Predictions – Weeknote #151 – 21st January 2022

newspaper
Image by Andrys Stienstra from Pixabay

Started work on Monday with Nadhim Zahawi talking in the Daily Mail that “”Students made to pay tuition fees for Zoom lectures should revolt”. This kind of rhetoric makes any (current and future) use of online technologies challenging for universities. Benefits of online will be missed, as students will “revolt” regardless.

Later a more reasoned open letter was published on the Education Department website.

Many of our universities and colleges have been working hard to ensure Covid-secure face-to-face teaching is offered and I know that, for many of you, this face-to-face teaching is a vital part of getting a high-quality student experience. As you know, whilst the country was implementing wide-spread restrictions, the majority of teaching had to be moved online. There are some great examples of effective and innovative online teaching, and universities and colleges have been delivering a high-quality blended approach since before the pandemic. Maintaining the option of online teaching for those who are vulnerable or isolating is to be encouraged. However, face-to-face teaching should remain the norm and the pandemic and must not be used as an opportunity for cost saving or for convenience. I know that students expect and deserve face-to-face teaching and support, and you have my full backing.

But if universities were in any doubt about what they could do and what they should be doing, we had this from the Universities Minister.

HEPI published a blog post on Five common predictions about COVID and education that now appear to be wrong.

No one would dispute that COVID-19 has severely disrupted the education of millions of people. Our polling with Advance HE, for example, shows an unprecedented proportion of undergraduate students think they have received ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ value for money and twice as many as usual feel their experiences have been worse than their prior expectations.

This is not surprising, given full-time students on three-year courses graduating this summer will have had every one of their years at university disrupted. Those leaving school / college this summer have seen both their GCSEs and their school-leaving qualifications (A-Level / BTECs) affected. But it is also true that most of the really big predictions about how COVID would affect education have (fortunately) turned out to be wrong.

It makes for interesting reading. Predictions about fewer students, or higher drop-outs were wrong as it turned out.

Why does this matter, well the article summarises with this comment.

It is worth flagging how poor the predictions about education in a pandemic have turned out to be because it acts as a reminder about how hard it is to predict the future, because it could serve as a useful guide in future crises and because it shows the importance that hard counter-intuitive evidence should play in policymaking.

This is something that we can reflect upon.

One prediction made at the start of the pandemic by many involved in education technology was that the forced working from home would (post-pandemic) be a catalyst for more blended and online learning in higher education. The prediction was that following people being forced to use tools such as the VLE, Teams, Zoom, lecture capture, that this would embed such technologies into future teaching and learning.  The reality is that universities are now under pressure from Government and students to focus on and prioritise in-person face to face teaching. So, the prediction that the pandemic restrictions and lockdowns would have a positive impact on the use of online and digital learning technologies across the board, may have been slightly off the mark.

I wrote about predicting.

I also had a blog post published on the Jisc website Why online learning is not online learning which some people liked.

My top tweet this week was this one.

Predicting is hard, and we can get it wrong

classroom
Image by David Mark from Pixabay

HEPI published a blog post on Five common predictions about COVID and education that now appear to be wrong.

No one would dispute that COVID-19 has severely disrupted the education of millions of people. Our polling with Advance HE, for example, shows an unprecedented proportion of undergraduate students think they have received ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ value for money and twice as many as usual feel their experiences have been worse than their prior expectations.

This is not surprising, given full-time students on three-year courses graduating this summer will have had every one of their years at university disrupted. Those leaving school / college this summer have seen both their GCSEs and their school-leaving qualifications (A-Level / BTECs) affected. But it is also true that most of the really big predictions about how COVID would affect education have (fortunately) turned out to be wrong.

It makes for interesting reading. Predictions about fewer students, or higher drop-outs were wrong as it turned out.

Why does this matter, well the article summarises with this comment.

It is worth flagging how poor the predictions about education in a pandemic have turned out to be because it acts as a reminder about how hard it is to predict the future, because it could serve as a useful guide in future crises and because it shows the importance that hard counter-intuitive evidence should play in policymaking.

This is something that we can reflect upon.

One prediction made at the start of the pandemic by many involved in education technology was that the forced working from home would (post-pandemic) be a catalyst for more blended and online learning in higher education. The prediction was that following people being forced to use tools such as the VLE, Teams, Zoom, lecture capture, that this would embed such technologies into future teaching and learning. Well we know from the press this week that this may not be the case, with  Nadhim Zahawi talking in the Daily Mail that “Students made to pay tuition fees for Zoom lectures should revolt”. This kind of rhetoric makes any (current and future) use of online technologies challenging for universities. Benefits of online will be missed, as students will “revolt” regardless.

Later a more reasoned open letter was published on the Education Department website.

Many of our universities and colleges have been working hard to ensure Covid-secure face-to-face teaching is offered and I know that, for many of you, this face-to-face teaching is a vital part of getting a high-quality student experience. As you know, whilst the country was implementing wide-spread restrictions, the majority of teaching had to be moved online. There are some great examples of effective and innovative online teaching, and universities and colleges have been delivering a high-quality blended approach since before the pandemic. Maintaining the option of online teaching for those who are vulnerable or isolating is to be encouraged. However, face-to-face teaching should remain the norm and the pandemic and must not be used as an opportunity for cost saving or for convenience. I know that students expect and deserve face-to-face teaching and support, and you have my full backing.

But if universities were in any doubt about what they could do and what they should be doing, we had this from the Universities Minister.

The reality is that universities are now under pressure from Government and students to focus on and prioritise in-person face to face teaching.

So, the prediction that the pandemic restrictions and lockdowns would have a positive impact on the use of online and digital learning technologies across the board, may have been slightly off the mark.

I might predict that the job of embedding digital into higher education is now more difficult than it was before the pandemic.

What do you think?

What did you think when you heard me back on the radio? – Weeknote #150 – 14th January 2022

radio
Photo by Nacho Carretero Molero on Unsplash

First thing Monday morning I was on the radio, Radio Bristol, discussing the food and restaurant scene in Weston-super-Mare with the imminent opening of the new bowling alley in Dolphin Square, despite the closure of nearly all the restaurants in the same complex.

Again spent a fair amount of time this week discussing, thinking about and reflecting on digital transformation.

Last week, despite the rising covid infection rates I’ve not had much or seen much discussion about the impact this will have on higher education and students. Then Nadhim Zahawi says there are ‘no excuses’ for online learning at universities.

Well that’s helpful and constructive.

More than a hundred universities including twenty-three out of the twenty-four universities in the Russell group are reportedly online teaching this term. It was reported in the media that Durham University would teach all classes online in the first week of term, Queen’s University Belfast will hold most classes online this month and King’s College London has also moved some classes to online. Across the media and the sector this move has been termed blended learning, online learning and remote learning.

One of things I have noticed is how often much of what was done during the numerous lockdowns was described as online learning, sometimes it was called blended learning, or remote learning.

We are now seeing students phone into consumer programmes on the radio complaining about the “online learning” they received.

Can we just agree that what we are seeing is not online learning? I wrote a blog post back in November about this issue.

The reality is though that despite the hard work, there wasn’t the training, the staff development, the research, the preparation undertaken that would have been needed to deliver an outstanding online learning experience. Combined with that, the fact that the academic staff were also in lockdown as well, the actual experiences of students and staff are in fact quite amazing. However it wasn’t online learning.

I caught some of the You and Yours radio programme about student life during the pandemic and as you might expect most callers were phoning in, to complain. Without focussing on the individual complaints, I sometimes think that there was an assumption that universities were ring-fenced from the pandemic. Yes students had, in many ways could be called a terrible experience, however the entire country was suffering during the pandemic, and university staff were in there too. They also had to deal with the lockdown, the restrictions, illness and everything else. It was a difficult time for everyone and we need to remember that.

Have been planning our Thought Leadership on learning and teaching this week. I actually really don’t like the term Thought Leader but it is the term in the Jisc strategy, so internally I will use that term to ensure what I am talking about is aligned with the strategy. It should be noted that many in the sector actually don’t like the term thought leadership. However if you ask universities about the actual content that is produced by Jisc, that we would think of as thought leadership, then there is a different story as they find this useful, inspiring and helps them think. Similarly, universities will often ask for specific people within Jisc who are experts in their field for help and support. Or they will find presentations and articles from individuals inspiring.

Our new priorities document, Powering UK higher education outlines four key priorities:

  • Empowering culture and leadership
  • Reimagining learning, teaching and assessment
  • Reframing the student experience
  • Transforming infrastructure

These priorities have come from the sector, and we will use articles, blogs, podcasts, interviews, and case studies to bring them to life for universities. We want to create and deliver content that in some cases is longer term in outlook, visionary; transformative yet possible, it should inspire and make people think differently about the area. We also need shorter actionable pieces that should be more practical, replicable and something that could be implemented in a shorter time frame.

looking through a telescope
Image by S. Hermann & F. Richter from Pixabay

Had an interesting discussion during a risk assessment meeting about the importance of strategy and embedding strategy into an organisation. You would think that this is a given, but too often I see strategies developed at a high level, but the actual operational activities are mapped to the strategy, rather than being derived from the strategy. The same can also happen at a personal objective level too. This was something we worked on during the Jisc Digital Leaders Programme about how to expand and develop a (digital) strategy.

We started planning the themes for Connect More 2022 this week.

Got a little too obsessed with Wordle.

Must stop. Just stop.

I have a few more meetings, just need to get some bottles of wine, anyone got a suitcase?

My top tweet this week was this one.

And we’re back – Weeknote #149 – 7th January 2022

Happy New Year, hope 2022 will be a good year for you.

Working from home this week as our (physical) offices are closed this week. So that makes a nice change from normal…

So went back to work on the 4th January. I had 83 e-mails in my inbox. Most of them though were advertising emails, so didn’t take too long to clear the inbox.

I have had a few meetings this week, mainly about planning for various things going forward.

Spent a fair amount of time discussing, thinking about and reflecting on digital transformation. Part of the challenge is what do we even mean or understand by the term digital transformation?

There is a Jisc definition of digital transformation, that I do think we need to revisit now.

The definition says digital transformation:

  • Is the cultural, organisational and operational change of an organisation, industry or ecosystem through a smart integration of digital technologies, processes and competencies across all levels and functions in a staged way 
  • Leverages technologies to create value for stakeholders, and to enable greater agility and resilience in the face of changing circumstances 
  • Is not primarily about technology adoption. It is first and foremost about transforming the mindset and culture of an organisation to ensure that technology can be deployed as a multiplier of impact

There is a diagram on that page that I think is too simplistic and though the accompany surrounding text says different, the diagram implies that transformation is a linear journey.

It isn’t. In many ways what you did with digital before may prepare you for digital transformation, but the reality is that you probably need to throw out what you have done before you can move forward.

The definition continues with a statement which I broadly agree with:

Similarly, digital transformation should not be conflated with prior technological shifts, which focused on digitisation (moving from analogue to digital formats, for example paper forms to webforms) and digitalisation (deploying technology to attain transactional operating efficiencies, or localised benefits).

I know that many confuse digitisation and digitalisation with digital transformation, but transformation is so much more than just merely going digital. I think I might need to expand on this in a future blog post.

blocks
Image by mohamed ramzee from Pixabay

Back in the late 1990s when I was teaching business studies and economics, I was a programme lead for a level 2 Intermediate GNVQ programme for 16 and 17 year olds. When I took over the programme we had a long thin course design. Students would undertake different units simultaneously and then we had the challenge of all the assessment being bunched up at the end of the modules. This resulted in stress for students, poor outcomes and shedloads of marking for staff. So what we did was convert the course design into a programme of short fat topics. Students would focus on one thing at one time, but intensely. They would focus on that one thing and there would only be one assessment at any one time. It was challenging for staff, but it was of real benefit to the students.

So when I saw this tweet on block teaching I was reminded

At higher levels, I think the in-depth immersion in a topic would be beneficial and most universities would have the flexibility to deliver this, however it does have implications for staff workloads and timetables as well. Something again I might think about especially as with the iGNVQ programme we did a lot of mapping across the curriculum (and the core skills) so that similar topics were “bundled” together.

girl with mask
Photo by Thomas de LUZE on Unsplash

Despite the rising covid infection rates I’ve not had much or seen much discussion about the impact this will have on higher education and students.

My top tweet this week was this one.

e-Learning Stuff: Top Ten Blog Posts 2021

laptop and headphones
Image by Regina Störk from Pixabay

This year I have written 113 blog posts. In 2020 I had written 94 blog posts. In 2019 I had written 52 blog posts which was up from 2018 when I only wrote 17 blog posts.

I decided when I got my new role in March 2019 that I would publish a weekly blog post about my week. I did this all across 2021 as well which added to the number of posts. I did once get asked if these week notes were popular, not really, but they are much more for me than for others.

Well 2021 like 2020 was an unexpected and interesting year, this did have an impact on what blog posts were popular and those that people read. Due to the impact of the pandemic on higher education this influenced what I was writing about in 2021.  However many of the posts in the top ten are from the archive.

So the blog post at number ten in the top ten is an old post on Steering a supertanker… It’s pretty easy to be honest.

The ninth place was Ten ways to use QR Codes which was not a post about ten ways to use QR codes.

At number eight was a discussion piece on the The tyranny of the timetable.

Another old post was at number seven, 100 ways to use a VLE – #89 Embedding a Comic Strip

Asking Can I legally download a movie trailer? was the sixth most viewed post on the blog. One of the many copyright articles that I posted some years back, this one was in 2008. Things have changed since then, one of which is better connectivity which would allow you to stream content direct into a classroom, as for the legal issues well that’s something I am a little behind on the times though in that space.

The post at number five was from a series about translation of in-person to online delivery, Lost in translation: the lecture. Before having 4-5 hours in a lecture theatre or a classroom was certainly possible and done by many institutions. However merely translating that into 4 hours of Zoom video presentations and discussions is exhausting for those taking part, but also we need to remember that in this time there are huge number of other negative factors impacting on people’s wellbeing, energy and motivation. This post explored the options and possibilities that could be undertaken instead of merely translating a one hour lecture into a one hour Zoom presentation.

Fourth most popular post was a now obselete guide to Full Resolution Video on the PSP. Still surprised by how popular Full Resolution Video on the PSP was even though I am pretty sure that no one is still using PSPs.

The post at number three was from 2015, I can do that… What does “embrace technology” mean? was from the FE Area Reviews.

Second most viewed post was “million-to-one chances happen nine times out of ten”

The most popular post in 2021 is one of the all time popular posts, The iPad Pedagogy Wheel. Published in 2013, this was number one for many years, number two in 2019  and number three in 2020. I re-posted the iPad Pedagogy Wheel as I was getting asked a fair bit, “how can I use this nice shiny iPad that you have given me to support teaching and learning?”. It’s a really simple nice graphic that explores the different apps available and where they fit within Bloom’s Taxonomy. What I like about it is that you can start where you like, if you have an iPad app you like you can see how it fits into the pedagogy. Or you can work out which iPads apps fit into a pedagogical problem.

So there we have it, the top ten posts of 2021.

Short, sharp, break

Big Ben
Image by Andreas H. from Pixabay

So no new measures being imposed today. Rumour has it though that the government will introduce a short sharp lockdown after Christmas to try and reduce the rate of increase in covid infections, and as a result lessen the impact on the NHS. 

I have read that one part of this is about Higher Education moving to remote (online) teaching, so that students stay at “home” rather than returning to campus. 

Due to the length of the rumoured lockdown, probably means that this will have less of an impact on the student experience than a longer lockdown we have experienced.

Will we see more effective delivery during this time? Let’s hope so, though there is even less of an impact than if there wasn’t. 

I have written a series of guides, I know guidance not help, that may be useful to those planning for this circuit breaker lockdown.

Tis’ the season – Weeknote #146 – 17th December 2021

snow
Image by cocoparisienne from Pixabay

Worked just a couple of days this week, as I had some leave to take, which otherwise I would lose as we approach the end of our leave year.

The threat and disruption of the omicron variant of covid-19 continues and I wrote a new piece for the blog of the preparations that universities may want to start thinking about.

We may not go into another lockdown situation, but are universities prepared to pivot again to online delivery and teaching?

We are hearing stories as universities wind up for the end of term that covid infections have been rising in the student population.

This has implications for overall infection rates, but also for what universities will need to do next term.

I finished off a blog post about excellence on my other blog, which may be useful for some educational places.

You can have exceptional staff who are performing beyond expectations and still have an underperforming department or organisation.

My top tweet this week was this one.

Mainly leave – Weeknote #145 – 10th December

Omicron is here!

laptop user wearing a mask
Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay

Things move quickly when it comes to Covid variants and infection rates. Yesterday saw the highest recorded infection rate for Covid so far. With rates doubling every two days, in theory the entire population of the UK will be infected by early 2022 due to the exponential growth of the infection rate.

It was only a couple of weeks ago that I published a blog post, Omicron on our doorstep, time to prepare for another lockdown, that said:

What we do know about the Omicron variant is that it is highly transmissible and with some of the population deciding to refuse to wear masks, I think it will only be a matter of time before we see rising infection rates and the possibility of another lockdown.

We now have new restrictions in place, with advice being to work from home and we have to wear masks on transport and in retail outlets.

Despite the government insistence that there won’t be a lockdown, universities do have a responsibility to their students for their health and welfare.

It was only at the beginning of November that I wrote about the possibilities of in-person teaching now that 90% of university students had had at least one Covid jab. Of course this means that many students are not double vaccinated and very few will have or be able to have the booster. We do know from the evidence that the medical impact of Covid on young people is not as severe as it is on the older generation, however not all students are in that young age group and the staff they interact with are usually older as well.

We may not go into another lockdown situation, but are universities prepared to pivot again to online delivery and teaching?

I do wonder if any university designed their courses to be responsive (or as I called them back in the day hybrid).

With a responsive 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.

These responsive courses will allow universities to easily clarify with students about their experience and how they potentially could change as restrictions are either lifted or enforced. It helps staff plan their teaching and assessments to take into account the environment and changes to the situation.

Of course this is all challenging and makes many assumptions about staff digital skills and fluency, as well as their pedagogical capabilities. 

Designing an in-person programme of study is challenging enough, but if you have been doing for some time (as in years) you have some idea of what works and what doesn’t work. Despite the emergency response to the first lockdowns, it was evident from the discussion I had with academics that most found it very challenging to designing an online programme of study, it didn’t help of course that we were in the middle of a global pandemic. We know that the student experience for many students was poor, despite the fact that academic staff were working hard and were exhausted. Some of this was down to merely translating or digitalisation of existing in-person programmes to an online format, which we know can work, but in most cases loses the nuances of what made that in-person experience so effective and doesn’t take advantage fo the affordance of what digital and online can bring to the student experience.

What can be done is to prepare staff in the possible move to online, with support, guidance and importantly clarity about where to get help if and when studying moves online.

Support can take many forms, from the technical where something isn’t working. The application, how do I do this, using this tool? Also pedagogically, I want to do this, how do I do this online? Guidance is only part of the solution, access to help when required is also essential.

Finally now would be a good time to a manage student expectations and also what the university will expect from them.

Hopefully this surge in cases is controlled by changes in behaviour and mask wearing, and that the medical impact of Omicron is minimised through vaccination, boosters and the fact that it may not be as nasty as other variants. However not to prepare, just in case, would be foolish.

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