This year is the thirtieth anniversary of the Association of Learning Technology (ALT) and it also marks twenty years of my involvement in ALT. It started off with attending ALT-C 2003 in Sheffield. I think I might write a reflective blog post on those two decades of engagement and working with ALT.
Most of this week I was at the University of Warwick for the ALT conference. I’ve not been to every conference over the last twenty years, but I have been to most.
The last time I attended ALT-C in person was in 2018, I missed going in 2019. I would like to have gone to ALT-C in Edinburgh, alas I didn’t go that year as I needed to be close to home as my youngest started secondary school, and as most people know, transition is a challenging time for all. In the end there were very few issues, but I am glad I stayed behind. Of course, due to the pandemic, the 2020 conference was cancelled and the 2021 conference was purely online.
Here we are three years later, and four years since I went and I am off to Manchester next week for the conference.
Having probably spent time and effort securing the funding to go to a conference such as the ALT Conference in Manchester, it makes sense to spend some time preparing in advance of attending. Last minute rushing and chaotic flipping through the programme on the day of the conference, means you are probably not getting as much out of the conference as you could. I think this year with the hybrid nature of the conference, it makes even more sense to do some planning.
My first ALT conference was in 2003 in Sheffield, this was also one of the first “proper” conferences I had attended, I wasn’t well prepared and came away a little disappointed, but you can read about that in my ALT-C journey blog post.
I have attended many conferences here in the UK and abroad, but probably not as many as some people. I have attended as a delegate, a presenter, an invited speaker and have had the pleasure of delivering keynotes at various big conferences.
So what do you understand by the term blended learning? What about an online course? A hybrid programme? Could you provide a clear explanation of what student wellbeing is? At the end of last week I published a blog post on language.
Last week I delivered two presentations, one was a planned presentation for a QAA workshop, the other, well it wasn’t supposed to be a presentation, but due to a lack of response from the audience in the networking session I was in, I quickly cobbled together a presentation based on the slides I had used for the QAA.
I pulled together the idea into a single blog post. It is a combination and an expansion of the presentations I delivered about my thoughts of what happened, what then happened, what we need to think about and what we could do.
So we know many universities are planning for blended and hybrid programmes with some aspects of courses delivered physically, but socially distanced. My question is this, where (physically) are those universities expecting their students to access those online aspects of their programmes, especially those which are synchronous? They will need a device and an internet connection, but they will also need a physical space to participate as well. This was the question I asked in another blog post I published this week. Though as the week went on we saw the government start to ease the lockdown restrictions. I suspect we will see some (or even most) universities follow suit.
I have written before about informal learning, and how that once you start designing informal learning it becomes formalised. What you can do is create spaces, as well as provide technology, that can encourage informal learning.
A simple example of this is providing ubiquitous Wi-Fi across the campus, especially in social and communal areas.
What would you design in your informal learning spaces if money no object?
This was the brief we had in a workshop at the Leeds Business School at the recent ALT Learning Spaces SIG in January.
So the brief was to think about how an existing space could be refurbished into an informal learning space. There were three scenarios, a very limited budgetary option, a classic budgetary scenario and ours, which was “budget, what budget!”
We were split into groups, two groups had a (realistic) limited budget to work with, another group a bigger budget and our group… well our group had an unlimited budget. We could go to town.
There is still something useful about this kind of scenario, even though it isn’t realistic, as with any blue skies thinking, you can start with unrealistic and unattainable outcome, but bringing that back down to reality, means that some things will remain.
The space we were working with was a real space, and is in the West Park Teaching Hub at Loughborough University. This is a round space, currently divided into two semi-circle teaching spaces. The space wasn’t working as planned, in the main due to noise leaking between the spaces.
The space was circular and I immediately thought lets go right out there and think about doing something very different, so I threw into the initial discussion the idea of either building a fairground carousel, my thinking was of the double decker ones you see in Germany and France.
My other idea, which the group liked more, was let’s build a treehouse in the space.
The seminar room we were in had interactive whiteboards for each group, so I got to work to “sketch” a treehouse concept for the space.
The key concept was to bring in nature into the space, both in terms of the tree, but also real foliage and natural light.
The other aspect was to design the space to create various different ways in which the space could be used for informal learning, both for individuals and for groups.
One thing I have done in spaces I was managed (some years ago) was designing the space to allow for quick (or light) informal learning and spaces for longer deeper informal learning. I took my cue from coffee shops, where though they basically sell coffee, there are different coffee drinking scenarios. There are those people who want to pop in, sit down, have a quick coffee and then go. Similarly there are two people, who want a break from shopping, so want to chat and have a coffee. Then there are the people who want a longer coffee drinking experience (maybe they are going to have cake or a sandwich). They will spend much longer in the coffee shop, they may even have a second coffee. Sometimes a group will come in to discuss and chat over coffee. Then there are those looking for a place to use their laptop.
In a lot of coffee shops, you will see they design the space to meet these differing needs. Near the entrance are usually tables and chairs and occasional soft seating. As you venture deeper into the coffee shop, you will find sofas and more comfortable seating, but also larger tables and chairs (for groups).
So back to the learning space design, we wanted to do something similar. We wanted a range of furniture that would allow for multiple and varied informal learning scenarios. Places where a learner could sit down and check something on their laptop. Tables that would allow a couple of learners to grab a coffee and chat about their most recent lecture. Furniture for longer and deeper informal learning scenarios, working on an essay or a group project.
We felt that lighting was important and would both encourage and discourage informal learning. Everyone felt coffee (and snacks) was important, but were aware of the noise issues that this could cause. Acoustical planning would be undertaken to create quiet spaces and ensure noisy spaces could be contained and the sound absorbed by the furniture and plants.
Technology would be embedded and integrated into the treehouse. There would be ubiquitous Wi-FI, well would you expect anything less. There would be places to charge devices. Screens would be available for small group work, as well as traditional whiteboards and other areas to write on.
We also thought a big screen surrounding the tree could be used to change the mood of the space, as well as for information.
It was a fun task and we enjoyed working together. It certainly wasn’t a realistic option, but some of the concepts and ideas could certainly be utilised in a real budgetary envelope when designing a space for informal learning.
I am still a little surprised that it’s 2020, as it appears to be so futuristic, but we seem to be living in a Children of Men or Handmaid’s Tale future rather than the utopia of the future that I imagined in my youth.
Monday I spent the day catching up with e-mail, even though most people had been off over the festive period, a lot seemed to have started back on the 2nd (when I was still off). I also took the time to get back into gear and work-ready.
I wrote a first draft of a blog post for the Data Matters 2020 conference , that is taking place on the 5th May 2020. The essence of the post is the importance of thinking about data now, in the contect of future needs of data. This isn’t just about the technical aspects of data, but importantly the people aspects as well.
I was reminded that this week ten years ago we had some of the worst snow for forty years…
Tuesday I was travelling to Leeds where I am attending the ALT Learning Spaces SIG on Wednesday. Leeds always seems a lot further away than I think it is. The ALT Learning Spaces SIG was on Wednesday and this was an interesting get together.
As well as hearing about the challenges facing universities such as Leeds and Loughborough, there was also a excellent workshop in the afternoon looking at the challenges in converting an existing formal learning space (which wasn’t working) into an informal space for learning. I started to draft a blog post on this workshop. The concept we looked at was building a treehouse.
So it was back to a full week after a few short weeks and leave. September is traditionally the start of term in England for schools and FE, though HE usually start a little later. I would like to have gone to ALT-C in Edinburgh, alas I didn’t go this year as I needed to be close to home as my youngest started secondary school, and as most people know, transition is a challenging time for all. In the end there were very few issues, but I am glad I stayed behind.
I attended some of the ALT-C sessions remotely and participated via the Twitter as well.
Ten years ago at ALT-C in Manchester, we had The VLE is Dead session at ALT-C. So I wrote a blog post reminiscing about the debate.
Spent some time booking travel for the weeks ahead and checking in some cases if I needed to travel. Liking our self-service portal for travel, as it does making life easier.
On Tuesday morning I listened to the ALT-C keynote from Sue Beckingham. She covered a range of stuff. I was reminded of a talk I gave on e-mail and how it is used (and abused). I hadn’t shared it before, so I uploaded it to slideshare.
I spent a lot of time working on a roadmap, which was an interesting, but challenging task, as there are so many unknown unknowns.
Working on a workshop for the Jisc board and it’s challenging to create an engaging interaction session that will add value, and has to be about forty five minutes!
Thursday I was reminded of the excellent Web 2.0 Slam – ‘Performing’ Innovative Practice workshop that I attended at ALT-C in 2007, so I wrote a blog post about it.
Looking over my blog posts over that date I wasn’t surprised to find some posts had missing images. I recently updated my blog hosting, so initially I thought it might be that, but checking the underlying code I realised what the problem was. The images that were original held on a remote server embedded into the post were no longer available.
Back then I used a service called ShoZu to add images as blog posts, it didn’t upload the images to WordPress, merely adding HTML code and embedding the images hosted on the ShoZu server. With ShoZu now defunct, there were no images. I had copies of the images on Flickr (and on Amazon photos) so I updated the old blog posts and added copies of the images.
It reminds me that embedding externally hosted content can be problematic, what happens when that service dies or is shut down. Just because something is free, doesn’t mean it will last forever.
I have written a longer blog post about this on my technology blog.
With the bank holiday, a shorter week starting on the Tuesday. It was a pity the weather wasn’t better for the bank holiday weekend, so was slightly annoyed as I arrived for work in bright sunshine.
Tuesday was very much about touching base with people in person. Yes you can do this online or remotely, but there is something about that happenstance that occurs within an office environment.
There was some discussion about the ALT Conference this year, which is taking place in Edinburgh. Alas I won’t be going this year as I will need to be close to home as my youngest starts secondary school, and as most people know, transition is a challenging time for all. I have been going to ALT since 2003 when I presented at the conference in Sheffield. Since then I have been to virtually every conference , except 2004 in Exeter and 2013 in Nottingham. I missed Exeter in the main as I wasn’t presenting and I hadn’t really enjoyed the 2003 experience. I missed 2013 as I had just started a new job at the beginning of September in 2013, so couldn’t get funding. Since joining Jisc in 2015, I did go to Manchester that same year, Warwick in 2016, I enjoyed Liverpool in 2017 and returned to Manchester in 2018. This blog post describes my #altc journey.
I had an interesting discussion over lunch on wellbeing and mental health, and the potential of data and analytics in supporting (staff who support) students in this space.
I think it’s important that when we say something like…
Working on how data and analytics and other technology related approaches can support mental health and well-being for staff, students and researchers.
That what we’re actually saying is something more like…
Working on how data and analytics and other technology related approaches can provide insight, intelligence and inform those staff and services that work in this space and support the mental health and well-being of staff, students and researchers.
The conflation of mental health and well-being is not helpful for tackling either low levels of well-being or supporting those suffering mental ill-health.
The two issues are related, but they are not the same thing. Interventions can support both issues, but different approaches often need to be taken in order to increase well-being compared to supporting those with mental health issues.
Next week I am off to the University of Hertfordshire to participate in a series of workshops looking at the value of Jisc to our members. I was asked to facilitate sessions relating to that old chestnut of mine, the Intelligent Campus, but will also be supporting sessions on Learning and Teaching and Next Generation Learning Environments. Whilst preparing for this session on Wednesday I was reminded of the reports that have been published in this space by Lawrie Phipps.
The report was a response to the challenge of the following questions:
What would an environment do for staff and students?
What kind of learning experiences would an environment need to support?
What learning and teaching practices aren’t currently supported in environments?
The report makes for interesting reading
The changing nature of student and staff behaviours was something highlighted by many commentators; technology-led pedagogies, and emphasis on system features was another; and of course many people in the sector were commenting on the rise of analytics and the role that data may play in future systems.
As Technology Enhanced Learning continues to develop, it is clear that some form of digital learning environment will remain core to institutional practices; the levels of integration, features and porosity will continue to change, driven, and potentially driving the behavioural shifts we see in staff and students.
The second report which was researched as a result of the earlier work, with the aim to gain a detailed understanding of current teaching practices in universities and colleges.
Practitioners are struggling with the disconnect between what they need to do in the spaces their institution provides and what is possible. Staff have to work harder to deliver the kind of teaching they want to in spaces that are not always appropriately configured. Some of this difficulty is a result of limits on space as a resource, however, there is also an element of staff not always knowing what is possible in the spaces available.
Interviewees identified a lack of opportunity to reflect on and analyse their teaching practice. While there are forums and staff development opportunities, limited time is officially allocated to formatively evaluating how a course was delivered and received, beyond the metrics used for more formal summative evaluation.
The organisational distance between instructional designers, education technologists and the people teaching in HE and FE is clearly present in (the) data.
Institutionally provided systems are not single-stop places for practitioners, who use open web and commercially provided platforms as teaching and learning places. This is not new6, but it continues to have implications for the ways that institutions support and recognise teaching practices that leverage digital places and platforms.
I would recommend you read the whole report.
Also too some time looking at various university documents in preparation for a visit to the University of Hertfordshire next week. They certainly have some interesting ambitions for their student experience.
I smiled at the Wonkhe article on university car parking rankings.
Our calculations are based on the supply of parking (the number of spaces on campus) divided by the demand for parking (based on the percentages of students and staff driving or carpooling to campus). Such a clear methodology means we can ignore the qualitative opinions of students and staff, which are messy and difficult to put on a league table.
The environmental considerations appeared to be missed, but then you realise it’s just a parody. I once left a job, because of the car parking (well it was one of the reasons). We were moving campuses from a suburban campus with free parking, to a city centre campus where there was limited on-site parking and all day parking was (as it was right in the heart of the city) expensive. My hours were changing as well, so I would be teaching until 9:30pm, at which point I would be expected to use public transport (two buses) to get home. At this point I started looking for another job. Ironically I got a job at a city centre museum that had no parking either…
Even today my job with Jisc, our head office in Bristol has no staff parking, so I do the train instead, which actually is frequent, reliable (a lot of the time) and about the same price of parking and the cost of petrol. The main difference is that I don’t need to be in the office everyday, so commuting is much less of headache.
Spent some time reviewing my personal objectives for the rest of the year (which is the end of July 2019) as well as reflecting on potential objectives for the following year. In theory we use a platform called Fuse for our objective setting, I though put most of the detail into Confluence, and then using reporting on Jira tasks to pull out and provide the evidence for those objectives. I can also pull out a report of tasks I have done that are not related to objectives. This evidence is useful when pulling together end of year reviews (and mid year reviews too).
Monday I was back in the office, I do like going to the office. You can interact with people online quite easily these days, and I have been doing that for years. However there is a different kind of interaction you get in the physical office environment. Our Bristol office was shrunk due to an impending merger and move, so it can get crowded and noisy, even so I do like being there. I also like the fact that as it is in the heart of Bristol, I can go for a walk at lunchtime around the city centre.
I published a new Intelligent Campus use case on the Intelligent Campus blog.
In it are some interesting findings, though of course, it’s not a representative survey of HE students, as students chose to fill in the survey.
74% of HE students rated the quality of digital teaching and learning on their course as above average (choosing to rate it as either good, excellent or best imaginable). This doesn’t mean that the digital teaching and learning was of a high quality, as the responses are very personal and subjective. My high quality experience, may not be the same as your high quality experience. Having said that, three quarter of HE students who filled in the survey felt the experience they were having was good or better.
Seven in ten HE students used digital tools on a weekly basis to look for additional resources not recommended by their lecturer.
The survey also found that HE learner use lots of personal devices for learning, for example 94% of HE students own a laptop. Over 80% use a smartphone to support their learning.
Universities may want to think about ensuring that they are providing reliable wi-fi not just across their campuses and buildings, but in all those places that students use for learning and research. In a similar vein, are your online services are mobile-friendly and work effectively on mobile platforms.
I spent Tuesday working from home, mainly as the weather was predicted to be wet and cold. As well as finishing the slides I was working on I spent some time preparing for the panel session I was doing in Nottingham on Wednesday.
I had a few technical issues with Outlook not sending e-mails in a timely manner. I can never work out why that Outlook will send some e-mails, but with others leaves them in the Outbox waiting for something. In the end I had one e-mail stuck in there for four hours before it was sent.
I wrote a blog post on the discussion on the ALT mailing list about what we call learning technologists. As you might expect the predominate response from a list of members of Association for Learning Technology who in the main are learning technologists was that these “learning technologists” should be called learning technologists.
Wednesday I travelled to Nottingham for Networkshop, where I chaired a panel session. The session was entitled, What will the university look like in 2030?
The background to the session described what we wanted to discuss.
What we hope to discuss and share our views on is about what the student experience will look like in 2030? What are the challenges students and staff will face in the future. Our panel of experts will discuss which emerging technologies offer the most promise in helping with the challenges universities and colleges face. The session will highlight the horizon report and Jisc’s view of education 4.0. This session is aimed at helping managers understand the future student experience, and what it potentially could look like and the challenges that may arise. What emerging technologies will help to meet these challenges, and how do they integrate these into the current and future institutional strategies. As you might expect with a somewhat technical audience some of the panellists will focus and discuss the technical aspects. How do we ensure we have the infrastructure and bandwidth to meet these challenges? How do we ensure security of the growing network, which takes advantage of the cloud and the internet of things?
I really quite enjoyed chairing the panel session, we had a great diverse panel with different backgrounds and experiences. We even had a student (which shouldn’t really be a big issue, but sometimes is at these conferences). We had a wide ranging discussion covering not just the student experience, but also opinions about the infrastructure needed to enable this. We had a good range of questions from the audience.
As it was scheduled the end of the day, it was a late finish. Nottingham isn’t in the middle of nowhere, but is a bit of a hike from Weston-super-Mare and back in a day.
Thursday was the final day of the week, a shorter week this week for me, as I am on leave on Friday. I was interviewed by Sophie Bailey and recorded for The EdTech Podcast in which I discussed my role, but also some of my thoughts on Education 4.0 and how we get there. I enjoyed the interview and reminded me of how much I enjoyed recording the elearning stuff podcast.
In between calls I looked at openetc which Lawrie had forwarded me the link, having attended a presentation about it at the OER conference which is taking place in Galway this week.
I did consider going to OER19, but in the end decided not to. Not because it wasn’t going to be interesting and informative, but I am still relatively new in the role and the timeframe was quite short. Also it clashed with some home stuff.
Reading and reflecting on openetc, it reminds me of the PLE/VLE discussions we had ten years ago, when there would be these tools that students would use to create their own learning environment. My view back then was that the VLE would be at the hub of a learner’s online envruonment, and then they would plug in other tools. The use of LTI (Learning Tools Interoperability) which was initially developed back in 2008 with the final specification launched in 2010 made this much easier for people using tools such as Moodle, to then plug in other tools such as WordPress or Mahara.
The incarnation of openetc as a community also reminds me of the “offer” from ULCC of managed services that integrated Moodle and Mahara, the real advantage for FE was that it was a) managed so they didn’t need the skills and knowledge to maintain the service b) secure – they managed the security and patching. It is something that people may want to look at.
I had another meeting later about the future strategy, which was interesting and informative. One key thing we discussed was the importance of a robust data estate to fully exploit the advantages of analytics, across all aspects of the university.
Slightly annoyed that the meeting following that got cancelled at relative short notice. Something I need to reflect on, as it appears to be happening a lot with my diary.
I spent the rest of the day clearing through my inbox, nothing like Inbox Zero to end the week on. I also spent time planning for next week.
It’s not your name that matters, it’s what do that counts.
One of the facets of membership of ALT is the busy, informative and interesting mailing list that you can participate in. As well as collaboration, asking for advice and information, there are also on the odd occasion entertaining discussions on topics related to learning technology.
Recently, Peter Bryant from USYD, posted the following:
We are building a new team of educational and technology expertise at USYD. USYD are looking to build the kind of expertise that goes above and beyond system administration, learning object making and technology support (noble pursuits all mind). We are looking for a team of learning technologist type people who can work with designers to identify and deliver solutions for wicked and grand pedagogical challenges, work with academics on training and development, see and support innovation and pushing the technological envelope and to work collectively to evaluate the impact and success/failure of these interventions.
So, my question for the list, what kind of job titles would you call such a unicorn?
There then followed a deluge of responses about what these unicorns should be called. As you might expect the predominate response from a list of members of Association for Learning Technology who in the main are learning technologists was that these unicorns should be called learning technologists.
Reading the discussion, I was reminded of something I wrote in 2017 about the name of my eleaningstuff blog.
I was thinking the other day that I don’t have enough readers of the blog and insufficient engagement So the solution has to be that the name of the blog isn’t right. First idea would be change the name from “elearning stuff” to “blended learning stuff”. Then again maybe I could choose “e-pedagogy stuff” or what a about “threaded learning stuff”. How about “hybrid pedagogy stuff”?
Do you think that changing the name will significantly increase readership and engagement on the blog?
Of course the response to this question is a resounding no!
As I discussed in that blog post, I think that the job titles are a similar challenge to the name we call e-learning or blended learning or TEL, or digital learning or whatever the flavour of the month is.
The job title is (mostly) irrelevant (except maybe to identify to those looking for a role what the role may be about). Often we look at job titles as the people behind those job titles are finding it challenging to engage with academics to help them to make the best and most effective use of technology to enhance learning and teaching. We think that by changing the job title we will be more effective in engaging with academics. Of course how many times do you engage with someone by pushing your job title at them?
The real challenge has been working with academics and their mindset (and culture) and job titles will always be wrong in some people’s view, regardless of what that job title is, was or will be. This was identified and echoed by people on the list.
Academics in the main don’t see the value in these roles, so there’s a culture issue here too.
…one day we were told our TEL team was moving to be part of Teaching & Learning Enhancement (TLE). This move changed the mindset of how most academics viewed the TEL team…
It should be helpful for the staff you interact with, so the language should reflect the language of the institution.
If you are having challenges in engaging staff in the use of digital and learning technologies and thinking that changing the “name” for the people who do this, we use is the solution, i would suggest you may actually want to spend the time and effort thinking about your approaches and the methodology you are using.
Of course the real reason people choose to change the language, is that it is much easier to do that, then actually deal with people!
Having written a draft of this blog post, I shared it with Peter and he divulged that the reason for asking the question was about attracting the right kind of recruit. Which is a reason, as I mentioned above, The job title is (mostly) irrelevant (except maybe to identify to those looking for a role what the role may be about).
This is an updated version of this blog post from 2016. It now includes details of the 2016 and 2017 conferences.
Reading Maren Deepwell’s recent post about her #altc journey, it reminded me of the many conferences I have attended and like her the impact that they had on my life and professional practice. Going back to my experiences of my first ALT-C I was surprised I even went again!