All posts by James Clay

Not quite a four day week – Weeknote #35 – 8th November 2019

Big Wheel in Cardiff

I was working from home for a lot of the week. I had originally planned to attend Wonkfest, but some administrative technicalities meant I didn’t manage to book a place at the event and I had to glance in remotely.

Following my meeting last week in London at the Office for Students I was interested to see the following press release from them on mental health issues in higher education.

Today the Office for Students has published an Insight brief, Mental health: are all students being properly supported? Our Insight briefs give an overview of current issues and developments in higher education, drawing on the data, knowledge and understanding available to us as the regulator for universities and colleges in England. Mental health is consistently among the top concerns raised by students and the OfS has an important role in identifying systemic gaps in student support or advice. Alongside the Insight brief, we have published an analysis of access and participation data for students with declared mental health conditions.

With the rise in students reporting mental health problems, there is a real challenge in supporting these students. We know that many support service staff are seeing many more mental health emergencies compared to a few years ago. More funding for support services is of course one solution, but there is also the need to consider the well being of students overall and ensuring that those students who are at risk, are supported much earlier. Does the current structure of higher education courses contribute to well being or negatively impact on it?

Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay
Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay

I have discussed with colleagues the concept of the four day week, allowing employees to take advantage of the efficiencies that technology can bring to productivity. Interestingly in Japan, Microsoft found that productivity jumped 40% following a four day week experiment.

The other thing that Microsoft Japan do is restrict meeting to 30 minutes only. Do you have long meetings or do you try and keep them short?

Talking of Microsoft,  I participated in a meeting with Microsoft talking about the educational use of Teams following the successful event last week organised by Jisc at Keele University. There are some interesting new features coming to Teams, which were announced at the Microsoft Ignite Conference including private channels and bookings. Though not really a VLE, even Microsfot are keen to point out that it isn’t a VLE, it has quite a bit of the functionality you would look for in a VLE. The ability to plug in other tools and services, can make Teams the heart of a digital ecosystem.

Image by HeikoAL from Pixabay
Image by HeikoAL from Pixabay

Alexa and other voice assistants can be useful (as well as annoying), but did you know you can silently issue ‘voice commands’ using a laser?

Lasers can silently issue ‘voice commands’ to your smart speakers | Engadget 

On Thursday I was going to be going to a meeting at our Bristol office, alas the person I was going to meet was ill and cancelled. I thought about still going to the office, well I had a desk booked, but it was raining, so decided to work from home.

I finished off the agenda for my Senior TEL Group meeting that is happening in December. This group consists of a mix of people including PVCs Teaching and Learning, as well as TEL people, students and a few Jisc staff as well.

Twitter

I posted a post on the Twitter to the blog.

So is the Twitter taking over your life?

Image by Julia Phillips from Pixabay
Image by Julia Phillips from Pixabay

Friday I was off to Cardiff for a meeting with the Welsh Government on their funding of Jisc. Over the last few months I have had similar meetings with funders in Scotland and England.

My top tweet this week was this one.

So is the Twitter taking over your life?

Twitter

Is the Twitter dominating your life?

So do you check your stream and post to theTwitter whist you attend events and conferences?

Do you look at the Twitter during meetings?

When you get into work, do you check the Twitter first, before checking your e-mail?

When you are cooking at home do you check the Twitter as things cook?

If you are watching TV, do you look at the Twitter, instead of watching the programme? Do you engage with others about the programme you are watching with a hashtag?

What about when you go to bed, is the last thing you do before you go to sleep is to look at the Twitter?

Is it the first thing you look at when you wake up?

Do you decide on where to have coffee based on the free wifi so you can check the Twitter?

When you bought a new phone, was the fact that it could run a Twitter app one of the main reasons for purchase?

When handing over contact information do you say @user rather give the person your email address?

Maybe a more important question is could you give up the Twitter?

Or do you want to leave a comment saying it not’s called the Twitter it’s just Twitter?

So could you stop using theTwitter? Not for ever perhaps. Maybe just over the holiday period? Or the weekend? Why would you do this? What is the point?

Or is it not about stopping using the Twitter, but thinking about the importance of Twitter in terms of everything else.

Personally for me the Twitter is about the coffee. It’s the conversations you have with colleagues over coffee in the morning, it’s the conversations you have at a coffee break during a meeting or an event, it’s the conversations you have over coffee at a conference between the sessions. It is a conversation without the constraints of geography and in some ways time.

For me though it does not replace all those conversations, it adds to them, it enhances them, but in the main I still have those other conversations. I don’t use theTwitter to avoid those or instead of them.

Of course lots of things are said during those face to face conversations, mundane things such as the quality of the coffee, talking about articles and programmes, people we’ve met, people we’ve seen, the quality of the presentations, keynotes and sessions.
There are also people we avoid during those conversations, those that only talk about themselves, those that only promote what they do, those that have opinions about everything: in other words those that don’t listen and talk all the time.

With conversations over coffee, one of the aspects is that you don’t hear all the conversations, and you don’t necessarily hear the beginning or the end. You dip into conversations, you join in, add, converse and leave. Of course if you don’t join in that conversation, rarely will you be missed, people may talk about you, or things you do, but generally you won’t be missed and you probably won’t even be thought about.

Which brings us back to using the Twitter.

If you start using the Twitter instead of real conversations then you may want to think about how you are using the Twitter. At the end of the day the Twitter stream is not important. It doesn’t matter if you miss any of it, you don’t need to check it all the time.

If you feel you need to take a break from the Twitter then you probably do. It doesn’t matter if you don’t, even if someone else does, and then tweets out how they are taking a break from the Twitter.

For me the Twitter is an important tool that I find very useful, there is a great community on there, however I can say the same about casual conversations over coffee. However like any casual conversation it’s not important to hear the whole and every conversation. You dip in and you can dip out. When you go away to events or on leave you will miss conversations at work, but generally you don’t need to hear them, important stuff will get to you if required.

I know that if I don’t engage with the Twitter that most people won’t notice and for me that doesn’t matter.

Oh and I promise not to say the Twitter anymore!

This is all my own work – Weeknote #34 – 1st November 2019

Thames House in London

You can tell winter is coming, but I did enjoy having an extra hour on Sunday. I watched this video on Sunday morning about how university students in Europe and the US are paying Kenyans to do their academic work for them.

The global market for academic writing is estimated to be worth $1bn (£770m) annually.

I recalled earlier this month looking at this Australian study on contract cheating or collusion. The findings make for interesting reading.

Findings from the largest dataset gathered to date on contract cheating indicate that there are three influencing factors: speaking a language other than English (LOTE) at home, the perception that there are ‘lots of opportunities to cheat’, and dissatisfaction with the teaching and learning environment (Bretag & Harper et al., 2018).

These influencing factors could be mitigated, could we assess in the learner’s native language? Culd we improve satisfaction with the overall teaching and learning environment? Often easier said than done.

This contract cheating or collusion is a major headache for universities in the UK, but I wonder if the answer isn’t about creating systems or processes that can identify when cheating or collusion is taking place, but ensuring that assessment is designed in a way that means there is no incentive to chat, collude or pay someone else to undertake the assessment.

However as indicated in the Australian study:

It would be a dream to be able to individualise assessment tasks or have an innovative approach where students can be assessed in class doing individual oral presentations. We make do…

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

I took some leave early in the week, so it was a shorter week than normal. Even so, it felt like a quieter less busy week that previous weeks, but I think it was about undertaking focused work.

I finished an article on Education 4.0 which I started last week and sent it off for editing (and approval).

Image by Pexels from Pixabay
Image by Pexels from Pixabay

I wrote up our workshop that we did at the Jisc Board Away Day. For some people, the message of Education 4.0 is confusing. There is a disconnect between the technologies of the fourth industrial revolution and the four themes of Education 4.0 in the messaging. We talk about the technologies as though they are Education 4.0, when they are in fact the technologies that will enable Education 4.0, but still clarity needed on what Education 4.0 looks like. The more immersed you are in the Education 4.0 space, the less confusing it looks, but for others looking in form the outside, you might not know what is being said.

I have been focussing my recent presentations on the four core themes of Education 4.0

  • Transforming teaching
  • Personalised adaptive learning
  • Re-Imagining assessment
  • Digital and fluid campuses

Underpinning these are things like leadership and the overall student experience.

Part of my current work is thinking about the foundations that institutions need to start building to prepare them for the future which is Education 4.0.

Image by dewikinanthi from Pixabay
Image by dewikinanthi from PixabayImage by dewikinanthi from Pixabay

The Register always has interesting articles and a tone that I like. I enjoyed reading this article:

Here’s our latest summary of AI news beyond what we’ve already covered. It’s all about two favourite topics in machine learning today: facial recognition and deepfakes.

Many organisations are looking not to use facial recognition. Which isn’t surprising as it still doesn’t really work, unless you are a white male.

Amazon’s facial recognition tool fails on black athletes: Amazon’s controversial Rekognition software mistook the faces of 27 black athletes competing in American football, baseball, basketball, and hockey, as suspected criminals in a mugshot database.

Wednesday I was off to London. I had been invited to be part of the Office for Students Safeguarding and Welfare Expert Advisory Panel, and we had our first meeting at their offices in London. Part of the discussion was about agreeing some terms of reference for the panel. Due to purdah, some of the outputs from this group will not happen until after that election.

coffee

Thursday I was back into our Bristol office for a meeting, but it was nice to touch base with a range of people from different parts of the organisation. Though I might not get as much work done when working in isolation, I sometimes like to be in the office to have those informal an adhoc conversations which are challenging to re-create virtually. Part of the reason to be in the office was to access our finance system to book myself onto some events.

When I got home from work I carved a pumpkin for Halloween,

pumpkin

Seven years ago this week I wasn’t happy about the use of the word “appropriate”.

Missed Opportunities

I spent part of the week working on the career pathways and assessment criteria, which is always more challenging that I think it should be. What does appropriate evidence look like for a specific outcome?

I also reviewed some earlier Jisc work on portfolios as part of this work. Staff who are part of a technical career pathway need to demonstrate evidence of their outcomes and assessment criteria.

Here are some of the work I looked at.

A portfolio involves skills essential for 21st century learning – organising and planning material, giving and receiving feedback, reflecting, selecting and arranging content to communicate with a particular audience in the most effective way.

My top tweet this week was this one.

The bells, the bells… – Weeknote #33 – 25th October 2019

Wedding Car by James Clay

I spent the weekend at a family wedding down in Sussex and I got my first taste of campanology, when I was asked to ring the bell in the church at the end of the wedding service, why I was asked I have no idea, but my family now have an amusing video of me being pulled up and down by the bell rope! The wedding was lovely and we had a great time.

Nine years ago on the 19th October 2010 I took this photograph of one of the offices in the college I was working in.

Office space

We had been having a lot of discussions about desks and offices. One particular group of staff were adamant they needed their own desks to work on and that they didn’t want their space changed.

What you should notice from the photograph above was that though everyone had their own desk, what they were actually using them was for, was storage. No one was really using their desks for working at. The result was a room which was not conducive to working, so no one worked in there. No one could find anything… well some could.

I remember having discussions about replacing the space with fewer desks, more storage and some nicer seating and comfortable areas. The reaction was (as expected) no, I need my own desk.

The staff in this office spent the majority of their working week teaching in classrooms, when they were not teaching, they wanted space to mark and prepare, research as well as somewhere to relax, drink coffee and discuss stuff with colleagues. They also needed space to store materials and resources, as well as student work. Their needs were being overshadowed by the need for their own space, a space they could call their own.

For me the key lesson here was that people didn’t think about the space in the context of what they needed to do in that space, but more about having a space to call their own. In terms of space planning you do need to balance those things out. Continue reading The bells, the bells… – Weeknote #33 – 25th October 2019

The tyranny of the timetable

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

What is a timetable?

An academic timetable is a way co-ordinating four elements:

  • Students
  • Academics or teachers
  • Rooms
  • Time

Currently the timetable is something that is often done to teachers, academics and students, over which they have minimal input or control.

In the world of Education 4.0 where we want to transform teaching, provide a personalised adapter learning experience and re-imagine assessment, all within a fluid digital and physical campus, the timetable as it stands now is something that constrains and blocks this potential vision.

As a student at school, college and university I had no control or influence over my timetable. When I first started teaching, I was given my timetable, I wasn’t asked to input into the process. It told me what I was going to teach, who I was going to teach, where I was going to teach and when I was going to teach..

As a programme manager in another job I had a bit more input into the whole process. We didn’t have a system or mechanism for creating the timetable, just large sheets of graph paper. It felt like some kind of three dimensional chess combing the four elements outlined above. What I do remember about the process, the first static aspect was the rooms, then the part time cohorts, after that everything else was just fitted into what was left.

Back then following student feedback, it was apparent that some of our timetables for our full time students weren’t exactly student friendly. They were expected to be in every day, and there were large gaps in the day between lessons. The end result was a fair bit of absence and a fall in retention.. So one year we decided to build the timetable around the student, we condensed their week into three (longish) days. Then we fitted in the rooms and teachers into the process. The end result was an improvement in attendance and retention.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

These days we have timetable systems, some are based around Excel, others databases and some proprietary timetabling systems. There main focus is to avoid clashes, and enable people to discover when to if rooms are free. However in my experience they are still quite static systems that are still done to students and academics.

You have a cohort of students, you have a number of weeks to deliver your subject and you are assigned a room or space for that year. If you want to do something different than you normally do, you sometimes have to make do, and undertake it in the same space, or you have to struggle to find a space, do things out of hours or just give up. You want to deliver online, then you still find you have to retain using the space, because otherwise you might lose it!

We need to build an intelligent timetable, one that adapts and changes to the changing requirements of different subjects, teachers, spaces, cohorts and individual students. This is easier said than done.

Image by Jan Vašek from Pixabay
Image by Jan Vašek from Pixabay

So what is the current landscape like? Most timetable systems operate in a silo, a fixed point in time. It is hard to make dynamic changes to the timetable, as it is rather inflexible. Once it is set up, because the fact it inflexible, only very small changes can be made, but making a large number of changes wouldn’t be possible.

So could we build a smart timetable? A smart timetable would be able to flex and change as the demands placed on it allow rapid shifts and changes. I need a larger room, the timetable would be able to accommodate it, whether it be for one week or the rest of the year. A smart timetable would inform decisions about space.

An intelligent timetable would be able to make changes in advance, based on information gathered from across the college. It could predict what spaces would be available and what changes would be needed, based on data and make changes as required. So as a cohort increases, it would automatically assign a bigger room. As a curriculum changes, they change the cohort to the most appropriate space.

There are some challenges on this, especially if the campus is diverse and large. Students may not know where specific spaces are, going to a different space each week. A smart timetable would need to know how long it can take to move between different rooms to accommodate room changes. Students would need some kind of way finding process to find the rooms. So in order to build a smart or intelligent timetable you need to have already created a digital map of your campus. You need to have already identified route mapping, timings and accessible routes.Similarly students may need to receive notifications about which rooms they will be in, how will these be sent?

If you are changing the curriculum, how would the intelligent timetable system know what the space needs are for different kinds of activities? So you then need to be able to define the curriculum in a way so that the timetable can interpret that and make appropriate decisions about spaces.

What spaces are appropriate for what activities? How do we know this? Does the space have a huge impact on learning? How do we describe this from a digital perspective?

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

When you start down the road, moving from a static timetable to a smart timetable, and then onto an intelligent timetable, you start to realise that the timetable is actually a small part of the work involved. There is a whole lot of data needed to enable the timetable to make smart or intelligent decisions.

Of course with a whole lot of data, you can then start to think about timetabling analytics. Can we start to use our spaces better? Can we improve the timetable for students? Can we improve the timetable for staff? Can we utilise resources for efficiently? What interventions do we need to make to enable this?

We need more detailed advice and guidance on why we need an intelligent timetable and how it could support the future that is Education 4.0.

We need to design the data infrastructure required to feed into any future intelligent timetable product.

Could we even build a prototype of a smart timetable, or even an intelligent timetable.

How do we overcome the tyranny of the timetable?

Boosting Student Retention and Achieving Strategic Goals Through Data and Analytics

London
View of London from the QEII Conference Centre

This was the title of a presentation I gave at the recent Higher Education Conference and Exhibition on the 16th October 2019.

HE Conference
HE Conference

My presentation was entitled Boosting Student Retention and Achieving Strategic Goals Through Data and Analytics and covered the following areas:

  • Tackling the student mental health challenge by utilising data to enhance student support mechanisms
  • Transforming learning experience and helping students learn more through personalisation and analytics
  • Utilising practical mechanisms for engaging with staff and students in order to make smarter procurements in tech

My talk was only 15 minutes so I had to cover a lot in quite a short time. I decided that I would expand upon my talk and include some links to the reports and research I mentioned. Continue reading Boosting Student Retention and Achieving Strategic Goals Through Data and Analytics

Presenting, presenting, presenting – Weeknote #32 – 18th October 2019

Photo by Alex Litvin on Unsplash
Photo by Alex Litvin on Unsplash

Monday I was undertaking the final preparations for some presentation training I am delivering on Thursday. This included printing some postcards as well as designing activities.

I took advantage of Pixabay to find images for my postcards, this is a great site for images, and due to their open licensing, you can use them in a variety of ways. Though I often attribute the site for the images I use, it’s not a requirement, so if you use them later or forget, it’s not really an issue.

Tuesday I was off to London for a meeting to discuss some future collaborative work that Jisc may undertake. What are the big challenges that HE (and FE) are facing for the future. One comment which was made I thought was interesting, was how challenging it was to get people to think about long term future challenges. Most people can identify current issues and potential near-future challenges but identifying the really big challenges that will impact education in the medium or long term, is really hard. Part of the challenge is that there are so many factors that can impact and predicting the future is thus very hard.

Reminded of this challenge of predicting the future, this week with the imminent anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall thirty years ago. Watching the haunting nuclear war TV film, Threads in 1984, I had no idea that the Cold War was every going to end, it looked like it would last forever and we would always be living under the threat of nuclear war. Five years later on the 9thNovember 1989, the Berlin Wall fell. I remember watching it on the news in my student accommodation, thinking, what’s happening, how is this happening? Back then we didn’t have social media, mobile phones or the web, so the only way for news to filter through was by television and newspapers. A year later we had the reunification of Germany. A year after that the USSR was dissolved. Continue reading Presenting, presenting, presenting – Weeknote #32 – 18th October 2019

All together now – Weeknote #31 – 11th October 2019

Birmingham
Birmingham

A busy week with travels to Bristol, Reading and Birmingham this week.

Monday I was in Bristol for a meeting with the Office for Students, one of the funders of Jisc. Following that I was back in the main office for further meetings.

There was an interesting long read on the Guardian website.

‘The way universities are run is making us ill’: inside the student mental health crisis

A surge in anxiety and stress is sweeping UK campuses. What is troubling students, and is it the universities’ job to fix it?

We know that there is a student mental health crisis and the reasons for this aren’t necessarily clear. We know there has been increase in the demand for mental health services at universities. The article notes that there has been research into the causes of this, but lays the blame for the crisis on the way in which universities are managed and run, leading to students not being in control of what they do and saddled with debt.

Image by Karolina Grabowska from Pixabay
Image by Karolina Grabowska from Pixabay

Another article I read this week was this one.

Exams could be replaced by artificial intelligence in the future, private school chief predicts 

Rather than being awarded grades for individual GCSEs, 16-year-old students could in the future be given performance reports which contain far more detailed information about their abilities.

“Rather than a grade summarising your ability in science, it might be that it is much more precise,” Mr Buchanan said.

“A report could talk about your knowledge of science but also your capacity to hypothesis, to assimilate and synthesise evidence, and your ability to present orally.

Generally from what I have read, technological change may start in that way, but before long there are new ways of doing things.

The printing press replaced the way in which bibles were published, moving from handwritten copies to printed copies. Though the real benefit of the printing press was not the mass production of bibles, but books, then newspapers. It made information and knowledge more accessible.

I think we will see similar step changes with artificial intelligence, moving away from fixed problems with current assessment methods and thinking differently about what assessment actually is and what it is for.

Problem of course with the article is that it is easy to say what could happen, much more challenging to understand how to make it happen.

University of Reading
University of Reading

Tuesday I was off to the University of Reading. I was accompanying one of our Account Managers and met with their TEL lead and their IT (now called Digital Technologies) team. It was nice to be in a university and talking about what they do and how they use technology. I would like to visit other universities, so let me know if you want to invite me in, to talk and chat about how technology can enhance and improve the student experience, as well as learning, teaching and assessment.

The ICC in Birmingham
The ICC in Birmingham

Wednesday was our all staff conference in Birmingham at the ICC. It was nice to see all (well a lot of) our staff together in one place. Got a chance to chat to a range of different people.

Thursday was a time for catching up with stuff and preparing for some events and meetings next week.

I did attend an online demonstration of PebblePad and it reminded me of how the concept of the e-portfolio is a difficult thing to narrow down and define.

I did have a chance to reflect on one of the questions I was asked earlier in the week on how students can connect their Alexa devices to Eduroam. The simple answer is they can’t.

I had initially forgotten that I had blogged about this earlier this year.

Alexa, what’s on my timetable today?

The current solution is for managed devices, ie the university centrally manages the Alexa devices as in this case study.

Amazon Echos to be installed in dorms

Amazon have WPA2 Enterprise support for shared echo devices. However it does require the devices to be centrally managed.

This is how some universities have put Echo devices on their campuses. There is another (much larger) piece of work on creating the data structures and content to answer the questions students would be asking their devices.

I planned, designed and created a presentation for a conference next week. It got me thinking about how I (currently) design my presentations and started to document the workflow, which I will hoefully post to the blog.

Friday was a day to discuss our technical career pathways. I feel we have made significant progress on this and will be launching by the end of the month.

My top tweet this week was this one.

Reflecting on the informality of learning – Weeknote #30 – 4th October 2019

The view from St Philip's Bridge in Bristol
The view from St Philip’s Bridge in Bristol

Over the weekend I saw this article on WonkHE called  Learning in the spaces in between,

The final paragraph said:

With institutions re-evaluating their teaching and thinking how best to invest, it’s a great time to consider whether we really understand how students are using informal educational spaces outside of the classroom. The student perspective combined with novel use of occupancy data is bringing us closer to answering that conundrum.

Reminded me of this blog post that I wrote this back in 2017 on designing informal learning spaces that would encourage informal learning.

 Well the key really is to think about what actually facilitates and encourages informal learning.

It’s a combination of factors and can include design of learning spaces and the learning activities undertaken by the learners.

Creating the right contexts and environments for informal learning, will ensure that the concept of learn anywhere and anytime is encouraged and enhanced.

Though I wouldn’t have called it ethnography (and I certainly wouldn’t call it ethnography today) my blog post was based on my experiences in designing and running libraries, as well as developing the use of digital and virtual learning. I would spend a lot of time observing how learners would use our spaces, what they were doing in those spaces and I felt importantly what they weren’t doing as well. I would talk to learners, more importantly I would listen to learners. We would also measure space utilisation and activity in our spaces and all this would inform how we would design and change the space.

Sofa's in the library at Gloucestershire College
Sofa’s in the library at Gloucestershire College

When we originally designed the spaces, an important aspect to me was flexibility, being able to change the space as demands on that space changed, in how people wanted to use it and how many wanted to use it. All our shelving for example was on wheels, could be moved easily and quickly around. So following observation and listening, we would adjust the space accordingly.

That blog post was inspired by another one I had written in 2010 on designing informal learning.

The premise of that article was you couldn’t design informal learning (as that would formalise it) but what you could do is create spaces that would encourage informal learning.

It is more challenging to create learning spaces that encourage informal and social learning. As demands on space continues to grow and demand for more learner-led learning, it is important that institutions consider much more how their spaces can be used for informal learning.

Victoria Street in Bristol
Victoria Street in Bristol

Monday I was into the office in Bristol for various meetings and some training on culture. One of the things I did finalise was my performance objectives for the year ahead. One thing which I ensured was that my objectives were derived from the strategic objectives of the organisation. This way everything I do is contributing to the organisational strategic priorities. This process was something we did on the Jisc Digital Leaders Programme and I also illustrated in this sketchnote.

Vision

I also had a discussion about writing an article about Education 4.0, but with a copyright lens. At this time we’ve not really looked into the copyright implications of the changes that could happen in the world of education.

Alas when leaving the office later that day, it was pouring rain and I got rather damp walking back to my car. I realised my waterproof coat was in fact no longer waterproof.

Illness in others and terrible rain, meant that meetings were changed, so I was able to change my plans from going into the Bristol office to working from home on Tuesday and avoid the rain.

I saw a video in the Twitter on the fourth industrial revolution which I thought was rather good so I blogged about it.

What is Industry 4.0?

Wednesday saw an interesting anniversary, as ten years ago on the 2nd October, I was at the ULCC Event, The Future of Technology in Education.

James Clay presenting at FOTE09
James Clay presenting at FOTE09

Little did I know the impact that this presentation would have on me, my future career and education in general. I wrote a nostalgic blog post looking back at the event, my presentation and the impact it had.

The future of learning… ten years later!

Group working
Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

I spent a lot of time on Thursday interviewing prospective student partners for Jisc. We like to know what is important to students regarding their use of technology in education and research. What skills they think they need and how they want to learn. So every year we get a group of students from across HE and FE and work with them in a variety of different ways. Some attend our meetings, others our events, they participate in podcasts, panel sessions and workshops. I have always felt it was important to listen to the student voice to inform my work.

Friday I had various meetings, but managed to make a lot of progress on our Learning Technologist technical career pathway. We will be piloting this with individuals over the next twelve months.

My top tweet this week was this one.

The future of learning… ten years later!

FOTE09

On the 2nd October 2009 I was at the ULCC Event, The Future of Technology in Education.

Little did I know the impact that this presentation would have on me, my future career and education in general.

I felt a little intimidated to be invited to talk at the event, we wouldn’t have called it imposter syndrome back then, but I did wonder if I was the right person to talk at such an interesting conference. It certainly had a TED talk feel to it. I must thank Frank Steiner and Tim Bush from ULCC for their support and help and inviting me to talk at this FOTE and future FOTE events.

2009 was quite a year for me, I had won the ALT Learning Technologist of the Year award that year. It was also the year of “The VLE is Dead” debate at the ALT Conference.

The event took place at the Royal Geographical Society in Kensington, which I remember wasn’t the easiest place to get to via the underground. Knowing London better now I think I would probably have just walked across Hyde Park from Paddington to get there. From about 2001 I started going to London a lot for work, well a few times a year, which was considerably more than when I was a lecturer in Bristol. I use to go to London, arrive at Paddington, take the underground, pop up somewhere, go to a meeting or an event, before popping back down into the underground on my way home. These days I visit London a lot more and have spent a lot more time walking around London, so have a much better grasp of the geography of the place. I remember being quite impressed with the place, and that you could see the nearby Albert Hall.

Albert Hall

I spent a fair bit of time putting my presentation together, in the end it comprised 82 slides… and I only had twenty minutes to deliver my talk. A challenge that took some doing.

My presentation was entitled The future of learning…

The aim of my presentation was to discuss how learning would and could change with the affordances of technological change.

So what of my predictions?

Well we know predicting the future is hard and generally most people get it wrong.

You will no doubt not be surprised that I got a lot of things wrong…

One thing I feel I did get right was that mobile was going to be big and important. I said how I felt mobile was the future. The audience did have a range of mobile devices themselves, but most phones were nothing more than phones that could do SMS and the Snake game. There were a few smartphones out there, but if my experience was to go by, they were clunky and difficult to use. We had the iPhone, but it hadn’t quite had the impact that it has had by today.

We didn’t have the iPad, that would arrive the following year. So no surprise that in my talk at FOTE I didn’t mention tablets

My talk actually started off talking about the past, how we are still impacted and embedded by the past, which makes change challenging and difficult.

I then talked about the present and some of the issues and problems that technology was causing in classrooms and lecture theatres. PAT testing was a real concern for many back then, don’t hear much about it these days in relation to BYOD or learner devices.

One of the challenges I saw back then was how academics and educationalists wanted to categorise learning, so we had e-learning, m-learning, mobile learning, online learning, digital learning, etc….

I said that I thought categorising learning and putting it into different boxes was restricting and that really we should focus on learning and blur the boxes, blur the boundaries.

Boxes

It was fine to talk about the “boxes” at conferences and in papers, but experience has shown that categorising learning into boxes caused confusion for teachers and academics, who rightly focussed on the word before the learning as a problem to be solved and then found it challenging.

However back then I said, and I still stand by this today, is that learners and academics need to understand the potential of technology and digital to better understand the affordances and opportunities that it can provide for learning. You don’t need to be ab le to do the technology, but you do need to know what it can do.

I also brought in scepticism about technological advances, something I would draw upon in future talks and presentations.

Nokia N95

Video (and film) had been used for learning for years, but people were sceptical and convinced that video (ie lecture capture) would stop traditional learning activities. However we know that television didn’t destroy radio, we know that radio didn’t kill newspaper, books didn’t replace folk stories. When we have a new technological development, often the result is a negative impact on existing technologies, but often the result is affordances about the potential of the new technology, enabling access that otherwise wouldn’t be possible.

I also talked about the potential of video on mobile devices. Video cameras were getting smaller and cheaper, the quality was getting better as well. You could buy video cameras which could record HD video, even if it was a challenge to capture and edit it on standard computers of the time. This was before the concept of streaming became mainstream. I showed a Sanyo Xacti camera which was waterproof and dropped it in a jug of water. These cameras could be used in dirty and dusty environments and the washed under the tap!

James Clay presenting at FOTE09

Mobile phone video has become so much better now. I am still impressed that my iPhone can record 4K video… If only we could get people to record video in landscape!

GPS was usually an option on devices back then, today it is more prevalent in the devices we buy. I saw this as an opportunity, the concept of geo-location based learning was something that felt quite magical at the time. Your device knows where you are, so personalises the learning based on your location. What I missed was how location tracking and would become a very big issue for people.

There was a bit of a backlash against e-Books back in 2009, as people felt that they weren’t as good as “real” books. For me they weren’t a replacement for books, they enabled different ways of reading. For many e-Books and e-book readers enabled a new way to access books and content, that otherwise would mean they wouldn’t have access. I presented on the future of reading at #FOTE10 the following year. I became a bit of an expert on e-books as as result. I presented on e-books at many different events and conferences, as well as writing a chapter in a book, and finally a book on Preparing for Effective Adoption and Use of Ebooks in Education in 2012.

Today e-books are part and parcel off education with easier access to books by students from academic libraries. As I did predict, we didn’t see the end of physical books, we still have bookstores and people still buy physical books.

reading a Kindle
Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Back then in 2009 connectivity was either slightly haphazard, or expensive, or both. We had 3G, but it wasn’t widespread, it would be another three years before we saw 4G.

WiFi was there, but it didn’t always work and network congestion would often cause the WiFi to fail. This happened with frequent regularity at events and conferences I attended back then, as delegates killed the WiFi with too many connections.

In the future I felt connectivity wouldn’t just be important, it would be critical for the future of learning.

Today we have really good (and cheap) mobile data, 4G is more available and 5G is starting to appear. Ubiquitous WiFi is certainly there compared to ten years ago, Eduroam has made it easier for people in education to connect when travelling, but WiFi is easily found in most places. This has allowed users to do so much more when travelling and moving about, or just when drinking coffee. I certainly notice how many people are streaming video, having video chat, doing so much more, because they had the connection and the bandwidth to do so.

Mobile often means battery power, and access to charging. Everyone remembers how their Nokia phone would last days on a single charge, today, most people seem to complain how their smartphone battery doesn’t last the day. Batteries may not seem to have got better, they have, just that we demand more power for our complex devices. We have seen significant improvements in battery technology, but we have seen a huge increase in our demand for power on our devices. Streaming video requires more power than reading an e-mail. One thing that has taken time to filter through was the importance of the ability to charge devices. Since 2009 we have seen trains and buses adding power sockets, and USB ports for charging as well. Hotels have added similar sockets. Some lecture theatres now have plug sockets as well.

In my 2009 presentation I talked about the technological penknife.

Image by Karolina Grabowska from Pixabay
Image by Karolina Grabowska from Pixabay

This is one thing I got very wrong, I thought that the idea that a device that did everything meant it did everything badly. A penknife has multiple tools, but most of them aren’t very good doing the stuff they are designed to do. People would prefer to have specialist devices for specific activities. Why would you have rubbish video from a phone, when you could have a decent HD video camera? Why would you use the rubbish microphone on a device, when a specialist recording device would do it so much better? Well that didn’t happen, in reality we have seen devices become so much better that we don’t need to have multiple devices. We have the penknife, but it’s a really good penknife, really good at everything.

I then went on to talk about change and the importance of managing change. I talked about how change can be a series of small steps, but noted the importance of missing steps, endless steps and steps that trip you up.

These slides were really where I started to understand strategy and writing strategies much more. This certainly helped me in future roles and influenced heavily the design of certain aspects of the Jisc Digital Leaders Programme in which I was part of the research and development team led by Lawrie Phipps.

I talked about activity, technology should never be about the technology, it needed to be about how it could enhance or improve activities. Or where the affordances created new opportunities for different activities. We still have a perception that we shouldn’t talk about technology first, though sometimes I think we should.

Technology allow for flexibility, flexible curriculum, flexible approaches to delivery, flexible learning. I think we have made a little progress here, but so much more is possible these days. The technology enables flexibility, but that doesn’t mean it will just happen, there is so much more that needs to happen to enable flexibility.

Back then I felt sharing was important, not just sharing content (as in open) but also sharing ideas, concepts and approaches. Not that this didn’t happen, but it was difficult to do so. Today it is much easier to share than it was back then, so much so, I think we have forgotten about the time when this didn’t happen.

I talked about the importance of working collaboratively. Since the talk online tools have made it so much easier to collaborate. Collaboration across institutions (and countries) is so much easier these days. Tools such as Slack enable groups to talk and work together.

I talked about innovation, celebrating ideas. Innovation doesn’t always mean better, it means different or new. Following on from that I talked about experimentation and encouraging it within our institutions.

If you want innovation, then it needs to be embedded into the strategy, rewarded and not penalised when things go wrong. It needs to be done in collaboration with learners not done to them. I think we are seeing much more innovation and collaboration these days, and the student voice is helping to inform developments and ideas.

I said we need to re-think assessment, technology was going to have an impact. I think it has, but not in the way we thought it would. We try and use technology to “fix’ assessment today, rather than re-imagine how we assess.

I talked about culture and how culture can enable change, but also frustrate it. Culture is about what and who we are, it’s the sum of the people within an organisation. This was something we covered years later in the Jisc Digital Leaders Programme.

I have written about the importance of culture and strategy in this blog post on writing strategies.

I have always seen technology as a solution to a problem. Technology in itself is not the problem needing to be solved. This was something that I wrote about in 2018.

I finished the presentation about talking about the future and how the future was about the learner, the student. It was about how they wanted to learn, where they wanted to learn, what they wanted to learn and with whom they wanted to learn. Why did we need to think about the future, it was because we needed to think about the learners, then, now and in the future.

So did I predict the future?

No.

It certainly though had a huge impact on my future, some of which I have outlined above. As a result of this talk I was invited to speak at a range of events and conferences on the future of learning and a range of mobile learning events. I spoke the following year at FOTE 10 about the future of reading, which resulted in me doing much more in the e-book space.

So there is also a video of me (looking much younger) presenting, if you want to watch what happened…