All posts by James Clay

Challenges for quality assurance in the wake of the pandemic

I was recently part of a panel session looking at Challenges for quality assurance in the wake of the pandemic – ensuring quality in digital learning, academic integrity in remote assessment, and emerging best practice

I gave a five minute presentation from my personal perspective.

We knew what we were doing.

We knew how to assure quality and academic integrity.

We thought everything was going to be fine….

There were early signs of the impact of Covid-19 back in December 2019 and January 2020.

We thought everything was going to be fine….

A year ago, everything changed.

We went into a national lockdown and all universities needed to start doing things remotely, at pace and at scale.

We quickly translated our practices to online versions.

Our lectures became Zoom calls.

Our seminars became Teams conversations.

Office hours became 24/7 e-mail.

However we merely translated, we didn’t transform, we didn’t think differently.

As for exams and assessment….

Well that didn’t go as planned and was challenging to move online.

Moving assessment online is a journey and one for which we had no map and no real idea of where we wanted to get to.

We thought we could do it?

We thought technology was the solution.

It wasn’t.

The thing is translating practice online doesn’t really work. You lose the nuances of what made the in-person experience so great and you don’t take the advantage of the affordances of what digital can bring.

Can we be surprised when the quality of the experience suffers

Moving exams online doesn’t work.

Moving assessment online is not only possible, but can be done in a way which maintains quality and integrity.

How can you do this when the requirements in place from university exam board, PSRBs and professional accreditation are based on an model which expects a physical in-person assessment.

You need to transform and reimagine assessment.

You can not transform assessment on your own.

However this takes time.

It takes a certain level of digital capability.

It requires an insight into what we mean by assessment and what we are trying to assess.

At Jisc we are here to help the higher education sector through the use of digital to reimagine teaching, learning and assessment and to reframe the student experience.

Social loafing – Weeknote #107 – 19th March 2021

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

I have spent a lot of the week interviewing staff and students as part of a project we’re doing at Jisc. We have been talking to them about their thoughts and perspectives on digital learning. As with a lot of these kinds of interviews there are some interesting individual insights, however the real insight comes from analysing all the interviews and seeing what trends are in there.

Have been working with Lawrie and Advance HE on a session on digital for a Spotlight Series for Senior Strategic Leaders which takes place on the 30th March.

Institutional strategies and the delivery of research and teaching are underpinned by digital, never more so than during the Covid-19 emergency. This workshop will engage leaders in understanding the ramifications for leading in this increasingly digital world, reflecting on some of the lessons learned during 2020, and looking forward through a digital lens at what might be possible and what might be needed in higher education over the next five years.

Image by TuendeBede from Pixabay

Quite intrigued by the term social loafing which I heard about this week.

In social psychology, social loafing is the phenomenon of a person exerting less effort to achieve a goal when they work in a group than when working alone.

This resonated some of my experiences in doing individual and group work.

Have been talking about our strategy document with colleagues as well and how we expect the document to be used by them with universities.

BT’s Openreach to build full-fibre internet ‘like fury’ after Ofcom move was reported by the BBC. This should result in better broadband, but could also mean more expensive internet connections for some. The pandemic has demonstrated the need and dependency on good and fast connections for remote teaching and learning, as well as for working from home. Personally upgrading to FTTP has resulted in not just more bandwidth, but also more reliability as well.

I enjoyed this comic strip from 1997 and how it eerily predicted education in 2021 including always on camera surveillance.

My top tweet this week was this one.

Scarily accurate, the future of learning today

Archie Comics originally published this comic strip in Betty #46, back in February 1997 showing how education would be in 2021….

Scarily accurate prediction, which is of course down to the current covid-19 restrictions. However ensuring your video monitor must be on at all times, seems too familiar to those attending Zoom calls today.

I like how the student, Ronnie, fools the system with her dummy.

Fact check

But the coffee was so much better… – Weeknote #106 – 12th March 2021

In other years I would have been in Birmingham this week as it was Digifest, as it happens and not entirely unexpectedly, I find myself at home staring into a webcam instead of standing on a stage and siting down in my chair to watch presentations on a screen. Not quite the same experience, but the coffee was so much better….

I was chairing a series of sessions on the Monday, which was interesting and I had to chair the Q&A, which was challenging in an online environment, as questions were often posted without the context or needed clarification, which resulted in some confusion on the part of the speakers.

Wednesday I was delivering a 30 minute session on the future of digital leadership, in which I stared at my webcam. I have no idea how many people were watching the session, was it a thousand people, or was it just three people.

I have blogged many times in the past about the advantages of an online conference, and of course the main one is that the coffee is so much better.

I do think that this conference missed a trick by not having either a chat function, or a space to discuss the presentations. Yes some of us uses the Twitter, but it’s not quite the same (and it’s public as well).

It appeared to go down well with a few comments on the Twitter.

The thing is how would I know. It was really hard to get any kind of feedback from the audience, in the main as I couldn’t see them.

Going through an old USB drive and found a funding proposal about using tools such as Jaiku and Twitter with HE students studying in FE Colleges.

The proposed name of the project

Mmm Coffee

Which was an acronym of…

MiCrO blogging For he in FE made Easy

We didn’t get the funding, in case you were interested….

Tried out the transcription feature of Zoom, I love transcription

“yeah yeah you know, yes, so I joined a piggy bank robber host and therefore you’re talking child”

I can’t even remember now what I actually said!

My top tweet this week was this one.

A shared understanding – Weeknote #105 – 5th March 2021

cogs
Image by Pavlofox from Pixabay

I started as Head of Higher Education at Jisc on the 1st March 2019. So I have done two years (and a bit), had three line managers, a changing role and, oh yes, a global pandemic.

On Monday I had an excellent conversation with Isabel Lucas from Cumbria about the HEDG meeting I was presenting at, at the end of the week.

I have been sharing internally (and externally) the draft of the Jisc HE Strategy.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Another post on language, this time from Wonkhe: Why what we mean by “online learning” matters.

As higher education institutions plan for what will happen as we move slowly towards more students being on campus, there is continuing chatter about the form that teaching and learning will take. This includes how best to deliver it and how to communicate what this might look like. In all of this discussion, there has been a proliferation of words like “remote learning”, “digital learning”, and “hybrid learning” – and these terms have largely been taken for granted in respect to their pedagogical nuance. But if the preferred solution to the problems created by the pandemic in the first semester was “blended learning”, as we tumble through a second semester it would appear that the HE sector is beginning to settle on its next term of preference – “online learning”.

We do seem to spend a lot of time discussing what we should call what we do. The article makes the point that this does matter. I disagree slightly what matters is not what it is called, but whatever it is called, we have an agreed and shared understanding of what is means for you, for me and the students. We change the term, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that we change our understanding. I recall having this discussion about the use of the term hybridthat I used in an article to mean responsive and agile, whilst someone else was using the term to describe a mixed approach. Words are important, but shared understanding actually allows us to move forward.

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Wednesday I joined a panel at the Westminster Education Forum to deliver a session on the future use of technology in assessment.

“The future for England’s exam system – building on best practice from the 2020 series, the role of technology and ensuring qualifications equip young people with the skills to succeed post-18”

I only had five minutes, so not a huge amount of time to reflect on the challenges and possibilities. To think a year ago I would have had to travel to London by train, find the venue and then join the panel in-person. Today, I just switched on the webcam and there I was, did my presentation and then answered a few questions. I didn’t use slides, as there wasn’t always a need to use slides in these kinds of panel sessions and at an in-person event I wouldn’t have used slides.

Of course at a physical in-person event they would have provided lunch, which would then give delegates an opportunity to come and chat about what I had been talking about. That didn’t happen this time. I would say that though using Twitter as a digital back channel at physical in-person events does sometimes work, but people have to be using the Twitter. At edtech events I find a fair few people are , at other kinds of events, not so much.

campus
Image by 小亭 江 from Pixabay

I liked this post from the Independent: I’m tired of hearing that universities are closed – it simply isn’t true

Lecturers are doing all they can during the pandemic to support the myriad different ways in which students learn

It’s not as though the physical campuses are closed, they are open for those courses which require a practical element.

Then again schools are not closed, they are open for the children of key workers, as well as vulnerable children, and staff are working with them and delivering remote teaching to the children at home.

Yes the experience is variable across the country, even across a school, but to keep saying they are closed, doesn’t really tell the whole story.

Lens
Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay

On Thursday I had a really good discussion with a university about digital strategy. How important it is aligned to the main university strategy, but also how it enables that strategy and other strategies as well. If you are in charge of a strategy, how does it enable others, and how do others enable yours?

At the end of the week I was involved in the HEDG meeting and did a presentation on Jisc’s Learning and Teaching Reimagined programme and where Jisc is going next. It was good meeting and the presentation seemed to hit the spot.

I had a planning meeting about a session we’re doing with Advance HE on digital leadership which looks like it will be a really good session.

Looked at the presentation I am doing next week at Digifest on the future of digital leadership, what it is and where we are potentially going.

Favourite HE story of the week was Campus capers, 1970 style from Wonkhe.

Strange things sometimes happen in universities and we’ve reported plenty of them here over the years. From hauntings and strange happenings to animal action and of course true crime events on campus. But this event which recently caught my eye is one of the oddest I’ve noticed lately. It all happened just over half a century ago at Keele University. Those were turbulent times as the world transitioned out of the end of the heady 60s era into a very different decade.

My top tweet this week was this one.

Pedagogy first – Weeknote #104 – 26th February 2021

calendar
Image by Amber Avalona from Pixabay

The end of this week marks my second year as Jisc’s Head of Higher Education. I have spent nearly 50% of this job in lockdown. I have also been writing weekly weeknotes for all that time as well.

Had a fair few meetings this week with universities talking about strategy, leadership as well as teaching and learning.

I had a Diversity and Inclusion workshop with the team. We were asked a few questions, but this was my response to: What do you think is the top priority for us that we need to work on?

Recognition that excluded groups don’t have the same advantages and privileges that others have. This has an impact on background, qualifications, experience and needs as an employee. We need to be creative and supportive in bringing excluded groups into the talent pool, but also recognise that recruitment is only part of the issue. Working practices, culture and expectations are there too. Society isn’t fair, we need to be not just equitable but also positive in what we will do.

I ran an online workshop for the current teaching and learning discovery project I am working on. I asked the question, what do we mean by blended learning, well that led to a really interesting discussion.

I do find online workshops quite challenging, and though there are tools out there, such as Miro, that can help, when you don’t know what expertise people have with those kinds of tools, I usually try and avoid using them. Simply put, as a result you spend more time trying to help people to use the tool, and those that can’t get into it, don’t have the opportunity to engage with the actual exercise.

Space
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Thursday saw the publication of the Office for Students’ report Gravity assist: propelling higher education towards a brighter future. It is their review of the shift toward digital teaching and learning in English higher education since the start of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

It is a 159 page report that attempts to capture the lessons from an extraordinary phase of change.

I was slighty amused by the opening gambit that Digital teaching must start with appropriately designed pedagogy, curriculum and assessment.

Of course with the first and subsequent lockdowns, the technology needed to come first as people quickly switched to remote teaching and needed some kind of tool to do this. What did happen was people merely translated their in-person pedagogy to the online platforms and then wondered why it didn’t work very well… or didn’t work at all. I’ve always found that teachers and academics always put the pedagogy first, it’s a no-brainer. However though it may be pedagogy first, this doesn’t mean pedagogy only. You really need to understand that if you are to take advantage of the affordances that technology can bring to the learning experience.

I wrote some more on this on my blog.

I also enjoyed reading David Kernohan’s thoughts on the report.

I did another post about the report on the definition of high quality teaching and how it relates to the use of video.

I have been reading the document and overall yes I do welcome the report, I think it has covered the background and situation on the response to the pandemic well.

campus
Image by 小亭 江 from Pixabay

Friday afternoon I attended the Intelligent Campus Community Event. Since I left the project two years ago, a RUGIT sub-group have taken over the organisation of the event, which is great. It was quite interesting to re-immerse myself into that space.

My top tweet this week was this one.

Pausing for thought

Just a thought, a one hour lecture paused six times, isn’t this the same as six ten minute lectures?

Gravity AssistYesterday saw the publication of the Office for Students’ report Gravity assist: propelling higher education towards a brighter future. It is their review of the shift toward digital teaching and learning in English higher education since the start of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

It is a 159 page report that attempts to capture the lessons from an extraordinary phase of change.

I have been reading the document and overall yes I do welcome the report, I think it has covered the background and situation on the response to the pandemic well.

However moving forward, it misses many opportunities to fully exploit the affordances of digital.

An example on page 42

We heard that to create high-quality digital teaching and learning, it is important not simply to replicate what happens in an in-person setting or transpose materials designed for in-person delivery to a digital environment. For example, an hour-long in-person lecture should not simply be recorded; rather, it needs to be broken down into more manageable chunks. In other words, teachers need to reconsider how they approach teaching in a digital environment.

Why does it need to be broken down? Has no one heard of the pause button?

A one hour lecture paused six times, is the same as six ten minute lectures.

How is six ten minute lectures better quality than a one hour lecture paused six times?

video camera
Image by Robert Lischka from Pixabay

I wrote this back in September following a conversation with a lecturer about this very issue, who like me couldn’t work out why they needed to chunk their lectures.

Doing a 60 minute (physical) face to face lecture is one thing, generally most people will pause through their lecture to ask questions, respond to questions, show a video clip, take a poll, etc…

Doing a 60 minute live online lecture, using a tool like Zoom or Teams, is another thing. Along with pauses and polls as with a physical face to face lecture you can also have live chat alongside the lecture, though it can help to have someone else to review the chat and help with responses.

Doing a 60 minute recording of a lecture is not quite the same thing as a physical face to face lecture, nor is it a live online lecture.

There is a school of thought which says that listening to a live lecture is not the same thing as watching a recording of a lecture and as a result that rather than record a 60 minute lecture, you should break it down into three 20 minute or four 15 minute recordings. This will make it better for the students.

For me this assumes that students are all similar in their attention span and motivation, and as a result would not sit through a 60 minute lecture recording. Some will relish sitting down for an hour and watching the lecture, making notes, etc… For those that don’t, well there is something called the pause button.

With a recording you don’t need to break it down into shorter recordings, as students can press the pause button.

remote control
Image by tookapic from Pixabay

Though I think a 60 minute monologue is actually something you can do, why do it all the time? You could, for other sessions do different things, such as a record a lecture in the style of a television broadcast or a radio programme.

If you were starting afresh, there is something about breaking an online lecture down into more sections and intersperse them with questions, chat and polls, just as you would with a 60 minute physical face to face lecture. If you have the lecture recordings already, or have the lecture materials prepared, then I would record the 60 minutes and let the students choose when to use the pause button.

The reality is that if you want to create high quality digital teaching and learning, you need to start from the beginning with what the learning outcomes will. Chunking your existing processes doesn’t result in a higher quality experience, it merely translates what you did before, but in a way which is not as good but in a digital format. It loses all the nuances of what made that physical in-person session so good and has none of the affordances that digital could bring to the student experience.

Probably the best way of thinking about this, is this is a first stage, the next stage is making it happen.

Ground control to Major Tom

New Horizons
This artist’s concept shows NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft during its 2015 encounter with Pluto and its moon, Charon. (Image credit: Southwest Research Institute)

Today saw the publication of the Office for Students’ report Gravity assist: propelling higher education towards a brighter future. It is their review of the shift toward digital teaching and learning in English higher education since the start of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Gravity Assist

It is a 159 page report that attempts to capture the lessons from an extraordinary phase of change.

I was slighty amused by the opening gambit that Digital teaching must start with appropriately designed pedagogy, curriculum and assessment.

Of course with the first and subsequent lockdowns, the technology needed to come first as people quickly switched to remote teaching and needed some kind of tool to do this. What did happen was people merely translated their in-person pedagogy to the online platforms and then wondered why it didn’t work very well… or didn’t work at all.

Ten years ago I wrote this post.

It’s not always about the technology, however in order to utilise technology effectively and efficiently, it is vital that practitioners are aware of the potential and availability of technology. How else are they going to apply the use of technological solutions to learning problems? Most practitioners are more than aware of the learning problems they and their learners face, what they need are solutions to those problems.

I’ve always found that teachers and academics always put the pedagogy first, it’s a no-brainer. However though it may be pedagogy first, this doesn’t mean pedagogy only. You really need to understand that if you are to take advantage of the affordances that technology can bring to the learning experience.

Went out of the window – Weeknote #103 – 19th February 2021

Brean Down
Brean Down, James Clay

It was half term, so my children were at home. Well they were at home last week as well, so not a huge change in the house this week, well less concerns about home schooling!

I did think about taking some leave, but with nowhere to go and not much enthusiasm in the household for doing stuff I like doing, I decided to try and have a meeting free week. I booked out my diary and at the start of the week I had just two meetings booked in. By the end of the week after a lot of different things happened, so I had about fifteen meetings in the end. My hope for no meetings went out of the window.

I did enjoy this blog post on misunderstanding excellence, which explored the concept that excellence of an organisation is not dependent on the excellence of its parts.

If we are as an organisation excellent at what we care about but have a clunky part of the infrastructure, there are only so many conclusions you can reach about that infrastructure.

  1. Making our infrastructure excellent would lead to an order of magnitude improvement on an already excellent system.
  2. The clunky infrastructure IS PART OF the overall excellence.
  3. The clunkiness or otherwise of the infrastructure makes little difference to the excellence of the organisation.

I would suggest the first of these is just silly to suggest, however much the consultants would suggest otherwise. If the second is true it is imperative we do nothing to “improve” our infrastructure. If the third is true, it doesn’t matter.

I think reflecting on the article is that we don’t know what excellence is.

Knightstone Island
Knightstone Island, James Clay

The first half of the week was dominated by finalising the draft of the Jisc HE Strategy which will be launched the week of Digifest. We have been creating a document for externals senior HE stakeholders on how Jisc can and could support the HE sector over the next three years and beyond to 2030.

I agreed with this tweet by Matt Lingard on the scheduling of webinars.

If these webinars are important for the work we do in Higher Education then don’t make them during lunchtimes. People need a break from their screens at some point in the day. With the lockdown this is even more important for people’s wellbeing. So if you are thinking about when to run a webinar, don’t run it at lunchtime!

magnifying glass
Photo by Agence Olloweb on Unsplash

I had a blog post published on the Advance HE blog, Looking through the digital lens, in which I reflect on how we may want to start to look through a digital lens on our strategic priorities.

Knowing that digital has been critical to dealing with the challenges of the pandemic, the question now remains: how and what role will digital play in the post-pandemic strategic priorities of the university?  Continue reading Went out of the window – Weeknote #103 – 19th February 2021

No snow – Weeknote #102 – 12th February 2021

Well no snow again… everyone else seems to have had it.

Got bogged down into internal systems and processes this week, something which I have been avoiding in my new role, well I say new role, I have been doing this job for nearly two years now. In my old role I would have to deal with contracts and suppliers, not so much as Head of HE. However with working with universities on digital strategy, digital leadership and blended learning, means I need to immerse myself back into these systems.

Did a fair amount of work on future visions this week.

I think this is an interesting concept for future online events. The concept is to record some keynote videos that can be made available for online conferences. Reminded me of how some have used TED talks in the past. However there is a difference between YouTube or Netflix and an online conference.  How do you add value to an event so that it is more than just streamed video? How do you facilitate social interactions, networking, discussion and also how do you encourage this?

Had an interesting and useful discussion on assessment this week with colleagues from the UK and Australia. The key challenges the HE sector have faced over the pandemic include: maintaining academic standards and quality as assessment is transformed, student wellbeing and engagement in regard to assessment, the skills and capabilities of staff to assess online, and how to transform at scale and at pace. There are still issues with assessing within in vocational and practical qualifications, There are challenges with PSRBs and Professional Certification.

These are the main challenges and pain points that arose from our research back in April and more recently, it is not an exclusive list and is potentially going to change as universities move again through the assessment process and learn new lessons on what they can and can not do.

  • Maintaining the academic standard and quality as required by internal and external regulations, as they translate and convert existing practice into online modes.
  • Ensuring staff have the necessary digital skills and capabilities to successfully deliver online assessment, across the assessment lifecycle. Each step of the lifecycle will require different skills to deliver.
  • Transform multiple modes of assessment to online versions at scale and at pace. Many universities have experience of designing and delivering online assessment, however they will not have done this at scale or transformed at the pace required.
  • Maintain student engagement through the next few weeks and through the assessment process, as they continue to socially isolate and study remotely.
  • Ensure student wellbeing during a time of crisis remotely and consider the impact of online assessment on wellbeing as an extra pressure and source of stress.
  • What technologies are out there that could be used to design, deliver and support online assessment? Which technologies should we be using?
  • What are other universities doing with online assessment? What best practice is out there? Who is doing it well? How do we compare?

My top tweet this week was this one.