Lost in translation: some thoughts

writing
Image by Pexels from Pixabay

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

One of the things I noticed as the education sector moved rapidly to remote delivery from March 2019, was the different models that people used. However what we did see a lot of was many people were translating their usual practices to an online version. 

As part of my work in looking at the challenges in delivering teaching remotely during the covid crisis period I have been reflecting on how teaching staff can translate their existing practice into new models of delivery that could result in better learning, but also have less of detrimental impact on staff an students.

The result was a series of blog posts covering a range of pedagogical and technology perspectives.

I got a lot of positive feedback on the posts and they have informed many of my presentations and other blog posts over the last two years.

Though covid has not gone away the ramifications and impact of covid and the lockdowns are still with us thirty months later.

Universities are wanting to utilise the experiences they had during the pandemic, to support the transformation of teaching, learning and assessment.

I have decided to continue with the series of blog posts and I also plan to update some of the earlier posts to reflect the current climate.

What about the croissant?

croissant

Over on my productivity and technology blog I have published a blog post on culture, strategy, breakfast and croissant.

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast” is a famous quote from management consultant and writer Peter Drucker. 

Reflecting on this quote though, I did start to think about breakfast, and wondered if I could use breakfast as an analogy for effective strategy implementation. As well as strategic objectives, what else do people need to know in order to deliver those objectives successfully.

Read more.

Record temperatures – Weeknote #177 – 22nd July 2022

This week saw record temperatures as a red warning heatwave hit the UK. I spent the week working from home, as trains were cancelled or delayed and there were problems on the roads.

I wrote a blog post on how I can teach anywhere

I use to say things like “I can teach anywhere”. What I meant by this, wasn’t that the environment or space I was using wasn’t important, but I could overcome the disadvantages of the different spaces I had to play with, and still deliver an effective session.

So though I might be able to teach anywhere the reality is that all those challenges and issues I face in an inappropriate space, may well result in poor quality learning, despite the quality of my teaching.

Big news this week was that the QAA was to step away from designated role in England. Over on Wonkhe, David Kernohan  tries to make sense of it all.

The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) will no longer consent to be the Designated Quality Body (DQB) in England, as of the end of the current year in office (March 2023). The reasoning is straightforward – the work that QAA does in England, on behalf of the OfS, is no longer compliant with recognised quality standards – namely the European Standards and Guidelines (ESG) as monitored by the European Quality Assurance Register for Higher Education (EQAR). For this reason, the QAA registration with EQAR was recently suspended – a decision that highlights international concerns about procedures in England but has an impact in the many other nations (including Scotland and Wales) where QAA needs that EQAR registration in order to fulfil a statutory quality assurance role.

Once more we are seeing more divergence across the UK for higher education.

Alexa
Image by finnhart from Pixabay

I revisited and revised a blog post on voice assistants I had written back in 2018.

Hey Siri, what’s my day like today? Alexa when’s my next lesson? Okay Google, where are my library books?

Voice assistants have become widespread and are proving useful for a range of uses. The cost has fallen over the years and the services have expanded.

The use of voice assistants and smart hubs has certainly continued, and they have become embedded into many digital ecosystems. Their use in education though is still limited and I will be looking at that in a later blog post.

Attended a session on impact this week, which was interesting, but not necessarily that useful. How do you evidence impact of what you do? I wonder for example of the 1,828 blog posts published on this blog have had any impact on the way in which people work, support others or plan their work. For example one of the most popular blog posts on the blog, which though written in 2011, is still regularly viewed, is this one 100 ways to use a VLE – #89 Embedding a Comic Strip, which was one of a series of blog posts on improving or enhancing the use of the VLE.

One use of graphic that can enhance the look of a VLE course or as a mechanism to engage learners is to embed a comic strip into the VLE course.

What has been the impact of this? Has is changed practice? Has it improved the student experience? Has it improved student outcomes? How would I know?

I don’t think I can evidence the impact of this, but other work I have done I can sometimes see the evidence, however I don’t know if their has been actual impact.

I quite liked these tweets from August 2021 from people who had attended the digital leadership consultancy I had delivered for Leeds.

I had as part of the programme delivered a session on e-mail. It incorporates much of what is in this blog post on Inbox Zero and this follow up post. Always nice to see the impact that your training has had on the way that people work, they didn’t just attend the training, engage with the training, but are now acting on what they saw and learnt.

However what I don’t know is, has the change had a positive impact? And what was that impact?

I spent some of the week reviewing our new guide to the Intelligent Campus, and the revamped guide to the Intelligent Library. The library guide was never published but has been updated for 2022. I also reviewed our updated use cases, as well as drafting plans for some additional use cases. I am aiming for publication of these in the autumn.

letters
Image by Gerhard G. from Pixabay

If you are going on leave over the summer, you may want to look at this blog post on managing your summer e-mail.

My top tweet this week was this one.

Hey Siri, what’s my day like today? Alexa when’s my next lesson? Okay Google, where are my library books?

Microphone
Image by rafabendo from Pixabay

Voice assistants have become widespread and are proving useful for a range of uses. The cost has fallen over the years and the services have expanded.

Google report that 27% of the global online population is using voice search on mobile.

Alexa was announced by Amazon in November 2014 alongside the Echo devices, which act as connected speakers and hubs for voice controlled devices. The Echo devices act as connected hubs complete with speakers and in some cases small screens. Amazon continues to innovate and develop their Alexa devices including car adapters and headphones.

Alexa
Image by finnhart from Pixabay

Cortana from Microsoft was demonstrated in April 2013, and was released as part of Windows 10 in 2015. In March 2021, Microsoft shut down the Cortana apps entirely for iOS and Android and removed them from corresponding app stores. Microsoft has also reduced emphasis on Cortana in Windows 11. Cortana is not used during the new device setup process and isn’t pinned to the taskbar by default.

Bixby from Samsung was announced in March 2017. Unlike other voice assistants Samsung are going to build Bixby into a range of consumers goods such as refrigerators and TVs which they manufacture.

Google have Google Nest, which was originally released as Google Home announced in May 2016 and released in the UK the following year. In May 2019, Google rebranded Google Home devices to the Google Nest banner, and it unveiled the Nest Hub Max, a larger smart display.

Google Home
Image by antonbe from Pixabay

Google Nest speakers enable users to speak voice commands to interact with services through Google’s intelligent personal assistant called Google Assistant.

And of course Siri from Apple. Siri was originally released as a stand-alone application for the iOS operating system in February 2010, but after a buy out from Apple was released as part of the operating system in October 2011. It wasn’t until 2018 that Apple released their own connected speaker hub with the HomePod in February of that year, which was replaced with the HomePod Mini in November 2020.

Many of these voice assistants started their journey on mobile devices, but over the last few years we have seen connected voice controlled hubs appearing on the market.

An online poll in May 2017 found the most widely used in the US were Apple’s Siri (34%), Google Assistant (19%), Amazon Alexa (6%), and Microsoft Cortana (4%).

Though we might think we want to see how we can embed these into the classroom or education, they are not aimed at this market, they are consumer devices aimed at individuals. Our students are certainly the type of consumers who may purchases these devices and they will want to be able to connect them to the university or college services they use.

group
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

All the voice assistants require some kind of link to information and in some cases data.

If I ask Alexa to play a particular song, she delves not just into my personal music collection on the Amazon Music app but also what is available through my Prime subscription. If the song isn’t available I could either subscribe to Amazon Music streaming service, or purchase the song.The Alexa ecosystem is built around my Amazon account and the services available to me as a Prime subscriber.

With Google Nest I have connected my free Spotify account to it. This is one of the key features of these devices that you can connect services you already subscribe to, so you can control them via voice. Of course the reason I have a free Spotify account is that Google Nest would much prefer I was connected to Google Music, and it certainly won’t let me connect to either my home iTunes library (where virtually all my music is) nor to Amazon Music. So when I ask Google Nest to play a particular music track, she gets annoyed and says that she can’t as that is only available on Spotify Premium.

This is one of the challenges of these devices that they are quite reliant on subscriptions to other services. Apple’s HomePod only really works if you have an Apple Music subscription.

When it comes to connecting services to voice assistants then are two key challenges, can you get the right data out to the right people, and similarly can you do this for the range of voice assistants available especially when you remember that there is no de facto standard for voice assistants.

It would be useful to know and understand what sorts of questions would be asked of these assistants. There are the known problems, such as where is my next lesson? What books would be useful for this topic? When is my tutor free for a quick chat on assignment? Do I need to come into college today? Even simple questions could result in a complicated route to multiple online systems. Imagine asking the question, where and when is my next lecture, what resources are available and are there any relevant books in the library on this subject? The module design or course information system (or more likely this is a dumb document) would have the information on what would be next. Timetabling systems would be able to inform the learner which space and when the lesson was. Imagine the extra layer of last minute changes to the information because of staff sickness, or building work resulting in a room change. As for what resources are available, this may be on the VLE or another platform. As for additional resources then this could be on the library systems. How would the voice assistant know what to do with this information, could it push the links to a mobile device? Add in a social platform, say a closed Facebook group, or a collaborative tool such as Slack, then you start to see how a simple question about what am I doing next and where is it, becomes rather complicated.

student
Image by Karolina Grabowska from Pixabay

There is though something to be said to ensuring services work with voice assistants, as the same data and information could also be used with chatbot interfaces (ie textual assistants) and with campus bound services such as kiosks or web portals. Get the data right then it’s simple a matter of ensuring the interface to either voice, text or screen is working. Learning analytics services rely on a hub where academic and engagement data is collected, stored and processed. Could we use a similar data structure to build the back end system for chatbots, kiosks and voice assistants?

Could we Siri? Could we?

This is an updated version of a blog post I wrote in August 2018 on the Jisc Intelligent Campus project blog.

I can teach anywhere

lecture theatre
Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

…but will the students be learning?

I taught for many years in a wide range of different environments. Even today I run staff development sessions for both Jisc and universities across the UK. 

I use to say things like “I can teach anywhere”. What I meant by this, wasn’t that the environment or space I was using wasn’t important, but I could overcome the disadvantages of the different spaces I had to play with, and still deliver an effective session.

City of Bristol College Ashley Down Centre
City of Bristol College Ashley Down Centre by James Clay CC BY-NC 2.0

For example when I worked at the Ashley Down campus of the City of Bristol College, this was an old Victorian orphanage, which had really high ceilings. The acoustics were terrible, even after refurbishment, the ceilings were still really high. In these rooms I would often adjust my sessions to individual activities or group work. I would ensure that any instructions were provided in a written format as well as verbally. Of course back then in the 1990s we had none of this Powerpoint and projector nonsense, so printed stuff was the norm.

Of course being able to teach anywhere is not quite the same as being able to teach effectively anywhere. The environment can make a difference. When it comes to planning spaces for teaching, the impact of temperature, noise, lighting, acoustics, air quality and other factors can have a positive or negative impact on how students learn. Some of these may be marginal, but as we know from marginal gains analysis. The marginal gains theory is concerned with small incremental improvements in any process, which, when added together, make a significant improvement. The same can be said with incremental negative impacts can have a significant detriment.

So though I might be able to teach anywhere the reality is that all those challenges and issues I face in an inappropriate space, may well result in poor quality learning, despite the quality of my teaching. 

I may not be able to mitigate all the issues, but where I know what they are (and their impact) then I can alter my teaching (or learning design) to either mitigate (or even take advantage of) that issue.

With the record temperatures that the UK is facing today (18th July 2022) university staff may be pleased that most of them are not teaching in this heat, but they might be in future years.

How do we, and how can we plan and mitigate for the impact of the environments in which we teach?

Return to the Moodle – Weeknote #176 – 15th July 2022

I started off the week with a cross-sector agency meeting on widening participation.

I spent most of the week travelling. I was visiting various places and universities as part of a scoping piece of work I am doing in the Intelligent Campus space. It was also an opportunity to look at the physical campuses of various universities following two years of conversations over Zoom.

Dave Foord on a mailing list posted a link to a blog post he had written last month on three organisations he was supporting to return to Moodle having switched to a different VLE and then finding that  the “problems” that the new VLE was supposed to solve, hadn’t actually been solved. It reminded me of many similar conversations I have had in the past about changing VLEs. Often lack of engagement with a VLE is placed at the door of the VLE, so the conclusion is that switching the VLE is the answer. It usually isn’t.

Jim Dickinson (of WonkHE) created and crowdsourced a really interested and useful Twitter thread.

My contribution was about students being able to use their “local” campus rather than their “actual” campus.

I spent some of the week reviewing our new guide to the Intelligent Campus, and the revamped guide to the Intelligent Library. The library guide was never published but has been updated for 2022. I am aiming for publication of these in the autumn.

My top tweet this week was this one.

I am not going to resign – Weeknote #175 – 8th July 2022

This week I was working from home. Politically it was a chaotic week, as from Tuesday evening, there were multiple resignations across the government, which culminated with Boris Johnson standing down as leader on Thursday morning. We had three Education Secretaries of State in three days, and at one point there were no ministers in the Department for Education.

I took some leave this week, and spent much of the rest of the week planning for next week, next month and the next year.

I published a more detailed blog post about the Learning at City conference I attended last week.

Overall I had a really good day and enjoyed all the sessions I attended.

I have been reviewing the drafts of the revised Intelligent Campus guide, which was originally published in 2017. This revised version is updated and sets the scene, potentially, for future guides and reports in this space. The first of these will be likely a guide to the Intelligent Library. We have also been revising the many use cases we published for the Intelligent Campus.

Going forward there are lots of opportunities, and this will be led by sector need after scoping and researching the space. I am planning a series of community events and workshops across this space for next year.

One area I think has potential is the intelligent learning space. I did write about this two years ago, in a blog post.

An intelligent learning space could take data from a range of sources, not just the physical aspects of the space and how it is being used, but also the data from digital systems such as attendance records, the virtual learning environment, the library, student records, electronic point-of-sale and online services. This joined-up approach can provide insights into the student experience that we would otherwise miss. These insights can inform and support decision-making by individuals across the campus, including students, academic and professional service staff. By using live and dynamic data, decisions can be made that are based on the current state of the different learning spaces across the campus.

Is this something we need? Would it be useful, or would it only result in marginal benefits to the overall student experience?

Had a scoping call about a possible presentation to HEAnet in Dublin in September, which will be good.

My top tweet this week was this one.

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