All posts by James Clay

The library will remain closed…

books
Image by IvanPais from Pixabay

The government recently published some guidance for universities reopening buildings and campuses

This document is designed to help providers of higher education in England to understand how to minimise risk during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak and provide services to students, keeping as many people as possible 2 metres apart from those they do not live with.

There has been a fair amount of commentary on the Twitter about this, mainly negative, describing it as of little help, or “bleeding” obvious…

Genuinely at a loss to understand why this was written.

It mentions ‘pinch points’ such as ‘the start and end of the day’: what does that actually mean on a university campus?

Honestly, it’s one of the vaguest documents I’ve ever read.

…what an astonishingly vague and unhelpful document this is

In which Higher Education Professional Services staff are rendered almost entirely invisible. Although to be fair, the whole thing is quite the waste of words.

There’s very little to say about this other than it’s highly amusing that it notes guidance from CMA on consumer contracts, cancellation and refunds in relation to student accommodation but not in relation to higher education itself!

 Start and end of the day is interesting concept on a residential ‘sticky campus’

Though this section from the report has huge implications for the sector.

Libraries are currently required by law to cease their business during the emergency period (regulation 5(1) of the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020). However, they are allowed to provide services for orders made via website or on-line communications, telephones and text messaging, and post. You might therefore consider how to make library services available in line with those methods.

The implication is that the physical library on campus should remain closed and library services are delivered online.

The legislation doesn’t mention libraries, but refers to the provision of library services.

 A person responsible  for  carrying on  a  business, not  listed  in Part  3  of Schedule  2,  of offering goods  for  sale or  for  hire in  a  shop, or  providing  library services  must,  during the emergency period – (a)cease  to  carry on  that  business…

I found this rather worrying as libraries in universities are more than just library services. Usually this is discussed the other way around that the library is more than just the physical space and services can be accessed online. In reality most university libraries are a combination of space and services. Some of these can be delivered online, but often students will want to use the physical space in the library even if they are not (directly) using library services.

library
Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay

I am not sure if a university decides to open their library they would face action, but it certainly could be a possibility. Of course things may change between now and when universities return in September. If universities can ensure social distancing in their libraries then maybe they can open the physical space. Study desks could be set two metres apart, one way systems imposed on stairwells and markers on the floor to aid staff and students to maintain social distancing.

face mask
Image by Juraj Varga from Pixabay

What is less obvious is how they will need to reduce possible infection by transmission via their physical resources. Would physical books and journals need to be held for 72 hours after a student has used them before another student could use them?

The published guidance has one paragraph about libraries, and that is too superficial to provide any decent guidance or support for universities on how they should operate their libraries when term starts in the autumn.

Wot no lectures? – Weeknote #64 – 22nd May 2020

I have decided to take next week as leave, not that we’re going anywhere, but apart from the odd long weekend (bank holidays) I’ve not had any time off working since the lockdown started, actually I don’t think I’ve had leave since Christmas! I had planned to take some time off at Easter and go to London for a few days, as we had tickets for the Only Fools and Horses musical at the Royal Haymarket. I had bought tickets for my wife as a Christmas present and it was something we were all looking forward to. Then all this lockdown happened and the theatre cancelled all the performances as required by the Government.

I did consider keeping my leave, but with leading a taskforce, it was apparent that I might not have the time to take some (and where would I go).

So this week I was winding down slightly as I wanted to ensure I had done everything that people needed before I was off.

Radio
Image by fancycrave1 from Pixabay

I published a blog post over the weekend about making the transition to online and to not make the assumption that though there are similarities in delivering learning in classrooms and online, they are not the same.

Making that move from the radio…

Making that move from the radio…

If we are to make the move a combination of online, hybrid and blended than we need to ensure that the staff involved in the delivery of learning have the right capabilities and skills to deliver effectively online.

I had an article published on the Media FHE Blog. Continue reading Wot no lectures? – Weeknote #64 – 22nd May 2020

Hybrid

Chimera
Image by Dean Moriarty from Pixabay

I have been listening, writing and talking about how universities are planning for September. There is so much uncertainly about what the landscape will be like then, so working out what and how to design an effective student experience is challenging.

Courses will not be the same as they were and won’t be the same as they are now.

Universities are reflecting on their plans in light of the current lockdown, the easing of the lockdown, social distancing as well as guidance from the regulator.

Students applying for university places in England must be told with “absolute clarity” how courses will be taught – before they make choices for the autumn, says Nicola Dandridge of the Office for Students. 

This has implications for future planning and announcements of what universities will be doing in the Autumn. They will probably need to start publishing in June their plans. Some have done this already.

In what I suspected was to be the start of a trend, the University of Manchester decided to keep lectures online for the autumn.

The University of Manchester has confirmed it will keep all of its lectures online for at least one semester when the next academic year starts. In an email to students Professor McMahon, vice-president for teaching, learning and students, confirmed the university’s undergraduate teaching year would begin in late September “with little change to our start dates”, but it would “provide our lectures and some other aspects of learning online”.

The whole student experience is not going online though as the article continues.

However, students would be asked to return physically to campus in the autumn as Manchester was “keen to continue with other face-to-face activities, such as small group teaching and tutorials, as safely and as early as we can”, added Professor McMahon.

The following week, the Student University Paper at Cambridge and then many others reported, such as the BBC – All lectures to be online-only until summer of 2021.

“Given that it is likely that social distancing will continue to be required, the university has decided there will be no face-to-face lectures during the next academic year. Lectures will continue to be made available online and it may be possible to host smaller teaching groups in person, as long as this conforms to social distancing requirements. 

There was a similar announcement from the University of Bolton.

The University will teach our excellent Undergraduate and Postgraduate programmes on campus from the start of the new academic year in September 2020 and also support your learning using a range of dynamic virtual learning tools.

Though very similar pronouncements, reading this Twitter thread:

Most are thinking that Bolton and Cambridge are doing the same thing, but just spun it differently.

So how can universities plan their courses and curriculum in an uncertain future? 

We see and hear plans for online courses, non-online courses, blended courses and other types of courses.

A phrase I had been using in my conversations and discussions is hybrid courses. This is less hybrid as in combining online and physical courses into a single course, that’s more a blended approach. My view was that hybrid was much more about analogous to how hybrid vehicles function.

hybrid engine
Image by Davgood Kirshot from Pixabay

There is a petrol engine in the hybrid car, but the car can run on electric power when needed. On longer journeys the petrol engine takes over, but on shorter (slower) trips the car uses electric power. Which power is used is dependent on the environment and situation the car is in.

With a hybrid course, some sessions are physical face to face sessions. There are live online sessions and there are asynchronous online sessions. In addition there could be asynchronous offline sessions as well. You may not want to be online all the time!

Some sessions could be easily switched from one format to another. So if there is a change in lockdown restrictions (tightening or easing) then sessions can move to or from online or a physical location.

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

There are hybrid variations across cars, some can be topped up by plugging in, whilst others just rely on charging form the petrol engine.

There could be a similar story with variations on hybrid courses. Some could have more online elements, whilst others reflecting the nature of that subject could have more physical face to face aspects.

There are of course still petrol cars and fully electric cars, but there is a whole spectrum of hybrid vehicles and it’s the same with hybrid courses.

You could translate your courses into online versions. You could transform them into courses which take advantage of the affordances of online. However the delivery of teaching is just one aspect of the overall student experience and thinking about that and reflecting on how your course and learning design will take into account the realities of an uncertain future, means you need to build that into the design of modules and courses. A hybrid model that is responsive and can adapt is one way which this could be done.

So it was interesting to see another person, Simon Thomson from University of Liverpool Centre for Innovation in Education (CIE) has been using it as well.

“None of us know what’s going to be happening in the Autumn”, said OfS CEO Nicola Dandridge to the Commons Education Committee, who nevertheless added – in the same breath – that “we are requiring that universities are as clear as they can be to students so that students when they accept an offer from a university know in broad terms what they’ll be getting”. Via WonkHE

It’s an uncertain future and one that means courses will need to reflect that uncertainty. Designing hybrid courses which reflect the possibilities of that future, but are responsive enough to respond to changes are probably one way of ensuring that the student experience is meeting the demands of students in a challenging landscape.

Lost in translation: the debate

microphones
Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay

have been working on a series of blog posts about translating existing teaching practices into online models of delivery. In previous posts I looked at the lecture and the seminar, in this one I want to focus on debates.

One of the things I have noticed 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, some have called this practice mirroring. 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.

Debating  is a really useful way of enhancing learning, whether it be a formalised classroom debate, or an informal discussion arising from a presentation or a video.

Chairing and managing debates in a live classroom environment is challenging, but as a chair you need to ensure that the proponents of both sides of the debate, have their chance to put forward their view, but also that they are both given a fair hearing. You need to ensure that people have a chance to contribute to the discussion and ask questions, as well as ensuring that they can be answered. From an educational perspective, you also want to bring in everyone into the debate, so that they are engaged in the learning process.

Trying to translate a debate into an online version can be challenging and fraught with difficulties and may not necessarily engage all the students into the process.

So how do you, and how could you translate a one hour debate into an effective learning experience that happens online. The key aspect is to identify the learning outcomes of that debate and ensure that they are achievable in the translated session.

So at a simple level, you could translate your 60minute debate into a 60 minute online video conference debate.

Merely translating that one hour debate  into a one hour Teams or Zoom discussion probably works fine for many in isolation. However it’s not just an hour, students may also be involved in other online seminars, Zoom lectures, live video streams and more online content.

Continue reading Lost in translation: the debate

Intelligent Campus and coronavirus planning

solitary
Photo by Philippe Bout on Unsplash

For a few years at Jisc I was working on the Intelligent Campus project and then got a new role as Head of HE and Student Experience. I still have an interest in the space and when I read this recent post from WonkHE, Can we plan for a socially distanced campus? interesting and useful for the planning for September.

We know how to operate a traditional on-campus model, and we are very quickly developing a better understanding of how to facilitate off-campus working and learning, but how can we best support social distancing on a functioning campus?

Is this what social distancing looks like in a lecture theatre? via WonkHE Seminar.

https://wonkhe.com/blogs/can-we-plan-for-a-socially-distanced-campus/

I was reflecting how if the concept of the intelligent campus was further advanced than it is, how potentially helpful it could be to support universities planning for a socially distanced campus.

I published a use case a year ago, on people flows and congestion,  and it gave me an idea of updating it to reflect the current challenges that universities and colleges will face in September.

With the impact of the coronavirus and the need for social distancing and tracing contacts, if there was ever a use case for the concept of the intelligent campus then this is it.

What’s the issue?

The flow of people through campus and beyond is complex and not well understood outside of known peak times such as class changes or lunchtime. The density of people at any one place and time, and the speed of their movement, can have a big impact on how easily people can get in and around campus buildings and facilities. This can have an impact on the need for effective social distancing. Universities need to avoid situations arising which result in large numbers of people congregating in areas which could result in failure to maintain social distancing.

What could be done?

Pedestrian flow could affect the time for journeys between classes, waiting times at cafes or sudden changes in how busy the library is. Location trackers such as used by mobile phones can provide data on flow, and also people counters, such as using video systems, can be placed around campus to collect data on the numbers of people in that location at any time. Such data can have a number of applications, including combining with other contexts to improve services, as well as ensure social distancing.

Monitoring the increasing numbers of people towards a known destination could anticipate potential problems with congestion and queueing. For example, students heading towards the cafeteria could indicate an unusually high demand for food and trigger staffing or stocking changes to cope with higher numbers. You could also use the information to alert students that the space will be busier than normal and due to social distancing there would be longer queues and waiting times.

Timetabling data indicates when classes are scheduled to end, but real time data on movement could indicate that some classes finish earlier or later, leading to changing patterns in availability of services. This could be critical if you are using timetables to stagger the movement of people to ensure social distancing and avoid congesting and crowding.

Library
Image by RHMemoria from Pixabay

Usage data could show that the library is already busy when one class ends, and students could be directed towards other study areas or computer rooms that have more availability and more space.

Where campuses interact with local towns and cities, for example crossing roads or using transport services, or where students are using their cars. The changing flow of people could be used to increase the capacity or timing of pedestrian crossings, to avoid congestion. Likewise the  frequency of transport services could ensure that sufficient public transport is in place for both local people and students. Real time traffic information could allow students to make decisions about when to arrive for university on time or when would be the best time to leave.

Tram

Over time the data may suggest interesting patterns of behaviour that could be used to further predict, anticipate and respond to congestion. One example might be the impact of weather – on sunny days students may spend more time outside, whereas when it’s rainy they may congregate in specific spaces. This behaviour will impact on those trying to ensure social distancing in spaces such as corridors and learning spaces such as the library.

Using room utilisation data, spare rooms could be opened up to accommodate social interaction and refreshment breaks, or pop up library or IT services could be opened. Ensuring that social distancing guidelines are kept to.

What examples are there?

Many of the existing examples are from “Smart cities”, involving vehicular and pedestrian traffic, to aid safety, improve health and environmental concerns, and also inform retail and business. However, such applications can be easily applied to campus routes and facilities.

Google maps is one of the best known examples of tracking the location of mobile devices (typically in cars) to show congestion on traffic routes. The mapping service then can suggest the best/quickest route for the traffic conditions at the time and provide alternatives if congestion is estimated to lead to a slower journey time. Waze (owned by Google) does something similar, but allows individuals to add information about congestion. This type of system could be really useful in a campus context.

Other methods of “people counting” include video cameras, which can also combine with CCTV, recognising an image of a person and transmitting the numbers (usually not the images). Such systems could be used to flag spaces which are getting congested or filling up.

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

In Las Vegas, not only do they track vehicles through a junction but also count the number of pedestrians crossing the streets and also “jaywalking”, and then re-routing vehicular traffic when the numbers of pedestrians is high. Could a similar system ensure that students are re-routed when their chosen route is getting crowded.

People counters are often used in business and retail areas for example in Manchester to better understand queuing time and which areas of a store are popular. The data also contributes to strategies to improve walkability and transport, understand the impact of events and marketing campaigns, and assist businesses and community services in adopting appropriate staffing and security arrangements. These systems could be adapted to ensure safe spaces for students on university campuses.

Sphere
Image by Picography from Pixabay

What about ethical and other issues?

In principle, data on people movement tends to be aggregated to use the total numbers and changes to those numbers rather than knowledge about a specific individual. This is similar to the way google uses your location to provide mapping data, and is widely accepted. However, images of individuals may be being captured along with their movements and this information could be used inappropriately without strict controls and clear consent rules. Similarly, as data becomes combined, it begins to create a picture of a person’s behaviour that could be considered more of an invasion of privacy – for example which cafe are they going to, who else is there and what do they drink?

It’s important that the ethical aspects of this are taken seriously, and the excuse “it’s a crisis” shouldn’t be used to increase surveillance of individuals and impact negatively on privacy. Transparency of what the university is doing and why is key.

University of Leeds - Leeds Business School
Leeds Business School

Conclusions

With the impact of the coronavirus and the need for social distancing and tracing contacts, if there was ever a use case for the concept of the intelligent campus then this is it.

Making that move from the radio…

old radio
Image by Lubos Houska from Pixabay

In the current climate of change and uncertainty, as well as the emergency response to the coronavirus, universities are going to need think differently about how they deliver their courses and modules from September.

In what I suspect will be the start of a trend, the University of Manchester has decided to keep lectures online for the autumn.

The University of Manchester has confirmed it will keep all of its lectures online for at least one semester when the next academic year starts. In an email to students sent on 11 May, April McMahon, vice-president for teaching, learning and students, confirmed the university’s undergraduate teaching year would begin in late September “with little change to our start dates”, but it would “provide our lectures and some other aspects of learning online”.

The whole student experience is not going online though as the article continues.

However, students would be asked to return physically to campus in the autumn as Manchester was “keen to continue with other face-to-face activities, such as small group teaching and tutorials, as safely and as early as we can”, added Professor McMahon.

It’s one thing to rapidly respond to a crisis and teach remotely, however it’s another thing to deliver either wholly online or some kind of hybrid (should we say blended) programme due to the necessity of social distancing.

As a result we are going to see a lot of academic staff from September continuing to deliver online. At the current time, you could expect students to be forgiving, but recent announcements from the NUS, petitions to parliament, have suggested that many students are not happy with the “quality” of the emergency remote delivery of their learning. We know that you can say now that this wasn’t planned, it was a knee jerk response to what is an unprecedented situation. For the Autumn, though unprecedented, we do have a bit more time to reflect on practice and how we can a quality student experience. In addition we will need to put contingency plans in case another emergency response is required if there is a second spike in covid-19 infections resulting in a second lockdown. A big part of that future experience will be online delivery.

old projector
Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay

There is often an assumption that is made that because someone is excellent in face to face learning scenarios, they will be able to easily transfer these skills into an online environment, as the scenarios are very similar.

This is quite a risky assumption to make, as though there are similarities in delivering learning in classrooms and online, they are not the same.

It was and can be challenging for radio personalities to move into television, even though both broadcast mediums, and there are similar programmes on both (think News Quiz and Have I Got News For You) the skills for the different media are quite different.

In a similar vein, many stars of the silent cinema were unable to make the move to the talkies. Those that did, certainly thrived, those that couldn’t, didn’t!

If we are to make the move a combination of online, hybrid and blended than we need to ensure that the staff involved in the delivery of learning have the right capabilities and skills to deliver effectively online.

Having the digital confidence, capacity and capability is something that often needs to be built in those staff who may already have excellent skills in delivering learning in face to face scenarios.

Certainly there are many things which are transferable, but the skills in facilitating a classroom discussion are different to those in running a debate in an online forum.

So the question is, how do we build that digital capability? How are you building digital and online skills? What are you doing to ensure the successful transition to online delivery?

How will you do this remotely, at scale and at pace? Importantly how will you do this during an unprecedented crisis?

Radio
Image by fancycrave1 from Pixabay

This blog post was inspired by and adapted from a post on digital capabilities that I published in 2016

I want to be on television – Weeknote #63 – 15th May 2020

It was a nice long weekend, spoilt by somewhat confusing messages from the government released on Sunday night.

Though universities have more choice, FE Colleges are expected to re-open from 1st June for Year 12 learners, whilst maintaining social distancing.

I tried out the new BBC backgrounds…

I also (as everyone else is) posted some Zoom backgrounds of Weston-super-Mare to my other blog.

So if you are looking for some backgrounds for your Zoom and Teams calls, then here are some lovely pictures of the beach and pier at Weston-super-Mare that I have taken over the years.

Continue reading I want to be on television – Weeknote #63 – 15th May 2020

Lost in translation: mapping your teaching

old map
Image by Dariusz Sankowski from Pixabay

With the rapid change to emergency remote delivery because of the coronavirus pandemic seeing universities being forced to undertake an emergency response to teaching. We saw that many had to quickly and at scale move to remote and online delivery. Many staff were thrown into using online tools such as Zoom and Teams with little time to reflect on how best to use them effectively to support learning.

As we move away from reactionary responses and start the future planning of courses and modules that may be a combination of online, hybrid and blended than we need to ensure that the staff involved in the delivery of learning are able to design and plan for high quality and effective online or hybrid courses. In addition we will need to put contingency plans in case another emergency response is required if there is a second spike in covid-19 infections resulting in a second lockdown.

lecture theatre
Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

I did start to think if mapping could be useful in helping staff plan their future course and curriculum design.

When I was delivering the Jisc Digital Leadership Programme, we used the concept of Visitors and Residents to map behaviours and the tools people used. The Visitors and Residents mapping exercise in the main covers digital communication, collaboration and participation. In 2015 following delivering with Lawrie Phipps, the Jisc Digital Leadership Programme I thought about how we could use a similar concept to map teaching practice and curriculum design. The result of this was a blog post published about how to map the teaching and learning.

This post resonated with quite a few people, such as Sheila MacNeill (than at GCU) and Henry Keil from Harper Adams.

Continue reading Lost in translation: mapping your teaching

Lost in translation: the television programme

old television
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

I have been working on a series of blog posts about translating existing teaching practices into online models of delivery. In previous posts I looked at the lecture and the seminar, in this one I want to focus on the conversation.

One of the things I have noticed 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, some have called this practice mirroring.

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.

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.

So at a simple level, you could create a 60 minute video or audio recording to replace the physical lecture or live zoom session. However simply recording yourself misses a real opportunity to create an effective learning experience for your students. If you have watched a 60 minute TV programme, you will realise few if any have a talking head for 60 minutes. Few of us have the time or the skills to create a 60 minute documentary style programme to replace the lecture, and where would you go to film it?

So if you change the monologue to a conversation then you can create something which is more engaging for the viewer (the student) and hopefully a better learning experience.

It could be an interview between two people, but why not make it a real conversation and have three or four people involved. When involving people do think about diversity, are all the people involved old white men? If they are, time to think differently about who is involved.  It could be a debate, a heated discussion on a topic between two opposing views. 

When thinking of what to is going to happen, it makes sense to plan the conversation, this isn’t about scripting, but about decided what topics you are going to cover and how long you will spend on each of them. What are the objectives of the video (or session) what are the learning outcomes the students should achieve by watching the video? You may want to consider writing some ideas or prompts for the students to think about and make notes as they watch the video.

Image by InspiredImages from Pixabay
Image by InspiredImages from Pixabay

You will probably need to use some kind of video tool such as Zoom or Teams to do this.

From a recording perspective, you want to try and keep all the people on screen at the same time (gallery mode), or if not, at least use selective muting to avoid the focus jumping from person to person. Also try and use decent microphones to get decent audio. People are much more forgiving of poor quality pictures than they are audio when it comes to internet based video. 

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

Another method is to use Zoom or Teams to have the discussion, but use an actual camera and decent microphone to record the video and then combine them in post (as in post production) using a tool like Final Cut or even iMovie, to create a better quality video. 

Reflecting from an audience perspective, it might be better to create two or three shorter video recordings rather than one big one. It might result in a fresher better recording than one which tires itself out. Also think about the student, will they want to watch a 60 minute video? You may think you are an amazing and engaging presenter and raconteur, the reality is maybe do something shorter and to the point. It may also be more accessible as well for those who have other pressures on their time, or unable to find a space to watch a video for a whole hour.

Though you could present all three recorded conversations in one hour, another option would be to spread them out over the week and support with with an asynchronous online discussion chat.

Simply translating what we do in our physical buildings into a online remote version, is relatively simple, however it may not be effective. Thinking about what you want that learning experience to achieve and what you want the students to learn, means you can do different things.