asked to work from home.

Met with my sector strategy colleagues on Tuesday and gave us a chance to catch up and chat about what we’ve been up to and what’s coming up.

Spent time working on a structure for the Data Matters 2021 conference. This conference is usually a physical face to face event, however, as might be expected with coronavirus, this time we will be running it as an online conference. This now only throws up some challenges, but also provides a range of opportunities. In addition to the structure I have been working on the types of sessions that could be run. As well as traditional sessions such as online presentations, I have been thinking about different kinds of synchronous and asynchronous sessions. I’ve also been wondering about pre and post conference sessions as well.

TV
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Continue reading Creeping back up… – Weeknote #82 – 25th September 2020

More uncertainty

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Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay

This week we saw new Covid measures put into place across the UK to try and reverse the increase in coronavirus infections over the last few weeks. The impact of these coronavirus restrictions on the student experience is starting to surface, from the students breaching social distancing at an open air cinema at Exeter to Abertay in Dundee in Scotland where hundreds of students are being told to isolate.  Public health officials at NHS Lothian were investigating a coronavirus cluster at Edinburgh Napier University’s Bainfield student accommodation. A number of people tested positive and  contacts were being traced and told to isolate for two weeks. But the university remained open though, with students and staff who haven’t been asked to self-isolate have been told to attend as normal.

This must be causing challenges for universities as they respond to new restrictions and need to adapt their curriculum delivery models as a result, as well as ensuring the wellbeing of those students affected.

The Government are clear about what they expect from the sector:

We will introduce new restrictions in England, but not a return to the lockdown in March; we’ll ensure that schools, colleges and universities stay open.

It was back in June I wrote a blog post asking if we needed to worry so much about the immediate future. Then, things were starting to look a little more positive. 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. However 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.

Then in August I discussed the uncertainty that the higher education sector were facing was causing real challenges for planning and preparation.

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.

At the time of writing that post, universities were concerned about falling student numbers, expecting many students to defer for a year. Then we had the exams algorithm fiasco, so suddenly universities which were worrying about not enough students, faced having more students than they planned for, with more students then places achieving the required grades. This has caused additional planning headaches for many universities, combined with putting in safeguards for social distancing.

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Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

So now we’re in a new, but just as, uncertain place where we have new restrictions, local lockdowns and the threat of a second wave which could result in a second national lockdown.

This uncertainty means that universities will still need to be responsive in how they deal with the various restrictions that are in place, but also responding to pockets of infection and isolation of parts of their student population.

I have written about implementing a hybrid curriculum that could help universities deal with these new levels of 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), students self-isolating 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 and universities have recognised this and undertake huge amounts of effort and work to ensure that courses are better orgaised and planned. Their 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. Term has started, so time is limited. 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? There are subject and cohort differences. A model that fits one university, may for various reasons not fit another.

Image by Welcome to all and thank you for your visit ! ツ from Pixabay
Image by Welcome to all and thank you for your visit ! ツ from Pixabay

Another big issues for universities will be dealing with the non-academic side of student life, for those who are self-isolating. Back in March students were told to go home, now they are being told so self-isolate in their accommodation. There are questions there about how they will get food and will they cook, can they still use shared kitchens? It’s one thing to be in the family home, another to be stuck in a single room in halls. How are you going to support student wellbeing in such an environment. Then there is the issue of non-compliance, how will universities deal with that? Will they want to?

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

Lost in translation: active learning

people
Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

I have been working on a series of blog posts about translating existing teaching practices into online models of delivery, and so have many others as well.

What we have been seeing was many people translating their usual practice to an online version. 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 and students.

We’re not working alone in this space and others are working on and collaborating together on solutions to the problems of translating and transforming models of delivery to new online and blended formats.

In the area of active learning I really liked this shared Google Doc CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 which was initiated by Dr. Jennifer Baumgartner, Associate Professor at Louisiana State University, with collaborative input from various groups, including members of the LSU LTC and the POD Network.

The crowdsourced document outlines some common active learning strategies and corresponding approaches appropriate for online teaching in both synchronous and asynchronous approaches, as well as running those activities in a physically distanced classroom.

If you are looking at how to translate activities then this document is really helpful in providing a range of possibilities.

Active Learning while Physically Distancing – Download the document in PDF format.

Reflecting – Weeknote #81 – 18th September 2020

The weather made a definite shift this week, with hot summer days, which though was a nice change from the wet and grey days we had in August was slightly mitigated by the fact that I was working at my desk.

At the end of last week we went to a drive-in cinema, something that I had seen in American films, but not experienced here in the UK.

The week started with a culture session. As with frameworks, defining the culture is a very small part of the story. You can define what you want the culture to be, however unless you can define your current culture, then it can make it challenging to see what has to change. Much more challenging is how you move from the current culture to the new model. There are factors that impact on this, shared understanding is one of these. Something I think I need to reflect more on at another time.

Jisc launched their findings of their 2020 student digital experience insights HE and FE publications.  Continue reading Reflecting – Weeknote #81 – 18th September 2020

Culturally sound – Weeknote #80 – 11th September 2020

I started the week working through what I needed to do, and adding them as tasks to my JIRA boards. I had moved away from JIRA for task setting, as I was mainly working within Teams, but started to feel as my work widened that I needed some way of keeping up to date with what needed to be done. I use a combination of JIRA, Confluence and now Teams to ensure stuff that needs to be done gets done.

At the start of this week I was reading Sally Brown’s Wonkhe article on the start of term, The first weeks may be critical for the 2020 cohort.

First year students at UK universities will be imminently beginning some kind of an on-campus experience this year. It will be unlike anything they, or staff working in HEI,s have ever experienced.

I was reminded of my post on community I wrote last month on how community will be difficult to build in bubbles and on hybrid courses.

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.

Did some internal work on our culture programme ready for an internal workshop I am participating in next week. I’ve always thought describing the culture is part of the challenge, and a shared understanding of those descriptions. Also then following up with more detailed expectations of the ways in which staff work and how the organisation will support this.

I remember in a previous culture and behaviours session I asked about the following statement which describes demonstrating a behaviour based on trust.

I keep people informed

I think one of the challenges with culture change, first what does this mean and importantly what does it look like? One person’s keeping people informed is very likely not going to be the same as someone else’s perspective. So should we describe what this looks like so that staff are aware of expectations about keeping people informed. Also what support will the organisation need to provide to enable this, to make it happen and importantly keeping it happening?

Culture change is challenging, but it needn’t be slow.

So there I was digging through some archives across various websites looking mainly old photographs when I came across this photograph of me on the Cambridge News website. Continue reading Culturally sound – Weeknote #80 – 11th September 2020

Lost in translation: the pause button

remote control
Image by tookapic from Pixabay

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. 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 and students.

Doing a 60 minute (physical) face to face lecture is one thing, generally most people will pause through their lecture to ask questions, respond to questions, show a video clip, take a poll, etc…

Doing a 60 minute live online lecture, using a tool like Zoom or Teams, is another thing. Along with pauses and polls as with a physical face to face lecture you can also have live chat alongside the lecture, though it can help to have someone else to review the chat and help with responses.

Doing a 60 minute recording of a lecture is not quite the same thing as a physical face to face lecture, nor is it a live online lecture.

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Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

There is a school of thought which says that listening to a live lecture is not the same thing as watching a recording of a lecture and as a result that rather than record a 60 minute lecture, you should break it down into three 20 minute or four 15 minute recordings. This will make it better for the students.

For me this assumes that students are all similar in their attention span and motivation,  and as a result would not sit through a 60 minute lecture recording. Some will relish sitting down for an hour and watching the lecture, making notes, etc… For those that don’t, well there is something called the pause button.

With a recording you don’t need to break it down into shorter recordings, as students can press the pause button.

Though I think a 60 minute monologue is actually something you can do, why do it all the time? You could, for other sessions do different things, such as a record a lecture in the style of a television broadcast or a radio programme.

If you were starting afresh, there is something about breaking an online lecture down into more sections and intersperse them with questions, chat and polls, just as you would with a 60 minute physical face to face lecture. If you have the lecture recordings already, or have the lecture materials prepared, then I would record the 60 minutes and let the students choose when to use the pause button.

I am working, I may be at home, but I really am working – Weeknote #79 – 4th September 2020

Shorter week due to a Bank Holiday in England, the weather wasn’t up to much.

I wrote a piece about the reality of robots. The premise of the article was that:

When we mention robots we often think of the rabbit robots and Peppa robot that we have seen at events. As a result when we talk about robots and education, we think of robots standing at the front of a class teaching. However the impact that robotics will have on learning and teaching will come from the work being undertaken with the robots being used in manufacturing and logistics.

The draft of the article was based on conversations and some research I had done over the last few years. This was an attempt to draw those things together, as well as move the discussion about robots in education away from toy robots which are great for teaching robotics, but how robots could and may impact the future of learning and teaching.

I remember in one job when we bought a Peppa robot, in the support of teaching robotics. One of my learning technologists asked if the team could get one. We then had a (too) long discussion on why would be need a robot and how it would enhance learning and teaching in subjects other than robotics? The end consensus was more that it was cool. This was a real example of the tech getting in the way of the pedagogy.

Peppa

It’s September, so schools and colleges are back this week, operating in a totally different way to what they were doing just six months ago.

At my children’s secondary school, the students will now remain in the same room throughout the day and it will be the teachers who move from room to room. Each child will have a designated desk which they will sit in each day for at least the first term, if not the rest of the academic year. It won’t be like this at colleges and universities, but restrictions will still need to be in place to mitigate the risk of infection.

There has been quite a bit of discussion online and in the press about people returning to the workplace. Sometimes the talk is of returning to work. Hello? Hello? Some of have never stopping working, we have been working from home! The main crunch of the issue appears to be the impact of people not commuting to the workplace and the impact this is having on the economy of the city centre and the businesses that are there.

Personally I think that if we can use this opportunity to move the work landscape from one where large portions of the population scramble to get to a single location via train or driving to one where people work locally (not necessarily from home) then this could have a really positive impact on local economies, as well as flattening the skewed markets that the commute to the office working culture can have on house prices, transport, pollution and so on.

I wrote more thoughts on this on my tech and productivity blog.

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Photo by Dylan Ferreira on Unsplash

I read an article on The Verge this week which sparked my interest.

These students figured out their tests were graded by AI — and the easy way to cheat

I posted the link to the article to the Twitter (as I often do with links) and it generated quite a response.

Didn’t go viral or cause a Twitterstorm, but the article got people thinking about the nature of assessment and marking, with the involvement of AI. I wrote a blog post about this article, my tweet and the responses to it.

There was a new publication from Jisc that may be of interest to those looking at digital learning, Digital learning rebooted.

This report highlights a range of responses from UK universities, ranging from trailblazing efforts at University of Northampton with its embedded ‘active blended learning’ approach, to innovation at Coventry University which is transforming each module in partnership with learning experience platform Aula. The University of Leeds, with its use of student buddies, and University of Lincoln’s long-standing co-creation work are notable for their supportive student-staff approaches. University of York, however, focused on simplicity in the short term and redesign longer-term. The University of the West of Scotland is also focusing on developing a community-based hybrid learning approach for the new year.

I am going teach, was a blog post I wrote about the nature of teaching in this new landscape.

The Office for Students are reviewing the challenges the sector faced during the Covid-19 pandemic and are calling for evidence.

This call for evidence is seeking a wide breadth of sector input and experience to understand the challenges faced, and lessons learned from remote teaching and learning delivery since the start of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in March 2020.

The OfS are looking to see what worked and what has not worked. What will work in the future and what about the student experience in all of this.

I was quoted a few times in this article, How digital transformation in education will help all children.

As many teachers and learners have discovered recently, Zoom fatigue, that that needs to be accounted for when designing curriculums. “You need to design an effective online curriculum or blended curriculum that takes advantage of the technology and opportunities it offers, but likewise doesn’t just bombard people with screentime that actually results in a negative impact on their wellbeing,” says Clay.

I also mentioned connectivity.

“As soon as you took away the kind of connectivity and resources you find on campus, it became a real challenge to be able to connect and stay connected,” says James Clay, head of higher education and student experience at Jisc.

This was something that was echoed in a recent survey on digital poverty from the OfS.

During the coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown, 52 per cent of students said their learning was impacted by slow or unreliable internet connection, with 8 per cent ‘severely’ affected.

The survey also found the lack of a quiet study space was also impacting on the student experience.

71 per cent reported lack of access to a quiet study space, with 22 per cent ‘severely’ impacted

Friday was full of meetings, which made for a busy day.

My top tweet this week was this one.

I am going to teach

What was City of Bristol College

Teaching is something you do, not somewhere you go…

Okay so teach and work aren’t as interchangeable as I would like to think, and I recently wrote a couple of pieces on the nature of work and working in this uncertain landscape. The first was a reflective piece on where I have worked and also how I worked, whilst the second was much more about the future of work and workplaces, as in work is still something you do, not somewhere you go.

Whilst writing both posts it got me thinking about how that, just as with the nature of work changing, teaching is also changing. Once this change has happened, people may not necessarily will want to return to how they use to teach.

When I was a teacher, I would often use the phrase I am going to teach which meant for much of my working life as teacher not only was I going to teach, but I was going to go to a specific space to teach as well. I use to remark (or was that joke) that I could teach anywhere, well I thought I could, but in reality I didn’t. I never took the students onto the field to teach, we never met up in a coffee shop. Okay I did field trips to the Bristol Docks, but that for me was more about learning than teaching.

Bristol Harbourside

I generally left the students to learn about urban regeneration in the docks by themselves, having taught them about what they needed to learn in the classroom the week before.

My career moved away from me teaching, to me supporting staff to teach, supported by the use of technology. I still considered myself a teacher and teaching, though most would have called it staff development. Most of that was still about going to a space and teaching. I did do other things that would be still called teaching, but didn’t require me to go to a specific space to teach. Some of this I did at home.

Back in 2008 I did a series of online webinars for the MoLeNET using a tool called instantpresenter.

InstantPresenter

I remember starting the software and staring at my computer screen. This wasn’t like the Teams or Zoom software of today. There was usually only one video feed, mine, partly down to bandwidth limitations, but also down to the fact that you would need a separate webcam for most computers of that era. I was lucky there was an iSight camera built into my iMac.

As I looked into the camera I realised that this was no classroom, this was me and a screen. There was going to be no visual or verbal cues from the people watching I felt I was literally on my own. I knew that as a teacher, someone who delivered training sessions and conference presentations, that I would be very responsive to the audience reaction. Knowing that I wouldn’t be getting that I knew I might get a little bit flat, so I decided to turn up my enthusiasm to eleven. I think I went a little too far and it all became Alan Partridge.

Going back ten years earlier in 1998, I was using a learning platform called First Class, where there was no video, it was all asynchronous text chat. Having participated in UseNet groups on the internet (remember those) I was quite familiar with and liked asynchronous text chat. However what I did find, was that many of my students on the First Class platform were not and didn’t quite get it. This was something that I also experienced in the early days of the Jisc e-learning conferences, which took place on an asynchronous platform. The presentations were not delivered, more they were uploaded. We would then discuss them using asynchronous text chat. The depth of discussion was always deeper than in a live physical conference, however as with my early experiences with First Class, not everyone got it, so didn’t get involved. When those Jisc e-learning conferences moved to a platform that enabled live online presentations, I think though we gained in one way, we lost an awful lot and much of the potential of asynchronous text chat was never achieved.

Just because you provide an asynchronous text chat platform, never assume people know how to use it effectively for teaching and learning, even if they know how to use iMessage and WhatsApp. As with any kind of technology, just because people use it for one thing, that doesn’t mean they know how to make the best use of it for learning and teaching. This is something I still refer to and think about when it comes to technology enabled learning.

Where I am trying to get to initially is to note that as we enter a new academic year which will require many staff to no longer go somewhere to teach, but they are still going to teach. That doesn’t necessarily mean they are able and comfortable to teach in these new online environments even with their recent direct experiences. We know that over the last six months we’ve been responding to the crisis by switching to remote teaching and I also think we are still in a crisis, but remote teaching doesn’t have to be a direct translation of physical teaching.

We also need to recognise that whereas before staff were teaching from home, in a landscape where students will be attending some face to face sessions and some online sessions, staff may need to deliver their online sessions from their desk. This is fine and dandy if they have their own office or dedicated quiet space, but less appropriate if they share an office, work in an open plan environment or even hotdesk! That is going to take some kind of logistical thinking and planning.

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Photo by Philippe Bout on Unsplash

Overall there is more to online learning then learning the technical 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? What about the logistical requirements, how are you managing that?

So the next question is what happens next? Not this year, maybe not even next year? As we are starting to see a shift in work and workplaces, will something similar happen when (or even if) we manage to move through to the ending of the pandemic, in higher education? Will we want to return to the daily commute to the campus, or could we see more flexible working or teaching in the future?

It wasn’t cheating!

using a laptop
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

I read an article on The Verge this morning which sparked my interest.

These students figured out their tests were graded by AI — and the easy way to cheat

The student in the article was undertaking an online test, and it wasn’t multiple choice, but short form answers to questions.

…he’d received his grade less than a second after submitting his answers. A teacher couldn’t have read his response in that time, Simmons knew — her son was being graded by an algorithm.

What the parent found was that by using a mix of keywords, or “word salad”, the system would mark the answer as correct. So the student could “cheat” the system!

The article itself was stemmed from a Twitter thread.

I posted the link to the article to the Twitter (as I often do with links) and it generated quite a response. Didn’t go viral or cause a Twitterstorm, but the article got people thinking about the nature of assessment and marking, with the involvement of AI.

There was quite a bit of feedback that this wasn’t cheating, but actually providing an answer to the question that the AI would mark as correct.

Others felt that this wasn’t AI.

I would agree, this was being called AI, but it was more of a system which matched keywords from answers given by students to a list provided by a teacher. The system wasn’t analysing what and how an answer was written, it was a text matching process.

A flawed approach to testing, which resulted in students been able to “game” the system to get 100%.

The lesson here is, for anyone looking at automated online assessment, is if there is a way in which the system can be manipulated, then it probably will be.

Remembering – Weeknote #78 – 28th August 2020

Writing
Image by David Schwarzenberg from Pixabay

Spent the best part of the week writing and reviewing documents.

Over the weekend I thought this Wired article, The UK’s universities are bracing for a coronavirus train wreck, was an interesting read.

Universities across the UK thought they had everything sorted. In March, near the end of the second semester, they had rushed to deliver online teaching, as the coronavirus pandemic forced them to shut their doors to maintain the safety of staff and students. With the spread of the virus easing over the summer, institutions began planning for the safe arrival of students in September. Stop-gap measures hurriedly introduced in March had become permanent by August; policies and guidance on social distancing, sanitising, and digital teaching alongside limited face-to-face tuition on campus had been drawn up having in mind the capped numbers of students universities then expected to receive.

Then came the A-level results.

It was one of many articles and blog posts on the fall out from the u-turn on the A Level results and the resulting impact on admissions and places.

I thought the honesty of Sheffield Hallams’ Vice Chancellor blog post was a breath of fresh air amongst all this.

The most important thing in all this unfortunate story is to focus on the thousands of students whose life chances were put at risk through the algorithm.  Continue reading Remembering – Weeknote #78 – 28th August 2020

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