Data does matter

…but then again, so does privacy and ethics.

laptop
Image by fancycrave1 from Pixabay

Last year I was responsible for bringing the programme of Data Matters 2020 together. The event was going to be held in May 2020 in central London. However, no surprise that we decided to cancel the event. We did consider running it online, however due to the timing, the pressure that our prospective audience was under and translating an in-person conference to an online event quickly, we decided that we would reschedule the event to January 2021.

We did think by July that we might even be able to hold the event in-person, but the realities of the world hit back. So the decision was made to still hold the conference in January 2021, but build it as a holding event and run it online.

The existing theme was very much about putting in the (data) foundations to deliver the vision of Education 4.0 that Jisc was promoting. We could have run with that theme again, but the landscape had changed so much that we created a new more general theme on the uncertain future.

archives
Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Data Matters is jointly run by Jisc, HESA and QAA, who are the UK’s higher education digital, data and quality experts. This partnership brings these three perspectives together in a two-day conference to discuss the topical issues around data and its use in shaping the future of higher education.

This year’s theme will focus on ‘enabling data certainty’.

The UK education sector is moving towards an uncertain future. The sector needs to transform to meet the requirements of industry 4.0 and student expectations. With COVID-19 having such a huge impact on the operation of the higher education sector now and in the foreseeable future, the entire student experience has been and will be disrupted by the restrictions in place to mitigate the risks of the virus. This has impacted on the use of formal and informal learning spaces, as well as an increasing reliance on online platforms and digital content.

It has also impacted on student recruitment, domestic as well as international. Universities have a responsibility to support all students to thrive and achieve, and it is increasingly recognised that students’ experiences are very different depending on a large number of factors, including background and personal circumstances, type and subject of their course. The mental health and wellbeing of students is an increasing concern for universities and sector bodies.

The role of data, analytics, data modelling, predictive analytics and visualisation will be a core aspect of this uncertain future, but the uncertainty will bring new challenges for the sector in how they utilise the potential of data. Public scepticism about algorithms and data use is creating new ethical and legal challenges in the gathering, processing and interpretation of data.

CCTV
Image by Stafford GREEN from Pixabay

So if you have an interest in data then Data Matters will be the place to be in January.

Book your place now.

Going home for Christmas – Weeknote #91 – 27th November 2020

A lot of news over the weekend on grade inflation. I was at an event last November where this was discussed and there was some despair about the issue, on one hand everyone is expecting the quality of teaching to be better, but at the same time they don’t want students to get better grades.

I spent a fair amount of time writing some proposals this week.

We’ve also been working on where Jisc goes next with Learning and teaching reimagined following the publication of the most recent report.

This report is the result of a five-month higher education initiative to understand the response to COVID-19 and explore the future of digital learning and teaching.

As the directorate I am now in is responsible for moving things forward, the key issue is how we move from a series of challenges and recommendations to a plan for change and transformation. We have a vision, we know where we are, it’s less about where we want to be, much more about how do we get there, what do we need to do to make it happen.

walking home
Image by 춘성 강 from Pixabay

So what’s going to be happening at Christmas as students flock home for Christmas? Continue reading Going home for Christmas – Weeknote #91 – 27th November 2020

I WON THE ELECTION – Weeknote #90 – 20th November 2020

Official sources called this election differently

The US election continues to dominate Twitter though seeing less of it on the mainstream news. Saw a number of people on Twitter claiming to have won the election!

Five years ago this week myself and Lawrie were delivering the second residential of the pilot for the Jisc Digital Leaders Programme at the Holland House Hotel in the heart of Bristol. We had spent four days delivering that week. We also had some great cakes and pastries.

Even the coffee was nice. We learnt a lot from the process and spent the next few months iterating the programme, dropping and adding stuff based on the feedback we had from the pilot delegates.

Less than a year later we delivered the programme to paying delegates in Loughborough, again we reviewed what we did and adapted the programme again, before delivering to groups in Manchester, Belfast and Leicester.

Continue reading I WON THE ELECTION – Weeknote #90 – 20th November 2020

Physical in-person face to face including aspects of digital and online as well as asynchronous – Weeknote #89 – 13th November 2020

The week started with a run through of an online event I was participating later in the week. I published a blog post called The second wave arrived in which I look at the impact of the second national (English) lockdown on the university sector. On Wonkhe, David Kernohan asked Is it really fair to blame universities for the second wave?

High case numbers in the early autumn have led some to conflate the second wave with students and universities. For David Kernohan, the data doesn’t show that.

This was an interesting article that looked at the data behind the second wave and how some people have been conflating the wave with university attendance and blaming students.

I spent a good part of Monday working on some internal documents for various projects, as well as some presentations for future events.

Tuesday I was on a panel session for the QAA looking at academic integrity. I don’t mind online events, but it can be really hard to read the audience compared to being on a panel at a live in-person face to face event.

On that note there was a discussion on Twitter about the term we use for that compared to online sessions.

I responded about how Jisc used the term in-person in their recent LTR report.

Personally looking back over my recent blog posts I have been using the (slightly clunky) term physical face to face For some it is a real issue and in some cases how it is interpreted by employers and the press. I personally think we might be spending a little too much time over thinking this.

Continue reading Physical in-person face to face including aspects of digital and online as well as asynchronous – Weeknote #89 – 13th November 2020

The second wave arrived

Wave
Photo by Mourad Saadi on Unsplash

In an entirely expected move, the country faced a second wave of covid-19 and as a result there is now a second lockdown in place (in England to the 3rd December. Unlike the first lockdown where universities across the UK initially unilaterally closed their campuses and sent students home, this time the Government has said universities should remain open. Despite that guidance a fair few universities have moved their provision back online as they did back in March.

It’s interesting to see how things keep changing adding much more to an uncertain future across the higher education sector.  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 gyms, cinemas, restaurants and barbers reopen, as well as none-essential shops. 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. Then again maybe they needed to.

I also knew that covid-19 hadn’t vanished, it was still there and as the cases grew in August I did start to think that we probably would, as predicted by many scientists, that there would be a second wave. Chatting with a few people in August, 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 local lockdowns then happening regionally, demonstrated once more the need for effective flexible, responsive curriculum planning.

With the return of students to university in September, sadly we saw a huge spike in cases at many universities across the UK.

Initially there were a few cases as I shared in this blog post about the situation in the middle of September. We saw major news stories on a halls of residence in Dundee, but as the week progressed more infections were being reported.

Within a week it all went crazy and I wrote about that situation in this blog post. Thousands of students across the UK were being forced to self-isolate as infections rose across the student population.

Initial press coverage was quite negative and I did write the following

So the higher education sector is facing real challenges as covid-19 infections result in self-isolation, local lockdowns and the resulting impact on learning and teaching, what they need now is support and help in working through this.

Wonkhe went into more detail about what is happening at universities right now, and why?

The anti-student sentiment continued, so much so, that Johnson in a press conference actually was quite sympathetic towards the student situation.

One result of the increased number of infections and self-isolation was a lot of universities were moving back to online teaching.

… the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University both said they will move more learning online. The University of Sheffield said all teaching will move online … Sheffield Hallam said it will increase the proportion of online teaching, but keep some on-campus.

Both universities (Newcastle and Northumbria) said they had extensive plans in place to support students. Earlier today they said they would move most of their teaching online in response to the outbreaks.

The two main universities in Manchester are teaching online until “at least” the end of the month after a coronavirus outbreak among students. Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) and the University of Manchester (UM) said it was a “collaborative decision” with public health bosses and “won’t impact” on teaching quality.

The situation over the next few weeks didn’t get any better, and alas across the country as a whole, there were more cases, more hospital admissions and sadly more deaths.

At the end of October the crisis resulted in a new second national lockdown to reduce the rising cases and deaths. However unlike the first lockdown schools, colleges and universities were to remain open.

Many universities, as noted above, have moved their provision back online, but are still keeping their campuses open, so the students can remain in halls. However before the lockdown started the BBC reported that a mass exodus of students was expected as lockdown starts.

Students in cities across England could begin a mass exodus back to their families ahead of new lockdown measures coming into force on Thursday. Hilary Gyebi-Ababio, National Union of Students vice president for higher education, said students were “really wanting to go home”.

The UCU said last week that universities must move online for new national lockdown.

This has implications for universities which were already struggling with delivering a blended curriculum in and around strict social distancing and mask requirements. 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 the lockdown.

Though the Government has said that the lockdown will stop on 3rd December, if it doesn’t then that adds more uncertainty, even if it does, certain areas will remain in Tier 3.

As I have written before about implementing a hybrid curriculum will 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. 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? Trying to do this all during a national lockdown just creates even more headaches. I am going to review the hybrid blog post soon and publish an updated version.

We’re in an uncertain world in which the situation appears to be constantly changing creating planning headaches for universities, not just in terms of learning, teaching and assessment, but the entire student experience.

As I said back in June and again in September, what we do know is that the future is uncertain and this uncertainty looks like it is going to last sometimes.

The second lockdown – Weeknote #88 – 6th November 2020

In an entirely expected move, the country faced a second wave of covid-19 and as a result there is now a second lockdown.

From my perspective not too much has changed. I am still working from home virtually all the time meeting via Teams and occasionally Zoom. I had started going to our office in Bristol once or twice a month, and was about to up this to once a week, I was in last week. However during November I will not be visiting the office or Bristol and will be following government guidelines.

The UCU said on Sunday that universities must move online for new national lockdown.

UCU said that universities must move all non-essential in-person teaching online as part of any plans for a national lockdown.

Now we have more details, we now know that the Government has said universities will remain open during this second lockdown. This will create headaches for universities as they plan to deliver more of their programmes online, but maintain some physical teaching to satisfy the Government. Of course some students will not want to attend physical lessons and lectures.

I did managed to get a coffee from one of my favourite coffee places before the lockdown. Continue reading The second lockdown – Weeknote #88 – 6th November 2020

Good afternoon Professor Phipps – Weeknote #87 – 30th October 2020

This week saw the continual increase in covid-19 cases, sadly increasing deaths and many areas of the UK entering Tier 3 lockdowns. The threat of a national lockdown was getting discussed, whilst in Wales they were already in lockdown.

Monday I went into the Bristol office to work, it was quiet and I managed to get some work done.

Tuesday I spent the day writing, but I did find it hard that day to be creative. The weather was frightful.

Wednesday I was back into Bristol and in our office to work, I did meet up with a couple of colleagues as well for working meetings.

In local news, UWE lecturers said that they ‘don’t feel safe’ due to lack of mandatory face masks.

Concerns have been raised over a lack of mandatory face masks for students and staff at the University of the West of England (UWE). One lecturer said staff “don’t feel safe” and he felt “insulted” at the suggestion staff were “happy to go to Sainsbury’s and the pub but not work”.

The impact of the coronavirus pandemic, local lockdowns and social isolation was across higher education, having a continual impact on students and student wellbeing. This was echoed in this guardian article: ‘I was just sat in my room all day’: lonely students seek mental health support.

University students are struggling with loneliness and anxiety due to campus lockdowns, with the risk that their mental health will deteriorate further unless urgent action is taken, counsellors and charities are warning.

The issue of Christmas and students was being treated differently across the UK with plans afoot in England to let students escape at Christmas.

Covid tests with results within an hour are being piloted in universities – which could help students in England get home for Christmas.

Whilst in Scotland the story was that students may not be allowed home for Christmas.

Students could be told not to return home at Christmas if the spread of the coronavirus has not been controlled, the deputy first minister has said.

Amongst all this I have been planning the programme for the Jisc, QAA and HESA Data Matters 2021 conference which is taking place in January and will be an online conference. I have a history of doing online conferences and I am planning to take advantage of the affordances that an online conference can bring to such an event. I am hoping to do podcasts, pre-recorded presentations, blogs and more, as well as streaming live keynotes and presentations. Find out more here about the conference.

Thursday I was on leave. It was nice though to see this tweet from Lawrie. Excellent news.

Friday I was working from home. Having left an empty inbox on Wednesday I was quite surprised to see 51 unread e-mails in my inbox. It actually didn’t take too long to process the e-mails. Some I read and then deleted, others I marked as spam, from some I created Jira tasks, and some I just did what was being asked.

My top tweet this week was this one.

Great Scott! – Weeknote #86 – 23rd October 2020

Over the week I have been working on various papers and reports, which have been going through a consultation and review process.

We launched the Data Matters 2021 conference this week, I am working with QAA and HESA on the programme for the event, which will be online.

This year’s theme will focus on ‘enabling data certainty’. The UK education sector is moving towards an uncertain future. The sector needs to transform to meet the requirements of industry 4.0 and student expectations. With COVID-19 having such a huge impact on the operation of the higher education sector now and in the foreseeable future, the entire student experience has been and will be disrupted by the restrictions in place to mitigate the risks of the virus. This has impacted on the use of formal and informal learning spaces, as well as an increasing reliance on online platforms and digital content.

It has also impacted on student recruitment, domestic as well as international. Universities have a responsibility to support all students to thrive and achieve, and it is increasingly recognised that students’ experiences are very different depending on a large number of factors, including background and personal circumstances, type and subject of their course. The mental health and wellbeing of students is an increasing concern for universities and sector bodies.

The role of data, analytics, data modelling, predictive analytics and visualisation will be a core aspect of this uncertain future, but the uncertainty will bring new challenges for the sector in how they utilise the potential of data. Public scepticism about algorithms and data use is creating new ethical and legal challenges in the gathering, processing and interpretation of data.

Book to attend the event.

Tuesday I took as leave. Went to the cinema and we were the only ones in there. We had the entire screen to ourselves, we were sat right in the middle and had the best view in the house. Continue reading Great Scott! – Weeknote #86 – 23rd October 2020

A highly statistically significant correlation exists between stork populations and human birth rates across Europe – Weeknote #85 – 16th October 2020

I have been working on some internal documents this week which has taken up quite some time.

I read David Kernohan’s piece, What is it about small areas with large numbers of Covid-19 cases? On Wonkhe.

A glance at the Wonkhe dashboards would suggest this is a reasonable conclusion to draw – there are no Mid-level Super Output Areas (MSOA) in England with more than 100 Covid-19 cases in the last 7 days that have less than 2,000 students in residence. As you have probably come to expect, things are a bit more complicated than that.

David points out that blaming students for the rise in covid-19 isn’t just not helpful, but also isn’t accurate.

Universities were suffering again from negative press, saying they shouldn’t have opened. However they weren’t given much choice and on top of that in the most recent restrictions, even at the highest tier, universities are expected to remain open. What does open mean anymore? When we had the full lockdown back in March, yes students were sent home, however universities remained open, their campus may have been shut down, but research was still happening, teaching was going ahead and many students were learning.

Universities can remain open, but doesn’t mean the campus has to be open. Maybe the government should have listened to the advice from their own SAGE scientists who said three weeks ago that “all university and college teaching to be online unless face-to-face teaching is absolutely essential.” If that advice had been followed maybe, many of those covid-19 infection hotspots could have been avoided.

What we do know is that many universities are moving to online delivery curriculum models and for many students self isolation is part of the student experience.

There was substantial press coverage about feeding the isolated students as well.

Universities are facing anger from students over conditions some have faced while self-isolating in campus accommodation. Students have criticised the cost and quality of food provided to them by universities while in isolation. Undergraduates say food parcels have often been filled with “junk”, meaning they have had to request fresh fruit and vegetables from parents.

By the end of the week we were starting to see concern not just about returning home for Christmas, but also if students would return in January.

Apple announced their new iPhone, didn’t watch the announcement and though it would be nice, I don’t think I will be getting one.

Wired published a somewhat sensational article on, as they said, Universities are using surveillance software to spy on students.

Screwed over by the A-levels algorithm, new university students are being hit by another kind of techno dystopia. Locked in their accommodation – some with no means of escape – students are now being monitored, with tracking software keeping tabs on what lectures they attend, what reading materials they download and what books they take out of the library.

Libraries have always taken note of who takes what books out of the library, that was an essential part of the system, so you know what’s been taken out and by whom, so you can track it down if necessary.

Of course analytics means that if you start analysing that data you can start to discover new insights, on how people are using books from the library. Throw in more data and you can start to discover what the story is with different cohorts and subjects.

As with any data collection and analysis there are issues and I sent this missive to a mailing list in response to a question on this issue.

A highly statistically significant correlation exists between stork populations and human birth rates across Europe.

One of the challenges with interpretation of data is that it is a difficult thing to do. You can look at data and have a view, which may not actually be true. When I was working on the Jisc Digital Capability project, one of the core issues that I discussed with colleagues in universities was data capability, having an understanding of what the data was telling them, what was the narrative behind the data. Data is only part of the story. Though talking about analytics the implications of data from VLE systems is just as relevant, so would recommend looking at the Jisc code of practice on analytics.

On Thursday evening Twitter stopped working for me… well what was I going to do now!

Earlier in the day we had a meeting with the Data and Analytics directorate to hear about their future plans.

My top tweet this week was this one.

“All university and college teaching to be online unless face-to-face teaching is absolutely essential”

So there are still real challenges for higher education as infections continue to rise and groups of students being forced to self-isolate, regional and local lockdowns make it challenging to deliver teaching.  were the students to blame?

laptop user wearing a mask
Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay

I read David Kernohan’s piece, What is it about small areas with large numbers of Covid-19 cases? On Wonkhe.

A glance at the Wonkhe dashboards would suggest this is a reasonable conclusion to draw – there are no Mid-level Super Output Areas (MSOA) in England with more than 100 Covid-19 cases in the last 7 days that have less than 2,000 students in residence. As you have probably come to expect, things are a bit more complicated than that.

David points out that blaming students for the rise in covid-19 isn’t just not helpful, but also isn’t accurate.

Universities are suffering again from negative press, saying they shouldn’t have opened. However they weren’t given much choice and on top of that in the most recent restrictions, even at the highest tier, universities are expected to remain open.

Though what does open mean anymore?

When we had the full lockdown back in March, yes students were sent home, however universities remained open, their campus may have been shut down, but research was still happening, teaching was going ahead and many students were learning.

Universities can remain open, but doesn’t mean the campus has to be open. Maybe the government should have listened to the advice from their own SAGE scientists who said three weeks ago that “all university and college teaching to be online unless face-to-face teaching is absolutely essential.”  If that advice had been followed maybe, many of those covid-19 infection hotspots could have been avoided.

What we do know is that many universities are moving to online delivery curriculum models and for many students self isolation is part of the student experience.

news and views on e-learning, TEL and learning stuff in general…