All posts by James Clay

The VLE is not dead – Weeknote #167 – 13th May 2022

Image by drippycat from Pixabay

Monday morning, I was off to Queen Mary University of London for their VLE Expo. This was very much a QMUL focussed event, though they had invited a range of VLE vendors. I liked how the focus of the event was about, what do we want to do to achieve our strategic aspirations, how will the VLE help us to do that, and which platform (or platforms) will enable us to do that.

There were some excellent presentations from the academic staff on the different ways in which they were using technology including virtual reality, mixed reality and H5P. I sat on the final panel session answering questions from the floor on a range of issues. A lot of the questions were more about the use of technology for learning and teaching, than VLE specific topics. However, I did get into a few discussions about the VLE on the Twitter as a result of attending the event.

I posted another blog post in my Lost in Translation series this time with a focus on the technical aspects of recording videos or audio files.

Most institutions will (probably) have equipment which staff can use, but if there is a strategic approach to building a sustainable approach to the use of video and audio, then universities will need to reflect if they have sufficient resources to support the increased demand for cameras and microphones.

video recording
Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Tuesday I was still in London for a briefing session, well as it happened it got cancelled, so I worked in the office.

Apple have announced that they are going to stop selling the iPod once the current stocks of iPod touch run out. So did you have an iPod and if so which one?

iPod
Photo by Cartoons Plural on Unsplash

Wednesday, I did two all-staff briefings for two directorates on the Jisc HE sector strategy. From the feedback I got they seemed to be well received.

I was reminded on the Twitter about when I took my bike to work. I made a video back then.

Mike Sharples posted an excellent Twitter thread on how AI can be used to write essays. I agree with Mike, if we are setting students assignments that can be answered by AI, are we really helping students learn?

I enjoyed the #LTHEchat on images in presentations in the evening.

These two blog posts from 2005 (and 2007) were very influential on my presentation style: Gates, Jobs, & the Zen aesthetic and Learning from Bill Gates & Steve Jobs. I also posted  a link to a presentation from an internal TEDx event about delivering presentations – A duck goes quack.

Thursday, I made my way to Harwell for a drop in session I was running at the Jisc offices there, alas an accident the closure of the M4 meant I spent nearly four hours sitting the car rather than sitting in a room talking to Jisc staff. In the end I had to abandon my visit to the office.

Friday, I had a scoping call about learning spaces in higher education. Interested in the kinds of learning spaces higher education is using, flexibility, technology and the kinds of activities spaces are being used for.

I found this WonkHE article interesting – Learning design is the key to assuring the quality of modular provision in which Nick Mount talks about building quality assurance into the design of modular programmes and micro-credentials.

Traditional providers can expect to find themselves facing the difficult job of rethinking existing assurance processes that are designed for coherent, longitudinal programmes of study, so that they can accommodate a new pick-and-mix landscape of highly portable and stackable micro-credential learning.

My top tweet this week was this one.

Using AI to write an essay

Over on the Twitter, Mike Sharples has written a thread about how students could potentially use AI to write assignments (and how academics could use AI to mark and provide feedback).

As Mike points out, existing tools such as Turnitin won’t spot these fakes.

Though I do think we should stop going down the rhetoric that all students want to cheat, I do agree with some of what Mike says in this tweet in that we do need to reflect and rethink assessment.

I also agree with Mike’s other tweet in this thread if we are setting students assignments that can be answered by AI, are we really helping students learn?  

Of course this only the beginning of how AI will impact on education.

At the QMUL VLE Expo

Choosing a VLE for your university can be a challenge. Everyone has a different opinion, people have different needs, student want an outstanding experience. 

Sometimes just changing the VLE can be a catalyst for change, but you can also lose people who were heavily invested in the existing system.

Today I was at the Queen Mary University of London 2022 VLE Expo conference.

This conference is brought to you by the “SP192 VLE Review” project, one of the strategic projects that work together to deliver the 2030 strategy. The main aim of today’s conference is to gather your views and needs from a future VLE. We will use your contributions and feedback today to help shape a recommendation paper that will be used to decide the direction we will take with our VLE provision.

The university wants to ensure that whichever direction they go, it is  about delivering on their vision.

That is what this day is all about – making sure our Virtual Learning Environment matches our vision and fully supports our students in their journey.

I like how the focus is about, what do we want to do to achieve our strategic aspirations, how will the VLE help us to do that, and which platform (or platforms) will enable us to do that.

Of course the VLE is only part of the solution, knowing how to use the technical functions of the VLE is one thing, knowing how to use the VLE to support and enhance learning is a more challenging problem. Embedding the VLE into the curriculum is also a challenge.

My role in the day was to sit on a panel discussion, The Future of Digital Education, to discuss emerging themes from the day. I hope to address some of the issues with why you need a VLE and then thinking about how you will meet those needs.

Lost in translation: cameras and microphones

video recording
Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

As part of my work in looking at the challenges in delivering teaching remotely during this 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.

One of the things we noticed when the pandemic struck and lockdown happened, was as the education sector moved rapidly to remote delivery was the different models that people used. However what we did see was many people were translating their usual practice to an online version.

In my post on translating the lecture I discussed the challenges of translating your 60minute lecture into a 60 minute online video presentation. 

There are some problems with this as you are not providing an online video version of the lecture. You are using a platform like Teams or Zoom to deliver the lecture via a webcam. You will not be able to “read” the room as you can in a face to face environment. Video presentations also lose much of the energy that a physical presentation has. It can flatten the experience and people will disengage quite rapidly.

In a couple of posts in this series I discussed how you could reflect on the format of the lecture by looking at how content is produced and delivered for television and radio. 

One aspect I didn’t discuss in too much detail was the technical aspects of recording videos or audio files.

webcam
Photo by Waldemar Brandt on Unsplash

Back in the day, most laptops didn’t have webcams, and I remember buying external iSight cameras to use with my G5 Power Mac. Today you would be hard pressed to buy a laptop without a built-in webcam, the iPad comes with two cameras (front and back). It’s the same with microphones, the G5 Power Mac had an audio-in mini-jack for an external microphone, though I went out and got a USB Blue Snowball.

So today most people using a computer will have the technical capability to record video and audio easily. However there is more to creating high quality content than the ability to turn on a webcam or speak into the laptop microphone. These tools are fine for video conferencing, but aren’t necessity ideal for creating videos or audio recordings.

microphone
Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Using external cameras and microphones is one way in which to enable better quality recordings than using the built in hardware on your laptop.

During the pandemic lockdowns, using your laptop was acceptable. Moving forward and creating new recordings, it makes sense to have better equipment. It’s not just about cameras, but also decent microphones for those cameras.

Most institutions will (probably) have equipment which staff can use, but if there is a strategic approach to building a sustainable approach to the use of video and audio, then universities will need to reflect if they have sufficient resources to support the increased demand for cameras and microphones.

video recording
Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Going forward maybe having decent cameras and microphones will be the staple of academic kit, in the same way that laptops are now provided.

In a future post I will talk about creating an ideal environment for recording television style and radio content.

More connecting – Weeknote #166 – 6th May 2022

The early spring bank holiday meant a shorter working week for me.

Most of the week was being involved in Jisc’s Connect More 2022 event. I was chair for one day and a virtual host for another day. I wasn’t presenting as this was very much a practitioner focused event.

Some great and inspiring sessions.

Politics against entered the debate about in-person teaching and blended learning.

Universities could be fined for failing to return to in-person teaching, minister warns

Michelle Donelan has warned that if universities fail to return to face-to-face teaching, they may face large penalties. The universities minister told The Mail on Sunday she plans to “put boots on the ground” and send teams of inspectors to check staff attendance rates at campuses across the UK. Where universities don’t meet the required standards, they could “potentially be fined…

Helpful rhetoric? No, of course not.

Was involved in a few discussions about how students wanted to return to campus, but not necessarily to attend lectures.

Friday I went to the office in Bristol. It was quite busy compared the last time I was there.

The sector still appears to be reflecting on the concept of hybrid (or hyflex) teaching I read the following summary of ‘Hybrid Teaching and Learning in HE: a futuristic model or a realistic model for the future?’ was a question addressed at a workshop held by the University of Nottingham in early 2022, when universities were ready to turn the pandemic corner. More than 150 participants from around the globe were brought together to share their practice and learn from a community of academic and technical colleagues who had experienced hybrid teaching.

clocks
Photo by Ahmad Ossayli on Unsplash

I published a blog post on time. Do you have enough time to read it?

Though I have written about time lots of times over time (well at least the last twenty years); across the sector we are still discussing that we need to provide academics and practitioners with more time. There are still many voices out there, saying that the challenge with engaging practitioners with learning technologies is about providing them with time The trouble with talking about time, is that it is a somewhat simplistic perspective over what is a complex and challenging issue.

My top tweet this week was this one.

Time is still an issue

pocket watch
Image by Bruno Glätsch from Pixabay

Though I have written about time lots of times over time (well at least the last twenty years); across the sector we are still discussing that we need to provide academics and practitioners with more time. There are still many voices out there, saying that the challenge with engaging practitioners with learning technologies is about providing them with time.

The trouble with talking about time, is that it is a somewhat simplistic perspective over what is a complex and challenging issue.

When we say practitioners need time, we may not actually be articulating what the actual issues are.

The problem, that we are discussing, is that academics and practitioners despite all their experiences during the pandemic lockdowns still need to adopt new practices and learn to do things in different ways, whether that be through the use of technology, or different teaching practices. They often picked up the technical skills required, but their pedagogical, design and delivery skills may need development and updating. When taking with practitioners they often talk about not having the time.

The problem appears to many others as well, to be a lack of time, especially when they ask for feedback from staff and get these kinds of responses.

“I don’t have the time.”
“When am I suppose to find time to do all this?”
“I am going to need more time.”

Therefore for many the obvious solution is more time.

So is time the solution to the problems we face in education?

It can be nice to have the time to do new and interesting things, but the reality in which we live, work and learn, is that time is a limited resource and we don’t have the time to do everything we want to do. We have to make choices.

Well providing time is obviously a solution to the problem of not having enough time.

I don’t have the time to do this… so giving people the time is the right solution?

Well we know how that works out.

Messages go back to “management” that lack of time is the problem and if only they would provide more time the the problem would be solved. The management response, as expected would usually be there is no extra time.

That isn’t too surprising, as the detail is missing, the benefits. We also need to recognise that using learning technologies is not the only demand on time. The “management” will receive multiple requests for “more time”. 

There is a need to balance the unlimited demand for time (and resources) with a limited amount of time and often diminishing resources.

I would question though is the problem one of lack of time?

Once we focus on time as a solution, we lose sight of the actual problems we are trying to solve. Sometimes we need to go quite far back to really understand the problem we’re trying to solve.

We know also that when people say they don’t have the time, or they need time; what they are can be saying and often the meaning is…

It’s not a priority for me, I have other priorities that take up my time.

Priorities in theory are set by the line manager, who is operationalising the strategic direction and vision of the institution.

So time isn’t a problem. Lack of time is also not the problem. Trying to embed the use of learning technologies is also not the problem. Learning technologies are a solution to a different problem. The problem can be improving student outomes, widening participation, quality assurance.

Identify that problem. If development is required then that is a solution to solving that problem. Then resources (and time) will be prioritised.

This happens with other changes in the organisation, the introduction of new teaching methods, or new learning spaces. If the change rhetoric is isolated from the strategy, then the change becomes a problem to be solved, we don’t see the change as solving a different problem.  So can we blame people for wanting time to do stuff, when they see this stuff as an extra, an addition to the work they are currently doing.

So the next time someone says they don’t have the time, stop, reflect on what you are saying and maybe seeing solutions as problems, and focusing on the actual challenges that the institution is trying to solve.

Down in the harbourside – Weeknote #165 – 29th April 2022

A busy week. In the morning I published a post, Go and be more innovative which was discussing how we often conflate innovation with improvement.

For me true innovation in educational technology is change which has significant impact across the whole organisation. However this isn’t always exciting and shiny! Too often we focus on the new and the shiny and less on those innovations, that are holistic, organisation-wide and would have a greater impact on the learner experience.

Monday afternoon we continued the review of our HE Directorate looking at what we do and how we operate.

I went into our Bristol office on Tuesday which was quite quiet.

It got me thinking about how do we make better use of the offices spaces we have without resorting to the leaving of little notes saying sorry to have missed you and looking forward to seeing you in the office. Most, okay all my meetings were online and in theory I could have done them all from home, but I did like the change in routine and scenery that going to the office allows. It was nice to have the few in-person social interactions I did have. I was once asked if I preferred working from home or working in the office, my response was I prefer to have the choice. Pre-pandemic the choice was very much about what I was doing which influenced where I would choose to work.

Earlier in the week there was an interesting Twitter thread on returning to the office and hybrid working.

I did think that this assertion on micro coworking was an interesting insight.

I can certainly see the rise of shared offices that don’t require long commutes or want a space to collaborate or I think important work in a social environment with others, even if they aren’t working on the same thing, or even for the same company.

I also think we could potentially see micro co-learning for universities being developed as well. Allowing students to learn locally without necessarily travelling to campus everyday or even at all.

Wednesday I did work from home and we had some briefing sessions about Connect More which is happening next week (online).

Thursday I was in Bristol, though this time at the Mshed supporting a team away day. It was nice to deliver a session in-person and chat with people over coffee.

I did some extra work in between sessions in a local coffee place.

I read this article, ‘Bossware is coming for almost every worker’: the software you might not realize is watching you in the Guardian.

Many companies in the US and Europe now appear – controversially – to want to try, spurred on by the enormous shifts in working habits during the pandemic, in which countless office jobs moved home and seem set to either stay there or become hybrid. This is colliding with another trend among employers towards the quantification of work – whether physical or digital – in the hope of driving efficiency.

The reliance on surveillance software to check if people are working, I do think misses the point about what work is. Work is something you do, it isn’t somewhere you go, and it isn’t something you can always be seen to be doing. Focusing on presenteeism and computer activity isn’t really an effective way of ensuring work is done.

I can certainly see some people looking at the potential of such kinds of surveillance technologies to measure learning. As if it could actually do that, by looking at computer activity and interactions with systems.

Friday was the last day of the week and I spent it at home working. I had an introductory meeting with a couple of new people in our public affairs team, talking about the HE sector strategy.

My top tweet this week was this one.

Go and be more innovative

innovation
Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay

When I think about innovation in the use of technology in education, I always first look at the formal dictionary definition of the word innovation, my dictionary, says it is “a new method, idea, product”, however it doesn’t say better or improved, often the assumption is made that innovation does mean better/

If we look at the Thesaurus, it says: change, alteration, revolution, upheaval, transformation, metamorphosis, reorganization, restructuring, rearrangement, recasting, remodelling, renovation, restyling, variation; new measures, new methods, new devices, novelty, newness, unconventionality, modernization, modernism; a break with tradition, a shift of emphasis, a departure, a change of direction.

Again this is all about change, not about improvement.

We often talk about innovation in education and sometimes the context in which it used implies that innovation is required to make things better. However innovation is really about change.

The pandemic demonstrated that organisations can change, we saw a massive change from in-person learning and teaching to remote online learning and teaching.  However change caused by a crisis, is just that change caused by a crisis. It wasn’t planned, it wasn’t organised and the change we saw wasn’t necessarily the change we wanted. It also not sustainable, you’re not going to keep your staff in lockdown so that they can continue to deliver their programmes remotely.

Sustaining the change and the innovative change we saw during the pandemic, does mean looking at things differently and in the context of a post-pandemic future. I do recognise that we’re not in that post-pandemic phase at the moment, the risks of Covid infections are still there.

For me in the context of education technology, innovation means taking an existing non-digital educational processes and using technology to improve it. It may mean making the decision to not use technology.

It can also mean looking at how another innovation (such as a new device or an online service) and using it to improve teaching, learning and assessment. Though sometimes this results in a technological solution looking for a problem that may not actually exist.

There are also the untended consequences of innovation. You make a technological led change and it causes changes you weren’t aware of 

I don’t actually think much of what is defined as innovative within educational technology is in fact innovative. Too much of it is small scale, poorly defined and low impact. Much of what we see is often ignored by the rest of the department, the rest of the institution, even ignored by the sector. It may feed into further research in this area, but generally it doesn’t result in wholesale sustainable change.

For me true innovation in educational technology is change which has significant impact across the whole organisation. However this isn’t always exciting and shiny! Too often we focus on the new and the shiny and less on those innovations, that are holistic, organisation-wide and would have a greater impact on the learner experience.

If you think about the impact of e-mail on the university, this innovation has resulted in change across the institution in the ways that people communicate and collaborate, and as we know this change is not necessarily always positive.

Is innovation a meaningful concept in education, or just a buzzword? Too often innovation focuses on tools and technologies, but innovation in processes and practice is often going to have a great impact.

The main barriers to innovation (change) in large organisations vary, but often a lack of understanding of what large scale implementation actually means. The words pilot and project are used interchangeably. Pilots often don’t scale as they haven’t been planned with a future large scale implementation in mind. There is often a lack of desire to use existing research or results from other pilots and projects.

We may think we are innovative, but we’re probably not. Innovation for me means new or different. It doesn’t necessarily mean better or improved. Innovation is all about change, and change is all about culture and leadership. If you want people to go and be more innovative, then you will need to think about the leadership required to deliver that, and the impact you want to achieve.

Shorter – Weeknote #164 – 22nd April 2022

A shorter week as there was a bank holiday and I took a day’s leave.

Came back to 70 emails in my inbox, which I cleared quite quickly.

Had a meeting with ALT about plans and collaboration going forward. Next week is the OER 22 Conference and there is a call for papers for the ALT Conference 2022. The ALT Conference 2022 will take place in-person in Manchester.

I attended the HEAnet & EduCampus Group Advisory Forum online. We are planning a strategic meeting that will take place in-person in September.

I spoke to our innovation team about the HE Sector Strategy.

I went to the office in Bristol on Friday, realised it had been sometime since I went to the Bristol office having been on leave, in Manchester and in London quite a bit over the last few weeks.

My top tweet this week was this one.

I am not that old – Weeknote #163 – 15th April 2022

I was mainly on leave this week working just a couple of days.

Was in London on Monday for an in-person meeting. I don’t mind meeting online when required, but after two years of online meetings, there is something about meeting in-person. The change in routine and scenery is very welcome. The focus of the discussion was an offshoot of the UPP Foundation report on the Student Futures Manifesto, notably recommendation one.

We were discussing the challenges that universities face in modernising their IT infrastructure and architecture.

Attended a meeting reviewing Digifest that happened last month.

…and that was day one

…and that was day two

If you attended the event, what did you think about the festival? What worked well for you and what would have made it better? Did you any sessions stick out for you? If you didn’t go, why was that, and what would have needed to be different for you to change your mind?

My top tweet this week was this one.