All posts by James Clay

Netflixisation, is that even a word? – Weeknote #39 – 6th December 2019

Gringotts Dragon
Gringotts Dragon at Harry Potter Studio Tour

At the weekend we went to the Harry Potter Studio Tour. The first time I went to the Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studio Tour was in 2015, just after they had added the Hogwarts Express and Kings Cross set to the tour. We made a return visit, mainly to see how different it was dressed for Christmas and with snow. Last time we were in the foyer waiting to go in, suspended from the ceiling was the magical flying Ford Anglia. This time there was a dragon!

Fetter Lane
Fetter Lane

The week started off in London for my Jisc Senior TEL Group meeting. This is an invited meeting in which we discuss various issues and technologies relating to teaching and learning. We had an informative discussion in the morning on curriculum analytics, what it is, what it isn’t, what it could be used for and some of the serious and challenges in analysing the curriculum. In the afternoon we were discussing some of the challenges relating to Education 4.0 and what the potential issues are in relation to preparing for the future that may be Education 4.0. Continue reading Netflixisation, is that even a word? – Weeknote #39 – 6th December 2019

Goodbye Castlepark – Weeknote #38 – 29th November 2019

Ramsay Garden in Edinburgh
Ramsay Garden in Edinburgh

It was a much busier week this time, with a lot more travelling, including trams, planes, trains, buses, cars and walking. At least the weather wasn’t too bad, but there was certainly some rain and wind about.

University of South Wales
University of South Wales

Monday I was in Wales for one of Jisc’s Stakeholder Forums. It was interesting to talk to colleagues form universities and colleges about how they felt about Jisc and the services we provide them. I really enjoyed the session delivered by my colleague on big challenges and co-design and on my table we had a really insightful and interesting discussion about  a Netflix style model for education.

Landed at Edinburgh Airport
Landed at Edinburgh Airport

Tuesday I was off to Scotland, staying overnight in Edinburgh, before heading off to Glasgow for a meeting with QAA Scotland. Continue reading Goodbye Castlepark – Weeknote #38 – 29th November 2019

140 characters – Weeknote #37 – 22nd November 2019

140 Conference

Ten years ago this week I was at the O2 in Greenwich for the #140conf organised by Jeff Pulver. Why was it the #140conf, well of course back then the Twitter was restricted to 140 characters, not like the 280 we have today. This was the conference where Stephen Fry was crowned the King of Twitter. That was also the week that Stephen Fry passed a million followers on Twitter. Today he now has nearly 13m followers.

140 Conference

I was on a panel session with Shirley Williams (@shirleyearley), Dave White (@daveowhite), Drew Buddie (@DigitalMaverick) and Professor Sue Black (@Dr_Black) where we talked about education and the Twitter.

From what I remember the talk went down well. Continue reading 140 characters – Weeknote #37 – 22nd November 2019

What is the difference between strong, thorough and exceptional? – Weeknote #36 – 15th November 2019

BT Tower in Fitzrovia
BT Tower in Fitzrovia by James Clay

One interesting read this week was this blog post

An ‘Edinburgh Model’ for Online Teaching Programme: Notes from a pilot run.

In this post, Dr Michael Gallagher, a Lecturer in the Centre for Research in Digital Education, describes how he and colleagues drew on current expertise and research within The University of Edinburgh to inform and design a new online course…

It was an interesting read, but I find it equally interesting that we are still having difficulty with delivering and teaching online that we still need to run pilots.

There has been substantial amounts of research and practice in this space, this is reinforced by the forthcoming A Manifesto for Teaching Online which, as indicated in the article on the  ‘Edinburgh Model’ was a source for the course, much of what is distilled in the course comes from the outcomes of the Near Future Teaching project and the Manifesto for Teaching Online.

This isn’t though a course which is delivered online, this is a course for teaching people how to teach online and it wasn’t initially delivered online.

This first pilot of the course was run face to face to allow the team to focus on specific areas and get rapid feedback from participants.

In my reading and experience, people really get to understand the challenges and affordances of delivering online if they have first hand experience of being taught online, both bad and good. A similar thing can be said for non-online teaching (or what we sometimes call traditional or face to face teaching. This is something that all teachers will have experience of, being taught in a face to face or traditional manner before they start teaching themselves. Though I wonder can we teach online if we have never been taught online? Should be said though the team are planning to run the course fully online in early 2020.

I suppose there is for me an element of frustration that the concept of online teaching isn’t new, there has been considerable research in this space, but it’s still something that we as a sector struggle with. Hopefully sharing experiences from these pilots will help, but we have been doing pilots for decades now… Continue reading What is the difference between strong, thorough and exceptional? – Weeknote #36 – 15th November 2019

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

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

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

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