All posts by James Clay

Napsterfication

guitar
Image by Firmbee from Pixabay

When it comes to digital transformation in education, I wonder if we can look at what happened to the music retail industry and the impact of digital over the last few decades.

Of course you can’t directly compare and map what happened to music with education, but there are parallels and similarities, which can help us to reflect on what might and could happen in education.

record player
Image by HeungSoon from Pixabay

Originally retail music was analogue, firstly with vinyl and then the audio cassette.

Bands and musicians would make music and then (usually through a record company) would cut a record, which would then be sold in record shops.

As a teenager I remember my local record shop, Andy’s Records in Cambridge and flipping though the singles and albums on sale.

cassette tape
Image by snd63 from Pixabay

In the 1980s we saw the digitisation of music with the release of the CD or compact disc in 1982. CDs were designed to hold up to 74 minutes of uncompressed stereo digital audio.

When I was at University in the late 1980s I would buy music on CD. The experience was very much as it was before when buying vinyl and cassettes, though this time I was frequenting Our Price records. The albums that were available on vinyl were then released on CD. Though the 74 minute limit did result in some changes to some albums.

CD player
Image by Bruno /Germany from Pixabay

What the CD did do though was start to change the way in which people listened to music. It was now easier to skip tracks, repeat tracks or just go straight to the track you wanted to listen to.

This can be seen as very much as digitisation of an analogue experience.

In the 1990s using our home computers we were able to rip our CD collections and put the files on our local hard drives. The uncompressed digital audio files were so large, a CD would take up 650MB of data, that we would use compression technology to reduce the size of the files to (usually) 10% of their original file size. So that ripped CD would take up just 65MB on your hard drive.

Ripping CDs meant you could rip just the songs you wanted from an album, or even create your own albums through the creation of playlists.

The concept of listening to an entire album, though entirely possible to do using mp3s in the same way as you could with vinyl was starting to be replaced by people choosing how they wanted to listen to music.

It’s not Napster

The late 1990s saw people using the internet to start sharing their mp3s, which was epitomised with the Napster peer-to-peer file sharing service.. Now you could share your music with others and listen to their music (ignoring the illegalities of this whole process). Napster ceased operations in 2001 after losing a wave of lawsuits and filed for bankruptcy in June 2002.

The music industry responded to Napster with not just lawsuits, but also licensing digital music through services such as Apple’s iTunes. Now you could buy not just albums, but you could also just buy a single track from an album. You could buy playlists of music as well, not just from music publishers, but also the lists of other music enthusiasts.

The release of the iPod (and other mp3 players) also changed not just how people listened to music, but also where they listened to music. Though the same could be said about the Sony Walkman twenty years before.

The move to digital music files can be seen as digitalisation of music.

The concept though was still there of an individual buying music which you then owned. You bought vinyl, you bought a CD and now you bought digital music files.

Where we really saw digital transformation of music was in the emergence and growth of subscription streaming services such as Spotify, Amazon Music, and Pandora.

spotify
Image by Deepanker Verma from Pixabay

We can think of music streaming as something relatively new, well the concept is a little older than that. Beginning in 1881, Théâtrophone enabled subscribers to listen to opera and theatre performances over telephone lines. This operated until 1932. However this was analogue, these new services are digital streaming services. You could stream music however you wanted, single tracks, albums, playlists, genres of music, or styles of music. Now you no longer bought music tracks or albums, you subscribed a service that allowed you to listen whatever tracks and albums you wanted, whenever you wanted. The only downside, was that when you stopped subscribing, you no longer had access.

I do see this very much as digital transformation. Music was no longer seen as a physical media, or something you owned. Streaming changed not just the way you listened music, but also the kinds of music you could listen to. Sometimes it constrained, and for others it liberated their listening.

So what does this mean for education?

Well don’t make the mistake of equating music tracks with something like a lecture. Digital transformation of education is not about the Napsterfication of lectures or creating an education version of Spotify.

What we can learn from digital music is reflecting on the differences between the digitisation of education, the digitalisation of education and then the digital transformation of education. Recognising where you are, but also thinking about where you want  to be and how you will get there.

Shortness and Sweetness

Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

The use of digital technologies for learning and teaching, doesn’t just happen. Staff don’t always instinctively pick up the skills and capabilities to utilise the range of digital tools and services available to them. In a similar manner the application of pedagogy to mobile, remote and online delivery is not as simple as translating  in-person pedagogical practices.

Of course learning technologists and academic developers will know this and design and deliver a range of training programmes and guidance, and provide support to academics in their use of digital.

However on a recent post on a mailing list an educational technologist from an university outlined some of the challenges they were facing.

They found that academics were not attending staff development sessions, they thought that this might be perhaps because staff are very busy with preparation, delivery, marking, research.

Busy is one way to describe this, prioritisation might be another. They may well see the advantages of such staff development activity, but indicate they don’t have time to attend such development sessions. It’s not then an issue of time, but one of priorities. When you have a full week of “stuff” to do, finding that gap to do staff development may not always be possible. 

Another challenge mentioned was about academics not seeing the benefit of training.

Picking this apart, some academics may feel they already “know” how to use the tools and services, and don’t see the value of further training. They may not know what they don’t know. Often the technical skills required to use a tool are quite easy to pick up, however the advanced skills to take advantage of the affordances, the potential of tools, and benefits it can being, may not always be apparent.

Another angle on this, was you might invest the time in staff development, only to discover that you either knew it already, or it wasn’t relevant to your role. That “risk” often means that the decision to attend not not to attend a staff development session, you err on the side of caution, and decide not to attend.

A further challenge was one of visibility, just because you send an email about staff development activities, doesn’t mean the people you want to read it, actually read it!

sweets
Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

Thinking about the challenges faced by this educational technologist, I was reminded of the “Short and Sweet” sessions I use to run at Gloucestershire College.

Back in the day, when I worked at Gloucestershire College I faced similar challenges with limited or non-existent attendance at staff development sessions. 

The solution for me was to take those staff development sessions, shorten them to fifteen minutes and take them to the practitioners. 

I created a menu of sessions that I provided to curriculum managers, with how they could incorporate them into their meetings. It was a pick and mix type approach. Combined with the term short and sweet, we did go down a sweets theme in the look and feel.

These sessions were then delivered in their team meetings. I ensured I kept to time and only used the time I was allocated. This was important in getting invited back. I also made a note of requests for further follow up training sessions.

What I found was that the practitioners who were interested got some useful information about the practice or the tools which were demonstrated. Those who didn’t know about it would potentially learn about the potential, and could consider finding out more. Then those staff who were not interested at all, wouldn’t be wasting a whole day or a morning, it would be just fifteen minutes. 

The impact was readily apparent with practitioners telling me about their implementation within days (or even hours) of the fifteen minute session.

Short and Sweet” sessions lasting fifteen minutes were not the only model of development we delivered, there were also sessions lasting an hour, half a day and the odd whole day development. 

They were a little techno-centric, but they could cover anything, so as well as technology they could be pedagogy as well. It worked really well and many other teams started to use the term, saying things like “should we “short and sweet” this training?”

I am aware of a couple of universities that “borrowed” the concept for their own training, for example the University of Oxford.

So do you do something similar to the short and sweet concept?

Sweet reminiscing – Weeknote #168 – 20th May 2022

A busy week with travel and stuff.

Tuesday I headed off to Cheltenham to run the first drop in session on our sector strategy. These sessions are about supporting staff at Jisc to see how their work supports the delivery of the strategy.

sweets
Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

I was reminded on a mailing list of the “Short and Sweet” sessions I use to run at Gloucestershire College.

Someone was asking about TEL staff development and getting staff involved, and engaged. Often they would not attend staff development sessions.

Back in the day, when I worked at Gloucestershire College I faced similar problems. The solution for me was to take the staff development sessions, shorten them to 15 minutes and take them to the practitioners. These sessions were then delivered in their team meetings. I kept to time and also made a note of requests for further follow up training sessions.

Short and Sweet” sessions lasting fifteen minutes were  not the only model of development we delivered, there were also sessions lasting an hour, half a day and the odd whole day development. They were a little techno-centric, but they could cover anything, so as well as technology they could be pedagogy as well. It worked really well and many other teams started to use the term, saying things like “should we “short and sweet” this training?”

I am aware of a couple of universities that “borrowed” the concept for their own training, for example the University of Oxford.

Also there is this week note of mine which reminisces on the concept.

On Wednesday and Thursday it was off to Birmingham for a lunchtime to lunchtime away day for our leadership team. This was the first time we had all met in-person as a leadership team.

We were looking at our priorities for the next year (and beyond) and how we would work together.

I was on leave on Friday and off to London for the day.

My top tweet this week was this one.

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.